Greetings, and welcome to my guide on combat and battle. I am writing this guide to help provide context and information on the basics of combat in roleplaying, and the methods to create a fun and interesting roleplay based on my past experiences, observations and personal research. To begin with I'd like to outline what battle is, why it’s used and some basic tenants associated with doing combat in a roleplay.
Conflict is an integral part of any story, whether fiction or non-fiction, conflict is a necessary ingredient to building an interesting story that will engage the audience. Conflict is the core of any struggle, it is the seed for drama and provides a tangible means of showing progress from one scene to the next. We enjoy conflict because it establishes a clear line of success and failure. On a fanon we enjoy creating characters and more often than not, pitting them against one another in a test of mettle, and power. However crafting these glorious battles is a challenge in of itself and requires a thorough understanding of some basic covenants as writers.
For any conflict to work, as writers we must first establish a reason for why the conflict is happening. This provides context; the circumstances that form the foundation for how and why this conflict is currently happening. You might be asking yourself why this is important. Truthfully the answer depends on what you want out of your character and what the other writer or collaborator wants as well. For some, story is irrelevant and all they desire is the thrill of fighting against another character, the same kind of thrill gamers have when they play a fighting game. You just want to pick a character and get right down to the nitty-gritty.
Now, while some may be satisfied with this sort of thing, many of you will likely not be. When you provide a driving force for the battle, a reason for why it is occurring, the battle becomes much more than just a contest between two characters. It becomes a story, one in which your character can grow and most importantly there can be tangible consequences at the battles conclusion.
Regardless whether we win or lose, ultimately as writers one of the reasons we engage in battle is acknowledgement. It is of the utmost importance that as a writer you are upfront and honest about what you want out of the battle, about what conclusion’s you’d like for your character. Establishing your own drive for the conflict is just as important as creating one for your character. Doing this can alleviate much of the controversy that arises out of battles with disgruntled writers having shouting matches, accusing the other of cheating, godmodding or what have you.
Always keep this in mind, a battle requires input from two or more people. This means that you aren't just writing for yourself, you are also writing for your fellow writer/collaborator as well. This I cannot stress enough. When you roleplay a battle it is important to establish not only why the battle is happening between the two characters, but what the two of you want out of it. If one party wants a battle to test the new powers of a character while another wants to advance some part of their story, and then try and work it out so that both of you get what you want out of the roleplay. This mutual understanding and acknowledgement allows for both parties to respect the characters and the wishes of the other.
Narrative Battles vs Competitive Battles
In a roleplay there are two distinct forms of combat that will play out. The first and most common form is the competitive roleplay battle. In this format, the authors characters are in some form of opposition to the other with one posting his or character’s actions and the other responding in kind. A narrative battle differs in that because there is no competition, both authors can work more closely to create a battle scene that is more story driven. Below I will go into more detail about what differentiates the two.
- Narrative Roleplay: These kinds of roleplays are collaborative in nature. When two or more individuals participate in this form of roleplay, they will generally discuss the over-arching story, how they want to develop it, changes if any, and its overall pacing. Since all involved parties are aware of how they roleplay will begin and end, the actual purpose of the roleplay is to fill in the details, using dialog, descriptions and character interaction. Like directors creating a screenplay. All the actors know their roles, and how things will play out. This kind of roleplay can be quite fun, as it allows the authors a greater degree of control over how the story will progress. As they also direct the story, they can introduce new plot developments, twists and other intense drama scenes.
- Choregraphed Battle Roleplay: Much like a narrative roleplay, a choregraphed battle roleplay operates under the same guidelines, though in this case rather than the focus being on story it is on the action itself. The two authors should discuss how the characters meet, and where the battle will be taking place. They might also discuss the kinds of tactics and strategies each of their characters would use against the other, how their actions will change and how will the other react. They would also consider adding more dynamism to the battle by changing the environment, such as their battle leading them to another area, their attacks changing the landscape itself, et cetera. This kind of battle lends itself well to the more epic form of action oriented storytelling as all parties can coordinate the attacks of their respective characters and more than that, their scale. Because of the lack of the competitive spirit, and an emphasis on the action happening in the battle, the flow and pacing of the battle becomes much more fluid. They can add details that would ordinarly not be included in a typical competitive battle, interludes and breaks that can add further tension or drama to the battle and so forth. The authors may know ahead of time who would win in this particular conflict given the circumstances.
- Competitive Roleplay: Competitive roleplays are fairly straightforward and are considered something of the norm across fanons in general. One party will make a post and the other responds. This back and forth continues until a resolution has been reached. Now while this may be considered the norm, I have found that this form of roleplaying carries more disadvantages than advantages. One of the main failings of competitive roleplay battles is when one author ignores the input of the other. By this I mean if I were to spend a paragraph or two dedicated to my attack, your response is, "character X dodges the attack" and then you immediately get into your own attack. Imagine a battle between two teens, flailing wildly in the air. That's basically what's going on. The authors are ignoring their attack to concentrate on their own because they think its cool, and you want to show everyone just how strong or badass your character is. Because of this, many feel that their contributions are ignored, and rightly so which generates feelings of distrust and irritation followed by devestment of interest in the battle. Competitive battles can however be fun and engaging if both authors simply change their perspective. Rather than focus on their attack first, they should look to the input of the other player and see how they can make their reaction as dynamic and interesting as possible. This requires that you look at their attack and your reaction as the time to shine, as an opportunity to showcase how your character handles threats, and challenges, using the sum of their abilities and powers. Another issue is that people have the assumption that when you react/defend against an attack you have to do so completely. This is not necessarily true, you only need to defend an attack up to a point where its effect will not deal significant damage or any other crippling effect. Partial damage is a love letter to your opponent. Furthermore, everything is a resource, that means even the attacks of your opponent can be used against them.
One issue that I’ve observed is that people have a tendency to do one of two things. The first is that they reference the technique, no different than just shouting it out loud and designate who they are attacking. Or they just reference its immediate or specific effect such as the damage that will be done to the other party. This is the absolute worst form of combat portrayal to engage in. It’s lackluster, boring and at the end of the roleplay you will be left with a feeling of dissatisfaction, that you will constantly strive to dig yourself out of. What is happening is that you are ‘’telling’’ the other person what your attack is, but when you are writing what you want to do is show them the attack. I will provide an example.
Telling the Attack:
- Your character uses a fireball spell or technique, the common lingo is as follows; Kenji casts the spell fireball, and shoots it at the other person. ‘’It’s very basic, but this about sums up how most people write out their attack, it has no zest, no flair, there’s nothing about its use that’s unique. The writer does not own the attack, the attack is just that, no different than saying that you throw a punch at someone. I’ve also noticed that people tend to tell about the traits of their character. They often state that their character being incredibly smart could figure so-and-so out due to their genius intellect. Or that because they moved quickly because they are so fast. Again, this is telling, you need to show. A skilled man does not tell another that he is skilled he lets his actions speak for themselves. There is no need to do this self praising in order to reinforce your character’s ability, that should be evident in how they are doing the action itself.
Showing the Attack:
- When you show an attack, you are writing a description that paints a vivid picture of what this attack is doing. Use descriptive language use metaphors to invoke imagery and emotion. Using the same example as before I’ll rewrite how to show an attack; Kenji took hold of the power within himself, weaving his energy into form as he uttered the incantation. With a deafening roar he unleashed the built up magical energies as they surged together in a molten orb of crimson flames. With a swift gesture of his hand he willed the mass of flame forward, its flight punctuated by an explosion of light as it hurtles towards his opponent at great speed.
The obvious difference between the two is that I neglected to name the technique in the second description, however the description itself provided a visual of what was happening as it was happening. This method of writing invokes the scene of the battle into the reader’s mind, its imagery creates this sense of tension, of struggle, but most of all it demonstrates power and authority. The attack becomes so much more and that is the essence of writing not only an interesting battle but an epic one as well. Using this formula you can even turn your reaction/response to their attack into something amazing.
One’s response to the attack is just as important as making your own, in fact when posting in such a format, one can consider that there are two distinct portions; the reaction and then their own attack. Reacting to an attack is an opportunity. When someone writes with such a method, you can respond in kind in how you defend against it. It is not a weakness to struggle against an attack. It is not a weakness to have your character fail in handling the attack. What is important is writing a descriptive and interesting reaction to the attack. You even have the opportunity to expand on what they were doing to make the attack even more epic.
People define a character’s badassery in how they do an attack. This is only half the formula. The other half is in how they deal with attacks. Use your opponents writing as a launch-point to show just what your character is made of. Use your skills to create cunning ways of handling the attack, of showing the intelligence of your character. A well written response to an attack is a demonstration of a characters ability, it need not be told.
Progressing a Battle
Progress in a battle can be difficult to ascertain. From start to finish, you as the author and player of any characters involved desire a sense of accomplishment, a clear path of how the battle went. The easiest way this can be accomplished is to just change the setting or the environment. This can be accomplished in several ways such as moving say from a city to the outskirts and from there to the nearby mountain. As you can clearly see, if a battle began in a city but ended in a mountain, it shows a clear progression from when the fight started to when it ended.
This ties into that sense of wonder, because battles are chaotic, and with that chaos comes change. Another way is to alter the environment in which they are fighting in. Not only is this method just as interesting but any change in the environment can potentially change the variables of the battle itself. If two opponents begin their fight in a forest, but start a forest fire, then not only are they now fighting with burning tree’s around them, they have to deal with environmental factors such as smoke which could blind them and choke them out. They may be forced to move elsewhere and in the course of that one or the other may use the terrain to their advantage.
An Introduction to Fighting
Fighting is the core of any battle, but creating a dynamic and interesting battle though a challenge can be fun and interesting. When you are engage in a battle with a character it is important to understand how you plan on fighting with that character. As every character is unique the same must be true for the way they fight as well. Some characters battle with their fists, others use mystical powers to change the world around them, and others rely on traps, while some charge forward in an epic clash of steel. Deciding how your character fights is just as important as the battle itself. You need to develop a style of writing that pertains to the character and relates to their own combat style.
The Root of Combat
To start with, combat encompasses the use of attacks, defenses and abilities designed to defeat your opponent. How we use them defines not only the way we write the attack but the characters own tactics and strategies in the battle itself. But to understand combat it is important to grasp some basic tenants of how we first write combat, and that requires the use of terms to describe certain phenomena in battle. Below I have provided a list of relevant terms that I will use to describe the process of a battle:
- Character: This term refers to the actual characters involved in a story, the ones who are participating in the world and changed by it and those directed by the writers themselves. However it is important to remember that the writer is not the character. You are not your character. You are the writer and that distinction is very important. Whether they succeed or fail is ultimately up to you.
- Environment: The is a rather broad term that essentially refers to the world itself in which the character is in. More specifically this will refer to the location of any battle, what is there, the time of day, events going on, etc. A battle cannot exist in a vacuum, details must first be supplied describing the setting, are they in a city, or the mountains, maybe the ocean itself is where the battle is taking place. Where a battle occurs is of tactical, strategic and story driven importance. If a massive battle is taking place in the confines of one's own village, then that will ultimately change how a character is going to react to the battle. Likewise if the battle is happening across a narrow walkway over a pool of lava, that will also change how a character is going to react.
- Force: This is the action itself, it is defined by the means of what your character is doing to influence the world around them. This is also a very broad term that can refer to any number of means of how a character attempts to change the world around them. In a conflict this specifically refers to what and how they go about doing an attack, or defense. Are they using magic to manipulate the world, are they throwing a punch or using a sword, etc.
- Interact/Interaction: This refers to the process of what is happening when a force is effecting something within the environment or character. How this occurs depends on what action is being taken.
The Art of Combat: Body Arts
The body is the most available and primitive weapon in our arsenal. We can through training transform these fragile forms into weapons of destruction. The body is the first and foremost means of understanding how combat works, and indeed all combat can be derived from the movements, reactions and needs of the body before anything else. Writing a combat scene using attacks generated from the body or some other tool such as a sword, a spear or bow is both simple and complicated. The reason for this is that while many of us have seen the fantastical movements in our favorite series, to replicate them in the course of a roleplay is a difficult task.
For those with actual knowledge of body mechanics and having combat experience this isn't as hard but it also tends to narrow our perspective of how best to use them in battle. Although I recommend gaining a more thorough understanding of martial arts by either learning them yourselves, or carefully observing and watching video’s it is ultimately irrelevant. The reason is simple; combat in a roleplay and real life combat are two completely different, nearly alien concepts to one another. The rules that govern them are so fundamentally different; trying to do so is a fool's errand. The reason being is that in an actual combat, there are hundreds of moves being used, dozens of attacks, counters, and movements. Watch the video below, and try to imagine having to write out every single action that took place.
Watch the video? If you did, you probably noticed the innumerable stance changes, and fighting techniques used, and while this is cinematic and amazing to our eyes, attempting to actually write this kind of battle out is impossible, and quite frankly tedious. So forget about proper stances, footwork, and knowing where you exactly need to hit the opponent. The reality is that in a roleplay these thoughts and actions simply don’t work. Not in general. It is possible to use them depending on the circumstance but those are quite rare. In a roleplay, damage is largely subjective. In real life, that isn’t the case. An attack to the throat or other vital area is going to do serious damage, and aside from very rare cases, there are few defenses against such an attack if they are successful. But in a roleplay where everything is both relative, and subjective trying to enforce this standard is futile.
So if we should not use the hundred or so attacks seen in cinema, how should we engage our battles? From my experiences and observations the best thing to do is instead place emphasis on the individual attacks you make. Each action you perform should have signifcance, it should have weight, purpose and depth. Rather than throwing a "punch", your character could instead, do the following:
"Ichigo slides into a deep rooted stance, the earth cracking beneath him, dust and debris briefly become suspended in the air. With a deft flourish he grips his sword tightly, teeth bared and eyes lit with surging power, his body becomes illuminated in a blazing aura of power! With a roar he charges forward in a flickering blur through howling winds as he twists his sword above his head poised to strike just above his opponent. There is a brief moment where everything becomes still and all that can be heard is the thrum of his energy as it ignites the tip of his blade. His voice, thick and heavy with power loudly proclaims, "Getsuga! Tenshou!" and the world explodes."
The above is but one example of emphasis and how it can be used to supercharge your actions and give them character.
Concept, Not Technique
Because a roleplay is relative, you need to start thinking about your body arts and weapon skills in more relative terms. The antithesis to this, is the creation of very specific bodily attacks. The techniques we see written on the wikipedia pages of our favorite series, where a character run's at another, kicks them in the air, jumps up ahead of them so they can deliver a punishing blow to the body, look great in our minds, and we want to emulate that. But all of that, is just a pre-written description, not unlike a "combo" seen in a video game, in which the opponent is helpless to retaliate or react and instead follow a pre-programmed set of movements just to allow for the attack to take place. When you think of a fighting style, one always considers the kind of movements it has, how it was founded and why. One considers the philosophy of the style and what the style emphasizes in terms of general attacks, footwork, movement and defense. As a writer this is the one area anyone can become a master of. It doesn't take much effort, just consider what your combat style does for each area, and you'll develop something unique to that character. You want to concentrate on the concept of the style, not its individual techniques. You want to be descriptive but broad in how you define a given style.
A technique for a body art, is nothing more than a specific set of movements. But in an environment where the world is subjective, where action and reaction are relative, this rigidness becomes an obstacle. An uppercut is a specific technique, but a punch is more broad. It can be an uppercut, or it can be a straight punch, a jab or any other number of potential attacks. You want that broadness. If you plan to create a technique, then you want to focus on the concept behind that technique more than its execution. The reason being is that a concept is fluid, its flexible, it can change and be altered depending on the circumstance. Ultimately a concept is adaptive. A specified technique is not.
Creating Body Arts
Before I begin I will first provide terms and their definitions:
- Style: A style is a concept combining various methods of combat. It describes the emphasis of the style, such as fast or slow attacks, movement, general body posture and what the style ultimately aims to achieve through the course of a battle.
- Stance: A stance is derived from a style, and it refers to the manifestation of a specific aspect that the practitioner is emphasizing most strongly. In a style centered around high speed mobility, circular movements and counter-attacks, an example stance might be one that revolves around heightening or even focusing on the high speed mobility aspect of the style.
- Form: This is a term I will be using to refer to any applied use of a stance or style, be it in the form of an attack, defense or other action taken.
By understanding that body art styles and techniques require a more conceptual understanding of how they can be used, it is now that you can begin to grasp how to use them effectively in combat. One aspect of sexy time arts that needs to be addressed is that largely, many of them are designed to inflict damage on whatever it is they are being used against. However what many end up forgetting is that while direct damage or injury is the ultimate objective, the one failing of such body arts is that they often lack any kind of scope outside of this relative form of injury.
Scope is a necessary component of any technique, and it is why abilities that are supernatural in nature or those that manipulate the elements are so favored. Their secondary effects are clearly defined and can be adapted, changed or removed as we see fit. The same must be applied to any body art. The phrase, "bodies in motion" is a rule not a guideline. In order to create the epicness, the sense of wonder and awesomeness that we feel when watching our favorite action scenes, we must first learn how to convey that action in writing. Otherwise no matter the coolness factor of a technique or power, it will fall pathetically short of that thrill that we want in our writing.
Creating the Style
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Creating the Stance
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Creating the Form
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How To Conduct the Battle
A battle is conducted in one of three ways; narratively, competitively both of which I've described before and the last is a component that can be applied to either method which is; boss battle. What makes a boss battle unique is that it generally encompasses a character possessing such power that it requires multiple characters to fight against them. There have been a few roleplays that attempted this, but in reading them I feel that they fall short of the ultimate objective. The method I will describe can be applied to both a boss and/or any character.
Fight in Phases
A character's power is defined not by the powers they have, but how they actually use them. A wise man understands that restraint is what makes him strong, not openly flaunting his power whenever it suits him. This philosophy when applied to how you battle can make even your weaker characters appear stronger than even your strongest characters. We see this philosophy already in one of the most successful ventures; video games. More specifically MMO Raid Bosses.
A battle is fought in phases, and in the initial phase, a boss or character will use their weakest attacks first. Only when they have been pushed do they begin the process of bringing out their more powerful abilities, until near the end where they finally unleash their strongest attack. This combat formula works because it brings out a sense of accomplishment. It also makes the boss appear that much more powerful.
When applied in a roleplaying environment the same thing occurs. No warrior is ever going to begin a battle using his or her strongest power. Not only is that baffling but it cheapens the power in question. Rather than be this all powerful, rare ability, repeated use regulates it to the default state, and from there it becomes necessary to use it to achieve anything at all. We have seen this in Bleach where Bankai has become overused, that its not longer a power that is used when absolutely necessary but one that is immediately used from the onset. This has weakened it.
A strong character understands the value of the basics, and for the most battles there is no need to use anything but the basics. Clever use of these foundational techniques and abilities will win most encounters without them having to reveal their strongest abilities. It also gives the impression of power, because they were able to fight without having to resort to these well known but extremely powerful techniques.
When a group of characters engages a boss, this must be performed in slightly different manner. A boss is a boss because they have enough power to engage all these characters at the same time, therefore their use of their abilities should reflect this. Madara's fight against the Five Kage is a prime example of a boss battle. Rather then fight them himself, he first created the "stage", with his wood release. He then created clones for them to fight while having the woods themselves engage in them and serve as another enemy to deal with, while he sat on a throne.
Harness the Senses, Paint the Scene
When you begin writing your characters actions, visualize what it is you want them to do. Use the environment to help emphasize the action. Think of it cinematically, how would the camera work to make the scene look as climactic as possible? To achieve this, its necessary to use descriptions that target the senses.
What are we seeing, what do we hear, what do we smell, what can be felt? This is an expansion on the "showing" of a form, you want to elaborate, and don't be afraid to use metaphors or analogies to generate this emphasis. You can shout out that your character uses lightning bolt, and their opponent is struck by a bolt of lightning that appeared in the sky. That is what we see, but is there more?
Does the sky darken as thunderclouds form, is there a downpour of rain. But what do we hear? What of the crack of thunder and the roar of the storm as it forms under your power. What of scent? Is there the smell of ozone as this power begins to form? What can be felt? The earth rumbling beneath us as the sheer forces being called upon cause the ground to rip open? What is the character himself doing? Is his energy spiking, pouring out of him, in a bright pillar?
As you can see, adding these details gives presence to the technique, a sense of authority. What these descriptors do is to give your action life. Now its as if we are there, because you continue to add descriptions for our senses. You have to paint the scene, one piece at a time, and if do that, everything you do will seem like a masterpiece.