In a world where we are inundated with information and self-help guides, there is one steadfast truth where it concerns being a good dungeon master: there is no substitute for reading the Dungeon Master’s Guide. There are, however, lots of supplemental books for DMs to hone their craft and elevate themselves from good to great. One such book is Darrin Scott‘s Drizzt Do’Urden’s Guide to Combat. Don’t get overly excited one way or the other about the titular drow. There is enough of his quotes from Salvatore’s books to keep things interesting but it’s not so thematic as to be a turnoff to anyone who isn’t fond of the dark elf.
Drizzt Do’Urden’s Guide to Combat
Writer: Darrin Scott
Publisher: DMs Guild
Product Length: 49 pages (not counting the supplemental tokens and squad rules plus stat blocks)
Fantasy Grounds format available here
This book focuses on one of the three pillars of D&D, combat. I have heard many a complaint about combat either taking too long or not long enough. Usually it’s too long. I played a session of Rappan Athuk once where a single combat encounter took 4 hours! We didn’t lose all the players at the table that night. However, there was at least one empty chair in the following session. That player was happy to find another table where the combat was a bit more balanced. I’m sure my experience is not unique and our DM took note of that response and made adjustments to future encounters. Running combat can be challenging. Especially in larger groups or in megadungeons like Rappan Athuk.
This Guide to Combat is here to help you to not only streamline combat but also to make it more memorable. You don’t want to streamline it to the point that it becomes boring and disengaging. “Roll damage…okay, it takes 12 points of bludgeoning damage. Steve, your turn.” After reading Darrin’s latest book, you will be better equipped to create vivid and engaging combat scenarios as well have a keener insight into when it’s appropriate to employ the various techniques he shares.
There are countless guides across several publishing sites to address more meaningful combat. Whether it’s to teach descriptive vocabulary or tactics and maneuvers there is no shortage of options available. Where Darrin’s guide stands out to me is the research that went into its creation. I don’t have insight into the methodologies Darrin used to gather feedback for top gripes about 5E combat but it is clear he didn’t simply sit down to create this armed with only his opinions and first-hand experience. Addtionally, he draws upon the wisdom of certain influential persons in D&D such as Jeremy Crawford, Sly Flourish, and Matthew Colville.
It is quite possible you’ll be able to sit and read this in a single sitting. There are no choke points with overly complex text requiring a reread or two. It’s compelling writing and if ever combat guides could be page-turners, this would be one. Not because it’s full of beautiful prose or highbrow humor. Just because it’s great content!
Given that I deal primarily in PDFs for RPG item reviews, I appreciate good production. When a PDF is as functional as it is aesthetically pleasing, I’m a happy consumer. The cover art by Omercan Cirit is immediately engaging and inviting. Who isn’t curious to “crack open” this book for a deeper look once they see it? The bookmarked sections are a great help too. I read these on my Kindle a lot but the bookmarks are convenient when I’ve got the document open on my laptop so I don’t have to scroll around looking for something in particular. Additionally, legible font and the usefulness in the ability to search the text with CTRL+F cannot be overstated. Also, the use of Drizzt is not overdone. Those who are drawn to this guide specifically because of the outright allusions to Do’Urden may actually be a little disappointed. I contend those people may be missing the point. Darrin gives a good sampling of various Drizzt quotes for flavor but in this book, content is king.
As I’ve mentioned already, Darrin didn’t just sit down and spew out some opinions on how to make combat more engaging. Sure, he used his experience but he also included the knowledge of authoritative voices from the industry and common issues as reported by several gamers. He states his biases and still gives alternatives lest the reader’s bias sit elsewhere along a given spectrum (i.e. Theater of the Mind vs. Grids and Miniatures). Darrin hasn’t overlooked anyone at the table. He considers the DM as well as the players. He encourages you to familiarize yourself with the rules of combat (players and DMs alike). Additionally, he provides great suggestions on building effective narrative and implementing useful tactics.
Don’t let the cover set the wrong expectations. This is not a book about Drizzt. This is a book on strengthening the third pillar of D&D. A weakened third pillar is not a problem of disaffected gamers checking their phones in between their turns in combat. Nor is it a problem of ineffective DMs who can’t keep everyone’s attention. It’s just the nature of the beast and Drizzt Do’Urden’s Guide to Combat can give you advantage on Animal Handling and thereby help you tame that beast. If you’re planning to be a DM, your first step is to read the Dungeon Master’s Guide. If you are already a DM and you haven’t read that core book, you’re doing yourself, and your table, a disservice. Your next step is to pick up this book by Darrin Scott and read it closely. You’ll be glad you did!
Additionally, the squad rules and statblocks are great for simplifying larger combat scenarios in the same way that a swarm of rats is better than tracking individual rats. Make your encounters more epic without bogging yourself down in minutiae!