Greetings fellow combat game masters

Welcome to Faster Combat – an online course that will cut your combat length in half while increasing drama and story at the same time. Please take a moment to introduce yourself below. Say hi to your fellow GMs, say where you hail from and tell us about your current campaign(s).

We’ll start first.

Johnn Four

I love GMing combat. I relish the “game within the game” action of design, tactics and cool foes with fun abilities.

I’m old school in that I use a lot of random encounters in my games. But because my combats are crisp, they take little time. And mid-combat I always find a way to tie things back to my stories. Often I’ll drop hooks and clues in the rewards portion of such encounters. Sometimes I’ll add friendly or neutral NPCs.

I also love roleplaying NPCs during combat, even if the foes are strange like elementals or dire wolves. It’s fun adding personalization to foes and ham it up during fights.

My favourite meal is a juicy lean steak, a dollop of garlic potatoes, a skewer of prawns and a whole bunch of steamed vegetables. And to me, combat is like the steak in my fave dinner. Other parts of the meal are important and very tasty, but the steak is where the sizzle is at!

You might have come here from one of my other sites – Roleplaying Tips for GMs or Campaign Mastery. Or maybe even twitter. If so, be sure to drop a note below to say hi.

And if we do not know each other, then well-met, fellow GM. I look forward to chatting with you inside the members area.

Tony Medeiros

I love to write. Technical writing. Creative writing. Often I do both. At the exact same time.

I love games too, especially D&D!  I’ve been writing and gaming since grade school and was even lucky enough to win a few writing contests along the way.

I earned degrees in instructional design and psychology, and am always seeking to learn and discover more as I adventure through life with both sun blade and vorpal sword.  

To fuel up between adventures, I love me some Cape Cod kettle potato chips and Willow Tree chicken salad with blueberry wraps!   Sounds delicious, right?

You’ll find me writing, playing, designing or teaching just about anything somewhere on this plane of existence – and beyond! Follow me on Twitter @LeonineRoar and check out my D&D blog @ LeonineRoar.com

Ok, it’s your turn

Who are you, where do you live and what games do you run? Also let us know what challenges you have with combat right now:


  1. says

    Hello! I’m a long-time roleplayer and GM who ran his first campaign back in the early 1980s. Right now I’m playing GURPS with the Friday Roleplay crowd, here in Nottingham UK, following a terribly dry spell of using D&D4e in which we got bored playing combats.

    I’ve signed up out of two desires: firstly, to pick up tips for smoother combat in play, and secondly for tips on running a forthcoming Pathfinder game for newbie players at the school where I teach.

    I’m that torn GM who loves tactical play but must have a story too. I’m not so good at NPC portrayal, so tips there are always appreciated. Oh and, like many creatives, I suffer from butterfly-head syndrome – I flit from project to project and only recently learned to focus my hobby like I do professional things.

    Game on!

    • Johnn says

      Hey UbiquitousRat. It seems like you are everywhere!

      How do you find the course translates to GURPS? I’ve played a lot of GURPS but not in recent years now with the latest edition. I think module 4 and 5 will be especially useful to you as they get into game admin (universal) and long-term GMing success (great for butterflies :).

      BTW, have you heard about the Kids-RPG list run by Sam Chupp? Teachers and parents chat about RPG in school and helping kids play RPG.

      • says

        The tips are handy with GURPS in that you encourage some good habits. One thing we have introduced is the 5 minute rules recap at the start of the session, plus open discussion of sticking points in the rules. Overall, GURPS4e is much simpler to run than D&D4e at the point of play… but your tips still help.

        My main need is to be able to run two campaigns, in different systems, at the same time. One thing that is really helping is educating the players to know the rules almost as well, if not better, than I do. This reduces page-flipping.

        This is a useful site. Nothing is massively new but it’s good to share best practice.

        Game on!

        • Johnn says

          Good stuff, thanks for letting us know.

          I’m also doing the 5 minute rules recap this year as we’re still finding sticky points with Pathfinder.

    • says

      Hi UbiquitousRat!

      I hear you on the potential slog of D&D 4e combat, and that’s something I’ve been battling on Leonine Roar since it began last February – and of course, I’ve taken the battle here now to Faster Combat with Johnn as well!

      The good news is, D&D or any RPG tabletop game doesn’t have to slog at all because we will show you exactly how.

      And balance of story and rules/game/combat? That’s always my goal whether I play or GM. You’re not torn – I say you’re simply striving for the best: a classic RPG experience!

  2. Eric Montoya says

    Hi guys, my name is Eric and I am from norther California. I run a rules system and setting I’ve designed. I am always looking to improve my game and I’ve always been a fan of johns roleplaying tip e-mails. I’m not a fan of having to wait a week between lessons lol but we can’t have our cake and eat it too :). Biggest problems with combat? Hmmm. Probably just keeping track of all the math. Pluses and minuses and the changing variables.

    • Johnn says

      Welcome Eric. A 100% homebrew game (rules + setting)? I love it!

      I once created a total homebrew campaign with a system called SOUP and a setting called 7 Cities. Man, I have to dig those binders out again.

      • Eric Montoya says

        Johnn SOUP?! I already love it lol. I’d love to take a look sometime. I am a game mechanics fiend.

        Tony, that sounds ridiculously simple and brilliant. I’ve been looking for ways to shave time and this is something I’ll start implementing immediately.

        • Johnn says

          Heh. It was based on DCs. I did it in the early 1990s. If I ever find the binder, I’ll give you a synopsis. iirc, it was quite derivative of Ars Magica 2nd Ed.

    • says

      Hi Eric!

      It’s amazing how the math can sometimes get in the way, isn’t it? There’s definitely ways around it and you’ll learn about several methods here, from actual dice rolling to monster adjustments and more.

      One tip I read somewhere that I still love is first have your attack bonus ready and then adding the attack roll die result, rather than rolling first and then checking your sheet for the attack bonus. Almost sounds too simple, right? In actual play, it makes a difference for a lot of players and GMs I’ve gamed with.

  3. Andy Glenn says

    Its the middle of the day. A good day as its quiet, as my wife and son are at a Build-a-bear party and little daughter is asleep in the next room. I’ve just literally got into Traveller because a GM has joined my local hardcore wargaming club so I get to play one of my favourite games – choosing what to play.

    But this is all about my passion, which is DnD first, last and always. So this course is all about getting better at Pathfinder combat. I remember they used to score us DMs at the RPGA conventions and I’d always be marked up for roleplay and fun but down for running combat.

    So far I’ve read the lessons and enjoyed them as a procrastinator. But my group does have issues with the Adventure Path I’m GMing so I’ll have to take some action soon.


    • Johnn says

      Cool beans, Andy.

      Build-a-bear? I hope they’re using lego. I did not think we were ready to clone caniforms yet.

    • says

      Hi Andy!

      Nothing like some time to recharge and throw into your gaming passions, right? Whether it’s D&D campaign prep, character updating, board game or video game, I love all of my gaming!

      With all you’ll learn here, you’ll have plenty more tools, steadily building up every week, so you won’t feel overwhelmed for your next game and procrastinate for the right reasons – like an extra slice of dessert rather than game prep!

  4. Phil Nicholls says

    Hail fellow GMs,

    I am Phil, from Norfolk, England.

    I am one of the “Other” voters, as I am currently running a HeroQuest 2 campaign set in a hybrid of the Ptolus, Glorantha and Planescape settings. HQ2 is a narrative system, so my game is fairly rules-light and I am trying to emphasize story. See Tales of the Hero Wars: Ptolus Campaign on the Starting Tavern website.

    While I am weaving multiple story arcs into the game, I am always looking for cool new tricks to make combat and other contests faster. New twists to the various Player stories are always good too.

    Anway, I came to Faster Combat via Johnn’s Roleplaying Tips newsletter. I am still near the start of the course, but I am enjoying the opportunity to expand my GM’s toolkit. Follow me on Twitter as @NichollsBolas where the Faster Combat course is my Geek Twitter Challenge 1. GTC 2 is to read the Wired Top 9 Geek Reads, first up is the AD&D DMG.

    Enough of my rambling, who’s next?


    • Johnn says

      Hi Phil! thanks again for the great HQ2 overview emails. I’ll be putting those in an upcoming issue for GMs who might be interested in checking out the game.

      BTW, have you read Law’s latest book, Hamlet’s Hit Points? Some neat ideas in there.

      • Phil Nicholls says

        Hi Johnn,

        Yes, I have a pdf copy of Hamlet’s Hit Points. There are some great ideas in there, but I struggle to both run the game and to analyse the Beats in the game at the same time. Clearly, after Faster Combat I need to return to HHP and study it more closely to make it more instinctive for me. Perhaps that will be my Geek Twitter Challenge for 2013.


    • says

      Hello Phil!

      I’ve heard and read a lot of great things about HeroQuest2. I use to absolutely love the HeroQuest board games! They were a sort of D&D Light to my brother and I, and I even use eBaya few hard-to-find sets I just had to have. Great world, fun games.

      Even in a rules-light tabletop RPG like HQ2, there’s times where you’ll want to find efficiencies in some mechanics and phases of the game. Faster Combat will help you learn how to do just that!

      Finally, most importantly, is there an honest-to-goodness castle somewhere near you in England? Because I want to explore a real one over there or in Spain – that’s on my list!

      • Phil Nicholls says

        Hi Tony,

        Firstly, the HeroQuest RPG is no relation to the boardgame of the same name. Quite why the name was chosen, I do not know. Perhaps as a hybrid of Hero Wars, the preceding rules set, and RuneQuest, the original RPG for the Glornatha setting.

        As for castles, Norfolk has a few. Burgh Castle, the closest, is the remains of a Roman Saxon Shore fort, and just consists of thick walls. Caister Castle is really a fortified manor house from 1492, while Norwich Castle is an original Norman castle, but was re-clad in stone during the Victorian period, so looks closer to the original, but is not actually a Norman exterior.

        I would guess that Castle Rising would be the best one for you, and check their website for some cool pictures, Tony. This is a 12th Century castle, and there is enough stonework remaining to really give a great feel for a castle.

        I hope that this helps


        • says

          Ahh, thanks Phil – the HQ name is definitely a bit confusing a choice then like you said, as I immediately think of that pretty popular board game line. I’ll have to check out the “and now for something completely different” RPG world more closely.

          And thank you so much for the castle info, Phil! Sounds wondeful, I’m excited to make the trip one day – and now I have some great advice on where to start: Castle Rising!

  5. David Lundy says

    Greetings all! I’m a longtime D&D player from back in the red-box days. I’ve played in tons of games, but only ran a handful of times. I love the idea of telling a story through the players, but I have a hard time doing so. I enjoy reading Johnn’s blogs to help train me to be a better GM, but part of what I needed was a way to speed up the combat sessions. While I love the tactical aspects of the game, I sometimes get bogged down in the details and the combats turn into slogs. I’m hoping that this course will help me keep things moving and make the combats become more of a piece of the story than speed bumps in the narrative.

    • Johnn says

      Hi David, welcome! I know what you mean by slogging. The course should sorts things out for you. Hopefully you take the advice from Module 1 to clearly identify your slog-points so you know what to fix.

    • says

      Yesss – the Red Box! That’s where it all started for me too, David!

      Like I said to UbitiquousRat above, you’re right about the potential slog of D&D combat these days, and it’s something I’ve been writing about passionately for a while as a long-time mostly DM and sometimes player.

      Looking forward to hearing from you on what you learn as we go along in the Faster Combat course!

    • Phil Nicholls says

      Hi David,

      Oh yes, the Red Box started it for me too. That cool dragon cover was awesome!


  6. says

    Hello to all,

    Greetings from San Anntonio,Texas. One of the challenges and one of the reasons that I signed up for the courses is that I am running a campaign online using Virtual Table Top Technology. We are using the GURPS system by Steve Jackson’s Games, admittedly one of the more realistic and therefore more complicated systems and we use Skype for voice communication. so everything in the game is very visual and audio intensive with maps, photographs and graphics, and descriptive scenes by the game master. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the GM to have combat run as smoothly and as quickly as possible in order to get as much gaming into the limited time span we have for gaming. Typically we play for four hours at a time once a week with a three hour time difference spread over three time zones. gamers are located on the East and the West Coast.

    Thus far, we have had a minimum of problem with the VTT end of the gaming and Skype has worked extremely well for us. The roleplaying portion of the game requires characters to be very descriptive of what they are doing, since there is no visual input (we have not implemented video conferencing yet because of the high bandwidth required) so each of the players have learned when to jump in to the conversation or to take their turn in combat by getting used to the sequence in combat. By being attentive to the flow of the game and by my application of some of the lessons learned in Faster Combats school, our online experience has continued to improve.


    • Johnn says

      Cool stuff, Bronco. Which VTT are you using?

      One of the things I like most about GURPS combat is the second-long rounds.

      In other systems with longer rounds, like D&D, you need to add on a whole bunch of rules to manage simulated simultaneous actions. The longer the round, the more rules there are (like action types), the more conceptual combat becomes, or the less realistic combat becomes – designer’s choice.

      With just one second wiggle room, GMs need do less juggling to keep up with “who’s where doing what?”

      • says

        We use the Battlegrounds VTT system because of its heavy hex-based orientation, which supports the GURPS system very well. The support structure is also very supportive of suggestions and has made fixes very quickly and we are very happy with the support given.

        I am enjoying the Faster Combat program and am looking forward to the future courses.


        • says

          By the way, I am an old Grognard, having used the old Brown box Dungeons and Dragons and remember the excitement that the first supplement Greyhawk engender amongst the gaming community. We used poker chips with white athletic tape strip with “+1 Sword” on them for our magic items and what the heck was a character sheet? We fought a Vampire as first level Charactes (our DM was as green as grass, as we’re we), got slaughtered, and had a great time. We couldn’t get enough of it. Boy, those were the days!

          Bronco, again.

    • says

      Hi Bronco! Great to have someone like you with all your Battlegrounds VTT experience taking the course! I’ve been exploring the D&D’s VT in more detail recently myself, and there are indeed some great features. Let’s just say – keep an eye out for even more on that VT later!

      I wonder how the two VT’s compare, features-wise, right now? Have you tried the D&D one? What do you think of it?

  7. says

    Hi fellow GMs,

    My name is Tora and for the record, I am a woman. I’m also a professional illustrator specializing in vector graphics.

    Despite its many flaws, D&D 3.5 will always be the tabletop game closest to my heart. I am currently running a long-term campaign of 7 players (going to be whittling down to 4 shortly) plus myself. I’m a long-time player but this campaign, which started last August, is my first time GMing. Challenge – accepted! World-building and detail are my favorite aspects of the job, but I have faced many challenges, the greatest of which is making interesting combats for so many players at differing levels of experience both in and out of game. FC has already helped me streamline the combats for my last few sessions – many thanks!!

    • Johnn says

      Hi Tora! Seven is indeed a large group. Congrats for tackling such a challenge, especially as a new GM!

    • says

      Hi Tora, great to have you with us! Isn’t world-building awesome? It’s like you have all these creative gears turning 24/7, all weaving a colorful story with a million possibilities! (Choose Your Adventure-style!)

      Nothing like being a GM – I love it, and I’m happy to hear you’re enjoying it so much too!

      And I know you’ll enjoy getting deep into the Design and Launch modules – you’ll learn even more methods for streamlining parts of combat.

  8. Dominick Riesland, the Rabbitball says

    Hello, all! I’m originally from Milwaukee, but recently moved up to Sheboygan, Wisconsin (midway between Milwaukee and Green Bay). There’s a decent game group here, but my schedule has prevented playing recently.

    I came to Faster Combat by way of Roleplaying Tips, and I have been gamemastering for close to 30 years now. As usual, I’m in the middle of several projects right now. I play TORG, Rolemaster, and I’m now trying to convert the video game Gladius into a roleplaying game using Hero System. Faster Combat for me is invaluable for identifying what is necessary and when I can dispense with “Goon 5 takes a 20% snap action to draw a bow, a 20% deliberate move action to get into range, then a 60% normal action to fire.”

    • Johnn says

      Hey Dominick. Welcome to Faster Combat.

      TORG! Love the action deck, but only got to play it a couple times.

      Did you hear Rolemaster is coming to PDF format? The new crew has been slowly acquiring rights to ICE’s various titles and reselling them on RPGNow.

      • Dominick Riesland, the Rabbitball says

        I heard about the quest to reacquire rights on Rolemaster products. There’s even a place where missing authors can check in.

        If I ever get an online TORG game going, I’ll be sure to keep in touch.

    • says

      Hi Dominick! I didn’t know much about Gladius until you mentioned it, so I just went and took a look on Gamespot. A gladiator-themed RPG? Sign me up! Need… more time… to play… games!

      Good to have you with us Dominick – you’ll definitely learn and get to practice a lot efficiences to keep your combats and games moving. The Design module of Faster Combat alone is full of these methods, big and small.

      • Dominick Riesland, the Rabbitball says

        Just thought I’d update folks on the progress of the Gladius conversion. The basics of the conversion are in place. I’ve added a few rules to Hero System to convert some of the idiosyncratic element of Gladius (rules for Speed values that end in .5, which allow the two-tiered movement system to work as designed, for example). The world is very detailed, and an elaborate progression exists to reach the “High Tournament” which is the goal of most gladiator schools.

        What I’m now working on is trying to find a baseline for starting gladiators and a clear definition of where visible scope should be. The game itself operates in two levels of scope simultaneously: the individual gladiators who are trying to earn experience and train skills, and the school leader who must manage the finances of the school, choose which gladiators fight which battles, and decide when to travel to another city (or commit gladiators to a side quest). The school leader might amass thousands of dinars for the school, while the individual gladiators manage on just enough to feed and equip themselves. I can’t see having both roles being roleplayed in the same group without causing tension between the school leader and the others.

  9. says

    Hello from the great-white north of Minnesota! I’m a long-time player and GM having run systems like Palladium (Robotech & Rifts), Werewolf and Vampire 2nd/3rd ED (not the new stuff), AD&D (Dragonlance before the Age of Man stuff), Battletech/Mechwarrior and now I’m running a home-brew system Fantasy system I’d been playing in for years. I’ve been subscribed to Johnn’s RPGtips for most of that time.

    I came here to improve my overall GM skills. My experience with combat is that it’s something that takes the most amount of “wall time” for the least amount of game time. I feel that anything I can do to make that time more impactful, that better. I haven’t had a chance to use the tips here directly, since we haven’t had any combats in my last couple sessions, but there are some coming up, and I’m looking forward to putting them to work.

    AKA Alex Bender

    • Johnn says

      Hi Alex, welcome aboard. Thanks for all the tips and emails you’ve sent into the newsletter!

      We played Palladium Fantasy a few times and it was fun. It took a more logical approach to certain aspects of 1st. Ed. D&D combat.

    • says

      Hi Alex! Hey, I’m a long-time RP Tips subscriber too, Johnn’s always written great stuff!

      Tabletop RPGs are part art and part science, and about fusing them seamlessly together. So you’ve come to the right place to learn and boost your GMing skills – Faster Combat and beyond!

  10. Deborah says

    Hey. I’m Deborah in Northern California.

    I run D&D, Call of Cthulhu and BRP games. May be running some Pathfinder in the future.

      • Deborah says

        Looks like, as usual, I’m the only girl-type in one of these gatherings! :) Plenty of women roleplaying now, but not so many GM it seems. I’m glad to be here.

        • says

          Hi Deborah! There are plenty of female gamers these days, and that’s great. The more gamers, the better! I’ve GM’ed several over the years and in fact have two queued up for an intro to D&D this winter. They asked about trying it after seeing it and hearing about it from friends and boyfriends who had played before or are playing now.

          I’m always excited to introduce new gamers to D&D, so I’m looking forward to it! What do you think for some monsters on their first adventure? Please don’t say kobolds! :)

  11. Brady says

    Hello all.

    Brady from Oregon. Have been DMing a local group for 3 years now with 3.5, but we’ll likely be converting over to Pathfinder as soon as I actually finish reading the rules.

    Our biggest problem is the tactical nature of combat. Everyone in the group was a beginner (and the two we’ve acquired to replace attrition are also beginners), and so we really bog down when it comes to a fight. I’m sure there are less tactical RPG systems out there, but due to limited time (to learn something new) and a desire to not require financial bleed, we’re sticking with what we have and know.

    A second problem that often clobbers our time is the “let’s all catch up on the social aspect” side of gaming. The group meets every two weeks, sometimes even less, so keeping everyone wrangled and focused is like herding cats. I realize that this isn’t strictly a combat issue and have been reading up on RP Tips for additional ideas.

    I’d also be curious to know if anything in the course pertains to creating an interesting cinematic feel with flair, and yet not breaking down in to a rule-review frenzy to find out just what options there are to allow the character that moment to shine. I always fully support my players to have fun and create memorable moments, but sometimes they really throw me a zinger as a DM.
    Looking forward to the course.

    • Johnn says

      Hi Brady. Oregon? Want to hear some hipster jokes? :)

      Module 1 hopefully addresses your combat complexity issues. If not, please drop us an email and tell us what’s missing or where we’ve missed the mark.

      The basic strategy is to keep combat very simple and add more rules as you go. Build cheat sheets for your players if that helps.

      The social aspect is important to games but it bugs me too because I like to focus and keep things in-character. My group takes turns supplying dinners. So, we spend a half hour eating before game starts, and that time is used for leveling up, admin and chatting.

      And the course definitely covers adding excitement and drama and story to combats. It’s mostly through the lens of making combats faster, but the structures give you both – quick fights and cinematic feeling. Modules 2 and 3 go into this.

    • says

      Hi Brady! Yes, it’s especially easy for beginners to feel overwhelmed by the tactics and rules, but don’t sweat it. Make sure the story’s entertaining and chip away at making combat flow faster, piece by piece, just like we’ll show you here on Faster Combat.

      So sit back and enjoy the ride… and be sure to do the activities! Looking forward to hearing from you on your changing game experiences as you go through the course.

  12. Michael Gomez says

    Hi everyone,

    I have been gaming since the mid-80s and mostly running games since 1991. I am currently running both a 4ed campaign in the Forgotten Realms and a 4th edition Shadowrun campaign. Both are for fairly large groups (7 each) so I am very excited about the idea of speeding up combat as the 4ed combats definitely tend to drag with such a large group. Thankfully, we are a group that has been gaming together for well over a decade and each campaign is a chance to get together and hang out once a month (or twice for the players who are in both groups, including my wife and 15 year old daughter). I miss the days where I was able to game once or twice a week, but adult-life (and having three teenagers in high school, two of whom graduate this year) makes it a bit more difficult. Anything that enables us to make more progress in a session is awesome in my book. Thankfully, the Shadowrun combats are already pretty quick and dirty, but that is just part and parcel with the game.

    I am definitely looking forward to starting the courses, especially since I have from now until the 28th to prepare for my next D&D game!

    • says

      Hi Michael! Yes, you’re absolutely right about how life can quicly get busy making game nights sometimes tough to squeeze in. I understand, as I picked up a new job recently myself!

      Like I always say though – you make time for what’s important, right?

      Good news is, Faster Combat will help you find more efficiences for your game to make your precious session time and combats truly count!

      Good luck on that upcoming D&D game!

    • Johnn says

      Hi Michael. It is indeed awesome to game with friends and family. I am jealous – my wife is not into RPG.

      • Michael Gomez says

        My wife saw how much fun we were having carrying on at the table (at the time it was every 1-2 weeks) and, when I started a new 4ed D&D game, asked if she could try playing again. She had previously played in a 3/3.5 ed game I ran years ago, but lost interest after it finished. The big jump came when she asked to play in the Shadowrun game I started in the summer of 2011. It was her first non-D&D experience and she has found that she truly enjoys the game. Shadowrun helped her make a big jump in the roleplaying of her character and that is now carrying over to our D&D game as well.

        My daughter, I think, just takes after me. It is amusing that one of her favorite Christmas gifts was a pair of sterling silver six-sided dice earrings that she now wears when she is gaming!

        • says

          Sweet! I got lucky too (not to rub it in Johnn) as my wife is a total gamer, having started well before she met me by playing TORG. She loves that system, and hopes to run her own game some time, but is overwhelmed by what she perceives to be the difficulties of GMing.

  13. Brian says

    Hi Johnn and Tony and Everyone,

    Thanks for putting this site together – it’s a really great idea. As per the instructions emailed to me I must introduce myself and my current campaign. :)

    I’m Brian. I’ve been playing and GM’ing for three decades now. My current game is a Pathfinder/3.5 urban sandbox game set in Eberron and we are currently in our third (real world ) year. We game every other Monday, there are six players and their characters are just about to hit 12th level.

    I’m going to apply lesson one to my next game to see how long my combats are actually taking. Can’t wait to see the results!


    • Johnn says

      Welcome Brian! Eberran is a neat setting. I GM’d an adventure in Sharn and loves the atmosphere of that city.

  14. Ray says


    I’m a fellow Canadian, Johnn, from Saskatoon, SK. I have always been interested in fantasy and role-playing games but have never had the chance to game in any real capacity. Other than an extended Shadowrun campaign during my university years, my gaming experience has been limited to the computer (Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, etc.) Now that my kids are finally old enough to game (I have 4 between the ages of 6 and 13) I can’t let this opportunity pass me by. I have just started a Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game game (not to be confused with the Basic Fantasy system) and so far both I and the kids are really enjoying it. Running a campaign for kids along with being a ‘green’ GM presents special challenges but I’m hoping that this course will really help me build a strong GM foundation.


    • Johnn says

      Hi Ray, eh!

      Congrats on bringing a new generation of gamers to the table.

      I hope you find the course helps you run cool and fast combats for your kids. Be sure to try the Activity at the end of each lesson to get some safe experience before tackling things in sessions.

      Feel free to ask us – Tony, myself and all the FC members – if you need help with anything. Just use the Comments area in the lessons.

    • Phil Nicholls says

      Hi Ray,

      I have two very young boys, so will be looking to follow your path as a Dad/GM in a few years time. I look forward to reading about your experiences and pick up a few tips for when my turn comes around.

      Good luck


  15. Kale says

    Hey guys,

    I’m Kale from Idaho. As far as an introduction goes, I’ve been playing D&D for around 10 years now, although I’ve only been running and playing games regularly for about the last 2-3 years or so. Although I’ve been playing much less lately, for reasons I’ll explain in a bit. I was first introduced to 2.0, and then played through 3 and 3.5. I tried out 4th edition but didn’t particularly care for it.

    The group I played with suffers from a number of organizational issues, regardless of who was running the game. It finally got so bad that I quit playing because I could surf the Internet at home and not have people arguing about rules around me.

    My girlfriend has been wanting to learn to play for several years and I made a promise to her that after she finished her degree I’d run a game for her and a group of her choosing. The new group spans from complete newbies who have never rolled a character to experienced individuals I’ve played with on occasion before. However, none of the players have played recently (within the last year or so). So I’m writing a campaign for them with the intent that it run long-term (months to a year; lvl 5-20+), as long as the players are still interested (obviously). As such I’ve been investing a large amount of time in creating the game world and making it as real, detailed, and alive as possible.

    Given my recently poor gaming experience, the time I’ve invested in creating the campaign, and the “new” nature of my players I’m interested in doing whatever I can to streamline gameplay, structure my ability to track all the necessary bits, create good dialogue, and generally improve the experience for these guys.

    I’ve been reading (and enjoying) John’s blog/newsletter since the summer of 2010 and finally decided to get with it and make some serious investments in my skills and tools for myself and my players.

    • Johnn says

      Welcome, Kale!

      Parts of Module 1 of the course will not be immediately applicable, but they’ll kick in once you start playing with your new group.

      I think you’ll find Module 2 (Design) and Module 3 (combat organization and management) VERY interesting, especially with the experience of your old group in the back of your mind.

      Best of luck with your new group – it’s always fun playing with people new to the game as they tend to think outside the box and show us old schoolers some new tricks. :)

  16. Wouter Bosch says

    Hi everyone,

    I’m 31, from Belgium and have to confess: I never playee a D&D game in my entire life.

    Ever since I was 12, i’ve been playing computer games, always dismissing that tabletop stuff as something for geeks without computers. In any case, with age comes wisdom I guess and recently i picked up the holy trinity of D&D guides and I’ve been wondering how the heck I was able to miss out on all this great stuff for so long.

    So here’s my ambition: I want to start bringing together a group of friends (all more or less new to D&D) and host a series of epic adventures for them.

    I’m eager to learn and do this right. Your course sounds very interesting, but would you recommend it to a noob like myself?

    Best regards,

    • Johnn says

      Hi Wouter!

      The course will help all levels of game masters. But in your case, because you are so new to the hobby, I’d advise playing a few game sessions first with your friends.

      If, at that point, you find your combats slow, or you want more info about how to design and run great combats, then consider this course.

      But for first-time GMs, I think this course will not be of use to them until they’ve got a few sessions under their belt.


      • Mel says

        I purchased the Adventure Creation Handbook and I must say I am very plaseed with it. Jade managed to gather many good tips and techniques from different fields into one place, but what sets it appart from other GM help guides is that the tips are organised into a fully developped process. Following that process, I am confident that I can go from what the heck am I gonna do with tonight’s sessions? to a fully-prepared adventure that won’t feel too restrictive nor lacking any structure. Giving me that impression after one reading is a feat in itself and I can’t wait to actually put it into practice.I do have one small gripe about the book: even though it feels like some attention was put into proof-reading, there are still a few more minor mistakes that crept in than I thought should have. It is by no means a painful read, but it somewhat clashes with the production quality of the rest of the book. I especially like the writting, which is concise and often witty, and the layout and design that are both crisp and functional, without being boring. Oh and it’s printer friendly!All in all, a great buy! I recommend it very much and wouldn’t have been disappointed if I had to pay twice the price for the contents of the PDF.

    • Kale says

      Hey Wouter,

      I don’t know how familiar you are with Reddit, but there’s an entire subreddit devoted to just D&D (http://www.reddit.com/r/dnd). There have been a number of new GMs and new players posting recently to ask questions and the community is very willing to share stories, offer pointers, and generally help you figure things out. It’s also a great resource for ideas as you gain additional experience and start looking to mix things up and add complexity to your games.

    • Kale says

      Reddit’s a decent community once you get into it. The catch is that there are SO MANY different subcommunities it can be overwhelming at first. There are communities for just about every game you can imagine as well as one for RPGs overall, both tabletop games and their video relatives.

      My best reccommendation for anyone who is interested in getting involved would be to create an account, unsubscribe from the default list, and then do searches for the things you’re interested in, subscribing to each of the communities you enjoy as you go.

      It can be a very useful resource, it just takes a bit of time to set up. Too frequently people leave because the default setup isn’t something they enjoy, not realizing that with another 15 min of time they could completely customize their experience to their interests.

      • says

        Thanks for the knowledge Kale! Will definitely have to swim around there and see what the water’s like, thanks again!

  17. Scott Hudson says

    Hey there guys,

    My name is Scott, I’m a long time reader of Johnn Four’s monthly emails and I’ve been playing D&D 3.5 for close to 4 years now and fell in love ever since my first roll of the dice. I’ve been GMing for about 3 of those 4 years and have had the luck of a loyal group through all of my adventures. I’ve tried AD&D up through some very limited 4e with the bulk of my group staying true to 3.5. In my next game however I’ll be starting Pathfinder which looks like a nice update to what we’ve been playing.

    I hail from Flagstaff Arizona and am currently designing my own game and variant rule system for something completely new in my games.

    I am currently playing a game that one of my players is GMing that involves a classic AD&D scenario of starting off without player classes and “earning” our first level. We all also come from a realm of magic and somehow against our will, wound up on an island in a world that has never known magic of any kind that is monotheistic, coming from our polytheistic world, It’s quite a blast.

    My main problem when it comes to playing has always been “how much to give”. From story, to freedom, to combat. Over the years I’ve gotten much better at the first two but then comes combat, where I read my players body language and can tell that they’re just not engaged. I’ve never gotten complaints but I still feel that improving my skills with or without the need is important. And after much debate, here I am.

    I love adding new and exciting elements to games and challenging myself in order to really WOW my players.

    • says

      Hey Scott, I love this:

      “I love adding new and exciting elements to games and challenging myself in order to really WOW my players.”

      We’re entertainers as GMs, too, right?! Tremendous attitude, I know you’re going to love this course! I know entertaining and running an efficient game at the same time is what I’m always after – past, present and future. Good to have you with us here!

      • Scott Hudson says

        Hey Tony,

        Thanks I’m really glad I decided to take the course. It feels good to have a community that I can access and really improve myself with.

  18. Johnn says

    Hi Scott! You can’t go wrong with Pathfinder. Great choice.

    Is that module N1: True Hunt?

    • Scott Hudson says

      Why thank you Johnn :)

      So far the buzz about our journey into Pathfinder is pretty positive, I know I’m excited. I’m actually not sure if it is a module or not. haha. But the name sounds intruiging, what’s the story?

      The only N1 I’ve ever heard about was Cult of the Reptile God and I’ve only heard the name. :/

      • Johnn says

        I had to Google it. That’s what happens when you chew tinfoil during game sessions.


        N4: treasure Hunt.

        You are washed up on an island. With the help of other survivors, you try to find a way off. The GM tracks what actions you perform as 0 level PCs. After the adventure you gain your first level, and the GM assigns you your PC class based on your behaviour!

        First time through, we all ended up fighters and rogues, lol.

        T’was a great lesson about roleplaying.

        • Scott Hudson says

          OH! I’ve heard about this one! Sounds awesome, I’d probably fall right into the same category. I might definitely try this module out to spice things up. :)

  19. PhilW says

    Hey there – long time player first time GM.

    I’ve been running my game now for about 4 years, but due to the format it seems like much less. I use the 4e system over the online Virtual Tabletop application Fantasy Grounds.

    We play on average twice a month, in four hour sessions. While I use 4e due to its relative simplicity and integration into the Fantasy Grounds VTT, we are all much more into the roleplaying. That said, I do like to have at least one fight every other session and with all of the other challenges of 5 people playing in 5 different rooms, a slow, unexciting combat only makes things worse.

    I try not to create any combats that aren’t somehow tied or appropriate to the plot. I just don’t have the luxury (time) of throwing in combats just for the fun of it.

    I’ve experimented with a couple of techniques (elites doing double damage with half hit points), fewer minions but with 5+lvl hit points, lowering defenses, etc. Looking forward to learning more – especially ones which may involve how to actually structure a fight or encounter to make it interesting and fast, rather than those that focus on just tweaking numbers.

    • Johnn says

      Welcome aboard, Phil! Great to have you with us.

      I understand how you want to only play the best, most story-full combats online as turn speed is slower over VTT than F2F.

      I’m confident Module 2: Design will help you immensely by building combats designed to fight fast without sacrificing challenge.

    • says

      Hey Phil!

      Your point on not creating truly random encounters is well-taken. Some systems simply don’t have much room for that anymore, like you shared – it’s just the new reality… until another edition! You’ll find plenty of solutions throughout the lessons – that fine balance of story and crunch is elusive sometimes, but so important!

  20. CurtK says

    Greetings all and well met! I’ve been an RPG geek since the mid 70’s…starting with the blue box D&D. As I have aged, like our hobby, I’ve gone through a great deal of changes. I started playing AD&D, and then, about the time it went to 2nd Edition, I started playing Powers & Perils (by AH)…and I was already playing Tops Secret, Traveller, and a hand full of others…Until the late 80’s I could say I have or have played just about every game out there…but then it exploded, and now…

    Currently I am playing Role Master Standard System, Savage Worlds, Shadow Run (3rd Ed), CyberPunk, Runquest (Mongoose edition) and occasionally dabble in a few others. I love to play, but mostly I ref…And Love it. I see I am far from unique in trying to make combat challenging, but not burdensome and having more story and REAL characters!

    I consider my self a pretty goor ref, with NPC’s being my strong suit. I am an Epic Ref, as oposed to an Episodic ref, and I tend to get very bogged down in the between time even when trying to run the episodes. I have raised two RPG refs (who also push lead, or plastic, nowadays) and my wife has been my most constant gaming partner for almost 30 years.

    Looking forward to learning what you have to offer!

    “He who does not Learn a Day, Does not Live a Day!” ( I think its Greek, or maybe Chinese)


  21. Johnn says

    Welcome, Curt! I think NPCs are the lifeblood to great stories too.

    RMSS is a great system. I wish I had time to play it again.

  22. Mike C says

    Hey all!

    I’ve been DMing for about 7 years, and have run games in 3.5, 4E, and currently Pathfinder. Also dabbled a little bit in the MURPG. I’ve been reading Johnn and Mike’s posts on Campaign Mastery for a while, and they’ve helped me get a better sense for DMing, so when I found a link here I didn’t think for more than a second about giving it a shot.

    Right now, as I said, I’m running a Pathfinder campaign which has been running for about 6 months. We started out on a true tabletop, but as players have started moving across the country, we’ve switched to using the new Roll20 app and it’s unbelievably convenient for us. College and grad students all, so it’s not too hard to get a full or -1 player group together each week. I’m really trying to amp up my long-term planning and plot development, and I’ve gotten so entrenched in that that combat time has suffered, to the point that 3 rounds of combat took almost 3 hours in our last session, at which point I decided something had to be done. Thus, I am here, and hoping to learn a lot!


    • says

      Hi Mike! Welcome to Faster Combat! That Roll20 app sounds pretty cool, thanks for the tip, I’ll check it out.

      If you’re looking for long view plans and plot development, you’ll find tons of ideas in Faster Combat. We’ll definitely help you add speed and richer layers to your combats and more!

    • Johnn says

      Welcome, Mike! Virtual Tabletop Gaming is a killer on minis-based combat systems (pun intended). There are so many moving parts, and gameplay gets a bit stilted/delayed due to the remote nature of the VTT.

      In addition to what Tony said, work hard to improve everyone’s skill with the software.

      If you have a tech geek in the group, assign them the role of helping players with tech problems, leaving you free to GM.

      And get some kind of campaign encyclopedia going, preferably on a wiki. Then you can just paste links to related materials in the chat rather than typing out the same answers over and over.

  23. Dustin says

    After many years of not doing much gaming, I started a game with the wife and kids a few years back as an experiment, which has turned into a cool family bonding experience as well as a great teaching tool for the kids. I’ve often toyed with the idea of getting a group together for a more serious game, but I really like the casual atmosphere. I became interested in FC because my group groans every time I say “roll for initiative”. They love the mechanics of combat but they hate that it kills the rest of the gaming session. Some of the issues you address i’m not sure I can overcome, such as rules familiarity. But, I’ve already learned alot in the first two sessions that I can apply toward minimizing combat time.

    • Johnn says

      Gaming with family is cool!

      Modules 1 & 2 should have an immediate impact on combat time for you.

      The others will too, but my hunch is the first two offer more levers when gaming with the wife and kids.

    • Phil Nicholls says

      Hi Dustin,

      Once our boys are older, I would want to run a Campaign for them. I am therefore very interested to see how you find the various Lessons help you run a game for younger Players.

      Happy Gaming


      • Dustin says

        One thing I learned about younger players is that it might be better to run “simpler” characters. “Simpler” meaning fewer options. My youngest wanted to play a bard which was probably a mistake since the jack-of-all trades nature of bards leads to a ton of options and a lot of indicision in combat. Young players can’t really be expected to study spell effects either. I should think that barbarian or fighter classes with a short list of “you can do this” in combat would be optimal. Of course an older sibling who knows the rules and can help is ideal.

        Also, you might consider rules systems like Fate that are heavy in imagination and light in rules. I know of one guy who runs a “My Little Pony” rpg using Fate Core. Probably wouldn’t work with my family, but hey, what better way to spend time with your kids?

        • says

          Great advice, Dustin. Lower complexity is something I always go for when introducing both younger and brand-new-to-RPG players to the hobby. For example, last weekend I introduced my 18 year old cousin to D&D Next (playtest rules) – a system’s whose calling card will be modular complexity or “complexity sliders,” which I’m very excited about. She’d never played RPGS before, the adventure was just a couple of hours with a variety of encounters, and D&D Next made for a great rules-light option.

          And before that? We played the Castle Ravenloft board game several months ago – yet another “rules light” version of RPGs. You know, now that I really think about it, there are a lot of great fantasy board games out there that make for great training wheels before jumping into a full-fledged RPG, right?

          • Phil Nicholls says


            I always like Runebound for this. The rules feel like a stripped-down version of D&D, the game creates both a kingdom-wide plot and the encounter cards all have a short prose introduction that helps to create the feel of an on-going story.

            Happy Gaming


          • Johnn says

            Phil, how does Runebound play with two players?

            I’m always looking out for good 2P games my wife and I can play together.

            Last night we played Caylus, which played pretty good 2P.

          • Dustin says

            We have the castle ravenloft board game and love it. Beginner sets are a great way to ease new players in, but the problem comes when mixing different levels of play. I have a teenager, who studies Pathfinder in his spare time and a little girl who wants to play because it’s what the rest of us are doing and it’s difficult to balance the two. Obviously the teenager would be bored with the “beginner box”.

            Since I posted above we’ve started a new campaign after I had a hankerin’ to go back to some old school dungeon crawl type play. The kids both love it. My daughter likes it because she has options but not an infinite number of options. “The corridor on the left or on the right?” My son likes it because he missed the good old days of giant Underdark dungeons so it seems new to him. This time the young one is a rogue, which seems to work great because even though there are some varied options in any encounter, they are pretty intuitive.

          • Dustin says

            I’m not familiar with Talisman, but I would call it a combo. It’s basically an rpg without any real roleplaying. Each player picks a character and cards representing the character’s abilities. The system generates random monsters, traps, and other encounters and the characters use their abilities to overcome. There’s no DM/GM and no NPC interaction or anything like that but everyone does play a character that fills a party role. Honestly it would never do as a real RPG for me, but it’s a great way to take someone who has never played and get their feet wet, or enjoy some (almost) role playing when no one wants to DM or has anything written or prepared.

  24. Phil Nicholls says

    Hi Johnn,

    Yes, Runebound is fine with two Players, I have played it with my wife too.

    Player interaction in Runebound is virtually non-existent. The only change is that the number of XP required to “level-up” increases with fewer Players. Thus the game may be a little longer, but as your turn will roll around quicker, it is not too much of a problem.

    Happy Gaming


  25. Keith says

    Hello everyone. Greetings from New Mexico! I have been playing D&D off and on since 1981 when my father introduced me to Basic D&D red box :). I am currently bouncing between 2nd and 4th editions of D&D. I run a campaign with 3 seperate groups of players using a VTT called Fantasy Grounds. I stumbled upon this site while catching up on some articles from roleplaying tips. I am always on the lookout to learn something new and I am seeing some neat stuff I will incorporate into my games.

    • Johnn says

      Long live the red box!

      FG is great software. Have any new features been added recently?

      Welcome aboard, Keith.

      • Keith says

        a few months ago they added a whole bunch of new features. I have a youtube channel (Keith Hershey Jr) where I have made a bunch of tutorials for FG, including a bunch of the new features. I have been away for a couple of months due to work but I am back now to dig back into my gaming again.

    • says

      Hi Keith, welcome to Faster Combat!

      Red Box all the way for me too – that’s how my love for D&D and RPGs started – KILL BARGLE!

      Definitely something about 2e, too, I agree. My friends and brother and I still wax nostalgic over it. In fact, it’s probably one big reason we love the Dragon Age tabletop RPG right now – it has a great 2e feel.

  26. D.C. Costache says

    Hey Everybody,

    My Name’s Dragos and i’m a long time GM and RPG enthusiast with a passion for indie system. A passion that i’ve just recently started getting my players into.

    I’ve been playing for a while now (almost eight years) and have been GMing for 7 of those. I cut my teeth on DnD3.5 and subsequently played al editions past and present and a host of indie games always striving to drag my players kicking and screaming away from 3.5 and into more narrative territory. Right now we’re in a detente having met halfway between Pathfinder and FATE in the land of Cortex RPG and Savage Worlds.

    I’m currently GMing a Dragon Age RPG game that’s going fairly well and a Cortex RPG homebrew set in the Twilight Imperium universe (we’re big fans of the boardgame) that is currently on hiatus. I’ve joined this course becasue i want to pepper in more combat without it seeming out of place or detracting from the story. I’m confident that this course will do the trick as I have the utmost Confidence in Johnn (who I’ve been following for years now ) and Tony (whose blog I’ve only been reading for a few months). Looking forward to this, gentlemen!

    • says

      Hi Dragos and welcome to Faster Combat!

      Sounds like you have a host of rich RPG experiences to draw from to be an awesome GM, great to have you aboard!

      I’m also part of a Dragon Age campaign right now – my brother GMs it and I’m playing an Antivan rogue right now, as my reckless Avaar barbarian met a violent, untimely end to an ogre earlier in the campaign. My brother’s got the dark fantasy, tragedy and madness themes that define Dragon Age down – I’m having a blast! I don’t know if I’ll GM it one day (my brother loves everything Dragon Age, so I’m okay with him being the DA guy, you know?), but I’m sure you’re also having a blast scheming all that doom and gloom, am I right? :)

      And thank you so much for the kind words, Dragos – here’s to your Faster Combats!

  27. says

    Hi, everyone!

    Long time GM here with a longtime group. We’ve all been playing together for years, and bounce around between systems – and occasionally systemless – play a lot. Combat has always been my weakest spot, so I asked for this course for Christmas! :)

    Already I see several good ideas and smart points. I’ll let you know what the gamers think next week. Have a great holiday!


    • says

      Hi Eris, welcome to Faster Combat! Great gift idea, well done! 😉

      I’ve done more bouncing around systems in recent years than ever – great perspective, lots of learning. Some great experiences, I’ve enjoyed it. Again, welcome aboard!

  28. Patti says

    Greetings fellow DMs!

    I started playing D&D in the late-90s, I quickly started helping our DM at that time with the planning and organization of that campaign. A few years ago I started DMing myself.

    I am currently in the process of starting a new campaign while switching from Eberron and 3.5 to Pathfinder and Riddleport. I am planning to run the campaign with a sandbox style including many NPCs and several story lines that will link together at the conclusion of the campaign.

    We play every other Sunday in the great, cold frozen central interior of British Columbia (at least its frozen right now). My group consists 6 of players, family and friends, plus myself.

    My players come in a great range of experience, from power-gamers to novice, which I am struggling to deal with.

    Like most creative type people, I tend to bounce from project to another rather frequently as a result my campaigns tend to switch from one plot line to another without any reason. Our game sessions also tend to lean heavily toward role play over combat because I have trouble balancing encounters for my players. In essence I am looking for any help these lessons can give regarding running better combat encounters and allowing me to better lead and DM our group.

    Anyways, that is me, summarized, in a nutshell.

    Happy gaming,

    • Johnn says

      Welcome, Patti! It’s tricky having a group with blended gaming experience. If any specific questions popup, don’t hesitate to give us a shout.

    • says

      Hi Patti, welcome to Faster Combat!

      Like you, I absolutely love sandbox style play. It goes back to my love of Choose of Your Adventure books when I was a kid, scrambling to get every one I could from the school library or our monthly book order club. Good times!

      Sounds like you love improv and a healthy amount of twists in your game too. A GM style right after my own heart! You’ll learn more about it all here, from crunch to flavor and everything in between.

      Again, welcome aboard!

  29. Redwing says

    Greetings all,

    I am a long time D&D gamer, dating back to the blue box in the late 1970’s and playing with chits (punched out numbers on squares that you pulled out of a container, like a cup, to get a random number) before polyhedral dice were available. I have GM’d the range of D&D from basic D&D through 3.5 and have been a player of 4th Ed on occasion. When Pathfinder came out in Beta, our gaming group migrated from D&D to Pathfinder and I have been DM for several Pathfinder campaigns since. Our group plays in Maryland, USA on a weekly basis with 4-6 players depending on who can make it that week.

    To aid in running my game sessions, I rely on an iPad, a MacBook Air and the Obsidian Portal website for record management. It has served me well, but I know there is always room for improvement.

    My main strengths are story construction, which I approach like writing a novel. And, rules lawyering as I have studied the source game materials as much as I can.

    My main weaknesses are NPC characterization (meaning bringing them to life for the party) and improvisation (running the game when players take a left turn).

    The game I am currently running is a home brew 20 level Pathfinder rules based campaign. It scales the party from impoverished to high magic at then conclusion of the campaign. And, I am running Gestalt rules for a twist in character generation and to give the players sense of power gaming to make up for low magic at the early to mid levels. Plus, it gives me the opportunity to throw some interesting beasties at the party since their challenge level/rating is higher than a normal party. The party is currently level 5 and enjoying the story and game a lot. But, I hope to improve it in anyway I can to make it even more memorable. And, yes, this game sounds like a Monty Hall style of game, and to a degree, it is. But, I have found my players come to the table to relax and play legendary adventures with powerful characters to blow off steam after a week at work, so as a GM, I try to provide that game without taking away the challenge and grittiness that comes from a medieval fantasy setting.

    I am certain I will get many game tips from Faster Combat and look forward to implementing them each week to see how the party reacts. I know from using many tips from RPT that the party will embrace any and all improvements to the game.


    • Johnn says

      Welcome Redwing. You have a ton of experience – maybe you can teach us a thing or two around here!

      I enjoyed the one gestalt game I played in for a bit. Seemed like you could focus more on the story and having the PCs do awesome things than mere survival at low levels.

      What do you think of Pathfinder Mythic?

      • Redwing says

        Thanks Johnn, I am more than willing to share my experiences. Though they are really only my opinions and not to be taken as canon.

        Yes, in a Gestalt game, low level characters can tackle greater challenges, though at higher levels this can become problematic or at least challenging for a GM to create suitable opponents for a party of Gestalt players.

        Using my game as an example, 5 players of level 4 were able to defeat a solo CR 7 opponent after facing two opponents (CR 6) and then two more afterward (CR 6). Now that they are level 5, the five players easily handled a CR 7 battle and now I am preparing a CR 9 to push them to the limit.

        Here is where Pathfinder Mythic comes into play… I like the concept of boosting character powers during the course of adventuring to level 20. But, what I really like is the system to boost monsters beyond their standard CR. Looking through the play test document, that is what struck me as most advantageous. I hope to try using a Mythically enhanced CR 6 or 7 creature, boosted up to CR 9 or 10 and see how the chips fall. Ultimately, this will help greatly when the PCs are level 18-20 and need challenges in the CR 24-25 range. Pathfinder has so few in their bestiaries.

        Regarding the mythic PC progression, well I think it will be much like running a gestalt game. The characters will supercharged compared to the standard monsters in the core books. Though in several ways I feel the mythic PC will be more powerful.

        Gestalt characters are effectively dual class characters, but the gives them the limitations as far as actions per round, hit points, BAB, standard feat selection, etc. Gestalt characters will never gain DR 5/epic or re-roll skills or saves.

        Mythic characters gain “additional” powers beyond their character class that acts like an add-on prestige class. And with it, it provides additional hit points, special feats, and additional powers that dramatically affect regular game play. Mythic characters have the ability to dramatically change the battlefield. With things like immortality unless damaged by a Mythic foe, enhanced spells, etc, the GM will have to be on their toes when running this type of campaign.

        My other concern about the Mythic design, is that they have two tiers of trials: Greater and Lesser. The greater is designed to be the standard party joins up to fight a greater foe. But, the lesser is more situational and up to the players to keep track of. Things like surviving taking three critical hits in one encounter. Or succeeding on a DC 20 or higher skill check when you roll a 5 or lower on the d20. I fear these Lesser challenges will be the stumbling blocks for the players. It may be an issue where the GM has to fudge results just to produce the situation that matches what the player needs and I am not in favor of that.

        In the end, I am certain that I will give the system a try after my Gestalt campaign ends. Mythic is not the Epic Level handbook that I was hoping for, but I am glad that Pathfinder is putting out something for power gamers.

        But, the bottom line I always fall back on is the game is the story not the system. The players invariably remember what their character did in the story not the system they used to get there.

        • Johnn says

          Great overview. Maybe the Lesser Challenges could be tracked with index cards and checkboxes.

          “the game is the story not the system”

          Agreed. I’m finding my group has been focusing a lot on the rules lately, which is a result of us entering higher level play. Spells and feats are getting complicated. I hope Mythic keeps the complexity to a minimum.

        • says

          Gestalt! Nice! My head’s still spinning from the one Gestalt D&D 3.5 campaign I ran, thanks to one of my buddy’s Gestalt Binder/Necromancer. Can you scream overpowered? hehe :)

    • says

      Welcome to Faster Combat, Red Wing! Sounds like you’re very well organized, with a great handle on both story and crunch already – and I’m sure you’ll learn some useful things here on both. After all, combat’s not that exciting without a great story surrounding it, right? Again, welcome!

  30. Craig says

    I started playing D&D in the early 80s. This led to experimentation with Top Secret, Gang Busters, and Gamma World. After about a 15 year hiatus, I got back into D&D when it was celebrating it’s 30 year anniversary. I got connected with a group at the FLGS and shortly after become one of the regular GMs.

    I would say that I’m more of a story teller GM than a crunch guy, but I really like d20 mechanics. That being said, I’m not as up on some of the rules as I am with providing vivid scenes and memorable npcs.

    Where my games really get bogged down is during combat (hence my main reason for being here). I think I struggle most with providing appropriately balanced encounters. It seems like the mobs are either a pushover or are pushing a TPK. After some encounters, I feel like it was hardly worth the effort of drawing out the map. In others, I’ve got players doing non game stuff on their phones and laptops, tweaking their Magic the Gathering decks, or catching a quick smoke, because their PCs can’t hit or magically affect the mobs or their PCs have already bit the dust.

    Even when the challenge rating seems on the mark, with 6 players and usually as many or more mobs, a single round seems like it goes on forever. With the party at level 18, the players have a bazillion options and as many attacks. With what seems like an eternity between when the first player declares his action and the last, I don’t like it, but I’m not surprised when someone is not focused on the game.

    Currently I am running a weekly Pathfinder campaign. It is nearing the conlcusion after 18 months. What my players recall often are the non combat encounters with NPCs. I’m glad of that, but I hate the fact that the only time they bring up past combat encounters were the near TPKs.

    I have decided to hold off any work on my next campaign until the current one reaches it’s natural conclusion. However, I really want the next one to truly have memorable combat scenes where a single battle doesn’t eat up the entire night of play time.

    • says

      Hey Craig, welcome to Faster Combat!

      We’re going to help you tackle all of those problems, Craig – from learning more about what makes you and your players tick to creating combats custom-made for your style and playgroup to all sorts of tweaks to you can make to monsters and more, I know the course will improve your game. And only improve your already sharp storytelling on the way.

      Again, welcome aboard!

    • Johnn Four says

      Welcome, Craig!

      I know what you mean by the pendulum swing between pushover combats and near TPKs. The Combat Missions lessons, amongst others, should help you create memorable fights that are tough, but because of good story and not because they are TPKs.

      And the design lessons on simplifying foes and fights should help speed those high level encounters along.

  31. says

    Hi all,
    Just registered for the FC course because I got fed up with time consuming combat encounters in my 3rd ed. D&D campaigns.
    With 30+ years of gaming experience I think I am a veteran D&D player/DM (yup, started with the AD&D 1st, fell in the 2nd ed. trap and right now I am still DMíng 2 3rd ed. campaigns).
    The party (everyone also a long time player) meets up twice a month and we play a high level Paladins campaign for 9 years now and two years ago we started a new campaign on the side in Waterdeep consisiting of a more traditional adventuring group (right now the avg level is 4). So we switch from holy, nearly indestructible massive dmage tanks, to dungeon crawling treausere hunters quite regularly.

    I’m still quite old school when it comes to playing (lot of paper, less computing)

    I’m sure the FC course will help me tweak my combat encounters, so we can make more progress during the two sessions i host each month.

    • Johnn says

      Welcome, Tom. I’m jealous you’re DMing two campaigns! I’ve spent more time in Waterdeep than any other fantasy city. It’s a great place. :)

    • says

      Hi Tom and welcome to Faster Combat! I’ve been going a bit more old school right now too with my recent D&D Next mini-campaign on the high seas. Laptop’s available for rules reference, but that’s about it!

      High level gaming has always been an great opportunity to find ways to GM more efficiently, especially with combat, so you’ve come to the right place! New or veteran, we all could you use some help there, right? See you inside the lessons, Tom!

  32. Sunwolfe says


    I’ve been chewing on signing up for some days now,–a bit hesitant at first for reasons I’ll relate later, but as a long-time devotee of Johnn’s roleplayingtips, I figured the waters were probably safe enough for an elder such as myself and decided to take the plunge. Hats off and kudo’s to Johnn and Tony for what looks to be a fantastic course.

    I’m an old-schooler playing my first RPG in ’77/’78 when the “Chainmail” fantasy section was still a reference. While I started out D&D and had a lot of fun, the crew I ran with was restless…looking, I suspect, for that perfect fit. It wasn’t long before we began to explore Chaosium’s BRP system and it was there that my RPing heart found its home. Though the crew has changed over time and we explore other systems—open to the fun in whatever game is being played—we always return to D100 based games as our main staple.

    I recently closed a 20+ year home-brew campaign, deciding it was time to take a break to work on other creative endeavors. After the break, I opted to play rather than GM in our new campaign. This was great as we decided it was the perfect time to explore Design Mechanism’s new RuneQuest 6 version of our beloved Chaosium/Avalon Hill’s RuneQuest 3.

    At just about that time, and due to rather sobering circumstances, the original ’70s crew got back together and started a Glorantha based campaign using an RQ3 hybrid. Further, another member of the old crew decided to run a D6 1st Ed. Star Wars campaign between the Gloranthan meets. Suddenly I found myself playing in not one but three campaigns!

    The up shot of this has been to afford me time to reflect on my performance as a GM…its strength and its weaknesses, to compare it to my fellows and make notes about what I want to change. This, coupled with learning a new rules set, has led me to the conclusion that your combat school would be a great way to hone my skills in said area and get things ready for my next turn at GMing.

    As mentioned above, I was a bit hesitant to sign on. I wondered, considering my RQ/BRP/D100 perspective, would lessons naturally slated toward D&D be meaningful to me? After looking at the course outline and considering how helpful Johnn’s RPG tips have been in the past, I decided the answer was yes. That faith was totally substantiated after reading but my first lesson. Wowzers, am I going to love this course!

    Once again, thanks for the work and effort you two have obviously put into the course. This is going to be a great year!

    Cheers, mates!

    • Johnn says

      Welcome, Sunwolfe!

      Fellow Faster Combat member Phil is an RQ GM, I believe. Hopefully you can compare notes.

      It’s awesome you had three different playing experience perspectives to compare against your own GMing. I’m jealous.

      • Phil Nicholls says

        H Sunwolfe,

        Welcome to the Faster Combat course, I am sure that you will learn many things to help you running exciting combats.

        While I am familiar with RQ3, I am actually running my Glorantha-variant saga with HeroQuest 2, modified by the inevitable house rules.

        I can assure you that there is plenty on this course for GMs running something other than a D&D-style game.

        Happy Gaming


    • says

      Hi Sunwolfe, welcome to Faster Combat! Wow, a twenty (20!!) year homebrew campaign, that’s incredible! You must have a great playgroup, that’s impressive.

      Good to hear you like what you see, Sunwolfe. I know you’ll learn a few time-saving tricks here while you get your chance to play a bit more often than you GM for a bit. See you in the lessons – again, welcome aboard!

  33. S.K. Nintai says


    So I’ve just joined up and finished reading my first lesson. Off to a good start, but I figure it’s better to focus on why I’m here. My group is comprised of my closest friends. We meet up each week almost in celebration of our friendship, hence why even if I can’t make a session, they still meet and find something to do.

    My world is Ign’nikhu, a vast world I’ve spent years designing and to this day don’t consider near total completion. But my group is still why I’m here. I’ve got a munchkin, or powergamer, whatever you want to call someone who tries with all their might to make their character incredibly cheezy and overpowered. I’ve got a great role-player who’s best idea in combat situations is usually to hit the bad guy. A fellow GM who prefers to play when I’m around but can’t help but get distracted by whatever the latest gossip at the table is. A player who has cloned the same sorcerer for every game, ignores most of what happens during the game, and then spends 10 minutes during her turn debating which spell to cast, ultimately ending it with Magic Missile or Fireball. Then there’s the player that must play a fey, which is fine, but can’t seem to find ways to utilize her fey whiles in combat. Or sometimes at all.

    I oversimplify. Our sessions are humorous and fun. My creative storytelling and deep plots keep everyone raring to return each week. But combats kill us. They take all night. Or no time at all. Either the tank kills everything fast, or no one knows what to do.

    I look forward to systematically discovering our problems and tackling them. My group is more than aware that I’m taking this course, and greatly looking forward to seeing ways we can all improve an have more fun at the gaming table.

    Well met, Johnn and Tony!
    And well met, my future fellow master GMs!

    • says

      Welcome to Faster Combat, S.K. Nintai!

      Wow, I have a long-time friend and power gamer in my group, exactly like you! He’s the best at it, no question! So while it can be frustrating, funny, and sometimes eye-opening, our games are ultimately still a blast too. We cover all the player personality types in depth and give you some activities to key on them and make the right, best adjustments for your group, so I know you’ll enjoy those lessons.

      Enjoy the course and again, welcome S.K.!