DM in need of help with combat management

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I've been DM'ing for around 3 years now, and I still don't have combat management down very well. In particular I struggle with running largeish encounters (8+ enemies on the board).

I've tried a few systems for running combat:


  • Printing out each monster's stat sheet, writing an initiative score on it, and inserting player stat sheets in initiative order

  • Excel spreadsheet on my laptop with monster names, hitpoints and initiative scores, with PDF copies of their stat sheets for when their turn comes up

  • Using the D&D program 'Masterplan' to run encounters, which provides blurbs for each monster and reminders about status effects and such


The last system would seem to be the best choice for automating alot of the manual work... but I find it buggy and difficult to use. Particularly if a player changes his mind after I've used an ability or ended a turn in Masterplan, it's difficult and time consuming to undo the action (no undo button, have to manually recharge abilities or cycle through the whole next round to get back to the previous player's turn).


For a change, I tried moving back to pen & paper combat management last game, which turned out to be a mistake. The encounter was too large (4 standards, 3 elites, and 8 minions on the board), which resulted in a big stack of paper that made it hard to quickly reference abilities or add damage/healing.


The Excel option isn't great either. It allows quick reference of hitpoints/status effects, but doesn't accomodate delaying turns or actions very well. Referring to monster abilities on PDF documents and then rolling dice for attacks also isn't very effective, as there are no reminders about what abilities are available/on recharge, whether action points have been used, and so forth.


At heart I'm more of a story DM. I love roleplaying my monsters to create a sense of atmosphere, but as my players are now in the Paragon tier combat is becoming very difficult to manage. I spend so much time micro-managing that I can no longer really roleplay abilities, which makes the whole thing a grind.


Any help or advice would be appreciated

How many different monster stat blocks are you managing at one time?

I almost never do more than 3 distinct monsters. 

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Relax about getting everything right, or even close to right.

People complain about the "video game mentality" in D&D. They usually mean things like powers, and a focus on combat. The "video game mentality" that worries me, is the striving for perfect accuracy and efficiency with the rules. Relax about playing the monsters ideally, or even particularly well. Their job is not to survive, but to fight for a while in reasonably interesting and plausible ways, and then die. If a particular fight turns out not to be that interesting, try something different in the next fight.

If you're not sure about something, err in the players' favor and move on.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

How many different monster stat blocks are you managing at one time?

I almost never do more than 3 distinct monsters. 



Sometimes as many as five or six. In the last combat, the players faced:


  • Elite Orc Soldier, the "Battlemaster" of an Orc clan

  • Elite Orc Skirmisher/Leader, the "Queen" of the Orc clan

  • 4x Standard Orc Warriors

  • 8x Minion Orc Warriors


With an NPC ally:



  • Elite Orc Controller, the advisor to the Queen who had switched sides and allied with the players


There was also a Beholder involved (a "pet" of the Queen that the party freed to create general havok).


Yeah, that's rough. Cut it down to 3, maybe 4 tops. That'll be a big load off, especially at Paragon.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
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Relax about playing the monsters ideally, or even particularly well. Their job is not to survive, but to fight for a while in reasonably interesting and plausible ways, and then die.



Good advice, but the issue that I run into is that some of my players are quite optimized. We have a two-blade ranger that can do upwards of 100 damage/round, and a save-ends focussed controller that can neuter enemies pretty effectively.

More power to them, and I'm all for it. But alot of the fun in combat is the sense of being in danger, of pulling through by sheer skill and ingenuity. One of my DM friends has a catchphrase for how he runs games: "Heroes are those who succeed despite the odds, not because of them".

I feel its important to give my players a sense of the odds being stacked against them... even if they're not really. But I find myself not playing monsters very well due to the grindyness of 4e combat.
I feel its important to give my players a sense of the odds being stacked against them... even if they're not really. But I find myself not playing monsters very well due to the grindyness of 4e combat.

You can and should stack the odds against them, but you're a single brain working against several other brains working in parallel. You can't optimize to the level they can, even if you play your monsters as all having one brain (which I imagine you don't want to do anyway).

I imagine you also don't want to "cheat" by going outside of the encounter level guidelines, but there are other things you can do.

Terrain doesn't add to your XP budget. Give your monsters home field advantage.

Skill challenges DO add to your XP budget, but they have open ended effects, failure conditions, and methods of dealing with them. A single standard, Complexity 1 skill challenge that consists of 4 unstable crystals spaced 20 squares apart that give each monster resist 10 all and regeneration 10, and can only be deactivated by an adjacent character (and which create huge damaging auras when the check is failed) still only costs the same as a standard monster.

If you are concerned about not just challenging but actually killing them, give the monsters ways to win that don't involve killing the characters. Maybe they win if they cut three support beams, which takes them a round each. The players can probably kill them all easily, but can they kill them all in 3 rounds? Edit: Oh, they can? Then next time they'll face two sets of saboteurs on opposite sides of the map. Go "Ender's Game" on them.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Good call on the skill challenges/terrain within encounters. I should use those sorts of devices more often.

How specifically do you manage combat?
I play online, so dice macros really help speed things up. I still do a lot of things manually though, including initiative.

I preroll all monster initiative and put them on the back of obsolete power cards. When the players are ready at session start, I ask them to roll 5 initiatives that I write down in order. Then I just shuffle them into the appropriate order and I'm good to go.

Scrap paper for hit points. Basically it. Nothing fancy. 

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

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How big is your adventuring party?  If you're using 5-6 types of monsters and the equivalent of 10 equal level threats (2 elites, 4 standards, and 8 minions), maybe a big part of your problem is that you have too many PCs.  (And if you're using a larger number of lower level monsters, increase the threat by increasing monster level, not monster quantity.)  I know D&D officially recommends a party of 5, but I love DMing for my group of four.  Everything goes faster in a smaller group--combat, out of character chatter, group decision-making, etc.  I even love that they have vulnerabilities that I can exploit (judiciously, of course).

Second, to reiterate what Iserith said, 5-6 distinct types of monsters is way too many.  Cut down to 3 or fewer unless it's a really big BBEG battle or something.  The DMG gives similar advice on page 57:

An encounter with a group of monsters that all have the same role is less interesting than one with a mix of roles. On the other hand, a group of five monsters with five different roles is too interesting—or, more to the point, too complex. A good rule of thumb is to pick a brute or soldier monster and use two or three of them. Pick one or two monsters of other roles to round out the encounter.



Relatedly, don't run NPCs in combat who help the PCs--that's doubly painful, because you have to waste the time to control the NPC, and you have to add more monsters to maintain the level of challenge.  Further, the players are just sitting on their hands spectating when your NPC and monsters interact.  Try to concoct some reason to ignore friendly NPCs, either by saying they don't participate in combat or by saying that they're going to be off engaging other monsters in some other part of the area.

Third, I'm pretty fast with the computer, but I'm still a lot faster with pencil and paper.  Things may differ for online games, but I strongly prefer to print out stat blocks and have a sheet of scratch paper for notes.

Relatedly, don't bother ordering your stat block sheets in initiative order; that just wastes your time with unnecessary paper-shuffling.  Have a separate tool to track initiative, or, better yet, get one of your (ten?!) players to do it.  I use a portable dry erase board (that doubles as a DM screen) plus magnetic labels, and I make my players manage it, but anything will do.  (I was going to recommend the GameMastery Combat Pad, but apparently it's out of print.)

Each monster in my combat is assigned a color, and I keep track of hit points and status effects by having one row for each color on my scratch paper.  For example, a row might read, "GREEN 78 57 43 dazed save ends -2 attack EK4".  That means Green has 43 hit points left and has -2 to attacks until the end of K's turn in round 4.  I have a dial to keep track of rounds.

I've found that this old-fashioned note-taking is a lot faster than manipulating computer programs or spreadsheet cursors and cells.

Fourth, I've trained my players to pre-roll initiatives: when they first arrive and are chatting, they roll their first initiative, and then any time after the first battle, as we're engaging in non-combat things, they roll their next initiative.

I hope this helps.  Good luck.
But alot of the fun in combat is the sense of being in danger, of pulling through by sheer skill and ingenuity. One of my DM friends has a catchphrase for how he runs games: "Heroes are those who succeed despite the odds, not because of them".

I feel its important to give my players a sense of the odds being stacked against them... even if they're not really.



Also, a tactician, as defined in the excellent Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering would really dislike this kind of game.  (I think the DMG equivalent is the thinker, as described on pages 9-10.)  A tactician likes to think through options and take actions that to make challenges easier.  The dream scenario for a tactical player is one where there's no drama, no risk of failure, but everything falls into place because of clever planning and foresight.  A tactician would say that the best pool player is the one who can set up shots so that she never has to take a difficult shot, rather than the player who can make the most difficult shots.

I once played in a game where we players were very clever about sneaking into an area before the fight and closing a door to prevent a snoozing drake from being able to join the fray later.  The DM just added an extra drake in a different room (with an open door), thereby negating our clever plan but maintaining the original intended challenge for the encounter.  The tactician in me didn't like that.  (He also added extra monsters to encounters to make them more challenging for our optimized group, but without increasing XP or reward.  I also didn't like that--he basically eliminated the incentive to be tactical and smart.)

I once played in a game where we players were very clever about sneaking into an area before the fight and closing a door to prevent a snoozing drake from being able to join the fray later.  The DM just added an extra drake in a different room (with an open door), thereby negating our clever plan but maintaining the original intended challenge for the encounter.  The tactician in me didn't like that.  (He also added extra monsters to encounters to make them more challenging for our optimized group, but without increasing XP or reward.  I also didn't like that--he basically eliminated the incentive to be tactical and smart.)



That is a DM who follows what I like to call "The Jerk Theory of Game Management".

Heroes come in all forms. Conan the Barbarian was a "chaos" hero who charged into situations using erratic and unpredictable moves (combined with enormous personal strength and incredible luck) to carry the day. Sherlock Holmes was an "order" hero who never walked into a situation without already determining the outcome. Each can be fun to play and watch in play if given the appropriate framework and tools.
I almost never do more than 3 distinct monsters.



Ditto. Four is doable but pushing it. 
@CUBPHILDND trust me, my games reward the "tactician". Clever combat plans result in easy combat... or better yet, no need for combat. Recently my party had to cross a battlefield between two warring tribes to reach an objective. I had prepared a long series of skirmishes for them to get to the other side.

Instead, they rounded up some local wizards, who all "aided another" the party's ritual caster in order to get the 40 Arcana check required for flying Phantom Steeds. The party then proceeded to fly across the battlefield, avoiding all combat, but I awarded the same XP as if they'd defeated all the encounters (which they had, in their own way), and they levelled up.

Not that the situation was without risk... a spellcaster below tried a Dispel Magic against them, which would have resulted in a 50-foot plummet into hostile territory. But the party swordmage made a counter-dispel-magic, we rolled opposed Arcana checks, and he won. More RP awesome that contributed to more XP.

Anyway, I think from the feedback I've got here that I've just been trying to tackle more complex encounters than I should. Less unique monster stat blocks seems to be the way to go.
Remember that you're not being advised to cut down the TOTAL number of monsters, just the number of UNIQUE monsters. That makes an enormous difference when it comes to managing combat and remembering to effectively use the bad guy's cool tricks. From an application standpoint, take a look at dungeon master's battle screen:

dmbattlescreen.com/Download/DownloadList

Very slick, easy to use interface.
My opinionated tips for combat management:

* No more than 3 different types of monsters. Maybe 4 in a climactic set-piece battle.
* A trap, hazard, or complex terrain element counts as a monster type.
* Give handouts to the players that explain anything unusual in the combat. Make the players do some of your work for you!
* Pre-roll monster initiative. (Actually, these days I just set their inits to mix in with the PCs.)
* Convert all monster Recharge powers to Encounter powers. 
* Use average damage for monster attacks. Thus, you roll attacks (d20s) but you do not roll damage.
* Corrolary to above -- Minimize the number of dice you use. I use only a bunch of d20s.
* Round monster hit points to the nearest 10. When PCs deal damage, round that damage to the nearest 10.
* Put out a sticky note, table tent, or something that lists the lowest and highest defense in that combat. Thus when the players roll attacks, they know at a glance if it whiffs (lower than lowest defense) or hits (equal to or higher than highest defense). This save a LOT of time once the players get on board with it.

Rationale:

The two most time consuming things you do as a DM are roll dice and do mental math. To be a faster DM, do as little of those two things as possible.

Average damage for monster attacks saves a tremendous amount of dice-rolling AND a lot of mental math. It subtly benefits the PCs because a stream of predictably average damage is easier for them to handle than a random stream of damage that might spike high for several attacks in a row.

Rounding monster hit points to 10 and applying damage in packets of 10 is a huge time saver that does not significantly impact combat lethality.

According to some analysis I've done, it makes a MAXIMUM difference of one extra (or fewer) hit per monster, and by far the most common difference is non at all. For example, if the Orc Chieftain has 154 hit points and you take the actual PCs' damage packets of 27, 16, 19, etc. then 90% of the time it's going to work out the same as if you set the Orc Chieftain to 150 hp and convert the PCs' damage packets to 30, 20, 20, etc.

At the low Heroic tier you may want to round by 5s, or not round at all because the numbers are small enough to calculate easily. Certainly by Paragon, rounding by 10s is an enormous time-saver.

* Give handouts to the players that explain anything unusual in the combat. Make the players do some of your work for you!
* Convert all monster Recharge powers to Encounter powers. 



Snipped a couple notable ones out here above. Handouts are very helpful. I play online and post "Features of the Area" or any skill challenges right into the text chat for reference during combat. At a home game, printing it out and giving it to your players helps a lot.

What do you think about changing Recharge powers to just Recharge When First Bloodied instead? 

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals | Full-Contact Futbol  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs | Re-Imagining Phandelver | Three Pillars of Immersion | Seahorse Run

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

I use Maptool 1.3.b87 it is great for this issue. you can edit everything and also you can get people's framework for any D&De. you can get the MMs pics from MM1 to MM5 they have a great community that can help with any question you have. Google RPtools and check it out. One more great thing is you can find any pic from the internet and drop it onto the map and it looks great. i use it at my house and put it on my TV from my computer. My player seem to like it a lot.Laughing

* Give handouts to the players that explain anything unusual in the combat. Make the players do some of your work for you!
* Convert all monster Recharge powers to Encounter powers. 

Snipped a couple notable ones out here above. Handouts are very helpful. I play online and post "Features of the Area" or any skill challenges right into the text chat for reference during combat. At a home game, printing it out and giving it to your players helps a lot.

What do you think about changing Recharge powers to just Recharge When First Bloodied instead? 

Recharge powers are one of the areas in which I err the most. Sometimes I use them when they haven't recharged yet, and sometimes I forget to recharge them. If I'm not sure, I'll try to err on the side of my players, but I usually cut the creature a break if it hasn't used the power for a few rounds and it has a decent recharge.

But making them encounter powers would be identical with reality in the vast majority of cases.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

What do you think about changing Recharge powers to just Recharge When First Bloodied instead? 

I like to reserve that for monsters that have it as a signature ability, like dragons.

If a power is so inherent to a monster that the monsters should be able to do it all the time, just make it an At-Will. (And then, y'know, don't use that power if you don't want to.)
I like to reserve that for monsters that have it as a signature ability, like dragons.

If a power is so inherent to a monster that the monsters should be able to do it all the time, just make it an At-Will. (And then, y'know, don't use that power if you don't want to.)



Good point.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals | Full-Contact Futbol  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs | Re-Imagining Phandelver | Three Pillars of Immersion | Seahorse Run

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Here's some of what I do:

Roll initiative once for all monsters. They all go on the same turn. I just use the highest bonus. It sounds unfair, but I usually end up going after three PCs, sometimes last.


Use 2 or 3 types of monsters at most! In general, the more monsters you have on the map, the more challenging it is (but don't use monsters lower level than the PCs. It doesn't work very well at all in my exprience)


Do all-minion fights, maybe as much as once per session. Players love it and it is very simple to handle! Some fights should be easier.


Strip down your monster's powers. I usually throw stuff like monster mark powers and immediate actions in the garbage unless they do something really cool. Immediate actions grind the game to a halt.


Most importantly, when it is clear the heroes are going to win... just end it! Have the monsters surrender or just ask the players "How do you kill them?". Most 4e fights wind down where the PCs are just whittling away the last of the monsters' hit points. It is a waste of time!


As far as being organized, I do it the old fashioned way. I get a piece of paper and write down my monsters in the encounter so they are all on one piece of paper at a glance. I can also make special notes to myself if there's something cool i want the monster to do, or to remind myself of some conditional effect. Also, the act of writing it down really soaks the monster into your memory and you will likely be much sharper when you run the encounter.


 


 

How specifically do you manage combat?

If you're asking the degree of specificity I use in combat, the answer is "low."

If you're asking for specifics on how I manage combat, read on:

If I have advance notice of what monsters I'll be using, I might print them out from the compendium, or bookmark the pages, unless it's out of a module. If it's an impromptu encounter, I'll just try to leave the books open to the right pages, or stick an extra pencil in so I can flip back quickly. The groupings of like monsters in the Monster Manuals helps with this.

For example, last session, the group decided they wanted to fight "half-drow." No such thing in the books I have, so I decided to go with reflavored shadar-kai. There were three on two pages that were the right level and had a good mix of powers and roles, so I just used those. Took me all of a few seconds to settle on these. I suppose I was lucky, but they say that chance favors the prepared mind.

The session before, I was prepared to run an encounter with some kua-toa (again, nicely grouped) but that didn't materialize. Then they received a visit from an NPC I thought they might fight and I tought that a Fey Knight Lingerer and some grimlock minions would work for that. That fight didn't happen either. In talking with the lingerer I decided that he'd send them to deal with a gnome artificer (a reskinned rockcaller) who would have two shield guardians (which I had originally considered for the lingerer's body guards).

That fight didn't happen either. The point is that I improvise combat quickly with not much prep, apart from discussing with the players what kind of encounter they'd like to have.

When combat actually does happen, everyone rolls initiative and one player records it on the battlemat, then reorders it. That player or I will call out who is up and who is on-deck, so they can be ready with their actions.

I mark a column for each monster on a sideways piece of paper, with some identifier related to the marker being used at the top. At the bottom of each column is the creature's HP total, and its bloodied value. When the creature takes damage I add the damage to a running total, because I'm faster at adding. If the monster incurs a condition, I'll mark it next to the column, but we also use colored markers under the creature's marker. Pipe cleaner is also a handy marker, as well as a cool prop.

If I'm using a group that all has the same encounter power, I'll note which has used it at the top of the relevant column.

During combat, I tend not to worry about exact numbers, and I tend to err on the side of the players. I don't have a lot of patience for tracking every single modifier, and if the d20 number looks good, or the range looks right, I'll usually give it to them. I will not argue at all, nor will I ask for explanations of powers. It's worth the time savings and the trust just to go with what the players tell me.

We do not go back if something is missed.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

I agree with the great advice above.

Your best time to manage combat is during the design phase. Create encounters easier to run that let you achieve your goals, such as more roleplaying and story.

Use environment/terrain/map, missions, monster selection/tweaks and similar design decisions to set yourself up for easier combat management before combat.

Pay attention to particular pain points during play and come back to this thread and others like it for speciifc tips. For example, if inititiave is causing you pain, get tips on that.

You mentioned drama from player/character risk. That's a perception issue you can game.

For example, last night my PCs entered an asylum in the Abyss and I had 150 bad guys queued up against them. That freaked the group out and everyone was tense. They eventually targeted the leader, and when he went down the other foes fled. The number 150 had great shock value, but in reality the solution came down to overcoming one foe.

Looking forward to reading more tips in this thread!
I've been DM'ing for around 3 years now, and I still don't have combat management down very well. In particular I struggle with running largeish encounters (8+ enemies on the board).

I've tried a few systems for running combat:


  • Printing out each monster's stat sheet, writing an initiative score on it, and inserting player stat sheets in initiative order

  • Excel spreadsheet on my laptop with monster names, hitpoints and initiative scores, with PDF copies of their stat sheets for when their turn comes up

  • Using the D&D program 'Masterplan' to run encounters, which provides blurbs for each monster and reminders about status effects and such


The last system would seem to be the best choice for automating alot of the manual work... but I find it buggy and difficult to use. Particularly if a player changes his mind after I've used an ability or ended a turn in Masterplan, it's difficult and time consuming to undo the action (no undo button, have to manually recharge abilities or cycle through the whole next round to get back to the previous player's turn).


For a change, I tried moving back to pen & paper combat management last game, which turned out to be a mistake. The encounter was too large (4 standards, 3 elites, and 8 minions on the board), which resulted in a big stack of paper that made it hard to quickly reference abilities or add damage/healing.


The Excel option isn't great either. It allows quick reference of hitpoints/status effects, but doesn't accomodate delaying turns or actions very well. Referring to monster abilities on PDF documents and then rolling dice for attacks also isn't very effective, as there are no reminders about what abilities are available/on recharge, whether action points have been used, and so forth.


At heart I'm more of a story DM. I love roleplaying my monsters to create a sense of atmosphere, but as my players are now in the Paragon tier combat is becoming very difficult to manage. I spend so much time micro-managing that I can no longer really roleplay abilities, which makes the whole thing a grind.


Any help or advice would be appreciated


Mass combat can be a bi-otch. Whenever you have a crazy bi-otch mass combat, here's some ideas that may speed it up:

1 - Have the players and NPCs take 10 on initiative. This lets the fast characters be fast and the slow characters be slow. You may have complaints, but there's not much to argue about. After the first round it don't matter much anyhow.

2 - Have the peon minion NPCs save their skin as soon as they are wounded, be it surrender or flee the field. Eliminate the numbers.

3 - If the players are fairly high level, calculate the minion's average attack damage for a normal hit and for a critical hit. Use those numbers for a few rounds until the combat becomes managable.

4 - You're a story teller... some of the numbers you have are arbitrary anyway... if a player hits for an awesome critical and comes within a hp or 2 of dropping something, the player don't know how many hp the thing has. Let that awesome critical kill it. DM's little secret. Take it to the grave.

5 - Focus. Only pay real close attention to the major players. You can have 500,000 soldiers on each side of a battle, but all that matters to the players are the ones in the character's face.

6 - Start with the big stuff. The players are likely to try to end it all quickly. One big spell or a big whirlwhind attack in the midst of the enemies. Do the same with the NPCs. If the NPC or monster has one ability that can TPK, let it rip around round 2. That gives the Players one round to kill the monster and lets the monster (if it lives) know how awesome the players are. It also lets the players see how difficult the encounter is and lets any player that don't want to risk death have a reasonable chance to do something about it without it being as much of an anti-climactic end.

7. - Don't micromanage. Trust the players to keep up with their own action points (4e term?) , but they don't know how many action points all those monsters have anyway. If a monster would likely be able to do something, do it. If they've done too much already, don't do it. Resist the urge to follow the mechanics any closer than necessary. In mass combat, there are more variables and distractions. A little variation can be expected. Maybe the monster is having a good day, or an off day. Call it the good day bonus. Or the off day penalty. Throw a few more gp in the treasure if it was tougher than usual. If it was too easy, maybe the rod of thunder and lightning it never pulled out of its saddle can be taken off the treasure list.

8 - Ask the players to cooperate. Sounds like a little thing, but if the players are constantly talking amongst themselves while you're trying to remember where the 100 pikemen are on the field it is difficult to be sure. If they can't or won't cooperate, they might miss a turn. I have a 6 seconds-to-act rule. Especially fair since in a large combat they probably had 5 minutes to think about it. And those 100 pikemen? They were probably charging over the most disruptive player's character.

9 - The HP sheet - if the monster has some wierd powers... write down which monster manual you got it from and the page of the entry you got it from. If it's a simple minion and you can't remember its exact AC or if its wisdom score was an 8 or a 9, make a close guesstimate.
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
2 - Have the peon minion NPCs save their skin as soon as they are wounded, be it surrender or flee the field. Eliminate the numbers.

3 - If the players are fairly high level, calculate the minion's average attack damage for a normal hit and for a critical hit. Use those numbers for a few rounds until the combat becomes managable.

4th Edition went ahead and introduced a type of creature called "minions" that have only one hit point, never take damage on a miss, and do static amounts of damage.

4 - You're a story teller... some of the numbers you have are arbitrary anyway... if a player hits for an awesome critical and comes within a hp or 2 of dropping something, the player don't know how many hp the thing has. Let that awesome critical kill it. DM's little secret. Take it to the grave.

I can recommend this. I don't like to fudge, but I don't like to keep expecially close track of things. Two HP are about within my margin of error when doing all that arithmetic anyway.

7. - Don't micromanage. Trust the players to keep up with their own action points (4e term?) , but they don't know how many action points all those monsters have anyway. If a monster would likely be able to do something, do it. If they've done too much already, don't do it. Resist the urge to follow the mechanics any closer than necessary.

Just actions. Standard, Move, Minor. (Free, immediate, opportunity...)

I definitely try to let my players do any plausible thing they want, or at least roll for it. I'm more circumspect with monsters. I'll ask the players if they're okay with, say, a monster climbing over their barricade.

Never check rules during a game. Rule and go.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

2 - Have the peon minion NPCs save their skin as soon as they are wounded, be it surrender or flee the field. Eliminate the numbers.

3 - If the players are fairly high level, calculate the minion's average attack damage for a normal hit and for a critical hit. Use those numbers for a few rounds until the combat becomes managable.

4th Edition went ahead and introduced a type of creature called "minions" that have only one hit point, never take damage on a miss, and do static amounts of damage.

4 - You're a story teller... some of the numbers you have are arbitrary anyway... if a player hits for an awesome critical and comes within a hp or 2 of dropping something, the player don't know how many hp the thing has. Let that awesome critical kill it. DM's little secret. Take it to the grave.

I can recommend this. I don't like to fudge, but I don't like to keep expecially close track of things. Two HP are about within my margin of error when doing all that arithmetic anyway.

7. - Don't micromanage. Trust the players to keep up with their own action points (4e term?) , but they don't know how many action points all those monsters have anyway. If a monster would likely be able to do something, do it. If they've done too much already, don't do it. Resist the urge to follow the mechanics any closer than necessary.

Just actions. Standard, Move, Minor. (Free, immediate, opportunity...)

I definitely try to let my players do any plausible thing they want, or at least roll for it. I'm more circumspect with monsters. I'll ask the players if they're okay with, say, a monster climbing over their barricade.

Never check rules during a game. Rule and go.

I'll ask the players how they like it when the monster climbs over their barricade (if the monster is able to make the climb).

Rule and go! There are so many times when the rules, as stated, create complications that are just plain dumb. I've got one rules lawyer in my games. He is always trying to stick to the letter of a rule without any concern with the spirit in which the rule was written. Only when it benefits his character, of course. More than half the time the rule isn't a life-or-death situation anyway. I once wasted an hour (of everybody's time) because I made a judgment that made sense even though the rule as stated could be interpreted in a nonsensical way if taken verbatim. I don't remember the specifics, unfortunately, something to do with a grapple, I think.

Finally I gave in and let the dumb thing happen as the player wanted. The other players were just glad we were moving on, not caring either way about how it went. As karma will do, the next round the player found himself on the other end of that rule, except with more dire consequences. He suddenly shifted his position on the rule, of course.

The next time a rule disagreement came up, I simply said "I don't care what the book says, this is what happens". One disgruntled player and 5 very happy ones. Can't please everybody. Rule and go.

One caveat emptor: sometimes a judgment is more important... dead character for instance. In that case it's worth the trouble to be sure about the rules as understood by the group, but even in such cases, if you DM any length of time you're not going to mis-rule a character to their doom and you're wasting precious play time that could be used to get a new favorite character in the game.
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
One caveat emptor: sometimes a judgment is more important... dead character for instance. In that case it's worth the trouble to be sure about the rules as understood by the group, but even in such cases, if you DM any length of time you're not going to mis-rule a character to their doom and you're wasting precious play time that could be used to get a new favorite character in the game.

That's why I advise people to err in the players' favor. If definitely don't kill someone's character over something questionable. Even if it's not questionable, if someone's questioning it then check an make sure it's an issue you wouldn't mind your group disintegrating over.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Yeah, that's rough. Cut it down to 3, maybe 4 tops. That'll be a big load off, especially at Paragon.



I never run more than 4 types of monsters. Choose 3 or 4 interesting types, and usually no more than 2 complex types. Keep it simple and put more focus on events, terrain, and doing more with your monsters than just attacking.
Lots of good advice all through this thread. One trick I do is to combine a complex elite or solo with some standards from MM1. They are very simple and easy to run and I don't worry that they aren't perfect examples of post-MM3 math, they still fight just fine.

The only thing I change when using MM1 standard monsters is to give brutes +2 to hit and everyone gets +1/2 level bonus to damage (ex. a level 6 doing 3d4+7 now does 3d4+10). I don't use MM1 solos, they are too easy to lock down.
Sorry to hear you're having trouble with Masterplan - as its developer I get worried when anyone says it's buggy. If you have any problems with it please do email me or ask on the Masterplan facebook page.
Don't micromanage. Trust the players to keep up with their own action points (4e term?) , but they don't know how many action points all those monsters have anyway. If a monster would likely be able to do something, do it. If they've done too much already, don't do it. Resist the urge to follow the mechanics any closer than necessary.



An action point is something you can only use once per encounter (if you have it) to make an extra attack or something. Only special monsters ever have them. But in general, 4e actions are not that hard to keep track of, and monsters have the same ones as players.