Three Strategies That Take Advantage Of The Damage Economy

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1039

Several great articles I’ve found lately talk about D&D’s Action Economy. An Action Economy is a measure of how many moves the PCs can make versus their foes.

In D&D 5E it’s clear that the game favours the party. PCs often get two or three additional actions versus foes.

If for every action of mine you can act three times, you’re going to win.

I’m writing about this right now — and several things you can do about it while sticking to official rules — for a special D&D 5E version of Faster Combat in development.

I agree. Understanding the Action Economy of your game, regardless of game system you’re running, gives you a key insight on how to design, scale, and run combat encounters.

But there’s another number even bigger. And I think you’ll agree it’s just as impactful.

Bigger Than Action Counts

Even more important than the Action Economy for D&D 5E is the Damage Economy.

This translates into how much damage each side must inflict to win. The first side who reaches that magic number lives to fight another encounter.

90% of the time your fights end with the final hit point of one side. Whether it’s lethal damage or not, the fight’s over.

The other 10% ends with survivors fleeing, surrendering, incapacitation, or some trick.

If you doubt this, please track your fights and report back in the comments below. I’d love to expand the data set.

Meantime, the slowest side to 0 hit points lives to trigger another encounter.

This trumps the Action Economy when developing your GMing strategy. If you get three actions to my one, but my action can do enough damage to wipe you out, the Damage Economy reigns.

Consider Direct & Indirect Damage

We can say all non-damaging actions and hazards in combat either aid in accumulating damage or hinder it.

For example, a spell buff that makes it easier to land blows will result in more damage done. Whereas as a low ceiling will keep a flying opponent trapped within reach of its foes, making it susceptible to more damage.

So our first Damage Economy strategy is for foes to eliminate hindrances imposed on them.

Our second strategy is for foes to impose hindrances on the party.

For example, a mound of serpentfolk places several bird nests in the area. The birds warble a distinct song when predators approach. That’s a Damage Aid. Shrill warnings get the shaman blessing her nest of warriors while non-fighters arm traps around the mound.

Our third Damage Economy strategy is to focus damage.

Rare will be a side with equal combatants. Some will do more damage. Some will Aid Damage. You need to figure out whether the biggest amount of additional damage comes from the direct or indirect damage PCs. Then nullify that source.

For example, the front rank of warriors fight with ferocity, but they have glass jaws. The cleric PC, however, gets them patched up and fighting again so foes cannot make progress. So two foes disengage and flank the cleric. At minimum, the cleric will hopefully be too busy on defence to continue with the healing.

Damage Tactics

Now here’s a question for you.

Which foes in the example above do you have perform the flank?

If you answered, “ones that contribute least to the Damage Economy,” you get an XP! Well done.

The goal of Faster Combat is not to change your game in a way you dislike. You can manage the Damage Economy strategies above with or without the grid. And you can use minis or the theatre of the mind. Keep your preferred gameplay style.

The long-term goal of Faster Combat is to put more tools into your GM Toolbox. The more GM Skill Points you invest in tools and tool proficiencies, the more options with which you have to tell amazing stories.