Question for the GM: When I’m playing a character that doesn’t fight well, I either end up ineffectually flailing at enemies, or doing nothing and waiting until the combat is resolved. How can I contribute to a combat?
This is a common problem that requires GM flexibility to fix, so you might want to point him to this post. One way that games have avoided this problem is by making every character effective in combat (D&D 4e, Werewolf). While this solves the problem, it can limit dramatic situations that can arise and make everyone quick to resort to combat to overcome problems. At the other extreme, some GMs brag that they run games where combat is rare or non-existent, as if a game without combat is somehow intrinsically better than a game with combat. This has the same problems. The core issue is when a combat system becomes a mini-game that everyone has to stop and play in the midst of a story. When combat is not limited to simply violent physical interaction with enemies, a lot of options open up for characters who can’t or won’t fight.
First and foremost, every character should have a goal in combat. It could be unrelated to the combat itself, like rescuing a hostage, unlocking a doorway, disarming (or arming) a bomb, or finding a way to escape. Only when the goal is to directly affect the combat does the problem arise, so this is applicable only when the character’s motivation is to aid an ally or hinder an enemy. The key aspect to remember is that instead of interacting with the enemy, the character will interact with the environment.
How this plays out depends greatly on the particular environment that the fight takes place in. If the character simply wants to damage an enemy, they might find something heavy that can be dropped on them; chandeliers and counter-weights on the end of a pulley are cinematic staples, as are falling statues and crane loads. An enemy can be distracted or hindered by throwing or dropping a tapestry or curtain over them, or destabilized by yanking the rug out from under them. The environment could also be made hazardous, such as by turning on or exposing industrial machinery, a high-voltage electrical hazard, an incinerator, or any other OSHA nightmare you can think of.
The abilities of the character can also factor into their options. A character who is good with animals might find a way to spook or distract an enemy’s mount, one who can drive well could be able to use a vehicle to ram or distract an enemy, or provide cover for allies. One skilled in computer use or electronics might be able to operate lighting to distract, or use machinery to make terrain hazardous or directly damage an enemy. A character who has knowledge of psychology may know various effective ways of interrupting an enemy’s focus or drawing their attention away from the other combatants for a split second.
Alternatively, a character can contribute by watching and providing information or advice. Someone knowledgeable about fighting who can’t or won’t fight can provide insight into an enemy’s weaknesses or habits that an ally can exploit. A tactically-minded character can survey a combat and coordinate his allies to enable them to work together. In a combat with lots of cover or spread out across an area, a character with access to proper surveillance can provide information on enemy position and movement, and coordinate their allies as well.
Like all good role playing games, the only limitations are the players’ imaginations and the GM’s willingness to provide opportunities.