Two weeks ago I reported on my combat timing and discovered I was taking the longest turns at the table. I vowed the fix this, and Friday’s session bore great results. Here’s the lowdown on how we did so well.
Fight To The Death To Lift A Paladin’s Curse
The PCs had just finished exploring parts of a mission dungeon. (A mission dungeon is one where the PCs are meant to visit from time to time to perform various interesting missions, as opposed to an “explore until complete, rich, or dead” type of dungeon. I’m repurposing the AD&D module Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.)
We then roleplayed several encounters involving the usual Riddleport intrigue and politics. Sessions ago, the paladin won a cursed silver sword from a githyanki captain. To lift the curse, he must slay 30 evil creatures and four named evil creatures. He also incurred a negative level, and to repair his status he had to slay a Riddleport villain known as Kakiku, a godslayer dragonspawn.
The group decided to flush out Kakiku to help the paladin’s quest. They did a lot of investigation, and then enlisted the help of their crime lord patron.
A few days before, they humiliated the dragonspawn in an impromptu arena duel. The PCs aimed to challenge the dragonspawn faction to a rematch in the arena.
Rictus, the PCs’ vampiric patron, would personally invite Kakiku to watch from his private observation box. As Rictus is the owner of the arena, it is an honour to be invited, and it’s a sweet spot to watch the gladiatorial fights.
The PCs would ambush Kakiku en route to the arena match and turn the streets of Riddleport red (or, in this case, blue).
The Set Up
The characters picked the ambush spot. One player drew the map while the others strategized. This saved me time drawing up the map, and gave me time to study the bluespawn stat blocks.
Then I brought out the monster minis. A pair of mediums, a pair of larges, and a huge one. The huge was Kakiku. The others were his bodyguards.
I set out the minis in my desired formation. Then I asked the players to place the formation wherever they wanted on their map.
Next, the players placed their PCs. Several picked roof tops. A couple picked side alleys.
The ambush was set.
Giving players choice of map configuration, enemy placement, and PC location after enemy placement gave the players significant tactical advantage.
However, I had two reasons for doing this.
First, the group spent time beforehand gathering intelligence on the bluespawn. They knew the creatures’ abilities and temperaments. They knew enough that a challenge of honour and an opportunity for revenge would draw Kakiku out, with the invite from Rictus lending the whole affair legitimacy.
So, the PCs deserved the high ground for due diligence.
Second, I wanted a fast combat. Giving advantage to the PCs gave this goal a better chance.
The setup was no guarantee the PCs would win. Their placement and tactics could still have been poor. However, they worked as a group, and the fight was more enjoyable because of the strategy, planning, teamwork, and build-up.
I Pre-Rolled Initiative
I use a Google Spreadsheet to manage initiative in a fast, simple, and orderly way. After last session, I added several new columns and filled them with initiative rolls.
I had asked the players if I could roll init for them, and everybody agreed.
So I did. When we were ready to fight, I made the foes’ perception checks. And those who weren’t surprised got in on the PCs’ surprise round.
With initiative pre-rolled and already slotted in my spreadsheet (which is always visible to players via a second monitor that faces them) we then simply started combat. “Fane, you’re up. You’ve surprised the bluespawn, what is your action?”
Armor Class Posted
When players ask me the armor class of opponents, I have to look them up in the stat block. Everybody waits, then the player lets me know if he hit. There are moments of hesitation on both sides while the rolls, calculations, and situation freeze frame during the look up.
Knowing foes’ AC ahead of time is not much of a spoiler. Though, I will poll the players after I do this a few more times to see how they feel about it. Could be, the anticipation of hitting or not is too much fun, and that delay is part of the glee of combat. So, perhaps I only reveal ACs once the PCs’ hits pinpoint them.
For this battle, though, revealing them up front worked beautifully. Half the back-and-forth during a player’s turn instantly disappeared. They saw their foe’s AC on the spreadsheet, made their rolls, and announced hits and misses. Very fast!
We were already doing this, but it added more punch because the PCs were focusing fire on Kakiku. I count up with damage, and post it in red on the spreadsheet for all to see.
Players can see who’s hurt and who isn’t this way without going through the mini roll call on the battlemat each round.
In this battle, they saw damage mount and adjusted tactics accordingly.
So, kudos to my players who used focus fire to bring down foes faster.
That had the added benefit of giving me fewer foes to manage as the battle went on, which reduced my time a lot.
The PCs focused fire on the leader. He went down in three rounds (including surprise round).
As soon as the bodyguards saw their leader fall they raged. However, two of them went down fast. So, the other two buggered off to report to high command.
The fight ended early because the foes fled. However, the fight was a foregone conclusion, so it would have just been a grind to finish the remaining two.
Story was at stake, though. The PCs did not want any survivors reporting back to HQ. However, with a fight in the middle of the street, there would be enough witnesses for some semblance of the truth to come out anyway.
The point was moot, as the bodyguards had burrowing ability, and escaped through the ground, making chase near impossible.
Our fight ended early, at its peak, instead of getting drawn out and sucking all our table energy with it.
A Sixth PC
One of our players drives three hours (one way) to make the game. He can only make a few games each year. With a city campaign, it is easy bringing his PC in and out of the action. Fortunately, he made our game last Friday.
In this battle, he added more firepower to the PCs’ side, which made combat faster because foes died faster.
Xan’s player is fast too, which made his contribution so much more valuable to the combat.
The Final Results
The combat lasted one surprise round and two full rounds.
Here are the times:
Crixus & Cohort: 5:58
Velare & Cohort: 5:47
Total time: 36 minutes, 58 seconds.
Last time, I ran eight critters and this time three. That is offset by two types last time versus three types this time.
I cannot let the players set battles up for optimal foe crushing too often, but it is another tool in the GMing toolbox I can pull out when appropriate.
- Pre-rolling initiative worked well
- Studying the foes a bit while the players strategized shaved time off my turns
- Posting defenses allowed faster player calculations
- Focused fire brought down the toughest threat early, and had a domino effect on the other foes
- Foes ran away for tactical reasons and to prevent grind
Overall, a great success.