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How To Make Dungeons And Dragons Combat Exciting

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

On game night, your group is locked in a battle with a group of orcs and goblins for hours on end. There are a few armored goblins, a pesky orc warlock, and a ranger who keeps missing... every... shot. The battle continues with a hit, miss, and hit again with magic, swords, arrows, spears, healing spells, and their rhythm is soothing. A little too soothing. So soothing, your ranger has now decided to take a nap since he can't roll to hit anyway.

If this scene feels familiar to you, your fight is boring. (Don't worry! There is hope!)

In today's article, we'll talk about the reasons why your D&D fight may be boring and how you can spice it up to make the fight the highlight of your game, not the point where it stops. My name is Josh, and I am here to help you bring your fights to the next level.

The first reason your fight could be boring is that it doesn't make sense.

The purpose of your battle should be to serve the overall narrative of the game. I like intentional encounters that do that. This is precisely why I avoid chance encounters unless pre-constructed within the world that push a point for the narrative. This does not mean that DMs should be shunned if they don't, but they should serve a purpose.

In my opinion, this is one of the biggest factors in avoiding boredom at the table. If the actual battle isn't exciting enough to make it feel meaningful, link it with the main narrative of your campaign and how it will help engage your group. Having a random encounter that lasts a large portion of your session and feels like filler can take away from your pacing and enjoyment for your players. Just because the D100 table you found states you fight goblins now doesn't mean you have to.

Keep it snappy and keep it moving.

Speed things up by telling your players they are on deck (their turn is next) and asking them to be ready to respond. Read your monster stats and blocks in advance, so you don't waste time looking at their skills at the table, and you won't miss any fantastic mechanics to spice things up. I've had too many occasions where I've forgotten which monster skills were cool. Even I made a fight way too easy by missing simple things like pack tactics on a stat block.

Additionally, you can help your players by tracking initiatives in a visible area or through constant communication. For me, I have used another player to help keep track, cards clipped to my DM Screen, as well as projected computer screens showing who is up next. Using these simple tactics helps create a natural ebb and flow for your table. They are even helpful for preventing the moments of waiting for the wizard to scroll through all of the spells they have prepared.

Stop making every fight against a sponge that has a wet noodle for a weapon.

This is a bit more of an advanced tip to make combat more exciting, but it speaks to creating various combat encounters styles. While I am not saying don't create a big bad with thousands of hit points, don't create that for every fight the players have. If every fight you have is an 8-hour epic, you will be battling attention spans rapidly. Instead, throw in some glass cannons (serious damage, low hit points) to spice up the pace. There isn't a player out there that wouldn't like to liquify 10 baddies in a single action. And when you amp up the damage, you create this scary beast that may take half the hitpoints of the wizard if they get close.

Spice up your battle by reminding players that the natural world is dangerous and unpredictable.

Thunderstorms, sandstorms, landslides, forest fires, wind gusts, crowds of angry villagers throw stones while allies brawl with bandits all spice up the combat. The world is alive and not some giant piece of paper, computer graphic, or hex grid your players' pieces sit upon. It is living and breathing, and your battles should reflect that just as much as the story you and your players create. Imagin battling on a wind-swept hill as lightning strikes the ground at random as they are the tallest things in the surrounding land. That is a crazy concept that can swing the battle in many different ways.

Use rich descriptors to bring the world into focus for the players.

A related way to spice up the battle concerning the environment is to give players things to interact with and use. As far as the environment is concerned, make your descriptions in detail so that the players' characters may use the battle landscape to their advantage. Chandeliers, curtains, overturned tables, a blazing fire on the stove with a huge bubbling pot, steaming lava pits, or even a raging river they are next to can provide numerous ways to change an encounter. Detailed descriptions spice things up and give your players a way to use what they see around them.

Yet, descriptors go even further than just the world around the characters. Use them to drive narrative descriptions of actions taken by those within the world. "I strike with the sword, and he shoots at you with the bow" does not sound very engaging. This is a matter of taste and style, but I prefer dynamic combat descriptions. "While ducking under the wide swing as the orc attempts to lop your head off, you strike true splitting his leather Spalding cutting deep into his flesh."

Additionally, think of some of your favorite fight scenes from movies and TV shows. Use them to describe what is going on. You can also be so bold as to ask players what their attacks and spells look like. Let their creativity flow out to inspire your own. I often save my descriptions for effective actions like crits and crazy good throws when players kill enemies. This storytelling takes away the fight's feel of rolling the dice and announcing numbers to make it more engaging for the brain.

Keep things fresh.

As with all things, you may wish to add even more creative ideas and mechanics to your game to make combat fun and engaging for you and your players. Take some time to think of interesting and unorthodox game mechanics that you can implement for fights. For example, use a stack of blocks (like Jenga) and have players pull after every action, signifying the dangers of the airship they are on falling from the sky while explosions are going off. The fight ends when the tower falls.

You can also set a universal DC for them to beat and display it so they know what they need to roll over. Taking the guesswork out of successes. Design fights with pressure plates that need to be stood on to disable magic shields. Any simple mechanic can change the way a fight feels and moves.

Hopefully, these tips can help you to keep the fight going in D&D.

Please leave your comments below on things you tried or if this list was helpful. I would be happy to hear from you.

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