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D&D 5E What does 5E do well?

Normally I would just let this go but since we all seem to be making a big deal about this.

If I assume a 5 person party, with an equivalent 5 monster party fighting them....which is a good solid "normal" 4e fight. That means that every single person here.....including the dumb as rocks brute monster that literally has 1 attack.....takes a full 6 minutes to perform their action.

How does it take 6 minutes for a creature to make an attack, roll some damage dice, and add them up?

I could respect one of your players having analysis paralysis (we've all been there), or having a really complex power and maybe taking 6 minutes, maybe even 10. But every....single.....creature on the board taking that long every....single.....time?

I could absolutely believe it takes an hour to finish a combat, I can absolutely believe two hours. But an hour for just a round....I'm sorry but that really seems like an exaggeration to me....or you are running a lot more PCs and monsters on average than I noted above.
I think he was probably unlucky for it to be that bad, but I did see 4E frequently stretch on for ludicrous amounts of time once you got into the teens and especially with a larger party. We have six PCs, like fifteen monsters/NPCs, in a level 14 fight and it took two sessions to resolve, and I doubt there were more than 9-10 rounds in there. Sure it was a pivotal fight but it wasn't two sessions pivotal (they were short sessions, maybe 3 hours of actual play). If things ran a bit slower...
 

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Now that's interesting, because this is where I'd give the system an A: the skill resolution system is fast and loose, and in my experience produces great results even when everyone involved is tired and a little tipsy. Elegant and robust.
You could point a gun at my head, @Parmandur, and I wouldn't agree, in 2021 lol. I've played so many games with such good skill resolution systems, including better "fast and loose" ones, that it is never going to get respect from me there. No guidance, high RNG, many DMs become catastrophists, and the whole thing often isn't even fun.

It's basically DM fiat. You got a good to great DM? Skills going to work good to great. You got a normal or inexperienced DM? Ehhhh it's not going to be pretty.

In like 1990, I would have been like "THANK GOD FOR 5E!" skill-wise, and in 2000 I'd have been "Well it's a hell of a lot better than 3E!" so there's that.

I think you're coasting on a good DM and a great group there :) But what do I know, right? Honestly. Not everything lol.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I believe you Oofta, to be clear, and you know I'm a 4E fan.

I think taking an hour per round is probably towards "extremely unlucky" end of the scale in terms of PC/monster numbers, but taking WAY TOO FREAKIN' LONG? That was common once you got into the teen-levels in 4E.

So I believe you and sympathize with your position. I loved 4E, but we changed to Dungeon World when the PCs were all like level 14 or 15 or so and a combat was taking 1-2 hours, or 3 hours, instead of, say, 30-40 minutes. We were also working hard at speeding things up - not criticising you here btw, we were going above and beyond - we have really well-used initiative cards, we used a whiteboard to track stuff AND a battlemap AND counters for stuff - everything we could come up with to make it go faster.

And it still bogged down in the mid-teens. It was as you were saying, all the complex interactions that did it. Reactions leading to Interrupts leading to Immediate Actions. People moving around in initiative. Working out the full impacts of some highly complex ability involving damage, CC, and area denial, and so on.

Now we saw somewhat similar issues with 3.XE/PF, but with a different root cause - i.e. when people got to the 5-10 range and Feats and PrCs and obscure rules and stuff started to pile up, and the at like 7+ magic got more and more powerful and complex to adjudicate, and we saw longer combat rounds at lower levels than 4E. But we never saw rounds as very long as we ultimately saw in 4E.

The worst we ever saw was Champions: The New Millennium (a version of Champions which ran on R Talsorian's FUZION engine), where 3 minutes of in-game interaction and combat between like 4 PC heroes and 5 NPC villains took over 5 hours to resolve. We never played it again lol.
It may have been an unlucky combination of players, and LFR mods that was written by a guy who seemed to not really like 4E and did everything to simply f*** over the PCs and nullify all abilities. Also remember, this was epic level play, so levels 20-30. You start dealing with some crazy stuff and a ton of things to track. Again, I see why people enjoyed 4E. It ended up not being my cup of tea but in heroic tier it could be fun. It started to drag in paragon. Epic levels? Epic was when we hit the hour long turns on a regular basis.

For 3.5 at levels above around level 14 it was simpler. Bunch of people went did whatever they did and then the optimized cleric or wizard went. After at most 10 minutes all the monsters were gone. :p

Playing level 20 in 5E is pretty gonzo, but it can be fun if you put some effort into it. The hardest thing is to make it engaging and dynamic, but I think that's true of all editions and a separate thread.
 

My take on the length of combat in 4e (at endgame in particular) was that it was the combination of some/all the below:

* GMs spending Encounter Budget poorly. You should be spending a hefty chunk of the EB on Hazards that must be navigated. They help fortify Team NPC positions and PCs can be force moved into them (and vice versa). There should always be Minions as well. These two EB approaches create dynamism, decrease overall HPs to ablate, and create asymmetric problem solving for the PCs and stunting opportunities.

* Have alternative Win Cons that aren’t “get rid of all Team monster HPs.” Rescue NPC and get them out of there, transit the crumbling bridge, get the thing and get out, defeat the ritual, close the portal, etc.

* Just too many damn people. My games were always either 3 PCs or 2 PCs + Companion Character. Our rounds were inside a minutes a Turn for PCs and probably 1.5 minutes for me (at most). So you’re talking 6 minutes per round top end when you include Off Turn actions and interactions.

* Analysis Paralysis. These players (a) shouldn’t have ANY off turn actions and (b) if the 1 minute Eggshell timer goes off, there is a “script” (like a board game monster) that they do.


—————

All told, our fights were 5-8 rounds, so 30-48 minutes (probably averaging 6.5 rounds so a bit under 40 minutes). Our sessions were 4 hours. Scenes were typically 3:2 Skill Challenges to Combat. A Skill Challenge Scene would take 20ish minutes. Typically we’d get in around 2-3 Combats and 4-5 Skill Challenges (about 6-7 scenes) with the rest of the time being set-up, interludes, and post-session conversation about what just happened (DW End of Session equivalent where we went over Quests and XP).
 

* Just too many damn people. My games were always either 3 PCs or 2 PCs + Companion Character. Our rounds were inside a minutes a Turn for PCs and probably 1.5 minutes for me (at most). So you’re talking 6 minutes per round top end when you include Off Turn actions and interactions.
I think this is probably the biggest factor though the others definitely do matter.

When we had sessions with 2-3 players, and commensurately lower numbers of NPCs for balanced encounters, things didn't drag nearly as much. It's kind of multiplicative effective, not quite but it's beyond linear, because as you get more players and more monsters you get more buffs, more debuffs, more area denial, more zones, more initiative movement, more Reactions, more Interrupts, more Immediate Actions. When we had six or even seven players, well... It did feel pretty epic at least.

Notably too one player running 4 PCs and coordinating them is drastically faster than 4 players running 4 PCs in 4E, I speak from experience! It's a bigger difference than most editions.
* Analysis Paralysis. These players (a) shouldn’t have ANY off turn actions and (b) if the 1 minute Eggshell timer goes off, there is a “script” (like a board game monster) that they do.
I didn't find analysis paralysis was at all the problem with out-of-turn actions, myself. In-turn actions were occasionally the victim of that, but the sort of people who got paralyzed usually just forgot they even had out-of-turn ones. Rather it was stuff like move-countermove and people tracking all the buffs and debuffs and conditions and so on that were flying around.
 

I didn't find analysis paralysis was at all the problem with out-of-turn actions, myself. In-turn actions were occasionally the victim of that, but the sort of people who got paralyzed usually just forgot they even had out-of-turn ones. Rather it was stuff like move-countermove and people tracking all the buffs and debuffs and conditions and so on that were flying around.

I think this is the other knock-on effect of what I mentioned in the first * above.

A battlefield that features tons of Hazards and interesting Terrain encourages people to take Powers with Movement and Forced Movement Riders (get in an out of trouble abc put bad guys into Hazards/Terrains) rather than constant Condition Affliction!

My last 1-30 game featured a Bladesinger, Rogue Duelist and Swarm Druid so it was heavy on the movement/forced movement/self-buff riders and abilities.

But they did, of course, have Conditions (as well as the bad guys and Hazards). We used color-coded rubber bands for that and that lowered the cognitive load.

Honestly, at the end of our play, our 4e combat was faster than plenty of other rules light combats (because of execution efficiency and the time it can take to navigate Theatre of Mind orientation questions and then go through your cognitive loop).
 

Tatical play requires understanding mechanics and tatics. If you can't process those concepts quickly, then it will be slow.
Maybe just not interested in learning and engaging those mechanics. Maybe the juice was not worth the squeeze for you.
Every group I played with, and I played with several since coordinated or helped coordinate a couple of game days in a major metro area, had the same experience.
I had similar experiences as you, Oofta. Maybe a pool of about 40 people, including 5 PHDs, with a collective several hundred years of RPG and wargaming experience and amongst them at the absolute fastest combat rounds took about an hour. This is with several small groups of course.

I have posted many times, on several different forums for people to show these expedited combats that are talked about. I have asked for people to video a combat, at tenth level, for any edition of D&D 3.5 and up, that runs quickly (30 minutes). I have never had a taker. Not one. (I have had many people just tell me that they do it, and I can accept their word as truth.) I have been to convention after convention (GenCon, GaryCon, OrcCon, StrategiCon, etc.) and have never seen a table playing above 5th level able to have a 30 minute battle.
The point is, I have tried to look specifically for this holy grail because there are many that say they do this, and I would like to run my games that way. I think it is better for the story. So I want to learn. But, it does not seem to exist. There are threads all over the place about ways to decrease combat time. Yet, even with those implemented, at 10th level, all newer editions are slugs.
If I am wrong, please please please tape your next session and show me how it is done. I want to learn. But after 15 years of trying find the grail, it seems that it does not exist.
 
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overgeeked

B/X Known World
I have posted many times, on several different forums for people to show these expedited combats that are talked about. I have asked for people to video a combat, at tenth level, for any edition of D&D 3.5 and up, that runs quickly (30 minutes). I have never had a taker. Not one. (I have had many people just tell me that they do it, and I can accept their word as truth.) I have been to convention after convention (GenCon, GaryCon, OrcCon, StrategiCon, etc.) and have never seen a table playing above 5th level able to have a 30 minute battle.
The point is, I have tried to look specifically looked for this holy grail because there are many that say they do this, and I would like to run my games that way. I think it is better for the story. So I want to learn. But, it does not seem to exist. There are threads all over the place about ways to decrease combat time. Yet, even with those implemented, at 10th level, all newer editions are slugs.
If I am wrong, please please please tape your next session and show me how it is done. I want to learn. But after 15 years of trying find the grail, it seems that it does not exist.
That seems like an oddly specific bar. Any reason why 30 minutes for a level 10 fight? Is it just an arbitrary pick?

Any effect in the game that controls, removes, or otherwise disables a creature can lead to incredibly quick fights in 5E. Especially when it’s a group vs a solo monster if they don’t have legendaries. Even with, a group burning legendary resistances then going to control or polymorph the enemy can be very fast combats.

The lost common response I see is people saying to have alternate win conditions instead of a straight fight to the death. That can help a lot, too.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
My take on the length of combat in 4e (at endgame in particular) was that it was the combination of some/all the below:

* GMs spending Encounter Budget poorly. You should be spending a hefty chunk of the EB on Hazards that must be navigated. They help fortify Team NPC positions and PCs can be force moved into them (and vice versa). There should always be Minions as well. These two EB approaches create dynamism, decrease overall HPs to ablate, and create asymmetric problem solving for the PCs and stunting opportunities.

* Have alternative Win Cons that aren’t “get rid of all Team monster HPs.” Rescue NPC and get them out of there, transit the crumbling bridge, get the thing and get out, defeat the ritual, close the portal, etc.

* Just too many damn people. My games were always either 3 PCs or 2 PCs + Companion Character. Our rounds were inside a minutes a Turn for PCs and probably 1.5 minutes for me (at most). So you’re talking 6 minutes per round top end when you include Off Turn actions and interactions.

* Analysis Paralysis. These players (a) shouldn’t have ANY off turn actions and (b) if the 1 minute Eggshell timer goes off, there is a “script” (like a board game monster) that they do.


—————

All told, our fights were 5-8 rounds, so 30-48 minutes (probably averaging 6.5 rounds so a bit under 40 minutes). Our sessions were 4 hours. Scenes were typically 3:2 Skill Challenges to Combat. A Skill Challenge Scene would take 20ish minutes. Typically we’d get in around 2-3 Combats and 4-5 Skill Challenges (about 6-7 scenes) with the rest of the time being set-up, interludes, and post-session conversation about what just happened (DW End of Session equivalent where we went over Quests and XP).

There are things you can do to speed up combat of course like rolling all your dice at once (I have color coded sets) or using averages but it's very dependent on version of the game and the PC build. We did use color coded tokens (along with a key), minis and so on. We still use minis and a handful of tokens for things like who's concentrating on what spell or if we have ongoing effects like poison or blindness.

Especially in 4E, at higher levels I feel like every additional person at the table can add exponentially to the time it takes to resolve a round. Depends on builds and scenarios of course. Personally I never manage to have less than 6 people. I'd love to lower it to a 4 person party, but people ask if a friend or sibling can join and next thing I know I'm back up to 6. Maybe I should just work on being a bad DM? ;)
 

There are things you can do to speed up combat of course like rolling all your dice at once (I have color coded sets) or using averages but it's very dependent on version of the game and the PC build. We did use color coded tokens (along with a key), minis and so on. We still use minis and a handful of tokens for things like who's concentrating on what spell or if we have ongoing effects like poison or blindness.

Especially in 4E, at higher levels I feel like every additional person at the table can add exponentially to the time it takes to resolve a round. Depends on builds and scenarios of course. Personally I never manage to have less than 6 people. I'd love to lower it to a 4 person party, but people ask if a friend or sibling can join and next thing I know I'm back up to 6. Maybe I should just work on being a bad DM? ;)

Honestly, I won't GM for more than 3 people anymore. 2-3 for me is the sweet spot of almost any TTRGP experience. Anything more than that and all sorts of problems can (and often do) arise.

Like you (and @Ruin Explorer ) mentioned, intricate combat (eg 4e) is especially sensitive to increase in numbers (exponentially so). 2-3 people brings the right alchemy of diverse input, pace of play, thematic coherency/focus in my opinion. Go beyond that and you're asking for trouble. Honestly, the only sort of game where that probably isn't true is a Horror genre game like Dread or Paranoia. Dread is probably the only game where something like 4-5 people is better than 2-3 people (because it makes things scarier and more "red shirt-ey" for each participant playing in Dread and more shenanigan-ey in Paranoia).
 

I have posted many times, on several different forums for people to show these expedited combats that are talked about. I have asked for people to video a combat, at tenth level, for any edition of D&D 3.5 and up, that runs quickly (30 minutes). I have never had a taker. Not one. (I have had many people just tell me that they do it, and I can accept their word as truth.) I have been to convention after convention (GenCon, GaryCon, OrcCon, StrategiCon, etc.) and have never seen a table playing above 5th level able to have a 30 minute battle.
The point is, I have tried to look specifically looked for this holy grail because there are many that say they do this, and I would like to run my games that way. I think it is better for the story. So I want to learn. But, it does not seem to exist. There are threads all over the place about ways to decrease combat time. Yet, even with those implemented, at 10th level, all newer editions are slugs.
If I am wrong, please please please tape your next session and show me how it is done. I want to learn. But after 15 years of trying find the grail, it seems that it does not exist.

I had single combats that took whole 4 hour sessions. The bridge fight in Red Hand of Doom can take a long time. Five PCs at level 5 versus a dragon, nine hobgoblins, and two Hell Hounds. That's about a CR 10.

The only stories I heard of fast high level combat is when a wizard kills a BBEG during round one with a spell :p
 

That seems like an oddly specific bar. Any reason why 30 minutes for a level 10 fight? Is it just an arbitrary pick?

Any effect in the game that controls, removes, or otherwise disables a creature can lead to incredibly quick fights in 5E. Especially when it’s a group vs a solo monster if they don’t have legendaries. Even with, a group burning legendary resistances then going to control or polymorph the enemy can be very fast combats.

The lost common response I see is people saying to have alternate win conditions instead of a straight fight to the death. That can help a lot, too.
When I say it, I do not mean for it to be that specific. 40 minutes, sure, I will take it. 45 minutes, okay, I guess. But the point of the time is simply to state: show me a combat that is quick, ie. around thirty minutes.

Spoiler - It never happens.

I can concur with others in saying that 4e is hyper-prone to player numbers increasing combat time by very large amounts. 4 players, which for the last 15 years for me, is the rarest of rarest magical tables. 3 would be a dream.

And you are right, there are the exceptions in combat. No doubt. I have seen a few, been part of a few, and DM'd a few. That said, they are the exception. If the players and DM like strategy, then more often than not, the DM changes the variables in an encounter to help give it some nuance and/or fun quirk. That often boils down to not allowing the players to use the same trick over and over again.

Even when using an AP, combat takes a while. We are playing Chult right now, and faced some velociraptor style dinos and one big guy named King of Feathers (He was very cool). Five players, sixth level, all experienced, big damage dealers, and it still took us one and a half hours.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
I had single combats that took whole 4 hour sessions. The bridge fight in Red Hand of Doom can take a long time. Five PCs at level 5 versus a dragon, nine hobgoblins, and two Hell Hounds. That's about a CR 10.

The only stories I heard of fast high level combat is when a wizard kills a BBEG during round one with a spell :p
Yeah, this was my experience as well. The longest fights in D&D that I've ever experienced were in 3.x. We had a few high level combats go most of a 6-8 hour session (each) iirc.

It think 4e combat might have been a bit slower than 3e at lower levels, but IME it was a bit faster at higher levels. I'd say 5e probably averages the fastest encounters out of the three, at least at my table.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I think you're coasting on a good DM and a great group there :) But what do I know, right? Honestly. Not everything lol.
It has been my experience that the tables that work, work because the group at that table have the ability to make it work. No matter the system. System is secondary in RPG.

5e is great if you like the mythic-medieval mosaic that it presents, sophisticated D&D mechanics, and expansive character development arcs. I've played campaigns of 70+ contiguous sessions with characters levelling 1-15 and the system has opened up more to characters all the way through. Few other games are even close, in blending streamlined rules with long mechanical character-development arcs.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
...
The only stories I heard of fast high level combat is when a wizard kills a BBEG during round one with a spell :p
Back in LG (3.5) days, one of the authors of mods (these were specific to the living campaign) would sometimes request that I be part of the group that helped test the mod before it was released to make sure everything was clear and that the encounters were relatively evenly balanced. Unfortunately I'd almost always find a way to get to or take out the BBEG, typically in the first round or two.

I'm not sure it was a good thing, because the BBEG just got progressively more difficult. :rolleyes:
 

It has been my experience that the tables that work, work because the group at that table have the ability to make it work. No matter the system. System is secondary in RPG.
It's definitely secondary, but a bad enough or incompatible enough system can cause a good group who have worked well for years to throw up their hands in disgust, and a really good system can make them better than they thought they could be. My main group has been together for 30+ years, and we've played a ridiculous number of systems. Some we've loved, some we've hated, some we've thought were merely okay. To be honest even when I was done with 4E due to the time taken, my group still wanted to play it. We played a hacked-together Cortex Prime thing I'd literally written up over the week tonight and it worked great! (I was doing a Mass Effect hack of my own devising, borrowing from Fate Accelerated and some other ME hacks, both Fate-based and Cortex Plus - not Prime - based).
Few other games are even close, in blending streamlined rules with long mechanical character-development arcs.
This is actually true and I should give D&D 5E a solid B maybe even B+ for this.

I think there are quite a number of places it falls down (particularly that some character classes get way more engaging development than others), stopping it getting an A, but it is good at this, better than most editions and certainly most games. One game I'd personally say is clearly better at the same thing is Earthdawn, but D&D definitely is doing job.

I actually think this is pretty important too because one thing a lot of more successful RPGs share is pretty good long-term character development, and one thing a lot of extremely well-designed but less-successful RPGs lack is that. Makes me hopeful for the long-term for RPGs like Spire and Heart, which have some really nice character development.
 

Sithlord

Adventurer
One thing that could speed up play. I learned this from a DM in the 80s when I first started playing. We all do this where I play locally. Although not in flgs unless I or one that learned under my DM or someone under him is that when it’s your turn you have 6 seconds to declare your action. If you have to look up a spell or monster in a book it doesn’t happen. You better have your spell on a spell card and know what it does. If you summon a creature you better have its stats ready or it doesn’t happen. If you are a fighter and can’t decide what maneuver. You better quickly say I hit it with my sword or whatever. Now we don’t have an exact timer. And you better have a pertinent question if u need a clarification. Our combats go pretty quickly. And people pay attention.
 

I have posted many times, on several different forums for people to show these expedited combats that are talked about. I have asked for people to video a combat, at tenth level, for any edition of D&D 3.5 and up, that runs quickly (30 minutes). I have never had a taker. Not one. (I have had many people just tell me that they do it, and I can accept their word as truth.) I have been to convention after convention (GenCon, GaryCon, OrcCon, StrategiCon, etc.) and have never seen a table playing above 5th level able to have a 30 minute battle.
The point is, I have tried to look specifically for this holy grail because there are many that say they do this, and I would like to run my games that way. I think it is better for the story. So I want to learn. But, it does not seem to exist. There are threads all over the place about ways to decrease combat time. Yet, even with those implemented, at 10th level, all newer editions are slugs.
If I am wrong, please please please tape your next session and show me how it is done. I want to learn. But after 15 years of trying find the grail, it seems that it does not exist.

I’m gonna need proof that you’ve asked multiple people to provide video of their fast combats.

😜
 

MerricB

Eternal Optimist
Supporter
My experience is that 3E took progressively longer as you gained levels, at least partly because there was so much fiddly maths involved. Between Power Attack, iterative attacks with different attack bonuses, and trying to work out what happened when Dispel Magic (or Mordenkainen's Disjunction) was cast, then combat around 12th level took a significant amount of time.

My last 3.5E session was one combat that had players pre-rolling their attacks on their computers just so we could get it done in time. The calculations were horrible.

Comparatively, 4E was fast at high levels. But I wasn't playing with optimisers who were doing their best to do a lot of out-of-round actions. (My main complaint with 4E combat was that every combat took an hour... even the ones that should have been 10 minutes). 4E's major problem isn't with resolving actions, it's with CHOOSING an action when the battlefield might change so much between turns.
 


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