D&D 4th Edition Running 4E combats quickly


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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 12:09 PM.
    Merric Blackman
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