Compilation: Combat Accelerators

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The plethora of threads bemoaning the length of combat encounters in 4e (especially at Paragon levels) usually involve someone presenting a suggestion for how to speed up combat. This thread is intended to compile those suggestions into a one-stop shop for combat speed improvements.

As you provide ideas in subsequent posts, I will update this first post to include them.

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Combat accelerators seem to fall into three main categories:


  • Game Mechanic Adjustments

  • Play Style Adjustments

  • Play Aids


So, without further ado, here is the list of combat accelerators thus far
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Game Mechanic Adjustments


  • Use lots of minions

    • for added oomph, make minions require 2 hits or 10 hp (whichever comes first)



  • Speed death of bloodied creatures

    • Any hit which does half the remaining hit points of a bloodied monster kills it.



  • End inevitable combats early (describe the outcome narratively).


    • Charge PCs a healing surge each when you do this.



  • Give each PC one extra Action Point.

  • Replace some monsters with traps / terrain / combat environment challenges

  • Turn monsters into minions after specific triggers.

    • after X rounds or X minutes

    • after a specific monster / boss / leader goes down.



  • Cut monster AC by 2 per tier.

  • Cut PC healing surges in half.

  • Limit "special" monsters

    • One or two monsters with special powers, reactions, or tactics is enough to spice up the encounter without overloading the DM with tactical decisions beyond the norm.

    • Keep the majority of monsters in any given encounter quite normal in how they fight.



  • Cut monster hit points (and increase damage for balance)

    • maximum monster damage (no rolls)

    • double monster damage



  • Adjust damage

    • maximum damage (no rolls)

    • average damage (no rolls)




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Play Style Adjustments


  • Sit in default initiative order. High roll goes first.

    • if high roll is odd, go clockwise; if even go counter clockwise

    • treat DM as player for monster position



  • Time limits for each player turn

    • at end of limit, player turn "ends"

    • at end of limit, player turn "delays"

    • If a player is not at the table, (s)he forfeits their turn

    • If a player cannot make up their mind what to do, they must make basic attack.

    • 6 Second Round - When a player doesn't start describing their action, hold up your hand and count down 5 fingers (took 1 second to put your hand up); if they don't have something they delay. Call it the fog of war.



  • Roll "to hit" and "damage" simultaneously

    • Roll "to hit" and "damage" *before* your turn (keep dice visible)

    • For area attacks, roll a d20 next to each miniature that is affected by the attack



  • Players decide what to do before their turn comes up.

    • Prompt players one turn ahead. ("X, you're up. Y, you're next."



  • Flight - Have DM-run monsters flee if they reach a certain percentage of their original forces.

  • PC Focus fire on a single opponent at a time for leaders and BBEGs.

    • When PCs do this, it speeds up the later rounds as the DM has fewer creatures to act.



  • Monster focus fire on a single PC. Creates a sense of urgency.

  • Ban "dice massaging" when players shake the dice in the air for an indeterminate time before rolling, and often use this time as an opportunity to tell a funny anecdote from 20 years ago.

  • Rules discussions: replace with a quick die roll (low=bad for player, high=good for player) until it can be researched later.

  • Cross Talk: Ask players to gameplan in character. This will greatly reduce the amount of players telling other players what to do on their turn and then subsequent deliberation.

  • Pre-package encounter minis in plastic baggies

  • Call out initiative order: Indicate who is up, who is on deck, and who is next.



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Play Aids


Lifted directly from mvincent's post:
Make a ziplock bag for each encounter containing:


  • Miniatures and terrain items

  • Effect/Condition Markers needed for the encounter.

  • Magic Items: printouts can be made via Character Builder of magic items that will be found as treasure after the encounters. Items that are to be handed out at the end of the adventure are placed in the last encounter bag. Note: item card printouts can be made in Character Builder by creating a character with no stats/powers and just printing out the item card page(s). Check the ‘Show Normal Items’ checkbox to show rituals and scrolls.

  • Monster Stats: Make an an extra printout of the monster stats from the adventure and write-in notes for average damage, pre-rolled initiatives, and (next to each status-effect producing power) what color marker to use. During the game I also use the page to track HP.

  • Story Reward Cards in the last encounter bag. btw: I've seen players write their XP/GP/Magic item for the adventure directly on their story reward card.

  • Prop Cards for non-combat encounters. I often make a card for important NPCs: cut/pasting the relevant text/rules (rewording it for 1st person dialogue if needed) then finding a suitable picture and pasting it above the text (upside-down, so I can fold it over and hang it from my DM screen)

Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.
Play aids:

I use multi-colored pipe cleaners for Status effects. Red - Bloodied, Yellow - Slowed, etc. along with a printed sheet on the table that defines each color. It's easy to get several on a mini, and we can tell at a glance what's what.

We don't have room for a whiteboard, but I run init with index cards, announcing the current player or monster turn along with the combatant following. I can easily adjust for delayed actions with that method.

I also have printed sheets of the monsters by using the Monster Builder adventure tool. Have all monster stats, tactics and abilities at my fingertips, and can track HP damage right on the same paper.
Virtual Combat Cards

This program is absolutely amazing for keeping track of initiative and effects and definitely sped up my game.  Admittedly I was very wary about using a laptop to DM; I wanted everything to be traditional.  VCC very quickly changed my mind about that.  That and the compendium are probably the two best things I can think of to speed up combat if some (or all) of the problem happens to be on the DMs side of the table.
Here is another program - Dungeon Master Battle Screen. In my opinion its' interface is better.
And Masterplan also has a combat manager, but it's not the best one, though author improves it very fast. 
Here is another program - Dungeon Master Battle Screen. In my opinion its' interface is better.
And Masterplan also has a combat manager, but it's not the best one, though author improves it very fast. 



I've found Masterplan has helped me, especially as I don't have to fumble with Monster stats.  I may try the tent card idea to help the players focus.

I find that PLANNING is the biggest expeditor (if I have everything ready, then there is little delay in rolling dice)

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/20.jpg)

Here is another program - Dungeon Master Battle Screen. In my opinion its' interface is better.
And Masterplan also has a combat manager, but it's not the best one, though author improves it very fast. 



I like VCC better because it automatically captures the stat cards for monsters from the Comependium so I don't have to enter all the information manually.
Added through here.

Thanks for the input!
Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.
Here is another program - Dungeon Master Battle Screen. In my opinion its' interface is better.
And Masterplan also has a combat manager, but it's not the best one, though author improves it very fast. 



I like VCC better because it automatically captures the stat cards for monsters from the Comependium so I don't have to enter all the information manually.

so does Master plan if you have a DDI subscription (and you DO have that, right?)

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/20.jpg)

This is a great thread.  I've added it to the Useful Links for DMs thread stickied to the top of the forum.
at our table, we:

1 - cut monsters hp in half, double their damage.
2 - we don't roll damage, we just use average rolls, so the amount of damage is already written on our power cards.

My RPG Campaigns

 

I joke that D&D Next is what happens when, A Christmas Carol-like, 3rd & 4th edition's ghosts travel back in time to an evening near the end of AD&D 2E's life, and say "this is what is coming" and so AD&D 2E heads off in a different direction. So, it's like alt-reality AD&D 3rd, maybe?Cam Banks

 

Candies are fun to use for condition markers, especially for curses.

When rolling attack and damage at the same time for a power that does damage on a miss, remember not to count dice that only count on a hit, such a sneak attack.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

updated to here
Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.
The plethora of threads bemoaning the length of combat encounters in 4e (especially at Paragon levels) usually involve someone presenting a suggestion for how to speed up combat. This thread is intended to compile those suggestions into a one-stop spot for combat speed improvements.

As you provide ideas in subsequent posts, I will update this first post to include them.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Combat accelerators seem to fall into three main categories:
  • Game Mechanic Adjustments

  • Play Style Adustments

  • Play Aids


So, without further ado, here is the list of combat accelerators thus far
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Game Mechanic Adjustments
  • Cut monster hit points (and increase damage for balance)
    • maximum monster damage (no rolls)

    • double monster damage


  • Adjust PC damage
    • maximum PC damage (no rolls)

    • average PC damage (no rolls)



-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Play Style Adustments
  • Sit in default initiative order. High roll goes first.
    • if high roll is odd, go clockwise; if even go counter clockwise

    • treat DM as player for monster position


  • Time limits for each player turn
    • at end of limit, player turn "ends"

    • at end of limit, player turn "delays"


  • Roll "to hit" and "damage" simultaneously


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Play Aids
  • Condition markers
    • soft drink bottle rings

    • poker chips

    • third-party products

    • colored paper clips

    • colored pipe-cleaners


  • Initiative counters
    • white board

    • tent folds

    • playing cards

    • counters


  • Power cards

  • Combat Tracker Software

  • Monster stats
    • Monster builder sheets for each monster



It will be a lot easier to do this as a Wiki page. I've actually suggested it a few times on various speed up combat threads but never got much of a reaction.
That is not dead which may eternal lie
It will be a lot easier to do this as a Wiki page.

I have zero (0) experience with Wikis beyond reading wikipedia. Would you want to take it up? I'll keep doing this part, and you translate the contents into a wiki?

Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.
I'd suggest this excellent post: link

Also, in my game we use colored sticky tags like this to track statuses.  The colors represent general groups, like Yellow = "Bad Effect - Until the end of someone's next turn" and Blue = "Good Effect, Until the end of someone's next turn", and Green = "Save Ends".  Then the specific effect is written on the tag.  So a colored yellow tag that says "Dazed (Krusk)" means the target is dazed until the end of Krusk's next turn.  And a green "Stunned" means Stunned (save ends).

I also think it helps to designate different player responsibilities in combat so the DM doesn't bear all the burden.  We have:

1) Initiative Guy - gets everyone's initiatives at the beginning of combat and arranges everyone in the right order on the magnetic white board (also a good thing to have!), and tells people when it's their turn and who's "on deck" to go next.

2) Tag guy - puts status effect tags on things when they're affected by conditions and removes them when they're up.  Reminds the player/DM of what effects are on the target when it's turn comes up.

3) Tactics guy - tries to keep a high level view of the battle and plan what the party should do, and remind them when their turn comes up.  Reminds healers if someone needs healing or strikers to focus fire on dangerous targets.  Helps newer players with their powers.

4) Rule guy - Keeps the PHB or compendium on hand and looks up rules that might be confusing when they come up.  If there's a disagreement, sometimes the DM will make a call for resolving an action and move on to just keep things moving, and Rule guy will look up the rule and we'll retcon it or just do it correctly next time the situation comes up.
It will be a lot easier to do this as a Wiki page.

I have zero (0) experience with Wikis beyond reading wikipedia. Would you want to take it up? I'll keep doing this part, and you translate the contents into a wiki?




I can put up a page, sure. The community wiki on this site works pretty well. Its not the fanciest thing ever but anyone can make pages. I'll create one and post the link here as soon as I post this. I should be able to maintain it. Nice thing is you can make more pages to go into more details about different tools and whatnot. Anyway, back with a link in a few minutes ;)

EDIT: OK, here's the link. Go crazy with this! community.wizards.com/wiki/Dnd%3ACompila...
That is not dead which may eternal lie
AbAl, I'll look at this tonight. Quitting time here at work!
Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.
at our table, we:

1 - cut monsters hp in half, double their damage.
2 - we don't roll damage, we just use average rolls, so the amount of damage is already written on our power cards.




So, can you explain that a little more?  Let's say damage is one dice six.  You just take a damage three?  If so, what do you do about critical hits?  Just curious, because I like the idea, I'm just wondering about mechanics.  

at our table, we:

1 - cut monsters hp in half, double their damage.
2 - we don't roll damage, we just use average rolls, so the amount of damage is already written on our power cards.




So, can you explain that a little more?  Let's say damage is one dice six.  You just take a damage three?  If so, what do you do about critical hits?  Just curious, because I like the idea, I'm just wondering about mechanics.  




so, at our table:
d4 = 2
d6 = 3
d8 = 4
d10 = 5
d12 = 6

it's not really "average", it's more like max/2, but we do it for simplicity's sake, and it applies also to monsters, so it balances out.

example: let's say your damage with a +2 Magic Longsword is 1d8+2 (nothings else added just for simplicity's sake in this example)

with a normal hit, your damage is 6 (d8=4, +2).

with a a crit, you'd normally inflict 2d6+10, so at our table you inflict 16 (each d6 is 3, +10).




My RPG Campaigns

 

I joke that D&D Next is what happens when, A Christmas Carol-like, 3rd & 4th edition's ghosts travel back in time to an evening near the end of AD&D 2E's life, and say "this is what is coming" and so AD&D 2E heads off in a different direction. So, it's like alt-reality AD&D 3rd, maybe?Cam Banks

 

I'd add as well;

DM Encounter Manager


If you don't like having a laptop at the table as you play and don't mind a bit of additional prep time, these can be a great help. I print the first sheet on cardstock and write my encounters on them. I add enemies, traps, what have you, their pre-rolled intiative, hitpoints, etc. There are entries for marked, bloodied, status effects, a spot for tracking intiative and combat notes (I generally add any special things I need to remember as well as XP for the encounter and any treasure.)

It adds a bit to my prep time but it makes combat very smooth and easy to track. No tokens, no white board no laptop, just a cardstock paper with all the encounter details I need.
Added to here.

This weekend I think I wil have to re-format the initial post! And look into that wiki thing closely.
Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.
[THREADJACK]

To really speeds up combat in 4E, everyone need to look at the video of Tom and his Pals playing D&D and to take exemple from it. 

It's serious, we're playing. No beers, no talk. Laughing

[THREADJACK]

Yan
Montréal, Canada
@Plaguescarred on twitter

Play Style:

Ban "dice massaging" when players shake the dice in the air for an indeterminate time before rolling, and often use this time as an opportunity to tell a funny anecdote from 20 years ago.

If a player is not at the table, (s)he forfeits their turn

If a player cannot make up their mind what to do, they must make basic attack.



 

Predraw the battlemaps as a DM. In my experience especially the complicated maps can take a few minutes to draw. In itself the time is not that bad, but often enough you also need to select miniatures, note down initiative and provide descriptions all in that time with the players doing almost nothing. Hence those few minutes can add up, and the impact can be made worst because players loose their focus on the game.

(This DDXP I had predrawn the maps on big graph paper and it did wonders. It probably works less well when you as a DM are less certain where the PCs are going and what they are fight, but that might be solved with preparing some generic maps instead of specific stuff.)


Predraw the battlemaps as a DM. In my experience especially the complicated maps can take a few minutes to draw. In itself the time is not that bad, but often enough you also need to select miniatures, note down initiative and provide descriptions all in that time with the players doing almost nothing. Hence those few minutes can add up, and the impact can be made worst because players loose their focus on the game.

(This DDXP I had predrawn the maps on big graph paper and it did wonders. It probably works less well when you as a DM are less certain where the PCs are going and what they are fight, but that might be solved with preparing some generic maps instead of specific stuff.)




Yeah. My technique has always been to call a break when an encounter starts. The players can get up and take 5 while I draw the map, drop the minis on it, and roll monster initiative. Everyone is then ready to go and as they filter back to the table they can roll their initiative and I can set up init tracking. Of course if you are running a lot of encounters in a row then maybe you don't need a break before each one but its a good time to take one in general. Given that I'm only using a battlemat and wet erase markers its hard to pre-draw the actual combat map. I always have a paper map of every location though. Transferring that is pretty quick. Anyway I agree that combat start-up is a good area to think about making quick. Having stuff well prepared helps a lot.
That is not dead which may eternal lie
I found the toosigma.com/wiki/index.php/Universal_Ca... to be a great aid to both the player's (power cards, item cards, feat cards, etc...) and myself as a DM (monster cards).  Make sure to visit the forum and download the compendium script program to grab all of the latest stuff from the compendium.

My tips:
Monsters go on the same initiative: after the monsters go, the players can technically go in any order they wish (thanks to delaying and such), and since the players will all take their turn before the monsters' next turn anyways, I generally just go clockwise around the table, skipping (then coming back to) any player that isn't immediately ready. Note: PC initiative is still used to determine who gets a turn before the monsters on the first round.

Average Damage: written directly on the power cards. Haven't actually noticed a difference (other than speeding play).

Rules discussions: replaced with a quick die roll (low=bad for player, high=good for player) until it can be researched later.

Markers: colored modelling clay or colored hair bands (I use both).

 





Thanks for all the great ideas folks! I still haven't hit the wiki approach, but the cumbersomeness (is that a word?) of the list is making it clear that a wiki will be a good route to take.
Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.
Let's say damage is one dice six.  You just take a damage three?  If so, what do you do about critical hits?  Just curious, because I like the idea, I'm just wondering about mechanics. 

Average damage for a d6 is actually 3.5, i.e. average damage = (highest + lowest)/2, so:
d4 = 2.5
d6 = 3.5
d8 = 4.5
d10 = 5.5
d12 = 6.5

I personally add these half-points together, but still round down any remaining ones at the end. Since the calculations are done before the game (and written on the power card), the added complication doesn't slow anything down.

For critical hits: you max all the regular dice (like normal), then average the extra crit dice. fwiw: I actually just let my noobie players do double their regular average damage on a crit, since this often comes out pretty close after calculating magic item modifiers.

Advanced stuff (if desired):
- Things like Gauntlets of Destruction (i.e. reroll ones) add 0.5 average to each die.
- Average damage for Vorpal weapons can be more complicated: the ability adds around 0.7 extra damage per dice (i.e. about .84 per d4, .6 per d10, etc.). Hopefully this will rarely come up though (since it's a level 30 weapon).

Related information: Stephen Radney-MacFarland stated in this article that:
"keeping the attack die roll while using average damage should almost cut the time for each turn in half, assuming that the player doesn't need to look up rules during his or her turn."

I get the logic of doubling at-will damage for a monster that has half as many hit points (since conceivably, it would have done all that damage if it had stuck around), but do you double the damage of encounter powers too since they, otherwise, would have only gone off once?

Also, if anyone's doing this:  do you use these adjustments for all encounters (spikes, finales, everything) or just the average ones.
I update my campaign through http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/aversill Monstro is the difference between Frankenstein and Pinnochio.
but do you double the damage of encounter powers too since they, otherwise, would have only gone off once?


When I double monster damage, I double all monster damage. Even dailies.
When I double monster damage, I do it for all encounters.
Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.
Monsters go on the same initiative: after the monsters go, the players can technically go in any order they wish (thanks to delaying and such), and since the players will all take their turn before the monsters' next turn anyways, I generally just go clockwise around the table, skipping (then coming back to) any player that isn't immediately ready. Note: PC initiative is still used to determine who gets a turn before the monsters on the first round.


While it certainly speeds up play, it has a couple of big game repurcursions in regards to tactical play. It is also going to goes issues when delaying/readying. Most people I talk with actually are considering just randomly placing the monsters in between the various PCs since they feel it makes fights more fun.

Most people I talk with actually are considering just randomly placing the monsters in between the various PCs since they feel it makes fights more fun.




I kind of do this.  I take a d20 roll for initiative as a guideline.  I will take their init results and massage it to fit better with the rest of the monsters.  This ends up with a pretty balanced initative series for the monsters.  The players usually end up pretty scattered amongst the monsters, so it works out great in the end.  Makes things more exciting for a player when a monster went before them, and monsters go after them.  Gives them sort of a spotlight.

a simple rule, which speeds up initiatieve:
write it down on a place where everyone can see (I have a errasable board, so I write it down there).

That way
  • everyone can see it and there is no confusion who's next.

  • Also, there's not one person who manages initiative.

Qube's block builder: if you want to create blocks for powers, items and monsters for this forum, but don't know html
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yes, we have an initiatve board we put on the table (cardboard, with velcro tabs and marker friendly cards to write Pc names and monsters on) that everyone can see. Seems to help speed things up coz PCs know they're coming up soon.

I really like mr vincent's idea though - if you have all monsters going at once (which we often do just to make things simpler) - why not let PCs go in any order - basically the people who are ready go, and those who need a bit more time get it - and there's no rules problem with it - the PCs could just delay etc to get the order they want.

Monsters go on the same initiative: after the monsters go, the players can technically go in any order they wish (thanks to delaying and such), and since the players will all take their turn before the monsters' next turn anyways, I generally just go clockwise around the table, skipping (then coming back to) any player that isn't immediately ready. Note: PC initiative is still used to determine who gets a turn before the monsters on the first round.


While it certainly speeds up play, it has a couple of big game repurcursions in regards to tactical play. It is also going to goes issues when delaying/readying. Most people I talk with actually are considering just randomly placing the monsters in between the various PCs since they feel it makes fights more fun.




I think the better way is just to pre-roll monster initiatives. I also do this for stealth checks if they are going to be hiding. This way when the encounter starts I already have the init order of the monsters and its just a matter of dropping the PCs in as well. This will generally go pretty fast. I find that using a card deck works really well. The card can also double as a place to note any misc effects or conditions. Just put the stack out where everyone can see it. Move the card for the current creature to the side, then whatever is on the top of the stack is 'on deck'. When the creature's turn is over, move it to the bottom of the stack and move the 'on deck' card to the side. It works well as its trivially easy to rearrange the cards when someone delays, etc. Setup is quick and you gain an extra place to note things that are important when the creature comes up.

Noting stealth checks beforehand is equally useful when that's a consideration. Both techniques spare the table sitting around for a while while the DM makes die rolls. This gets especially valuable if you have a good number of monsters in a given combat.
That is not dead which may eternal lie
I have not tried this yet, but I've been considering it as a possible aid to speeding the end of combats (which is when things usually start to drag for us).

Once a monster is bloodied any hit which does half his remaining hit points in damage drops him.

This rule would not apply to PCs nor to every monster. Exceptions would be solos, elites, and boss/leader monsters that you don't want to have go down early or easily.

If I try it I'll post here as to how it turns out.

Excellent thread by the way.  Kudos Seeker.
MasterPlan (8.5) now has a tool to allow on-the-fly Monster stat reduction. And in case anyone hasn't mentioned that before now, you can download compendium data (in a fairly granular fashion, select books, magazines, RPGA mods, etc.) into the tool. Condtion tracking and combat management has been streamlined quite a lot.

-g
For area attacks:
Grab a handful of d20's and roll one next to each miniature that is affected by the attack.
(this has been speeding up combat a lot for me recently)
Compiled to this point.

Thank you everyone!
Here are the PHB essentia, in my opinion:
  • Three Basic Rules (p 11)
  • Power Types and Usage (p 54)
  • Skills (p178-179)
  • Feats (p 192)
  • Rest and Recovery (p 263)
  • All of Chapter 9 [Combat] (p 264-295)
A player needs to read the sections for building his or her character -- race, class, powers, feats, equipment, etc. But those are PC-specific. The above list is for everyone, regardless of the race or class or build or concept they are playing.
One thing I've tried in my last couple of sessions (I mentioned this in another topic) was to actually prompt the players like this: "Player X, it's your turn. Player Y, you'll be next".

This would probably go under the "Players plan out their turn ahead of time" suggestion, but it goes further in that it actively prompts the player to get ready, because they will be next.

I've found it makes a lot of difference to the speed of encounters so far.