Last D&D-session was apparently fun for everyone. Apart from a tad anticlimatic second encounter I think it went well enough. After the game, amongst the critique, was one point: Using class powers gets tiresome after a while. In the session before that there was an encounter involving a mad, constantly reincarnating wizard. The players needed to speak sense to him while he and his guardians were attacking them. Regardless of the slightly clunky die rolling mechanic, the players enjoyed it, for it was a nice break from the normal combat.
That got me thinking about how to spice up combat. Using the environment has always interested me, and when I managed to play the game myself, I was constantly trying to toss people with chairs, drag them in bottomless pits and ignite my arrows from fires. The game has good rules for incorporating ad-hoc attacks, but the problem is that it is written in the DM Guide. The players do not know about it before they ask. When the fatigue starts gripping the DM and the combat drags on, the game degenerates very easily into modifiers, squares and AC bonuses. In these times players just tend to select the best attack from their powers and roll dice instead of doing cool stuff. I thought about how to combat this and came to an idea: Give the players tools to utilize the ad-hoc rules. Thus Dynamic Encounter Skill Utility Sheet was born.
There are three main elements: Situation, Skill and Effect. Every special combat action starts from any one, and every action must have a Situation provided by the player. For example, a player wishes to knock an opponent prone to slow him down when escaping a scene. There are barrels of water near his character, and he wants to knock it over so the opponent will slip on the water. He asks the DM whether it is possible, who rules that it is, though the player must knock the barrell over with a Strength check, and make a Dexterity vs. Reflex attack against the opponent. If he succeeds, he will knock the opponent prone and deals low damage from the damage by level table from the DM Guide.
A Situation is the tie to the combat situation and a limiting factor. The players must describe how they wish to accomplish what they want to do, using the items or facts at hand. Tossable objects, unstable structures, environmental hazards, the specific features of an opponent or social relations are examples of a Situation. The player must use these to get the effect he or she wants.
A Skill is the way the player uses the Situation. Skills, like the whole Sheet, is divided into three areas: Skill, Might and Mind. This division is made mostly to give ideas to the players according to their characters’ archetypes. Skill means that the player is using his Dexterity or Intelligence, doing things that require good balance, exact aim or good knowledge, for example, improvising an explosive cocktail from alchemical ingredients lying on a table and tossing it at an enemy. Might means that the player is using his superior strength and toughness to knock things over, smash objects on people or anything that requires Strength or Constitution. Mind covers affecting the mind of the target, like demanding surrender, negotiating a truce or similar, using Charisma or Wisdom. Skills follow the format Skill or Ability Check, then Ability vs. Defence. Or in the case of a desperate argument while parrying and tossing magic, it is a Skill Challenge.
Effect is what the attack does if it succeeds. There are two categories: Damage and Condition. If the combat action is a one-shot action, like felling a great statue on top of an enemy or declaring that you are the father of the opponent, the attack will deal some amount of damage from the Limited Damage Expression-table. Otherwise, like when kicking a chair at a ghost, it deals damage from the Normal Damage Expression-table. The players can suggest on the damage type (Low, Moderate or High), but the DM is the final adjudicator. The Condition can be selected from the Combat Condition table, like Knocked Prone, Dazed, Immobilized, Slowed or such. These effects generally work until the end of the attacker’s next turn, but especially difficult or impressive things might be Save Ends. If an attack imposes a Condition, it will either deal no damage or low damage.
This is the basic idea. I thought about printing it out as a kind of a flowchart format and giving it to the players, so when they think of a cool maneuver to do, they can already see how it would work. I think I already have a good “tutorial” where to test it out. I will see.