Think Three Steps Ahead (But It’s Not Just About Doing Things Faster)

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0905

RPT GM Neil J. just enrolled in my Faster Combat online course. I ask all new members what they hope to get out of the course, and Neil mentioned this:

One thing I know I can improve from my side of the table is to play more tactically with the monsters

That’s a good thing to learn. And it doesn’t matter if you use the grid or theatre of the mind. Making monsters cunning gives you new ways to challenge yourself and your players so you have more fun every game.

Here’s my email back to Neil (with a couple tweaks and typos fixed):

Hey Neil,

Tactics will come with time and practice.

Before combats I’ll prep three rounds of foe tactics.

Things never really survive this plan, but it gets me thinking about enemy abilities and what happens next. After doing this several times I can do it on-the-fly better and faster.

It also helps me when I abstract foes and do this.

For example, goblins. Some might stick back and throw spears or fire bows. So they’re really just ranged attackers. Then I get to watch as the wizard mows them down with fire.

Ok, next combat. Mercenaries. Some have crossbows. I split the ranged attackers up so they won’t all get caught in a single spell. Wizard takes out some, fighter charges and gets the rest.

Ok, next combat. Bugbears. Some have bows. The ranged attackers split up. They also set up snares to catch foes who charge at them.

And so it goes. Plan, game, and learn. That’s the core concept behind Agile GMing: Prepare, eXecute, Evaluate.

Thanks for the email Neil! I hope you enjoy the course.

One more thought.

It’s not about speed just for the sake of doing things quickly.

I get two other huge benefits from running faster combats.

I get more game played each session. Tighten up those three hour slogs into one and you get 3X gameplay. Tighten up those one hour fights into 20 minute contests and you really unlock a lot of gaming.

Because the more action scenes you run, the more you learn.

Faster combats mean faster learning.

If you think of each fight as an experiment, then you get so many more results and learnings from running more experiments.

You get to try new design techniques and ideas. You get to learn how your players think and react and how to stay three steps ahead of your group. You get to learn about NPCs and monsters and what they can do.

You become a master of your game.

So it’s not just about doing things faster. It’s about giving yourself a chance to learn more each game.