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Combat: More Than Just Rolling Dice

Combat: More Than Just Rolling Dice 

Combat is rolling dice.  That’s the mechanic used by Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder.  But just like your character is more than a group of random number, combat is more than just rolling dice.

Combat should be exciting and fun.  Simply saying ‘I swing my sword’ isn’t very exciting, though.  I’m going to give you some tips on how to make combat more interesting.  I’m both a DM and a player, so my advice will be coming from both sides of the DM screen.  Jonathan touched on some of these points in this blog entry, but I’ll be talking about some other things as well.

1.  Pay attention

This seems simple enough, but honestly, this seems to be the biggest problem with any gaming group I’ve had.  Someone is in the kitchen getting a sandwich or doing something unrelated when their turn comes up.  Then, once they’re back at the table, someone has to explain to them what happened while they were gone.

This is a problem because not only does it slow down combat but it can also take people out of a tense combat if someone is missing during their turn.  This can lead to a bad group dynamic, especially if the person who leaves the table is a repeat offender.

The DM has a lot to keep track of, so slips of concentration are to be expected.  It happens to me every now and then and my players don’t seem to mind helping me out.  The problem is with repetition.  Asking someone how much damage they did while there’s a side conversation going on is one thing.  Asking repeatedly because you’re involved in that side conversation is another.

As a group, try to keep side conversations down.  Granted, every group has its own in-jokes and favorite movie references, but interrupting play to shoehorn in that Boondock Saints reference (my group’s movie of choice) is a bit much.

 

2.  Be descriptive

This is for everybody.  “I swing my sword,” while accurate, lacks the punch of “I grip my sword in both hands and roar while aiming for his head!” or “I sight down my arrow and aim for his greasy black heart!”

For the DM, description is everything.  Accurate description can make all the difference to the players, but more so in combat.  Players have a connection with their character, especially right after character creation.  They have a vision and they don’t want some nasty orcs stopping that vision.  By using in-depth description of what’s going on, say the way the light glints off of the jagged blade of the orc’s waraxe as it arcs toward the head of the character in question, you can implant that image in the mind of the player and make them a little more nervous about their 1st-level Ranger’s health.

DMs, when your final boss dies, make sure the player’s know it.  Assuming that he’s not going to be a recurring villain, give the players a scene that will assure them that he’s dead.  His head flies off and out the window.  He’s cut in half from top to bottom.  His spleen explodes and coats the ceiling with…whatever spleens are filled with.  (Red and white pulp, according to Wikipedia.)

 

3.  Understand what your character can do

This is another tip for both sides.  Understanding your characters power and abilities not only makes combat go faster, but it can also help you come up with descriptions of what you’re doing.

Spells are a good example of this.  As your spellcaster progresses in level, they gain access to more useful and flashier spells.  One thing you can do to be more descriptive is to use magic words.  If you can’t think of any yourself, this website is incredibly useful:

http://www.mysteryarts.com/magic/words/Ed.2R/?p=11

Find a few that you like and attach them to your spells.

Your Wizard has just reached 5th level and gotten his first 3rd level spell.  You decide you light the look of lightning bolt.  If you attach the words ‘Mijoter ferula!’ when you first start using the spell, when you start saying that during a particularly tense moment during combat, your party will smile and they envision smoked corpses everywhere.

For the DM, this is a must during combat.  It’s easier if you have a group of the exact same enemy, because they’ll all have the same abilities.  They all do the same thing, you just describe it differently.  It’s more difficult when you have a leader, usually with class levels, and several minions, because the leader has different abilities.  When you pack together a random assortment or enemies, it’s more difficult still.

The way I handle this complication is that I write up individual enemies on 3×5 note cards.  I put down their name, class and level, statistics, melee attacks, armor class, saves, and special abilities.  If I’m using note cards, I write on the back their tactics, especially if they work well with another member of the party.

Once I’ve gotten all that down, I take a second before combat starts and everyone’s rolled initiative to put the cards in order of initiative.  That way, as a player is finishing up their turn, I can be looking at the next card and determining the enemy’s course of action based on what has just happened.

In working with AdventureaWeek.com I’ve taken to doing this same thing using text documents on my laptop.  Because the adventure is online, it makes more sense than taking note cards along.  Tabbing through text documents is fairly easy.  I have a MacBook and I use Text Edit, because it’s easy and doesn’t take up a lot of room next to my browser window.

 

4. Roll multiple dice simultaneously

This goes back to keeping combat going.  At high levels, characters can get up to four attacks in one round.  A Monk using Flurry of Blows gets four attacks at 8th level.  Don’t roll these separately.  All you need is to specify which dice are for which attack.

Rolling all of your attacks together can create an air of tension as you try to follow multiple dice across the table.  Maybe two of your three hits will be critical hits!  Hopefully the blue one won’t critically fail!  Again!

Blue d20
Curse you, blue die! Curse you!

This is different than rolling multiple damage dice because the attack result has already been determined.  Before it’s been finalized, especially if the combat is really close, each attack roll counts.  When I run my 9th level Pathfinder Monk, he has four attacks, so I roll four d20s at a time.  We had a player who was a Gnome Druid riding a big cat of some kind.  We could not get him to understand that his attack and the cat’s three attacks could all be rolled at the same time.  His turns usually took a couple of minutes.

 

5.  Good for the goose…

This one is mostly for the DM, but can also be for the player.  When options are provided to the players, those options should also be available to their enemies.  For example, I had a player who wanted to use the spell gravity bow from the Advanced Player’s Guide.  He used that in conjunction with enlarge person to give himself a huge amount of damage at 3rd level.  Enlarge person makes you one category size larger and gives you a +2 to your Strength score.  It also enlarges your equipment so that it’s also one size category large, so a longbow that normally does 1d8 now does 1d10.  Gravity bow causes your weapon to do damage as one category size larger.  That longbow now does 2d6 plus your Strength bonus.

He asked and I said, ‘Sure.  Just remember that the option is open to everyone.’  He didn’t hear that part and was surprised when the party was attacked by giants wielding tridents that did 2d6 + 13 points of damage.

The point here is that once an option has opened up, it opens up for everyone.  The storyline reason for this is could be that there was a survivor that reported the tactic to their leader and the leader adapted it to their own troops.

Players tend to stick with what works, so if your party likes a particular tactic, figure out a clever way around that tactic.  If they like to use ranged weapons against enemy combatants, engage them with sniper fire of your own, especially from the sides or the rear.  If they’re fond of rushing straight into combat, use traps.  By throwing the party off of their game, you can create a sense of tension that the party might not normally have.

For the player, watch out for DM patterns.  Do they like to use multiple waves of enemies?  Do they prefer arcane spellcasters?  Are they particular about using a race, like trolls or ogres?  Then prepare for it.  Between combat encounters, if possible, research those enemies and find ways to counter their tactics.

 

6.  Misdirection

Giving the players the unknown is one of the best ways to make combat more interesting.  Everyone who has played the game has taken down a goblin or an Orc.  But what if that Orc is a different color than usual?  What if the goblin is wearing wizardly garments or priestly vestments?  Okay, not that unusual.  But what if a single solitary goblin wearing priestly vestments is barking and growling, challenging the party?  Obviously a single goblin can’t stand against the might of the party, right?  Right?   Of course not.  Unless that goblin has help.  Say, help in the form of a few dozen goblins and a few hobgoblins as well.  Still too normal you say?  Okay, what about this?  The goblins of the area have made a deal with the ghouls of a nearby graveyard.  The ghouls will get to eat anyone the goblins can lure in and the goblins get to keep the loot.  And that pack of ghouls is lead be a ghast or two.  So, the party chases after the lone wimpy goblin and then finds themselves surrounded by undead who are clamoring to eat flesh.

You can also misdirect players at the table.  One of my favorite tricks, which I use very sparingly, is what I call ‘too many dice.’  An example happened at my last game session.  One of the characters fell down a 40 ft. pit trap, so 4d6 falling damage.  I went to my dice, grabbed the four distinct d6s for falling damage and then picked up eight more d6s.  I dumped them all out on the table and the player’s eyes went as wide as possible.  He ended up taking 5 whole points of damage falling in a 40-foot deep hole (bad roll on my part), but the look on his face was awesome.

 

7. Intraparty Competition

This is another favorite of mine and it even works outside of combat.  If you have two players with similar skill sets, like melee combat, throw out the phrase, “Wow, Bob.  I don’t think you can beat Steve’s damage output after that last blow.” This can push Bob and Steve just that little bit so they’ll become more engaged in combat. They will pay more attention (Tip 1) to both player’s rolls so that they can figure out who’s winning, and probably be more animated.  “Critical hit, Steve!  Beat that!”

 

8. Teamwork

This works well with Intraparty Competition.  A fair amount of the time, players enter combat as individuals where each character takes on an enemy one-on-one where it might sometimes be more beneficial to have everyone gang up on a single enemy, such as the largest, strongest melee fighter or the enemy spellcaster.

The Advanced Player’s Guide and Ultimate Combat have Teamwork Feats (Ultimate Magic only has one for Bards), where party members that take the same feat get numerous advantages based on which feat they take.  For example, if two (or more) party members have the feat Feint Partner, when one ally makes a successful Feint combat maneuver, the opponent looses their Dex bonus against your next attack.  So, if you have someone who critically hits relatively often and you have three total party members with this feat, the critical hit is confirmed, plus two attacks of opportunity.  That can go a long way to put down enemies.

Players want to be successful in combat and if the entire party works together to be successful, then the whole party feels like they’ve accomplished something.

 

9.  Music

Jonathan spoke on this and honestly I dislike using music during combat.  I find it hard to synch between combat and a piece of awesome music.  If I have to stop the music early because the scene is over or the music ends early, it feels to me like the music is wasted.  What I prefer is to play music in the lead up to the fight with the bad guy.  That way the atmosphere is built when they party rushes into the throne room and I don’t have to worry about making sure that the music keeps going while trying to keep track of all of the combat variables.

Two groups whose music I like to use are Midnight Syndicate and Nox Arcana.  Both are considered neoclassical ambient music and the music contains no lyrics.  I find it to be good music to use during a dungeon crawl.  Midnight Syndicate wrote the Dungeons and Dragons studio album in 2003, an album that is considered the “first official Dungeons and Dragons soundtrack,” which seems like it’s perfect music for D&D and Pathfinder.

 

 

So, there you have 9 tips on how to make the most of your combat.  Remember: rolling dice is important to the game, but it doesn’t have to be the most important.

Have questions?  Comments?  Requests?  Concerns?  Snide remarks?  Leave them in the comment box below or email me at SkredlitheOgre@gmail.com

Until next time, be awesome to each other and good gaming.

Will.

3 thoughts on “Combat: More Than Just Rolling Dice

  1. more amazing work will!!

  2. “Combat in Pathfinder and D&D is more than just rolling dice. Combat should be exciting and fun.” So says Will Myer, and I agree with him, to an extent. Saying “I swing my sword”* is a kind of bare minimum. It can get tedious if you repeat the phrase every round, roll the same dice every round, and gradually wear down on hit points until one side is dead. Fortunately, the game itself is designed not to let this happen. There are spells, combat maneuvers, terrain effects, and role-playing opportunities that can swing a battle very quickly. If everyone at the table is thinking about the combat as a role they’re playing as a realistic character, then there will arise interesting elements all by themselves.

    *Saying “I swing my sword” every time can be tedious, but it can also be tedious and taxing to think of a new description every single time you make an attack roll. What ends up happening is you fall back on a few stock phrases, or you make a half-hearted joke about how you can’t think of a good way to describe this particular swing. I want to assure all players that saying “I swing my sword” is good enough, when you can’t think of something else. The rules of the game do limit what can be done with a sword swing–there aren’t called shots, for example. The rules literally prohibit you from (believably) saying “I thrust my sword directly at his left shoulder, looking for an opening to cleave into his heart.” The DM might let you “try” to do that, but the dice might say something different, and then even a successful hit remains a failure. When you do charge into combat, rolling initiative, don’t be afraid to bring your trusty catchphrase with you. Be bold in asserting exactly what you want to do. If you want to swing a sword, say that you swing your sword. If you can’t think of something awesome to say, just play the game.

    Fortunately, no D&D combat ever devolves into the fighter chopping down a tree, blow after blow, until it finally falls. If, for some reason, it did, the thing for the DM to do would be to transition to Constitution checks, or simply to narrate the rest of the fight.

    If you’re role-playing a character who is engaged in combat, one of the things you’ve got to keep in mind is that humans don’t necessarily continue with the same action over and over again. If some tactic, let’s say repeated sword swings, doesn’t seem to be particularly effective against a foe, it’s a natural thing for a thinking creature to change tactics. It might be the case that the fastest, most direct way to the end of this combat is through repeated sword swings. But, unless your character is extremely experienced with fighting the exact foe, you probably don’t know that. You probably don’t know which tactic will ultimately prove most effective. Again, we’re assuming your straight-forward tactics seem to be sub-optimal*. It’s natural for a fighting person to get frustrated with a tactic that doesn’t work, and to switch to something else. Allowing your character to do this is what role-playing is all about.

    *Sub-optimal being defined as “not working in the first hit”. There’s a reason swords and axes are such a focus of the stories we tell. A sword is designed to kill in a single blow. Swords are not designed for grinding. If you have to “swing my sword” more than once, there might be something more to this combat. Back in the 70s the game of D&D became a game in its own right, rather than the players just playing historical miniatures, because of the fantastical situations that it would create. D&D is fun and exciting because there are creatures in the game that cannot be killed with steel alone. The game is begging for non-sword-swinging solutions. As a hard-boiled adventurer, your sword might be your first answer to any problem, but it had better not be your last.

    Remember also that retreat is a tactic. This probably goes for the DM more than the players, but if a fight is starting to look boring or frustrating, for either side, but let’s say for the bad guys, they need to be role-played too. In my campaigns, the majority of fights end “prematurely” with an attempt at either retreat or surrender. There are dangerous and devoted foes met in the course of adventure, but these are the memorable exceptions. As for the players side of things, sure there are bull-headed paladins who refuse to retreat, and that can be fun, but those characters have to be pretty lucky to last longer than a few sessions. The floors of dragon caves are paved with the bones and rusting armour of paladins who didn’t know how to retreat. Other than that particularly dim paladin, most adventurers should be afraid when they enter a combat. If you’ve ever dressed up in fake armour and hit your friends with blunt swords, you know it doesn’t take long at all to get winded. Swinging your sword over and over again, you have plenty of milliseconds (which last a lot longer if you’re under stress) to reconsider whether you really want to be here in this fight.

    Let’s talk about paying attention. The game played right demands attention because it is engaging. Don’t look at playing the game as a chore. Yes, there is a little responsibility for everyone: the DM has a bit more than the rest, but it helps if all the players want to play. I used to play D&D in a room with the TV on (roommates and girlfriends and whatnot, you get the picture). A good game of D&D should draw in the folks away from their TV show, not the other way around. A major part of this is on the rules and the adventure in play. The game is full of interesting things to do with monsters and what they can do. Miniatures or some kind of grid can help a lot, because it’s something visual, and we’re visual creatures, humans. But the game in itself is designed to be interesting and engaging. If you follow the instructions for running a combat, reading the monsters, and paying careful attention to the adventure you’re running, the game should be engaging in itself.

    As for description, I’ve talked about this in an aside, but I’ll address it a little more now. Called shots are a no-no, unless you’re actually making a called shot. Which brings me to the point about description. Don’t be descriptive for the sake of being descriptive. Always use your description for the sake of the narrative. Be specific and accurate, not to “bring your world to life” although that’s great and all, but be descriptive and accurate to move the story forward. Details are like hand-holds, allowing players to grasp ahold of the narrative and propel themselves through it. Be generous with detail, fully expecting the players to make use of it. They won’t grab hold of everything, but DMs are always talking about how their players surprised them with exactly which detail they picked up on. One of the reasons I have house-ruled called shots back into my game though, is that it is a natural urge for players to use the called shot as a method of being descriptive while moving the narrative forward. You might also be tempted to describe a certain weapon as “gleaming and glinting as it sails toward your head”. This is not bad, but you just have to make sure you understand the consequences of this description. It’s not that it’s a scary image, planting the character in the world, although perhaps it can do that too. But it carries information with it. It tells you that there’s light in the room. Lighting is a descriptive element, but it is also extremely important to the tactics of the combatants. The previous description also tells you that the axe is polished and sharp, so these are not your typical roughneck orcs or goblins.

    *As another aside, describing weapons and armour is a good way to implant clues to your players on how the bad guys are going to behave. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played in a game where the DM conveniently forgot that his orc baddie was wearing full plate armour. FULL PLATE! D&D is a game of tactical miniatures combat, so the first place you need to start describing is the weapons and armour of the combatants. Some DMs argue that giving away information like that is going to encourage metagaming. “If I tell the players that the orc chieftan is wearing full plate armour, they might guess his Armour Class, and that would be metagaming.” Don’t be that guy. If the players metagame a little, that’s fine. There’s always a bit of a balance between character knowledge and player knowledge. The characters will always know things that the players won’t know (like how exactly to pick pockets or which ingredients to use to brew potions), and there will be things the players know that their characters don’t know (like when one party member encounters something and his player tells the rest of the group about what he found before he sees them, or the simple fact that trolls regenerate unless subject to fire). If you’re running low-level adventures, it can be difficult to differentiate one weapon from another. Especially when magic and masterwork items are rare. But there are rules for weapons that are improvised, broken, or made of suboptimal materials, like bone or stone. With a little planning ahead, you can make a combat a bit more engaging simply by using an alternate material for some weapons or armour.

    Understand what your character can do. Yes, it sure would be nice if you knew every trick available to you, but part of the fun of a game of D&D is trying new things. Spellcasters are a special case, because spell effects are described pretty specifically in the rules, and you can’t do much to deviate from your spell list. D&D wizards traditionally can’t create a candle flame at will, any time they like, although many DMs houserule to allow this. In fantasy fiction, the writers come up with magical spells as the plot requires, but D&D wizards have to pick spells in advance, hoping that they’ll get lucky and need a magic missile. Other than spellcasters though, you probably shouldn’t worry too much about what your character can and can’t do. When you encounter a situation, either you can deal with it, or you can’t. If there’s a skill required, you’ll just have to check the whole group’s character sheets to see if anyone has got that skill. After a few encounters, you will naturally learn your character. It does help if you have a kind of gut feeling as to what your character should be able to do. Wizards do magicky things. Bards sing songs and win through poetry. Try things out, and see what the DM comes back to you with. If you find that your character is missing a feat or spell or ability that you think your role-playing concept ought to have, it’s always possible to pick it up the next time you gain a level. Also, the best way to create new spells for the game of D&D is to imagine them while playing. D&D has plenty of spells that were named after wizards who were actual characters of actual players in some of the earliest games of D&D. Just think how amazing it would be to have your wizard join that pantheon.

    Rolling multiple dice simultaneously. I’ve seen this advice many times, but unfortunately, my playing experience doesn’t seem to lend any advice here. I’ve never had a character that needed to roll so many dice at once. I also want to point out that rolling the dice is pretty fun for me. Rolling dice is my time to be in the spotlight of the group. I find it fun to be the one who rolls die after die. I sympathize with groups who have players with multiple attacks and pets who take forever to finish their turn. But to me, that’s playing the game. It’s true though, that part of the tedium is all that math, adding and subtracting bonuses, checking corner cases, and so on. Perhaps the player’s turn began with the most evocative description of a sword swing ever, but follow that with five minutes of adding bonuses, and it pretty much kills the drama. What to do? I can’t suggest any one thing, but it helps if your character build is simple and low on the dice. If you have an animal companion, keep their stats up to date. Animal companions can be hard to use effectively if you don’t know exactly what they can do. I wouldn’t worry about this problem too much, because animal companions are designed as distractions and flanking partners, not frontline fighters and tacticians.

    *An aside on animal companions: there’s a tricky balance to be struck here, with regard to how much control a DM exerts over animal companions. It’s very tempting for a DM to role-play the animal, but my advice is to avoid doing this. You wouldn’t role-play for a PC, so you shouldn’t role-play for their pet. Many players see their animal companions as an extension of their character. You might be shocked at the level of disregard the player shows their pet, but there are other ways to express your shock. Don’t have the animal refuse an order, except in the case where it is beyond the animal’s ability. I even give leeway to allow an animal companion to open doors. An animal companion cannot speak, but it can Bluff to a limited extent (your mileage may vary). And of course, what you do control is the rest of the world, and the NPC people’s and animals’ reactions to the player’s pet, and his treatment of it.

    My other solution to rolling so many dice, is one I’ve mentioned before. Simply limit the number of rounds that combat can last. Run shorter combats. If you run shorter combats, you should be able to fit more per session. A round in which a 20th-level fighter rolls six attacks should be an epic event. That round really should be devastating to the opposition. The whole point of multiple attacks is to make mincemeat out of your enemies. By 20th level, the game should be vastly different from how it was at 1st level, and a great deal of the challenge will be lining your fighter up so that he can make that six-attack full round attack. You don’t work your way all the way to 20th level just to fight dinosaurs; no, you’re looking at challenging archwizards and demigods. They don’t just line up and wait for you to full-attack them. Except when they do, which is awesome because you cut through them like butter.

    I really heartily disagree with Will: “what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” The game of D&D has often been compared to an arms race, between the players and the DM. I don’t disagree, but I would prefer for the arms race to take place mostly in the realm of tactical thinking. Scouring books for extreme combinations is not my idea of a great way to win D&D, but I realize that it’s what some people do. As for me as the DM, I learned a long time ago that I can win anytime I want. Retaliating against players who bring extreme combinations to the table seems rather childish to me. And it smacks of sour grapes too. The game has plenty of winning combinations that a player could exploit. It really can be quite often an innocent stumbling on something awesome that messes with the DM’s plans. Because D&D is so dynamic and dependent on the DM, often a “broken” combination is simply exploiting some hole in the DM’s style. Perhaps a DM neglects to use a certain rule that would negate the combo. In any event, a DM who responds with a duplicated tactic is not being particularly creative, and he can be seen as punishing a player who didn’t deserve it.

    Will Myers: “Once an option has opened up, it opens up for everyone.” is a vindictive way to play. Technically, all options are open at the beginning of play. Expecting players to be exploitative and adversarial can be a self-fulfilling prophecy that leaves no one having any fun. Even if your players are into munchkinism and do think they can beat you, as a DM you need to be above that. Smile down on their feeble attempts, but none of this retaliatory stuff. Too, you will often find that using the players’ own tactics and combos won’t work for your baddies. If the players make a habit of a certain broken combo, well it makes sense because it works for them. But the world doesn’t make much sense if a diverse set of monsters and villains all suddenly use the same tactic. And if there is such a tactic that’s so good that everyone uses it, then there’s probably something wrong with the game, or you’re missing something.

    Misdirection, I endorse. This just makes sense. One lesson I learned while DMing an improvised setting was that the players, if sufficiently motivated (and they often are) will take any bait you give them. Give them an empty house, and they’ll search it for secret compartments. Insist that it’s empty, and they’ll insist there must be something to it. It’s not realistic for houses and rooms to be featureless and unremarkable. Everything in the world, especially in the storied world of Dungeons & Dragons, has its own story, and leads to its own adventure. This isn’t just the narrative paradigm; I literally believe this to be true of the real world. There are no dead ends, only divergent paths. And a surprising number of divergent paths re-intersect with the main quest after less time than you’d think (I’m still talking about the real world here). So if you start with something like a lonely goblin, or a wild goose chase, chances are it should lead to something interesting, dangerous, or just plain different. That’s all there is to misdirection.

    I’ve done the misdirection thing at the gaming table too, where I might lie about a critical hit, only to reverse myself. I basically regret those times. I think I will still do it from time to time, if I get the urge, but in general, I think this erodes the players’ trust in me as an impartial Dungeon Master. Fool your players once, shame on you. Fool them twice and they’ll never believe a thing you tell them. Or to attempt to use another cliche: once bitten, twice shy.

    Intraparty competition works when the players initiate it, but it rings hollow when the DM tries to stir it up. I’ve been moving toward the impartial, removed, aloof DM style, and I think this is the best way to be. Be the unmoveable object in the players’ world. NPCs may taunt the players’ characters, but the DM will never taunt them. Also, really, rolling dice to decide who has accomplished winning some game? I know I play D&D and that’s loserish enough in itself, but this competition over rolling dice just seems to be another level of wankery.

    Teamwork. This I am much more in favour of. I think the nature of the game itself engenders teamwork, so it’s not necessary for the DM to encourage it. Once again though, you can speak through NPCs. In the real world, people work together in teams all the time; so in a believable world, NPCs will expect a party of PCs to work together. There are plenty of rules that encourage teamwork in D&D, and I agree that they are a good thing.

    Music. Will Myers doesn’t even really endorse this idea, and I can’t either. As a DM, I simply don’t have the spare time and mental resources to also be the DJ. Having worked as a DJ myself, I am all too conscious of when the music doesn’t fit the mood anymore. I can imagine having a DJ working in the background though, listening closely to everything happening, and playing music at the appropriate times, but he had better be skilled.

    As cool as I think Midnight Syndicate is, I never bought into the idea that they’re “What D&D sounds like”. When I think of “what D&D sounds like”, I think of the Brobdingnagian Bards (Google them). I want to hear lutes and pan pipes, the kind of music you hear in the tavern.

  3. Josh,

    Thanks for reading and your reply. Something I suppose I should have clarified in the beginning of this blog entry was that these are things that work for my group and me and are options for other people and aren’t meant as “this is how things should be done.” This isn’t supposed to be the be-all/end-all of making combat better.

    For example, in the description section as it pertains to my group, we use “called shots” all the time, in the sense that someone aims for the face or the kidneys or other various body parts. Depending on rolls and positioning, sometimes they hit that body part, sometimes they don’t. The group understands that the other DM and I have “dramatic license” when it comes to describing things, including combat. When I’m playing my Monk, I say something along the lines of “I punch him repeatedly about the head and neck,” but the DM has the answer as to what really happens.

    As my own aside, I have very little trouble with metagaming in the situation you described. I figure it’s just “one of those things.” The only time I have an issue with metagaming is if someone’s character isn’t present in a situation and begins acting on knowledge they wouldn’t have.

    When it comes to trying new things, I’m all for it. I love it. My players generally try something I haven’t thought of almost every session. The point I was trying to make in “Understand what your character can do” was that when your character uses an ability, like a spell or feat, know what that ability does. If you’re using Great Cleave, know what Great Cleave does. If you’re casting Flame Strike (or any spell, really), know the effect, the damage output (if necessary), the DC for the saving throw (if necessary), and whether Spell Resistance applies (if necessary). Now, the first couple or three times you get this new ability, I can understand not having the rules down pat, but if you’re 8th level and you’ve been casting this spell or using this feat since 3rd level, you should know how it works.

    Rolling dice. For me, this is how combat goes when I play my 9th level Monk: roll four attack rolls. Let’s assume all four attacks hit. Unarmed base attack is 1d10, so I need four of those, and I have Frost damage on my Unarmed Strike, so that’s 4d6 as well, plus adding Strength bonus. The party’s Rogue, who gets two attacks, has Sneak Attack (+5d6) and magic as well (Shocking, I think). For the two of us, it simply makes more sense to roll multiple attacks at once and then all of the damage at once. Again, this is how it works for us and doesn’t work for everybody.

    Sorry to disagree with your disagreement, Josh, but technically, NOT all options are open to play if they are outside the limits set by the DM at the beginning of the game. In the example I gave, everyone had agreed that we would use only the Core Rulebook for play options. The player that brought up this combination went to the Advanced Player’s Guide. I looked over everything and didn’t think anything was broken about the combination, so I allowed it with the caveat that the player couldn’t be the only person in the world who would have thought of that combination. Again, that’s how WE play and nobody has complained about it. If that doesn’t fit with your game, then that’s fine.

    I don’t see how using an option in the game against the players is being “vindictive” or “sour grapes.” If there is a survivor of the attack (remember: retreat is an option), then why wouldn’t that survivor explain to his/her chieftain/boss about what happened? “Suddenly he grew really big and the arrow he was firing grew even bigger and they wiped the floors with us!”

    When it comes to the music, honestly, that comes down to personal taste. I use/have used Midnight Syndicate and Nox Arcana because I think their music fits in well with the haunted house, the spooky field, or pretty much anything else. I certainly enjoy the Brobdignagian Bards and can see how they would fit well into the tavern scene.

    Thanks again for reading, Josh. You comments are always welcome!

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