Friday, July 16, 2010

Reverse Dungeoneering #1 - Speeding up Combat of 4th Edition

Improving your D&D experience. For Dungeons and Dragons Players and DMs.

There are a variety of things the DM and players can do to speed up combat in Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition. Here are several:

1) Be prepared!

For DMs -
No laptops, no books, no rules checking, none of it. Books are for reading and planning before the game begins. You don't need to bog game time down because you have to look through your .pdf file for Monster Manual 2 to find a specific creature's stats. NO! Bad DM! You should have already printed that out or typed up the stats yourself. If you've got the physical copy of the Monster Manual then stick some different colored tabs between pages and title them so you can bust open the pages you need faster than you can say ROLL INITIATIVE! Heck, there's even these nifty lil cards that have the stats already on them if you can get a hold of those.

Have your maps drawn BEFORE you start the game. A nifty trick is to literally have your tiles or grid already at the center of the table but place something over it. If you have multiple battles planned out just stack the different fields and place something between each layer to hide the next battle. That way when you want to start combat you just pull off the cover and BAM! Players can instantly put their characters where they want.

Already have initiative rolled for all of the pesky things you're going to have your players face against before you even meet up. Already have notes for different events. Already have things ready already alright?

For Players -
All powers should be written out and ready with all of your mods and bonuses calculated ahead of time. You should be able to roll the dice and add just one number and be done. Take a look down below about Power Cards and Character Sheets.

Have a rough idea of what you plan to do. When it gets around to your turn, you should be stating what you are trying to do and rolling your dice immediately. If you really don't know what to do then just use an At-Will. When in doubt, at-will out. It might not be the most "tactically efficient" thing to do but it's something and you won't be wasting five hours trying to figure out your next plan of attack.

2) Adjust!

For DMs -
You're allowed to adjust the way the battle ends. By that I mean the enemies are close to death. HP is low, it's the bottom of the ninth, the fat lady is about to sing, insert another metaphor. Why waste time? You can either:
A) Have the enemies fall over from blood loss.
B) Have them surrender.
C) Have them try to flee.
D) Have them go for one final strike before collapsing.
Not every battle has to end with the HP down to 0.

Adjust the way you DM. It might be fun to make them squirm but it's totally acceptable to let them know what the defenses of the enemies are. Let's say the boss has a really low Reflex defense but your party is trying to hit Will. You don't have to spill the beans on all of the stats but here's a method that makes sense and works to speed things up a ton: Once a player has tried to hit, you can tell them the target number they had to aim for to hit that defense. It fits since their character would know how close they were to hitting the enemy. If they were 2 points away then they know what they have to roll next time.

Adjust the rules. If there is a rule confusion and it isn't THAT important to know the exact rule then make something up. Write a quick note about it and look the rule up later after the battle so you can correct it for the future.

Adjust the monsters. Sometimes it's just better to lower the HP of the monster and increase the damage it deals. This way, the monster is more of a threat for a shorter amount of time. It can make people really wake up and it makes combat go by much quicker.

For players-
Adjust the way you play. When you're trying to attack you should tell the DM, "21 versus Reflex." If the DM says, "Hits." then you should follow up with, "28 fire damage." Always tell the damage type to save time.

Adjust the way you setup your dice. I'm pretty sure your class only uses a few different kinds of dice to attack. Have those few up front and ready to roll and the rest can hang back and chill.

3) Tools you should be using:

Initiative Tracker -
This isn't the only way to go about this but it's a great start. Keeping track of everyone's initiative, conditions, effects, HP, and defenses make things go by so much quicker since no one will have to ask.

Power Cards -
There are a million sites with different free downloads, you can make your own, or go with the best and buy the real thing (yes, it's a real product). I've tried having my powers printed out and it still takes too long to look through different powers. There is nothing quicker than the cards and there's a big reason why. Not only are they color coded but you can flip over your dailies and encounters face down after you've used them. You'll never be looking through ALL of your powers because you've used some already. That's simply amazing.

DM Screen -
Have the group pitch in and get one NOW or buy one yourself. If you're super cheap then make one. The whole point of a DM screen isn't to hide what is going on but to have the conditions list and other tables all organized in front of you.

Character Sheets -
No offense to the official character sheets but they aren't the best by any means. My personal favorite after testing out several is this right here:

I have to thank Shado for that sheet a thousand times over. It prints in landscape and for some reason that actually works better than the standard. You want to know the big reason Shado's character sheet is better? Placement! Everything is placed where it should be expected. HP, healing surges, and all of that are next to each other. Passive perception and insight are actually next to the skills section. Combat is on the first page (stats, skills, etc.), character building and items are on the second (feats, equipment, etc.). Location, location, location. Improper placement wastes time as you'll be forced to hunt down numbers.

4) Learn the rules!

One way to help with this is reading this forum thread:
It's been one of the most helpful things for my groups EVER! Make sure everyone reads it, not just you.

5) Turn order:

It's not just about knowing initiative order (which the initiative tracker should help with as mentioned above) but knowing how turns work. D&D players should learn the phrase: Ongoing/Actions/Save. You need to get into the habit of knowing that ongoing effects happen at the beginning of a turn, then your actions, then you can try to save for any ongoing effects. Repeat the phrase until it sticks.

6) Team work:

Learn the roles of each class and work together. Defenders should be up close and personal to other party members, Controllers should be splitting enemies away from each other, Strikers should be maneuvering to flank and helping take out one enemy at a time, and Leaders should be keeping everyone stable. Those obviously aren't the only things but we would be here all night if I were to explain it all right now.

Work as a team out of game as well. If you've got some casual or new players then partner them up with someone who knows what they're doing.


Let me know if this helped your group.

This is Kylak signing out and speeding up combat by putting extra sugar in my green tea.


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