Combat Tips

Lets talk about Combat for a minute.

In Dungeons & Dragons, a lot of conflicts are going to be solved through combat. This is just part of the setting. You can sneak around or use diplomacy all you want, but eventually you’re going to have to shank a troll.

So, with combat being so core to the game, it’s a good idea for us all to get a little better at it.

Don’t worry if your attack is not the most optimum, super tactical choice. If you are worried or confused, just narrow your choices down to your at-wills, and use it to deal damage to whomever is nearest. Dealing damage is always a tactically sound decision and contributes to the parties goals of murdering as many things as possible.

One of the most useful things you can do is, before the game, review your combat powers. If you have a pretty good idea of which powers you have, it will be that much easier during the fight to recall which powers might be helpful at any given time. If you are having trouble keeping track of them all, it might help to underline key words in the power, like status effects it might cause. That way you can know at a glance that the difference between FROST RAY and FROST BEAM is that the Ray can cause Slow and the Beam can cause Stun. It also might help to highlight if a power is a Burst, so you know to use it on clustered enemies, if it deals special damage, like Fire or Radiant, or if it can be used in place of a Melee Basic Attack or Ranged Basic Attack.
It is also handy to look up the options available to ALL classes, which are not printed as power cards. Things like Charges, Bull’s Rushes, etc. Sometimes what you need is not a fancy sounding martial arts maneuver, it’s to bum rush an orc off a cliff.

As you are watching the fight unfold, keep your powers in mind and think about what you can do on your next turn. Did one of your team mates just cause an enemy to grant Combat Advantage? Maybe you should change targets and take advantage of that +2 to hit. Are the enemies in a bunch? Maybe flip through your cards and look for one of your Burst powers so you can hit a bunch at once. If you have a pretty good idea of what you want to do by the time your turn comes around, it will be that much faster.

It is very convenient that the power cards printed on your character sheets have the math printed out for you. If you are using MAGIC MISSILE, which deals 2+Int Mod+Implement Bonus damage, you should never have to flip through your papers to find your bonuses, because they are listed just under the colored name bar of the card. You can just look and see that your attack always deals 9 damage.

You have all the dice in front of you, so to save time, roll your damage dice at the same time as your attack. If you miss, disregard the dice, and if you hit, you won’t have to fiddle around looking for a d8 to deal damage with.

One of the biggest time sinks in the game is incorrect formatting of dice results. I’ll admit that I get very distracted trying to control all the monsters, as well as help people on their turns, so I know I miss details sometimes. So to help everyone go a little bit faster, try and format your results in the following way.

  • POWER: “I use FIREBALL…”
  • TARGET: “…on the ORC.”
  • ROLL: “I got a SEVENTEEN…”
  • RESISTANCE: “versus his REFLEX.”
    This gives me, the game master, all the information I need to know. DON’T FORGET TO ROLL TO HIT EACH ENEMY AFFECTED BY YOUR ATTACK. I’ll then tell you if it was a hit or a miss, and you can tell me the
  • TYPE (OPTIONAL): “…of FIRE damage.”
    Un-typed attacks like swords and crossbow bolts don’t have special effects, but the other damage keywords can make a big difference. Some monsters have resistances or weaknesses to different damage types, and many monsters have secondary effects from taking a type of damage. Trolls, for instance, regenerate hit points each round, unless they take fire damage, which turns off their regeneration for a round. If you forgot to mention that you deal fire damage, I won’t turn off the troll’s regeneration!


Now the combat above can sound a little dry. Like a board game! Sadly, the most efficient and speedy way to go through combat is to talk like robots.

DM: It is your turn, Playerbot 229
Playerbot 229: I attack the orc with my battleaxe. 12 vs AC.
DM: That is a hit.
Playerbot 229: I deal 11 points of damage.
DM: It is now your turn, Playerbot 245

However, combat does not need to be like that. The very, very BEST combat has a lot of narrative input from the player.

DM: It’s the DREADBEARD’s turn.
Player: “I’ve hat enough of your shit, GRUMSH ONE-EYE! Prepare to die!” I swing my father’s battle-axe at his ribs! 12 vs AC!
DM: It’s a hit!
Player: Ha! My axe bites into his platemail for 11 points.

That’s it. That’s the whole tip. Pretend you are describing a sweet action stunt you saw in a Kung Fu movie.

In the above example, Dreadbeard hit for 11 points of damage. Depending on the condition of the monster, this can mean many things. As a rule of thumb, if a monster is NOT BLOODIED, your attacks are clanging into armor, bounding off shields, or being narrowly dodged. You know when you are watching a sword fight in a movie, and they fight for a while, then someone gets cut across the back of the hand? That is what Bloodied means. So once the enemy is bloodied, feel free to describe your hits as actual hits. Obviously you’ll have to not go too overboard, because if you describe your battleaxe buried into the orcs neck, and the orc still has 30 hit points, it’s just going to be a little silly.

Of course, if you deal damage and I declare that the monster is now Bloodied or Dead, feel free to amend your description so that you did, in fact, bury your battleaxe deep into the orcs neck.

In D&D 4e, you have a number of cards in front of you, showing all of your various powers. This is cool and all, but lets say you want to do a spinning leg sweep to trip a foe, but all you have is TAKEDOWN ATTACK. Takedown Attack is described in the book as “You bash your foe with a vicious attack and then drag the creature down to the ground.” WHO CARES. Just use Takedown Attack and describe it as a spinning leg sweep. Do NOT get tied down to your cards.
If you are an Arcane class, think about what YOUR magic is like. Magic Missile is “A glowing blue bolt of magical energy hurtles from your finger and unerringly strikes your target.” Again, WHO CARES. If you are an evil wizard, maybe your MM is a toxic ball of sinister energy that leaves smears of black dusk behind. Maybe your MM is a ray of emerald green light that strikes unerringly and shoots out of your eyes. Maybe its a different color every time, but probably it’s something thematic and evocative for your character.
If you are a Martial Class, how is it you can make your powers more interesting than just “Durr, I hit with a sword and push/stun/daze/etc”? Oh man, oh MAN, are you JOKING ME DOG. Do you know what character class Luke Skywalker is? A fucking FIGHER, man. This is not Medieval Europe. This is a fantasy world. Look at Dynasty Warriors, Star Wars, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Batman is a Rogue. Kamina from TTGL was a Fighter. Look outside of the traditional LoTR archetype and find something way cool, because if I was going to assign classes to LoTR characters, not only are they all low-level, but Sam and Frodo are NPCs. I mean really, what sort of character has the standard combat strategy of RUN AWAY?

Batman is multi-classed, you blaspheming piece of shit!

Combat Tips

Dark Sun EglathTheEaterOfBreakfasts