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Sneak or Boost: A Complete Beginners Guide to Fast and Exciting D&D Combat

Combat is an integral part of D&D. There are hundreds of pages of rules for rolling dice and positioning miniatures on a map. Yet, I hear time and time again that new D&D players are intimidated by combat rules.

In fact, players are often bad at combat, which is completely understandable. Most players aren’t former members of Seal Team 6, so there is no reason that the average nerd should be expected to understand the ins-and-outs of small-squad combat tactics.

But here’s the secret: although the wonderful thing about D&D is that your character can do almost anything, the reality is a couple combat actions are what you’ll use over and over, particularly when you are just starting out at level 1.

In short, don’t stress about optimizing your stats, start first by optimizing your character’s behavior.

A D&D player, even if they are brand new to the game, can have an index card with 2-3 actions that will work well 75% of the time. Combined with the basics of movement, these 2-3 actions will allow new players to have a good action ready to go immediately when their turn comes up in initiative order.

So, let’s learn about these good “typical” decisions for each D&D class, shall we? Specifically, this article will tackle the Bard and Rogue.

But, first, movement is half of your turn, so let’s spare a few thoughts for how your character will move in combat. Here’s your tip: “break it up.”

D&D gives characters a movement speed, typically something like 30 feet a turn. But it doesn’t have to be 30 feet all at once; it can be broken up. For example, you can move a portion like 10 feet, cast a spell, then use your remaining 20.

Some cases like Rangers, Monks, or Rogues can be thought of as “skirmishers,” meaning they like to stay mobile in combat, unlike, say, a Barbarian, who likes to plop their fat butt down in front of the biggest bad guy and wail on them.

Mobile characters should always remember their movement can be broken up, particularly if they aren’t concerned about Opportunity Attacks. Move into position, attack, high tail out of there.

Breaking up movement is wonderful for glass cannons as well. If there happens to be a pillar near by, a Wizard should use part of their movement to pop out, cast their Ray of Frost or whatever, then use the remainder of their movement to duck back behind cover, ensuring they are harder to hit.

So, don’t forget that you don’t have to use your movement all at once. Break it up! Now, some attack action tips.

Bard: Who Can I inspire?

A Bard is typically a swashbuckling, silver-tongued character who is often the life of a party, so a player new to the class should enter into combat thinking, “Who can I inspire?”  

Movement: Use your movement to move around the battlefield, looking to support teammates or distract smaller foes. Stay with 15 feet of teammates in case they need a heal or a boost, but take care not to venture too close to hard-hitting bad guys. Here are three actions you should then typically choose from:

  1. I inspire a friend!” A Bard has the Bardic Inspiration ability, which is a bonus action, so it should be utilized every round. Your friends around the table will love that you help them out with an extra d6.
  2. I insult them a second time!” Bards have a clever spell list that allows all sorts of creative solutions to problems. But rather than get overwhelmed with that, a new player should start with the Vicious Mockery cantrip. Not only can it be cast every round and coupled with your Bardic Inspiration, it’s a hoot. Have some silly insults prepared and use them to cause enemies psychic damage, leaving them at a disadvantage!
  3. I poke them with my rapier.” Bards are a support class, not a front-line fighter. But they can wield a blade. Remember our movement tip and don’t be afraid to make an occasional attack roll.

Unlike many D&D classes, a Bard is pretty fun to play even at level one. But they come with a lot of options, so a beginning D&D player should focus on just a few until they wrap their mind around the basics. Otherwise, there can be a level of paralysis while looking at the character sheet. Highlight the core stuff.

Rogue: Where’s the vulnerability?

Rogues are sneaky buggers and they also like to take advantage of times when an enemy isn’t looking their direction. So, enter combat with the mindset: “Where’s the vulnerability?”  

Movement: Use your movement to position yourself behind the bad guys, in what is called a “flanking position.” Remember also that your movement can be broken up, so hit and run tactics work. One more tip: archers should position themselves 30+ feet from an enemy and should take advantage of cover.

You aren’t picking locks in combat, so much of what a Rogue is good at isn’t applicable in a fight, unlike a Barbarian, who is always itching for a good row. So, there is one thing you want to become proficient at as a 1st level Rogue in a fight:

  1. I sneak attack!” A Rogue does an extra d6 if they catch an enemy by surprise or if they have a teammate near a foe to distract it.

A 1st level Rogue’s character sheet becomes very streamlined when you realize that there is one key action you are learning to become proficient in: setting up Sneak Attack. If you are an archer, then sneakily take that first shot from afar. Dagger-wielding rogues should learn to take advantage of their movement to come in behind enemies while the Fighter is holding its attention.

Again, D&D has 300 pages of rules, which makes it intimidating for new players. But, while the above are just the absolute basics, it’s helpful to take a deep breathe and realize that 75% of combat can be handled with just a couple actions that are used over and over.

This repetition serves to help you learn the basics of the game and your character’s combat style. That’s a whole lot more than nothing. But the best thing? Inspiring a friend or letting loose with a sneaky arrow is a lot of fun.

D&D is wonderful, but it can be intimidating. So let’s knock down any barriers that might prevent someone from loving their first few times playing. Share this with any brand new D&D players you know, regardless of what class they are considering:

Movement Tips: Think 35+ | 10 feet Between | Break it Up | Use that cover! | Only Fools Rush In | Get in the Face

You can buy the D&D Players Handbook here.

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