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


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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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