Combat Encounters Vs. Narrative Encounters

Most RPGs focus on combat and roleplay. These two focuses also influence the two main types of play within the game. Combat is often the easier focus to understand. Most combat is highly structured with every player being part of a turn order. During their turn a player may choose what action they take, usually from a limited pool of abilities and actions, and then it becomes the next player’s turn.

Narrative encounters are much more varied and difficult to understand, especially for someone new to the game. While combat is consistent, structured, and focused on mechanics, the focus of narrative encounters is more loose and open to the players. Narrative encounters can include combat and is often used for battles that are too easy for the party to bother rolling specifics or too large in scope to bother keeping track of the numbers. Narrative encounters can be structured in rounds like combat is and this sometimes makes it easier for new players to understand when they can take action, however most narrative encounters are freeform. This means that if a player wants their character to do something they are not inhibited by turn order, action points, or action types (such as standard, minor, and move actions) If a player wishes to speak up then they simply speak up and if a player wishes to have their character do something then they just need to say so. The difference between narrative encounters and combat encounters is where the phrase “It will take 5 minutes to walk for 5 hours but 5 hours to fight for 5 minutes” comes from. Narrative encounters are often faster and much more loose. Narrative encounters will focus more on social interactions and general skill rolls, rather than the number intensive calculations of combat.


This can be intimidating for new players and if a player believes it will be easier to handle if a turn order is implemented then simply talking with their GM can resolve this. Turn orders are also useful for narrative encounters if the party has 1 or 2 members that try to keep the spotlight on them, rather than allowing other player characters to do things.  Striking a balance between the two encounter types is vital to a fun game and the perfect balance varies from party to party. If there is ever a question regarding it then clear communication with the GM is the most important thing for resolving it.

Hopefully, this helps and if you have any questions or comments please share them below.

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