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5E Resource-Draining Model D&D Doesn't Work (for me)

aco175

Explorer
Another option I have heard but rarely used is to skip all the little encounters and get to the bigger ones. You just say, "After several hours of battling minor skirmishes with goblins and the occasional bugbear you arrive at the main gates of The Castle of Arrrrrrrrgh. Everyone take 3d6 damage or cross off a spell for each d6 you wish to avoid." This skips a lot of little things and gives some resource drain. You could come up with a chart or such to detail exactly what is lost, but you also wish to keep things simple.

Another thing I do is have one of the players track initiative. It takes some work off the DM and speeds some up, but not much. The other thing I do is have the players roll damage on themselves. I roll to hit and tell them d6+2 or such and get to move on with the next attack. Some posters here say it is a bit cruel, but it works for my group. A last thing is I have the casters roll the saves when they cast spells. I just tell them the monster has +1 to dex or something.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
My recommendations in no particular order:

  • Skip the trivial fights. I don't bother with anything less than "medium" and, if I know I'm not going to get recommended number of encounters in I crank that up to "hard" or "deadly". Sometimes I'll ask for goal and approach to a scenario and just skip rolling dice.
  • Pre-draw maps, or don't use detailed maps. I made blocks out of clay (some 1 inch, some 2 inch square, some 3 inch square) and use those to represent everything from buildings to trees. I've never been good at theater of the mind, but it shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes to set up a fight.
  • I don't bother with PC mapping or detailed exploration. We only draw things out if it's confusing or there's a fight.
  • Depending on style of campaign and pace, go with the alternate rules where a short rest is overnight and a long rest is a week or more.
  • Carry over from one game to the next. There's no reason to say people have a long rest after the game session. Have people note HP, spell slots, conditions, etc at the end of the game. Next session picks up where you left off, even if that was in the middle of a dungeon.
 

dave2008

Adventurer
Herein is the problem (for me). My group gets together twice a month, if we're lucky. We get about 3 hours of "quality" time each session (after taking out breaks, snacks, general socializing, etc.) Knowing that the majority of our time is going to be spent with "another ho-hum goblin encounter that will only challenge us by spending a 1st level spell and a few arrows" or a trap that might do 1-6 hp of damage, it just doesn't seem a good way to spend time.

Any one else experiencing this? Any work-arounds?
Some work around options:

1) No combats. Focus on roleplaying, investigation, and skill challenges. Set up the events and then the next adventure can be combat heavy. Essentially avoid easy combats and focus on large dramatic combats every 2-3 sessions.

2) Streamline your turns. Simple encounters should take 5-10 min. IME. A simple encounter should take 2-3 rounds. No more than 30sec per player and DM gives you 6-7 minutes. That should be plenty of time for a simple encounter.

3) Feature deadly or 2x or 3x deadly encounters when you want / need a more engaging event.

4) Make the encounter mean something. Even a simple encounter can move the story forward. Even if the combat is over in 1 round, there are important things that can be learned or gained. Make it about something more than resource management.

5) Use active defense. Have the players roll for saves to avoid being hit instead of DM to hit. Makes things go a bit faster (or can) and keeps the players more engaged.

6) DM pre-rolls. I ran an adventure for my son's birthday party once and I knew we would be playing with a bunch of kids that hadn't played before. To save time I pre-rolled about 200 d20 rolls on a sheet of paper (I used a rolling app) an djust checked them off as I went. It worked great and I started using it for future games. For dramatic moments I still sometimes rolled out in the open, but other than that I used the chart.

7) Use average damage. Saves a lot of time as a DM.

8) Run away! Have enemies run when there down and out. You can morale back into the game if you don't like deciding on your own.

9) Maps. I am not sure how you are using them, but I almost always have them pre-printed or drawn and just reveal them as needed. I don't have the PCs make maps.
 

5ekyu

Explorer
Another option I have heard but rarely used is to skip all the little encounters and get to the bigger ones. You just say, "After several hours of battling minor skirmishes with goblins and the occasional bugbear you arrive at the main gates of The Castle of Arrrrrrrrgh. Everyone take 3d6 damage or cross off a spell for each d6 you wish to avoid." This skips a lot of little things and gives some resource drain. You could come up with a chart or such to detail exactly what is lost, but you also wish to keep things simple.

Another thing I do is have one of the players track initiative. It takes some work off the DM and speeds some up, but not much. The other thing I do is have the players roll damage on themselves. I roll to hit and tell them d6+2 or such and get to move on with the next attack. Some posters here say it is a bit cruel, but it works for my group. A last thing is I have the casters roll the saves when they cast spells. I just tell them the monster has +1 to dex or something.
I shifted to players making all tolls long shot in multiple systems and it has tended to speed things up.
 

dnd4vr

Explorer
One of the key mechanics of D&D over the years has been the idea of resource-draining encounters. You burn torches, you fire arrows, you lose hit points to swarms of mooks, you cast spells from encounter-to-encounter, you scrape by with just enough strength left in you to fight the Big Bad at the end of the dungeon. Or you camp in a "safe area," hoping your characters can recover their resources without random encounters that further drag out the game and spend more resources.

Herein is the problem (for me). My group gets together twice a month, if we're lucky. We get about 3 hours of "quality" time each session (after taking out breaks, snacks, general socializing, etc.) Knowing that the majority of our time is going to be spent with "another ho-hum goblin encounter that will only challenge us by spending a 1st level spell and a few arrows" or a trap that might do 1-6 hp of damage, it just doesn't seem a good way to spend time.

Any one else experiencing this? Any work-arounds?
First, I pity groups that meet infrequently for so little time. Our group plays twice a month (roughly), but our sessions are typically 12-15 hours so we can get a lot done.

I've never minded the resource-drain since that is how it works (you fire arrows, you lose some, you get some back, etc.), but game-time is one resource we hate getting drained.

We keep the socializing to the first 15-30 minutes, reviewing and updating characters and the current situation in the adventure all at the same time.

Some time-saving tips that work for us:
Roll Initiative only once or use side-based Initiative. Don't roll every round. The complexity it adds to the combat is not worth the time.
Use average damage for monsters, and even encourage the players to as well. Not rolling damage or having to calculate it each time saves tons of time and the game is just as much fun!
Use a morale system. If the players are steamrolling the encounter, the monsters should flee if they can IMO. Ex. Once we encountered a band of orcs and such and our half-orc called out to them to turn back or be destroyed. The Sorcerer then hit them with fireball, average damage (28) is nearly enough to kill an orc even if it saves. Several were killed, the rest fled immediately.

Easy encounters should go quickly (5-10 minutes max). If you have many foes (like dozens of stirges attacking a group of 7th-level characters) I suggest mob-style rules. The ones in the DMG work for us.
Otherwise, focus on narrating them and even award XP if you want, but stress medium or harder encounters. While you don't want every fight to be a knock-down-drag-out fight, those are the most exciting ones. Every once in a while, play out the easy encounters just to remind the players how powerful they are.

Moderate and hard encounters can vary from 5 minutes to 20-30 even IME. Deadly encounters can run an hour or more depending on the number of foes and the complexity of the set-up.
 

DM Dave1

Explorer
Other ideas to speed things up:
- draw your map(s) prior to the session (edit: looks like some people already mentioned this)
- roll initiative for monsters prior to the session
- roll initiative for PCs at the start of the session and then at the end of each combat so you have it ready when needed
- sometimes have what’s left of weak enemies run away or surrender when numbers are reduced by half or leader goes down
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad day
Any work-arounds?
The first work around is not bashing, just a truth: pick a different system that does not strongly have attrition required as a balance point in the game. There are a lot of great games out there, and finding one that fits your table is a good thing.

This really isn't a bash - I love 5e. I'm just not closed to other games to meet other needs.

A work around in 5e is to use one of the D&D variant to change the period of rests. If a short rest is overnight and a long rest is a week of down time, then your wearing down happens over a longer period of just meaningful encounters. Now, you may not get a long rest for several sessions - that's okay. I've run that and it works.

Oh, and for true trivial fights, ones that have to be there because it makes sense in the narrative but it's not going to eat up any long terms resources? Just montage them. Go around the table and have each player describe a cool thing they do in the battle to resolve it. 5 minutes tops, players get to have a bit of narrative control and everyone gets a minute of spotlight.

One thing that isn't a workaround is always throwing few, hard encounters. That's a recurring myth. There is a place for it, but not as a whole-campaign workaround because it doesn't work like that. There are a lot of long rest resources like spells that last for a full encounter, or have greater effect on either more enemies (area of effect spells) or more powerful enemies (crowd control - with only having 2 good saves of 6 you can still affect them even if more powerful). It also hurts short rest characters who if this was multiple encounters would have had a short rest int he middle and have their resources twice for it. It just plays havock with balance between the classes when used as the only model and a constant replacement for the design point.

Really, a good DM will vary up - sometimes throwing a few hard encounters, sometimes curb-stomp encounters a party ca really feel like heroes, some that they should consider running away from. Some adventuring "days" (weeks with that DMG variant) will be at the 6-8 recommend encounters, some less, and some more.

One fantastic memory I have as a player was we needed to hold off for a certain period of time and the DM pushed us past the end of our resources with a number of encounters. We got clever with consumables and such. Then another encounter and we really had to scrape the barrel to survive. And then a tough encounter, and we had such fear of death it was fantastic when we eventually triumphed. (D&D characters are hard to kill - you can push.)
 
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robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Other ideas to speed things up:
- draw your map(s) prior to the session (edit: looks like some people already mentioned this)
- roll initiative for monsters prior to the session
- roll initiative for PCs at the start of the session and then at the end of each combat so you have it ready when needed
- sometimes have what’s left of weak enemies run away or surrender when numbers are reduced by half or leader goes down
Also just use the average damage for NPC attacks unless it's a crit.
 

Flamestrike

Registered User
I've definitely had game sessions where, between RP and debating plans, there really wasn't time for more than one encounter.
Great, but long rest resources dont come back at the end of a session.

They come back once you've completed a long rest.

I know it's convenient to 'long rest at the end of a session' for many, but as long as your Players are accurately tracking resources (and you audit the suckers with a few questions at the start of the next session) it shouldnt be a problem.

-------------------------------------

OP: Its impossible to move away from DnD's central resource management mechanic. The whole rule system is (mechanically) a resource management game.

Hit points, Short rest abilities, Long rest abilities, Spell slots, Ki points, Rages, Smites, Superiority dice, Action surge, Wild shape, XP, GP, Charges, Sorcery points, potions, Hit Dice, Lay on Hands, etc etc etc etc. All finite daily resources.

Combat is fundamentally about hit point attrition (i.e. resource management). The best way to quickly reduce HP is to use finite X/ Short or Long rest abilities (action sure, Ki points, spell slots, sup dice, rage, smites etc) and once combat is over, those HP are regained by another finite resource (Hit dice, potions, Spells, LoH etc).

Players of course know this, and generally will (at every chance they get) attempt to recover those resources via Resting, which if left unchecked often ends up in the phenomenon called the '5 minute work day' where PCs Nova strike encounters, then fall back to rest and recover all resources.

The good DM polices this conduct via a combination of [doom clocks, 'random' encounters, a gentlemans agreement with the players, table etiquette, HR on resting, environmental constraints). The bad DM dials up encounter difficulty to match the power of the PCs (this only forces the PCs to Nova, entrenching the problem, and has other negative consequences on class and encounter balance, and greatly increases the chance of Rocket Tag TPK's).

Basically, there is no way around the issue if you're playing DnD. Mechanically it's a resource management system. If you want a resource free system (and there really arent any), I'd suggest looking at games like Savage Worlds or similar, where resource management is on the low end.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
Great, but long rest resources dont come back at the end of a session.

They come back once you've completed a long rest.

I know it's convenient to 'long rest at the end of a session' for many, but as long as your Players are accurately tracking resources (and you audit the suckers with a few questions at the start of the next session) it shouldnt be a problem.
I realize that. But the group in question is composed of six newbies. They still don't always successfully track their resources within a session; I have no faith that they'll track them beyond the session. Think me lazy if you wish, but I have no interest in doing all the work of tracking from week to week. Hence, the default for that campaign is that a week passes between sessions. They'll probably get there eventually, but they're not there yet. They waste a lot of time in debate. I could certainly step on it as a DM, set a timer, and fix the issue but this is a casual game with some guys from work. I'd rather they enjoy themselves (which they do) than optimize their fun into misery.

With my experienced group, I don't have the same issues. They can oftentimes get through four encounters in the same time it would take the other group to get through one (and that's with time saving tricks like using ToM).
 

Flamestrike

Registered User
I realize that. But the group in question is composed of six newbies. They still don't always successfully track their resources within a session; I have no faith that they'll track them beyond the session. Think me lazy if you wish, but I have no interest in doing all the work of tracking from week to week.
You cant manage that in game?

Like; get them to have a separate sheet of paper. On that sheet of paper resources are tracked. It looks something like this (Lets presume something complex like an 11th level MC character with a ton of resources - a 5th level Vengeance Paladin, 3rd level Battlemaster Fighter, 3rd Level Warlock; Vuman, Lucky feat, Rod of the Pact Keeper):

-----------------------------

Resource Tracker:

Long rest
Paladin Spell slots (1st): O O O O
Paladin Spell slots (2nd): O O
Hit Dice (d10): O O O O O O O O
Hit Dice (d8's): O O O
Luck points: O O O
Rod of the Pact Keeper: O

Lay on Hands: (25 points) Used: __________

Hit Points: (Max XXX) Current: ____________

Short rest:
Divine Channel: O
Oath of Enmity: O
Superiority dice: O O O O
Second Wind: O
Action Surge: O
Warlock slots (2nd): O O

----------------------

They just color in or tick the 'O's next to the ability when they use it. On a Short rest, they rub out the 'O's under the Short rest stuff. On a Long rest they do the same with Long rest stuff.

You can even write these trackers up yourself (takes literally 5 minutes per PC) and hand them out for them at the start of the session. Make them as fancy as you want (bonus points if you make them look pretty).

If you want to, you can also ask them to hand them over to you at the end of the session, just to keep them honest.

I do this with my players, and with my own PCs (it helps me keep track of stuff).
 

aco175

Explorer
I ran a weekly game for several players, but only some showed up each week. I made it so each adventure would have 3 encounters and be able to be played in 3 hours. The players did not know who would show up as a 4th or 5th player. 3 were faithful and a few were every other week or once a month. Each week the PCs would start in town having rested and at full HP. It worked well as long as all PC leveled at the same time, even though some players did not show up much.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Carry over from one game to the next. There's no reason to say people have a long rest after the game session. Have people note HP, spell slots, conditions, etc at the end of the game. Next session picks up where you left off, even if that was in the middle of a dungeon.
There's people out there who don't do this?
 

happyhermit

Explorer
There's people out there who don't do this?
This was one of those things I never would have guessed was a thing before reading forums. Decades of D&D and I never saw any reason to connect abilities recharging with end of sessions (in contrast to other systems with "session" or similar schedules). It would certainly make attrition (and cliffhangers) a lot different.
 

Jer

Explorer
Herein is the problem (for me). My group gets together twice a month, if we're lucky. We get about 3 hours of "quality" time each session (after taking out breaks, snacks, general socializing, etc.) Knowing that the majority of our time is going to be spent with "another ho-hum goblin encounter that will only challenge us by spending a 1st level spell and a few arrows" or a trap that might do 1-6 hp of damage, it just doesn't seem a good way to spend time.

Any one else experiencing this? Any work-arounds?
Yes. I've been experiencing this since I first started playing D&D, though I didn't realize it was actually a problem until I played other games and then went back to play D&D again when 3e dropped.

There is no single answer to this problem - when we run games with these kinds of limits we're basically trying to cram the round D&D peg into the square "3-4 hour time limit" hole. D&D just isn't built to be played this way - it's designed to be a resource attrition game and getting around that aspect of it lead to turning the game into something else - something that may or may not mesh well with the ideal version of D&D that your players have in their heads.

Some options are:

* Throw out the trivial combat encounters. Just remove them from the game. If you only have 3-4 hours to play and your group savors the tabletop combat game then every single combat you present should be a major event. In 5e terms, never give the players less than a Medium encounter difficulty and lean towards the Hard and Deadly ones. You can also string two Medium encounters together back-to-back to create the equivalent of a deadly encounter that is less deadly but can save you some time because you don't have to go through the "overhead" steps twice (i.e. map drawing, initiative rolls, etc.)

PROS: Every combat is exciting because every combat "matters", with only 3 hours of play time at least you know there will be one big event that grabs everyone's interest and holds their attention.

CONS: Every combat will be more deadly than average - I actually don't recommend doing this until you hit 5th level in 5e because you're likely to just slaughter your PCs. The Encounter math in 5e is just not great, so you have to design encounters by "feel", which means that you can easily misjudge how difficult you've made the encounter (either too easy or impossible are both concerning). The "feel" of your game will trend to high heroism - if your PCs are always facing difficult odds and winning it's impossible to run a "gritty" game (or at least it is for me - YMMV, and this may not be a "con" if that's the kind of game you want to run). You can't use published campaign adventures "as is" - you'll have to modify almost every encounter. You will likely want to have a short rest after every encounter and a long rest after 3-4 encounters instead of 6-8 (mostly because you're expecting your PCs to do twice as much work in each encounter, so they're going to need to rest after every one instead of after every-other one).

* Run trivial encounters in "Theater of the Mind" style. You can cut down on overhead even more if you're willing to run trivial encounters differently than standard ones. Don't draw a map and break out the minis, instead just run it descriptively. Use side based initiative and have the players go in decreasing initiative bonus order by default - so you have a fixed order and can get things going right from the start - but let them arrange their own actions to taste among themselves, then have the monsters go. Fixed order of action in combat can speed things up amazingly - a thing that I tend to forget when I'm away from non d20-based games for a while.

PROS: "Trivial" encounters are truly trivial in this system but still eat up the minimal resources they're supposed to. Published adventures can be used as is as long as you take the minimal effort to decide beforehand which encounters are trivial and which are not. With practice and buy-in from your players you can make these kinds of trivial encounters run in 5-10 minutes, saving more time for role playing interactions and the set piece encounters that are more exciting.

CONS: Some players balk at using two different sets of rules for combat - identifying some encounters as trivial and others as important strikes some players as an overt game mechanic making its way into their narrative. For others it's the reverse - it's an overt narrative structure worming it's way into their game. Regardless of the objection, they may not like it and prefer consistently boring combats over inconsistent mechanics. You have to figure out how to adjudicate combat theater of the mind style when the game rules all use hard distances and adjacency rules for things like opportunity attacks and then make sure you apply these rules consistently. As with the first option above, this can also make your game tend towards the "high heroic" because your PCs will be consistently wiping the floor with groups of mooks in very short combats.

* Instead of dropping trivial combats entirely or running them under different rules, merge multiple trivial combats together into one larger combat. You can't always get away with this, but like stringing two Medium combats together into one Deadly one, you can also string together 2-3 Easy combats to make one Medium or Hard one, or an Easy and a Medium one together to make a Hard one.

PROS: If you're using published adventures, this is often easier than it sounds - especially among older ones there are often clusters of rooms stocked with mook-level monsters (like goblins and orcs) that you may already be running like this anyway - just cast your gaze a little wider to look for other opportunities. If you're building your own adventures you can set your encounters up to come in waves like this from the get-go.

CONS: The same cons as the first option, only less so - there's less worry that you'll just outright slaughter your PCs, but the Encounter math in 5e makes it easy to make an encounter either more or less overwhelming than you intended it to be - especially after level 5 or so. You can't always make this work, and even if you could your combats would start to feel very "samey" as the players will be expecting you to pull the "wave of enemies" card over and over again.

* Reskin your trivial encounters to make them more interesting conceptually if not tactically. Take the stats that you have and make them something else that fits the theme of the adventure but isn't just "more orcs". For example, an orc warband in a demon-touched dungeon might become a pack of "rage demons" wandering the levels looking for victims to slaughter, in a haunted forest a group of ghouls might be reskinned as a pack of "ghoulish wolves", an ooze might be reimagined as a living spell that has physically manifested and is now absorbing whatever living things it can touch, etc. At least the players get the enjoyment of fighting something they've never fought before, even if the block of stats are numbers they've defeated hundreds of times.

PROS: Only limited by your imagination - a block of stats can become anything. Just describe the creature differently and you may even start having it behave differently tactically. Even if it is the same "trivial" combat it can feel more exciting if everyone thinks they're fighting something different. Easy to judge whether it's "balanced" or not because you know the players have fought this bag of stats multiple times and know how it went.

CONS: You know it's the same skeleton stats, even if you're describing it to the players as an army of clockwork constructs built by the Mad Artificer of Ludd - you may not get the same fun out of playing the same block of stats that the players might get from fighting it because of that knowledge (especially true if lightning doesn't strike and you can't figure out how to make it behave tactically different from the source creature). If your players find out what you're doing it may break the illusion - this trick relies on novelty, and if they figure out that the novelty is just a veneer, they may not get the excitement out of it. It's not easy to do this sort of thing with published adventures, unless you want to retheme the whole adventure (which I've done - it can be fun, but it's a lot of work). You are limited by your imagination, and if inspiration doesn't strike then you might not be able to come up with something more interesting that what you've already got.

Those are a few ideas I've used over the years. There's also some merit in the idea that some folks are suggesting that it might be time to look for a different game system - in my regular group we're using 13th Age which is still a d20-descendant, but has an explicit "high heroic" feel to it and so trivial encounters are discouraged and all of our combats are exciting ones (in fact I build all of my encounters to be what 5e would call "Deadly" - we typically play once per month for 4 hours and have 1-2 combats per session, so I know your pain).
 
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Tony Vargas

Adventurer
My group gets together twice a month, if we're lucky. We get about 3 hours of "quality" time each session … any one else experiencing this?
The campaign I'm running meets weekly, so not an issue; the one I play in has the same frequency as yours, but is 4e, so, again, not an issue - even if we have 'long rests' or just hard-resets because we missed a session or two, and have freshly-printed character sheets, between sessions, and thus 1-encounter days, it just means a harder encounter, we don't have any e-Classes, so everyone gets to 'bring it' with their best tricks when that happens.
Any work-arounds?
Sure. You can standardize on daily-heavy resource classes. Drop the Warlock, Monk and the various non-primary casters and the non-casters aside from the Barbarian (with potent, daily rage). Run single dialed-up encounters at each session, with long rests between most of them. The battles can be huge, dramatic, exciting, and you can re-set between them with impunity.
 

Xaelvaen

Explorer
DM Dave1 had some more great suggestions - I'll add a few tips in the same vein:

- draw your map(s) prior to the session (edit: looks like some people already mentioned this)
At home, I bought a fairly cheap digital projector from Amazon, and use Maptools (free VTT) to cast maps onto the tabletop, scaled so that players can still use their minis appropriately. This way, in between sessions, I can use digital software to draw my own maps, or grab any of the thousands of them out there.

- roll initiative for monsters prior to the session
- roll initiative for PCs at the start of the session and then at the end of each combat so you have it ready when needed
In FLGS games, I transitioned to a different kind of initiative altogether; player or monster with highest initiative modifier goes first. (Feel free to turn this into a roll, but I see little point in sticking someone with a roll of a 1 all night). After that turn, the player (or GM, respectively) simply chooses who goes next until everyone's had a turn. More player cooperation and planning, and you'd be surprised how often the monsters are not chosen to be last. It's a quicker way to create dynamic turns, than rolling initiative every round.

- sometimes have what’s left of weak enemies run away or surrender when numbers are reduced by half or leader goes down
Even if you don't want your monsters to run away, you can have easily-adjusted morale penalties so the players start killing even faster. A good place to start is reducing AC by 2 anytime the monster numbers are reduce in half, or their leader goes down.
 

Flamestrike

Registered User
Record resource usage on a sheet of paper.

Request that sheet be handed to you at the end of the session.

Problem solved.

I mean, your players should be recording resource usage as they go anyway. It's not like you're asking them to do anything special.
 

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