Back in my yoof I lived with the grind of “I try to hit, I fail to hit, he tries to hit me back, he fails’ combats. RQ3 was particularly bad, surprisingly at high 75%+ levels.
Then two games really blew my mind open and redefined how I refed the grind.
Cyberpunk 2013/2020 – There’s a small bit of GM advice pointing out Cyberpunks don’t get into Grinding fights. No they plan ambushes with Claymore mines and other such wacky hijinks. Unless they are surprised by an ambush themselves, a Cyberpunk never gets into a fight that they haven’t already won.
Feng-Shui – Awarding a bonus for good narration and coming up with cool stunts. Surprisingly if players don’t make up stuff to their advantage in this way it soon becomes a Grinding combat akin to the worst excesses of AD&D.
So in short these days I let players set up cleaver ambushes Cyberpunk style, let them draw enemies into that arrow trap the thief discovered earlier, and give bonuses and effects for cool stunts, such as bringing down loose masonry on the heads using a Telekinesis spell.
Funnily enough all this is echoed in Matt Finch’s’ “Quick Primer for Old School Gaming”, which contains a ton of advice about this very dilemma.
This all came out of a thread over at a thread on UK Roleplayers :Old School Conversations With Baz :: Whiffing