Monday, November 26, 2018

Combat Coordinator, first try

Last session we tried a new player role - combat coordinator.

I've found that in large, long combats I have a hard time keeping track of who is up next. I've been known to skip people, skip ahead when a Wait is triggered, and otherwise muck with the turn order due to distraction. That is only exacerbated by large parties and by players who don't really pay close attention to combat until it's the start of their action.

One of our players tried his hand last session at being Combat Coordinator.

The job has two basic responsibilities:

- keep track of who is up now and up next;

- track the passage of time overall for the combat.

We've had all of one combat so far, but here is what I noticed:

- overall, it's a positive. Off-loading the mental load of tracking everything related to combat - the enemies, the actions of PCs, the interaction of everything, and keep track of who is next is a great benefit to me.

- we had some trouble sorting out the role of the Combat Coordinator. All I really needed the CC to do was alert the next person to get ready and ensure we went in order. Our CC often asked what the character was doing, which isn't really necessary or helpful. That tapered off once that became clear.

- As the fight went on, even the CC started to lose track of who was next. I briefly had to step in to re-assert the order. And even the CC got confused when an enemy attacked and the PC defended, and then asked the next player - after the defender - what he was going to do.

Even with a CC, we're really hampered by players who get distracted and don't keep close attention on the fight. I get why - fights can be long. But I also don't get why - I am one of those people who can't wait for his turn, is on the edge of his seat the whole fight, and doesn't have enough time to get everything done. I've yet to wander off because I'm two people down the chain of combatants. Seeing that it's not just me slowing things down makes me think we need a "you aren't ready, you Do Nothing" or more generously "You All-Out Defend, +2 to Dodge" default for people who aren't ready.

All of that said, I like the off-load. When a small group is six players, it's helpful if it's my job to resolve things but not to manage people's attention and turn order.


  1. I use a whiteboard and list off on it who goes in what order starting from the top and going down. It's also magnetic so I just slide a little magnetic along indicating who is the current character (PC or NPC) that's going.

    When I announce someone's turn I give them about a minute (less if 'things are urgent') to declare their actions, if they can't declare their actions in that time frame, they Do Nothing.

    After the first few times of Doing Nothing most Players get really on the ball of at least having a fall back action like AOD or Aim/Evaluate.

    1. I may need to pick a moderately difficult combat and be utterly ruthless about missed turns - once we've moved on, we've moved on and you chose Do Nothing.

  2. Interesting - I've never tried having a Combat Co-ordinator, GM's assistant, or similar, but I've always thought I could use one, if I could get the dynamic to work right. I do tend to enlist the players for a lot of thing, though - "Detail Rounds" are definitely part of my game (when we go around the table, and everyone gets to throw an extra descriptive detail about the scene as a whole into the mix, to flesh it out).

    A question for you, if I may (no worries if you've got no time to respond! I know how that goes...). Do you have the players sit around the table in initiative order? That's a really old and obvious trick, but when I started insisting on it I was really positively surprised by how much it simplified big combats for me. Sometimes I've even put a marker on the table, *between* players, to remind everyone of the *monsters'* place in the initiative order, which I find helps a lot if there are a lot of different monsters. I guess I find that making the whole initiative order visible to everyone at the table helps everyone to take responsibility for it.

    A really obvious trick, but it worked for me, which is why I wonder if y'all do it over there.

    1. In a big group I would definitely make players sit in Speed order

    2. I would probably just make the monsters go before or after PCs... monsters with variable speed is a lot to track - but the marker between players is an option

  3. We just go clockwise around the table, starting either with the enemies or the PCs depending on the situation. People still have trouble with that.

  4. This is one of the things that's easier with a virtual tabletop. I use a third-party Initiative Tracker widget for Roll20, and it keeps track of which turn number it is and whose turn it is. One I get all the PCs and opponents into the combat tracker in the right order, anyway. My main problem is advancing turns too quickly; I need to learn to wait for players to say "done" rather than always being in a hurry.

    Face to face, for a small group, I like the Pathfinder Combat Pad, which is little dry erase board with tiny dry erase magnets. A big dry erase board is even better, but more expensive and less portable.

    I don't have a magic answer for herding players though.

    1. Yup, I have the same sort of thing in maptool. The script I have to advance the initiative order even outputs into chat "Bob's turn starts now. Susan, get ready to go.

  5. I haven't had a GM assistant/combat coordinator before, but I've not had your group size. I have had 'guest GMs' run named monsters for me, though. That has proved pretty fun, since they have really gotten ruthless and given the party a real go of it. Sometimes that change of tactical tendencies and utter ruthlessness (I usually make it a game for them to get a TPK) keeps the players on their toes.


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