How Many Rounds Should Combat Take?

56 posts / 0 new
Last post
I just posted a poll called Combat Length: You Decide! in which I ask people to rate how long combat should take when measured in rounds.  It started some interesting comments, but a blog isn't really the place to have a conversation, so I thought I'd start this companion thread.

Please note that this thread is not about how long combat takes at the table.  The thread is not about special fights designed to take a shorter time (like taking out a few minion guards) or fights designed to end a climactic chapter to a campaign (like a boss fight against a tough solo).  I'm asking about standard fights, between PCs and an equal number of standard monsters.

If you haven't voted yet in the poll go do so now, before reading further. 












For me, a combat is sort of like a short story.  

  • The first round is the introduction, where you meet the characters and get a sense of what they can do.

  • The second round you get a little deeper, and everyone sussess out one another's strategies. Any tactics set up in round one are implemented or foiled in round two. Often, round two is where the setbacks happen, and the assumptions you made in round one are revealed to be flawed. 

  • Round three is either completion of the stategy or the regrouping.  If your strategy works, this is where you ramp it up. If it doesn't work, this is where you shift gears.

  • Round four is where the resolution of the combat should become apparent. This is where desperate creatures pull out their last-ditch strategies, if they have any.

  • Round five is where the ending, when the resolution foreseen in round four comes to fruition. If the creatures have a dying act, it generally happens here.


What do you think?  Is combat classifiable in this way?  Does it have an emotional arc or plot progression like other types of fiction? 
Fights should absolutely have a story arc, yes.  And the rate at which it progresses is somewhat dependent on the mechanics.  Your five-round arc would be what I would call ideal for an encounter for level 3 PCs.  You have two encounter powers, and a choice of one daily power you may or may not want to use in this particular encounter.  The first round is typically an at-will, or perhaps an encounter power that serves as an opener.  The second round nearly everybody starts ramping up to encounter powers, and that momentum continues through the third round - with the possible adjustment that an unexpectedly high power level might drive the choice of a daily in round three or even two.  By round four, you're likely confident of a win, and are back to at-will usage, though using a daily might be encouraged if the fight is going badly.  By round five, you're in total cleanup mode: you're either in for a TPK, or you're about to win.  Encounters are depleted, and you're probably never going to use a daily in this phase.  At-wills until the monsters die.

I would argue that the ideal number of rounds of combat should increase as you progress through heroic, and slightly increasing as you go through paragon, due to the number of non-at-will powers you have available.  Now, this is clearly somewhat class-dependent, as if you have a ranger whose encounter powers are a combination of minor and immediate actions, the ranger could expend all of her encounter powers in round one.  That definitely changes the story arc.  But my point is that if you're down to just at-will spams, it feels as if the encounter is on rails.  A ten-round combat at level 1, even a BBEG fight where daily use is expected, would be pretty dull.  A ten-round combat at level 20, when you have four encounter powers, four daily powers, and five utilities (minimum) is another thing entirely.  There's more depth to the characters at that stage - the combat length should reflect that.

Makes it hard to vote in your poll, since my answer would change as a function of level.
D&D Next = D&D: Quantum Edition
With the exception of the BBEG, I think encounters should - by plot, since that's the metaphor we're using - become shorter and shorter.

Castle guards become castle chumps. Elite lieutenants become scrub private Pyles. It's all a matter of how quickly you can make it through the maze of death to reach the doomsday machine in time, and by high levels where you wield the power of gods almost, anyone except the BBEG who gets in your way should just be a stalling tactic, or a terrain feature.

However... This would eventually lead to anything other than the BBEG combat being little other than a very descriptive handwave, or maybe a skills challenge at best. But a sense of verisimilitude would have me expecting that to happen.

Arbitrary Example
DM: You're in the castle courtyard, trying to stop the wedding of the evil Sherriff. No fewer than 20 of his personal, elite guard stand between you and the portcullis.
PC: Do I have a holocaust cloak?
DM: No. Twit. Get back on-topic and focus on what you're doing.
PC: I burn an encounter power with the "telekinetic" keyword
DM: Good enough. You fling the guards aside as if they were so much leaves in the wind as you stride up to the portcullis.

That's how short a standard paragon+ combat should last, if we're telling it like a story. After all, the only special people in a story are the PCs and the BBEG (people who actually have names).

High-heroic might have some long, drawn-out fights, because you're pushing the limits of your mortal coil before breaking into a realization of your divine powers. Think... Rocky IV... When you are down to your at-wills, slugging it out just to come out on top.

But that's all if you try to "story arc" your combats.

. . .

My ideal standard combat should last no more than 5 rounds. Minion cleanup, standard beastie cleanup, round of heals, elite cleanup, and "enemies who run away/bleed out."

That depends on a pretty well-oiled group, though, who can synergize properly. 

58286228 wrote:
As a DM, I find it easier to just punish the players no matter what they pick, as I assume they will pick stuff that is broken. I mean, fight after fight they kill all the monsters without getting killed themselves! What sort of a game is this, anyway?

 

An insightful observation about the nature of 4e, and why it hasn't succeeded as well as other editions. (from the DDN General Discussions, 2014-05-07)

Rundell wrote:

   

Emerikol wrote:

       

Foxface wrote:

        4e was the "modern" D&D, right?  The one that had design notes that drew from more modern games, and generally appealed to those who preferred the design priorities of modern games.  I'm only speculating, but I'd hazard a guess that those same 4e players are the ones running the wide gamut of other games at Origins.

       
        D&D 4e players are pretty much by definition the players who didn't mind, and often embraced, D&D being "different".  That willingness to embrace the different might also mean they are less attached to 4e itself, and are willing to go elsewhere.

    This is a brilliant insight.  I was thinking along those lines myself.  

 

    There are so many tiny indie games that if you added them all together they would definitely rival Pathfinder.   If there were a dominant game for those people it would do better but there is no dominant game.  Until 4e, the indie people were ignored by the makers of D&D.

 

Yep. 4E was embraced by the 'system matters' crowd who love analyzing and innovating systems. That crowd had turned its back on D&D as a clunky anachronism. But with 4E, their design values were embraced and validated. 4E was D&D for system-wonks. And with support for 4E pulled, the system-wonks have moved on to other systems. The tropes and traditions of D&D never had much appeal for them anyway. Now there are other systems to learn and study. It's like boardgamegeeks - always a new system on the horizon. Why play an ancient games that's seven years old?

 

Of course, not all people who play and enjoy 4E fit that mould. I'm running a 4E campaign right now, and my long-time D&D players are enjoying it fine. But with the system-wonks decamping, the 4E players-base lost the wind in its sails.

PCs should have a chance to use all of their encounter powers plus one to three extra rounds.  At lower levels you toss in a few extra rounds of at-wills.  This generally means 5 to 8 rounds.

However, my real rule is that a combat should last as long as it is fun. I've been know to change villian tactics to stretch things out if the players are really into a battle, or to have a monster go 'agro' just to get things over faster if the battle just isn't doing it for some reason.            

D&D & Boardgames If I have everything I need to run great games for many years without repeating stuff, why do I need to buy anything right now?
Using the story example...


  • Minor or incidental combat: 2-3 rounds. This is a prologue. It also fits as an aside, a time delay)

  • Standard combat as described: 5 rounds. This is your basic short story or your standard issue-in-a-series.

  • Clincher: 5-7 rounds. This is bigger than a prologue. It is the combat that says "you are not only on the right track. You are also in the thick of things". It would involve a combat in which the identity of the BEG is learned, and a trusted lieutenant-with-a-name is defeated.

  • Arc closer: 7-10 rounds. This is like the end of a trilogy in a series that has more than 3 books, or the end of a comic storyline for an ongoing title. The BBEG will be killed/captured, and things will "return to normalcy". (But, as with any ongoing series, there should be a new prologue soon after.)

  • Campaign closer: 8-12 rounds. This is the end of a trilogy that stays a trilogy, or the last issue of a comic title. This is the Doomsday vs Superman, the Ender vs the Buggers.


I would suggest that an "adventure" have two or three minor or incidental combats, and two standard combats for every Clincher or Closer in the adventure.
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 think 5-8 rounds is only feasible in a combat > short rest > combat > short rest > combat sort of scenario. Occassionaly that is okay but it doesn't feel very natural to me at all. Some encounters should flow into each other and I think that should happen more often than not.

I usually shoot for 3-4 rounds and occassionaly 5 but I am also someone who thinks combat encounters in 4E take far too much time. Having played 4E since launch I have come to the conclusion the fate of most combat encounters has been determined by round 3 or 4. Everything after that is just grindage and people begin to lose interest. Only on very rare occassions do I ever come across a combat encounter in which the tide turns after that point.

More to the point the "fun factor" drops off after that point. Whether it is said out loud or not the end of the fight is already known. As a DM it is then my job to bring the encounter to its inevitable conclusion and make it an interesting one. OR I can gear the encounter towards making sure it ends right around 3-4 rounds so the "fun factor" never takes a hit and we come to an exciting conclusion.

A DM can spice up a protracted battle by introducing newcomers to the battle. These are new monsters curious about the ruckous, guards finally arriving, or even surprise allies who turn out to share a common enemy with the player characters.

But yeah, a typical battle should last 4 rounds (3-5 rounds).

4-5 rounds
...whatever
Personally - I say about 6 rounds - however the DM should be prepared to arbitrarily wrap up the encounter when it has reached the 'end' phase.  When all the interesting parts of the fight are done, and all that is left is to eliminate the HP on the remaining couple of dull but formerly tactically significant brutes, the DM should simply say "And you mop up the last two easilly" or "the remaining small fry scatter and flee - OK you are vindictive PCs who hate to let anything escape alive so you chase as many down as you can and kill them too - what ever - the fight is won"

A fight is a dramatic moment for fun and tactical gaming.  When the fun and the tactical gaming elements are gone, so to the fight should be gone.


Arbitrary Example


If that's how you think it should be run, wouldn't crashing the wedding in your example be better handled as a skill challenge, rather than as a collection of weak independent encounters?

I voted for 6 rounds...not too few not too many, enought to crack all your expendable ressources and for Until the end of the encounter Effects to last enought to be enjoyable. Surprised Round not included.

Somethimes, Dazed or much worse Conditions prevent you from taking actions and so a 6 Rounds combat doesn't equate 6 Turn necessarly. Also, the 1st Round often serve to position yourself, sometime Melee characters dont even attack if the starting distance is too great etc..

6 the magic number !
I like 3-4 rounds better.  But it also depends on the campaign conventions.

For a more Shadowrun feel, I'd try and tweak house rules to get closer to 2 (very very brutal) rounds.  For a more heroic campaign, I might aim for 5 instead.

"Nice assumptions. Completely wrong assumptions, but by jove if being incorrect stopped people from making idiotic statements, we wouldn't have modern internet subculture." Kerrus
Practical gameplay runs by neither RAW or RAI, but rather "A Compromise Between The Gist Of The Rule As I Recall Getting The Impression Of It That One Time I Read It And What Jerry Says He Remembers, Whatever, We'll Look It Up Later If Any Of Us Still Give A Damn." Erachima

I like 3-4 rounds better.  But it also depends on the campaign conventions.

For a more Shadowrun feel, I'd try and tweak house rules to get closer to 2 (very very brutal) rounds.  For a more heroic campaign, I might aim for 5 instead.



It seems the optimal for the average number of rounds depends on the flavor of adventure. In any case, its a good idea to mix it up for combat length every once in a while.

Given the numbers here, the average average seems like it might be 4 rounds, with a bell curve ranging from 2 to 6. At the rarer extremes, the 6 rounds suit dramatic narrative climax encounters, and the 2 rounds suit high-speed action-adventure encounters. 
Until people get bored.

If a combat takes 15 rounds and everybody's still engaged and excited and interested, not a problem.
If a combat takes 3 rounds and everybody's bored, problem.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
I agree 4-6 depending on starting positions and suprize rounds ect...

But, I have a question. I am running a game soon with only 3 players, should I still aim for 4-6?
In the Nentir Vale, all injured creatures are required to wear a name tag!
Arbitrary Example


If that's how you think it should be run, wouldn't crashing the wedding in your example be better handled as a skill challenge, rather than as a collection of weak independent encounters?




That's actually my point. Thematically, as you reach higher levels, very little except the BBEG poses any real threat to the heroes in the world. To that end, you could reduce most sessions to a flavorful skill challenge and reduce multiple combats to a couple really interesting ones when you reach that kind of power level.

But that was all in response to the guy who said combats should go longer as you get to a higher level. I argue that it would be appropriate to the scale of the PCs' power that there would be fewer actual threats to their lives (combat would boil down to skill challenges) and the combats that are threats to their lives shouldn't last more than 5 rounds.

After all, when you have the kind of power to kill a god... You either do or you don't. There's no drawn-out battle when you miss killing the god. He gets to smite your uppity mortal coil if you don't put him down pretty quickly.

58286228 wrote:
As a DM, I find it easier to just punish the players no matter what they pick, as I assume they will pick stuff that is broken. I mean, fight after fight they kill all the monsters without getting killed themselves! What sort of a game is this, anyway?

 

An insightful observation about the nature of 4e, and why it hasn't succeeded as well as other editions. (from the DDN General Discussions, 2014-05-07)

Rundell wrote:

   

Emerikol wrote:

       

Foxface wrote:

        4e was the "modern" D&D, right?  The one that had design notes that drew from more modern games, and generally appealed to those who preferred the design priorities of modern games.  I'm only speculating, but I'd hazard a guess that those same 4e players are the ones running the wide gamut of other games at Origins.

       
        D&D 4e players are pretty much by definition the players who didn't mind, and often embraced, D&D being "different".  That willingness to embrace the different might also mean they are less attached to 4e itself, and are willing to go elsewhere.

    This is a brilliant insight.  I was thinking along those lines myself.  

 

    There are so many tiny indie games that if you added them all together they would definitely rival Pathfinder.   If there were a dominant game for those people it would do better but there is no dominant game.  Until 4e, the indie people were ignored by the makers of D&D.

 

Yep. 4E was embraced by the 'system matters' crowd who love analyzing and innovating systems. That crowd had turned its back on D&D as a clunky anachronism. But with 4E, their design values were embraced and validated. 4E was D&D for system-wonks. And with support for 4E pulled, the system-wonks have moved on to other systems. The tropes and traditions of D&D never had much appeal for them anyway. Now there are other systems to learn and study. It's like boardgamegeeks - always a new system on the horizon. Why play an ancient games that's seven years old?

 

Of course, not all people who play and enjoy 4E fit that mould. I'm running a 4E campaign right now, and my long-time D&D players are enjoying it fine. But with the system-wonks decamping, the 4E players-base lost the wind in its sails.

2-5, with most fights sitting around 3, and tough fights reaching 4-5.
2-5, with most fights sitting around 3, and tough fights reaching 4-5.



I voted 3 but this is what I meant.
I agree 4-6 depending on starting positions and suprize rounds ect...

But, I have a question. I am running a game soon with only 3 players, should I still aim for 4-6?



Currently playing a 3-characters moderately-optimized party, just hit paragon, and fights take about 1 or 2 rounds longer than the 4-6 average. Daze, stun and other nasty conditions have a bigger impact on a smaller party.
-Realize You are your own source of all Creation, of your own master plan.
Level is pretty important here.  If you're doing 2-3 round battles in epic, you're ending fights with the majority of your powers unused.  Also, the scale and complexity of fights should increase as level goes up.

You should definitely avoid a slugfest, but if you have ideas for dynamic, multifaceted encounters, they simply can't be fully enjoyed in three rounds.  If you're killing orcs in a field, 2-3 rounds should do it.  If you're battling a wizard in his labratory with summoned pets and magical traps, 7-8 rounds could very well be called for.

I'd put my average around 5-6 rounds, just because I like things to happen during encounters that require changes in strategy, and if there is an easy series of fights we just RP/Skill it instead.
I agree 4-6 depending on starting positions and suprize rounds ect...

But, I have a question. I am running a game soon with only 3 players, should I still aim for 4-6?



Currently playing a 3-characters moderately-optimized party, just hit paragon, and fights take about 1 or 2 rounds longer than the 4-6 average. Daze, stun and other nasty conditions have a bigger impact on a smaller party.

On the flip side of this, I recently played a game with 9 PCs, and the longest encounter we had was 3 rounds.  PCs synergize a lot better than monsters, so a large party can really tear things up.  Party size makes a big difference.

I'd like to have both quick and long battles be possible in the game.

"Ah, the age-old conundrum. Defenders of a game are too blind to see it's broken, and critics are too idiotic to see that it isn't." - Brian McCormick

I agree 4-6 depending on starting positions and suprize rounds ect...

But, I have a question. I am running a game soon with only 3 players, should I still aim for 4-6?



Nope the smaller your group the more rounds ... see as near as I can tell the wait between your turns and your opportunity to contribute is exactly the issue my group is smaller and I also have players acting on there off turns frequently (with rolled defenses replacing enemy rolled attacks too) so players are involved a lot. 8 rounds is a fun fight.. or maybe we just like describing combat action a lot shrug.

Ofcourse unimportant fights that are easy with a few minions shrug those are different I cant imagine why people would assume all fights are supposed to take the same amount of time.
  Creative Character Build Collection and The Magic of King's and Heros  also Can Martial Characters Fly? 

Improvisation in 4e: Fave 4E Improvisations - also Wrecans Guides to improvisation beyond page 42
The Non-combatant Adventurer (aka Princess build Warlord or LazyLord)
Reality is unrealistic - and even monkeys protest unfairness
Reflavoring the Fighter : The Wizard : The Swordmage - Creative Character Collection: Bloodwright (Darksun Character) 

At full hit points and still wounded to incapacitation? you are playing 1e.
By virtue of being a player your characters are the protagonists in a heroic fantasy game even at level one
"Wizards and Warriors need abilities with explicit effects for opposite reasons. With the wizard its because you need to create artificial limits on them, they have no natural ones and for the Warrior you need to grant permission to do awesome."

 

I know life isn't really all about me (except my life, of course), but I am surprised there were no comments on my post above listing different lengths of combat for different contexts.
Using the story example...


  • Minor or incidental combat: 2-3 rounds. This is a prologue. It also fits as an aside, a time delay)

  • Standard combat as described: 5 rounds. This is your basic short story or your standard issue-in-a-series.

  • Clincher: 5-7 rounds. This is bigger than a prologue. It is the combat that says "you are not only on the right track. You are also in the thick of things". It would involve a combat in which the identity of the BEG is learned, and a trusted lieutenant-with-a-name is defeated.

  • Arc closer: 7-10 rounds. This is like the end of a trilogy in a series that has more than 3 books, or the end of a comic storyline for an ongoing title. The BBEG will be killed/captured, and things will "return to normalcy". (But, as with any ongoing series, there should be a new prologue soon after.)

  • Campaign closer: 8-12 rounds. This is the end of a trilogy that stays a trilogy, or the last issue of a comic title. This is the Doomsday vs Superman, the Ender vs the Buggers.


I would suggest that an "adventure" have two or three minor or incidental combats, and two standard combats for every Clincher or Closer in the adventure.



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 know life isn't really all about me (except my life, of course), but I am surprised there were no comments on my post above listing different lengths of combat for different contexts.
Using the story example...


  • Minor or incidental combat: 2-3 rounds. This is a prologue. It also fits as an aside, a time delay)

  • Standard combat as described: 5 rounds. This is your basic short story or your standard issue-in-a-series.

  • Clincher: 5-7 rounds. This is bigger than a prologue. It is the combat that says "you are not only on the right track. You are also in the thick of things". It would involve a combat in which the identity of the BEG is learned, and a trusted lieutenant-with-a-name is defeated.

  • Arc closer: 7-10 rounds. This is like the end of a trilogy in a series that has more than 3 books, or the end of a comic storyline for an ongoing title. The BBEG will be killed/captured, and things will "return to normalcy". (But, as with any ongoing series, there should be a new prologue soon after.)

  • Campaign closer: 8-12 rounds. This is the end of a trilogy that stays a trilogy, or the last issue of a comic title. This is the Doomsday vs Superman, the Ender vs the Buggers.


I would suggest that an "adventure" have two or three minor or incidental combats, and two standard combats for every Clincher or Closer in the adventure.




HehI agree with you but think the number of rounds further scale up with fewer players  - I also think once the number of rounds go so low they might as well be a single roll as part of a skill challenge.

In other words there is one category below that in significance...  
  Creative Character Build Collection and The Magic of King's and Heros  also Can Martial Characters Fly? 

Improvisation in 4e: Fave 4E Improvisations - also Wrecans Guides to improvisation beyond page 42
The Non-combatant Adventurer (aka Princess build Warlord or LazyLord)
Reality is unrealistic - and even monkeys protest unfairness
Reflavoring the Fighter : The Wizard : The Swordmage - Creative Character Collection: Bloodwright (Darksun Character) 

At full hit points and still wounded to incapacitation? you are playing 1e.
By virtue of being a player your characters are the protagonists in a heroic fantasy game even at level one
"Wizards and Warriors need abilities with explicit effects for opposite reasons. With the wizard its because you need to create artificial limits on them, they have no natural ones and for the Warrior you need to grant permission to do awesome."

 

I also think once the number of rounds go so low they might as well be a single roll as part of a skill challenge. In other words there is one category below that in significance...

Definitely, although *I* would consider that to be something other than a combat round, thereby falling outside the scope of the original question. However, I don't think my categorization of that step as non-combat precludes its inclusion in the analogy. So...

Skill challenge resolution: This is the adventure equivalent of foreshadowing or a straight-up preview. It may be tense, but it doesn't require detailed round-by-round resolution.
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 also think once the number of rounds go so low they might as well be a single roll as part of a skill challenge. In other words there is one category below that in significance...

Definitely, although *I* would consider that to be something other than a combat round, thereby falling outside the scope of the original question. However, I don't think my categorization of that step as non-combat precludes its inclusion in the analogy. So...

Skill challenge resolution: This is the adventure equivalent of foreshadowing or a straight-up preview. It may be tense, but it doesn't require detailed round-by-round resolution.



Sure its not a combat round but rather its significance... is low enough - for me if something was only going to take 2 or three rounds to resolve in the players favor I might be perfectly happy to roll it in to a roll which just resolves the repercusions without all the details.

And actually that is even without skill challenge context.

The game doesnt necessarily elegantly transition betwixt the tactical fights and what we are talking about.
  Creative Character Build Collection and The Magic of King's and Heros  also Can Martial Characters Fly? 

Improvisation in 4e: Fave 4E Improvisations - also Wrecans Guides to improvisation beyond page 42
The Non-combatant Adventurer (aka Princess build Warlord or LazyLord)
Reality is unrealistic - and even monkeys protest unfairness
Reflavoring the Fighter : The Wizard : The Swordmage - Creative Character Collection: Bloodwright (Darksun Character) 

At full hit points and still wounded to incapacitation? you are playing 1e.
By virtue of being a player your characters are the protagonists in a heroic fantasy game even at level one
"Wizards and Warriors need abilities with explicit effects for opposite reasons. With the wizard its because you need to create artificial limits on them, they have no natural ones and for the Warrior you need to grant permission to do awesome."

 

I don't think you can generalize.

For one thing I don't think the number of rounds a combat lasts is the most meaningful measure of time. Table time is what really matters. Rounds SOUND like they might matter when you are discussing fights on a forum where how they read is what is apparent. At the actual table the drama has to carry in real time. So, my primary answer has to be 1/2 to 2 hours.

That being said 'average' fights probably should last something like 5-6 rounds. This seems to be what the game is aiming for and designed around.
That is not dead which may eternal lie
I don't think you can generalize.

For one thing I don't think the number of rounds a combat lasts is the most meaningful measure of time. Table time is what really matters. Rounds SOUND like they might matter when you are discussing fights on a forum where how they read is what is apparent. At the actual table the drama has to carry in real time. So, my primary answer has to be 1/2 to 2 hours.

That being said 'average' fights probably should last something like 5-6 rounds. This seems to be what the game is aiming for and designed around.



I like a 45-75min time frame myself.
Assuming each player takes 2 mins and the DM takes 4 and you have 5-6 players each round should last roughly 15mins.

As a player, I can handle more rounds of combat if they're going faster. It's when players take 5-6 mins to play out there turn that I go crazy. I also lean heavily toward playing Controllers and if I can get my turn done in less than 1min, there is no reason the Striker needs 6.
I will be honest, I think 4e fights take WAY too long. My vote was not based on how many rounds I think 4e fights should take, but how many rounds I would like an RPG to take in general.
I don't think you can generalize.

For one thing I don't think the number of rounds a combat lasts is the most meaningful measure of time. Table time is what really matters. Rounds SOUND like they might matter when you are discussing fights on a forum where how they read is what is apparent. At the actual table the drama has to carry in real time. So, my primary answer has to be 1/2 to 2 hours.

That being said 'average' fights probably should last something like 5-6 rounds. This seems to be what the game is aiming for and designed around.



I like a 45-75min time frame myself.
Assuming each player takes 2 mins and the DM takes 4 and you have 5-6 players each round should last roughly 15mins.

As a player, I can handle more rounds of combat if they're going faster. It's when players take 5-6 mins to play out there turn that I go crazy. I also lean heavily toward playing Controllers and if I can get my turn done in less than 1min, there is no reason the Striker needs 6.

Agreed.

All this being said I've had a WIDE variety of different styles of encounters. I think more than talking about individual encounters you really have to examine adventures. I don't think I will try to delve into this here as it would be OT. There's been a good bit of discussion the subject though. Critical Hits is a good place to poke around.
That is not dead which may eternal lie
Please note that this thread is not about how long combat takes at the table.  The thread is not about special fights designed to take a shorter time (like taking out a few minion guards) or fights designed to end a climactic chapter to a campaign (like a boss fight against a tough solo).  I'm asking about standard fights, between PCs and an equal number of standard monsters.



The OP doesn't ask how long a combat runs at the table or how shorter clip or longer scene finale should take in Rounds. 

Its about combat lenght in Rounds in general for the bulk of fights going on. Wether you meet Orcs on the Road while going to the Ruins of Keep Rolunn or in the first antichamber in the Ruins some Ghost attacks your party, how many Rounds you think those combat should take in general.

5-6 Rounds can vary in real time from one table to another, from one group to another. I know party with lots of out-of-turn actions tends to slow things also etc....

So real time is variable. Combat Rounds is universal. 

So real time is variable. Combat Rounds is universal.

Not completely.  A group that has heavy healer's and defenders can average 8 rounds.   Likewise a group of all strikers could average 2 rounds (not neccicaraly winning).

guides
List of no-action attacks.
Dynamic vs Static Bonuses
Phalanx tactics and builds
Crivens! A Pictsies Guide Good
Power
s to intentionally miss with
Mr. Cellophane: How to be unnoticed
Way's to fire around corners
Crits: what their really worth
Retroactive bonus vs Static bonus.
Runepriest handbook & discussion thread
Holy Symbols to hang around your neck
Ways to Gain or Downgrade Actions
List of bonuses to saving throws
The Ghost with the Most (revenant handbook)
my builds
F-111 Interdictor Long (200+ squares) distance ally teleporter. With some warlord stuff. Broken in a plot way, not a power way.

Thought Switch Higher level build that grants upto 14 attacks on turn 1. If your allies play along, it's broken.

Elven Critters Crit op with crit generation. 5 of these will end anything. Broken.

King Fisher Optimized net user.  Moderate.

Boominator Fun catch-22 booming blade build with either strong or completely broken damage depending on your reading.

Very Distracting Warlock Lot's of dazing and major penalties to hit. Overpowered.

Pocket Protector Pixie Stealth Knight. Maximizing the defender's aura by being in an ally's/enemy's square.

Yakuza NinjIntimiAdin: Perma-stealth Striker that offers a little protection for ally's, and can intimidate bloodied enemies. Very Strong.

Chargeburgler with cheese Ranged attacks at the end of a charge along with perma-stealth. Solid, could be overpowered if tweaked.

Void Defender Defends giving a penalty to hit anyone but him, then removing himself from play. Can get somewhat broken in epic.

Scry and Die Attacking from around corners, while staying hidden. Moderate to broken, depending on the situation.

Skimisher Fly in, attack, and fly away. Also prevents enemies from coming close. Moderate to Broken depending on the enemy, but shouldn't make the game un-fun, as the rest of your team is at risk, and you have enough weaknesses.

Indestructible Simply won't die, even if you sleep though combat.  One of THE most abusive character in 4e.

Sir Robin (Bravely Charge Away) He automatically slows and pushes an enemy (5 squares), while charging away. Hard to rate it's power level, since it's terrain dependent.

Death's Gatekeeper A fun twist on a healic, making your party "unkillable". Overpowered to Broken, but shouldn't actually make the game un-fun, just TPK proof.

Death's Gatekeeper mk2, (Stealth Edition) Make your party "unkillable", and you hidden, while doing solid damage. Stronger then the above, but also easier for a DM to shut down. Broken, until your DM get's enough of it.

Domination and Death Dominate everything then kill them quickly. Only works @ 30, but is broken multiple ways.

Battlemind Mc Prone-Daze Protecting your allies by keeping enemies away. Quite powerful.

The Retaliator Getting hit deals more damage to the enemy then you receive yourself, and you can take plenty of hits. Heavy item dependency, Broken.

Dead Kobold Transit Teleports 98 squares a turn, and can bring someone along for the ride. Not fully built, so i can't judge the power.

Psilent Guardian Protect your allies, while being invisible. Overpowered, possibly broken.

Rune of Vengance Do lot's of damage while boosting your teams. Strong to slightly overpowered.

Charedent BarrageA charging ardent. Fine in a normal team, overpowered if there are 2 together, and easily broken in teams of 5.

Super Knight A tough, sticky, high damage knight. Strong.

Super Duper Knight Basically the same as super knight with items, making it far more broken.

Mora, the unkillable avenger Solid damage, while being neigh indestuctable. Overpowered, but not broken.

Swordburst Maximus At-Will Close Burst 3 that slide and prones. Protects allies with off actions. Strong, possibly over powered with the right party.

So real time is variable. Combat Rounds is universal.

Not completely.  A group that has heavy healer's and defenders can average 8 rounds.   Likewise a group of all strikers could average 2 rounds (not neccicaraly winning).



What i mean by that is that one party's 8 rounds can be shorter in time than another party's 2 rounds. Hence why i think wrecan went with the combat rounds approach rather than real time one.
By level 12 a character has 4 (if not 5) encounter powers. Assuming those are all standard-action type of powers, you really want to use all 4 rounds plus 2 or so for the use of dailies and that at-will power. Hence the reason I voted for 6. Having said that, the number can vary drastically based on the party composition and their power selection. If the PCs have more interupt and minor action type of encounter powers or a few specialized ones, they need less time before they are down to at-wills, and the fights likely should be shorter (unless you give them other things to do than attack). On the other hand, if they have a couple of good at-wills, or like complicated tactical control, it probably should take more time. Still, I feel that 6 should be the average* ;)

* And unless there are many action denial in a fight, this is also usually the number I hit in my own campaigns. 
I wonder if a better question is how many resources should an encounter eat?

As far as I can tell, the resources a PC expends in a battle is:

  1. Hit points/healing surges

  2. Daily Powers

  3. Item Powers

  4. Consumable Items

Am I missing any?

So a battle's difficulty can be measured in how many of these resources are expended.  Hmm... I wonder if you could create an overall resource mechanic -- possibly healing surges -- from which all of these flowed.  Spend a surge to use a daily, invoke a consumable, or a daily item power.  This could, however, usher back in the five-minute adventuring day, so we'd have compensate for folks who try to nova.  That said, this wouldn't be bad.  Combats can be measured in the surges we expect to burn.  Instead of a XP budget, you'd make a surge budget.

Encounter one: two surge/PC
Encounter two: one surge/PC
Skill Challenge: 3 surges/PC
Boss Fight: 5 surges/PC

Something to think about, anyway.
I wonder if a better question is how many resources should an encounter eat?

As far as I can tell, the resources a PC expends in a battle is:

  1. Hit points/healing surges

  2. Daily Powers

  3. Item Powers

  4. Consumable Items

Am I missing any?
 


If your players have allies / minions even somewhat hardier
ones they might qualify as consumables I guess ;p
  Creative Character Build Collection and The Magic of King's and Heros  also Can Martial Characters Fly? 

Improvisation in 4e: Fave 4E Improvisations - also Wrecans Guides to improvisation beyond page 42
The Non-combatant Adventurer (aka Princess build Warlord or LazyLord)
Reality is unrealistic - and even monkeys protest unfairness
Reflavoring the Fighter : The Wizard : The Swordmage - Creative Character Collection: Bloodwright (Darksun Character) 

At full hit points and still wounded to incapacitation? you are playing 1e.
By virtue of being a player your characters are the protagonists in a heroic fantasy game even at level one
"Wizards and Warriors need abilities with explicit effects for opposite reasons. With the wizard its because you need to create artificial limits on them, they have no natural ones and for the Warrior you need to grant permission to do awesome."

 

Kind of a different measure of combat length: How many player turns does it take for combat to end?

I'd like somewhere between 20-30 for standard battles.
I'd like somewhere between 25-40 for minor boss battles.
I'd like somewhere between 30-50 for major boss battles.
I wonder if a better question is how many resources should an encounter eat?

As far as I can tell, the resources a PC expends in a battle is:

  1. Hit points/healing surges

  2. Daily Powers

  3. Item Powers

  4. Consumable Items

Am I missing any?


 
  Action points.
  Ritual components (consumable items).
  Once per day abilities (e.g. epic destinies).

  That assumes you get a short rest.  If not you can add encounter powers.

  You can also acquire the weakened or dead conditions.

So a battle's difficulty can be measured in how many of these resources are expended.  Hmm... I wonder if you could create an overall resource mechanic -- possibly healing surges -- from which all of these flowed.  Spend a surge to use a daily, invoke a consumable, or a daily item power.  This could, however, usher back in the five-minute adventuring day, so we'd have compensate for folks who try to nova.  That said, this wouldn't be bad.  Combats can be measured in the surges we expect to burn.  Instead of a XP budget, you'd make a surge budget.

Encounter one: two surge/PC
Encounter two: one surge/PC
Skill Challenge: 3 surges/PC
Boss Fight: 5 surges/PC

Something to think about, anyway.


 
  With a 1 leader party with 5 players I expect to have the party at least around 12 surges a fight, or it was too easy and probably shouldn't have been run.  12 surges focused on 2 characters means they got low, made the leader use both uses of their encounter heal and used second wind.  If those surges get spread out across more than 2 characters, the fight will be pretty easy and no one is really in any danger.  16-20 surge fights I might see someone actually go unconcious but it's unlikely the party will lose.  25+ surge fights someone might die and the party might have to withdraw but probably not depending on how the damage gets distributed and if they're bright enough to have consumables.

  It depends a lot on how much the DM spreads out damage or how much AE the monsters do.  15 surges spread evenly among 5 players means no one even needed the leader to use their minor heals, no one needed consumables and no one was in any real danger, a very easy fight, but 15 surges on 1 character probably means dead character which you wouldn't really call an easy fight.

  Having a typical two 20 surge fights will pretty much exhaust the healing surges of the party and force a rest if we aren't using unlimited healing surges.

@mikemearls don't quite understand the difference

I don't make the rules, I just think them up and write them down. - Eric Cartman

Enough chitchat!  Time is candy! - Pinky Pie

Depends on PC levels and player experience and attitude.

New players, exploring thier characters' capabilities for the first time, will probably apreciate more than a few rounds of combat even at first level, when they have only a couple of at-wills and a single encounter available in ever battle.  More experienced players will get bored if a low-level fight goes more than 3 rounds or so, because there's nothing new or cool or interesting about using a familiar old at-will /again/.

As you progress through the Heroic Tier, the PC's number of encounter and daily powers triples, and they get a lot of utilities.  By high heroic, it'd take at /least/ six rounds of combat to really give each character a chance to stretch his abilities and shine a little. 

Through paragon, characters get yet another encounter and daily, and more utilities.  More options, more rounds needed to trot those options out - both in the sense of using them at all and in the sense of waiting for a setting up opportunities to get the best use out of them. 

 

 

Oops, looks like this request tried to create an infinite loop. We do not allow such things here. We are a professional website!

I wonder if a better question is how many resources should an encounter eat?

As far as I can tell, the resources a PC expends in a battle is:

  1. Hit points/healing surges

  2. Daily Powers

  3. Item Powers

  4. Consumable Items

Am I missing any?

So a battle's difficulty can be measured in how many of these resources are expended.  Hmm... I wonder if you could create an overall resource mechanic -- possibly healing surges -- from which all of these flowed.  Spend a surge to use a daily, invoke a consumable, or a daily item power.  This could, however, usher back in the five-minute adventuring day, so we'd have compensate for folks who try to nova.  That said, this wouldn't be bad.  Combats can be measured in the surges we expect to burn.  Instead of a XP budget, you'd make a surge budget.

Encounter one: two surge/PC
Encounter two: one surge/PC
Skill Challenge: 3 surges/PC
Boss Fight: 5 surges/PC

Something to think about, anyway.


I think it's quite difficult to even consider instituting a surge-based XP-analogue, given the tremendous variance in surge availability.  A Rogue could potentially use half his surges just to use his Dailies under a scheme like this, where a Paladin might only use 1/5 of his surges.  It would be wildly unbalancing to base a system on something so variable.
Harrying your Prey, the Easy Way: A Hunter's Handbook - the first of what will hopefully be many CharOp efforts on my part. The Blinker - teleport everywhere. An Eladrin Knight/Eldritch Knight. CB != rules source.
Sign In to post comments