What Are Three Round Combat Plans?

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1137

RPT GM Iron-D&D asks what 3 Round Combat Plans are, which I mentioned in a recent email titled My Secret For Effectively Building Epic Adventures.

3 Round Combat Plans were introduced in my course Faster Combat. It’s been mentioned by others online, and I do not think I invented it. But I haven’t found a pre-2011 reference to it, and Tony and I wrote our own approach for it.

Most folks run combat like this:

Actions => Tactics => Strategy

When it’s your turn you consider the options, choose one, and take Action. Roll to see what happens.

Most GMs (and players) stay at the Actions level.

A few GMs will step back and look at patterns and results of Actions and see Tactics.

For example, I just added a lesson to my draft of Faster Combat for D&D 5E that teaches a tactic called Kiting.

In Kiting, a foe lures a PC or two away with missile fire. This is a way to divide and conquer the party.

Of the few who look at Tactics, a few of those GMs will look in advance at all options to form sequences and combinations of Actions and Tactics in different situations to create a Strategy.


For example, I look to my left and there’s a human warrior. I lash out with my claws. Hit. 7 damage.

That’s an Action.


I realize I’m fighting a group of mercenaries intent on looting my tribe’s cave. I know they are mostly Brutes. Lots of damage.

I look => leather armor. Mediocre defense.

Any spellcasters? No.

Leader type around? No.

Ok, my plan is to wait until my shaman freezes a few and then I smack them down. I’ll try to stay out of any archers’ fire zone. And I’ll keep an eye on my cave’s entrance in case reinforcements arrive – these barbarians usually have sneaks, spellchuckers, and sometimes a leader type.

That’s a plan of Tactics.


A combat strategy is work done holistically.

It’s generally a result of four steps:

  1. What is the objective?
  2. Where are we at right now?
  3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each party member and foe?
  4. What’s the puzzle I assemble to create the best plan for victory?

A strategy has a planning component, but it’s more about a longer-term series of plans and serves as a guide for making decisions.

3 Round Combat Plans

These fall into the Tactics layer with a touch of Strategy.

Look at the traits and abilities of your monsters and NPCs.

Think a bit strategically and create a plan for what foes will do in the first three rounds when the PCs attack.

The exercise of creating a 3 Round Combat Plan gets you thinking strategically, even though you’re only planning three rounds.

And it gets you thinking about effective Actions and Tactics foes can take against their adversaries.

Over time, you will master combat this way as a result of planning something, analyzing afterwards how it went, and asking yourself what you’d do differently next time.

Also, a 3 Round Combat Plan helps you get this thinking done away from the heat of the moment. It’s 60 seconds of prep that’ll free your brain up a lot during the session.

If the plan fails in the first round, you’ve only lost a minute of prep time, but you’ve learned at least one thing, if not more.

More details on how to make your 3 Round Combat Plans are covered in Faster Combat. But these details should be enough to get you started with this fantastic GM tool. Hit reply if you have any questions!