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D&D 4E How to speed up combat?

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I’m looking for suggestions on how to speed up combat in D&D4E.

I need mechanical fixes and game system changes that will make things go faster, not suggestions about timers at the table or other social fixes.

I’m aware of the common refrain of x2 damage 1/2 hit points. It’s not enough. I’m also aware of the MM3 and MV math fixes at the end of 4E’s life cycle. That’s not enough.

One thought I had was bringing in B/X morale checks. Make morale checks at first personal hit taken, on bloodied, first combat death, etc, but still rewarding XP for defeating any monsters who broke and ran.

I’ve seen a few suggestions about making combat into a skill challenge, but I’m not really sure how that would work. Anyone have thoughts on how to pull that off? And would it be satisfying?

So beyond the common responses, what suggestions do people have for mechanically speeding up combat in 4E?
 
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DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
Don't have the party level up. Keeping everyone at 1st level means less powers for players to agonize over, and much smaller numbers for attacks, damage, AC and hit points to get through (and yes, I'm being serious here-- the higher the levels of everyone, the more crap there is to fight and work through.)

That, and only play with a party of 4 PCs. Every PC over 4 is going add exponential time to every combat because you're going to have more and more powers that trigger healing surges, thereby ruining any progress you have made towards ending combat. The fewer the PCs, the less HP gets regained, and the faster the combats end.
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
I tend to play 4e with only PHB 1-2-3, OR Essentials only, and not feats, to keep the character rather simple. With those restrictions, its pretty hard to create a character with 10 different reactions/interrupts/minor actions every turns. It does speed up a lot the game when compared to when I was younger and playing with every published stuff allowed.

I also think that using an informal Morale system would be great and just generally remember that no combat needs to be ''to the death'', most mercenaries or guard or brigand would probably surrender when blood starts to flow (aka bloodied).

I also ask my players to keep track of the Conditions/Buff/Debuff 1) on their characters and 2) that they inflicted on a character, to share the workload a little.

On the meta side, I ask my players to go easy on summons or zones, but they are more rare in the PHBs, so that's never been to much of a problem.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Low level combat is very fast. The problem is that you have a bunch of unique powers, and they are applicable to most situations. When you combine that with a battlefield that is fairly dynamic, you get a lot of evaluting done on each person's turn. Every campaign, especially by when we hit paragon, we had large of a list of powers that needed to be individually evaluated and combat would slow. And a shift in locations of foes and/or allies from those right before you in the initiative order means that pre-planning was only of limited use.

A potentially reasonable solution it to play Essentials classes only. They don't really have that issue.

One small thing we did - for the game where others would run your character if you weren't there we made "monster" versions of characters that were dirt simple to run, and we used those instead of real sheets. More DM work after every level up, but not knowing someone's powers and trying to run them effectively in paragon was just slow.
 

Reduce all damage calculations to static values. This may be a little complicated for stuff like Brutal weapons, but Anydice is your friend there. Crits are already maximized, so taking average damage makes crits roughly double damage (less for characters with lots of static modifiers).

Make some attacks do minimum damage, but auto-hit. That skips an entire step of checking if something actually happened or not.

Pre-roll saving throws for every monster (and potentially every PC) before you start combat and write them down. Since they're just d20 checks, they're simple and this can save time.

Limit players to no more than 1 immediate action power, 1 reaction power, and (if you like) 1 interrupt power. Never use interrupts or off-turn actions for anything other than solos.

Use more action-denial status effects. If a combatant simply can't act, that's time saved.

Use mass damage rules and the Escalation Die from 13A. That is, let damage overflow from one weak monster to another for area attacks. More kills = faster combat. Likewise, the Escalation Die is a huge way to accelerate combats that have run longer than intended. More hits means more kills means faster combats. (If you're unfamiliar, you place a single d6 in a visible spot on the second turn of combat, with the one-pip face up. Turn it to the two-pip face next turn, and likewise advance it for each subsequent turn, assuming the fight actually does change and advance. PCs, and certain scary opponents like dragons, add the Escalation Die to their hit rolls.)

You should already be using judgment calls on enemy morale IMO. No need for checks, unless you're REALLY unsure if a certain event would make enemies flee or surrender. Always end combats ASAP (unless a player is having serious fun ending the fight) when it's clear one side has lost. Either just say the party has won (or lost), or let them narrate the final blows, or whatever--disengage the combat mechanics.

And, frankly? Have fewer combats. Allow and encourage the party in finding nonviolent solutions. Let them play enemies off one another so they fight reduced forces. Turn minor or ongoing violent scenarios into Skill Challenges. Provide retainers that can deal with lesser foes while the party focuses on the bigger picture. A fight you didn't actually do is an enormous amount of time saved.
 

Done today, I would probably steal 13th Age's escalation die:

The escalation die represents a bonus to attacks as the fight goes on.

At the start of the second round, the GM sets the escalation die at 1. Each PC gains a bonus to attack rolls equal to the current value on the escalation die. Each round, the escalation die advances by +1, to a maximum of +6.

Monsters and NPCs do not add the escalation die bonus to their attacks

If the GM judges that the characters are avoiding conflict rather than bringing the fight to the bad guys, the escalation die doesn’t advance. If combat virtually ceases, the escalation die resets to 0.


You can easily modify it to apply to both sides, or simplify it to a fixed +2.

As for what we actually did, most of our changes we actually tried were social or structural. We introduced rules to speed up the game in roughly this order:
  • Roll attack and damage dice together
  • NPCs always dealt average damage
  • One player tracks initiative instead of the DM
  • One player tracks NPC damage instead of the DM
  • All NPCs act simultaneously
  • Players had to be ready to act immediately on their turn or they got skipped
  • Players had 1 minute to resolve their turn
The other thing we considered but never attempted was fixing hp, attack bonus, defense bonus, and damage rolls to level 8 par or so, which is where things felt about right. That... may be a lot of work, however.

By the end, the combats were running quickly... but the game felt like a business meeting and was about as fun. We had successfully removed all the fun from the game. We did not play 4e much longer. The last combat we played involved 6 PCs and about 10 NPCs, all of which had auras and reactions.

I was kinda hoping for ideas that we didn't have, because I miss 4e sometimes.

And, frankly? Have fewer combats.

I'm reminded of Arin Hanson's Sequelitis video about Ocarina of Time. "You should never, ever get to the point where you say, 'Eh, I'll check that room later,' in a game about checking rooms."

Combat is front and center in 4e. Combat is the Cadillac on the showroom turntable. If you're playing 4e over any other edition of the game, it's going to be because you like the combat rules. Simply put, there isn't anything else truly compelling about 4e.

You should never, ever be thinking, "Eh, I should run fewer combat encounters," in a game about running combat encounters.
 

I’m looking for suggestions on how to speed up combat in D&D4E.

I need mechanical fixes and game system changes that will make things go faster, not suggestions about timers at the table or other social fixes.

I’m aware of the common refrain of x2 damage 1/2 hit points. It’s not enough. I’m also aware of the MM3 and MV math fixes at the end of 4E’s life cycle. That’s not enough.

One thought I had was bringing in B/X morale checks. Make morale checks at first personal hit taken, on bloodied, first combat death, etc, but still rewarding XP for defeating any monsters who broke and ran.

I’ve seen a few suggestions about making combat into a skill challenge, but I’m not really sure how that would work. Anyone have thoughts on how to pull that off? And would it be satisfying?

So beyond the common responses, what suggestions do people have for mechanically speeding up combat in 4E?
It isn't about changing rules and whatnot. 4e is REALLY an action adventure game. Make combats that are much more than about hacking on things, and it isn't a problem. A 'combat' in my game is like 'Ride the log flume down into the sawmill, swing into the building on ropes, and stop the big bad from cutting the girl in half.' Killing is kind of incidental (though there was plenty of that). Another time the PCs fought goblins which had a 'wrecking machine' which was just an old mining golem, which went berserk and started smashing all the support beams. After the mine started to cave in there was another sequence where the party jumped into a mining cart. The goblins followed on another cart, and they raced along trading shots for a while and flipping switches until the goblins finally got switched onto the track that lead to the giant pit. After that the party escaped, narrowly.

Nothing is ever 'slow' in these types of encounters. They need not be QUITE that crazy amusement park ride either to make it work. The other part of the formula is to just make the combat so darned interesting, with great characters and plot, and lots of ups and downs, such that nobody cares if it takes two hours because it IS the story! Think about how action movies work, its the same sort of formula. There's a bunch of boring stuff and blah blah, maybe a research montage or whatever, some brief travel montages, and then BAM! Just keep moving to the BAM! This is actually straight out of the 4e DMG, except people didn't really take it literally and go full tilt with it, and learn that this is 4e's bread and butter. No other game does it better. Forget math fixes, they're irrelevant!
 

Unwise

Adventurer
I feel like 4E was hardmode on GMs. Every combat encounter is a setpiece. To work well the terrain always has something interesting, like rickety bridges, or lava flows, or gravity wells or something. All the monsters have differences and special things, controller/defender/lurker etc, AND the objectives are often also complex, e.g. stop the ritual before the rift is complete.

These make for great setpieces, but 4E struggles outside of epic setpieces.

As has been said, the 1/2 HP thing is pretty common and is rather needed at higher levels. I also have most NPCs do extra damage when bloodied, to make up for the action economy issues of enemies dying.

One practical tip is that if a player interrupts to use a reaction, they have to use it. They use it immediately or lose it. No umming and ahhhing over it. If the reaction does not work in that situation or work the way they thought, tough, they lose it for interrupting. Some of my players would stop every single action to tell the table what they 'might' or 'could' do about it.
 

Horwath

Hero
have all attacks deal max damage. crit doubles that, miss halves that. If miss already does half damage make it do 3/4.

Do not ban feats, but encourage players that most of the feats they take are "passives". Just boost to existing numbers, not any new powers.
 

I feel like 4E was hardmode on GMs. Every combat encounter is a setpiece. To work well the terrain always has something interesting, like rickety bridges, or lava flows, or gravity wells or something. All the monsters have differences and special things, controller/defender/lurker etc, AND the objectives are often also complex, e.g. stop the ritual before the rift is complete.

These make for great setpieces, but 4E struggles outside of epic setpieces.

As has been said, the 1/2 HP thing is pretty common and is rather needed at higher levels. I also have most NPCs do extra damage when bloodied, to make up for the action economy issues of enemies dying.

One practical tip is that if a player interrupts to use a reaction, they have to use it. They use it immediately or lose it. No umming and ahhhing over it. If the reaction does not work in that situation or work the way they thought, tough, they lose it for interrupting. Some of my players would stop every single action to tell the table what they 'might' or 'could' do about it.
Why would have encounters which are not interesting plot points? Again, study action movies of all sorts. Yes, there may be scenes which include some incidental action; the hero takes out a couple minion guards in the courtyard, etc. but those really need not be run as encounters. They can simply be narration, or if there's some interesting and challenging aspect to them maybe all/part of a Skill Challenge.

DMG1 says it outright "skip to the good stuff." and several other analogous statements. 4e is not made for running long sequences of 'filler' where you have to battle the orcs in room 27 to get to room 34 and battle more orcs just to get to run 82 where you find 5 more orcs and some terrain, etc. etc. etc. This was the whole problem with KotS, and what made it a crap adventure.

Organization is another thing that is really rewarded in 4e, on the part of the players mostly, but the GM needs to be fairly organized as well. Everyone should have power cards, just do it. Write them by hand, buy them (I think that is impossible now) or find a template and print some up. It really isn't that hard, and 'condition cards' are not a bad idea either. When the game moves along, then everyone stays engaged and play is quite quick. It is when Sue is off in the bathroom and Joe is getting a drink, and Fred does something, and then Greg says "wait, Sue could Interrupt that" etc. etc. etc. Now someone else wanders off while you wait.

I hear you in terms of making people take their decisions quickly and all, but you have to make sure they have the tools to reliably make good ones, otherwise players will become frustrated when they are rushed into triggering something and it was useless and they lost it.

Frankly I think 4e is a very easy game to GM, it does require thinking up action sequences, but there is such a vast repertoire out there in movies to inspire you! Not every one needs to be an epic scene either. You should also be ready to improvise. If stuff bogs down suddenly, then foreshadow the arrival of reinforcements or something, make the players push! I think it is also OK to just kill or surrender a monster where the conclusion is inevitable and nothing more interesting is going to happen. It is rare, but it happens. Thing is, there's a formula for play, there's a VAST array of stat blocks, they are easy to reskin/modify, and you can add traps, terrain powers, etc. to make things even more exciting. It is a very easy game to run on-the-fly with little prep.

Also, use MM3 grade monsters. MM1 and even MM2 monsters are often clunkers. There are many good ones, but it is harder to tell. At least go through them and make sure they will work how you want.

If 4e is 'hard' for anyone, it is the players. OTOH they have a very rich repertoire of 'stuff' to hook onto on their characters to tell a good story. So it may demand them to be a bit on their toes in combat, and want to really go for the gusto, but it rewards them with lots of "aha, THAT is the new power I got because I made that pact!" and whatnot. Look up some of @pemerton's descriptions of play. He shows how to do some really fun stuff, like extrapolating existing mechanics through page 42 and things like that.
 

meltdownpass

Explorer
I feel like 4E was hardmode on GMs. Every combat encounter is a setpiece. To work well the terrain always has something interesting, like rickety bridges, or lava flows, or gravity wells or something. All the monsters have differences and special things, controller/defender/lurker etc, AND the objectives are often also complex, e.g. stop the ritual before the rift is complete.

These make for great setpieces, but 4E struggles outside of epic setpieces.

As has been said, the 1/2 HP thing is pretty common and is rather needed at higher levels. I also have most NPCs do extra damage when bloodied, to make up for the action economy issues of enemies dying.

One practical tip is that if a player interrupts to use a reaction, they have to use it. They use it immediately or lose it. No umming and ahhhing over it. If the reaction does not work in that situation or work the way they thought, tough, they lose it for interrupting. Some of my players would stop every single action to tell the table what they 'might' or 'could' do about it.
I agree with this. 4E lends itself to really fun and dynamic battlefields. I also tend to think that, like most miniatures wargames (because, IMO 4E is a tabletop miniatures wargame) -- You want to avoid having the game be "Fight until every last enemy is cleared off the board." It's a good idea to think about most fights as having objectives other than "Exterminate."
  • FantasyKingdom is under attack! Blow the horns on the towers to alert the people before the Orcs can destroy the horns & succeed at their sneak attack!
  • Your ship is being grappled by the Kraken! Distract the Kraken long enough so the crew can unfurl the mainsail and get away!
  • ImportantNPC is being kidnapped! Keep enemies pinned down so they realize they can't take him & flee!
  • Villain is going to complete his dark ritual! Destroy the artifacts powering his ritual before it completes and he summons BigBad!
  • The reinforcement guards will arrive soon! Get the key information and escape before they arrive!
  • Volcano is erupting! Get out of there before the magma flows or falling rocks kill everyone!
You ideally want to encourage players to do things like, "I topple this brazer on the enemies, dealing fire damage" or, "I swing from the tapestry to breach the gap." This can seem like a lot to keep track of, but IMO with 4E the math of the rules are fairly easy to understand so it's simple to build up a library of terrain features and non-standard action ideas and have them on-call.

At its best, the easy-to-understand math of the 4E system empowers a GM to let a player say, "I grab a beer mug and smash the drunk Orc over the head" and the GM can easily adjudicate this does Level/PowerAppropriate effect for the action, without missing a beat. Unfortunately the way 4E is often run is, "You can't do that because it's not a power on your sheet."
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
It isn't about changing rules and whatnot. 4e is REALLY an action adventure game. Make combats that are much more than about hacking on things, and it isn't a problem. A 'combat' in my game is like 'Ride the log flume down into the sawmill, swing into the building on ropes, and stop the big bad from cutting the girl in half.' Killing is kind of incidental (though there was plenty of that). Another time the PCs fought goblins which had a 'wrecking machine' which was just an old mining golem, which went berserk and started smashing all the support beams. After the mine started to cave in there was another sequence where the party jumped into a mining cart. The goblins followed on another cart, and they raced along trading shots for a while and flipping switches until the goblins finally got switched onto the track that lead to the giant pit. After that the party escaped, narrowly.

Nothing is ever 'slow' in these types of encounters. They need not be QUITE that crazy amusement park ride either to make it work. The other part of the formula is to just make the combat so darned interesting, with great characters and plot, and lots of ups and downs, such that nobody cares if it takes two hours because it IS the story! Think about how action movies work, its the same sort of formula. There's a bunch of boring stuff and blah blah, maybe a research montage or whatever, some brief travel montages, and then BAM! Just keep moving to the BAM! This is actually straight out of the 4e DMG, except people didn't really take it literally and go full tilt with it, and learn that this is 4e's bread and butter. No other game does it better. Forget math fixes, they're irrelevant!
So your advice on how to make combat take less time is to make combat take all the time.
Why would have encounters which are not interesting plot points? Again, study action movies of all sorts. Yes, there may be scenes which include some incidental action; the hero takes out a couple minion guards in the courtyard, etc. but those really need not be run as encounters. They can simply be narration, or if there's some interesting and challenging aspect to them maybe all/part of a Skill Challenge.

DMG1 says it outright "skip to the good stuff." and several other analogous statements. 4e is not made for running long sequences of 'filler' where you have to battle the orcs in room 27 to get to room 34 and battle more orcs just to get to run 82 where you find 5 more orcs and some terrain, etc. etc. etc. This was the whole problem with KotS, and what made it a crap adventure.

Organization is another thing that is really rewarded in 4e, on the part of the players mostly, but the GM needs to be fairly organized as well. Everyone should have power cards, just do it. Write them by hand, buy them (I think that is impossible now) or find a template and print some up. It really isn't that hard, and 'condition cards' are not a bad idea either. When the game moves along, then everyone stays engaged and play is quite quick. It is when Sue is off in the bathroom and Joe is getting a drink, and Fred does something, and then Greg says "wait, Sue could Interrupt that" etc. etc. etc. Now someone else wanders off while you wait.

I hear you in terms of making people take their decisions quickly and all, but you have to make sure they have the tools to reliably make good ones, otherwise players will become frustrated when they are rushed into triggering something and it was useless and they lost it.

Frankly I think 4e is a very easy game to GM, it does require thinking up action sequences, but there is such a vast repertoire out there in movies to inspire you! Not every one needs to be an epic scene either. You should also be ready to improvise. If stuff bogs down suddenly, then foreshadow the arrival of reinforcements or something, make the players push! I think it is also OK to just kill or surrender a monster where the conclusion is inevitable and nothing more interesting is going to happen. It is rare, but it happens. Thing is, there's a formula for play, there's a VAST array of stat blocks, they are easy to reskin/modify, and you can add traps, terrain powers, etc. to make things even more exciting. It is a very easy game to run on-the-fly with little prep.

Also, use MM3 grade monsters. MM1 and even MM2 monsters are often clunkers. There are many good ones, but it is harder to tell. At least go through them and make sure they will work how you want.

If 4e is 'hard' for anyone, it is the players. OTOH they have a very rich repertoire of 'stuff' to hook onto on their characters to tell a good story. So it may demand them to be a bit on their toes in combat, and want to really go for the gusto, but it rewards them with lots of "aha, THAT is the new power I got because I made that pact!" and whatnot. Look up some of @pemerton's descriptions of play. He shows how to do some really fun stuff, like extrapolating existing mechanics through page 42 and things like that.
The non-combat “filler” is the main reason some of us play.
 

I’m looking for suggestions on how to speed up combat in D&D4E.

I need mechanical fixes and game system changes that will make things go faster, not suggestions about timers at the table or other social fixes.

I’m aware of the common refrain of x2 damage 1/2 hit points. It’s not enough. I’m also aware of the MM3 and MV math fixes at the end of 4E’s life cycle. That’s not enough.

One thought I had was bringing in B/X morale checks. Make morale checks at first personal hit taken, on bloodied, first combat death, etc, but still rewarding XP for defeating any monsters who broke and ran.

I’ve seen a few suggestions about making combat into a skill challenge, but I’m not really sure how that would work. Anyone have thoughts on how to pull that off? And would it be satisfying?

So beyond the common responses, what suggestions do people have for mechanically speeding up combat in 4E?

Use only monsters from Monster Manual 3, Monster Vault and later. Earlier monsters tended to have higher hit points, higher defenses and lower attack damage.

Control splats. It's hard to do this due to the Character Builder. Beyond the PH1, many of the newer classes were not balanced. Frequently they were weaker than the core four plus warlord. Sometimes they are much weaker (one of the Forgotten Realms bladesingers, for instance, which didn't seem to know if it was a controller or melee striker). There was lots of Dragon Magazine material that could make characters tougher (again, the Character Builder made it harder to keep this stuff out of the game).

And an unusual situation with psions. I want to like psions but I've given up on D&D psions. It's always experimental in a way that drives GMs nuts, even though in 3.5 and 4e they were reasonably balanced for the most part. The 4e telepath has a power called Dishearten, which could inflict a -2 penalty to hit in a small area burst. You could spend two power points (the equivalent of an encounter power) to pump it up, inflicting a larger penalty (based on your Charisma) in that burst. A 7th-level psion would have 6 power points (IIRC) and so could pop that power three times per encounter. Sure, they had to give up using other "encounter" powers to do so, but so what? This power was powerful, grindy, and boring, and suited PCs whose players were very afraid of their character dying. Also, a battle typically didn't last more than three or four rounds anyway, so watch those monsters whiff for most of that time. At least a wizard with an overpowered encounter power was only going to use said power once per combat.

All those interrupts, etc. By the time you got to paragon level, rounds could become very long as opportunity attacks provoked interrupts on that attack, which provoked an interrupt to raise your AC so that attack might not get interrupted, etc. Bloat meant that 4e gradually became less simple. Again, the Character Builder made this difficult to control. Pathfinder came out around the same time. Sure there were character builders but my group never used them. But when it came to 4e, I was the only person who got to play without using the builder.

Roll your d20 and damage dice simultaneously. I've used the same thing in Pathfinder, where my brawler routinely gets four attacks per round. (He can get a full attack on a charge, so it comes up a lot!)
 

So your advice on how to make combat take less time is to make combat take all the time.

The non-combat “filler” is the main reason some of us play.
I wasn't saying anything really about non-combat being 'filler'. I was saying there are a lot of combats in bog standard "maze full of rooms with monsters" D&D which are filler. They don't contribute to excitement or plot, so they should be elided in some way.
Now, this may or may not also apply to some kinds of non-combat 'stuff', but that is more up to the participants as to which things they want to focus on there. I mentioned travel montages and research montages, DMG2 discusses this sort of stuff. However, they COULD be parts of SCs. Obviously a dangerous journey can be a whole adventure too, it really depends on what you want to focus on.

And this is where we start to get outside the realm of what traditional D&D even knows how to talk about. That is we get into the area of narrative play, of concepts like "play to find out" and framing scenes around what the players want to focus on. You won't find a lot of advice or game structure in 4e which is really aimed at this, though there are a few bits. I would point to Quests and Wish Lists as two areas where players are asked explicitly (or suggestions are made if you prefer) on direct player input to game content. You might also include slightly less direct things like PC build choices (picking the ED 'demigod' says something for example).

If you look at how other games, like PbtA flavors handle this you can see some more rigorous principles and techniques being explicated. I would advise emulating the spirit of something like Dungeon World in terms of constantly moving things forward, create momentum and tension, etc. 4e is much better at handling these techniques than 5e is, for example.

@meltdownpass has a good point, which is that 4e is pretty good at nearly guaranteeing comprehensible odds and predictable ranges of outcomes for player decisions. This encourages the players to move forward and take risks. They understand the relationship between what they are risking and what they are likely to achieve. Elements like treasure parcels play into this (rewards are predictable). Also the SC system itself is a significantly important part of this, as it guarantees that a fixed number of successes WILL produce achievement of a goal. In a game like 5e there is no such guarantee, the GM could simply present any arbitrary number of hoops for the PC to jump through by making checks before the goal is reached. All of these things help produce a game of forward momentum. It lets you play the odds in an intelligent way, like a football coach plays the odds when he decides it is time to pass on 4th down, or not.
 

Teemu

Adventurer
You could remove action points from PCs. That should also speed up combat. Only one immediate action power per PC (after level 1 so defenders keep their starting kit). Fewer monsters but still no more than 3 levels above the party, and give them static damage boosts to compensate for the threat level reduction. No circumstancial feats for the PCs (gain +whatever when attacking enemies with condition x or y, etc.).
 

MwaO

Explorer
Give a +2 to hit on your next attack roll if you get your turn done in under a set amount of time. A minute is good.
No chaining immediates or OAs — if something provokes from you and you slide it next to another MBA person, they don't get an MBA also. Or if you do an immediate forcing someone to attack you instead of someone with say Battle Awareness, they don't get to interrupt their attack with Battle Awareness. The exception is Defender class features, because that's very cool to see.
 

meltdownpass

Explorer
I wasn't saying anything really about non-combat being 'filler'. I was saying there are a lot of combats in bog standard "maze full of rooms with monsters" D&D which are filler. They don't contribute to excitement or plot, so they should be elided in some way.
Now, this may or may not also apply to some kinds of non-combat 'stuff', but that is more up to the participants as to which things they want to focus on there. I mentioned travel montages and research montages, DMG2 discusses this sort of stuff. However, they COULD be parts of SCs. Obviously a dangerous journey can be a whole adventure too, it really depends on what you want to focus on.

And this is where we start to get outside the realm of what traditional D&D even knows how to talk about. That is we get into the area of narrative play, of concepts like "play to find out" and framing scenes around what the players want to focus on. You won't find a lot of advice or game structure in 4e which is really aimed at this, though there are a few bits. I would point to Quests and Wish Lists as two areas where players are asked explicitly (or suggestions are made if you prefer) on direct player input to game content. You might also include slightly less direct things like PC build choices (picking the ED 'demigod' says something for example).

To pile on here, it's actually more of the D&D trope that running through a dungeon and clearing room-by-room that is the drag. Playing 4E with the expectation that your player-characters move on a grid, roll a d20 Perception check on every tile, kill every monster, will obviously result in a bogged-down experience.

I'd definitely admit that I'd like to have seen 4E do a better job of trying to communicate and structure more narrative play -- But you can do a lot of cool things if you correctly structure & encourage players.

Looking at something like "Skill Challenges" -- These should have probably been more appropriately called, "Scene Challenges" to try to encourage players to think about them as specific scenes where things happen. Although my regular group isn't a huge fan of FATE as a game unto itself, some FATE / other narrative-focused mechanics could be really well used in something like this.
  • Create a scene: "Your adventuring party opens the doors to the ancient crypt..."
  • Ask players: "Your party is now exploring the crypts. If you successfully progress this scene, you will progress your <Quest>. Tell me some challenges you encounter in the scene, and how you attempt to overcome them."
  • Wizard: "As we delve into the crypt, I notice some ancient writings on the wall. I want to roll <Lore> to see if I can decipher them."
  • Fighter: "A giant venomous spider attacks us! I want to light a torch and drive it back! I'll roll <Intimidate> to see if I can drive it back into the shadows."
  • etc.
One of the problems my group always had with "Skill Challenges" as presented in 4E books and 4E adventures is that they are usually presented as pass/fail obstacles. "There is a giant rock in the way of the plot. Tell me how you move it with 15 different skills."Players didn't generally have narrative control, but giving them some narrative control is actually essential to getting players engaged.

Meanwhile, to the point of this thread, you can use a scene challenge to present aspects of adventuring (trap encounters, fights with 3 goblins and an orc, puzzles, dialogues, etc) without breaking into high-resolution turn-by-turn 4E combat. The 4E combat system is something that is more for climactic fights where there are meaningful stakes. If a fight is just, "You open the door to Room 27-B," then concluding the fight with just one, or a couple, of dice rolls is entirely appropriate and fine.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I wasn't saying anything really about non-combat being 'filler'. I was saying there are a lot of combats in bog standard "maze full of rooms with monsters" D&D which are filler. They don't contribute to excitement or plot, so they should be elided in some way.
Now, this may or may not also apply to some kinds of non-combat 'stuff', but that is more up to the participants as to which things they want to focus on there. I mentioned travel montages and research montages, DMG2 discusses this sort of stuff. However, they COULD be parts of SCs. Obviously a dangerous journey can be a whole adventure too, it really depends on what you want to focus on.
I was taking you at face value when you were saying skip to the good stuff and embrace that 4E is designed to be an action thrill ride of big set-piece battles. Combat is the least interesting thing about playing D&D. Especially when the results are so boringly predictable. For me, skipping to the good stuff would mean skipping the combat entirely. Hence the question about how to speed up combat in 4E so we can skip to the interesting bits, i.e. the non-combat stuff.
 

To pile on here, it's actually more of the D&D trope that running through a dungeon and clearing room-by-room that is the drag. Playing 4E with the expectation that your player-characters move on a grid, roll a d20 Perception check on every tile, kill every monster, will obviously result in a bogged-down experience.

I'd definitely admit that I'd like to have seen 4E do a better job of trying to communicate and structure more narrative play -- But you can do a lot of cool things if you correctly structure & encourage players.

Looking at something like "Skill Challenges" -- These should have probably been more appropriately called, "Scene Challenges" to try to encourage players to think about them as specific scenes where things happen. Although my regular group isn't a huge fan of FATE as a game unto itself, some FATE / other narrative-focused mechanics could be really well used in something like this.
  • Create a scene: "Your adventuring party opens the doors to the ancient crypt..."
  • Ask players: "Your party is now exploring the crypts. If you successfully progress this scene, you will progress your <Quest>. Tell me some challenges you encounter in the scene, and how you attempt to overcome them."
  • Wizard: "As we delve into the crypt, I notice some ancient writings on the wall. I want to roll <Lore> to see if I can decipher them."
  • Fighter: "A giant venomous spider attacks us! I want to light a torch and drive it back! I'll roll <Intimidate> to see if I can drive it back into the shadows."
  • etc.
One of the problems my group always had with "Skill Challenges" as presented in 4E books and 4E adventures is that they are usually presented as pass/fail obstacles. "There is a giant rock in the way of the plot. Tell me how you move it with 15 different skills."Players didn't generally have narrative control, but giving them some narrative control is actually essential to getting players engaged.

Meanwhile, to the point of this thread, you can use a scene challenge to present aspects of adventuring (trap encounters, fights with 3 goblins and an orc, puzzles, dialogues, etc) without breaking into high-resolution turn-by-turn 4E combat. The 4E combat system is something that is more for climactic fights where there are meaningful stakes. If a fight is just, "You open the door to Room 27-B," then concluding the fight with just one, or a couple, of dice rolls is entirely appropriate and fine.
Right. I tend to play in a bit more of a 'Dungeon World-esque' fashion where the GM is the one deciding the details of the threat, at least at the "here's what is in this scene" level. The fighter maybe has made it clear he hates and loathes giant spiders and has a personal quest to wipe them out wherever he finds them. Well, guess what he finds! :) Note that 4e provides Quest as a thing, but also I'm sure there are backgrounds, feats, PPs, etc. that all say, or can be flavored to say, "give me giant spiders."

SCs, as described in the DMG2, should never ever be static things like "there's a rock in the way." Frankly I wouldn't even make that a Skill/Ability check, since failure isn't interesting. In DW parlance it is more of a 'soft move' like "Bad News, the passage ahead is partly blocked, it will take a while to clear, and in the meantime your torches are burning and you are boxed in if anything comes up behind you." Obviously you can apply this as an ELEMENT of an SC, it is perfectly fine there. So your 'traverse the crypt' is perfect here, not withstanding a few differences in how we frame things. 4e sticks to the traditional concepts here, in theory, which is one of the reasons it is a bit of an oddball transitional game.

Anyway, many people have suggested 'better' SC-like mechanics, such as clocks and whatnot ala BitD. 4e however does lack some of the detailed check mechanics of BitD, so I'm not sure that is something that can just be dropped in.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
To pile on here, it's actually more of the D&D trope that running through a dungeon and clearing room-by-room that is the drag. Playing 4E with the expectation that your player-characters move on a grid, roll a d20 Perception check on every tile, kill every monster, will obviously result in a bogged-down experience.

I'd definitely admit that I'd like to have seen 4E do a better job of trying to communicate and structure more narrative play -- But you can do a lot of cool things if you correctly structure & encourage players.

Looking at something like "Skill Challenges" -- These should have probably been more appropriately called, "Scene Challenges" to try to encourage players to think about them as specific scenes where things happen. Although my regular group isn't a huge fan of FATE as a game unto itself, some FATE / other narrative-focused mechanics could be really well used in something like this.
  • Create a scene: "Your adventuring party opens the doors to the ancient crypt..."
  • Ask players: "Your party is now exploring the crypts. If you successfully progress this scene, you will progress your <Quest>. Tell me some challenges you encounter in the scene, and how you attempt to overcome them."
  • Wizard: "As we delve into the crypt, I notice some ancient writings on the wall. I want to roll <Lore> to see if I can decipher them."
  • Fighter: "A giant venomous spider attacks us! I want to light a torch and drive it back! I'll roll <Intimidate> to see if I can drive it back into the shadows."
  • etc.
One of the problems my group always had with "Skill Challenges" as presented in 4E books and 4E adventures is that they are usually presented as pass/fail obstacles. "There is a giant rock in the way of the plot. Tell me how you move it with 15 different skills."Players didn't generally have narrative control, but giving them some narrative control is actually essential to getting players engaged.

Meanwhile, to the point of this thread, you can use a scene challenge to present aspects of adventuring (trap encounters, fights with 3 goblins and an orc, puzzles, dialogues, etc) without breaking into high-resolution turn-by-turn 4E combat. The 4E combat system is something that is more for climactic fights where there are meaningful stakes. If a fight is just, "You open the door to Room 27-B," then concluding the fight with just one, or a couple, of dice rolls is entirely appropriate and fine.
Yeah, I’ve found that to be true as well. More player input and looser, more more narrative skill challenges work better. Though I’m not sure I’d get buy in if I handed them so much control thry get to decide what they encounter. Though it’s definitely worth a try. Sticking with that idea, combat as skill challenge, would that be satisfying in play? How would you handle resource loss or failing the roll? Combine them? Have the obstacle get worse on a failed roll?
 

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