DMs: Managing your (4e) combats

Benimoto

First Post
In some games I've played, the GM (or players) insisted on putting markers on or under every mini that was bloodied, marked, quarried, or whatever. Picking up minis and putting markers under them, putting them back, and then straightening up the other minis that inevitably got jostled or knocked over added a solid minute or two to the length of each combat round (for 5 or 10 minutes or more per combat).
This is good advice and I found it revealing that my own group has a tendency do do this. We use fuzzy pipe cleaner rings hooked on top of a mini, but sometimes 3-4 pile up on top of the same mini and it just gets silly. I think bloodied markers are helpful guidance for who the leaders need to heal/buff and which monsters the strikers need to finish off. But other stuff like quarries/curses/etc may just be unnecessary.

This is really good advice - it's exactly what I do, too. If you play the monsters with urgency, and with a bit of daring, the players pick up and the pace of the combat picks up too.
Yes, exactly. Some of the best sessions I've DMed, worked because I was able to keep my energy level high. When the DM acts interested and keeps things moving, the players pick up on it and it forms a kind of positive feedback loop that can really help a session turn from good to great.

The other thing is this - if a member of the party is laying down heavy damage, target them ruthlessly! Have monsters try and break through the parties lines and attack the Wizard/Warlock/Ranger/whoever - it changes the dynamic of the battle and ups the excitement around the table. If it means some of them die at the hands of opportunity attacks, then so be it.
Right. I think that this is particularly effective with solo monsters (and to some extent, elites). It's easy for many of them to get locked down and turn the battle into a drawn out, static roll-off. I've found myself occasionally trimming their HP, but I think a change in tactics can be equally effective. Turn solo/elite monsters' high defenses and HP to your advantage and make them into rampaging juggernauts that move wherever they want on the battlefield, heedless of their personal safety. Make sure everyone on the battlefield is afraid of them. If it means that they die 10-25% quicker because of the extra attacks they're drawing, that's really okay. Try to have an exciting, dynamic battle that ends on a high note, rather than a long, drawn out one where you feel the need to cut hit points.
 

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Pseudopsyche

First Post
Don't be afraid to draw extra attacks. Monsters that are too afraid of opportunity attacks, or of the defender's reprisals are playing right into the defender's hands. Plus, if your monsters are taking too long to die, this is an easy way to change that.
I want to echo this point since it worked well in the encounter against a young white dragon that I ran last night. Dragon refusing to budge once next to the fighter == boring. Dragon willing to eat an immediate interrupt basic attack to unleash its fury on the warlock that critted it with Curse of the Dark Dream == fun.
 

Thasmodious

First Post
I have put zero thought into this, but, having (some) encounter powers recharge after some minimum number of rounds, might help alleviate the slog.

You know, this might not be a bad idea at all. I wouldn't set hard and fast rules for this so as not to make the "reset" a tactical consideration for the PCs, but when the DM feels the slog is on, having encounters refresh could be just the thing to ramp up the encounter toward the end game. The slog would be more common against solos, I think. I haven't had many multi-creature combats turn into slogs.

One of the reasons, I think, is that I love to employ varied terrain and hazards. If the battlefield stays interesting, there are always options outside of just at-will repetition. The advice here to use the monsters to keep the combat moving is excellent. Its hard to say its a boring fight, even in the 15th round, if people are still moving and shifting all over the place trying to fight for control of strategic areas or force choke points or whatever.

Solos have a much better chance of going the slugfest route, and of becoming more static. Why would a single monster run from PC to PC in general, if the defender is holding the monster static, it will likely stay that way. Recharging encounters could be a decent solution to the game and isn't a thing that will affect the characters long term, all it does is hasten the end. If the PCs are in a desperate fight for their lives, it is unlikely that the combat is getting a bit boring. The recharge could mostly help with hastening the end a couple rounds.

I also agree with the poster cautioning about too much battlemap marking, its been slowing things down in my game, in addition to looking sloppy. We've been using these colored rings that came with an old Blood Bowl set that fit over small mini bases to hand on the minis. I'm liking the idea of marking up poker chips or something with conditions and just tossing them out to the player rather than putting them on the board.
 

darjr

I crit!
Hmmm... if the monster is in desperate straits... let the mark be damned.

Have him move for better tactical reasons.

Example, I saw a game where the black dragon should have taken to the air to get a better grouping of players for it's attack. Marked or not.
 

Tav_Behemoth

First Post
I like the idea of encounter recharge. It'd be cool if this was tied into a tactical choice on the battlemat, to increase the fluidity of the combat and encourage multiple different objectives beyond "gang up and whack". If you can get past the zombies over to the braziers on the altar, the smoke might let you recharge a divine power. If the white dragon can get into the water and turn it to ice, it might be able to recharge its breath weapon faster.

One problem we saw very early on was that if the adventure design involves time pressure, our PCs felt like there was no time to waste; we can't be taking a five minute smoke break when the nasties are about to sacrifice the maiden! This felt like entering slog mode (no encounter powers, no healing) was a punishment for making a decision to rush forward that was appropriate in-character; fun combats were a reward for being good little meta-gamers and not thinking too hard about whether it made narrative or character-motivation sense to always take five in the middle of the action.
 

darjr

I crit!
I like the idea of encounter recharge. It'd be cool if this was tied into a tactical choice on the battlemat... If you can get past the zombies over to the braziers on the altar, the smoke might let you recharge a divine power. If the white dragon can get into the water and turn it to ice...

I love that! Build it into the encounters, especially as options if they trigger multiple encounters. Could be all kinds of neat possibilities. Very, very, cool.
 

I like the idea of encounter recharge. It'd be cool if this was tied into a tactical choice on the battlemat, to increase the fluidity of the combat and encourage multiple different objectives beyond "gang up and whack". If you can get past the zombies over to the braziers on the altar, the smoke might let you recharge a divine power. If the white dragon can get into the water and turn it to ice, it might be able to recharge its breath weapon faster.

Thats a really nice idea.
One problem we saw very early on was that if the adventure design involves time pressure, our PCs felt like there was no time to waste; we can't be taking a five minute smoke break when the nasties are about to sacrifice the maiden! This felt like entering slog mode (no encounter powers, no healing) was a punishment for making a decision to rush forward that was appropriate in-character; fun combats were a reward for being good little meta-gamers and not thinking too hard about whether it made narrative or character-motivation sense to always take five in the middle of the action.

This is where the "encounter" mechanic fails. Fictional blocks of time that last for an unspecified duration produce very metagamey results. Rewarding metagame play is poor game design.
 

timbannock

Adventurer
Supporter
One of the reasons, I think, is that I love to employ varied terrain and hazards. If the battlefield stays interesting, there are always options outside of just at-will repetition. The advice here to use the monsters to keep the combat moving is excellent. Its hard to say its a boring fight, even in the 15th round, if people are still moving and shifting all over the place trying to fight for control of strategic areas or force choke points or whatever.

I think this thinking is huge. Mearls wrote an article about it which I only saw turned into fodder for "4E is the Suxorz" threads, but it changed up how I ran the White Dragon in Kobold Hall, and it was awesome.

One thing I've experimented with (so far not to total satisfaction) was having an index card with the descriptive (not necessarily mechanical) effects of special terrain in the big encounters. The Leader among the PCs gets a Perception roll, and if they pass it, they get that card handed to them. So they know a bunch of potentially big tactical information, but they have to get that info to the other PCs...kinda what a Leader should be doing, no?

Again, I haven't done it enough or had it work out as well as I'd hoped, so there's some room for improvement. Instead of going with the Leader getting the check, make the check relevant to the area: say, if it's a woodland battle, the Ranger gets to roll Nature or something. Maybe make a separate index card for easy-to-notice terrain effects, one for moderate and one for hard, and turn into a skill challenge that opens up the combat.

Something like that. Anyway, the idea being that it not only forces me as the DM to make interesting terrain effects, but also gives an easily prepped way of getting that info the PCs in a fashion that might even promote roleplaying, as opposed to just saying "Hit this stalactite and it'll fall, causing XdX damage to anyone in that square."
 

One thing I've experimented with (so far not to total satisfaction) was having an index card with the descriptive (not necessarily mechanical) effects of special terrain in the big encounters.
Fantastic idea.

It might be simpler to call for a Perception or Insight (or whatever) check and just hand the card to whichever PC got the highest result. Most of the time the PC with the best senses notices things about the battlefield, but every once in a while the Wis 8 PC who is untrained rolls a natural 20 while everyone else rolls low.

This means that it's not always the same PC doling out the info.

I would also make the PCs convey the info in character and only on their turn (as a free action). If the players whine, "But the rules say I can take free actions on anyone's turn", you can take the terrain card back. ;)

You'd also want to mix up the skills being tested. Perception is already an uber-skill; no need to make it stronger by tying all the "notice terrain effects" incidences to it.

Maybe in one combat, it's an Athletics check to notice that bashing a crumbling wall could start a cave-in, burying the monsters. This is a bit of a stretch, but you can justify it by saying that Athletics --> Climb --> knowing when to look out for crumbly walls. That sort of thing.
 

Nahat Anoj

First Post
My players and I love 4e, but at level 1 we did notice a few times where combat seemed to slog. When we reached level 3 and got the second encounter power, this pretty much went away. I think one way to implement this at level 1 without tipping the balance too much is to let PCs select an extra level 1 encounter power that they can use once per day. When the PCs reach level three, this extra level 1 daily "encounter" power can be upgraded for an "actual" 3rd level or lower encounter power. Or you can let the PCs keep them for extra fun later on.

One way the DM can make things go quicker is to have a list of pregenerated d20 rolls. I go to random.org and generate a crap ton of random integers from 1 to 20, paste them into a Word or Text document, and print the list off. Whenever the monster makes a d20 roll, I go down the list and cross off a number. I've printed off a few pages worth of random numbers and have thousands of rolls in the bank. It makes things go a lot quicker.
 

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