Especially when running complex combats with lots of NPCs and especially when those NPCs have a lot of options, I constantly feel like I'm missing some.
Which problems did I encounter while running Pathfinder combat as a DM?
I'm going to give examples taken from my current run of Curse of the Crimson Throne, anniversary edition. I have changed the builds to suit balance needs and personal taste but the general composition of the encounters might be a spoiler to you. Hence the spoiler tags.
Last night I had a game with the following NPCs:
- Five advanced cavalier (sister in arms) 5 / fighter (myrmidon) 1 mooks
- One advanced pennangalan aristocrat 2 / cleric 9
- One advanced armorless cavalier (constable) 12
- One twice-advanced meladaemon who already used Horrid Wilting and one use of its quickened Magic Missiles
When life lets me, I ready .txt character sheets in advance for all characters I rebuild.
This helps me greatly because templates often exchange or change how class features work and it's also helpful to have a list of all combat options sorted by action type.
The file also holds:
- a counter of all per-day or per-encounter abilities
- a tally of ki/grit/panache points
- rounds of rage, bardic performance or similar abilities if it's likely it will matter in a single combat
- rounds of conditions applied by the party or by allies.
Yet I don't feel like I'm in control of it all, and I'm not the kind of DM that likes to just swing with it.
Keeping track of every effect of PC attacks (usually damage + debuff + another debuff if I fail a save which I have to roll while taking notes and answering questions and checking character sheets and checking rules) is hard and I often forget to keep into account that tanglefoot bag, and what does staggered do anyways, and was this character prone?
So, from yesterday's game:
- My mooks always used their Challenge, modified by the Order's specifics, and it being a swift action never interfered with action economy.
- I've lost count of who still had the Defending the Pride maneuver available and therefore couldn't determine if the enemy with all of its allies in range. And when not everyone was in range I failed to use a different AC count for those. Which didn't matter in the end because in round 2 I had players hit the regular AC written in the sheet and from round 3 onwards I completely forgot there were three other mooks that could use that maneuver, let alone refresh it spending grit.
- I never used the other two maneuvers, Enduring Shell and Enraging Strike.
- Luckily, I never got the option to charge someone. I would have forgotten about the charge bonus, the AC malus and the cavalier's Banner ability, despite reading it like three times during the whole session. Why do I know? At one point I slapped myself in the forehead for not having used it. Then I had to think about how the previous round went to realize that the NPC didn't charge, she just walked in and attacked.
- I completely forgot to use the Bodyguard feat for a free +3 to AC thanks to Aid Allies. Wasted resources!
Tactician? What does Tactician even do apart from sharing a feat whose benefit I can't recall? Wait, which feat did I choose?
What about the Dazzling Display feat, especially in that first round where the PCs were in a corridor, blocked by one of the mooks, and I went on to shoot awfully ineffective arrows?
I remembered to ask if any effect had any descriptors in order to see if the bonus to saves from Banner would have been useful, but I forgot about Lion's Call. That +1 to hit never did any difference, luckily.
I don't know how it happened but I saw that the character had the Improved Iron Will feat right when I needed it.
So it looks like I've both been lacking in completing my character sheet (my list of things I can do with each action type was missing pieces), I was constantly referencing the list of feats, maneuvers and class abilities instead of the list of things I could do and basically forgot to use 3/4 of them anyway.
Let's not talk about the undead. I have no idea what the undead subtype entices. I have no idea what some of the monster's class features (especially domain powers) or racial features do. I mean, I didn't rebuild that character so I just ran it by the book. The statblocks are lacking and D&D 4e pampered me with its complete statblocks and limited list of conditions.
Luckily the other human NPC got paralyzed early and did nothing the whole fight and the outsider went well despite forgetting to take an AoO due to the threatened range.
The actual question
What can I do to streamline and automate most of these things, with the aim to make less of a mess and enjoy the game more?
Context: why am I asking?
(A.k.a. "don't you have a plan of your own, Zachiel?")
I'm currently thinking about using MapTools with a Pathfinder framework but I have no idea if the frameworks do what I need (keeping track of everchanging bonuses, listing all things a character can do possibly at the right time - like asking me if I want to use power attack or lunge when I declare that I want to attack - and possibly applying buffs according to where characters are on the map, being compatible with Path of War material).
On the other hand, readying characters in MapTools looks a worse hassle than my current method, so I'm asking this question in order to see if there's any alternative.