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High level 3.5 - tricks for keeping the numbers game quick and easy?

Enkhidu

Explorer
Last night, our gaming group (7 strong, all 13th level, guesstimate that we're EL 16 or 17) faced off against a group of baddies (5 strong, EL about 15 after all was said and done), and it was the first opportunity that our group had to prepare in advance at this kind of power level. And prep we did - long term, mid term, and finally short term (rounds per level spells). And that's where the problem lay...

All told, our bonii gave us all (from various sources) +7 to hit , +4 to AC, +1 on all saves, +4 on fear effect saves, and the hasty benefits of an extra attack during a full attack action and an extra 30' of movement. In addition, the party was tricked out with invisibility, mirror images, stoneskins, and a host of other personal spells all before combat actually started. It took about 30 minutes just to get our numbers and plan in order, and the combat took most of the night. Worst of all, this stuff expired at different times throughout the fight, and needed to be tracekd individually.

And, quite frankly, I found it to be a bit of a pain.

So, what I'm asking for is tips to make it easier for the players (let alone the DM! - lucky for us, they baddies only had the 2 rounds to prep instead of the long term stuff!) to keep track of all this stuff. Any suggestions for what's worked for you?


(And, as a side note, what methods do you suggest to make doing the requisite math for expertise and power attack quicker when you use them? I love having that flexibility - doing 150+ pts of damage while weilding a two-handed weapon on a hasted full attack kicks all kinds of booty - but doing the mental math is a pain.)
 

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Rystil Arden

First Post
Hmm...I really don't understand why it took so long to calculate the numbers for simple buffing. If the casters knew what spells they wanted to cast, it should have been a simple matter. Then again, I've been known for once running a group of 3 level 15 PCs against 300 enemies, separately rolling for all of them, so I suppose I may have somewhat of a skewed view.

I guess the way I do it quickly is to make sure that the DM and the casters know the rules well enough that you don't need to reference back to the PH for every spell, and then just say what spells you want to cast and immediately apply the effects. Takes all of five minutes.

Now strategising and such can take a long time, but there's really no way to make that go faster without cheapening the end result of the planning.
 

howandwhy99

Adventurer
Enkhidu said:
(And, as a side note, what methods do you suggest to make doing the requisite math for expertise and power attack quicker when you use them? I love having that flexibility - doing 150+ pts of damage while weilding a two-handed weapon on a hasted full attack kicks all kinds of booty - but doing the mental math is a pain.)

As an 11th level fighter/mix with both expertise and power attack it only took me one session to realize that I wasn't going to be able to keep track of everything in my head. So I use a notebook of blank paper. I suggest this to any player having trouble doing all the mental math as you say.

In your case however, you may want a DM style grid which can track rounds as well as multiple bonuses of mulitiple types.
 

Enkhidu said:
So, what I'm asking for is tips to make it easier for the players (let alone the DM! - lucky for us, they baddies only had the 2 rounds to prep instead of the long term stuff!) to keep track of all this stuff. Any suggestions for what's worked for you?

Keep a notecard next to your character sheet, with each of your important abilities / stats listed. Across the top, write the spell / effect that's causing the change. Next to each ability / stat, write the bonus. Someone (usually the caster) needs to keep track of the duration, and let everyone know when something expires. When it expires, erase the bonus.

Then, whenever you need to roll something, roll, add your normal bonuses, and then go across the card.

(And, as a side note, what methods do you suggest to make doing the requisite math for expertise and power attack quicker when you use them? I love having that flexibility - doing 150+ pts of damage while weilding a two-handed weapon on a hasted full attack kicks all kinds of booty - but doing the mental math is a pain.)

Do it beforehand.

Combat Expertise and Power Attack are easy in that they are limited to your BAB (or 5, in the case of CE).

I assume that, on your character sheet, you have something like:

2-handed Sword +2: +17 / +12 / +7 2d6+8, 19-20/x2

(In other words, it's a 2-handed Sword +2 wielded by someone with a BAB of +11, 16 Strength, Weapon Focus, and Weapon Spec.)

Either in another slot on your character sheet, or on a supplemental sheet, write:

2-handed Sword +2 (PA+1): +16 / +11 / +6 2d6+10, 19-20/x2
2-handed Sword +2 (PA+2): +15 / +10 / +5 2d6+12, 19-20/x2
...
2-handed Sword +2 (PA+11): +6 / +1 / -4 2d6+30, 19-20/x2

Then, when Power Attacking, just go with the appropriate line. You may choose to skip a few in the middle, or what have you, but this is something that can easily be done prior to any attacks.

For Combat Expertise, I do something different. I do one of two things.

1: I pre-spec out my modified "total defense" mode. My current PC is a Rogue / Fighter with >= 5 ranks in Tumble and a BAB of +5. Thus, I can take a penalty of -9 to attack rolls (CE for -5/+5, Fight Defensively for -4/+4), and get +8 to my AC (and Touch AC). So, above the AC boxes on my character sheet, I have a line that says "Total Defense: -9 AB, +8 AC."

2: For when I am not going "total defense," I keep a d6 handy. When I put that on my character sheet next to my AC, that's how much I'm CEing for. I add it to my ACs and subtract it from my ABs.
 

iwatt

First Post
Rystil Arden said:
Hmm...I really don't understand why it took so long to calculate the numbers for simple buffing.

I think the poster was mentioning two different problems:

1) Pre buffing for encounters takes a lot of time. Not because adding numbers is hard, but because ther are a lot of options, and the non-stacking of modifiers leads to as lot of double-checking. Also, some people aren't as confortable as others with a lot of math. Personally, like you, I tend to insist that everybody has a clear idea of what a spell does so that they can do this faster. Also, for PCs with standard buffing profiles (i.e Div Fav/Div Pow/Right Might war clerics) I tend to have pregenerated stat blocks including the spell effects. 3.5 heped in this sense by making a lot of the buff spells have fixed values instead of random (animal buff, Divine power, etc..).

2) Different durations of spells. This is a hard one. The higher the party level, the less of a problem usually since round/level is usually long enough for higher level play were battles usually last less than 10 rounds. But sometime the rounsd drag on. One sytem is to list the order they were cast ona separate piece of paper. Then list the spell and the current duration, and substract one each round. for example a 7th level War cleric who casted 4 spells and is into the third round of combat:

Bull's strength: 70..69...68..67..66..65..64
Endurance: 70..69..68..67..66..65
Divine Favor: 10..9..8..7..6
Divine Power: 7..6..5..4

It takes bookkeeping. There's no avoiding it. The best advice is to be methodical.
 

scrubkai

Explorer
We have found that you really have a couple of options to make these kind of fights go faster:

1) If your DM isn't doing it already, let the players do the math for their character.
Don't make the DM calculate all the bonuses each player has... He/She has enough to do with just tracking the buffs on the monsters.

2) Do you have laptops and know how to use a spreadsheet program? (e.g. excel)
If so use it. There are numerous electronic aids that will hold a character sheet/calculate the bonuses for you. It's always faster at the gaming table if you can just drop a "+4" in for your dex score and have everything automatically update rather then having to recalculate, AC (Normal, Flat footed, and Touch ) and Ranged To hit for each weapon on paper.

3) If you have a long time to prepare, do so out side of the gaming session. Our group often lays out the encounter at the end of one playing night, then has all the players go home and discuss over email their strategy. Those of us with Buff heavy characters also normally lay out the order we'll cast the spells and do any needed calculations so that when we get back together the next time, we know exactly what bonuses we have and combat can move quickly.
I personally normally write the Spell name, Effect, Duration and round started/expiring on a sheet of scratch paper. Then at a glance I can see all my bonuses and what's active/not active.

4) We keep a round count on our battlemat so that you can look over and say OK it's round 14, that means Spell A, B, and D are still going, but C, E, F and G have already expired.
Add that to excel and you can have it auto-calc for you.

One of our players has his excel character sheet so loaded with if() functions that he just puts an x in cell next to the buffs that are active and all the effects auto calc for him... When the round count hits the number he knows one of his buffs expire he just clicks off the x and goes on. Everything else calculates for him. It makes combat fast... Roll to hit, roll damage add the bonuses at the top of the sheet and you are done.
 

Barendd Nobeard

First Post
One of my friends has a barbarian (that just made 14th level). He has a page with all of his power attack variants listed. He has a second chart for when he's raging.

He can do the math mentally, but this is certainly quicker. And he only has to update the sheet when he levels up.

As for all the other (less frequent/common) changes, we all just write them down on a piece of paper. One time, my PC had the following spells in effect:

Polymorph (Annis Hag - Str = 25 and +10 natural armor)
Stoneskin
Resist Elements: Acid
Endure Elements: Acid
Shield of Faith
Shield Other
Remove Fear
Protection from Evil
Silence
Bull's Strength
Bear's Endurance
Cat's Grace
Mass Fly

Writing them all down (with the AC, Attack, Damage, HP, and DR/Resistance/Immunity changes) took a little time, but then the combat went smoothly & quickly. We figured out all the overlap between the effects in advance and the DM let us know how he interpreted any gray areas.
 

Rystil Arden

First Post
Hmm, iwatt I think I see what you're getting at, but I guess that I just don't have the same stacking/non-stacking problem with my players. They know which spells stack, and they don't bother to even prepare ones that they know won't stack. I guess maybe it helps when everyone in your group either has or is working towards a degree in either Math or Computer Science.

As for durations, by high levels, the minute/level spells aren't going to wear off, and since buffs are almost always cast in round-to-round succession, its merely a matter of earmarking when the first set of buffs wears off and then taking the appropriate set each round thereafter. As others have mentioned, automated ways of doing this may aid even more.

If you are really hard-pressed with durations and simply can't handle them, you could use the D&D Miniatures simplification that round/level spells last the whole battle, and then wear off.
 

Enkhidu

Explorer
For us, the problem is a little deeper than simply spell durations - examples include:

1) bard needs to stop singing, 5 rounds later we lose +2 to attack, damage, and fear saves.
2) one PC's command abilites (from the variant class in Path of the Sword) requires both line of sight from the commander to the commandee and the ability to hear commands from the commander - either one negates another +2 to hit.

and so on.

But, the consensus seems to be that we'll have to do it the hard way, which means I guess its time for me to create a flexible paper spreadsheet and combine it with the players putting up folder paper signs in front of them with the spell/effect, making sure that if something new goes up or comes down they let everyone know.

And I think it's time for me to do my hefty spreadsheets for power attack and expertise.
 

Rystil Arden

First Post
If its just the attack roll from the commander, one handy trick is to simply not keep track of it unless the attack roll is such that it matters. Thus, you only need to determine if the commander is in line of sight at most 10% of attacks. The problem comes with the bard and damage rolls, since you need to know whether the song is toggled for every successful hit.
 

kenobi65

First Post
Enkhidu said:
the players putting up folder paper signs in front of them with the spell/effect, making sure that if something new goes up or comes down they let everyone know.

We do that, although I have the players hang the signs on my DM screen, so they're easily visible to all (and the Prayer sign has a "DM's side", since it has a negative effect on the bad guys). In most cases, the effects last the entire combat, so I don't worry much about what expires (and thus would get taken down), but if there's something that does (like bardic music), I'd put a tick mark with a pencil on the sign each round, on the appropriate player's turn.
 

Cam Banks

Explorer
I'd just like to point out that the singular of bonii is bonius, whatever that is. There isn't a Latin plural of bonus, since it's an adjective, not a noun. In English, it's "bonuses."

Wow, that was pedantic. Anyway, this is a great thread! I'm in the same boat, with high-level characters that can sometimes be a hassle to manage. So I'll go back to reading it.

Cheers,
Cam
 


A) Don't sweat the small stuff too much. So you forgot the bard's song should have dropped? Big deal. Sooner or later, you'll forget to add it in one round. Little mistakes even out over the long haul.

B) I've houseruled power attack so that it is always either +5 or +BAB, whichever is lower. I can't stand players that sit there and try to finesse power attack like it's the volume knob on their stereo.
 

Stalker0

Legend
I think I agree with most all the other comments...preplanned stat blocks is the fastest way.

This doesn't involve numbers but its a way to speed up high level combats....dice boxes.

Basically they are just walled areas to roll dice. However, a really good dice box has seperations (think of it like a tick-tack-toe board).

Now what makes this very fast is you use two dice boxes...one for attack rolls and the other for damage.

So when I roll my first attack, I roll the dice into the upper left corner of the box. When I roll damage I roll it into the upper left corner of the other box. This way its very easy to see what damage goes with what attack...and it makes it convienent to roll damage and attacks at the same time which really speeds up high level play.
 

GlassJaw

Hero
A spreadsheet for D&D combat? This is at least one reason I maintain that d20 3.5 is not D&D
Don't sweat the small stuff too much. So you forgot the bard's song should have dropped? Big deal. Sooner or later, you'll forget to add it in one round. Little mistakes even out over the long haul.

As much as I like d20 and D&D, these two factors continuously irk me the more I play.

So if the battle gets too complicated, I should just ignore certain rules? That seems backwards to me. High-level play in a "standard" D&D campaign is extremely accounting-heavy. Unless everyone (players and DM) do a lot of pre-planning, it can get very slow.

d20 was made with Excel in mind IMO (which is a little scary).
 

Rystil Arden

First Post
You don't really need to do any preplanning at all as long as you are good at adjudicating these kinds of things in your head. I haven't had a problem in any of my campaigns, including the one that is just about to go epic and has many epic spellcaster NPCs.
 

iwatt

First Post
Rystil Arden said:
Hmm, iwatt I think I see what you're getting at, but I guess that I just don't have the same stacking/non-stacking problem with my players. They know which spells stack, and they don't bother to even prepare ones that they know won't stack. I guess maybe it helps when everyone in your group either has or is working towards a degree in either Math or Computer Science.

Hey I play with an all engineer group. ;)

Once you quit college, you start depending heavily on those computer tools and less on the old Mark I brain. Specially when you're only chance to play is evenings during weekdays, you really try to keep things simple. The old brain get's plenty tired after 9-10 hour work days ( one of the "benefits" of living in Latin America).

getting back on topic: using spreadsheets is a very good option. You don't need a laptop, just need to print off some charts with common stat combos.

B) I've houseruled power attack so that it is always either +5 or +BAB, whichever is lower. I can't stand players that sit there and try to finesse power attack like it's the volume knob on their stereo.

I feel your pain. As one of the miriads of players that have developed spreadsheets for PA, i can tell you that actually fine tuning PA in combat even with the help of spreadsheet is a pain in the rear, and really brings down the mood. That's why I'm in the camp of APAATT (all power attack all the time) :D.
 


Arc

First Post
Last high level game I played in, we had a whiteboard/battlemat to play on, and everyone had at least a corner or two. We kept initiative on one side, active spells in one corner, and everyone had some space to scribble their own info. Being able to write out and easily change your various attack bonuses, AC buffs, HP, spell slots, etc without having to pull out the eraser really makes things easy. Not everyone did this, but it was really obvious who did, since their turns consisted mostly of dramatic description, not frantic scrambling through sheets of paper.

Even if you don't have a battlemat, buy a small whiteboard. They make them in tablet sized versions that should be just big enough to keep track of initiative and various global effects. Put it in the middle of the table/gaming space, and designate someone initiative/buff monkey for each combat. Most likely, the rotation will mean nobody feels overworked, and eventually, somebody will probably take on the task for most of the time. In my group, I took on the role simply because I was fast at it, and kinda enjoyed the extra level of involvement. I'd recommend getting a personal board as well, simply to have a space to keep track of your own stats.
 

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