Combats in 3.5/4E vs older editions
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  1. #1

    Combats in 3.5/4E vs older editions

    I am currently running a now 15 month old 3.5 campaign. We did not switch when 4E came out because we figured the initial phases of 4E would have bugs, kinks and other errata to work out, and by that time, the 3.5 campaign would be in the homestretch.

    However, now that my players are level 10 in 3.5, I have found it very difficult to prep on my part, and when building some cool bad guys, I found a couple of times where I forgot a couple of their cool powers because they had so many cool powers it was a challenge just to do the book-keeping.

    And, moderately scaled combats basically take almost a whole session to run. Heck, I tried to run a large scale combat with the six PCs, six allied NPCs and maybe 40 attackers (3 major bad guys and 37 supporting ones) and it took three whole gaming sessions of four or more hours each to complete, so maybe 13-14 hours overall.

    In reading the threads here, it seems that 4E makes it easier for a DM to prep, but has not made combats happen any faster.

    Back in 2E days in a similar situation, but on a much larger scale: we had a larger group of PCs – nine – plus, 2 major NPCs, and 30 allied caravan guard types against 80 lizardmen, a lizardman shaman who summoned a water elemental, some giant reptiles and half a dozen killer giant dragonflies. That combat took one five hour session, or less than half the time the 3.5E battle took, and it was triple the scale. And, we had several huge, epic combats like that throughout the campaign…

    My main problem with 3.5 is not the prep time – I do not mind doing that as a DM – it is the playing time. We seem to be spending more time accomplishing less at the table than in 1E and 2E days, and it seems like 4E has not solved that.

    Now 1E and 2E had a lot of problems, and I like a lot of changes in 3.5, but I miss the much faster-paced combats. I suspect I will like 4E as well, but am leery because it seems to have not fixed the length of the combats.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NewJeffCT View Post
    Now 1E and 2E had a lot of problems, and I like a lot of changes in 3.5, but I miss the much faster-paced combats. I suspect I will like 4E as well, but am leery because it seems to have not fixed the length of the combats.
    It's strange... I've noticed that some of the combats themselves in my game can take a pretty lengthy amount of time, but I hardly notice it, because more is happening on the field to keep me occupied (if that makes sense.)

    Also because everything is right there in front of everyone/ easy to use, we're actually playing the game more, as opposed to pausing to look stuff up.

    Don't know if this will make a difference for you or not.
    Last edited by Scribble; Wednesday, 17th December, 2008 at 07:05 PM.

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    Um.. Was there a question? Or was this just a statement?

    I guess I'll rehash what others have said in other threads, and my own experiences..

    Right. 4E combat length vs. 3E combat length is about the same in the end even though round-per-round it is very different.

    4E: If monsters had less hp, or lower defense, or people did more damage 4E combat would speed up some. At the very least people roll 1d20 per round of combat, and there are two to three times the amount of rounds in 4E combat than 3E combat. Provided people know how to play, each round moves a LOT faster in 4E than 3E. There are just a LOT more rounds to deal with!

    3E: If people knew their abilities inside-out and did some prep before it was their turn to go and the DM wasn't worried about remembering when to use one of 12 monster abilities at what time, 3E would speed up. Some rounds can take up to 10 to 20 minutes to figure out (especially with layered spells, disspells, and so on) while others zip by.

    1E and 2E was faster because there were a lot less options, depending on the class and monster. Many monster's spell-like abilities* were miserably pitiful, and many people agreed that the game feel apart after level 10-ish.

    *It is my opinion that spell-like abilities was possibly the worst thing to add to monsters. It simulated powers that they could use without having to personalize them, but often took up the lion's share of the DM's time because he had to look up their powers each time.

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    Wow, I can't imagine spending 3 sessions on a single combat in any edition! Regardless of edition, I'd say that any battle with 37 'normal' enemies, 6 PCs, 6 NPCs, and 3 big bad NPCs will be time-consuming. I don't know that it would have been any better under 4e - except that many of the normal enemies would have had to be minions, IMHO.

    Whenever you increase complexity and options - particularly when there's a battlemap involved, or several spellcasters with complex spells - you'll have a longer combat. 1e's combats were much simpler, and in general the PCs had less options to track.

    Honestly, to run combats like that, I'd look into one of a few ideas - and this goes for both 3e and 4e.

    (1) Scale the numbers back, but increase the individual power.
    (2) If having many opponents is essential, use mob/swarm rules of some kind to represent packs of several similar creatures.
    (3) Use 4e's minion rules, or a similar concept, for many of the foes.
    (4) Use a random number generator to get a page full of numbers from 1-20 and go through them sequentially. This cuts out a lot of the time-consuming die rolling on your (the DM's) part.
    (5) Find an acceptable mass combat system and use it for your encounter. (I like the one from Green Ronin's Testament. I personally think Malhavoc's Cry Havoc is overly complex, but it might be more your speed.)

    Like I said, it's just some ideas. But IMHO, neither 3e nor 4e are very good at handling huge battles; you're trying to shove a square peg into a round hole, and it's not too surprising it's not working out.

    -O

  5. #5
    I have yet to actually play 4ed, but the minion rules might alliviate some of the time issues with such massive battles. If a good part of the weaker enemies and allies are counted as minions you won't have to track HP for them and that will save time.

    But to another point entirely.

    IMO your problem is that you are using a game system (3ed) to run a situation it is ill-suited for. There are simply to many combatants on both sides for it to run smoothly with such detailed rules. The same problem would rear its head in a 4ed game. If i were to run such a large battle I would either:

    a) group similar enemies and allies in packets of about 5 individuals and roll one attack per group rather than per individual

    b) play out the part of the battle the PC's are engaged in and just narrate the rest of the battle in appropiately dramatic fashion

    c) break out rules for larger battles and use them for parts of the battle (I have done this in 2ed games) with PC's as battle leaders and commanders


    Edit: Beaten to the finish line by Obryn :-)

  6. #6
    Especially for running bigger battles in 3e, you want to remove as many sources of delay as possible.

    <Player> "I cast Frostbite on the hobgoblin."
    <GM> "Save?"
    <Player> "Fortitude DC 18"
    <GM> "roll 1d20+8"
    <GM> "Failed, roll damage"
    <Player> "roll 6d6 cold damage"
    <Player> "roll 2d6 dexterity damage"
    <GM> "OK, the hobgoblin takes 21 damage and 7 dexterity damage"

    takes a lot longer than

    <Player> "I cast Frostbite on the hobgoblin. Fort DC 18"
    <GM> "roll 1d20+8"
    <GM> "Failed, roll damage"
    <Player> "roll 6d6 cold damage"
    <Player> "roll 2d6 dexterity damage"
    <GM> "OK, the hobgoblin takes 21 damage and 7 dexterity damage"

    takes longer than

    <Player> "I cast Frostbite on the hobgoblin. Fort DC 18 half"
    <Player> "roll 6d6 cold damage"
    <Player> "roll 2d6 cold damage"
    <GM> "roll 1d20+8"
    <GM> "OK, the hobgoblin takes 21 damage and 7 dexterity damage"

    And it builds up, especially if you're running a truly massive battle. I managed to run a 6 PC vs. 50 monster (in multiple waves, but there were 15+ "on-screen" at once at some points) battle in 3e in one five-hour session. One way to do this is to take a leaf from 4e's playbook (or, uh, Unearthed Arcana, really) and implement Fortitude, Reflex, and Will defenses as per http://www.d20srd.org/srd/variant/adventuring/playersRollAllTheDice.htm
    Last edited by Imban; Wednesday, 17th December, 2008 at 07:21 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NewJeffCT View Post
    I am currently running a now 15 month old 3.5 campaign. We did not switch when 4E came out because we figured the initial phases of 4E would have bugs, kinks and other errata to work out, and by that time, the 3.5 campaign would be in the homestretch.

    However, now that my players are level 10 in 3.5, I have found it very difficult to prep on my part, and when building some cool bad guys, I found a couple of times where I forgot a couple of their cool powers because they had so many cool powers it was a challenge just to do the book-keeping.

    And, moderately scaled combats basically take almost a whole session to run. Heck, I tried to run a large scale combat with the six PCs, six allied NPCs and maybe 40 attackers (3 major bad guys and 37 supporting ones) and it took three whole gaming sessions of four or more hours each to complete, so maybe 13-14 hours overall.

    In reading the threads here, it seems that 4E makes it easier for a DM to prep, but has not made combats happen any faster.
    That is true only for low-level combats. Normal combats in 4th take 30 min -1h regardless of level. So at low levels combat in 4th is a little slower than 3rd, but at high levels, combats are quite faster.

    In addition, 4th seems to fit the types of combats that you want to run better, as it is designed for more NPC combatants. Using the above-mentioned minion rules, a fight with 50 adversaries can be resolved in 2h or less.

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    I think the replies above pretty much cover it.

    I will just add that I had similar experiences in 3.5...and I find that 4E is just faster and easier (without really removing much option wise) overall.

    Also, if you do find 4E battles dragging, I always say: have the monsters run away. And teach the PCs to run if is clear they are doomed otherwise.

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    To add something directly relevant.

    One reason 3E could be faster was that it assumed that the "defualt" battle was 4pcs vs 1 monster/npc. We rarely did that...in 4E the assumption is more 5pcs vs 5 monsters/ npcs, which is closer to what I would run anyways. so that is probably why I see it as just plain faster.

    In short, if you run big battles, 4E should be faster.

  10. #10
    It was basically a statement.

    True, the bad guys are tougher in 3E than they were in 2E. True, the old editions broke down after level 10 or so, like 3.5 supposedly breaks down after level 15 or so. But, a good DM could make up for less tough monsters.

    And, yes, 2E and 1E multi-class rules were ridiculous – why be a level 7 fighter when you could be a level 6 mage/level 6 fighter?

    However, I did not feel limited as a player in combat – we had tumbling, we had flanking and if somebody ran away from melee combat, the players would all get free swipes at it. We did not call it an attack of opportunity, but we had them.

    There was fighting defensively and charging, and we even used parrying. And, there was a cleave system as well, though I forget it now (I think you could keep going against creatures below 1 HD?)

    Heck we even used a very simple (and very deadly) critical hit system.

    Maybe the rules for flanking, charging, etc were easier in 2E/1E?

    Or, maybe it is that 3E has too many options and 4E makes low level PCs too powerful? To me, it is a challenge to play a mage at first level with 4 hit points.

    But, maybe 4E is worth another look from me because I do like those big, epic combats. As one guy I used to game with (normally a very good role-player, not a roll-player) would say, “sometimes, you just gotta be knee deep in the dead.”

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