A denial fight is a form of combat encounter in which the actions of the player characters are fully or partially dictated by the design of the encounter, e.g. by denying them the ability to act in certain ways or by negating their special abilities. This may be because enemies can inflict conditions that limit their actions, or because the enemies have powerful or specialised defences (e.g. they have immunity to types of damage or other effects that the PCs can use).
For example, in Dungeons & Dragons, factors that could indicate a combat is a denial fight include:
- enemies that can inflict conditions like palaysis, charmed, frightened, banished, and domination (either through natural abilities or spells such as Hold Person or Dominate Person);
- enemies that can easily move themselves or the PCs (e.g. by flight or teleport) out of the PCs' attack range while they are still able to attack the PCs from afar;
- enemies with high armor class and other defences that mean the PCs' attacks rarely hit;
- enemies with access to a large number of counterspells and similar abilities (e.g. legendary resistances) that cancel the PCs' spells and other abilities;
- immunity (or sometimes simply resistance) to the damage types of the PCs' special, most common or most powerful attacks.
While some of these factors can make combat more varied and encourage players to develop new strategies, denial fights with factors that shut down the PCs' key abilities can be frustrating and less fun for players. GMs are advised to avoid denial fights in most situations.
The term denial fight has been in use since at least 2009.
The criticisms of denial fights are mainly focused on the action-adventure genre, and similar strategies may be more appropriate in other genres, e.g. horror. The term denial fight is rarely used in those situations.