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Speeding up combat in 4e


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#1 PeterFdH

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Posted 30 January 2010 - 02:01 PM

Hi there,

Currently ploughing my way through KoTS but I still have a fair few episodes to go. Thanks for the podcasts - they're great fun.

Back in Edinburgh I play in a 4e game. We did KoTS and are now reaching the climax (I think) of Thunderspire.

Our party is level 7 and we have 5 PC's. The biggest issue with the game is how long combat is taking. Apart from that I think 4e is a huge leap forward from the broken mess that is 3.5 (I should know - I'm currently running a Kalamar 3.5 game).

Sooo - question is - Is there a way to speed up combat? We get through maybe 1-2 a night compared to 3-4 in 3.5...
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#2 Vaeron

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Posted 30 January 2010 - 05:16 PM

One way is to un-Elite monsters (with the downside of course that this would cut their experience reward in half). In many cases the only difference between an Elite and a normal monster is an ability or two... But with double the hitpoints. So most elites are actually no more difficult than an ordinary monster, they just take twice as long to kill. Also, at the time of Thunderspire elites and solos were getting bonuses to their defenses - something WotC has now identified as a design flaw and discontinued in their most recent products.

Encounters as written for the 4e modules have too many monsters in some occasions, or monsters too far above the players level with a few minions added to make up the experience difference.

So the best way to speed up encounters, in the Thunderspire era, would be subtracting 1 or 2 points from all elite defences and cutting their hitpoints in half. Or at least replacing them with a non-elite monster a level or two higher - who would have better attacks and the same defences but less hitpoints. Monsters that are higher level AND elite or solo are guaranteeing a prolonged combat of 1 or 2 hours. Identifying monsters that have ridiculously high defenses is also important - if the PCs can't hit them the fight will take forever. Monsters with the Soldier role tend to be big culprits.

Also, I've recently made the decision to remove minions from my game except for in situations where they actually add some important dynamic to the encounter.

Also, if some of the players are using cards for their powers, I've found that really slows things down as well. I haven't played with many people who actually use cards, but they invariably shuffle through them, re-organize them, look back through them, double-check the PHB to make sure they wrote it down right, and in general bring the game to a screeching halt. This might not be everyone's experience, but it's definitely mine!

Additionally, using color-coded tags of some sort to indicate marking, bloodied, or status conditions cuts down on having to remember. We use little colored rings that fit nicely on the minis arm/horn/head-parts. Yellow = marked, green = poisoned, red = bloodied, purple = slowed, etc.
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#3 JJames

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Posted 30 January 2010 - 06:23 PM

In my experience, having your players decide BEFORE their turn and roll their attacks and damage really speeds it up. Sure, sometimes they have to change their plans if the situation has changed by the time it's their turn, but it really helps. In my last game, those of us who "prerolled" averaged about 15 seconds for our combat turns, whereas the others in the group who didn't start deciding what to do until it actually was their turn ended up taking upwards of two to three minutes - really drove the DM crazy.
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#4 ScottS

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Posted 30 January 2010 - 10:24 PM

Reduce all monster hp, not just elites/solos. (I use x3/4 hp, x4/3 damage; supposedly some people use half hp, double damage. In either case, the goal is to leave "average encounter damage output" roughly the same, while fixing the grindfest and lack-of-danger-to-the-PCs issues.)

Edit out some of the "crowd control" abilities that WOTC seems to think are a totally cool and legit way of balancing monsters. (Pretty much if any creature you plan to use has an at-will daze ability, change it to some other effect like "grants CA", slow, etc.; otherwise you're making the fight longer and more annoying than it needs to be.)
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#5 PeterFdH

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 01:38 PM

Thanks everyone. I don't DM 4e (not yet anyway) so a lot of the stuff about monsters means little to me but I'll pass all this on to the DM.

Certainly think preparation is a biggie especially since combat is more tactical now than in the 'I hit it with my longsword' days.

We all play with laptops using the Wizards character generator so we don't use cards for our own powers as they are all there - the problem is that players forget status effects. So I created some cards to put down in front of them - better but people still forget from time to time.

The DM also keeps track of stuff on a laptop but I wonder whether I would use pencil and paper (radical idea I know!). I'd be interested in what other DM's do and which they find quicker.

Also, do you have a visual and open representation of the initiative sequence? Perhaps that would also help to warn players that their turn is coming up.
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#6 formenel

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 05:37 PM

Well,
For the speed nothing beats JJames's suggestion. Played through the Ultimate Dungeon Delve which was a timed event. Knowing what you were doing on your turn and rolling to hit and damage together were critical time-saving elements necessary for success.

For status indicators I use the same as Vaeron. The controllers used so many different status effects that I made up a prop-up card (with writing on both sides so I and the rest of the table can see it) that provides instant color-coded reference for what those little rings mean. Others have used the rings off plastic pop bottles, hair braid rings, or if you are willing to spend, little color-coded flags or magnetic bases in a variety of colors.

For the initiative tracking there is a Combat Pad out there that is designed for that purpose. Memory is imperfect but there may have been a podcast where such a pad was received as a present. I suspect there are other products aroud that also perform the same activity. Other options like a whiteboard and marker or squares of cardboard/business cards with character and monster names would also work.
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#7 PeterFdH

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Posted 05 February 2010 - 05:23 PM

I run my Kalamar 3.5e game this weekend and will make up my own initiative board so that people can have no excuse to know that their turn is coming up. Will see what happens...
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#8 ScottS

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Posted 05 February 2010 - 08:01 PM

If you use erasable mats then just write the initiative on the board where everyone can see it. (I use Megamats so I usually have the extra room. I also go a bit further in that I write all the monsters' damage tallies etc. directly on the mat in plain view, but that's more a matter of me not believing in "The Wall of Fear and Ignorance" as a way of giving myself a GM fudge factor.)
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#9 popper

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Posted 07 February 2010 - 03:21 AM

One of the really odd things about the 4e Dungeon Master’s guide is that it actually tells you to expect combat to last around an hour. What makes that so odd is that when 4e was initially announced among their complaints about the 3 era was that combat took too long. Now I’ve run 3 era for close to six years and in my experience combat tends to run over an hour under two situation: high level play (from about level 15 and up), and during combat with creatures of an ill formed challenge rating (the displacer beast).
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#10 Sniper_Snake

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Posted 08 February 2010 - 03:25 PM

Here are a few methods I use to speed up 4e DnD combat:

• I have my players add up their crit damage on powers before hand and mark it on their sheets.

• We use these card to track conditions: Print out multiple copies:
http://www.dragonave... ... 080616.pdf

• Roll hit and damage dice together.

• Don’t waste time looking up rules. If you can’t find it quickly, make as fair as of a call as you can. Look up the rule later, and know for next time.

• Prepare. Read your monster’s stat blocks and know what tactics you plan on using before the battle starts.

• Use hazardous terrain.

• Reward player creativity by providing ways for them to deal a lot of damage to monsters by thinking outside the box.

I’m very interested in any more suggestions any of you might have. My characters are level 23, we’ve run straight though from level 1!, and combat still takes forever…
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#11 The_Nalic

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Posted 13 February 2010 - 09:06 PM

boss fights go on way too long in 4th, by the time you've blown all your cool powers on the guy (i usually miss with em all) you've barely touched them, then it becomes a dull slog of at will's while you all stand around bored for the last 50% of his hp.

I am about to start up a game in the rpg society for 4 player group including mostly experienced 4th players but with one guy who is an absolute novice to all gaming (he's played on game of old WoD to date!) and an occasional visit by another with no 4th ed xp's. I am going to try and use condition cards and power cards, although in the past I have used my home-brew excel sheet to perform the same job as the cards (its easy to update on the fly and to see everything i needed at once).

At my old gaming group in worcester we used magnetic circular (but sorta thick too) tokens that stuck to the whiteboard we used as a gaming mat. Thus you could mark conditions with different colours, although there was a problem when you put the token the wrong way up near other tokenes and caused them all to ping around the board!

All in all i think the best way of speeding up fights especially at low levels is to get a leader or other class with buff (particularly to hit buffs) and a couple of decent damage dealers in the party. I'm really not sure wizards add much other than minion killing, so perhaps pointing out the sorcerer to a player as an alternative would help. (They have some control but much better damage in general, especially for 4 man team i think controller is the role you can most afford to ditch in favour of more damage). I think the damage dealers are the more exciting classes anyway i find most players gravitate towards em.

As an aside, how about cutting the number of combat encounters and instead replacing them with roleplay ones? they tend to take a bit less time and add variety. Make your own rp or even puzzles and tack them into the pre-written stuff instead of a dull encounter. Award xp for them, perhaps adding a rp xp award per session or adding in more minor goals that perhaps can only be achieved through these rp bits. I am adapting Kobold Hall as my first adventure, using all the combats but spacing them out into a 'proper' dungeon adding a roleplay encounter at start and end and trap encounters between in additional sections that link the published fight encounters, to add variety and xp's (i would like them to finish the hall at 2nd).
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#12 PeterFdH

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Posted 19 February 2010 - 05:58 PM

As an aside, how about cutting the number of combat encounters and instead replacing them with roleplay ones? they tend to take a bit less time and add variety.


Yes - we're still playing through Thundermountain and I think that this module and KOTS both suffer from too many combats and too few puzzles, roleplay situations and skill challenges to mix things up. I think that if I was DM then I'd do as you suggest.

I tried using cards that shows graphically who's turn it is and also underneath that status cards. Found that it did speed play up somewhat, however, we still only managed one fight over a 3 hour period + a bit of downtime. The fight did last around 10-11 rounds though.

My DM says he might switch things up by replacing some of the stated creatures with minions. What do you think?
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#13 The_Nalic

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Posted 20 February 2010 - 07:36 PM

i find killing minions very unsatisfying after a bit, expecially since any party worth its salt will fight in a choke point. This also is something the designed games seem to lack, they assume you will rush into an area rather than sticking near a door or other choke point. The penultimate fight in KOTS was a good example of this for my old group, we stuck in one rook and made them come to us, hence much of the hazardous terrain was negated along with being able to dish a couple of rounds of free ranged damage with our artillery characters (my warlock and the party wizard) before the fighters had to start taking damage. In addition once the enemies started piling in there was no way they could get to the squishies with a wall of dwarf fighters in the way, so we continued to dish very good damage. (out party consisted of 2 dwarf fighters, one 2 hander, 1 onehand and shied, an eladrin mage, a dragonborn feypact warlock and an NPC halfing ranged cleric, who usually did very little although in the fight above he did come in handy with a turn undead to buy more time)
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#14 PeterFdH

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Posted 22 February 2010 - 04:52 PM

I ran my 3.5e game yesterday and got through 6 rounds of combat in 2 and a half hours - maybe it's not the system after all. :oops:

We'd spent the first hour of the session identifying items and the cleric had to go up a level (to 13) - that took ages. At least 4e with the character generator is very quick.

Anyhoo - we have the last session in Thunderspire this week and after that the DM's letting me morph my character from Paladin to Cleric. Not sure if that will help but currently we have 2 defenders (halfling paladin and halfling fighter), 2 strikers (drow rogue and elf ranger) and a Controller (eladrin wizard).

Hope that having a leader will make a difference.
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#15 Illianthar

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Posted 23 February 2010 - 07:10 PM

I think one of the things that 4e runs into is that each character has a multitude of powers at their disposal, and that most of these powers do more than just hit things. There are also more status and condition changes to keep track of. Additionally, monsters have more powers to work with, and things like terrain and facing come more into play than they did in 3.5. All that adds up to needing more time to decide.

Now, instead of just planning out a move and an attack, you start looking over all your available powers, and see how they would react to the situation. You run into more questions like:

Since you can only use those daily powers once, is it a good time, or a good battle, to do that?

Should you use the power that allows you to move, attack, and give a bonus to a comrade, or a power that allows you to attack and give a detriment to your opponent?

I think the front line fighter has the biggest adjustment to make. In 3.5, Fighters really only have a couple of options. They move and attack, or take a full attack. Feats like Spring Attack and Leap Attack offer a little variety, but mostly it's just swing hard, and hit hard. 4e Fighters need to mark their opponents, have reactionary attacks and all kinds of options that they didn't have to deal with before.

What's the fix for that....not sure. You could streamline or reduce the options that players have, but that's one of the fun things about the power cards is that you have so many things to choose from. You could dumb down the monsters or the scenario, but that doesn't give the players the chance to really think and strategize and use their powers to the maximum advantage.

...Time Stop, maybe?...
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#16 popper

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Posted 25 February 2010 - 06:04 AM

. . . I think the front line fighter has the biggest adjustment to make. In 3.5, Fighters really only have a couple of options. They move and attack, or take a full attack. Feats like Spring Attack and Leap Attack offer a little variety, but mostly it's just swing hard, and hit hard. 4e Fighters need to mark their opponents, have reactionary attacks and all kinds of options that they didn't have to deal with before . . .


Fighters, like Henry Rollings, should stick to what they are good at: breaking bones, skewering innards, and drinking heavily. Singularly my least favorite aspect of the 4th era has been the inclusion of magical abilities in all classes. The fighter breaks your arms, not uses a power to slash you with his sword. He rips the still beating heart out of the nearest goblin with his bear hands and force feeds it to his next opponent. And above all else, he does not use a healing surge.

Fighters fight and let the gods sort out the rest.
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#17 riddles

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Posted 25 February 2010 - 07:42 AM

I must admit I'm not a 4E player @ all, but reading some of your posts above it reads and feels like you're playing a tactical simulation game, not a role-playing one. :)

And this is from a GURPS player... :)
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#18 PeterFdH

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Posted 27 February 2010 - 01:47 PM

I must admit I'm not a 4E player @ all, but reading some of your posts above it reads and feels like you're playing a tactical simulation game, not a role-playing one. :)

And this is from a GURPS player... :)


A lot of this is down to the scenario and the way our DM runs the game, I think. Listening to the podcasts has been interesting because there's a lot more roleplaying that Hal's group bring to the game thanks to his DM'ing style and what the players actively contribute.

Don't get me wrong - 4e doesn't actively encourage roleplaying but then I don't think many systems do - 95% of that is up to the group.

I will run 4e myself sometime soon and hopefully will facilitate more roleplaying opportunities.
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#19 salvagebar

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Posted 01 March 2010 - 06:31 PM

I second a lot of the advice above. The character generator is a huge help, printing out cards that have all the bonuses/penalties pre-computed. It is worth the price in the time it saves you, if you are in a campaign lasting more than a dozen sessions. Roll the hit and damage dice together. Use visual means to keep track of status effects and initiative.

More important, there's an assumption that a lot of people are making here, which underlies the advice to de-Elite monsters, reduce hit points, reduce the number of player options, etc. The assumption is that the combat ends when only the PCs are left standing. Slogging through the gore until every last guy is dead is a huge drag on energy at the table, but reducing monster toughness cheapens the PC's accomplishments. Also, I love the fact that fighters can mark people, slide around, get powers, and generally say more than "I hit people with my longsword." Removing PC power options is a last resort in any system.

One thing we've done in the campaign I am playing in is to put a 30-minute time limit on fights, unless it is a key moment in the campaign. If a fight reaches 30 minutes, it is almost always VERY clear who the winners will be for the purposes of continuing the story. The party gets full XP for every dead/captured enemy, and half XP for the ones left alive, who all flee. Many of these return to be recurring villains or flavor in future fights ("Hey, it's that minotaur again!"). At 30 minutes, the party can choose to keep fighting, but loses 2% of the total XP for each extra minute that passes.

After weeks of using this rule, we've consistently been able to get through two fight encounters per four-hour session, with plenty of time for table chatter, in-character planning and research - all the fun stuff. I do not for a minute miss the XP we would have gotten had we stayed to reduce each and every critter to zero HP. FYI our party is very big, with seven PCs, and fights against 15-20 total monsters are commonplace.
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#20 Telemergion

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Posted 01 March 2010 - 07:19 PM

Your mileage may vary, but...

My group unintentionally solved a lot of the time issues in a 4E encounter by all designing incredibly potent melee characters. They have almost no range, very weak control, and rely entirely on charging headlong into an enemy and flanking. This has forced me to be very careful when designing encounters because, while I do like to challenge them, I want them to have a chance at winning. Thus they don't encounter a lot of minion rushes and while I do like throwing artillery at them there is usually a way for them to close the distance, if they're clever.

Mostly they bump into groups of baddies only slightly larger than the number of PCs with some kind of hazard, trap, or nasty trick on their side.

So my tip, to any aspiring players or DMs concerned with combat length, is to not play a wizard.

Also that thing where you decide on your action before your turn comes up? That's golden, and I wish I could get one of my guys to do that.
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