Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Combat Sequence, What Combat Sequence + Miniature Madness

2 shots of the table a few hours before KotB Session 1

When I DM'd my KotB session just over one week ago, not only was I 17 years out of the DM saddle, not only did I have five new player novices to educate and entertain but I was also a complete miniatures novice.

This was a bad combination that only just worked. Preparation was successful. My miniatures were some ebay pre-painted dragonlance minis (nearly the whole heroes set now) and my warhammer collection (Brettonians and Dark Elves) plus some ebay pre-painted orcs and goblins from LOTR. For my gaming mat I used the link from Beyond the Black Gate to take me to here to generate my pdf poster size 1 inch square grid. Then I paid US $40 to  to laminate and deliver my poster. I was very happy with the result.

My players happily chose their PC miniatures, I had my baddies, but I had forgotten one crucial point. I had no idea what I was doing. I was too far from the gaming mat to feel I was participating in the combat. That's two points actually. I started off by mapping the caves of chaos onto the gaming mat and getting confused as I was upside down. Drawing is not my skill. 
Was combat enhanced - I have no idea.

Alexis Tao of D&D in response to a comment I made described his combat sequence - complicated but somehow very satisfying. I don't think I'll follow this yet - and I just paid $40 for squares not hexes.

What I think I'll do next time is this.

1. Follow the rules. I like Lab Lord for it's clarity especially in relation to declaring actions before initiative. Especially important for spells.
1. Players declare character movement or actions.
2. Initiative: 1d6 is rolled by each opposing side.
3. The winner of initiative acts first. The Labyrinth Lord may check morale for monsters.
4. Movements can be made.
5. Missile attack rolls are made, accounting for DEX adjustments, cover, and range.
6. Spells are cast and applicable saving throws are made.
7. Melee combat occurs; attack and damage rolls are made, accounting for STR and magic adjustments.
8. Other sides act through steps 4-7, in order of initiative
9. When all sides of a conflict have acted and the combat will continue into the next round, the sequence begins again at step 1.

2. Make the players map on blank paper and use the gaming mat only for combat. Mapping is their job not mine, I just describe the options. If they get lost, tough.
3. On their character sheets they had two movements as per B/X - move/turn and move/round for encounters. They really only need to know move/round as I as DM can times by 3 myself and work that out. I am using 5' per square inch on the gaming mat.
4. Give retainers to the players to handle in combat so I have one less job.

I am not sure how I can get in closer to the gaming mat, to more easily move the monsters as I am often needing to refer to my DM screen to look at to hit tables and am also crossing off hit points.

Where do you DM from when sitting at the table? An end or along a side?

Other suggestions for miniatures gratefully received.


  1. Great questions about the physcis of DMing!

    Often I try to DM along the long edge of the table so I can more easily manipulate minis and/or dungeon tiles. I use plaster dungeon blocks a lot, which solve some of the problems you talk about (but are expensive). For some more mini-oriented sessions I will simply stand a lot of the time. I've seen many DMs stand up throughout most of their games.

    When I draw out scenes on a battlemat I draw exactly what I see on my map in the same orientation. I say what direction is north, and let the mapper orient her drawing however she likes.

    Not using a DM screen, or pushing the screen to the side, helps you reach the playing surface. I have a tortured relationship with my screen. I love/hate it.

    I use a smaller battlemat than you do, which makes things easier. Tavis of Mule Abides goes even further in using a set of four very small grids that he can push around and "cycle" through. Way clever... He can fit everything in a small backpack for traversing the NYC subway system.

    I use the Lab Lord/BX combat flowchart you provided, but I will often change steps around if the logic of the situation demands it. Usually the first round will not go strictly by the chart.

    Definitely let the players handle their retainers. I keep secret retainer notes to check their morale etc., but beyond that it's easiest just to let the players boss their hirelings around.

    For big combats I just say the AC of the monster aloud, have everyone roll, and tell me if they hit. This speeds things up a lot, which is way more important to me than keeping a monster's AC a mystery. I figure the PCs are usually clever enough to surmise how difficult a monster is to hit.

    Hope this helps! Speed and flow are most important to me - I dump everything that bogs the game down.

  2. Personally, I'm in favor of just going around the table and having everyone get to move/attack in turn; resembles most standard board/card games, so it's easier to dip into for newbies (and anyone else). Note this implies ditching (a) pre-declarations, (b) chopped-up action substages, and (c) interrupting spells.

    I definitely sit at the head of the table as DM. Most of my RPG play, I'm not playing with miniatures. But in situations where I do, I'm (a) up a lot to move monsters & roll dice, and (b) using a telescoping pointer to tap places to communicate with players (infrequently).

  3. Many thanks for some pretty excellent advice and wisdom. I need to mull it all over....