I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Curse of Strahd Guide, VII - Fast combat

Okay folks, since we are getting a new Ravenloft book, let's make this a "Strahd week". I'll change subject soon, I promise!

I wrote lots and lots of posts about making combat quicker; this is just a small recap. My problems with D&D 5e combat may have peaked while playing this campaign. There were three main reasons: 

1 - Standard combat is too complex.
2 - There were too many creatures in each fight
3 - The Icon of Ravenloft (plus invisibility and other disadvantages).

Let's briefly tackle each one of these. 


1 - Combat is too complex already

This is not a CoS issue. It is an issue I have with 5e. So here is something I wrote about that.

I eventually tested all of that. It made combat chaotic and fun. Maybe too chaotic; I'm undecided.

But if you were to pick one thing to make combat faster, just use average damage unless you have a reason not to - especially for monsters. A natural 20 is maximum damage, and an exact hit is a glancing blow (half damage).

2 - There were too many creatures in each fight

The problem with CoS is that you're often accompanied by allies. Ireena, Ismark, eventually Ezmeralda, Van Richten, etc., and maybe someone decided by the card reading. At the same time, you're fighting groups of monsters. That's a lot of creatures to keep track of.

Again, here is something I wrote before:

There are some neat ideas in the comments, too.

Another way of making this faster is letting your players control all NPCs on their side. Seems like an obvious solution... but not all players are up for that. And, TBH, most of mine were confused (like me) when trying to keep track of all the powers, spells, magic items and features you have at, say, level 7, even before they had additional NPCs to control. 

So the solution outline in the link above is probably better. You still ask the players to roll for "their" NPCs, but they do not choose actions, spells, etc., only roll 1d20 per round.

3 - The Icon of Ravenloft (plus invisibility and other disadvantages)

The problem with the Icon of Ravenloft is that it gives disadvantage to undead attacking you. There are other effects that could have a similar effect (invisibility, for example), but the Icon was the most common issue in my game.

In one scene, the PCs faced six vampire spawn. Each had two attacks. This meant that, in theory, I'd have to roll 24 d20 each round, in groups of two, only to discard half and see how many PCs were hit.

We had at least three or fours fights with groups of vampire spawns in the campaign... and many more against other undead.

There is a simpler way: instead of disadvantage, just give these vampires one attack instead of two (on a natural 20, they claw and bite!). Now you're rolling 6 dice instead of 24.

It works reasonably well if you do the math (if they hit on a natural 11+, giving them disadvantage is nearly identical to halving their damage output. BTW, if they only have one attack, just halve damage and you're good to go)..

Here is my bit:

In conclusion...

As you can see, I've become a bit obsessed with CoS. I'll probably finish this guide with a dozen posts. I'm not sure if you're enjoying this, but there is no stopping at this point! 

However, I will take a small break to talk about other subjects. Will come back to Strahd in one or two weeks.



  1. Thinking back to an old post where you compared stacking disadvantage and advantage to just adding +1 for every advantage source after the first one, would it be worth it to have disadvantage to be halve attacks (and then damage when needed) to both have that way to have that rough tracking (without too much haggling) and still have a system that doesn't feel as odd as 1 disadvantage cancelling out all advantages and visa versa?

    1. Well, I think it is doable, but since ad/disad applies to other situations as well (not only combat), I'm not sure a new system is needed... Maybe just let disad = half damage and advantage = 1.5x damage when you want to roll fewer dice.

    2. That's fair. I does make the enemies hit harder, but accuracy drops, so perhaps it balances out more or less.

      Considering how hard it is to kill a PC, it might not be noticed past the first few levels.

  2. I started reading your posts about CoS today, and cant stop. On few words you give a lot of good tips. Just write about CoS from now on until my campaign is over, please.