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The Sticky GM – Combat Order (part 8)

There is a joke that says role-playing games, where a three-month journey takes 30 seconds, and a 30-second fight takes three hours.

We all dream of high drama, dynamic combats. As the characters race through the castle, dispatching the evil baron’s guards with a slash here and a thrust there.

It rarely works out like that. Obviously games vary, some revel in the mook, goon or brute squad that the characters fell like wheat before a scythe. Other games value initiative, declared actions and single combats.

Faced with a brute squad the players may be concerned the first time, after that, these foes are little more than narrative threats. They can delay the characters, allowing more bad things to happen but they are not going to defeat the characters.

There are two aspects that the humble sticky note can speed up your fight sequences. The first is in organizing you. The second is in orienting them.

Remember you can download the Sticky GM as a series of simple cheat sheets when you subscribe by email.

Get Organized!

Most games have some like of initiative order. If this is you, then grab a clean sheet of paper and right the fastest to slowest initiatives top to bottom. If it is a d100 system then group them into 10s or whatever works for you.

On a separate note for each participant right their name. You can use entire encounter stickies onto this page if they are all going to use the same initiative.

If your initiative changes round by round or turn by turn you just move the sticky up and down the page as the players call their number. In the example above, the monsters are green, the spell casters are pink and the party are yellow.

As a GM you have a lot ot keep track of. Who is burning, bleeding, dying or dead. The sticky for each combatant is a great place to put this current state information. If it is a character that is bleeding, that is something that the characters are going to have to deal with after the battle or while on the run, depending on how it goes.

As it is I can instantly see Raven’s state when I turn to paul and ask for his actions.

No one is going to get forgotten in this visual initiative order.

Orient them!

I believe I first read this idea in a blog by Johnn Four. The scenario is that you turn to a player and ask what they want to do, and the first thing they want is a recap of who is doing what, what condition the other party members are in and the state of the main threat. You give them a round up and then they decide what they are going to do. They trying, dice are rolled, more dice are rolled. Then you move on and have to give a full recap to the next player.

The problem is that all this is looking backward. This happened, that happened, blah, blah, blah. It is very static, repetitive and lacks drama. It is also a huge amount of GM talk compared to player talk.

Do not rely on the players to have successfully visualised the entire scene. It is never going to happen. What works much better is to not start by asking for their actions, but start by offering them a recap.

This takes out an entire interaction “What do you want to do?” , pause, thinks, “What is everyone else doing?”, and recap…

Using your visual ladder you obviously know what just happened but you also have other information to hand, who is dead or dying who is bleeding out, are the goblins in mid charge? The cleric may be fine right now but the necromancer has his eye on them and is preparing a spell.

We all know the sort of questions players ask. Can I move there, is that in range, who is most injured? Build these into your request for their actions. Now they know what needs doing and they can tell you what they want to do. It isn’t going to work every time but it will cut down the amount of time each cycle of combat takes. It makes combat forward-looking and will add a sense of urgency. This is happening, and this is happening, what are you going to do?

The visual guide to the combat round with the key conditions, of each combatant laid out in front of your Will make your combats go faster.

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