Creative Gamemaster’s Workshop: An Interesting Combat Situation

(Originally published on

Time to visit the workshop again. This time I wanted to present an interesting environment to run a melee in, one to give the players some different challenges and opportunities. The environment was inspired by a grand book, Sharpe’s Escape by Bernard Cromwell.

Combat can all too often devolve into toe-to-toe battery, as exciting as accounting. A great way to mix things up is to present interesting “terrain”, i.e. environmental variables. The following description could be used in a fantasy campaign, Napoleonic, modern, future, or others.

The premise is that a warehouse exists filled with valuable goods (food, supplies, weapons, ammunition, or whatever will serve as ‘goods of interest’… likely contraband). Our heroes discover this warehouse and its contents where they don’t expect it. A good example is a warehouse of rations and supplies in the middle of a supposedly stripped town in the middle of a war zone.

Physical Description: The exterior of the warehouse is non-descript with two large doors for access and shuttered/blacked-out windows. Within, the light is dim (a few dirty skylights far above) so details take some time to emerge. It is cavernous, say 40′ in height and is filled with carefully stacked goods. Each stack measures 20′ square at the base and piles up anywhere from ten to thirty feet depending on what is being piled there. The stacks are arranged neatly with a wide access path cutting the warehouse in two leading from the doors, and narrower aisles between each stack. The air is musty and dusty, having been shuttered for weeks which makes the overall light dimmer.

The Threat: The warehouse is owned by someone and they won’t like people poking around in it or threatening to expose them (illegal goods, etc.). Soon after the PCs enter the warehouse to explore it or find what they are looking for, the owner and his thugs will fill the doorway. There should be enough thugs that straight-up battle will be a losing proposition for our heroes. The thugs have ranged weapons (bows, guns) that should drive the PCs into the stacks. They will also close the outer doors quickly to keep things private. The light will get far dimmer at this point, providing shadows and making combat more difficult.

Opportunities: The PCs can climb the stacks to get cover & the high ground. Darkness and dust can cover movement and make the enemy difficult to see. The condition of the floor could keep movement quiet or make it easy to tell when someone else moves. The goods in the warehouse might be useful themselves. Flammables could change the situation, as well as goo, slick stuff, choking dust, distractions and combat advantages (Finding a better gun).

Options: Is there another way out of the warehouse? Do the PCs have to get out the front door? Can the owners be bargained with or will they try to kill the PCs? Will the thugs sweep the place to find them or just trap them and wait for hunger/need drive the PCs to them? If the PCs show themselves to be dangerous, the thugs could bolt up the doors and come back with reinforcements. If there is another room, an office, a cellar, a utility closet, what happens if the PCs retreat there and get locked in? Are the PCs a well-oiled combat team, knowing how to attack the terrain or more of a rabble, with some freaking out and others trying to keep everyone alive?

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