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I have run this campaign for just over a year. Many encounters later, I have come to one snag; If I run an encounter that lasts for more than a few rounds, I lose all my flair. I just resort to "hit" or "miss". None of my players have complained, but I have also noticed most of them have mostly only remembered the short encounters. I hate to leave the sessions with my players only partially entertained due to my failures.

I have a couple encounters, an army scale battle and A few big bosses before the epic final fight. I have been going over it in my head and writing it out, but i want to see if there is more I could do.

In full what I am looking for is Tips and strategies for how to keep an encounter engaging, So that my players aren't "yawning" while playing.

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Decisions are engaging

This is true on every level: encounters (both combat and other wise), dungeons (or other local-level areas), campaigns, and adventures. Descriptions of settings and characters and the environment contribute to immersion and bringing the game to life, yes, but to be engaged with the gameplay your players should be making decisions.

Rolling to hit is not a decision

Player character Anne is adjacent to her opponent Ben. She rolls to hit him. He rolls to hit her. Eventually the dice kill or KO one of them. Neither makes a single decision, and Anne's player does not feel engaged.

Granted, this is a sterile environment - there will inevitably have been decisions leading to that fight. But the fight itself is just roll-to-kill.

A change of circumstances creates decision points

Anne and Ben fight. As Anne nears victory, Ben turns and flees. Does Anne give chase to finish, or is his retreat a satisfactory win?

Say Anne chases Ben. She catches up to him only to find he's convinced some guards that Anne is a murderous thief. Does Anne still want to fight Ben so badly, or does she turn herself in to the city guard, or does she now flee? Decision point.

Say Anne does not give chase. Later, Ben returns with reinforcements. Anne's earlier decision has real consequences down the line. Bringing me too...

Interesting decisions with consequences are engaging

If a fork in the road takes you down two identical paths and rejoin at your goal, you don't really have a worthwhile decision point. This is why sometimes, in combat, having an array of attacks or spells or manoeuvres does nothing to increase the fun of combat - they either all have the same end result, or one is so strictly superior that there'd be no reason to choose it. You resort to 'roll-to-kill'.

Engagement with decisions is driven by goals

Combat is not an encounter. It is a way of resolving an encounter. An encounter is where two parties have differing goals that create conflict with one another. The inevitability of combat is variable. As you seem to mostly be talking about combat, though, I will focus on that.

Your players will decide how to fight based on their goals. The way you describe things will affect their perception of such goals - do they wish to kill all in their way, or maximise their own survival rate, or achieve something else like retriving the Unholy MacGuffin?

Likewise, the characters and monsters they fight should have goals. Not everything will fight PCs till its last breath. And when backed into a corner, an NPC or monster might well change strategies drastically. The change of strategy can create decision points for the PCs - "...oh. Didn't know it could do that. Better fall back."

Boss Stages

Play many videogames and this will be a familiar idea: a big baddy that, just when you think you have it beat, comes back with twice the ferocity. The more it changes about itself and the battlefield (within reason; it should be the same thing) the more it will rejuvenate any staleness the combat has gathered.

What you effectively do is turn one long combat encounter into a series of short ones. Each of big bad's 'forms' is less powerful than if you had created a one-phase boss. But the transformation should attempt to push the players to make new decisions.

Further Reading

I highly recommend the writings of The Angry GM on encounter design (including extensive discussion of decision points, the 'dramatic question', and conflict) and, latterly, boss monster design. Such articles are generally the source for what I have outlined above.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've just suggested that AngryGM be included in Role-playing Games Chat's feed and link this post as an example of the site's appreciation of his writing. I hope you don't mind, and would gladly edit out the reference if you do. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jul 18 '16 at 14:37
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Break down long encounters into manageable chunks, or look for natural break points as you go along. Examples are where there is a lull (planned or otherwise) in the action, or the opposite: a cliffhanger, some climatic event where the consequences are going to have to wait until everyone has had a cup of tea, beer etc. in front of them before the action un-freezes and they realise what they have done...

This is useful for you as well as it gives you break points where you can muster your thoughts about what happens next, what the protagonists are going to do, get your admin sorted (how many hps does everything have, spell slots etc) and most importantly decide if you need to adjust things a bit to make it even better (you are the GM and you are in charge of things that are not yet known, if the big bad needs to go down a bit quicker because you got it wrong and you don't want to kill the party off then this is a good time to adjust, and vice versa, it's all too easy so make it harder).

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Something that might be useful, if only in limited situations, is to change the type of combat you have your players engage in. For example, I had my players fight without armor, and most of their equipment, by being ambushed in the night. In another campaign, I had them break out of prison, so they had just fists, and improvised weapons. You could also Find a way to incorporate an objective into combat. Protect a key player, escort a treasure chest to a final location. I think the main reason people lose interest in the flair, is that they're doing the same thing they've done over and over. Change the dynamic. Rekindle the 'newness' of combat.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The question is asking about individual combats that run long enough to become boring, not combat in general over multiple separate encounters. \$\endgroup\$ – Michaellogg Oct 13 '15 at 19:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ ...I realize, but my argument is to modify the combat before entering, thus encouraging additional role playing. \$\endgroup\$ – Zane Oct 13 '15 at 23:37

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