Top 10 Reasons Why Your Combats Are Slow – Part 2 — RPT#536
From: Johnn Four and Tony Medeiros
Last week, we discussed five killers to your combat speed, along with solutions.
Today, we finish with the top five things that make your fights slower than a gnome in full plate.
5. Boring Tactics
The goal is fun. Challenging combats are fun. You need not have a TPK for fun, just the threat of consequences and the reality that players might lose.
Foes with bad tactics will group together and grind out combats. Sure, there is strength in numbers and less flanking, but such actions betray foe strengths and abilities.
Also, when players see you take the conservative route, they will too. And now everybody is boring in combat.
It’s funny how sometimes a twenty-minute combat can feel long and boring, but a two-hour combat can feel thrilling and engaging.
Perception, more than any other factor, determines if your combat is fun. How players perceive and experience the game can make long combats fun but short combats dull.
So you need to be part entertainer when running combats. Do this easily through entertaining tactics.
Do not treat combat like a chess game where you must be thoughtful, perfect and deadly. Instead, act fast and furious. Have foes make interesting actions.
Learn the basics of great tactics so foes still remain challenging. Then use these tactics plus the full abilities of foes and your combat system to do cool and interesting things.
Imagine a combat where foes exploded with action compared to a combat where foes turtle and go on Full Defense.
You do not need killer tactics to win combat, because winning for you as GM means entertaining and thrilling the players.
Give up opportunity attacks to flank a PC and hit him twice as hard. Have foes play dead, then attack by surprise from behind. Get spellcasting foes more involved with area affect spells. Bull Rush PCs into traps. Sunder PC armor to get players fearing more than wounds.
4. Featureless Battlefield
Remember our all-time cliché? The 10’x10′ featureless room, foes on one side waiting for the door to break down?
That was fun in the day, but we need to add more features to our battle maps to help combat move along at a fast clip.
Best case is battlefield features that do damage. Foes and PCs will be doing damage to each other. Add in damage from a new source, and the grind dies like a bug on a windshield.
In addition, destructible, movable and tactical features add a whole new dimension to fights. Combat gets thrilling, dangerous and unpredictable-ingredients for a delicious triple chocolate cake of mayhem.
During encounter design, spruce up encounter locations with hazards and offensive features. Ditto if you are using a published module with featureless encounters.
Use features that emit damage to everybody.
Use features one side can wield against the other to increase damage output per round.
Use features that weaken AC or saving throws to make one side more effective at damaging their foes.
Avoid features that improve defense! You only increase the grind this way by making one side harder to hit or kill.
3. Disorganized Play
The newer editions of D&D involve a number of conditions you need to track. Add in temporary buffs and abilities. Then toss in minis and battlemats.
The Faster Combats course shows you how to use props to help wage combat with even greater speed.
All these needs require an organized game group; else you soon get lost in the detail. Combat will slow down as you try to remember who is dazed, who has been wounded, who has been taunted.
Some groups also have rules issues. Unless you have your rules organized, play practically stops during lookups.
Get organized. I guess that’s pretty obvious.
More specifically, figure out what your group’s pain points are for organization.
Each group will have a unique collection of disorganized habits. You need to identify these first, because you can’t fix what you do not know about.
Most likely, you need an efficient way to store and retrieve minis. You might even want to collect minis for encounters before the game and have them ready in, say, plastic bags per encounter.
Pre-drawing maps helps too.
Get your key rules references ready. Custom GM screen, player cheat sheets, condition cards.
One killer is initiative. Get a sleek initiative system in place so everybody knows whose turn it is now, and who’s on deck so they can start getting ready for their turn.
There are a few different initiative options. I remember flailing around with systems that took just as long to administer as the turns themselves, so make sure your unit system is fast.
Keep the table clear of junk. Two sessions ago a huge bag of chips was making its way around the table. It passed from player to player until it hit me. I said no thanks. So the chip bag was placed right in front on my GM screen. I couldn’t see or reach the battlemat! Combat goes slow when junk blocks play.
2. Bad Pacing
Pacing in combat is not often discussed, but there is good pacing and bad.
Grinding is an example of bad pacing. Round after round goes by as each side slowly bleeds to death. Not much fun. Gameplay devolves into dice rolls. Bad rolls = yet another round needed to kill the foes.
Front-loading is an example of better pacing. Get the dynamite out early to severely weaken the opposition. Should take just a round or two to mop things up.
Unfortunately, front-loading gets blocked by foes who survive the initial onslaught with good defenses. They could take rounds to kill.
Also, multi-encounter days in-game means PCs who blow their wad in their first and second combats are left with no killer ammo for subsequent fights. So, fights 1+ and 2+ go fast, then fights 3+ are a slog.
I am a fan of front-loading. Give PCs lots of expendable magic, especially offensive magic like potions of dragon breath, to give players lots of options they can mete out. Replenish spent stores often, else players get into scarcity mode of hoarding.
The second solution is to end fights early. Have foes retreat, flee, surrender. Combats need not last to 0 hit points.
My favorite solution is mission-based combat. Give one side or both a clear objective that either ends combat when achieved, or makes one side disengage when achieved. As a bonus, if you can tip the other side as to what their foe’s mission is, your amp up combat excitement dramatically.
A fourth option is terrain or something else that kicks in with damage when combat slows. The leader golem is hollow with a ticking time bomb in his gut. When he dies, the bomb goes off in one round, damaging all.
1. Distracted Players
Players are distracted in two situations: before their turn and on their turn.
They lose focus, switch tactics mid-stride, get confused, can’t make a decision, or all of the above.
Bored players get distracted more easily than engaged players.
As each player’s turn grows longer, the whole table leaks energy. Combat slows down because combat is slowing down – a terrible negative feedback loop.
Delegate. Get players to help you with various combat tasks. Not only does this keep idle players busy, but it helps you out and speeds up combat – a win/win/win.
Announce whose turn is coming up so that player can start planning in advance.
Implement fast-play table rules, such as players can only speak in-character at the table, or players cannot speak to the player whose turn it is unless invited.
Remove distractions from the game table. Ban video games and TV and phones. Put food on side tables.
Best solution? Make combat faster. Shorten time between turns so players do not get a chance to become bored or distracted. Keep the pace fast and danger high!
The True Reason Your Combats Are Slow
In the end, the responsibility for fast combat lays on your shoulders. As GM, you lead your players. You also have the most options and levers to make combat faster.
Take an active role in speeding up combat. At the least, ensure everything within your control is optimal, fast and fun.
Lead by example and your players will notice and pick up the pace themselves.
How To Cut Your Combat Time In Half
If you are interested in learning exactly how to speed up your combats, check out the Faster Combat online course for game masters.
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A Brief Word From Johnn
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Magic Item Contest Winners
Thanks to everyone who entered the magic items contest.
The final three random winners were drawn.
Here they are:
- John Ga.
- Lucas Mac.
- William Mal.
Thanks again to Gator Games for sponsoring this great contest, and to Kobold Quarterly and NBOS for supplying additional prizes.
In past issues and on CampaignMastery.com I talk about iPad apps for gamers. However, I have neglected Android apps. A reader wrote in with a request for any Android apps that are useful for game masters.
If you know of any great ones, drop me a note.
Reader Tip Request
How to GM Computer Hacking?
Here’s an interesting tip request for sci-fi and modern genre GMs:
I’m currently running a sci-fi future campaign where computers are an integral part of space station and starship security.
The rules include skills that allow dice rolls to hack computers. This is fine for the random security door or the like, but feels too random and flavorless to me to have more important events hinge on it (like when you are in the bad guy’s empty lair trying to extract secrets from his computer without tripping any alarms).
I’m not asking for a whole game built around computer use, but are there any interesting ways you or other DMs handle computer hacking?
If you have any advice, drop me a note: [email protected]
Game Master Tips & Tricks
Do you have a game mastering tip to share? E-mail [email protected] – thanks!
1. Tip for Including Sports In Your Games
When I ran my last horror game, my players got very addicted to extracurricular activities. They went fishing, played baseball, played basketball, threw darts in bars, played pool.
In the current Renaissance game, I am playing in, my GM wished to introduce some actual games of the period to help break up roleplaying encounters. Together, he and I developed some.
The main issue is making a game challenging, but not overly so, and using multiple skills. For instance, in a mockup for how to run chess games, we suggested that the basic mechanic for resolving the game was an opposed knowledge tactics roll. However, this roll could be modified by bluff, intimidate, sense motive, and other skills.
Although all my “game rules” are designed for D&D or d20 Modern, I’ll be happy to share if someone wants them. The main thing with any game is identify the main action.
In most sports games there is a targeted throw/kick and/or a racket/bat hitting an object. This translates well into an attack roll.
To make it more interesting, allow interaction skills and knowledge skills to affect the roll and make players non- proficient with the bat/racket utilize range penalties to goals.
These do not have to be standard range penalties. When I ran basketball games, I made the first 15 feet no penalty and then increased by -2 to hit for each additional 10 feet. Be sure the PCs’ opponents are comparable in terms of bonuses.
We even extended this to hawking, and other “sports” that aren’t normally considered. The main thing is to make a game run on a few rolls. At most an initiative check, a knowledge/skill roll, an attack roll, a reaction such as a grab object attempt. Anything else drags these contests out too much.
Some contests such as dance contests can be resolved by a simple opposed check.
For hawking, we just used a handle animal check to see a comparative “who did the best.” and whose hawk flew off to better things sort of roll.
For fishing, since a DC 10 survival check gets “enough food for yourself, and for every 2 points by which you beat the DC you gain enough for one other person,” or whatever the rules say, I just had them make an untrained survival check.
I figured about 2 pounds of fish per every 2 you beat the DC by, and figured you could only get one whopper out of any given spot. That gave the guy with the survival bonus a huge advantage, but he only got it once. Crude, but it worked well enough.
2. Game World Terrain Advice
From: Paul Sulkowski
Fantasy game plots are intertwined with the topography of the world in which they take place.
Can you give me advice on how to develop a map (plate tectonics, etc.) for my game? Thanks in advance.
Try these tips out. I think you’ll find them useful:
General World Creation
World Geography Tips: 6 Tips For Starting & Planning A Campaign — RPT#97
3. Free Audio Resources For GMs
I was just browsing some royalty free audio files on Audiojungle for my website project, when I hit on strong roleplaying game turf.
There is a ton of inspirational audio files on an epic cinematic scale, scary horde attack orchestras and static sci-fi backdrops for virtually every situation or purpose.
Listening to some of these audio files, you can really feel the excitement, fright or atmosphere dripping from the speakers.
Originally this is art to be sold for web and game projects and there is an audio watermark, but if you keep links bookmarked just for game purposes, you can play them for free anyway.
For great examples try some of these…
The Horde approaches: http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/ajungle1
On Operations: http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/ajungle2
Police Static Backdrop: http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/ajungle3
The REAL Epic Scope: http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/ajungle4
Browse through the site and have some fun for all the inspiration that you might have. Also make sure to check out the cinematic music category: Audiojungle Cinematic.
New GM Advice @ CampaignMastery
What’s new at the blog of Johnn Four and Mike Bourke:
Have WordPress, Will Game
For a long time now, I’ve been thinking that WordPress has many of the advantages of a campaign Wiki, and a few more on the side, that would make it an ideal platform for game documentation – with the right plugins, of course, something that I’ll get to shortly.
Read more at: http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/cmwp
Back To Basics: Campaign Structures
This week, I’m going to talk about the basics of linking adventures into a larger structure.
This is a subject that I’ve written about before, but one about which there is always something more to say. Most of those previous posts will be more advanced in technique than today’s discussion, and in many ways, this can be viewed as a primer for those more detailed and complex approaches.
For the benefit of our readers (and Johnn, who was asking me for just such a list a day or two ago), I will close this article with a list of my previous articles on the subject, arranged in logical sequence. But, right now, let’s get into the subject at hand…
Read more at: http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/cmcampaignstructures
Back To Basics: Adventure Structures
Every now and then in this game you have to ask yourself if you are neglecting the basics that really help newcomers to the hobby.
My standard solution to this dilemma is to ensure that I have packaged something new in at least some part of the process – some new thought or insight that can help any GM out there that hasn’t thought of it themselves. Hopefully, I’ve managed that, but a review of the fundamentals can always be helpful.
The subject for today is the adventures that go into a campaign….
Read more at: http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/cmadventurestructures
Pieces Of Creation: The Hidden Truth Of Dopplegangers
Pieces Of Creation is an occasional recurring column at Campaign Mastery in which Mike offers game reference and other materials that he has created for his own campaigns.
This episode covers changelings…
Read more at: http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/cmdopplegangers