The Problem with Firefights (And How to Fix It!)

Keeping combat encounters unique and exciting can be tricky, especially with longer-running campaigns. In traditional fantasy games, this is made a little easier by the sheer diversity of creatures, abilities, and equipment in play. Running games in a modern, western, or even a low-tech sci-fi setting, however, doesn’t always afford that luxury. In these genres, full-on combat can easily devolve into a mere repetitive exchange of bullets. In this article, we’re going to look at the problem with fire-fights and give you some easy tips to resolve it!

The Problem with Fire-fights
Typical fire-fights, while remaining “ranged” exchanges, can sometimes feel like Rock’em Sock’em Robots. When both sides of an engagement utilize similar weapon types and tactics, consecutive combat rounds will have less inherent diversity, and consecutive combat encounters are liable to start blending together too. There are only so many ways a player can excitedly describe where they place their hole on a landed shot. In short, fire-fights have less intrinsic potential for variation, and so require a little bit more proactive planning to make for great combat encounters. In addition to piling on additional objectives inside your combat encounters, here are three sure-fire ways to keep your fire-fights distinct!

3 Ways to Spice-Up Fire-fights

  • Weapon Distinctions
    Emphasize the differences in the look, sound, smell, and feel of different weapon types and individual firearms. Even if your setting only sports a small variety of weapon categories, that doesn’t mean the highwayman Reckless Joe’s revolver can’t have a carved rosewood pistol-grip or the swat unit’s shotguns an especially tight spread. Describing firearms through as many senses as possible is a great way to differentiate them, even if the wounds they inflict remain pretty similar.
  • Dynamic Cover
    Since terrain and cover tend to play a much more prominent role in fire-fights, mixing up those environmental engagements will keep your players on their toes. Try adding or removing obstacles and points of cover mid-combat, or disrupting/revealing lines of sight. When the circumstances warrant, even consider having your PC’s cover deteriorate after taking the damage from “missed” attacks.
  • Various Threats
    Just because some of your combatants are locked in a bullet-exchange, doesn’t mean rounds have to be the only thing flying around! Include one or two different types of threats other than the fire-fight itself, either through melee combatants or terrain hazards. This will keep your players thinking outside of their lines of sight and force them into some less-than-favourable positions!

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