Combat in 4e D&D does take longer as PCs get tougher. But there are a lot of tips and tricks for Speeding Up Your Game. We’ve come up with a few new ideas on how to keep your game move quickly and smoothly.
Save Time, Pay a Healing Surge
When the outcome of combat seems inevitable the DM should call the fight rather than waste time playing things out (as we already discussed in Know When to Call the Fight). However, there should still be some balance. After all, if the PCs had played things out to the bitter end they would have used at least a few more resources. The solution – charge PCs healing surges. Usually one healing surge is sufficient, but circumstances should dictate how many surges are required to just move on.
For example, if the one or two remaining monsters are marked by the defenders, flanked by the strikers, and have fewer hit points remaining then the minimum damage two PCs can dish out with a single attack, then it’s pretty safe to say that the PCs will defeat the monsters. As long as one PC is willing to “pay” one healing surge then call the fight and move on. If things aren’t quite that clear cut, but it’s still apparent that the PCs will emerge victorious then charged them more healing surges. Depending on the circumstances the DM may decide that a specific PC must “pay” at least one surge to move on. This will probably be the defender who has the opponent marked more often than not.
I had three different DMs use this technique to keep things moving when I was at GenCon this summer. It was an easy sell to all the tables I played at and most of the players said their DM did the same thing back home or something similar.
We’ve already suggested pre-rolling initiative as a way to speed things up, but here’s a new twist on this idea. Have all the PCs roll up six initiative checks before the game begins.
Keep the initiative checks grouped as six separate encounters. When it comes time to actually use these initiative checks, roll 1d6. The result determines which set of initiatives are used for that encounter. This will minimize any advantage observant and astute PCs think they’ve gained by knowing who rolled really good or really badly during any of the six sets of initiative.
DMs should also pre-roll initiative for all monsters and NPCs before the game begins. When I’m reading an adventure for the first time I keep a d20 handy and roll initiative for every monster as I review its stat block. It only adds a few seconds while I’m reading the adventure, but it saves time during the game.
A few weeks ago we created a Condition Tracker to help DMs keep track of which monsters were affected by which conditions. As we’ve put this to use in our main game I’m amazed to see how useful it really is. The DM can easily tell which monsters have ongoing effects and which ones need saves at the end of their turn. The DM saves a few seconds on every monster’s turn, every round. Those few seconds really add up quickly.
If you have any tips, tricks or suggestions for speeding things up, please share them. Anything that will keep the game moving quickly is beneficial to all of us.