March 31, 2022

Finding The Right Balance Between Role-Playing & Combat In Your Tabletop RPG

In any tabletop RPG story, the players need to feel there’s harmony between the traditional TTRPG yin and yang: role-playing (RP) and combat. The ratio between these two sides of the tabletop RPG coin form the foundation of great played stories.

So today’s worldbuilding advice digs a bit deeper into the GM’s options with that combat/RP balancing act – and how they can put their own spin on tradition.

The Golden Ratio

The “Golden Ratio” is the ratio of role-playing to combat in your tabletop RPG. The often unsaid default is roughly 50-50. So, 50% of the story stems from some form of role-playing, whether it be discussions, exploration, or even just hanging out in a tavern. And the other 50% is straight-up fighting in some form or fashion.

Managing RP and combat-focused scenes into a good flow is often considered part of the foundation of a solid tabletop RPG. But the next step there is understanding that the make-up of every table is different. Some players love role-playing and don’t really enjoy combat. Some are the exact opposite and their night is ruined without a good fight. And some yet crave both options.

So one of the first steps in your Session Zero – the pre-session which kicks-off tabletop RPG campaigns – is to try and highlight your table’s Golden Ratio. Start with the default 50-50 and then zero-in on the players collective preferences. Just talk things through and discover what you players are looking for: 70% RP/30% Combat? 70% Combat/30% RP? Whatever it is, the answer is there!

Building on Tradition

Once you have your table’s Golden Ratio foundation laid, you can begin to experiment. Depending on where the table falls on what they like/don’t like, you can take the next step and dive in deeper, and really go down the rabbit hole.

With role-playing, you have base-building, negotiating, haggling, conversations, romances, exploration, dungeon-delving, problem-solving…you name it. Once you have some momentum with your story, really start to experiment with these different areas. Talk with the different players and see what they’re gravitating toward and design sessions around those activities.

If they show an interest in base-building, really dig into that one of these sessions…throw the ratio off for a temporary period of time. Maybe 80% RP/ 20% combat for a session but with a heavy emphasis on whatever theme(s) the table really enjoys. Or vice versa, if you have a combat-centric table, double-down on the tactical maps, the thinking involved, and the rewards for an epic battle won.

Regardless of where you end up, you’ve built upon the traditional yin and yang of tabletop role-playing games and forged your own path for the table. So give it a try! And let me know how I can help.