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D&D 5E Is D&D combat fun?

(generally speaking) Is D&D combat in 5E "fun" ?


  • Total voters
    177

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
So I have seen twice in as many days, folks mention how "combat isn't that fun," which reinforced an occasional claim I have seen on these boards that confuses me, that combat is "a slog" or "a waste of time" (the latter usually going along with with discussion of random encounters or combats not directly related to achieving a narrative goal of an adventure).

So, I am asking: Do you find 5E combat fun? I allowed for four possible answers. I know some folks are absolutists, thus the raw yes/no responses - but understanding that even fun things can sometimes be unfun and unfun things occasionally turn out to be fun in certain circumstances, the "generally yes / generally no" responses is what I am most interested in. Yes it can depend on the DM, the specific scenario, the other players at the table, but generally. . .?

Personally, I LOVE combat. I am not a pure hack n' slash guy and definitely not a "optimization" guy though, because I like fights embedded in a narrative (even if that narrative is one that emerges after the fact) or within a context of relationships between and/or among those doing the fighting (including a potential environmental relationship). So while for me just a pure tactical skirmish game will occasionally scratch an itch, tactical combat in an interesting environment with some kind of RP stakes is my sweet spot, and it doesn't matter to me if it is a climactic battle with the BBEG at the end of a weeks long module or a random run in with bandits attacking a merchant caravan.

I do prefer combat with minis and a grid but have run and played in plenty of ToTM stuff.

When D&D combat is not fun for me, it is because it is a "Everyone lines up and fights" kind of combat or a combat where one or two optimized tactics are all that is needed to succeed and it goes on too long - though in generally I do like a longish combat (well, long by standards of what I gather other people think is long).

I think this question also influences people's thoughts on # of encounters per adventuring day thing. Some folks dread 6 or 8 encounters in a day because they dread most combat encounters. Some folks like them because they like kicking ass and taking names (or hightailing it, if necessary - "winning" is not a prerequisite for fun for me) and the system for doing that works for them.

So what say you? And I'd love more detailed thoughts about your answer in the comments.
 

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My opinion is that DnD combat is largely fun, with a few 'exceptions' (conditions that mess it up):

1. Some dm's are bad at running combat. Not really common, but if the dm doesn't like combat in general or hasn't read up on how to make fun combats, they can make boring ones. Most dm's will correct this over time, though.

2. Some otherwise good players can suck the fun out of combat - especially the ones who haven't / can't get a good grasp on the rules for their character. These players might still be great roleplayers (or otherwise great to have at the table).

3. 5e DnD combat is rarely great, and greatness comes from things beyond the rules. If you're into tactical combat games, it's not hard to find a better ttrpg for you than DnD 5e. Of course, better for you might be worse for someone else. But it it good, and good enough to be fairly engaging as part of a more complete ttrpg experience. If all you do is fight, it'll wear out somewhat quickly.

But these are really edge cases - inexperienced dm's and players are gonna mess up many things, but the sense of wonder tends to carry the game until people learn the system well enough to engage with it deeply. Or you learn how to shove past it, or you find a better system for your needs.
 

I was one of the people I think who said questioned whether combat is fun im 5e. I like tactical combat and I certainly think it can be fun! But as you mention, I think combat is more fun when some thought is put into creating potential encounters, rather than just rolling up 5 CR-appropriate medium encounters and putting them somewhere. For example, random encounter tables, as found in Xanather's, are a staple of dnd going back to early editions. However what's been lost is the whole procedure of dungeon crawling that contextualized their purpose (as something that should be avoided in a dungeon) and fast combat resolution, with relatively fewer choices for players, that made them not tedious. That's to say, "2d4 Grell" is not by itself an interesting encounter in 5e, for me.

I think we are generally in agreement, but some more thoughts on things that make combat interesting:

  • environments that include objects, varying terrain, natural constraints or edges, verticality, multiple exits--all of which can be leveraged by the players or enemies in creative ways
  • monsters who know what they are doing
  • multiple resolution possibilities: I try to think of how any encounter might be approached by the players using combat, stealth, or social engagement. Similarly, the resolution to an encounter can be either side running away, or a parlay.
  • a DM that keeps things moving
  • narrative stakes: this doesn't have to be the sworn enemy of the PCs or the mini-boss of a dungeon. Any encounter should tell the players something interesting about the world and give them clues that they can use going forward
  • combat as sport: interesting tactical combination of enemies
  • combat as war: ways for the players to approach combat in strategic, out of the box ways to stack things in their favor, or vice versa
  • dynamism: conditions and tactics that change round to round

Things that get in the way of combat being fun

  • random, "surprise" encounters where combat is the only path to resolution
  • medium difficulty encounters with high-HP monsters, where the outcome is evident from the start but resources need to be depleted
  • the vast array of abilities available to players leading to decision paralysis or confusion from players that don't know the rules as well (or rule look-ups for spells and such)
  • players who want "combat as performance"
  • multiple rounds in which tactics don't change
  • monsters and enemies that have boring attacks and abilities (i.e. most of them, as written)

Some of this is related to what people have been saying in the discussion on the fiction of dnd combat
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Maybe I'm lucky, or maybe I just have low expectations but I find D&D 5E combat fun. The times when it's a slog is so rare that I voted "yes" even though I have had bad combats.

I guess I just don't expect it to be something that it's not. If I want detailed turn-by-turn technical challenges, I'm not sure any version of D&D will do that. There are board games that give me that level of challenge if I want it. I have had combats that were a slog in previous editions, and some players can get too caught up in optimizing every roll of the die but other than that? I enjoy it, even if it's just because my PC is trash talking the monsters or whatever else combat-adjacent things are going on.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I have this chicken and egg thing where I know I am good with coming up with an interesting environment on the fly, even for a so-called random encounter in random travel though wilderness, where the layout of trees, gullies, stones, the road, maybe a stream or river, or whatever - but not sure if I developed that as a way to make interesting combat or because I can't help but do it, my combats are interesting. I am also very much about enemies that use cover or that behave in ways more varied than charge in and fight. Even "mindless" creatures working on instinct, will have fight patterns or hunt in a certain environment for a reason. And I can draw this all on a battlemat fairly quickly - adding verticality and hazards and such.

As such, I take it for granted that my combats will always have some unexpected and fun thing for the NPCs and/or the PCs to engage with - sometimes in ways I did not foresee! With that as my baseline combat experience (and playing in a game by a DM who was very good at this as well), it is hard for me to imagine combat as boring, static or repetitive, but every DM has their strengths and shortcomings.
 



niklinna

Looking for group
5E and PF2E both have an obsession with balanced action economy and restrictions that sap the fun out of combat for me, particularly with regard to pets and concentration mechanic. There are so many character abilities presented as "you can do this cool thing, except for this situation and that, and it doesn't work on X and Y" (see below). 5E's had a number of patches to how pets are handled, of course, but now that means there are many different kinds of pets with different rules for each, and it's a mess. Concentration is just an obviously slapdash gamist patch that makes sense for few spells. I conjure a wall of stone—it's not going anywhere, why should that require concentration? The hard limit of 1 concentration spell, and no way to push that via upcasting or accumulating penalties, also feels arbitrary. I've played games where you accumulate a penalty to further spells with each concentration spell you cast, and it's so much more fun (although those games can be just as arbitrary about which spells require concentration).

This is all on top of the base issue of waiting your turn, rolling the die, and having nothing at all happen, rather than an interesting failure or a qualified success, which several other games I play provide. Whiffing is all the worse when other players at the table take a long time to figure out what they're going to do—usually starting the process when their turn comes around, for some reason, rather than while everybody else is doing their thing—and of course not being familiar with the rules, with all their little exceptions and conditions on usability of abilities, compounds that (see above). Which, with the explosive popularity of 5E and online gaming in general, seems to happen much more often than in my earlier gaming days.

Which is itself on top of the issue that hacking at bags of hit points is boring. Injuries that have actual consequences are much more fun. And this is, admittedly, partly covered by conditions, but hit points are the fundamental mechanic by which "still standing" is measured.

A good group can mask any or all of these issues, but they have to be masked or worked around by some kind of active effort, in my perhaps-limited play experience with 5E.
 
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I said yes, but I agree it's very DM and group dependent. Our group has several DMs, all of whom are both experienced as DMs and with 5E. Our combats are almost never a slog, as we know how to make interesting encounters. Low level ones are trickier, but the higher threat of death keeps them interesting. Higher level monsters may have a lot of HP, but the damage they produce makes ending fights quickly a priority (burning resources). Most combats only last 3 rounds, taking about 5 minutes per round. Complicated combats, however, can take up to 10 minutes per round, lasting up to an hour (those can suck, especially if you get knocked out).

Random encounters are a double edged sword. In a game without xp, they serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever, merely slowing the game down. Even when used, they have to serve some purpose in the adventure. In one of our current games, we're exploring the undercity where we can run across several different random encounters. Each of these relate to part of the adventure, although they don't seem that way at first. Encountering them beforehand can serve as a hint to what's really going on, as well as preparing for those parts of the adventure. I also use random encounters in my megadungeon as a way to keep the party moving, since the longer they waste, the more enemies they'll face.
 




overgeeked

B/X Known World
Generally, no.

It can be fun, if:

1. encounters are not balanced;

2. some of the ideas from 4E are used (such as incorporating traps, skill challenges, and win conditions that don't involve simply murdering the other side);

3. you use things like reaction checks and morale checks to add variety;

4. and it's not a pointless slog that only exists to diminish the PCs' resources.
 
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Doug McCrae

Legend
I really enjoy the combat minigame in D&D 3e, 4e, and 5e. My enjoyment of it is similar to my enjoyment of cardgames, boardgames, and videogames.
 


AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
My table, like most, has a love-hate relationship with combat. It's awesome and fun when the players take down a big villain, it's epic and scary when the big villain manages to severely hurt/inconvenience the party, and it's incredibly cool when the players manage to roll critical hits, do a ton of damage, or use their spells in creative and effective ways. However, there is another side to the coin. Combat can be a boring slog when there's an ungodly amount of enemies, when you're just going through unimportant random encounters, or when the group is out of resources. It's hard to find a balance between the two, and everyone's bound to have an unfun combat every now and then.

Overall, I would say that combat in D&D is fun. It just depends on the situation.
 


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