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Spazzle
08-13-2009, 11:35 AM
After a long hiatus I started playing RPGs again. While I think my playstyle/personality are better as a player, for various reasons I've found myself in the DM seat (at least for now).

I chose to run a premade adventure (Trollhaunt Warrens) and its been fun so far. I've mostly got a handle of the rules (the mistakes are happening less often now) and the adventure hasn't been that difficult to run. That said, I am running into a couple of issues and I thought I'd see how other, more experienced DMs handled it.

1) Combat time. I play with one group and DM another. The one I'm playing in we can usually handle 3 combat encounters per session, with various non-combat encounters thrown in. For the one I'm DMing, we're lucky to get through a single encounter per session. I don't want to discourage talking OOC (I am a big fan of laughing and the social side of things) but I would like to move combat along a little faster. One thing I've done is announce not just the next person in combat, but also who the person after that is. (so they can start focusing on their next action) It may just be the chatty/ADHD nature of this group - but I thought I'd throw it out there for any suggestions if others have come across a similar situation.

2) Role playing through a situation as opposed to combat. Apart from how they handle themselves in combat, the players I DM tend to do everything with an "attack first, ask questions later) attitude. While this is fine (I don't want discourage them from doing the things they enjoy) there have been several times where the group would have benefited from stepping back and not just forging ahead wands blazing. How have others worked with players to get them to start thinking outside the box with each encounter? Sometimes combat is the right choice, but there are also other solutions they could think of. (diplomacy, sneaking, traps, etc) This is a group of newer players, so some training probably wouldn't hurt...

3) Atmosphere. Currently I can handle the mechanics of each encounter just fine. That said, I tend to struggle with building the atmosphere of each encounter. I want to make combat dynamic and exciting, not just a matter of rolling hits and damage. Any suggestions on how you learned to remember to be more descriptive? What do you do to turn a "the monster rolls and misses, your turn" into something a little more compelling? The scary thing is I used to think of myself as a fairly witty guy, able to play situations off the cuff with relative easse. However, that was in a modern sense with modern dialogue and situations. Restricting myself to the context of the game, I tend to flounder with an appropriate ad-lib. (fine as a character for laughs, but as a DM setting mood it doesn't always work...)

Any, just thought I would throw that out there for folks to see if they had any suggestions. Happy gaming all!
Cheers ~
Spazzle

outrider
08-13-2009, 11:45 AM
It is a tough skill to acquire and you might want to start small with it. if it is a room write down a description before hand. The room is dimly lit with a fetid smell of dead eminating from it. You see two bodies, decomposing, their entrails dangling from them. The room has a stone floor, tapestries hanging from the wall depicting pagan rites on them.

for combat, be descriptive-the orc looks at you with puzzled eyes as if to say how could I be hit as your blade plunges into his chest through the chain armor.

You could also write phrases for the bad guys to shout at the players. By the mask of Cyric, you shall not pass through me.

hope the suggestions help

Spazzle
08-13-2009, 12:56 PM
I was thinking prep time will probably help me here. Trying to manage combat, come up with comments/phrases on the fly, and be in character/setting can boggle the mind a bit. :confused:

I like your idea of writing down yelled threats and such before hand. That way during combat I can just refer to the notes and add a little flavor. This will probably help with the monster "encounter" powers as well - think of how I'd describe them, write it down, and then read it during the game.

Q-man
08-13-2009, 02:07 PM
1) Combat time. I play with one group and DM another. The one I'm playing in we can usually handle 3 combat encounters per session, with various non-combat encounters thrown in. For the one I'm DMing, we're lucky to get through a single encounter per session. I don't want to discourage talking OOC (I am a big fan of laughing and the social side of things) but I would like to move combat along a little faster. One thing I've done is announce not just the next person in combat, but also who the person after that is. (so they can start focusing on their next action) It may just be the chatty/ADHD nature of this group - but I thought I'd throw it out there for any suggestions if others have come across a similar situation.

There's no real need to rush through the combats, doing 1 a night is enough if everyone is having fun. You had mentioned that occasional mistakes are happening, and thats probably a big part of it. Having to stop and look up rules really bogs down the action. Once everyone is accustomed to the rules and learns all their character abilities things start to pick up a bit.

One thing you might do to help out is to get everyone some flash cards. If you use the WotC character builder it will print out ability cards for each ability your character has. These include all the dice rolls and all the applicable modifiers. Having those in front of the players makes their turns go a little quicker.

You can do the same for yourself. Print out the little information blocks for each character in the encounter, as well as small info cards on the players (these just need basic info like health and defenses). You can arrange them in initiative order so whichever is on top gets to take a turn, then move him to the bottom and continue. They are also handy for tracking conditions and other effects, as well as reminding you what each of your NPC's can do.

As preparation make sure you have a few strategies in mind. Think of ways for each of the creatures to work together or to overcome some aspect of the party. Odds are things won't play out as you imagine, but still with those things in mind it will be a lot quicker and easier for you to figure out what they should do on their turn.

You'll also need to make sure your players don't delay things. You might want to offer them some treats for being ready when their turn comes. "Chuck was always ready with his action last session, so he gets a bonus action point tonight".


2) Role playing through a situation as opposed to combat. Apart from how they handle themselves in combat, the players I DM tend to do everything with an "attack first, ask questions later) attitude. While this is fine (I don't want discourage them from doing the things they enjoy) there have been several times where the group would have benefited from stepping back and not just forging ahead wands blazing. How have others worked with players to get them to start thinking outside the box with each encounter? Sometimes combat is the right choice, but there are also other solutions they could think of. (diplomacy, sneaking, traps, etc) This is a group of newer players, so some training probably wouldn't hurt...

This is not something you can easily teach your players. The best tactics I've found is to give very intimidating descriptions of what they are facing.

"The ogre is absolutely massive, and fully covered in spiked armor. You're not sure, but all of his gear has a magical glow about it, its definitely superior to what you've seen on his kind in the past. He also wears a bandoleer adorned with humanoid heads, some are merely humans but several are larger creatures like trolls."
"The lord stands before you confidently with his arms crossed. You'd be confident too with half a dozen soldiers behind you as well, not to mention the group of archers on both sides with crossbows primed and aimed."

Hopefully they catch on that the fight is beyond their skills. If they still insist on solving it by the sword make them lose the fight. You don't have to kill them, drop them in a prison cell or have them return to consciousness/life in a friendly temple. Once they learn that you don't consider them immortal and are won't cheat to let them win the encounter they'll start changing tactics.


3) Atmosphere. Currently I can handle the mechanics of each encounter just fine. That said, I tend to struggle with building the atmosphere of each encounter. I want to make combat dynamic and exciting, not just a matter of rolling hits and damage. Any suggestions on how you learned to remember to be more descriptive? What do you do to turn a "the monster rolls and misses, your turn" into something a little more compelling? The scary thing is I used to think of myself as a fairly witty guy, able to play situations off the cuff with relative easse. However, that was in a modern sense with modern dialogue and situations. Restricting myself to the context of the game, I tend to flounder with an appropriate ad-lib. (fine as a character for laughs, but as a DM setting mood it doesn't always work...)

Unfortunately this one isn't entirely in your control. The players need to participate in this as well, you can offer all the description and atmosphere you like; but if all they respond with is "yeah, ok. I rolled a 19, did I hit the orc?" then you're just wasting your time. You need to get them to at least describe their attacks with more that the ability name and dice rolls.

That said you can cover a lot of you part in that in your preparation. Like Outrider said have descriptions of the room and its inhabitants ready before the session starts. Also jot down some ideas for describing the attacks (both hits and misses) your enemies will take, as well as their reactions to being attacked. Again you might not use them, but if nothing else it puts the whole things slidly in your own mind so that when you need something off the cuff you have a base to draw from.

cigamnogard
08-13-2009, 02:37 PM
1) Combat time. I play with one group and DM another. The one I'm playing in we can usually handle 3 combat encounters per session, with various non-combat encounters thrown in. For the one I'm DMing, we're lucky to get through a single encounter per session. I don't want to discourage talking OOC (I am a big fan of laughing and the social side of things) but I would like to move combat along a little faster. One thing I've done is announce not just the next person in combat, but also who the person after that is. (so they can start focusing on their next action) It may just be the chatty/ADHD nature of this group - but I thought I'd throw it out there for any suggestions if others have come across a similar situation.



Good advice Q-man but my take on point #1 is that they are new - give them time. Rushing through a combat with newbies is not the way to go they are learning - let them learn at their own pace.

cplmac
08-13-2009, 10:01 PM
Good advice Q-man but my take on point #1 is that they are new - give them time. Rushing through a combat with newbies is not the way to go they are learning - let them learn at their own pace.

I totally agree with cigamnogard. With new players, you need to allow time for them to get to know their characters. Some may pick up faster than others. As they continue to get playing experience, you will gradually see that you get more accomplished in a game session. If you try to push them too fast, you run the risk of them deciding that they don't want to continue because they aren't having fun.

Spazzle
08-14-2009, 11:18 AM
Sounds good. We've only been doing this for around 4 months - and that's only 2x a month. So yeah, maybe I've got unrealistic expectations on the learning curve... ;)

mrken
08-14-2009, 03:20 PM
And it could just be that they prefer to just have fun and talk all the time, gaming is the excuse they have to set around and talk.

DMMike
08-15-2009, 09:49 AM
1) Combat time. For the one I'm DMing, we're lucky to get through a single encounter per session.
2) Role playing through a situation as opposed to combat. Apart from how they handle themselves in combat, the players I DM tend to do everything with an "attack first, ask questions later) attitude.
3) Atmosphere. Currently I can handle the mechanics of each encounter just fine. That said, I tend to struggle with building the atmosphere of each encounter.

1) Players should start thinking about their next action IMMEDIATELY after their current one ends. Let them know this. When a PCs turn comes up, a good rule of thumb is give them 30 seconds to spit out their action, otherwise they must delay and let someone else go. (A better rule is to give them a number of seconds equal to their INT score.) When the players notice that the enemies are acting more often than they are, the should prick up.

2) Real consequences can direct the "bash first" problem. Dead enemies tell no tales, especially the tale of how to easily solve a particular problem, leaving the PCs with the hard solution. Also, combat is noisy, so getting into a fight could cause reinforcements to come, making fighting a bad option once reinforcements arrive.

3) If combat drama is hard for you, try playing out your favorite movie fight scenes in your head. Substitute in your PCs and enemies, and start describing that. Tailor that to each encounter and you'll hopefully get bored with it, and start inventing some originality.
If you get into a hit-and-miss rut, tell yourself that ALL combat actions must be dramatic - so that you avoid the start of the rut in the first place.

Ghabriel
08-16-2009, 04:51 PM
I have recently found that by placing character and monster names in clear card holders and using them to create a visible initiative order helps speed combat up a good bit. People can see when their turn is coming so as to better avoid OOC delays (bathroom, food, $100 bets on the Tiger's game, etc) and it adds an extra element of timing tactics.

As a side note, it also makes keeping track of initiative order INCREDIBLY simple.

Ianos
08-17-2009, 06:49 AM
As for the athmosphere, you can only be descriptive so many times before you start repeating yourself, so yells, threats and similar decorations are usually short-lived. I am afraid that no matter how hard you try, combat will eventually go back to just rolling dice.

Stragely though from time to time there seems to be a game where without any concious effort the battle gets a life of its own. But that is the work of both DM and the players and I am not sure it can be controlled.

jonnyrockshard
08-17-2009, 10:57 PM
As others have said before me, a timer is a good idea if you're finding that combat is taking too long.

I wouldn't set it to 30 seconds or base it off their int though, the former is too short and the latter could bring up dispute between the players. I'd go for a flat, 2 minutes. Get an egg timer (or an hourglass if you can find one) or just use a computer or anything similar. I'd do it NFL Draft style too. In the NFL draft, if the team hasn't decided in a certain amount of time who to draft (it depends on the round) the draft moves to the next team on the list. The first team can still pick their player before the second team makes their decision, but if they're not careful, the other team can yoink a good player. Make sure you keep it fair too; and apply it to your monsters as well.

Another good rule to have is for rule disputes; keep it out of play. If it's not a crucial call to the encounter (no one is being knocked out, killed, etc) then table the rule discussion until after the game session. Write down all your tabled rule discussions and look them up after the game. Before the next game starts, tell your players about each rule. Of course, during a crucial call, take all the time is needed. A good strategy I've heard before is the 5 minute rule. Basically if a rule dispute pops up and there's no clear rule, let the player try to sell his interpretation to you in about 5 minutes. After that, make a call then and move on.

As for your complain about roleplaying...
You might be surprised to find out that even in real life... people don't always do things the smartest way possible. Neither should they in the game. I routinely do things not based on what is most logical, but by "what would my character do here?" Even if they die, they'll eventually get wiser.

Spazzle
08-18-2009, 11:30 AM
thanks for all the great advice! I'll take these into consideration.

As for tracking turns/conditions/etc as mentioned previously, I use Virtual Combat Cards on my laptop and it works great!

Cheers ~

R