D&D 4th Edition Running 4E combats quickly





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  1. #1
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    Running 4E combats quickly

    I've been asked on a few occasions exactly how I can get combats done with so quickly. In one recent session, I ran 6 combats in 3 hours!

    Well, there are a number of tricks to it, but by far the biggest trick to running fast combats is this: Don't have too many players!

    This is especially true of 4e, where the standard combat will include 10 combatants: 5 characters balanced by five monsters. Each extra player from there will add an additional opponent, with a commensurate increase in time. In fact, it can increase the amount of time needed in a non-linear fashion, because the complexity of the combat increases significantly with each combat - more things to think about when moving and attacking.

    So, to run 6 combats in 3 hours, I had only 3 PCs and an NPC.

    Mind you, that's not the entire story; even when I'm with 4 PCs + NPC the group does run through its combats pretty quickly. So, here are some additional things I've noticed...

    BE PREPARED - Nothing slows down a combat like having to look up a rule in the middle of it. Every 4E DM should have a summary of the Conditions list on their DM's Screen. (I know I do). Or memorize it (I've done that too). The complete statblocks are a godsend for the DM here - not much crossreferencing at all.

    On the player's side, being prepared means two things. The first is having a complete list of all of their powers. Complete means all the bonuses and dice to roll are precalculated. 4E doesn't have long-term buffs, so you should be able to write on your power cards or ability summary sheet every single modifier you get. The second is knowing what those powers do. You don't have that many powers, so be prepared!

    KNOW YOUR TACTICS - 4E is a game of teamwork. If your characters work well together, you'll win combats quicker than if you don't work well together. My observations of 4e combat tell me there are two primary strategies to keep in mind.

    The first is to concentrate fire. Monsters will generally fight at full effectiveness until they're killed. So, take out one creature, then another, then another. This also speeds up combat because there are progressively fewer combatants to worry about.

    The second is to split the enemy. Controllers - in my experience, Wizards and Warlocks - have powers that make it very hard for all of the enemy to engage you at once. If an opponent can't attack you, then its turn goes by faster, also speeding up the combat. (It also protects the party!)

    YOU DON'T NEED 100% ACCURACY OF RULES: It's okay to fudge things and just make rulings on the fly when you can't quite remember the rules at the moment. For most groups, the most important thing to the players is "When can I do something cool again?", not, "Was that +3 or +4 damage?" This isn't to say the rules aren't important, but they're rarely important enough to cause a 30 minute delay...

    KEEP ON TARGET: When it's a player's turn, they should be able to tell the DM what they're doing almost instantly. It's likely to have been 5 minutes since their last turn in many occasions, so they should have some idea. My players occasionally pre-roll their attacks when they know what they'll be doing on their turn, and that helps as well.

    WHY ARE YOU USING MINIS? Miniatures slow down combats more for the time they take to set up rather than the time they add to actually playing combats. There are some combats I would absolutely want to use minis in, because they're just that complicated. Some combats, they're simple enough to ignore the minis, or to ignore drawing the battlemat and just use them as positioning tools. Look at the combat you're running and see if it warrants the time you spend setting up the battlemat. (Mind you, some players really respond to using minis, so don't disadvantage them just because you want a quicker game).

    The same thing goes for physical condition trackers and the like. They're good reminders, but fiddling with them - especially with minis - adds time. I use a bit of scratch paper to keep track of Initiative order and the HP of each monster and any conditions attached to it.

    THERE ARE MORE TIPS... but the dinner bell has rung. I'll be back later!

    Cheers!
    Last edited by MerricB; Tuesday, 10th November, 2009 at 11:09 AM.
    Merric Blackman
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    Some nice tips there, looking forward to see what else you have for us.
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    Thanks Merric. All tips are good and I do the same, but still take too long I think it is b/c I mix up the creatures and inc a lot of variety in most encs. Players are a bit slow too. I used to simply count to 3 and if they had not answered I assume they delay. I need to start that again. (Delay seemed fine, b/c there is no real penalty for missing turn - you just take it when you are ready. But it can make a mess of combat tracker).

    I use the scratch pad and write it all in one place too. I have found that works best.
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    Oh, BTW Merric..."The dinner bell just rang". Does that mean you are a teacher down that way? If so, what school (if you wish to share).

    I lived in Ballarat for 9 years (and am a teacher). I still go back that way at times...such as 2 weeks ago for Bodyjar gig. Sorry, back to speedy tips...C
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    Heh. Actually, my father has a bell he rings to let me know when dinner is ready, as I often can't hear him otherwise due to the strange acoustics of the place I live in.

    Mind you, though I'm not a teacher, I do work (as IT support) at Ballarat Grammar.

    Cheers!
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    More tips...

    KNOW YOUR DICE: When it gets to your turn, don't start scrambling through your dice to find the ones you need. You can probably find them ahead of time, or at least have the selection of dice you're likely to need in front of you. Very, very few people will need more than a d20 and two other dice sizes.

    USE A STANDARD WAY OF ANNOUNCING DAMAGE: This will come in handy when you start coming up against creatures with resistances and vulnerabilities. Saying, "I deal 24 lightning damage" means the DM won't have to ask you later. This is another thing to make sure you have on your power summary.

    DON'T BE AFRAID TO LET THE PLAYER'S KNOW THE DEFENSES OF THE MONSTER! It can be fun to let the PCs flail about, targeting a low-Will monster with all their reflex attacks, but it will slow the combat down. I compromise a bit and tell them the defense they attacked for future reference. "I roll a 24 vs Will." "Alas, it has a 28 Will". "Oh, I need a 12 to hit then!" Comparing a roll to a target number is a *lot* faster than adding a number to the roll and then announcing what you hit.

    GET IN THE HABIT OF GOING THROUGH ALL PARTS OF YOUR TURN: It's Start of Turn (Regenerate/Ongoing Damage), My Actions, End of Turn (Saves). Once you get used to the turn sequence, you won't have the DM looking at you wondering why you're still alive when you were taking Ongoing 20 Poison damage... and wasting time asking if you saved. For the DM, repetition and practice make you faster.

    LEARN THE RULES: Yes, we all have them: players who are here for the social aspects and not the game play. Even they can learn the basic parts of the turn and how to attack. Spamming an "at will", even if not optimized, can be something to encourage if otherwise they take 5 minutes for each turn.

    HELP YOUR FRIENDS: It's even better if each "casual" gamer has a partner who helps them plan their next turn ahead of time. Also works with new players. This should be another player if possible and not the DM, as the DM has enough to keep track of.

    DON'T WORRY ABOUT LONG COMBATS IF EVERYONE HAD FUN: Some combats in 4e are going to take a while to resolve. Not every combat could or should be run in 20 minutes. You need the big combats to balance small combats. For some people, the combat is the really important thing, and thinking about combat is an important part of that as well. If everyone is having fun, don't rush combats. They might be the best part of the session!

    Cheers!
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    Quote Originally Posted by MerricB View Post
    On the player's side, being prepared means two things. The first is having a complete list of all of their powers. Complete means all the bonuses and dice to roll are precalculated. 4E doesn't have long-term buffs, so you should be able to write on your power cards or ability summary sheet every single modifier you get. The second is knowing what those powers do. You don't have that many powers, so be prepared!
    I'd like to add another note to this one:

    Be prepared with your characters powers. Note down the attack bonus and damage for every attack (including what happens if you crit). Then, when it comes to your attack, roll attack and damage together and announce it together, e.g. "I hit Reflex 24 for 24 lightning damage".

    You'll be amazed by how much this speeds everything up.
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    We've done a few combats without miniatures - some were handwaved setting-wise, some used counters to explain general set up. However, I find that since my players got used to miniatures, they are having a harder time visualizing now than 2 years ago when we never played with minis.

    Do you have any particular suggestions on how to handle stuff like combat advantage, shifts and movement in general? I am considering "changing" the wording of a few things. So instead of exact square movement, things are either Close, Distant or Far Away. You can move between these with a move action each, or a Run Action to move 2. In general, range 5 is Close, 10 is Distant and 20 is Far Away.

    Anyone have any ideas on how this would work? Anyone tried it to speed up combats?
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    If your players can learn to guess if they hit or miss it will help a lot too. (The same goes for the GM). If you guess you don't have to calculate using all the situational modifiers.

    A D20 roll of 5 or lower is generally a miss
    A D20 roll of 20 or higher is generally a hit

    As a DM you should ask the player for the actual number if you think the mob has a really low/high defense.
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    Could you give a link to how you handle mini-less combat, Merric?

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