It may seem like the hardest part of being your own DM is dealing with the inevitable fights and battles that will break out as your characters explore a dungeon. This includes both playing D&D or Pathfinder alone using Endless RPG or other dungeon generators or playing in a small group where no one really wants to be the dedicated DM.
For some, the idea of running a character while being the DM is sacrilege. Others might simply point out that any character run by the DM is technically an NPC, which is about like saying a U.S. citizen is also an American.
One comment I’ve heard about the whole DM-plays-character conundrum is the idea that the DM may end up wanting to make their own character more powerful and DM to that end. My response to this: that DM wouldn’t be a great DM no matter if they ran a character or not. A DM’s job is to be a servant leader. This means they lead the group by serving it: their planning and decisions are based on the most fun for the whole group.
One trick in playing both DM and character is to let the other players make the decisions as much as possible. This is made easier with the Endless RPG app because the random dungeons are designed to be explored solo or with a group that doesn’t have a dedicated DM, so whoever is acting as DM can still put in some input on where to go and what to do.
But you don’t need a random dungeon to have a character in the party and still be the DM. You can use any campaign. The rule of thumb is that if you know what is to come, you let the other players make the decisions.
But what about Combat?
Here’s where it seems tricky. But the secret is: it’s not that hard. You have dice!
Remember: the dice are your friend. Use them as much as possible when deciding what is going to happen during combat.
Let’s break down a basic encounter with orcs and a party entering a room in a dungeon through a door and coming from a hallway. The party is still in a basic line with probably two characters side by side back through the party order. The orcs are spread out in the room doing orc-like things like eating giant rat that has been roasting over a flame and drinking some foul-smelling mead.
The orcs are going to attack, but who are they going to target?
The first rule of thumb is that any orc will automatically target a character engaging them in melee. So if the character won initiative and attacked an orc, the orc attacks back. This also counts for orcs that can use ranged weapons or spells targeting party members that use ranged weapons or spells. If the orc is targeted, they target the same character.
Now let’s move to orcs that won the initiative:
The orcs that are going to use melee weapons will target those at the front of the party order. So split the party in half with a minimum of the first two characters up to four character, which would be half of a party of eight. Round Down. So if the party consists of 5 characters, the first two are targeted by orcs rushing into melee.
Any orcs that can attack at range (archers, spellcasters, etc.) should randomly target from the entire group.
Now roll the dice. For deciding between two characters, roll a d6 and 1-3 is the first and 4-6 is the second. For thee characters, roll d6 with 1-2 being first, 3-4 being second, 5-6 being third. For 4 characters just roll a d4.
Rule of thumb: If you ever need to decide between an odd number of characters that don’t fit the dice, use a roll again rule. So, if you are deciding if a trap targeted one of 5 people or an orc spellcaster was targeting one of 7 people, use the next-higher dice. For 5 people, roll d6 and on a 6 reroll until you get a 1-5 result. For 7 people, roll d8 and keep rolling if you start rolling 8s.
What happens after that initial round of combat…
Here’s where it gets a little trickier. Just because an orc attacked a certain party member doesn’t mean they will keep targeting that same character. If an orc archer shot an arrow at the mage but the party’s paladin engaged the orc, the archer would no doubt drop the bow and defend themselves against the paladin.
But what if it was an orc spell caster instead of an archer?
The first thing to determine is whether or not they have a strong attack that is good at melee range. Obviously, the orc caster isn’t firing off a fire ball at that range! Another consideration is any defensive measures they may have that can help them disengage from the paladin. Lastly, there are the dice.
Remember: I said the dice are your friend.
If the orc caster has a good melee-ranged attack, roll a d6 and have them remain targeting the party’s mage on a 1 and switch to the paladin on any other result. Basically, there’s a 16.7% chance that its a very stubborn orc. If they have a good defense spell and nothing outstanding as a melee attack, have them automatically use the defense action. Heck, if they can cast spells they aren’t stupid enough to take a longsword to the skull.
Here’s the mindset: Put yourself in the shoes of the monster, come up with a few different options, determine which is best, and when in doubt, use the dice. The dice can provide enough randomness that the battle can seem fresh and also keeps everything fair for all of the players including the DM’s character.