D&D 5E How I learned to stop worrying and love the slog (in praise of long combats)

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I see many threads in this and other forums discussing how to make combat--especially higher-level combat--less of a slog in D&D.

I admit as my current campaign hit tier four, in a setting and with characters that are pretty gonzo, I began getting self conscious as a GM at how long combats were taking and how they tended to get caught up in tactical minutia. I'm not talking about making them more challenging or interesting or dynamic. More dynamic and challenging encounters do not make them shorter. In fact, in my experience, the opposite is the case. Trying to speed things up just makes things feel forced and can backfire if players feel overly pressured.

Then I noticed something. The players would intentionally take on challenges that they KNOW would be slogs of combat. For example, in my current campaign there is a side area they could easily ignor in favor of more plot-rich and and narratively interesting encounters. But there is a potential big pay off and the large number of creatures are evil and they have been a background, unbeatable faction that the players have been aware of for almost two of the over three years we have been playing this campaign.

They now feel confident that they have a chance to defeat this faction and have decided to take it on in our next session. This can easily become a 4-6 hour combat. The players know this and they want to play it.

Another thing that's making me more comfortable with combat slog is listening to the Glass Cannon Podcast. Listening to some of their many hours long high-level Pathfinder combats make me realize that they enjoy a similar style that my current group does. And I find it interesting to listen to.

Tactically interesting and meaningful, long, crunchy combats have a place in my games. Many players might find it as interesting as watching paint dry. But highly tactical wargame-inspired combats still have a place in modern D&D. About the only thing I'm really changing at tier 4 play in 5e is that for certain encounters, where enemies are woefully overmatched by the players, I narrate the result rather the playing through every minor encounter.

Does anyone else enjoy long, drawn-out combats?
 

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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Yes. And what more, my current players seem to enjoy them even more than I do.

For example, when a combat ended with the final blow against a regenerating foe right at the end of session, and between sessions I handwaved the minutia of finishing it off because I figured btwn them and their allies it was a done deal. . . two of my four players (lightly) complained about not playing out that last round or so. This was after a battle that had lasted that entire 5 hour session and had started an hour from the end of the session before that!

At the end one of the other players said, "That was one of the best combats we've ever had" and we're 2.5 years into the campaign.

In general, however, that is the rare exception and I can count the times I did something like that in my decades of playing D&D on one hand.

I love me some long complex combats, whether they be long because there are so many foes, because of the environment, because the PCs or opponents have goals aside from just kill everything, or because some unexpected factor changes mid-combat.

Most battles in my games last at least 6 rounds and many more are 8 to 12 rounds long or even longer. In my 3E "Out of the Frying Pan" campaign, we had a series of running combats in a collapsing subterranean structure that took an entire six-hour session was something like 67 rounds, and ended with a round of applause from the players because they loved to set up and experience so much.
 



DND_Reborn

Legend
Does anyone else enjoy long, drawn-out combats?
Yep. IIRC my current record for 5E was something like 80 rounds. It was wave after wave of encounters, but the PCs were never able to withdraw or anything so had to keep going until the end. It basically took our entire 8-10 hours session, and I did breaks every couple hours.

We had another one early on in 5E that was over 50 rounds, took nearly five hours. Again, it was supposed to be a series of encounters, but the first encounter alerted the second, the second alerted the third, and so on until the entire complex was there, wave after wave again. In the end, only one PC was left standing, literally surrounded by fallen enemies. We didn't finish it until nearly 3 AM and it started before 10 PM...

So, not all the time, but I enjoy them. Most "long" combats in my game go about 10-20 rounds, however.
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
I love long combats with a lot of moving parts, but for some reason, I don't particularly like high-level games. I think that it's because I don't really like high-magic games, which is what high-level usually boils down to.

I like high-concept multi-part martial combat, though. A lot.

OTOH, I like to try to break 'em up with a quick scrap-slap, just for variety sake.
 

toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
For my gamers (current campaign 11th level), long drawn-out combats taste good when you've been RPing for 2 straight 5-hour sessions without one serious combat. Then, hacking away and unleashing all your hard-earned combat abilities feels great. Even more so is when that extended combat is against the big baddies that you've been building up for months of real-time and through ingenuity they've finally found them.

But, extended combat after extended combat simply for the sake of having combat easily becomes fatiguing. The battle music becomes monotonous. Roll initiative becomes a sigh. The worst scenario, of course, is if a character goes down early in one of these marathons and there's no restoring them.

So, in moderation, I love 'em.
 

An epic battle that takes an entire 4 hour session is amazing when facing down the campaign villain. A 4 hour combat against some nameless goblins... not so much. This was part of the issue with 4E IMO, since they tried to make every combat have that "epic" feel (making none of them actually feel that way). You can have the same slog in 5E, but you can (and should) use it sparingly.
 

beancounter

(I/Me/Mine)
All challenging combats should take a while to play out IMO ("slog").

I see it as an opportunity to try different tactics. Something more to do that just swing a sword or cast fireball.

A puzzle to solve of sorts...how do we defeat they monster?

Quick combats IMO are boring. Oh, we steamrolled yet another monster in two turns? Ho Hum

And "streamlining" combat too much, IMO, reduces the potential complexity of combat.
 

AnotherGuy

Adventurer
Love threads like this, that break the mould.
I'm perhaps also a little bias as our current campaign is closing in on tier 4 so threads of higher-level play, astral planes, spelljamming...etc are very much welcomed. The combats are certainly becoming more interesting as the powers unleashed in combat are just over the top and the stakes seem so much higher.
 


I run hour to hour and a half-long combats that are super dynamic, many moving pieces, lots of story twists happening inside of them, and so on. I don't do this all the time but, it is my preferred as a DM, and all of my groups seem to love it as well. I have lots of things I do to make combat enjoyable that whole time though, so it isn't just all standing and attacking.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I love long combats with a lot of moving parts, but for some reason, I don't particularly like high-level games. I think that it's because I don't really like high-magic games, which is what high-level usually boils down to.

I like high-concept multi-part martial combat, though. A lot.

OTOH, I like to try to break 'em up with a quick scrap-slap, just for variety sake.
I'm in the same boat, but I'm coming around. I can enjoy high-level, high magic combat. My one remaining issue is that at high levels ALL combats seems to have to be high magic.

I think I could address some of that by controlling the spell list. Like, wishes can only be granted, not just another spell you can learn at 17th level. Perhaps bring back the idea of different kinds of wish, like lessor wish, that allows you to cast any spell, including those on other class lists. Greator wish would be more like the RAW wish in the PHP, but could only be granted by certain powerful beings or found with certain magic items. Divine wish would be the most powerful and mostly a plot element.

I could also see making certain powerful spells being rituals or taking more rounds to cast.

I would rather give magic users more cool things to do with magic, like rich rules for alchemy, magic item and spell creation, feats and class abilities at higher levels.

But this would all need discussion with the players.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
For my gamers (current campaign 11th level), long drawn-out combats taste good when you've been RPing for 2 straight 5-hour sessions without one serious combat. Then, hacking away and unleashing all your hard-earned combat abilities feels great. Even more so is when that extended combat is against the big baddies that you've been building up for months of real-time and through ingenuity they've finally found them.

But, extended combat after extended combat simply for the sake of having combat easily becomes fatiguing. The battle music becomes monotonous. Roll initiative becomes a sigh. The worst scenario, of course, is if a character goes down early in one of these marathons and there's no restoring them.

So, in moderation, I love 'em.

Yeah, random encounters were a huge part of this campaign in the lower levels and really made the dungeon dangerous. At high levels, however, I don't do the roles or I just role-play through it. For the most part, whether the party goes through one long combat after another is mostly up to them. There could be a rare instance where the party gets themselves stuck in a situation where they just have to punch out through multiple long-combat encounters, but at their level it would almost take wilful unpreparedness.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
All challenging combats should take a while to play out IMO ("slog").

I see it as an opportunity to try different tactics. Something more to do that just swing a sword or cast fireball.

A puzzle to solve of sorts...how do we defeat they monster?

Quick combats IMO are boring. Oh, we steamrolled yet another monster in two turns? Ho Hum

And "streamlining" combat too much, IMO, reduces the potential complexity of combat.
True.

Though, there have been times where what I expected to be a long, challenging combat was brought to a quick resolution through great tactics, good role play, or dumb luck. I've learned to embrace this as well. It is one reason I've learned to re-love the mega-dungeon sandbox. I love when things go in an unexpected direction and surprise me.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Combats have to take long if there are twenty or so more combatants in it!
So that's the part where the slog can be unfun. I use gang rules (there is another thread on this where folks have provided some great ideas for this). I find it allows interesting tactical challenges but speeds things up. Using a VTT can help as well.

Gang rules work better with non-magic users though. As a DM having to run a group of magic users tactically, buffing each other, debuffing the PCs, remembering reactions for counterspell and shield, etc., is a real workout.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I run hour to hour and a half-long combats that are super dynamic, many moving pieces, lots of story twists happening inside of them, and so on. I don't do this all the time but, it is my preferred as a DM, and all of my groups seem to love it as well. I have lots of things I do to make combat enjoyable that whole time though, so it isn't just all standing and attacking.
This is something that I'm trying to improve on. Finding ways to work in story twists in a long combat can really enhance long combats.

Using morale rules can help with this. Timed events also. What are some examples of story twists that you've used in long combats that you have found work well?
 

This is something that I'm trying to improve on. Finding ways to work in story twists in a long combat can really enhance long combats.

Using morale rules can help with this. Timed events also. What are some examples of story twists that you've used in long combats that you have found work well?
Its a trap! is my favorite. Basically, the fight was a distraction or to lure them into something worse, and then they have to fight their way back or otherwise handle the problem from where they're at.

I always have a "environment change" mid-way through my longer combats. It'll move upwards, to a new plane, new part of the dungeon, out of city -> into city, etc etc. Arena changes have been the biggest thing for me, as well as various bloodied mechanics.

Narratively, having McGuffins change hands during the combat, clocks running where an NPC might die, and just attempting to survive a natural disaster while fighting have been other things I've used; less "hardcore narrative" and more "evolution of scene to new scene" and so on.

Other favorite was during a party-wide assassination attempt. The PCs think they are the ones being chased, but its actually another NPC in the outpost they were in. Halfway through the combat, a player triggered a double-sword effect where all attack rolls hit within a mile (spicy!) and have vision of all targets...all the enemies now had a way to kill the NPC they were after. Fun stuff!
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Yeah, the its a trap is great. With high level players, the big bad, if truly bad, isn't going to just have a large number of mooks thinking it is really going to save him from a powerful party. But he could use it to slow the party down. Get them focused on the battle and then drop/torch the entire lot, PCs and minions alike. Then when the minions realize what just happened, the PCs may be finding themselves having to work with the folks they were just fighting to find a way to survive. Esp. with a timed event, like the room closing off and filling with poison. If they continue to fight, they will all die. If they work together they may have a chance to survive.
 

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