The Pathfinder RPG has a lot of moving pieces - not just the figures on the battlemat, but player personalities and expectations, too. Larger combats featuring multiple opponents can quickly get complex to adjudicate. Here’s two tips for players, and two more for Game Masters, to keep combats moving.

D&D Players
Credit: Jason Coleman used under Creative Commons license

For Players -

Know Your Abilities - There’s little as disruptive as a player that needs to be reminded of their abilities. Spellcasters like wizards, druids and clerics should be familiar with the spells they prepare, and try to have the page numbers of their spells available if needed. The players of these characters that are fortunate enough to have computers or tablets at their disposal might be well advised to use that to keep their known or prepared spells at the ready.

Some classes have more exotic, or more specific, abilities - a fifth level Paladin’s Divine Bond ability, for example, or a Rogue’s tricks. Many pieces of equipment similarly have a number of more esoteric uses. Most characters accumulate some of these niche abilities as they level Familiarity with these abilities optimizes your use of them - you have to remember you have Divine Bond or your Magus arcana, before you’re able to use them.

(As part of this, it goes without saying that your basic statistics - your saving throw bonuses, the save DCs of your abilities, your attack bonuses with your typical attacks, and so forth. Recalculating these round-to-round is needlessly complex.)

Plan Your Actions - While the best combats can be dynamic, with circumstances changing round by round, it’s still likely that turn to turn you can get a pretty good idea what to do next. Fighters, for instance, are likely to need attack rolls (at least, hopefully they do!), and Rogues are going to be trying to make sneak attacks. Have your dice ready to go, and be ready to name your targets or affected areas.

Obviously, the actions of the other players - and worse, the enemies - can (and should!) force sudden adjustment to your plans, and that’s fine; if you have a plan, it’s easier to adjust it for a change in circumstance.

For Game Masters -

Don’t Roll for Initiative - This one is new to most Game Masters. Give some thought to skipping the roll for initiative for your NPCs - simply add 10 to all their initiatives to determine their initiative order (as if they could “take 10” on initiative). On the average, this works out about the same as usual, while making Feats that give initiative bonuses somewhat more advantageous, for both PCs and NPCs. PCs should still roll for initiative, though, to keep an unpredictable element in that phase of the game.

Have a Plan - Relatively few NPCs or monsters in the D&D world don’t know what to do if they’re attacked. The plan might be very basic (“Close to melee and hit it with my axe!”), or more advanced (“Begin with a Ray of Enfeeblement on the Fighter, while I cast Fly and retreat to a balcony to reduce counter-attacks…”). Most of your monsters and NPCs should have a plan that would lead to their success in battle, at least with a little good fortune.

Generally speaking, more intelligent foes should be better at improvising and adapting, and it’s probably not a bad idea to have at least one or two “backup plans”, just in case their original idea does not work out.

An upside to this approach is that it helps you identify tactical weaknesses (and strengths) of your NPCs before they appear “on camera” in your game. If the best tactic you can think to use ahead of time does not seem likely to work, it may be an indication that the encounter is somewhat weak or otherwise unsuited to use against your characters.

In Summary

With these four techniques, you should be well on your way to getting a handle on the combats in your Pathfinder game. Combat is one of the more complex portions of the game, but it lends an immediacy and excitement that players and Game Masters can enjoy.

Happy gaming!

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Core Rulebook
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