Faster D&D Combat
First, to truly speed up combat the Gamemaster should be prepared. Know about all combatants within an encounter. This allows for the least amount of time the GM\DM needs to look over abilities, etc.
I also recommend Keith Ammann’s book & blog The Monsters Know What They’re Doing to spice up combat – and defeating the players technically can speed up combat. Some of the suggestions for revealing information to the PC’s also works for how attackers would think as well.
Give each player 2-3 minutes to start and complete their turns. This can encourage players to check their abilities and spells on others turns. Doing this whenever players have limited time to strategy’s or plan their moves. Two (2) minutes of real time to resolve 6 seconds of game time should be plenty.
What happens when a player goes over? Do nothing but inform them of how much everyone’s time they are using. If they’re taking particularly long I’ll tell the player they are Dodging in their indecision.
Having elements that keep players focused and pressured to resolve or complete some action within combat can help speed up play. Examples are having a ritual happening in the background, or needing to protect NPC’s from the fate of the attackers.
Be imaginative, be devious, and most importantly, let the players in on the stakes. Even if their characters wouldn’t have access to this information, it helps to tell the players not just that something bad is on its way, but what it is and how long they have until it arrives.Jude Pultz. “4 Easy Ways to Amp Up Your Combat”
Combatants on the Battlefield
Having a limited number of combatants of a battlefield will reduce the amount of combat. An experienced group of players can complete each players turn in 2-4 minutes (average about 3 mins.). And the DM completing in about 4-6 minutes for all combatants they control (increased if their are various tactics or 3x’s the number of PC’s).
So having only 4 players and 12 enemies should take about 20 minutes per round of combat.
Few Adversaries of the Same Type
Speeding up combat with few monsters and most (all) of the same type so there is less changes for the DM to keep track of.
It’s much easier to run a fight against four ogres than it is to run a fight with two ogres, six goblins, and a hobgoblin war mage. Instead of trying to differentiate monsters with mechanics, differentiate monsters with your in-world descriptions.Mike Shea “13 Tips to Speed Up D&D Combat”
Four (4) engaged players is a great amount at any game. It allows for each to showcase strengths, and allows for easier roleplay (RP) opportunities as it’s easier to have some RP for each player within a session then trying to get 5+ players each the same RP time.
Allow for alternative goals besides fights to the death for one side or the other. Dave Chalker mentions a few ideas which I’ll comment and expand on. Combat “Outs” are commonly in the hands of the DM, as it changes the goal of the monsters/aggressors (Brigands).
- Brigands want an item, and focus on the person with the item, fleeing once the item is obtained
- Brigands stage a tactical retreat, or try and bribe the PC’s once combat looks even a little out of their favour
- Brigands are there by coercion and immediately retreat if the boss is defeated
- Brigands retreat or ask for mercy the first time they’re hit
- Brigands only do hit and run tactics, come in, attack, and retreat
- Allow the PC’s to bribe or escape if they can
Granted, there are a vast number of things you can do to avoid combat completely. Such as:
- Brigands/PC’s come to negotiate or bribe to acquire item(s)/information
- Perhaps the Brigands recognize the PC’s and just avoid them – this happens more as players gain notoriety within a region. Alternatively, frontal attacks happen less while attempts at theft (or poisoning) happen more often
There are a few ways to do Initiative. Show the players the Initiative, or perhaps allow a player to track the initiative to everyone, and call out when its someone’s turn, and who will be up after.
Some alternatives are:
- Round Table: going around the table for initiative. But negates any advantage to having a high initiative bonus
- Passive Initiative (P-InIt): this allows players to go in order of what their initiative bonus plus 10. After players have a few rounds they will know who’s before/after them and can prepare accordingly. Even better if playing in-person to have players sit around the table in their passive initiative order. (Yes, I used that acronym on purpose).
- Grouped Initiative: Entire groups of adversaries or the players roll initiative and go accordingly. Using the Passive Initiative system this will automatically occur as all monsters with the same bonus will go on the same P-InIt.
Armour Class (AC)
Reveal combatants AC after a few attacks. Allow those proficient with the type of armour to know what level of protection it commonly has, so the fighter will know that those in plate will be a slog to attack, and might get spellcasters to concentrate their Save Vs. spells against them.
Use HP averages for monsters. Perhaps increase of lower them if the party is slogging through combat.
From Monster Manual (4e) p.282
Minions are designed to serve as shock troops and cannon fodder for other monsters (standard, elite, or solo). Four minions are considered to be about the same as a standard monster of their level. Minions are designed to help fill out an encounter, but they go down quickly.
A minion is destroyed when it takes any amount of damage. Damage from an attack or from a source that doesn’t require an attack roll (such as the paladins divine challenge or the fighter’s cleave) also destroys a minion. However, if a minion is missed by an attack that normally deals damage on a miss, it takes no damage.
Have minions survive 1-2 hits, then remove them from combat without actually tracking any hit points. Minions are there to curb players action economy, and increase the villains.
Use the Average Damage listed in monster stats. This greatly speeds up in-person combat. Using VTT’s when everything is just the push of a button this becomes unnecessary as the rolls and calculations are done for you.
Theater of the Mind
Theater of the mind is good for quick small battles that don’t require any tactical maneuvering.
A simple battleground can combat simpler, meaning faster combat. A clearing, road, room or hallway is all that’s needed.
Of course major battles against the party nemesis is always spiced up with terrain that is used to the Big Bad Evil Guy/Gal (BBEG).
Having easier battles for players can give them a great boost of confidence in their abilities. It’s also a nice way to use up the players resources we’ll allowing them to have a quick skirmish – lowering their resources before a BBEG battle.
Controlling the Horde
There are a few ways to run large battles. Running the larger battle outside the characters with predetermined situations, or doing results by simple dice rolls. Doing individual combat for only those engaged with the PC’s.
Using the Minions rules described earlier.
– Tally damage done to any member of the horde in a single tally. Any time that tally is higher than the hit points of a single monster, remove a monster. Round monster hit points to the nearest 5 or 10 to make the math easier.Mike Shea. “Running Hordes: The Lazy Way to Run Lots of D&D Monsters”
– Whenever the monsters attack or must make a saving throw, assume one quarter succeeds and round up or down depending on the sitation. Increase this to half if the monsters have advantage or one in ten if they have disadvantage.
– Adjudicate areas of effect by assuming lots of members of the horde are caught in the area. Small areas hit four, medium areas like thunder wave or burning hands hit eight, large areas like fireball or turn undead hit sixteen. Huge areas like circle of death hit thirty two. If the damage done by an area of effect is close to a single monster’s hit points, remove the monsters if they fail the saving throw.
From DMG (5e) Handling Mobs p. 250
When there are multiple enemies, they are likely to just hit a character without a roll need. Take their Attack bonus minus that from PC Armour Class and compare that to the ‘d20 Roll Needed’ and the corresponding column ‘Attackers Needed for One to Hit’ which shows how many auto hits by number of attackers.
d20 Roll Needed | # of Attackers for 1 Hit
1-5 | 1
6-12 | 2
13-14 | 3
15-16 | 4
17-18 | 5
19 | 10
20 | 20
Example. If a PC has a AC of 21, monsters have an Attack bonus of +6 = 15. So for every four (4) attackers on a PC, there is one (1) Auto-Hit.
Don’t Lose the Fiction
Of all the things to strip from combat to reduce the amount of time to get back to the storytelling, don’t lose the fictional narrative. Once the battle loses the story elements, everyone, players and GM/DM included, will lose complete interest. Ensure you as DM describe what’s happening around the PC’s, perhaps summarizing what’s happened previously at the beginning/end of each round.
With online games I’ve really enjoyed having players use blind rolls for their attacks. I then describe the action, and often reveal the roll(s) to the players. Do this for both PC’s and monsters.