I wanted to take a short break from my background series today to talk about combat. A lot of players (and GMs) tend to view combat as being opposed to roleplaying. In their eyes, you are either roleplaying, or you are in combat. In actuality, you can do both. Roleplaying in combat may be a bit more subtle, but it is nonetheless powerful for that.
First off, examine the decision to engage in combat in the first place. Though most roleplaying games have a strong combat element of some kind, the choice to avoid combat entirely can and should be an option. Most games facilitate this by having a diplomacy mechanic of some sort. While this may not be useful for every situation, it should help to greatly reduce the frequency of combats. Whether or not your character chooses to pursue the dipolomatic option in favor of some good old fashioned murderhoboing says a lot about the character. A character who chooses peace is likely more conscientious and compassionate than one who charges into battle with reckless abandon.
Similarly, how combat is conducted can define your character as well. If your character delights in slaughter and loves to inflict pain on his enemies, he's probably a sadist. If you strike only when necessary and only with enough force as necessary, you are likely careful and cautious. You can also talk up minor details. Maybe your character closes their eyes when they finally execute the swing of their weapon. Perhaps they are squeamish and don't want to see the blood, or perhaps cowardly and just don't want to be "in the moment" during combat. There's also the choice of whether to kill enemy combatants, or simply disable them.
There is also in-combat chatter as a possibility. If you try to coordinate actions by shouting at your party members, it shows your character is likely team-oriented, and has a level enough head to think rationally in combat. In contrast, if you simply yell obscenities at your enemies, it shows that your character might have some unchecked rage or frustrations. Or you could be pleading with your enemies to surrender even as you fight them, because you really don't want to fight them. Think about why your character engages in combat, and how that makes them feel. Speaking in combat is permissible, just don't expect to have a conversation be the full attention.
I currently DM for one PC who often refuses to fight, and if they do, they never choose to kill any sentient humanoid beings. The reason for this being that they were involved in a war previously, and have seen enough death already, to the point that they are disgusted with it. I have another PC who narrates their actions in such a way that combat seems to be taken with the least effort possible. He's a caster, and often sits there with his hands in his pockets as he casually strolls around the battlefield blast people to pieces without a thought. And I have yet another PC who delivers zippy one-liners in combat, because his character needs to flaunt his superiority. Each of these players use combat to say something about their characters, and they do a fine job of it. Don't look at combat as the necessary dead space between roleplaying, or even as a fun diversion from it. See it as part of the roleplaying. Because when you are in character, everything you do is an extension of who you are, even fighting.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. For more on this topic, see how weapons and equipment can be used to flesh out a character by visiting "Weapons Choice: Beyond the Sword & Board" over on my personal blog. Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.