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I'm playing a modern horror campaign, basically "Exorcist cops vs Japanese Folklore creatures". The combats take place in the city, and this, I think, it causing my battles to be dull, like a Final Fantasy with battle grid. I'm using Savage Worlds, so minis and maps are important.

I don't have the resources to use colorful tiles nor the ability to create something very detailed, but using a grided whitboard and color oil pens I can make interesting fantasy battle rooms. Here, they usually stay in the same room, specially when facing a Wild Card, there's not much movement.

Battles, as expected on a city, take place inside abandoned buildings and the streets at night. Though there are fantasy elements, the city is not a fantasy city (they're playing in Tokyo, people's not supposed to know about those monsters), so the best I've done so far is conveniently placing gas tanks together while they were being chased by a supernatural slasher... and even that was boring...

Any tips for making them more interesting?

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Note that Savage Worlds works just great without battle maps, so assuming that "minis and maps are important" may be part of the trouble. (The best SW fight I ever GMed was done theatre-of-the-mind, the worst was with a battlemap.) –  SevenSidedDie Jul 17 '13 at 17:28
    
Why would you say no one moves vs a wild card? It sounds like the opportunity cost is too low for your players to consider moving; i.e. nothing to take advantage of/worth risking over the tried and true methods and dice rolls they have come to expect (and be bored by). –  Joshua Aslan Smith Jul 17 '13 at 17:47
    
Pretty much that... they'd rather risk dice exploding and moving a few inches to avoid being hit. Much of it my fault tough, I don't offer them thrilling/interesting tactical options. –  Aldath Le'Carde Jul 17 '13 at 17:51
    
This episode of “Man vs. Wild” might give you some interesting ideas: youtube.com/watch?v=yqGdqCOJzjE (this is just a trailer). The episode is about survival in an abandoned shipyard. –  liori Jul 17 '13 at 20:55
    
@liori after that trailer I think he should just watch a lot of macgyver. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Jul 18 '13 at 19:18
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4 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Actually, combat in a modern city should be a LOT more interesting than in most fantasy settings! Thats because of the complexity of the terrain. The opponents the players are facing may have numerous types of advantages.

  • Height - the enemies may have higher ground than the players. It may be small scale, they may attack suprisingly from the ceiling of a room, they may be higher on a staircase or just sit on top of a garbage container. It may give them the advantage of reach or surprise, it may make it easier for them to defend them selves. They may be a lot higher than the players, sitting on a roof of a bulding, a balcony a few stories above ground. It may let them attack the players from afar, provide them great cover from gunfire, let them observe the players from afar and not be seen

  • Cover - its really easy to hide or set up a trap in a city. There's the severs, back alleys, rooftops, you can hide in buildings... Its not as simple as in fantasy, where the cave in the middle of the woods is obciously the Den Of Evil and where the monsters just jump out of the bushes. Same for indoor encounters - that damn monster may actually be hiding in the closet! When fighting in a city, you may neverr be sure where and how numerous the enemy is. Also, narrow corridors, small spaces and the like may be used as a tactical advantage.

  • Mobility - fights can be set up very dynamically in an urban environment. The enemy may be moving swiftly and quickly. Airducts? Sure! Jumping around from window to window? Why not? Dont get me started on the usage of vehicles... This may need a little imagination and creating hoem rules, but still, the possibilities are there.

  • Other circumstances - the players may need to do their work secretly, not letting the regular folks know about the mosters. Maybe they have to limit the casualties among civilians and destruction of property. Maybe they cant use open fire due to being too close to a gas station / whatever. Civilians might get in the way, so can the law enforcement or other authorities. All this can be used to pose an additional challenge to the players and help avoid boredom during fights.

Limiting the fights to simply choosing the target and rolling the old faithful combo can indeed be boring, but fights dont have to look that way! Try to have all of this in mind when designing maps, and I think youll be able to come up with interesting ones!

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Here's something I've done for fantasy games. I've never tried it in modern, but it should still carry over.

Give the bad guys terrain they can use to their advantage. When I was running D&D 4e, my favourite thing about it was the monsters. They were balanced pretty well. Each one had an XP value. For a fair fight, you took set amount of XP and filled it with monsters.

I wanted to make my fights tougher without going over the XP budget. The answer was in the terrain. I figure a half dozen archers cost 600XP. But towers and battlements are free. And if those towers and battlements make my archers last longer, that should make the fight harder, right?

Well, it didn't just make the fights harder, it made them more interesting. Giving the NPCs an obvious tactical advantage gave the players something interesting to do each fight. In the beginning of the fight, they had to keep out of sight of the towers. Once someone scaled the tower and occupied the archers, the dynamics of the fight would change. Taking out the enemy's terrain advantage always changed the tide of the battle.

There was one other way this made my fights more interesting. If the players found a way to scout out the fight, I could reward them by taking away the terrain advantage of the enemies. If the players saw the archers in the tower before engaging the main force, they could loop around and scale the tower before the fight even started. Totally different fight. Giving your enemies a terrain based advantage like this gives you a built in reward for players who want to observe and consider the battle before rushing in.

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I have two suggestions:

Have a look at this old GURPS resource for inspirational material to spice up your scenes. You will have to provide conversion to your system, of course.

You could also look on "shops" like Drive Thru Stuff for dedicated "cinematic" advice. I am linking an example even if I don't have direct experience with this

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For modern settings, I find it easy to find maps rather than generate them. Often a cursory image search for specific floor plans or satellite images can give some not only realistic but quite free maps. If you don't need to be specific that makes things even easier.

Edit: Using real floorplans is also a good way to get realistic setups, especially if you want a more tactical game. Some designs (if for more than just a room) can include things like circuit breakers and water mains and other such details that make for great stunts.

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Is this implying that using real floor plans... something something? Are they inherently more exciting? Have inspirational details? Saying what the benefit is explicitly (apart from "easy to find", which is beside the question) would be excellent! –  SevenSidedDie Jul 18 '13 at 5:03
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