Monday, August 20, 2018

Old News: Valley of the Lords Combat Dashboard

Just the right place to find some monsters to slay...
And we're back, with the next installment of my Valley of the Lords setup! Honestly, most of the other stuff in my spreadsheet is just lists, so it's not too interesting to look at. Plus, if I show off too many lists, I might start to reveal spoiler-y details about my worldbuilding process.

I will be doing on last article on this, since this weekend we're having my first guest-star DM in the Valley. I'll go over the document I'm sending her, which includes the relevant information on the Valley for her particular quest. Since she won't have full access to the campaign notes, it won't be nearly as free-reigns as my usual sessions are.

Anyway, on to the content!

Valley of the Lords: Combat Dashboard

Last week I discussed the concept of a Dashboard - it's basically a DM screen but you can change parts of it and it references data in real time. It's replaced nearly all of the notes I would normally take, and it's made my session run much more smoothly.

One thing I've done in previous campaigns is include a monster stat reference table and an initiative tracker. The excel sheet could randomly generate initiative based on the PC's modifiers and abilities, do so for any enemies they were fighting, and give me a quick list with little hassle. I really like the system, especially for my story-based games where any time we spend on combat is time taken away from plot and character development.

As you can see, typing in a monster's name pulls up the stats and abilities for that monster. This set of monsters is from my 5th-edition conversion of Broodmother Skyfortress I used in Chaos Quest. I included the amount of monsters that would be present based on the die rolls in the module.

Over on the side, the "Copy/Paste from here" columns are the randomly generated values that represent the basic initiative. Unfortunately, any time the sheet updates (i.e. whenever I type in a value), those initiative scores are re-rolled. So I needed to copy them from the randomly-generated section into a usable space. Hence, I made a pre-built space where I could place the random values and track HP without worrying about the order changing constantly.

In Valley of the Lords, I decided not to use this system for a few reasons. First, since the Valley is focused on exploration and combat, having the players roll their own initiative gives the proper gravity to each encounter. Second, though it's not visible here, I do have to type in the stats and abilities for every monster I use for excel to reference it properly. The valley is so vast that I'd basically be making a database of every monster in the manual. And I definitely don't have time to do that.... or at least I don't have time to convert what I have done. Yet.

Instead, I've been tracking things on good old-fashioned pencil-and-paper. I do initiative, HP, and a few other notes that relate to the exploration stuff. It's pretty old-school, but the more I do it the quicker I get at it.

So, what is on the Valley's Combat Dashboard?

Not too much, it turns out.

Since I'm running the bulk of the combat out of a notebook, I use the combat dashboard to assist me in setting up and tearing down encounters on the fly. I have a list of basic stats for monsters you might find in the valley, including their information from my loot articles. That makes one less PDF I have to dig through.

I've also begun the process of applying gold prices to the items in the loot table, as you can see. I'm continually adjusting these, so don't expect a huge PDF of Creature Loot pricing any time soon. Since gold is a hugely valuable resource in my game, collecting and selling these monster parts has become something of a necessity for the explorers in the valley.

The last part of the Dashboard is my own personal version of Kobold Fight Club, a fantastic resource for quick encounter building. I've set up a simplified version using some reference tables here, so I can throw together multi-monster encounters on the fly. Generally, I can throw together a few encounters in about 30 seconds, while the players are gearing up for exploration.

The final part of the puzzle, of course, is the stats of the monsters. Like I said before, I don't have the time to convert the entire monster manual into excel stat blocks. Instead, I've been using stats straight out of the book, with a phone app to quickly reference spells that I'm not familiar with. Again, kind of old-school, but I've found it gets quicker with time. My players tend to strategize enough for me to have plenty of time to get things together at the table.

And that's really it! Not too complicated, but it provides me with everything I need to run encounters on the fly. If I had the ability to plan out individual encounters, I would definitely use the Dashboard with individual stats and character data. But since the characters in the Valley are constantly jumping in and out of games, deciding where they want to go on the fly, and exploring such a vast space, I'm sticking to a simpler interface for now.

Hopefully it translates well when someone else is using it! We'll find out this coming weekend.

Thanks for reading!

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