Friday, June 3, 2011

The Rule of Fives!

First off, L.G. Smith over at Bards and Prophets tipped me off to a new blogfest that looks to be right up my alley.

However, since this blog makes my favorite game pretty apparent, I think that I will instead post about some awesome game night alternatives. Keep an eye out for Monday’s post.

So, last night was game night and my group was properly lured into a sense of complacency, having just killed a big ol’ dragon, so what did I do? I threw a rampaging horde of orc barbarians at them! YAY!

Anyway, I had really been wanting to try my hand at running a defensive encounter, similar to this one. In the typical D&D format, players are usually the invaders, breaking in to the homes of unsuspecting monsters who are just trying to mind their own business and eat a few villagers. Well, I decided to turn the table on my players, giving them two days warning of an approaching horde of orcs. They had to prep their defenses and hold them as long as they can.

Now, as implied by the word “horde”, this encounter included a LOT of combatants, which has the potential to severely bog down the play rotation as the GM has to resolve every roll made by every creature not controlled by a player.

To make my job easier and keep the pace snappy, I devised a mass-combat system, which I have dubbed the “Rule of Fives!” Now, five seems to be a magic number for DMs. There are a variety of planning techniques based around fives, from the five-room dungeon to the myriad of applications of the five-by-five technique. My Rule of Fives, however, is different.

In summary, this rule takes the base hit points of every NPC and monster, and makes it a multiple of five. More importantly, whenever damage is dealt to that NPC or monster, it happens in multiples of 5, with each 5 being recorded as a check-mark on my combat tracker (i.e. 1-5 hp = ✓, 6-10 hp = ✓✓ and so on.) When the tally marks reach the total hit points of the creature divided by five (e.g. ✓✓✓✓✓ for a 25 hp monster), it dies.

The Rule of Fives simplifies the mental math every GM must churn out down to the quick and easy task of counting by fives. However, it still accounts for variation in the amount of damage dealt by different attacks (i.e. a fireball can kill in one hit, while an arrow is unlikely to do so.) When implementing the rule last night, I combined it with a couple other shortcuts to speed things along. The first was my random attack roll sheet I mentioned back in April. The second is a simple mechanic, whereby NPC minions only deal a single ✓ of damage to each other when making basic attacks. Big spell effects are different, but this rule works well for arrow shots and sword hits. This also helps emphasize the importance of the players. They are the heroes. They deal the most damage, and they can dramatically swing the tide of battle.

Anyway, the system worked beautifully last night, and we got through an entire combat session at the players’ first defensive line, and the group killed almost 20 baddies in an hour. If I had hand rolled everything, I doubt we would have made it through a single round.

You know what? three can suck it, five is the new magic number!


  1. That blogfest was made for you!

    Love the high-five.

  2. Hey, glad you're participating! Looking forward to your favorite games on Monday.

  3. Love that photo. LG is fab. :)


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