Speeding up 4e D&D Combat

“You’re chasing the half-dragon demon and his dragonborn minions down the hill, your feet skidding on the soggy leaves underfoot. The trees whip past your faces and you go, arms whirling as you try to keep up. There’s a clearing up ahead as the slope levels out. The dragon turns, prepared to meet you in battle. Roll initiative while I set up the battlemat and get the figures ready. Matt, you wanna grab some more drinks, this is going to take a while……”

Here, at the core, is my group’s problem with 4e: The Combat Bump. We prefer combat to be a part of the action, something which maintains the flow and pace of the story as a whole. Instead, there’s a disjoint between the events leading up to the combat and the battle itself as the game shifts a gear from free-flowing to round-by-round miniatures-based play. The whole thing stops as things are set up, and that immersive sensation of excitement quickly fades. And when you’re in combat in 4e, you’re going to be there for a while.

If a game session was a comicbook, the combat elements should be a few pages of the tale with perhaps a climactic double-page spread. It should be fast, energetic and exciting. In contrast, a 3-hour long session using 4e feels more like a comicbook that’s 80% combat scenes. No matter how cool, well-drawn or awesome those comicbook panels are, if that’s all there is it’s going to get boring, fast.

4e combat slows the whole game down to a crawl. A typical 4e encounter takes about an hour to run. Have 3, and there’s your session gone with little wiggle room left for plot or character development. Do the math. If you’ve got 4 players and 10 foes in an encounter and each player averages 30 seconds to take their turn, and monsters 15 seconds (averaged for attrition), then every combat round is going to take 4 and a half minutes to play out. If it’s going to take about 10 combat rounds to play through the encounter then that’s 45 minutes right there. Add in bathroom breaks, out-of-game chatter and the inevitable rules lookups and it’s easy to see where the hour goes.

So, what’s to be done?

The easy solution is just to say “4e isn’t for me”, and walk away. That’s fine, but you’re also missing out on what is a darned good role-playing system and fun game. Whatever your game engine of choice, there’s bound to be elements you want to chop’n’change to suit your style of play, because you’re not the game designers and how they play is unlikely to exactly match how you play. I don’t know of a single RPG system that I haven’t house-ruled or re-interpreted in some way to better suit my group’s gaming preferences. Such a beast doesn’t exist, and never will unless we wrote it ourselves.

Here’s a few suggestions we’re going to be playtesting over the next few games to see if they can smooth out the Combat Bump and improve the overall pace of play. Some of these are old-school tricks of the trade, some are House Rules or a re-interpretation of the Rules As Written. I’ll let you know how we go on.

1. Halve the Hit Points
This is one that’s already seen a lot of coverage on the Wizards’ forums, and a popular one with the game designers themselves. In theory, by reducing the number of hit points the monsters begin with, you’re reducing the length of the combat by that proportion. That’s not quite true, as 10 Orcs will still take 10 rounds to kill one-by-one unless you’ve got some nifty area-effect firepower (I’m looking at you, Mr Wizard), but it’ll definitely reduce the number of rounds required overall. I’m all for this change, and it’s easily rationale’d by saying that the HP values in the Monster Manual assume a clean, healthy physical specimen at full fitness. Ordinary Orcs, Goblins and the like have bedsores, hacking coughs and festering wounds so the ones the players face are halfway toward death to begin with. Fiddle with the hit points to taste, giving different values to different opponents. Maybe one of the Orc Raiders is particularly weak and sickly with just 10hp. Most are merely of poor health with 23hp (half the usual total) with the Orc Chieftain’s pampered eldest son at the maximum 45hp. This adds in a little more role-playing potential to the game, and speeds up combat at the same time. Perfect!

Minions, being the cannon fodder that they are, remain with just their lowly single hit point. Speaking of which………..

2. Use Minions! Lots of Minions!
Here’s a challenge for you. Watch any fantasy movie, and every time the good guys kill a foe with a single blow, shout the word “Minion!” out loud. I’ll bet you end up saying it an awful lot. Those goblins in the Mines of Moria? All minions. 90% of Conan’s foes? Minions. The huge battle at the end of Narnia? Minions!

Minions should make up a high proportion of the bodycount in any battle, yet it’s all too easy to just think “….oh, and four Minions” when designing an encounter. Turn that around and put the Minions at the top of the list, and you’ll make for a much faster paced (and bloodier!) game. Minion slaying is what makes the heroes feel like heroes. Remember that Minions don’t wear a hat that says “I’m a Minion! Hit me!”. Don’t make it clear who’s going to die in one hit and who is going to keep on coming and hit right back. Give them the same weapons as the rest of their tribe and the players can’t tell ’em apart and don’t know whether they’ve just downed a Goblin Skullcleaver at low hit points or a lowly Goblin Cutter until you tot up the xp at the end.

It might seem counter-intuitive to say that adding more foes to the table speeds up play, but in reality it’s the difference between one foe who lasts six rounds, and four foes who last one round each. It’s down to the math again. Picking on the Orc once more (guess which page I’ve got open on the Monster Manual), an Orc Berserker is a level 4 Brute with 66 hit points. It’s going to take a fair few rounds to bring him down. His Minion counterpart, the Orc Drudge, is worth a quarter the XP but will do down in one hit. Drop 4 of ’em onto the battlemat and you’ve only added 4 more combat rounds (assuming each attack hits) to the game, but given the players more chance to shine. And that’s a good thing, right?

3. Roll Five
This is something we’ve used to good effect in previous sessions. Have the players roll 5 d20s at the start of combat and jot them down. These are their combat rolls for the next five rounds, and they can use them in any order, for any attack. This greatly speeds up combat and encourages tactical play at the same time. Let’s say the player rolls 20, 17, 10, 6 and 2. They’re most likely to use the 20 for a Daily or Encounter Power (‘cos missing with those sucks, right). They’ll save that for when it matters the most, burning the low rolls on at-wills and doing what they can to turn them into hits. It’s amazing how players love combat modifiers when they know they’ve got a low roll to work with. Not rolling the attack dice round-by-round means more time to emphasize role-playing and tactical play – another good thing. Optionally, allow the player to spend an Action Point to re-roll their 5 if they don’t like how the dice fell. Every five rounds, call for another five rolls, and keep on playing.

4. ……and as GM, do much the same
Roll a ton of d20s and note them down in order – or spend an hour writing an Excel spreadsheet or use Google to see if someone has done the same. Rolling dice is quicker. Seriously. Unlike the players, use the result in order. As the game progresses just strike a line through each one as you use it. If you REALLY want that Goblin to hit, or those guards to notice the players for Reasons of Plot then strike a 20 off the list further down the page. Thus, the Karmic Balance is maintained (you’re just pre-using a future roll) and not cheating either. Not really, anyhow. Anyway, GMs can’t cheat. Who asked you?

Doing this means you can plan in advance, right at the table. If you know that three rolls down the line there’s a 20 then set that up for the Big Bad’s Special Power. ‘Cos missing with those sucks too. Bwahahahahah, etc. This speeds up combat because the players aren’t sitting there watching you roll dice all the time (you’ve already done that ahead of time), meaning the action flows more quickly, so more fun can be had by all. That’s the theory, anyhow.

5. Gridded whiteboard
Grab a whiteboard and a permanent marker. Carefully draw a 1 inch grid covering the entire board, and you’ve got a battlemat that will last you – well, if not forever then for a fair few game sessions. Use normal dry white markers to draw terrain features as you play and place the figures as you describe the surroundings. I prefer using Jelly Babies for miniatures, but that’s just me. This saves time hunting out the right battlemat for the setting and means less juggling stuff mid-game. You’ve just got the one battlemat in the table all the time, and don’t have to worry about sorting your precious figure collection into encounter order. Ick.

6. Have fewer encounters, but make ’em count
Take too long to run 3 encounters in a single session? Aim to run 2, but make them doozies. If you’re struggling to fit two in the allotted time, run 1. If you’re struggling just to fit a single encounter into a game session, you’ve got problems! The key is to go for quality, not quantity, and it’s much better to spend time running a couple of decent, memorable encounters into an evening that rush through as many as possible and make the evening one big smush. Good word, smush. Fewer encounters, played well, means a more enjoyable experience all round, and more time for all that important plot and character development stuff. Good, eh?

There’s plenty of other ways to speed up combat using such techniques as having fixed damage values for monsters (Minions have them, why not all monsters?), encouraging simultaneous play where two (or more) players act on the same turn, every turn, and more. We’re going to stick to using the ones above for now, but I’m interested to see what other suggestions you folks can come up with.

How would you speed up 4e combat?

76 Comments on “Speeding up 4e D&D Combat”

  1. How about setting up the tiles in advance? You could print scans of the tiles and mount them to a poster board. It would take a bit more prep time, but during the game you could quickly just whip out the encounter room.

  2. Excellent advice, Grey! I think I’ll actually try to use the “Roll 5 d20s” idea. Seems like it would definitely save some time. As for the whiteboard, I use one for tracking initiative and combat. I use a magnetic one. I print out (on magnetic paper) all the creatures I’ll be using for the adventure. That way, I can quickly slap them down onto the board without having to write it all out.

    Like you, I’ve seen a lot of chatter about halving the monster’s hit points. Has anyone done the math on the balance for this. Does it give a party of 4 or 5 an unfair advantage? I’ll do this, but want to make sure the monsters have time to get some licks in. :-)

    Great stuff!

    Like Tom says, I also plan my dungeon tiling in advance. Although with the 3D stuff I use, I usually do have to set up and tear down during the actual game (makes for good potty breaks).

  3. I like the roll 5 idea. I’m gonna try that in the future. It’s sort of like drawing a hand in a card game. It sounds like it would speed things up considerably also. I’ve read about most of the other ideas before but the roll 5 is a new one to me. Great advice!

  4. @Tom The problem with that is this eats into your prep-time, and one thing that I love about 4e D&D is how darned quick it is to put together a session. When you start building battlemats, that’s lost. For me, anyhow. Of course, each to their own.

    @Dead Orcs Math-wise, you’re inevitably making combat less dangerous for the characters if you reduce the number of enemy hit points. That’s less of a problem in 4e than previous editions though – it means they’re less likely to use up their healing surges between combat, and that’s about it. They’re also going to advance at a faster pace because they’re getting the same XP rewards for less work (ie, knocking down Hit Points). I’ll let you know after more playtesting whether that becomes an issue. I don’t think it will.

    @kaeosdad Thanks. That’s exactly how I see it too – solid poker-like tactical play, /and/ it’s faster too. What’s not to love?

  5. The roll 5 idea is pretty cool. I’m going to steal that for my own use.

    Almost since 4e came out, I’ve been playing with monster hp at 3/4 the value in the MM. I’ve noticed no balance issues. What I see happening is that a combat ends about when it feels like it should, instead of monsters lingering enough to drag it out a couple more rounds when it’s already pretty much a foregone conclusion.

    Half hp would speed things up still more, but I don’t think that would be a bad thing. Mixing up the hp values slightly is even better — remember the old days when some orcs had 1 hp and some had 8? You’d get the same feel with a couple minions, some sickly 10-hp types, the typical underfed and scruffy 23-hp sorts, and the healthy elite 45-hp warriors. It gives a sense of variation while making the combats faster overall.

    One other thing I do: Avoid looking up rules during a fight. I have the DMG p. 42 and monster statblocks easily accessible. Players have the details of their powers and items written on index cards. If there’s a rules question other than that, I make a snap judgment and move things on. Disputes are left until after the session, and if I turn out to have been wrong in a way that seriously hurt a PC, I give them an extra action point for the next session. That’s pretty rare; I tend to favor the PCs somewhat with my rulings, because I like encouraging them to try to do cool things instead of standing there and swinging/casting away.

  6. I’m doing a little extra prep at home to speed up game time setup of the fights.

    I don’t use tiles; instead of sketching the map on the fly like I used to, I’m now printing them out so that I can use them right away. I thought the sketching created a feeling of discovery but players tended to grow distracted, so maybe it didn’t work.

    I’m also making sheets (for PCs and their foes) with all the important stats – defenses, HP, limited powers use, some room to write conditions etc. Not only it speeds up combat tracking, looking up defenses etc. from there speeds up rolling time compared to the monster’s whole stat block (and possibly page flipping).

    In game I use (very simple) initiative cards and I’m having a player call the turns – less work for me, and they help set up a faster pace (while I’m always finishing writing stuff down after each turn).
    I’m toying with the idea of putting some markers on those to help us remember saving throws.

    Last, I’m not interested in reducing monster HP or dice rolled for now, though I do sometimes end the tactical combat early when it’s clearly “just a matter of a few more boring rolls”.
    One exception: enemies’ initiative rolls – I’m doing those during prep time now. I still have the players roll their own though.

    Parvati Vs last blog post..Notepad++

  7. I like the roll-in-advance advice, and might try it. I’m a little worried about how to incorporate the re-roll abilities some characters have.

    Wouldn’t want to marginalize any powers chosen before a house-rule went into effect.

  8. @Jeffrey I’d suggest that the re-roll Powers work just as they are. The player picks one of the rolls (most likely the lowest one, of course) and re-rolls it when they use the Power.

  9. I have five players, and combats never take us all that long. I’ve never timed it, but we can get through at least three good ones in a three hour session, with plenty of time for roleplay and intrigue and movie quotes in between.

    Our battle mat is rather like yours – a piece of 8.5×11 printer paper with a grid on it, laminated. The players’ minis are on it at all times – they had more fun positioning themselves for a walk-and-talk social encounter once than most groups have in combat. When combat starts, I draw in the features quickly, drop in the enemy minis or tokens, and we’re good to go. Having PCs’ minis already on the map takes some extra time deciding on marching order, but it saves time overall because when combat starts, they know where they are.

    We have two PHBs around the table, so looking up rules seldom takes time. If there’s a call that’s urgent, I just hand a PHB to whomever isn’t acting at the moment, and have them look it up. This system works slightly less well now that our fifth player likes to use a PHB as a hard surface for him to rest his sketchpad on, but otherwise it’s a good time-saver.

    The roll-5 idea sounds interesting, though I don’t think it would be for our group. One thing our ranger does is roll two differently-colored d20s at once for each of his double attacks, and rolls the damage together if they both hit.

  10. Halve the hitpoints! Halve the hitpoints!

    I keep hearing that argument. Fine, but do it fairly. If your PCs have only half the hitpoints won’t that speed up combat as well?

    If you’re going to halve the hitpoints then you HAVE to halve the experience points as well. These monsters were designed at a specific level of challenge, which include how tough they are to kill. If you make them easier to kill, then they aren’t as much of a challenge and are therefore worth less of a reward.

  11. Regarding points 3 & 4:
    Try this website…
    There’s an option to print out an entire page of random numbers… do up a page of d20s and then cross them off as you use them.

    Keep it hidden and when the boss-monster needs a high roll on his turn, skip ahead to the next highest roll!

    Need hidden perception checks? Players perk up when they hear you rolling a bunch of dice? Just check off the next bunch of d20s on the page and poof.

  12. So many comments, so little time!

    @Scott I agree about avoiding rules lookups at the table. 4e is much better than 3e in this respect with the majority of the what you need showing right on the character sheet or monster statblock. Add in DMG page 42 and a list of the combat modifiers, and you’re good to go.

    @Parvati V Great list of ideas. I agree about using a combat tracking sheet in particular.

    @Swordgleam Sounds to me like you’ve got things well sorted with your group :D

    @rekres Only halve the monster’s hit points, not the PC’s. Or as I suggested, vary them a little with some monsters getting few, some half and one or two the maximum. You’re not halving the threat because the characters are still facing off against the same risk/rewards round by round, just for fewer rounds. I’d suggest keep the XP awards the same. This just means shorter combats, and slightly faster advancement.

    Thanks for the link to the random generator. The direct pagelink that’ll give you a page o’numbers is here.

    Thanks, all. Keep ’em coming!

  13. I most fights I don’t even break out the battlemats and minis, reserving them for complicated situations. When it comes to particulars of whether moving a square can make a difference, I assign an x of d6 chance, announce it, and roll the d6.

    Regarding monster hit points, they do seem high. I’ve toyed with reducing the HP to 75% and decreasing the xp values 1 level. Also my pcs (and major npcs) add 1/2 their level to damage. These two things have generally knocked a round or two off the life expectancy of opponents.

    I don’t use minions for “organic” monsters. I can’t see an orc in my world surviving to 4th level with one hit point.

    I’m a definite believer in Number 6. My campaign isn’t a bunch of dungeon crawls. The players get involved in a lot of situations that require thinking and role-playing as opposed to fighting. There is usually only one or two fights in a session (and sometimes none).

    I’m not a fan of the pre-rolls.

    Ozs last blog post..Star Wars The Musical?

  14. I have started halving the hit points for both the monsters and the players, and it works well. The combat goes faster, but the “threat level” to the players stays the same. So far we’ve not had any TPK. We always one character go down per combat though, but the group doesn’t have a cleric, which I believe to be the reason, not the half hit points.

    I’m toying with the idea of doubling damage rather than halving the hit points. I think that would work well, but it would generate some massive damage rolls.

    Either way, I think handicapping both the players and monsters keeps the game at the same threat. I’d be interested to hear why you’re only halving the monster’s hit points. I must be thick or something, since it doesn’t make sense to me initially.

    Bilbos last blog post..Happy Holidays

  15. @ Bilbo: Do you mean doubling the total damage, or doubling the number of dice you get to roll? I’d favor the second. Either way it’s a good idea, I tried shaving hp off of my monsters but then it feels like they die too fast…

    Doubling the number of dice could give the players a better sense of kick assedness when they roll really well. I’m going to try that one along with the roll 5 rule during my next game. I figure at the beginning of combat each player rolls 5, jots it on an index card and crosses off a result as they use it. When a player runs out of their 5 results they get to roll another 5 d20s for their “dice pool/hand”.

    kaeosdads last blog post..Session 7: Choosing Sides part one

  16. Hmmmm. I’m not sure doubling that damage is a Good Thing. That way leads to the Dark Side of powergaming and munchkininsm. I’d much rather make the monsters weaker than make the PCs stronger. Maybe it’s just semantics, but……..

    And if we lower the monster’s hit points, we’re not making them weaker – we’re shortening combat. There’s a difference :D

  17. @Bilbo: That seems a little excessive to me. I would go with just doubling the dice.

    @greywulf: The advantage I think that doubling up on the damage dice has over halving the hp is that it could potentially halve the opponents hp. There’s still the chance that the players will still roll crappy, but at least they have twice the chance to roll higher damage. Plus who doesn’t like rolling more damage dice?

    kaeosdads last blog post..Session 7: Choosing Sides part one

  18. Our group uses Monsters with half HP that do double damage, which seems to shorten the encounters but keep them just as dangerous to the PCs without throwing off too much of the PC’s mechanics. It works pretty well… although their double damage can kick in a little quicker than PC healing can deal with.

  19. The key to no-mini combat is being descriptive and having a way to handle tactical details like “can I get to cover” or “how many opponents can I nail with this burst 1 attack”.

    I generally use d6 and a stated “x in 6” if the description doesn’t cover it. I also sometimes use skill checks such as Athletics or Acrobatics.

    This does two things… it shortens my prep time, and it speeds up combat. I don’t give my players a bunch of time to make their decisions in the heat of combat, and a mat and minis would run against that as players would spend time trying to figure out how to get the best out of movement and optimal ranges. In my thought, fights are too chaotic and fluid, not fixed chess moves.

    Try it out on something small first, like a bar brawl or small skirmish with a few orcs to see how you and your players handle it. If nothing else, it would be useful to handle to smaller encounters, saving the minis and map for the big fights.

    Ozs last blog post..Radio Rivendell

  20. We’re gonna try Roll 5 next session. Cool idea!

    So far fiddling with monster HP to suit the combat is working well in my campaign.

    I also have opponents often try to break off combat before death. Animals run after the first significant wound, minions beg for mercy after a few get mowed down, bad guys run away to fight another day, etc. This speeds up combat if they can break off without pursuit.

  21. @Oz I’m used to running games without minis in other systems (including 3e D&D, M&M, etc), yet 4e’s Powers system makes me wary. Guess I’ll just have to bite the bullet, try it and see :D

    @Johnn Excellent. I look forward to hearing how you get on in Roleplaying Tips!

  22. jon’s suggestions about monsters running away is something I’ve tried in my games but usually when it feels like the combat is taking too long.

    I used to play this game called necromunda which had a rule called “bottling out”. When a quarter of your gang was taken out of action then at the beginning of your turn you would have to pass a leadership test (roll 2d6 with the target number being between 7-10 usually) or your gang automatically retreats because they can’t take the heat. Might be a cool mechanic to work out for certain monster groups.

    kaeosdads last blog post..Session 7: Choosing Sides part one

  23. We’re going to try the Roll 5 tonight. I’ll let you know how it works out.

    We’ll also try the double dice rather than halving the hit points. As per suggestions, I’m going to only double the dice, not the bonuses. However, I’m going to have the players and the monsters affected. Only modifying the monsters seems to lower the anxiety of combat.

    Bilbos last blog post..What is a DSL and Why is Lisp good for them?

  24. Having the monsters run away is another good suggestion. Most of my baddies rarely want a fight to the death. I’ve had a couple of players in the past that *hated* the idea of an enemy getting away, in their mind if they didn’t mow everything down they lost. Fortunately my current crop is more mature.

    They realize that a win is a win, and bad guys bolting is probably another dose or two of damage someone is going to take. Plus they like recurring villains… it makes finally taking them down that much sweeter.

    Ozs last blog post..I’m a Tinker

  25. I halve my monster HP, but do nothing to characters. Speedier combat.

    By only doubling dice, you favor characters with high numbers of damage dice over characters that have higher static bonuses. I see the advantage of making players feel tougher by doubling damage, but keep the balance in the game and double everything.

    Minions rule. The more the better. It does tend to make the wizard seem extremely bad assed, but there has generally been a complaint that the wizard was nerfed in the conversion, so I see no problem in this.

    The interesting thing is that HP don’t really equate with anything in the physics of the world. It is not about toughness in the world, it is about endurance in the game. Minions aren’t weaker in the world. They have no concept of HP. They are only really minions relative to the PCs in the game, not even in the world. The PCs get to mow down many orcs in the world, all of them scary orcs, and in the game there are 80% minions, but who cares? The story says that tons of orcs were killed, right? Minions just make a fight more cinematic, and the story more interesting.

  26. @PrecociousApprentice Absolutely. That’s how they work in Mutants & Masterminds (which has no concept of HP at all), and it’s how they behave in D&D too. Folks who get hung up on the “but they’ve only got 1 hit point but they’re Powerful Monsters!” miss the point. Hit Points aren’t relevant. It’s the thudding sound they make when they hit the floor that matters :D

  27. @Everyone-Talking-About-HPs: That’s the one thing I took from “A Quick Primer in Old School Gaming” that I’ve applied to every game since I read that essay. HP is abstract. I dunno where 3.5 got off calling HP damage “lethal damage” but it definitely takes away from the abstraction a bit. I also tend to think 6-second rounds take away from that as well, as I tend to think the more abstract the better. Can you really land a blow once every 12 seconds in a real fight? I like saving the last blow for a bloody description of what happens… every other hit is nicks, cuts, exhaustion, cramps, etc. Minions? They only get one blow before they’re down. Does that mean they die? No, but it does mean you can ignore them for the rest of the fight.

  28. The pre-rolling I don’t like myself, YMMV as always. It takes the mystery out of things. Will I hit? Randomness of the dice are what add to the dramatic tension otherwise it’s just a game of chess with a fixed result. “Hmmm my next roll is going to be a 14, that’ll miss this one and this one but hit that one so guess which one I’m going to be shooting at?”

    I didn’t see it mentioned but what about simply doing maximum damage on normal hits and maxdamage +1dx on a critical (or simply double damage on a critical)? That alone will over the long run halve the number of hits it takes to kill and is I think easier to do on the fly.

    Take it a step farther the average chance to hit for the average character is around 55-60% against the average mob I saw where someone had computed it out. So give a global +2 to hit to everyone and take that up to 70%, that cuts out 10% of your attack rolls. Do maximum damage and you cut the remainder by another 50%.

    I guess it comes down to just how fast do you want the combat over? Heck you could in theory just compute your DPR for both sides with a spreadsheet and compute your chance to win and then have each combat be a simple one d% to resolve. :)

  29. Great advice. I am running into this problem more and more. At first I felt it was just us learning the system but have come to realize that there are some tweaks that need to be instituted.

    I’lm gonna try the 1/2 HPs and Pre-rolls for myself (the DM), my players are pretty experienced and I don;t really have an issue with their rolling.

    Thanks, in advance, for all the advice presented here.

  30. Just like to agree with the part that 1 HP Minions does not make them unrealistic. As said before, that 1 HP is not a realism thing, it’s a cinematic effect basically used only when the PCs are around. Those 1 HP Orcs might survive a forced march, falling off a 10′ cliff, or getting bitten by a dog, but one good swing from the PCs takes them out, much like any good action movie, TV show or book.

    As a side benefit, it also makes combat easier on the DM for larger encounters so they don’t have to keep track of a bunch of separate hit point totals.

  31. While you’re at it, why not just start with all the monsters already dead. That’ll speed combat up!

    Seriously, combat doesn’t take THAT long. I still think if you halve the HP you have to also halve the XP, because these creatures are no longer as threatening as before…

  32. Thanks for your non-comment…

    When a not very involved battle takes the better part of 3 hours and other combats that are very simple take 90+ minutes then YES they are taking too long….

    Taking the monsters down 1/2 HP but upping their damage by 50% to 100% keeps them as much a danger as before.

  33. Eh, if you are going to halve the monsters hit points, then just run level – 2 or -3 encounters as your normal encounters. It has the same effect. Everything is scaled evenly in 4e, so the upshot of weakening a monster is a lower level monster (they even have guidelines for adjusting monster level and that’s what it does).

    Obviously when you run weaker encounters against the party you will challenge them a lot less (at least with the monsters). There are ways to compensate and I’m not saying it is a BAD idea per-se. It is just removing focus from combat. In an overall sense maybe the way to do this is not so much to weaken each encounter as to just have less encounters and make them more interesting. Sure, they will take time, but on average you’ll balance out RP vs combat time just as effectively. And of course a mix of techniques is fine.

    However, this all supposes that the thesis ‘combat will be a lot quicker if the monsters have less power’ is true. In my long 25+ years of DMing I would have to view that assertion with a lot of skepticism. 4e combat takes a lot of time for a number of reasons, and lots of monster hit points is only one of them. Another reason, and the fundamental one, is IMHO the extreme complexity of the system. Every adjudication requires exact readings of the rules, every swing of a sword requires polling a huge laundry list of situational modifiers, etc. It just takes a lot of time to mechanically run combats. On top of that tactics is supreme in 4e. The idea that a party can do well in combat when everyone spends 20 seconds or less deciding what to do this round (3 times over for 3 actions) doesn’t mesh with my experience. Such a party will die horribly in short order. 4e combat is like chess. You better make the right moves because winning really requires a lot of tactical thinking, and human brains only go so fast. You might shorten your combat from 1 hour to 45-50 minutes, but don’t expect too much out of weaker monsters.

    As for minions, they are not really intended to be, nor can they substitute for, real opponents. As a deception, OK, they work fine, but once you hit 5th level minions are no longer a significant combat factor. Not even in round dozens. 50 minions can’t substitute for 2 real monsters, and I’d say that having to move around all those minions and roll to-hit for them will eat up your time savings pretty fast.

  34. I’m new to DMing and my group is new to D&D, but we have definitely noticed the combat drag just working through the first couple rooms of KotS. I like the ideas here, especially the HP reductions and the reminder that HP is abstract. I’m not sure if I’ll use a straight 1/2 hp for the monsters, but some sort of reduction is in order. I like the fluctuating hp idea.

    I ran into the issue that often a regular monster would be dropped to single digit hps but then launch a critical hit or otherwise be a nuisance much more than he should be at that point. After reading this I feel I’ll probably play a slightly looser DM. If a monster goes from undamaged to single digits in a round, it just dies. Or at least goes prone or is weakened. If half the party unloads on a goblin sharpshooter and he still plants a bolt in someone’s eye and scampers away they don’t feel like heroes.

  35. Use our house rule for critical hits – this will definitely help speed things up. On rolling a natural 20, it’s an instant kill on anything of equal or less level than you are. On anything higher, its maximum damage. This definitely speeds up combat as enemies start dropping pretty quickly – we had a 4th level cleric fighting 3 giant ants at once and he nailed two of them with criticals! :-)

    This does NOT apply to monster critical hits! For them, I just increase damage by one point and damage the character’s armour.

    The Recursion Kings last blog post..Delving deeper

  36. This was an interesting read :)

    I’m a new DM who will be starting running games soon and I actually came to a similar conclusion about 4E’s emphasis on combat. I had talked to some people in the local gaming club about starting a 4E campaign up but they all were reluctant and wanted to stick with 3.5. When I asked why they said that 4E is too combat oriented – there were no longer such things as stealth missions.

    I started thinking of ways to allow the players to gain the same sort of character progression that combat grants and I decided that the best way was to grant XP awards for non-combat challenges. That is to say there is a 45 minute problem that the PCs must solve using roleplay/skillchecks then they should be granted similar XP to a 45 minute combat encounter. Now all you need to do is decide just how much XP you grant depending on how successful and how much they put into solving the problem as well as how lucky they were on the dice.

    Example: In a city an NPC requires the adventurers to retake some stolen goods from some thugs. The PCs have to go through a series of challenges (RP) to uncover potential places they could be hiding out, etc. Eventually they may discover the place they thought they were at but the thugs already fled leaving behind 1/2 the stolen goods.

    The PCs then return those goods for 1/2 the quests exp. The second half may involve more problem solving until finally they find the thugs with the other half. However the thugs may just be 2-3 monsters and so its a short battle encounter with not much exp reward. However returning the stolen goods nets them the exp reward they would have gotten if it was a larger encounter.

    I’m looking to learning how to DM and trying this out, especially with PH2 coming out. :)

  37. “I started thinking of ways to allow the players to gain the same sort of character progression that combat grants and I decided that the best way was to grant XP awards for non-combat challenges.”

    I think you just re-invented the wheel. How much of the 4E DMG have you read? I’d like to point out Chapter 5 “Non-Combat Encounters” (p. 70). It deals with skill challenges and other methods of gaining XP besides combat.

  38. Aye but does the XP from these “Non-Combat Encounters” add up the same for whole party as the equivalent time spent in combat?

  39. I always reward MORE experience for non combat solutions than combat ones and I always have done, even when we used to play 2E. This is because creative problem solving should always be encouraged as it leads to more fun for everyone. An example of this was how the party recently roleplayed their way out of an encounter with a Spectre but tricking it; I awarded the player in question 500 experience points for that – its MUCH harder than just swinging your magic sword at it until its dead. So yep, always reward for non combat actions and solutions and reward MORE for them than they would get by just bringing the sword to the same problem.

    The Recursion Kings last blog post..Delving deeper

  40. Speed damage – tell players if they make their attack and damage rolls. Giving you totals within 10 seconds of their attack they get speed damage added to successful hits.

    Buff monster damage and half their HP. +5 to all attacks by monsters.

  41. I have the problem of having a mixed group of players, a couple of them are munchkin/min/maxers, the rest don’t care too much. So any changing of the rules will just upset half the group.

    The solution I need has to be behind the screen and as invisible as possible.

    I’m likely going to half monster HP and increase the damage (by the monsters) by +1/2 level.

    I figure that combat will end around 50% faster, and the threat of death will be relative. Players don’t have to do a thing, no modifications, nothing to their characters.

    I’ll also keep the XP & treasure the same, so level progression will stay the same, or may seem a little accelerated. Which is not a bad thing, imo.

    follow @revdak on twitter

  42. 1. Use pregenerated parts of terrain (houses / towers / mills / hills)
    2. Use Excel (or other program like this) for creating monster / team chars (with HS . conditions / powers as circles to crosses when used)
    3. Use some fabulous parts off-session (put them on for example blog to get all players connection to it).

  43. I like the idea of speeding things up, but balk at doing all that math to double/half everything. I think that instead of four minions = 1 monster, using something like Tier*5 minions = 1 monster. At paragon tier, you can replace one monster with ten minions, and 15 at epic. talk about epic.

    Maybe if someone wanted to try out another system of taking out monsters faster, instead of doing the math. Whenever a bloodied monster is struck, there is a 10% chance that that monster goes down, increasing with each it. Ignore this rule for important monsters or monsters that powerup when bloodied. For the latter, reverse it so that when struck when not bloodied, there is a chance to knock them to bloodied. Now your monsters will drop faster, and you dont have to worry about universal multiplication/division.

  44. I’m fascinated by the Roll 5 suggestion– it’s such a Forge idea, if you’re familiar with that board. What I particularly like about it is that the player, possessing foreknowledge of “bad rolls,” pretty much gets to choose when their character misses. That allows for some pretty dramatic choices. Do you allow players to table-talk and coordinate their rolls?

  45. @Alas Definitely. It makes for great tactical play at the table. I’ve had three players plan ahead and save their high rolls to use on the same round to takedown the big bad villain with their high-damage dailies – and it felt….. brilliant, cinematic and epic all at the same time. The adventurers felt like a team. They’re willing to burn a few low rolls on missed at-will attacks because the payoff – knowing their special attacks WILL hit – is well worth it.

    After a few sessions they’ve also started to look very closely at the combat modifiers in the PHB, and are getting pretty proficient at making even those low rolls count. If they’ve rolled a 5 (for example), they’ll set it up so they’ve got Combat Advantage and use an attack which targets Fort, Ref or Will instead of AC. That’s effectively a net +4 to the roll (on average), turning that meagre 5 into a not-so-bad 9.

    Cunning tactics, teamwork and faster gameplay? I love it!

  46. I like the idea of ‘rolling five’ but what happens when a player rolls all crappy numbers? What would you do if you knew your next five attack rolls were going to be: 1, 3, 7, 2, 3? Would you even engage in combat? Would you flank and Aid Another? Would you use an action point?

    What if you were to automatically assign rolls like 1, 5, 10, 15 and 20 to every player? Or would that be too non-random?

  47. @by_the_sword Thanks for the feedback! I suggested this:

    Optionally, allow the player to spend an Action Point to re-roll their 5 if they don’t like how the dice fell.

    Agreed about assigning preset rolls – too non-random. Players like to roll them dice :D

  48. Roll 5 seems to be a big hit here. I like it in that it allows players to have more of a say in telling the “story” during combat, but doesn’t let them necessarily dictate an easy victory.

    As for my idea: just tried it recently in the first 4E session I DM’ed. 4E stat blocks are nice and compact and self-contained, without referencing obscure or complex rules or spell lists that need to be reviewed extensively ahead of time. I photocopied stat blocks (don’t sue me, WotC, I’m not making money off this!) and lightly taped them on to oversized index cards. These cards are sorted into initiative order along with different-colored cards of the same size for the PCs, whose cards have all pertinent info to DMs (defenses, passive skill values, etc). Small stickies are used to keep track of HP. I’m playing with the idea of using different-colored small stickies to indicate conditions, and tallying rounds on those.

    Takes only a little prep time, and saves LOADS of page-flipping between different pages in the Monster Manual.

    Another thing I do that’s not necessarily a huge time-saver is drawing out all encounter maps on large grid paper ahead of time. It allows me to have some fun being artistic and gets me really familiar with the maps. I overlay this with plexiglass on which we can note persistent spell effects, changes in terrain, locations of fallen foes, etc. using colored white board markers.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas and I hope the ideas above work for you or others.

  49. If i half the hit points should i double the boss damge (maybe just the damage bonus and not the dice)??? What you think?? how will that afect the game??

  50. @Miguel. No, just reduce the monster’s hit points. You don’t need to do anything else.

    What I do is think of the creatures in the Monster Manual as monsters at full health – and that’s something which monsters rarely are. They’ll have old wounds, infections and illnesses due to the unsanitary conditions in the dungeon. So, they might only be at half, three-quarters or even only a quarter hit points when the PCs arrive. The sons of the leader, biggest Orcs, etc might be better fed and cared for so they’ll be at full hp, but the rest of the tribe won’t be so lucky.

    Hope that helps!

  51. There are quite a few ideas I like here and if I am ever to DM I will definitely use them. One has me concerned though. I like the idea of rolling 5 but it seems to give an advantage, if only slight, to some classes.

    Tempest Fighters and Two-Blade Rangers are my first worry. With both of them having an at-will attack that allows them to strike twice, that gives them the ability to burn through any bad rolls faster than other classes. This obviously means that they have the chance of coming across criticals more often. It may make others playing as other classes feel less epic than these.

    My second worry is the Avenger class. Having the ability to basically reroll any attack roll makes this class a very appealing class to play. Knowing when you’re going to hit and then having the ability to turn a miss into a possible hit every turn seems almost game breaking for a striker class. Especially since hoarding enemies at them will only provoke them to go for the Censure of Retribution build and throw up defender like defenses for good measure. Heck, if they could only heal themselves they’d be able to pretty much solo half of what you’d throw at them less it be specifically designed to destroy them.

    I guess controller classes would be able to burn through bad rolls as well but you don’t really have to worry about their damage output.

    Is there something I may have missed that would help even out these concerns?

  52. Just came across this blog. Great advice. A couple questions and comments:

    1: If you halve the monsters’ hp, do they still have the same Bloodied value, or is that changed too? It seems like it would be a bigger advantage to those PCs that get bonuses when opponents are bloodied if all enemies were bloodied at the beginning of combat.

    2. I agree with your minion comments. That’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve also been increasing the number of skirmishers and artillery there are. Soldiers and Brutes, especially soldiers, are the worst for long combats. Knocking a couple points off their defenses is a good idea too, especially if they’re higher level. There’s no worse thing than an encounter where the PCs have to slog through some soldiers in heavy armor after their boss died, hitting a quarter of the time. Yuck.

    3. Instead of halving hit points (or in addition to), how about monsters running away more? Chances are these aren’t loyal battle-hardened fanatics. When they get bloodied, it’s completely reasonable for them to want to run away, surrender, play dead, etc. In fact, the Intimidate skill can be used for forcing this exact thing. If their troop is half dead and the boss is taken out, why on earth would the remaining orcs stay and fight? Of course it’s a D&D cliche that PCs don’t take survivors and don’t tolerate monsters fleeing from battle, but at least then it puts that choice in the PCs hand and a skill challenge chasing down monsters is at least a break from the long battle.

  53. @Seth Thanks for your comments! In reply:
    1) Yes. Half the monsters Hit Points means you halve the Bloodied value too. This means that monsters who get a special effect when they’re Bloodied get to do their thang that much quicker too. That’s intentional. The goal is fast, highly-charged combat, after all.
    2) and 3) Absolutely! Monsters are People too! They will run away. They will surrender. They will panic and charge and do all the other things folks are likely to do during combat. If the Big Boss falls or they’re Bloodied and clearly outclassed they are far more likely to lay down their arms than they are to fight to the death. Unless their mindless zombies, cultists or just plain stupid, of course :D

  54. Something several commenting seem to have trouble accepting is that most combat encounters in D&D don’t matter. D&D isn’t chiefly a tactical combat simulator, at least for most players. Yes, we do occasionally grab our 40k miniatures off the shelf and use them in D&D, but we aren’t playing 40k.

    What this means, at least to many (and I think I can safely say most here), is that combat simulation and tactical play is simply a plot device and means to advancing the story. It’s almost a mini-game.

    Thus halving monster health doesn’t necessarily take away from the combat. The monsters are still performing the same role and still living up to their expectations and purpose. They are intended as fodder from the start.

    This is even more true in 4E. The difference between pitting the PCs against opponents at full health and pitting the PCs against opponents at half health is one or two healing surges. With the way many of their powerful abilities are recovered between every encounter, the former role of attrition that minion encounters played has been lost.

    So if the minion encounters have no effect on the final boss battle, then why force the players to slog through a dozen inconsequential encounters just to get to the plot arc?

    I’m not saying drop all minion fights or anything like that. They can be a lot of fun and serve the purpose of some realism. But when they cease to be fun and the added realism is causing more harm than good, it’s time to adapt. Halving minion health is one way of doing this.

    From my own perspective, I also prefer not using an experience system at all. Players level after a fixed number of encounters/quests.

  55. Another compatible idea: use an Armageddon clock.
    Set aside a die with a fixed number (five, ten, whatever) and use it as a counter each round. When all rounds pass, double the damage of all attacks. Repeat.

    Oh, and I prefer to half the hit points of the PCs too. It’s quicker and puts some pressure too.

  56. I think the addaption that I use had been termed 4E Brutal. I’ve run 2 1/2 combats using this so far and it has gotten a very positive response from my group. All the changes are on the DM stat side so it does not cause any problems for players or changing encounters.
    The changes to the creatrues stats are:
    1 3/4 HP, and adjust Bloodied by the same. This helps the creatures go down faster.Do not adjust any healing abilities

    2 Reduce all the creaures defenses by 2 to a minimum of 10. The players enjoy hits more than misses.

    3 Increase all of the creatures attacks by 2. The creatures hit more.

    4 Increase the damage of all creature attacks by 1/2 their level.

    The combat should speed up as the monsters drop faster and it end ups being more exciting for hte players as they are in reasonable danger now and have to use tactics.

  57. Good suggestions,

    I allow my players to get automatic hits for daily powers and actions received through Action Points. (or even just a significant bonus +5 to hit)

    IMO nothing slows down combat more than when players big spells fizzle into nothingness and/or you spent the dang action point so you should at least hit the monster.

    You could say that these abilities do average damage instead of rolling for damage if you are worried about the players unleashing havoc on the Boss. Also rule out crits for these attacks since you have already given an automatic hit.

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