Does everything need speed?

It’s been thrown around a lot in the last few weeks; How to speed up your 4e game. Ever since I have stepped into the greater role playing community that exists online I have seen many articles about how to make the game go faster. I’m starting to think that it’s not really as big of a problem as we are making it. Does the game really need to be made faster or do we just need to figure out what we really want?

The problem of pace: Many authors have ventured guesses as to why combat in 4th edition moves at the pace it does: too tactical with minis, too many powers for players, the over load of choices for DMs and players causes paralysis, too much math, too many hit points, and on and on. The cause has been under scrutiny for a long while now but what has always been agreed on is the fact that combat is slow. But is it really that slow and have we all really agreed on that as a fact? In the past few months I have been paying attention to the combats I have run and those in which I have played. Yes some of them took up to two hours, but at the same time some encounters only took 30 minutes. Each fight had different players, monsters, and setting but none were simple or meant to be easy. I have been asking questions about combat speed on twitter it sounds as if not everyone out there has problems with how long combat lasts. Is there a majority? Is there a vocal number who seek to speed things along while a quiet mass goes about enjoying them selves? There is no real answer to these question, each DM and player enjoys combat at different levels for different lengths of time. I don’t dare to claim that I know if combat in 4e is too long or too short but I do wish to share my thoughts.

Crossed Wires: Many of the same people who complain about long combats have also complained about how quickly some monster, solos and elites, have gone down. There is a dissonance in that kind of complaint that I never really picked up on until I started to complain about the same thing. If I want combat to be faster why all of the sudden am I complaining about how fast my monsters die? Why am I modifying my monsters to threaten the players even more, and thus stringing combat out even longer?  I’m not saying that monsters shouldn’t be threatening but should I really be worried about if they made the players work hard or not? Shouldn’t I be worried about if the combat was enjoyable and entertaining? Did the players have fun putting a quick beat down on the bad ass dragon? Did combat drag on too long and everyone lost interest or was focus maintained till the end?

The Sweet Spot: Is there a sweet spot? I mean is there a perfect length for combat? It seems that many people have pushed for a specific time in which all or most combat should end. Shouldn’t each encounter be different? Shouldn’t each combat encounter have different goals and reasons for occurring? Wouldn’t the different circumstance for each encounter bring a different sweet spot for the length of time spent in battle? I think that each encounter shouldn’t be designed the same in a campaign or even in a one shot. Monsters, terrain, goals, and results of success vs failure should be different; not every one of these things need to change in each encounter but enough to give differing experiences. Why then should I always expect each encounter to last the same amount of time? Why can’t some be wicked short and some be excitingly long?

Big bad boss: In many great movies and stories the big bad boss style characters go down much faster than a large mob of nameless villains but for some reason we have convinced our selves that to be a true nemesis our enemy has to out last, out threaten and out damage everything that has come before it. Really if every elite and solo were strong enough to beat the heroes why wouldn’t they just step up and do it in the first fight instead of sending waves of minions at then? Some masterminds are weak and feeble but cunningly devious; they use their minions to do the dirty work they are not strong enough to do. Gladiator the movie reminds me of this, while the action kept pace the epic battles got shorter and shorter as the story progressed and the final battle was no contest even for a mortally wounded hero. Not every Dungeons and Dragons adventure should follow this, but why should they all avoid it?

No goals no end, know goals know end: Are combats long because of player, powers, excess, design? Or are they long because Dungeon Masters have no idea why the monsters are fighting, what they are fighting for and how far they are willing to take the fight? Does every fight have to end with the whole sale slaughter of one side or the other? By taking stock of why combats happen and what each encounter group is willing to die for combats may end up being faster. Will a group of orcs flee when 40% of their numbers have been depleted? Or if their war chief have been killed or badly wounded? Did they attack the group only to gain some resources from them, and flee when they realize they can’t get it? I’m not going to tell anyone that they are playing the game wrong but if you as a DM/GM end 100% or even 70% of your combats with the complete destruction of all of the enemies you might want to rethink your combat planning.

This is My Game: WotC outlined experience budgets for combat, but following those to a “T” brings a DM right back to the issue of not differentiating each encounter. Does every combat take 1 hour? Does every encounter use the same XP budget? If both answers are a yes you might be running into the problem of not owning your game. Some of the best DM/DMs out in RPG land modify their games heavily. Things like XP budgets, healing surges, damage expressions, and even conditions such as dazed or stun are things you can change in your game. Don’t like the XP budget? Don’t use it. Don’t enjoy status effects like dazed, slowed or stunned? Take them out of your game, or change their effects. When you play an RPG it’s your game, you decided what goes in and what doesn’t. If something in particular slows your game down change it or remove it. You might not need tips from pros on how to speed things up if you remove the road blocks your group runs into. Taking ownership of your game is the best way to stop your worries about speed.

The truth is I don’t really know if the arguments about combat length in 4e valid. I don’t know if there is some flaw in the core game that causes long combat on a systematic level. I don’t really know if it’s just perception and expectations and a skewed view of time. I will leave you with this, combat length is amoral, long combats are not innately evil and shorter combat is not inherently good. For some there is a sweet spot, for others there is a variability in the amount of time they can enjoy their encounters. If you don’t have a problem with your game but you keep reading about how bad combat length is just ignore it and play on. If you have an issue then fix it.


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Thadeous can't think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.


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About Thadeousc

Thadeous can't think of anything interesting about him self right now. Know this though if he could it would be creative and funny as well as thought provoking.
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