Rules Lite and Narrative Combat

fate_style_zones (1)

I just came upon a great article written by Sly Flourish about Fate-style narrative combat as inspired by DM Chris Perkins in his 2015 Acquisitions Incorporated PAX live game.

In that piece, it takes “rules lite” and heavy use of narrative over mechanical (and more often times, tedious) aspects of combat. How many times have you (as DM or player) “suffered” through a 2-hour battle on a grid – which doesn’t add or diminish to a storyline or an adventure? When a similar narrative battle that might take 10 to 20 minutes would have sufficed?

Think about it? You get “more bang for the buck” and you, as DM, can have more acts, scenes (and what-have-you) in your game rather than a 2 to 3 hour battle with grids and the repetitive roll-damage-accounting type of “Old School” D&D.

Well, some like their games like that. And who am I to tell them that they’re doing it wrong? The fact is, if your group is having fun, then, BY ALL MEANS, continue. But I’d like to adapt and try this for my group. I’ve been slowly shifting from a rule-heavy mechanical game to more rules-lite and narrative-heavy games.

With that, here are some considerations from game systems such as Fate and 13th Age that will be house-ruled in to my current campaign:


  • Engaged = Minis base touches
  • Nearby = One hand (dangkal) away approx 5 to 6 inches. Takes 1 move to get there
  • Far Away = More than 6 inches away but still visible in map. Takes 2 moves to get there


The escalation die is used in combat. During the first round of combat, the escalation die equals zero. At the start of second round, the GM sets the escalation die to 1, and increases it by 1 at the start of every following round, up to a maximum of 6. PCs get a bonus to all attack rolls equal do the escalation die.

It’s tied to the fiction, the book says: if the PCs avoid conflict/engagement, the GM can rule that the escalation die does not increase (or even decreases or resets) if the PCs beat around the bush too much.

It’s also directly linked to many mechanical bits. Some PC abilities (like a few fighter maneuvers) can only be used when the escalation die is equal to or greater than a preset value. Many other abilities get enhancements based on the current escalation die value (there’s a barbarian rage feat that uses the escalation die as a bonus to the rage’s recharge roll, and a bard recovery battle cry that can heal an extra 1d4 HP per point of the escalation die, to name a few).

Monsters/enemies do not normally get the escalation die bonus to attack rolls — but some (like dragons), do. Also, there’s a number of monster abilities that are also tied to it, like limited use attacks that can only be made when the escalation die is even, etc.

The escalation die is also linked to every limited use (i.e. encounter, daily) attack ability the PCs have. Since the PCs might end up with a +6 bonus to attacks, monster math must take it into account. So monster defenses are a little higher than they “should” be, and thus relatively harder to hit during the first rounds of battle. Going nova right away isn’t optimal — it’s much better to use your encounters and dailies later in battle, when the bonus from the escalation die is greater and you’re more likely to hit.

[ source ]



So what are Fate “Zones”, they’re simply pieces of paper or index cards with a Header description and an “Aspect”. A character might use an aspect to “invoke” something cool (and yes, NPCs and monsters CAN too).

Here’s a detailed guide over at the Fate SRD.


Dice and rolls can still be used in a narrative combat. This just means that it will be rather lax and loose. The DM should adjudicate this and make sure to balance tension and probability into his battles. It does take a while to get used to but experience will prove to be the best teacher.

Taking from several narrative systems, when the PC succeeds, let the player decide what happens. Fodder/Noob opponents should die with 1 hit each while “story-based” villians and/or antagonists will take more than a round to finish.

If the PC fails, the DM describes what happens.

Perhaps the DM takes note of the PC’s HP? And just tell them that they are weak, strong, bloodied or near dying. Use a lot of adjectives and you’ll be fine.


So there you go, try to experiment with some of these concepts and ideas for your games and I hope that you (and your group) will enjoy the improvement!


DM Mon

Resources and References:


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