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[personal profile] jack
Mostly first-level combat. Again, a medly of stuff I've stumbled into, please do suggest things.

Delegate whatever you easily can. Get someone else to track initiative order so you don't have to! And look things up if possible, when you want to check an official rule.

Keeping my session notes in tabs in notepad++ on a smartphone works surprisingly well. I can keep a relevant section easily visible, but not very visible to anyone else, needs little table space. And I can google for official stats for monsters if I need ("it's a... panther. OK, just one sec. Ok, 7 damage.").

If I track damage *done* to each NPC/monster on scratch paper, that allows everyone to know what's going on if they happen to be able to see, and establish incontrovertibly that I'm not fudging things that have already happened. However, it doesn't let people know precisely how many hitpoints are *left* which players should not know precisely (approximately how many is often obvious from the description). And if I do want to fudge a little, I can, eg. if the combat is dragging I can pretend a monster had one less hp than I originally intended, or shuffle around combined hitpoints between a crowd of mooks to keep things slightly simpler. I don't think I did last session, but I like to have the option if it would be useful.

As important to an NPC/monster as stats is their tactics: are they a predator who only attacks if they sense an easy meal? a thug who's used to winning every fight and will come in swinging but not know how to handle a combat that isn't going their way? an experienced soldier or adventurer who knows tactics, when to use cover, which enemies to target first, how to work together to gang up, etc. Don't always default to "attack until dead" or "attack inefficiently so the PCs don't all die", decide what's appropriate, and then roll with that whether they win or lose.

Likewise, do they unload with their most powerful attack first, if they're expecting a real fight? Or do they husband resources, assuming they may have many combats today and only falling back on their most powerful abilities when events start to go sour?

I don't usually have a mechanical meaning for "under half hitpoints" ("Bloodied" in 4e and 5e dnd parlance). But it's a useful metric for "does the monster switch tactics now", whether that's activating a new ability (whether they already "had" it but weren't using it), or going into a killing rage, or turning to flee.

Likewise, judge if and when opponents are likely to flee. If they *can* flee most opponents won't fight to the death, but some will. I generally eyeball this, if the fight is clearly going their way or not combined with how committed they are. A well-timed skill check can swing it though. I don't have specific mechanics for a number of hitpoints though, I assume NPCs can judge the tactical shit-hit-fan-ness as well as PCs.