Mining Tropes for RPG nuggets: Running on the Edge

Image Source: Gamespot

This is part of a series of articles that tackles the concepts of tropes and how they can be applied by a DM/GM to improve their favorite Role-Playing game adventures. It is heavily inspired by the sheer goodness of the TV Tropes Wiki.

All right, so Marty’s dead now and we need new cool tricks to spice up our game.

This week, I decided to go deeper into the Rule of Cool and start to dig up for a Trope that exist solely because of this Rule and see how it can apply to a RPG scenario.

The Blade Run
The hero and his enemy are in the midst of a fighting duel. The enemy makes some flashy move with his conspiciously large sword that’s guaranteed to reduce any mortal to tomorrow’s worm feast. But as the dust clears, the enemy is in for a nasty surprise, as the hero is balancing in an Ass Kicking Pose on the blade of his sword, which is the perfect place for him to run across the blade toward his unguarded opponent.

The concept of this trope is perfect for fantasy and is pure Fluffy coolness. Ingredients: Hero, Villain, Big-ass sword, shake and serve. Hmmm…. Pulling it off from a Crunch point of view might not be that easy….

Aside: In an Anime style games like BESM it’s so simple it hurts. You declare to the GM that you won’t attack and put all your efforts on jumping over the next sword stroke and stand on the sword. If the GM is cool sensitive he’ll allow it (I think I would). Then mention that now that you’re standing on his huge sword, you can charge into the bad guy who should be a bit short of defenses.

However, just thinking about doing this in D&D makes my eyes water.

Ahhh I see a challenge here and I must rise to it! Caveat: let’s not do the classical thing and create a subsystem (AD&D) or a feat (D&D 3.5) for it. This trope can be achieved in D&D (or any crunchy system) by doing a slight subversion and play with the scale of the encounter a bit for a cool adventure hook. I’ll give you an hint: look at the image.

You have this Gargantuan Humanoid construct that’s rampaging the countryside. It’s shaped like a plate-mail wearing Cyclop with lots of knobs and pointy ends sticking out all over it. Oh yeah, Colossus guy also has this Kickass sword the size of Bus and uses it to destroy the nearest plot-significant(TM) piece of real-estate.

Aside the second: While a PC can’t usually occupy the same space as another creature in D&D, it can stand on an adjacent space. If the only point of contact of said space happens to be the creature’s leg, chest, shoulder or head, it’s still usable. Heck Iron Heroes is practically built on that assumption! Holding on to said space is another matter and subject to some serious DM controlled chills and thrills.

So say a 50-60% chance success before bonuses to climb from it’s feet to its head'(i.e. DC = 13+character level). At half speed, this should take quite a few rounds.

Now while your more prudent players are trying to be inconspicuous about it and try to slowly climb up on the colossus to get the the eye-mounted control gem, your Maverick wants to get up there real fast and open a can of Whoop-ass on that walking piece of Architecture. You allow her to spot that when the creature strikes with its huge sword, it usually digs a few feet into earth/rocks/walls/cattle/Martys and stays there for the rest of the turn. So once Starbuck’s turn comes, she rushes to the sword and start running up it’s steep incline (Balance Check). If she’s short on speed and is still on the sword by the end of her turn you give her the following options:

  • Jump onto the Colossus body and make a grab for a handhold (Running jump check followed by a Dex Check, or for the soft at heart… Roll behind screen, say ‘you lucky dog’ and tell Gung Ho that it worked)
  • Drop and grab on the sword until the end of the next swing (Balance Check + Strength Check)
  • Stand on the sword and run over and under the blade and it’s edge to always stay in the same relative position (Huge Difficulty, but compensated by a huge Coolness bonus, Balance checks ) while the sword is swung again.

The idea is not to let the player fall, unless the fall isn’t too dangerous and the hero can try again. If you must give the hero a real challenge, drop a few mooks or a brute on or near the sword for her to fight while running the blade. Go overboard with the description and always, always let the player know that she stands on the sword because you feel it’s still cool enough. She must know that she’s on borrowed time and need to get to that gem pronto.

If she grows cocky or careless, drop the gauntlet and have the colossus smash the sword against the nearest temple. Give Batgirl a reflex save to avoid total splatterification but make it clear that she blew her chance and must pick herself up from the sacred ruins, dust her outfit and start again (maybe loosing to that lame rogue who made all his boring climb rolls).

Such risky maneuvers must absolutely have an equivalent reward (else no-one will try it). If Stupid Ranger (he he, I finally placed it) makes it to the shoulder of the colossus, poping the gem (or activating the lever that drops the sword for good, or getting to the switch that opens the hidden door underneath the Creature’s feet, etc…) should be ea
as pie.

So there you go. No new rules, cool set up…. At least I’d like to think so

P.S.: Can you believe that I wrote most of the piece before finding out that this is exactly what happens in the 3rd or 4th fight in the Shadow of the Colossus PS2 game? Honest! That’s a Trope for you!


  1. This reminds me of God of war 2… Men did I liked the boss fights in this game. 😉

    Back to the topic. Sadly, D&D tend to invite you to stay static. I mean if you don’t move you have a full action round and all those nice extra attack that goes with it. This can lead to the 5 foot step full attack pattern which i can’t stand…

    I’d rather climb to the top of the nearest building. Nag him to strike the said building, then slide down the length of his weapon to jump on his face…

    Basic hero tactic… Really! 😉

  2. Let’s kill the extra attack and use the Star Wars rule of +1/2 level damage to a standard attacks! I too hate the iterative attacks now that I’ve tasted the goodness of Book of 9 Swords.

    The idea of running on the sword is that you would save a ton of time getting to the ‘kill the monster button’

    But hey sliding on the sword is so You that I would go with it also!

  3. What’s the thing’s ground pressure? How many pounds per square inch (PSI)? Now, where’s the nearest patch of soft ground? What about a patch of soft, wet, mucky ground?

    (If you’ve never climbed a tree, gotten your knees scrapped, burned your fingers, eaten a charcoal coated marshmallow, jammed your toes, jammed your fingers, hammered a nail, or sawn wood you have no reason to be playtesting an RPG.)

    In D&D one nasty thing you could do is cast a Grease on one of the thing’s ankles. No friction co-efficient, so it won’t be able to stand on that leg. :evil grin:

  4. If a player thinks about the first 2 sentences you wrote, the DM failed with applying the Rule of Cool.

    However, thinking to sink the Colossus in a muddy river or a mucky Swamp is a great idea. I would give brownie points and let the thing fall or get stuck and move on from there.

    I would then have to either go to the next scene (sigh) or Improv something to keep the scene challenging… oh boy…

    Good points. Although I have no ambitions of being a RPG playetester… 🙂 (However, having been a small boy once, I pretty much did all those things, many times over)

  5. Most people are going to be thinking of one thing, how heavy is that beast? If at least one person doesn’t ask you, “How deep is it sinking into the ground?” you need new players.

    I find it best to not plan on an encounter lasting for a certain amount of time. An encounter lasts as long as the encounter lasts. Unlike a story the Big Bad™ in an RPG cannot rely on the heroes taking just so long on each project.

    In short, if the PCs take less time then you thought they would, then the villain will have to make do with what he could prepare in the time he did have. With the right state of mind improvising can be a lot of fun. 🙂

  6. You’re right in that no amount of cool will make the players actually dumber. That,s called Genre Blindness and will probably be my next Trope to tackle.

    I realize that I while making this encounter, being the crunch junky that I am, I overplanned the mechanics of climbing the thing (and the sword) instead of just letting the players deal with it how they see fit and do it on the fly… throwing challenging and cool challenges as they come up with strategies.

    Points well taken Mythus. That’s why I firmly believe I need level up on my Improv skills more.