View Full Version : Modeling Combat in Dark Heresy

2012-09-15, 10:43 AM
I'm about to start running my first full-fledged game of Dark Heresy, and as I re-read the combat rules I'm starting to wonder whether or not I ought to break of the old wet-erase battle grid for this purpose.

I've run a handful of one-shot Dark Heresy games before, and in all of these games I simply ran combat in a narrative fashion. My players didn't seem to mind the inevitable degree of vagueness that comes with this style of play, but I feel like a longer-running campaign is sure to present situations in which knowing exact distances could be a matter of life and death.

Conversely, however, I'm worried that having to draw out a map for every firefight will slow things down and, much worse, break the tension of what would otherwise be gripping encounters. If I say, "A gang of mutants suddenly leaps from the shadows, descending upon you with howls of insane," I want my players to start sweating--but that excitement is easily lost when the don't get a chance to react until I've finished drawing.

Obviously, this is quite a conundrum, so I was wondering what sort of experience other Dark Heresy DMs have had with combat. How've you folks handled it in your own games?

Lycan 01
2012-09-15, 11:26 AM
I always did a mix of both. Small encounters that were more for narrative purposes, I just narrated, or jotted down a quick sketch. For bigger, important combat encounters and challenges, I used a dry erase board.

Never had any complaints. :smallsmile:

Jack of Spades
2012-09-15, 01:28 PM
Now, this was a Deathwatch game, but it's still basically the same system so here goes.

We almost never use a grid in our (quite combat-heavy) games, and generally just stick to "they're about X meters away from you" and whatnot. I think we've used a grid once or so, and that was just when there was an ork encampment we were destroying from different angles and we happened to have the grid close at hand.

In the 41st millennium, weapon ranges are so large that they're pretty much not worth pulling out a grid for-- any given weapon will have a range covering most of the grid. So, unless line-of-sight rules are going to be abused a lot, it's probably not worth it.

But, if you're going to do it, try to pre-draw things if you can. It's good for the purpose of keeping tension where you want it.

2012-09-15, 02:51 PM
Unless it's a big battle there's usually very little need for a battle grid. The only thing I try to keep tack of is marching order. It can matter if the dude with the shoulder mounted storm bolter is in the front or the back, but it doesn't really matter if something is 8 squares away or 9. By the time range penalties (usually) matter the board would need to be enormous.

When I DM, and placement is very important, I usually just use a small whiteboard and place dots for the characters. What I really want is a magnetic one so I can place colored magnets for everyone, which makes movement easy.

Also, how big is your group? I find that longer combat rounds take the more beneficial using a board is. If you have 3 players then you can probably skip using any sort of visual aid at all.

2012-09-16, 01:15 AM
I'd agree with most everyone here and say 9 times out of 10, you can get by without a map. Your normal goon smackdowns (a handful of cultists in an alley, etc.) should be able to be handled in abstract/descriptive terms without much harm. Only when things get particularly complicated or when specific positions may be important (assassinating the cult leader in the middle of a major ritual, chase scenes, etc.) does it really become necessary, as it can be hard for your players (never mind yourself) to be on the same page in terms of the details. And you should have enough warning in a full fledged campaign to be able to prepare those sort of maps in advance.

2012-09-16, 03:30 AM
Seems like it would be good to put these kinds of questions in the general thread: http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?p=13905631#post13905631

Anyway, I've run a bunch of Dark Heresy/Rogue Trader/Black Crusade and a little bit of Deathwatch and I've never used a map outside of the vaguest quick drawings. Only time this became a problem was in Rogue Trader ship combat but thats just because of all the turning and what side everyone is facing.

As to Dark Heresy, setup combat within range brackets. So the fight starts at either 5/30/100/200 meters so that weapon ranges can then be calculated relative to the starting position of the fight. If people a certain gun which needs to hit a sweet spot, like the Lasgun with 90m range, the player can move into position, others might want to back off etc.

You dont need much more than that to have things move smoothly unless your in certain tight quaters (though given this is warhammer 40,000 theres very few circumstances where tight-quarters needs to come up unless your specifically planning for it as a GM).

You setup combat scenarios with vague levels of cover given the terrain type and have your players narratively add what they need into the gunfight. So if you need a chest-high wall and your in some side street, have them take cover behind a dumpster. Thats say....5m from them forward.

Even in a large, complex situation, your generally safe to describe narratively and give relative distance. For the cultist leader example you say: "Your group enters on the left of a large open theatre, with the cultist leader standing the middle of the stand surrounded by 30 cultists. The room is 60m diameter, the cultist leader is 30m from you and the nearest cultist is 15m from you." That is more than enough information to let the players go at it I've found.

Combat range bracket is 15/30m so the party can get into a position and take their appropriate stealth/deceive etc checks. Make position information relative to your opponent out of combat. So one of the players wants to get into a vantange point with a sniper rifle. You move the player 50m from the cultist leader in a balcony. Rather than having the player move 4m with a walk action.

Jack of Spades
2012-09-16, 08:48 AM
I'm not sure why the cult leader thing is considered complex, really. You basically have 4 areas: Crowd, Stage, Backstage (optional), and Elsewhere. Crowd is a round or two away from stage (one must people-swim to get through), backstage is less than a round away from stage. Cult leader is on the stage. Elsewhere is about a round away from backstage or crowd, depending on which side you're on.

Then again, my experience with this situation a) took place in the town square, not an auditorium, and b) involved my jetpack-endowed character running to the stage round 1 and murdering half the leader's personal guard by round 3.

...Deathwatch is a high-powered game.

I for one actually prefer the lack of a concrete map. It opens up a lot more tactical options, the main one being hanging out in the area outside of the map :smallbiggrin:

2012-09-16, 07:20 PM
I only played DH a handful of times. We used a map and it didn't feel like overhead. Buuuuut we we coming off of GURPS so we were already used to the grid. And we had a couple strictly melee characters, for whom closing the gap was the fun part of the combat.

I say start out gridless, but if you need to clarify what's going on, don't hesitate to include a map.

2012-09-17, 04:45 AM
And we had a couple strictly melee characters, for whom closing the gap was the fun part of the combat.

I think this is an important point. Our group has grown to love using a map and has used it for games when it really shouldn't have. But I have found combat locations often will be scaled to something that can fit on a board. Which generally makes sense, as most of our combats tend to take place in buildings, tunnels, space ships, alleys--not in open plains.

For Dark Heresy, this means firearm ranges often become meaningless, your long las is basically always going to be at point blank range. But it also means melee characters are much more useful as they can reasonably charge an enemy without getting torn to shreds from gunfire. Which I think is good for 40k type games as melee weapons tend to feature prominantly and many potential foes have no ranged weapons. How many daemons do you know of that have anything besides melee? Now how many of those do not serve Tzeench?