As the ad copy implies, Narrative Combat does away with the tactical aspects of D20 combat. There is no need for a map or miniatures. There is no flanking, no five-foot step, no attacks of opportunity, etc. Instead, combat becomes focused on achieving one or more Objectives that serve to drive the story forward. For regular players of indie RPGs or visitors to The Forge, this might look perfectly logical (if not preferable), but for many d20 fans, I think this will be a journey into unfamiliar waters.
The system looks pretty simple at its core. The DM constructs a Template for the encounter that includes an Objective and possibly one or more Events. The most basic Objective is simply to meet a damage Threshold by delivering a certain number of dice of damage to the opposition. A non-combat Threshold could be a certain number of successful Climb checks or a successful Jump check to indicate climbing a cliff or jumping a chasm. Events can indicate how many points of damage are dealt to the characters per round by the Template and any number of other details. Templates can be simple or expanded into a grid, where the outcome of one encounter leads to another ?cell? in the template. Nine sample templates provide detailed examples for stock encounters like Ambushes, Brawls, and Duels.
The Narrative Round structure is similar in structure to the standard D20 round. Combatants dice for initiative and then choose one of five stances for the round. The stance is a broad indicator of what the character is doing in a round. For instance, attacking is an offensive stance, while casting a Bull?s Strength spell on an ally is a supportive stance. Each stance is detailed and example narrative descriptions are provided for each. Resolution typically involves resolving individual attack rolls and other actions. The total of each attack roll determines the number of damage dice added to the total needed to meet the damage Threshold, if it is part of the template. As you might expect this is all complicated by feats, spells, magic items, etc.
A chapter is devoted to translated bonuses for feats like Point Blank Shot and Improved Bull Rush that lose their traditional uses outside of the standard D20 combat round. For some reason, the Feats are drawn from the D20 Modern Core Rulebook and not D20 Fantasy, which I would think would be more popular. The next chapter provides some guidelines for translating bonuses to Narrative Combat from other D20 abilities and Feats not covered in the previous chapter. Three appendices round out the book with informational tables, a generic template and a Narrative Combat FAQ.
As you probably can tell, Narrative Combat is a pretty big departure from standard D20. Instead of the focus on tactical details, the focus is instead on a structure that pushes the story forward without the worry of tracking the hit points of every monster and NPC. This might be a hard concept for some players to grasp, however, and I think the GM should spend plenty of time explaining what Narrative Combat is and getting buy in from his players before dropping it into his campaign.
My main gripe with Narrative Combat it that it is a pretty hard read. The author throws around terms like cell, threshold and damage types without benefit of a glossary. Also, the author?s style is a bit dry for my taste (not unlike the standard d20 rules) and I had to read some sections several times before I felt like I was really grasping some concepts. On the plus side, I found few typos and the book?s layout is clean and professional.
The $10,000 dollar question is ? should you buy Narrative Combat? My answer is a bit of cop out ? it depends. If you are looking for a way to streamline and simplify typical D20 combats, I would argue that Narrative Combat is not the answer. On the other hand, if you are looking for a radical rethinking of D20 combat that focuses on narrative elements and not the nuts and bolts of tactical combat, you should by all means give it a try.
<br><br><b>QUALITY</b>: Very Good<br><br><b>VALUE</b>: Satisfied<br>
[4 of 5 Stars!]