Back from GenCon. I feel like I haven’t slept in weeks… Which is great!
Streamlining your D&D game – especially combat
Great games are complex but that complexity comes from simple rules. After 5 D&D games in 6 days I can say that it is the case for 4E. I hardly ever looked in the PHB to check on rules yet combat encounters lasted forever. Even in the games we played sober!
Note that in 3.x I had to resort to dirty tricks to make combat longer! Now that the tactical game is more balanced all players have to contribute to make encounters shorter!
How can that be?
The character learning curve
The game is simple, but the characters are complex. Your PC has many options, even at first level, that it makes the learning curve steep for players. It is even steeper in games started with high-level characters.
The good news is that you don’t have to learn the hard way – you can run a smooth game from the get-go.
Here are a few suggestions that should help you run a smooth game:
- Take more time for character creation. Everyone is eager to get started. It’s understandable. But considering that the first scene potentially sets the tone for a whole campaign, it can be good to spend extra time on character generation. We all love creating characters and no one will complain if your first session is mostly, or exclusively, character creation.
- Make sure your players know the rules. The PHB looks thick but the D&D rules are simple – they can be summed up in about 40 pages.
- Look up all the rules. Look up all the rules you read about during character creation. And take notes right on your character sheet or DM screen.
- Print or make power cards. Every player, every power. It’s not that hard to just write them yourself either if your printer isn’t working – about half the printers in the world are out of ink apparently.
- Talk strategy. Encourage players to tell everyone what powers they chose. D&D4e can be way more tactical than it’s predecessor. If your players work well as a unit they’ll dispatch easy challenges quickly and have more fun facing the tough encounters. Total party kills are usually not fun anyway (but if you have to kill everyone do it with style!)
- Work on character background. While some players take the time to check out all their character options, players more familiar with the game can work on their backstories. It never hurt a campaign.
- Work on character paths and destinies. Maybe your players are done with their 1st level stats. They’re also done with their backstories. Well, it’s never too early to look up higher level powers and feats. It will help everyone get more familiar with the different kinds of powers available, and it will motivate them for the long haul.
- Merge backstories. Ask your players to decide why they’re adventuring together and why their character get along. It seems obvious but it helps a campaign over time so it’s worth mentioning. Building a little conflict intentionally is great too.
- Set a time limit on a player’s turn. If a player takes to long to choose an action declare than they have 10, 20, or 30 seconds left to decide. Some players don’t react well to this one. But it can be very effective. Use it parsimoniously.
- Drinks and d20s don’t mix. I like to play sober better than drunk. I have just as fun drinking but the game itself is more enjoyable when everyone is focused. Warning to all DMs out there: running a drunken D&D game could break your brain!
I hope this will help someone out there. Have fun gaming!