As a follow-up to Running Multiple Characters in Combat, Simplified, I wanted to build on the character-focused approach to combat with some practical steps you can take while setting up that will further streamline running multiple characters.
We still want to do a video (or a few!) on this to help further, but I’m hoping this might tide you over till then!
Also, I recognize that this may not be the most exciting post that’s ever been written, but I do think that taking the simple steps detailed below will help you to feel more confident and more at ease when you’re running several characters, especially when you’re first getting used to it.
1. Adjust expectations
Like trying anything new, running multiple characters is going to feel clunky and difficult at the beginning. You’ll make mistakes, get stuck, feel overwhelmed, and be convinced that no one has ever taken so long trying to use their action, bonus action, and movement before.
So let’s just get this out of the way right at the beginning: you’re not alone, and that’s totally normal! It’s not going to be very streamlined at first, and it is going to come with a learning curve. All of that is fine!
A. Comparing Yourself to Others
Perhaps you, like me, are blessed with a partner who is a very natural DM and you’ve watched them run five different NPCs convincingly and beautifully without the slightest hint of distress while you cannot seem to even get the two character sheets into a remotely functional position. (Or if that’s just me, so be it.)
B. Getting used to being a DM
Or maybe you, also like me, are DMing more or for the first time, so you’re needing to run multiple characters and perhaps a creature or two in logical ways without compromising the game’s integrity while also maintaining a storyline. Some of this, of course, comes down to practice, but some of it can be worked out in your organization system as a new DM.
In either of the above or any other cases, remember, you’re totally fine. Trying something new feels weird, and it’s going to take time and practice to get used to. Be open with your partner about how you’re feeling, keep combat stakes low for a little while, accept that a few things will go wrong, and you’re ready to go!
2. Organization is Your Friend
Most of what I want to cover in this post, besides normalizing that running multiple characters will feel weird at first, is how you can use your setup to help yourself transition between characters.
- post-it notes
- a pen and paper
- dice groupings
- character sheets or stat blocks (we use a half-inch notebook and page protectors to keep everyone together)
The Actual Process
This is how I set up for combat when I’m DMing or when I’m running multiple of our characters during a combat. I’m sure there are tweaks you can make to this process to make it more functional for you, but I’m hoping these steps and tips will get you started.
Setting up this hypothetical combat, let’s say that I’m running our four main NPCs against an adult green dragon.
A. Roll Initiative, record, order sheets, and hand to DM
First, I write everyone’s name on a post-it and roll their initiative, recording the rolls as I go.
I’m then going to place their character sheets in initiative order. This lets me flip from one to the next naturally, and I always know who comes next.
Last, I give my DM the post-it so they can work what I’ve rolled into the initiative order.
B. Record hp and AC all in one place
Or put post-its on character sheets
Next, I’m going to set up everyone’s hp so it’s easy for me to keep track of.
When I’m DMing, I write everyone’s hp out beneath their name on a lined piece of paper.
As a player, I’ll usually add a post-it to their character sheet, so whichever of the two is easiest for you should work great. (You’ll notice I put the spells she has prepared for that day there as well)
Beyond writing out their names and hp, make your job easier by recording everyone’s AC on the same page. This prevents you from having to flip back and forth depending on who enemies are targeting.
I also write out spaces for my characters’ spell slots and those of any magical items they have that use charges.
C. Group Your dice
If you already have a special dice system, I don’t want to mess that up.
However, I have found that having the number of dice you need, grouped together by kind, can really speed up rolls in combat. (In the picture, I have the d10s and d12s off to the side, because I don’t use them very often.)
This gets a little more complicated when your characters use the same damage dice, so if that’s the case, gather as many as the character using the most of each type would need and group them together.
Alternatively, you can group the dice that will be used separately on the sides with the others near the middle. In this case, our paladin and rogue each use four d6s, so I have them ready to grab and go for the dual-wielding rogue with a short sword and dagger (left), and the paladin with the flame-tongue longsword and divine smite (right, though I actually should have two more d8s to be fully prepped).
This can be more difficult if you’re running a caster (or multiple casters), so give yourself some flexibility there. Do go ahead and have your main/staple/preferred spells ready, either pulled up on your phone or marked in your PHB, so you can quickly go through the unique spell attacks and their various damages.
D. Review plan for first round
You don’t want to over-plan or over-anticipate what will happen during combat because very likely it will change, but it is helpful to have a first-round plan in place for each of your characters.
Review their motivations that you’ve thought about, and test those against the more immediate objectives. Then, decide what your characters are going to try first.
E. Let the combat begin
Yay! Now you’re ready! Your dice are grouped so it’s easy for you to roll with advantage or disadvantage, and you’ve simplified rolling damage because your dice are with their like-minded friends.
Refer to your AC/hp sheet whenever one of your characters is attacked, and flip through your ordered character sheets or stat blocks as you move through the initiative order.
Again, it’s ok if this feels a bit weird or moves slower than combats where you’re running just one character. You’ll get the hang of it and personalize your process over time!
Give it a shot!
I hope this has encouraged you to try out running multiple characters in combat. I’d love to continue helping you through that process, so any questions you have or other things you’d like to see discussed, either about this topic specifically or something else, please let us know in the comments below!
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