Speeding up Combat #2 – Blame the Players!

Are your combats slow?

Do you wish they’d go faster?

Do your players wish they’d go faster?

If that’s the case, here are some things to look at because largely, it’s the players’ fault.

Yep, I went there.

Although in a typical encounter the DM is handling 5-6 monsters to start with, I’ve found that I’m not taking the same amount of time as the other players are, combined.

First, although I may be controlling 5-6 monsters, they aren’t all different.  Usually there are two or three different types of monsters or traps.  They’re also less complicated than PCs and don’t usually have a lot of fiddly situational modifiers.

Second, you have the advantage of telepathy.  Your monsters don’t need to coordinate their attacks, you already know what all the monsters are going to do.

Most of the time spent during combat encounters is dealing with the PC actions.  So what could a player do to help speed things up?

  1. Know your character well. When I first ran 4e, I didn’t like how long it was going to take to get to level 30.  I decided to speed up XP, gaining levels twice as fast.  This was a bad idea.  The problem is that the players couldn’t get used to their characters’ abilities before they were gaining new magic items, powers and feats.  Assuming that you are gaining levels at a normal rate, take a look at your powers out-of-game and think about situations that you could use your powers to effect.  Even better…
  2. Coordinate with your fellow players. I don’t mean necessarily optimizing your characters with each other, but take a bit of time and discuss things you can do.  This is even more important when the Leader characters can give buffs to characters.   If some of your powers, especially buffs, are a bit complicated, write the power effects out on a card to give to your fellow players.  That way you don’t have to explain it every time.   Set some basic plans. For example, on the first round of combat, the Leader will do X buff, so everyone needs to be near me.   Figure out combos that would allow forced movement to cluster monsters so the Controller can nuke them.
  3. Pick your Powers and Feats with Speed in Mind. Part of the reason that 4e combats are slower than previous editions is that there are a lot more actions going on in each round.  Particularly problematic are Immediate Actions.  Now,  a lot of flavorful powers, especially defensive ones, involve Immediate Actions.  However, by deciding not to take Attack Powers that involve Immediate Interrupts or Immediate Reactions, you can speed up combat by not having to decide whether or not to act out of turn, and also you don’t have to resolve the attack rolls.  Avoid choosing feats or powers that involve situational modifiers.
  4. Ditch the Damage Die Roll. It’s likely the players who will have the most grief with this idea, so make it easier on your DM and suggest that you try it.
  5. Agree to resolve multiple attacks with one to-hit roll.  I’ve found that a lot of time is spent dealing with burst and blast attacks.  I’ve experimented on my side of the table with monsters making one to hit roll…then saying ‘okay, who get’s hit by a attack of X vs Fort?’.  This does make things a bit more swingy, but over the long haul it all balances out.
  6. Avoid choosing powers or features that involve moving a lot of creatures around. Hammerfall Step, a Wizard paragon path power is horrible for this.  Close Blast 5, which in addition to damage involves teleporting the creature hit 3 squares, but also as an effect teleported allies 3 squares.  This took a very long time to resolve, and it happened every single encounter.
  7. Avoid choosing classes that have abilities that you can’t plan for in advance. I haven’t experienced this myself, but I have heard that psionic classes with power points and classes like the Runepriest are very situational, and your plan for your turn (specifically what feats or whether or not to augment psionic powers) may be nullified right up until your turn.
  8. Choose Essentials type classes. Though I personally wouldn’t choose an Essentials Rogue or Fighter, they do have the advantage of being faster classes to deal with.

So there are some options that the players can choose to make combats go faster.

Of course, there are some drawbacks and as Gamefiend has posted on At Will, if your combats are Awesome, they won’t seem so long.


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. I'm a 37-year old meteorologist. No, not one of those guys you see on TV, but someone who actually forecasts the weather. In my spare time (what I have with a toddler), I game. Mostly I run a D&D 4e game every two weeks, but also play Warhammer 40,000 and Warmachine. I'm a skeptic (not a cynic) and am interested in political topics. I can be followed on twitter @ArcaneSpringbrd


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About Arcane Springboard

I'm a 37-year old meteorologist. No, not one of those guys you see on TV, but someone who actually forecasts the weather. In my spare time (what I have with a toddler), I game. Mostly I run a D&D 4e game every two weeks, but also play Warhammer 40,000 and Warmachine. I'm a skeptic (not a cynic) and am interested in political topics. I can be followed on twitter @ArcaneSpringbrd
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