In my bid to design an OSR/modern low fantasy hybrid RPG, I have become very interested in improvised combat actions and how they could make the game more fun.
In particular, I want to know why we see so few improvised actions in 5e games? I mean, improvised action is written right into the list of actions in PHB. Why don't they get used more? They could be so much fun with a bit of creativity - couldn't they?
I think one of the factors in 5e (and many other RPGs) that detracts from improvised actions is - funnily enough - the list of specified actions! By providing a detailed list of choices the player can draw from, the lists of their own accord tend to discourage choices outside the list, or perhaps it is more correct to say they encourage choices from the list, and improvised actions fall by the wayside? There's no need to get the GM involved then, it keeps things simple and avoids any potential arguments, and players know what their odds are up front. It's easier.
A compounding factor, I believe, is that many RPGs require the PC to make a choice between causing damage or going for the improvised effect. And often times, going for the improvised effect has some kind of other penalty stacked on top, reducing the probability of pulling it off. So a player can either do damage with a good chance, or attempt an improvised attack doing no damage and with a poorer chance of success. These two factors are a major hurdle to improvised action use.
So what is the solution? I think a good improvised combat framework needs:
Full disclosure - in order to make exploits possible, I've harnessed the ubiquitous "Luck" attribute, which I set at 10 + half level (round up). In order to make a successful luck check, the player must roll equal to or under the PC's Luck score, which reduces by one every time the character makes a successful luck check, until the end of the adventure. The Luck mechanic serves to indicate to the player their ballpark odds of success, creates meaningful opportunity cost (since Luck could be used for things other than exploits), and puts a practical cap on the number of possible major exploits (not minor, which are always available) over an adventure (of course, if per adventure is too stingy for your tastes, it's easy to make Luck regenerate or reset sooner, for example replenishing 1 every short rest or fully after a long rest).
So here it is; my take on encouraging more improvised combat actions... Houserule #10: Martial Exploits for OSR and 5e. Enjoy!
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