DMs: Managing your (4e) combats

Piratecat

Sesquipedalian
My biggest slowdown usually happens right at the beginning of combat - that is, rolling everything's initiative. Sure, I can roll several d20s, but when you have to roll for 6-10 creatures and write down all the players' initiatives then write the order of who's going when... there any easy way to speed up the startup time?
How I'm handling initiative is working really well for me.

I have a separate index card for each player, turned vertically with their name written on it. I have different colored index cards for monsters. I use a different card for each type of baddie (one for goblin warriors, one for goblin cutters, etc.) Each unique type of baddie always acts simultaneously.

At the beginning of combat I say "Roll initiative!" I roll and write down the monster initiatives. Then I shuffle through the cards. "Eli?" "13.4." The .4 is his init number; that way, if someone else also rolls a 13, I instantly know which card goes first. As soon as I have everyone's number written down, I start combat.

In combat I say "James is up, Mark is next, then a monster, then Sarah." I update this as each player finishes their turn. That way they have a few minutes to think about their action. I encourage them to have their action ready. If someone holds or delays, I just shuffle the card to the new spot. I may also hand them the card if they're holding, or turn it sideways until their held action goes off.

Use power cards, and consider having them roll to hit and damage at the same time. This also speeds up combat a lot.
 

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Agamon

Adventurer
If the battle's been long and it's obvious to the DM that the monsters are going to lose, then it should also be obvious to the monsters. Rather than die next hit or whatever, have them surrender, run away, etc. Every living thing wants to remain living, having every battle end as a fight to the death seems strange to me.
 

Agamon

Adventurer
How I'm handling initiative is working really well for me.

I have a separate index card for each player, turned vertically with their name written on it. I have different colored index cards for monsters. I use a different card for each type of baddie (one for goblin warriors, one for goblin cutters, etc.) Each unique type of baddie always acts simultaneously.

At the beginning of combat I say "Roll initiative!" I roll and write down the monster initiatives. Then I shuffle through the cards. "Eli?" "13.4." The .4 is his init number; that way, if someone else also rolls a 13, I instantly know which card goes first. As soon as I have everyone's number written down, I start combat.

In combat I say "James is up, Mark is next, then a monster, then Sarah." I update this as each player finishes their turn. That way they have a few minutes to think about their action. I encourage them to have their action ready. If someone holds or delays, I just shuffle the card to the new spot. I may also hand them the card if they're holding, or turn it sideways until their held action goes off.

Use power cards, and consider having them roll to hit and damage at the same time. This also speeds up combat a lot.

Yup, my group I DM, I've been using a "battle board" bought from Staples, and one I play in uses index cards, and both are very usful for both tracking inititive and conditions. It also really helps when a player does the tracking to keep the DM free to run the fight.
 

Cobblestone

First Post
Two quick thoughts

Initiative: In my games, unless there's a surprise round, the players all go, starting with the player to my left, and continuing around the table until it's my turn, and all the NPCs take their actions. Yeah, it makes Improved Initiative a waste of a feat, but it makes tracking initiative really easy. ;)Back when we rolled initiative, this is what ended up happening after half-a-round-or-so anyway. People can (and do) still ready and delay actions--they just pipe up when the triggering action occurs. I can't say much has been lost by this house rule.

Quick Rests: One of the posters on RPGnet suggested Quick Rests: shorter than a short rest, just enough time to catch your breath, use a single healing surge and regain your encounter powers. This is a great idea when encounters run together, maybe representing the heroes taking a deep breath before plunging back into the fray ("Oh great, here we go again!").

Two thoughts, two cents.

Peace

C-Stone
 
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timbannock

Adventurer
Supporter
I think the ideas above cover this, but just some of my personal experiences:

Initiative -
Roll up initiative as the very first thing you do at the start of a session. The first combat that comes along, just add the monters into the mix and go. As soon as a fight ends, before any looting/resting/treasure searching begins, roll initiative again. This sets things up for the next fight.

While I'm in DM roleplay mode, and if I know what the next encounter is likely to be, I roll up the initiative in-between chatting up the Players and jot it down. That means Initiative is out of the way by the time combat starts. If you have a player handle Init Tracking, just hand over whatever you've written down for them to start tracking.

I also use a whiteboard for initiative, and Paizo's combat Pad looks AWESOME. So I built my own ;-) Of course, it broke, but that's my fault.


Players Being Slow -
Keep on them about this. Counting in your head to 6 is fine, but if they regularly fail to hit that mark, count out loud to 10. They'll get the idea. You can't stress enough in 4E that people need to pay attention even when it's not their turn: Combat Advantage and conditions that others cause influences everything it seems. If a Player can't think of what to do within 10 seconds, then they delay until after EVERYONE else acts. It's harsh punishment, and makes them learn!


PCs Bunch Up -
This was well-covered by everyone else. If you really like a room's tactical features, change them to ones that only someone in the room can use. Give the badguys cover (arrow slits/murder holes are nasty, providing full cover while still allowing you to fire on people on the other side), or give them barrels or benches that they can just toss at the group of PCs and knock them all prone with one attack roll. That'll teach 'em.

I think I got this from Mike Mearls' Iron Heroes stunts: throwing a bench would affect a 10' long, 5' wide area. Anyone hit had to make a save or take damage and get knocked prone. You could also roll a barrel at enemies, potentially knocking them prone.

In fact, Mastering Iron Heroes is (not surprisingly) VERY applicable to 4E's method of encounter/dungeon building. The math ain't right any more, but the ideas in there are GOLD.

Also think about using the idea concerning having a character make a check and understand the tactical advantages of a room's features. This would come off to the players like a reward for a high Perception (or whatever check you use), and they'd want to use the features of the room to do cool things.
 

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