D&D Experiment: Faster combat by skipping the monsters

I run a 5E campaign, and while I really like to create monsters and combat scenarios for my players, I don’t like dealing with monster stat blocks or adjudicating all the rules and rolls that happen during a combat encounter.

Combat should feel exciting! It should feel fast and furious and dangerous! But instead, it feels slow and plodding. Everyone checks and re-checks their character sheet. They make rolls and add modifiers, then re-add, then ask what spells or resistances are in play, then re-add… and eventually the monster dies.

Ivan Biliban

Everyone and their sister has ideas about how to make combat better, or faster, or easier. Here’s mine.

I’m going to steal the basic roll mechanic from Powered by the Apocalypse games, but keep the 5E math. So 1-10 is a Fail, 11-15 is a Mixed Success, and 16 or more is a Success.

Here’s how it would work:

DM: Three goblins rush toward you. What do you do? Let’s start on the left this time and go around the table. Fighter?

Fighter: I attack the goblin near me. I rolled a (10+4) 14 to hit, and 7 slashing damage.

DM: Great, you slash the goblin with your sword, but before it dies, it knifes you for 3 damage. Cleric?

Cleric: I cast Healing Word on the Fighter. They get 3 HP back.

DM: Great. Rogue?

Rogue: I shoot the next goblin with my crossbow. I rolled a (4+5) 9 to hit, so I miss.

DM: You miss, and the goblin leaps onto your back, stabbing you for 4 damage. Wizard?

Wizard: I cast Firebolt at the goblin on Rogue. I rolled a (14+4) 18 to hit and 11 fire damage.

DM: Great, with expert aim, you incinerate the goblin completely. There’s one goblin left, with a magic wand, running toward Cleric. Back to you, Fighter?

Fighter: I hit it with my axe. I rolled a (6+4) 10 to hit, so I miss. 

DM: You miss and the goblin dashes past you to freeze Cleric for 4 points. Your turn, Cleric?

Cleric: I cast Guiding Bolt. I rolled a (9+6) 15 to hit, and 9 radiant damage.

DM: The goblin explodes, but its jaw bone hits you in the face for 4 bludgeoning damage. 

Notes

This would mean I don’t need to track initiative, I don’t need to roll for the monster’s actions, and I don’t need to keep track of the monster’s AC. The players immediately know if they hit or not. I just need to create a narrative description of the roll’s outcome and roll the damage (if any). This way, the players are making all the rolls and choosing all the actions. 

What about spells with saving throws? Well, when the players cast the spell, I can just have them roll a spell attack instead. And I guess if the monster is casting the spell, then I will have the players roll to save. Keep the players rolling!

What about PC armor? I don’t know. Maybe instead of providing a quantified value, your armor provides a qualified value. Maybe light armor keeps you stealthy and heavy armor makes you immune to slashing?

What do you think about this? Have you tried anything similar? Any suggestions or insights?

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2 Responses to D&D Experiment: Faster combat by skipping the monsters

  1. Jerry says:

    There is a game in the works (Realms of Peril) that uses similar mechanics. The Alpha document is on their Discord server (Spellsword: https://discord.gg/dRDqJTM) in the #game-resources channel.

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