What’s this? The imperturbable Miss Gestalt has a weakness? And that weakness happens to be arachnophobia? Hot damn! This is exactly the sort of interesting  info-nugget players can work with! Summoning giant spiders, creating illusions, wild shaping into appropriately monstrous eight-legged freaks… It’s all ripe for exploitation! But how the crap are players ever supposed to discover this imminently exploitable character flaw?

The easy solution is to plant this type of insight manually. The players discover some old press clippings. They notice Miss Gestalt cringing away from webs while spying on her. They overhear her minions talk about how much she hated the second Harry Potter movie. Of course, this puts much of the onus on GMs to cram that info into their plots. In a dungeon scenario where you’re fighting random monsters, it’s not going to be much help.

So here’s my pitch for a mechanical solution. You know how you’ll often see “morale” or “tactics” entries in monster stat blocks? Why not introduce a way to interact with those entries? Imagine if Diplomacy, Medicine, or Insight checks could be used like “recall lore” checks mid-combat.  Only instead of finding out info about creature habitat and society, you could deduce something like a “morale condition” for this particular creature. I bet that could make combat a bit more interesting, as players might begin to push for some specific “morale victory” rather than a “to the death” victory.

In Miss Gestalt’s case, that might look something like so:

  • Critical Success — You notice Miss Gestalt pluck at her own hair as it touches the nape of her neck. It’s clear that she hates spiders, but she really hates spider webs. You believe Miss Gestalt will flee if covered in webbing.
  • Success — Every time a spider demon skitters close, Miss Gestalt recoils. You think she’s arachnophobic! If Miss Gestalt starts her turn adjacent to a spider demon, she gains Frightened 1. This value increases by 1 for each consecutive round in which she starts her turn adjacent to a spider demon.
  • Failure — She’s hard to read.
  • Critical Failure — Miss Gestalt flinches noticeably whenever one of her spider demon minions is struck in combat. She seems to have developed an uncharacteristic fondness for the creatures. Maybe you could take one hostage?

You could use the same system to assess tactics (this mage is a summoner!); determine a break point (the ogre will try to flee at 25% hp!); or gain insight into motivation (it’s just trying to defend its young!). The trick would be design tactically-interesting information and pair it with a reasonable skill.

So what do you say we explore this biz together? If you were to adapt “combat insight” into your own game, how would you use it? Which skills would be appropriate, and what kinds of mechanical advantages could players expect? So here are your instructions for today’s discussion. First, nominate a skill. Then give us your best Crit/Success/Failure/Botch breakdown for a creature of your choice. With any luck, we just might invent a new subsystem in the process!


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