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Combat Narrative

October 5, 2013 - General, Shadowrun 5E

A previous post started a discussion of the complexity inherent in Shadowrun that isn’t found in other games. In particular the attack action and the procedure to determine if you hit and how much damage you inflict was cited as being more complex than attack actions in other games. In the discussion I compared Shadowrun’s attack action to Dungeon and Dragon’s and I started thinking about how Shadowrun’s attack action affects the narrative of the combat.

To resolve an attack in Shadowrun the following procedure is followed, assuming no additional modifiers:

  1. ATTACKER: Determine dice pool (Combat Skill + Attribute)
  2. ATTACKER: Roll the combined dice pool  to determine gross number of successes.
  3. DEFENDER: Roll dodge (Reaction + Intuition) and subtract the successes from the attacker’s gross number of successes. This determines the net successes for the attack. If the number of defensive successes equaled or exceeds the attackers then the attack either misses or is a glancing hit (touch attack).
  4. ATTACKER: Adds the net successes to the damage value of the attack and informs the defender of the final value.
  5. DEFENDER: The defender rolls armor + body to resist the damage. For every success rolled reduce the damage value by 1.
  6. DEFENDER: Informs the attacker of the damage inflicted and records the final damage.

Compare this with Dungeons and Dragons:

  1. ATTACKER: Rolls to hit against a known target number (AC).
  2. ATTACKER: If the attack successfully hits, the attacker rolls damage and informs the defender of the damage inflicted.

It’s no contest between which attack action is simpler to perform but the individual who determines the final damage is different. In Dungeons and Dragons the attacker determines the final damage inflicted but in Shadowrun its the defender. This difference I believe offers the players and GM an opportunity to flesh out the combat without taking character control away from another player. For example:

In Dungeons and Dragons:

  1. ATTACKER: My axe carves a path from your hairline to chin. Your days of being the most handsome dandy in the realm is over! Take 12 points of damage.
  2. DEFENDER: Hrmmm. No.

In Shadowrun:

  1. DEFENDER: Boom! The shotgun blows a hole though my shoulder. I place a call to my ripperdoc for a new one and take 9 boxes of physical damage.

In Shadowrun the defender is able to interpret how the damage is applied and inform the rest of the group without betraying the vision of his character. In Dungeons and Dragons it’s instead the attacker’s option to flesh out the damage inflicted and trust that his description doesn’t affect the defender’s vision of his character.

3 thoughts on “Combat Narrative

Sean Holland

In general, I would say that describing the effect of combat damage should always be a negotiation between attacker and defender, with the player character having slightly greater narrative weight. For example, taking nine boxes of physical damage and being flip about it would require some that the character was on some good drugs (or had the right cyberware) for me to buy.

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Dan Jopko

As I understand it, narrative is usually up to the GM, in both systems. Granted some interpretation and reaction is up to the players involved as well, as in how they react to what happens TO them, but the actual events are simply that – events that happened.

So if someone takes a sword to the chest in D&D, the DM might tell them “The orc swings wildly and manages to find a gap in your armour with his greatsword, causing 15 damage.” and thus the player can react accordingly, usually by going “OWTHATFUCKINGHURT”. Likewise in Shadowrun, if the GM says “The shotgun hits you where your armour jacket doesn’t cover, and the pellets blast your shoulder for 9P damage” then the player should probably react by rethinking facing down a shotgun, wince life and death are a lot friendlier in SR than in D&D.

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Jimmy Crisis

Yeah, I’m gonna agree with Dan. As a long time GM and Player of many systems, I’ve found the best balance is for the player to be descriptive about what they are attempting to do, and the GM to alliterate what actually happened. I enjoy telling players the story of the combat that’s happening, and as a player I feel more engaged when that’s the dynamic.

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