Take the last encounter with our reluctant heroes of the moment. Ideally the encounter should have gone without a violent contact between the characters and the riders. But I hadn't taken into account Cat's reaction to the scene presented before his character and Steven's all-too-willingness to have his character engage the riders. But then, that just adds to the excitement of being a DM
The other deceptive thing about role playing, is combat. Or to be more precise, combat rounds.
What might seem on paper a simple three minute skirmish can, in fact, take up a whole evening's game session. What follows is a breakdown of the process in brief:
A combat round begins with 'Statements of Intent'
- this is where each player states clearly what their character's next action will be: attacking, defending, casting magic, hiding, etc. If they are going to move anywhere particular, or move a short distance and then perform an action, and so on. The list is long.
Then, as a DM, the same is done for NPCs (Non Player Characters) and monsters.
Encounters are always best played out with figures on a grid for purposes of distance marking, line of sight, movement rates and positioning - it's amazing how suddenly a character seemingly teleports to a different location when the shit hits the proverbial fan during combat - a DM has to have eyes in the back of his/her head at times ... sneaky, cheating players.
Next we have 'Initiative Rolls'
- usually done on a D10, lowest number going first in the order of events.
There are two schools of thought regarding this, one being that all players and all NPCs/mobs get individual initiative rolls. I highly recommend a writing pad kept to hand and make a note of who goes when.
Your other option, and I've only done this with the players' agreement, is group initiative - simply put, one roll for the player characters and one roll for NPCs/mobs. Quicker turn-a-round, but can sometimes detract from the excitement of an encounter. I only use it if big groups are involved.
So follows the 'Action Phase'
- here is where it all happens. All statements of intent are carried out, moves made, spells cast, attacks performed and the subsequent results acted out/written down/kept secret - depending on what they are and for what reason/desired outcome.
This portion usually takes the longest, mainly due to the fact a great number of dice rolls are made, combat detailed out for the player audience, damage rolled for - both given and taken - and sometimes the odd bit of attempted rules twisting by a player/s if things aren't looking to be going their way.
As a DM you MUST be FIRM BUT FAIR. Do not ever allow your pride/ego come into the game. It is not a contest between you and the players, you merely play the role of fate and consequence, as it were, and must remain as neutral as possible.
Don't misunderstand me, there will be NPCs that you have spent weeks dreaming up and creating in great detail that you take a liking to and become slightly precious towards. This can lead to possibly two things happening if this occurs:
- The player characters totally ignore the NPC and fail to interact with them.
- The player characters somehow end up killing your precious NPC.
Simply put - I don't believe in linear games. I let the players do as they wish, but I do remind them, "every action has a reaction, and every choice has a consequence".
So long as they are happy with that, then they are free to have their characters do virtually anything they desire. I believe that in order to create a fully fleshed out game world that your players can immerse themselves in, then they must have the same choices, and outcomes, as the real world.
It is only our own moral compass in reality that dictates how far we are willing to go in terms of day-to-day living and what we do and say. In a role playing game so many players embrace the freedom of having the chance to 'dabble' as an alter ego and explore the possibilities of breaking the law, taking a stand, righting a wrong or being an unbound spirit in a world where anything is possible.
If they happen to miss out on one thread, then there will be others for them to discover. Again, my games did not run on the premise of a single thread, but more like a spider's web configuration of ideas. I suppose it could be thought of as free form role playing.