Hello, Paizo! I'm about to begin a new Pathfinder campaign as a GM with my group and I had a question for you smart, creative folks.
We finished up a Pathfinder campaign last year about this time and switched to Edge of the Empire. There were numerous reasons for the system switch, but one of the big ones was the desire to roll fewer dice and calculate fewer results (math is hard).
We’re itching to get back into Golarion, so we’re exploring running either Rise of the Runelords or Way of the Wicked. Obviously, these start at pretty low level, but as we look ahead (a year from now) to our more powerful player characters, I’m hoping to find a solution to the nasty dice question.
Are there any good house rules for simplifying or reducing the calculations for higher-level characters? Is there a mechanic for combining dice, rounding up or down or using some other creative way to calculate results without making the PCs over- or under-powered?
Thanks in advance!
best way i can tell is just find everyone's average damage on attacks (after static modifiers like strength, power attack, etc.), spell damage, and so on.
have casters keep their spell DCs (and what save they affect), SR or no, etc. on-hand to expedite the process of casting.
when someone hits with an attack roll or spell, slap the damage on and move to the next character--let the player describe the attack, since it's shifting from the whims of fate (being an awesome high level warrior and rolling minimum damage is a terrible feeling) to something faster and more cinematic.
the DM can do this with enemies as well to speed them up as well.
DnD 4e has a neat system for encounters (minions, elites, and bosses) that allows for more cinematic battles by having dedicated mooks to be cleaved through in a single hit (making the fighter feel good having taken those feats for once) or taken out en masse by AoE spells and so on, with elites and bosses getting more turns/HP to allow a single villain to be an adequate challenge for a party of 4-6 without getting swamped by way of the party's superior action economy.
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My biggest tip is to use technology.
I've transitioned to making all my character sheets be spreadsheets (I mostly use Numbers on Mac, but I still sometimes use Excel; Google Docs should suffice as well).
The big reason for this is that it lets me create a block where I can just check boxes on or off for various effects. This is better than trying to write up all the situations, because buffs and debuffs come and go, especially when dispels get going in high-level play. It's not trivial (but if you're proficient with spreadsheets it's not very hard either), and it can be time-consuming out of game, but it means that all I need to do is click a checkbox (in Excel, a Yes/No pulldown might be better; I've had issues with Excel checkboxes), and all the calculations are done for me. Likewise, all the weird circumstances you don't expect are handled.
Weaknesses are that a math error during setup is going to be concealed during play, and that the mentality can make it harder to account for a condition you didn't incorporate into the spreadsheet. (I'm going to add checkboxes for flank & charge tonight, so I don't screw those up.)
Likewise, you can speed up other hassles by having page references, or even links, all over your sheet. Casting a spell? Have a page reference for it, or with technology, have a clickable link to the spell itself. Pretty much all my character sheets contain a spell summary written by me, as well as a page reference, though I may as well convert that latter to a link. My current wizard's sheet is over-complex, but it has a short spell description (longer than the standard summary) alongside each prepared spell.
So really, a lot of the best help (for me) is in preparing out-of-session. These mostly help with reducing on-the-fly calculations, and time spent searching for a rules reference.
Another thing you can do is use an electronic dice roller for things like high-damage spells. Don't want to roll 24d6 by hand? Get a computer (or phone/tablet) and roll electronically; the math will be taken care of.
Non-technologically, you can, as a group, agree to avoid certain types of mechanics on both sides of the table. For example, mechanics that allow/require someone to roll twice and take the better or worse result for a round; just agree not to use those.
You can also do average damage, rather than rolling; this is primarily good on monsters with many attacks.
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I do exactly as Phelan does - I create my own spreadsheet for use.
1 reason I do it is exactly why Phelan does it. It is so much easier to use yes or no questions for situations. I play a switch hitter ranger and thus have favorite terrains to take into account, favored enemies, animal companions, feats, etc... and all of that is easy to forget to ask during the heat of battle. Having it in a yes or no checklist format allows me to ask those questions to the Gm at the start of combat and helps to make sure my stats are what they should be. Like Phelan, I also list any items with magical effects and what those effects are.
It also helps keep track of conditions, spell effects, etc... I don't go so far as to list every spell in the game and it's effects, but I have a block on my spreadsheet where I can total up the effects of uncommon spells and the spreadsheet takes that into consideration and changes my stats accordingly.
A second reason why I enjoy the spreadsheet is (and this is especially true as a new player) it forces you to research how the game mechanics work. When you make the spreadsheet you get to see just how much a -4 stat modifer makes and everything it affects. For instance, a -4 str modifier affects much more than just damage dealt.
A third reason I enjoy spreadsheets is that if a GM ever questions how your bonuses are determined, you have the hard data behind it and can easily show them in seconds.
If you suck with spreadsheets, there are ones out there that are already premade. YAPCG for instance does it. I started out using YAPCG but found making my own better for me so that I could make it work for me. YAPCG still forced me to do some calculations on my own such as the favored terrain or favored enemy. It is also a fairly slow spreadsheet as it has every book for every class for every race while having a personalized spreadsheet should only have stuff specific to you which in turn makes the calculation pretty much instant.
In my gaming group I am the only one that uses apreadsheets for my guy and I can tell you it makes the game go by so much faster. If they get hit by a debuff, they have to go search through tables in books to see just how much was affected. For instance, last game we were hit by a dexterity debuff so they spent about 4 minutes tring to figure out what their new attack rolls were, what their different AC's were, etc... It took me 3 seconds.
I also have a tab on my sheet for loot calculations since I am the groups loot carrier. I can type in the name of the loot and how much it typically sells for (our GM has already given gudielines on loot for us, so it is easy to calculate its price), any loot that players are keeping for themselves, and then it automatically figures out what the cut of the loot is for everyone to include subtracting the share of the person that took some from the group. Again, that happens instantly so when we hit a town we name off the loot, figure out who wants what, and in the course of about a minute we know much much we have to spend.
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Do the maths in advance is the best advice, get it to the point where you have a single number to add onto the die results, and roll your damage and attacks at the same time.
If you have multiple conditions which may apply, build up a grid, listing weapons / iterative attacks in one direction, and conditions in the other. Conditional things like Furious Focus and Vital Strike can be applied to the appropriate attack
Also get your GM into the habit to telling you the target numbers for things as much as possible. There's no point hiding the AC of a villain, it only slows down combat, same for DR and DC's of most skills checks.