Dragon 399 - Combat Velocity

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Dragon 399
Combat Velocity

by Matt Sernett

You might have a blast with an hourlong battle, but sometimes a fight can drag out longer than you would like.

Talk about this gallery here.




Is it so much to ask, as paying customers, that we get working download links?  Really?  This isn't even the first time this month that this has happened -_-
Indeed.
Thirded.
Guys, you really need to look at your article publishing checklist, number 1 on there should be 'upload the PDF'...
Typical


This was one article I was considering re subing for. The combat length is the only thing about 4e which keeps me from playing with any regularity (Ok so I can't stand square fireballs but I can live with that).


I came here to check what people thought of the article first only to find DDI is still having problems posting things.


I am hoping this is something which gives some well thought out options for narrative combat or abstract combat when you just want a quick fight to advance the story rather than a knock down slug fest with all the tactical options.


The options that Mr Mearls talks about are the holy grail I hope they can get too either in this system or in 5e but I was hoping this article goes someway towards it. I am also hoping it is something more than the out some of the bloggers mention, whilst that is a good option it's not something I want for every fight.            

  
Great, as it happens my sub ran out this afternoon. If the link had worked, I would have seen the article. Yell
I might have a blast if your links worked correctly. I can't believe we pay for less and less service. No compiled issues. No ability to read articles as they are routinely late or links don't work. Character builder full of bugs and not open for house rules (less than previous edition), monster builder that is just a laugh out loud joke. Thanks for the character portrait tool thing that you debuted a couple of years ago that was a fun little tease followed up with lies. Poorest customer service I have ever seen. You fail. I am not surprised at this point as you fail more than you succeed. Sad days indeed that you continuously rip off your loyal fan base and fail to keep your word. A pox upon you for a false tongue and idle hands.
I was feeling good about this month. There were good (some very good) articles, communication from the editors, nice artwork, overall a real good month...

Then, at the 5 yard line, somebody goes and drops the ball by putting in an article without checking to make sure the link works.



While I too wish that the article had made it up and hope that they'll fix the link soon, I just want to say to all my fellow posters, and at the risk of really not helping and with a great deal of respect...

Chill.  I know it's frustrating and that (it sounds like) the timing may be unfortunate for some folks, but I promise you that it's not worth getting angry about.  Yes, I know we're paying customers and that checking the link would be a pretty basic thing, etc, but 

It'll get there.

And if you want a tip on how to speed up combat, here's three:
1) if you use minis, use multi-colored pipe-cleaners to denote conditions and temporary modifiers.  Lime green for ongoing acid damage, red for bloodied, black for hidden, etc.  It saves you a lot of cognitive load to have a visual cue to what's affecting the character - when you get 3 or 4 on a character, it also looks pretty festive.
2) the number one culprit to combat speed is the time it takes for players (including the DM) to choose between their powers, their possible targets, and the different positions they might get to.  To cut this down, you can put a hard limit on how much time the player has to decide their actions, or you can ask anyone who doesn't start their turn knowing more or less what they want to do to delay until they make up their mind.
3) USE WITH CAUTION: Up monster damage on all attacks by an amount equal to the monster's level, and reduce its hp by a 20-40%.  I've heard this called "hardcore mode" because it will make your fights fast and very deadly on both sides, but it will definitely prevent the feeling of "well, now I've used all the monster's cool abilities but it's still above bloodied."

 Hoping I didn't just kick a sleeping dire bear...
Aoi
I too was very happy with this month. Id say this was the strongest showing of articals Ive seen in my 3 years of reading the issues on a regular basis.This is not the end of world, but its also a very easy mistake Not to make, and seeing as WofC has made it before this month, you think they would have sent out a memo that said "Hey remember to link the pdf you're linking to... obviouse" so to avoid repeating mistakes...

In the Nentir Vale, all injured creatures are required to wear a name tag!
It's implied in the (broken) URL, but this is an Unearthed Arcana article, correct?
D&DNext: HTFU Edition
Getting the article link working now. Should be up shortly.

@Yaldabaoth This article was originally going to be Unearthed Arcana, but it didn't have enough crunch options that we felt it merited the title.

D&D Producer

The link is working now, at least for me.
Getting the article link working now. Should be up shortly.

Thanks for getting this fixed so quickly!

"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

It wasn't worth the wait.

Anyone find a single suggestion that hasn't been made on these boards already, or couldn't have been generated by a moment's thought?

Very poor.
It wasn't worth the wait.

Anyone find a single suggestion that hasn't been made on these boards already, or couldn't have been generated by a moment's thought?

Very poor.


Agreed.

No offense intended to the article author (he's written some good stuff), but it was poor. There are plenty of great blogs and forums out there where ALL these suggestions have been made time and time again.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't that.
schwalb did this better on his blog

www.robertjschwalb.com/2010/09/ask-dr-ev...

still not working for me, I tried the link on the main page, and the link through dragon mag, is there anyone else still unable to download this pdf?
In the Nentir Vale, all injured creatures are required to wear a name tag!
I liked: simple, direct, with several options.

The one I liked the most, and haven't seen in other articles, was the average damage method. I'd implement it for regular monsters only, leaving the rolling of damage for elite and solos.
@patoace

I'm surprised you've not come across the average damage method.  It's imbedded in the original monster builder, and I'm pretty sure it's suggested in one of the DMGs. (I use it for my high-paragon game.)  So it's not really original and, while I appreciate it may have been new to you and therefore welcome, I'd like my articles - as paid for by my monthly subscription - to be more than just contemplative.

I honestly thought for a minute they were going to have done something concrete about the thorny question of combat drag.  But all we got was more of what we already knew.
still not working for me, I tried the link on the main page, and the link through dragon mag, is there anyone else still unable to download this pdf?

Try it now.

D&D Producer

still not working for me, I tried the link on the main page, and the link through dragon mag, is there anyone else still unable to download this pdf?

Try it now.



works than
In the Nentir Vale, all injured creatures are required to wear a name tag!
I actually don't find the battles that long in my games but I was looking forward to reading the article. I think everything in there was good but it felt like there should have been more. I'm not sure why (maybe stuff got cut, who knows?) but after reading it I felt a little disappointed. It probably could have used two or three more suggestions (perhaps some more advanced stuff for people to try) and it would have been great.

Still, I really like that Dragon offers these types of articles instead of the constant stream of new (and sometimes overwhelming) character build options in every article and I hope that this trend continues.  
Anyone find a single suggestion that hasn't been made on these boards already

fwiw: that fact actually means that the article was both needed and appropriate. Not everyone reads the boards; and even those that do often don't seem to grok a lot of the concepts. And those that understood them completely still didn't have much 'official' backing to implement them without their players speculation that the method was poorly thought out.

I'm glad the article was written; even though I already knew all the information, it's presence was nonetheless more useful to me than most other articles.

That said:
Doubling PC damage (but not monser damage): I'm surprised this was the author's preferred method. It is the biggest deviation from standard play, and pretty much throws play balance (and hence, much of 4e) out the window.

Doubling all damage: pro - quick deaths (potentially from a single attack) can also make the game more realistic, which some groups might enjoy.

Average Damage: I love using this method... it has much more of an impact on pacing than one would expect. Also, damage die have much less randomizing effect on the game in 4e than people realize (discarding them surprisingly doesn't have much of an effect).

Not discussed: initiative streamlining (like as mentioned in DMG p.32). Initiative (or more precisely: waiting for someone to make up their mind) seems to have one of the biggest effects on pacing, so I'm surpised it wasn't mentioned. My own method is to have all the monsters act on the same (average) initiative. Player initiative determines who goes before the monsters on the first round, but after the monsters act the players can generally go in any order they wish (thanks to delaying and such)... so hesitant players can be easily skipped (and come back to) because they will all be taking their turns before the monsters go anyway.

    I'm surprised you've not come across the average damage method.

    That actually did not surprise me, so I was doubly glad it was included in the article.

    1) if you use minis, use multi-colored pipe-cleaners to denote conditions and temporary modifiers.  Lime green for ongoing acid damage, red for bloodied, black for hidden, etc.  It saves you a lot of cognitive load to have a visual cue to what's affecting the character - when you get 3 or 4 on a character, it also looks pretty festive.

    This! Actually, the groups in my area use colored hairbands (like tiny rubberbands, not not made out of rubber)... they're found in the hair-care section of Fred-Meyer's and such. I've tried other methods, but so far hair-bands have been the best.

    fwiw: I store them on colored paperclips which are connected to a card that contains the following legend:
    YELLOW= SLOW or other hindered movement: immobilized, restrained, etc.
    BLUE=UNHAPPY: dazed, weakened, under a penalty, etc.
    PURPLE= VERY UNHAPPY: dominated, blinded, stunned, etc.
    ORANGE=FIRE or similar ongoing damage: radiant, psychic, untyped, etc.
    GREEN=POISON or similar ongoing damage: acid, necrotic, cold, etc.
    RED=BLOODIED of course
    Other colors: assigned to each player as desired to represent marked, cursed, quarried, etc.

    I thought it was a very good article. It seemed to me superior to just about any blog post I have read on the subject and it did a nice job of providing a variety of options. Part of the reason 4E is so great is because you can try a lot of different approaches and not have the game collapse. Changing up your approach in these ways is worth trying.

    When it comes to doubling PC damage, I would guess this might be from using traditional straight-forward combats (especially mid-to-late heroic) where the threat is up front and the rest can be grind. If that is the case, then PC damage will just reduce the duration but not change the result greatly. It is especially true if you don't use low HP strategic monsters, such as artillery or controllers. MM1 and 2 monsters often do their only high damage via recharging or encounter powers. MM3 and beyond monsters are a greater threat for the entire encounter.

    I don't use grindy encounters, so doubling PC damage is not an option I would use. I often use some delicate monsters and protect them accordingly, so they get what they need done and then get killed by the heroes. It creates a fast and furious combat. Dark Sun defenses really help, as does MM3 and beyond levels of damage.

    Using fewer monsters is actually a very good tip. Part of what works here is having fewer things for everyone to worry/think about. A battle with waves is usually faster than one where all monsters start on the map. Conversely, for a very difficult and tactical combat you often want more monsters and to not have an obvious "important" must-kill monster. When players don't focus fire and spread out incorrectly over a battlefield the monsters usually do very well.

    Another tip, and one that works well with the PC damage doubling, is to have damaging terrain or added monster powers (such as a damaging monster aura) instead of more monsters. If you figure you would be adding a monster that does x damage per turn, consider making it a terrain feature or aura or bonus to monster damage and manage your XP budget accordingly. The result is less for the PCs to fight but the same damage intake for them. You greatly speed up play without hurting challenge level. If the damage is ever too high, have it go away when monsters are bloodied, a certain number are defeated, or when PCs use skills on terrain to "turn it off".

    Edit: Like MVincent, I use the Goody's hair bands. They don't damage painted minis, an additional plus, and are incredibly cheap. I talk about marking minis here, should it be of use.

    Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
    Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

    I'm all for roleplaying monsters, but that should also cover monsters provoking opportunity attacks and defender marks to get at softer targets, or accomplish some other goal. The extra dice rolling will slow things a tad, but the result is similar to the "double player damage" method without having to change the rules. It also appear to augment the monster damage because it's being laid on PCs who will notice it more.

    If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

    Kinda weak sauce.

    I like that they listed pros and cons for each move, and that they're trying to address the problem of overly long combats, but this is far too small of a band-aid on this sucking chest wound in the game. "Here's a bunch of risky steps you can take to redesign one of the foundational elements of the game a little bit to maybe help out, if you're prepared to do some work," is not the most useful way to address the problem.

    The MOST useful way to address the problem is to redesign the game with other things in mind, though I accept that they probably can't do that. Well, not in a dungeon article, at least. ;)

    Y'know, it's a first step. I'd like bolder steps. Break the cutie. Joss the combat system. Give me new hotness.
    heres another better blog post on the subject

    slyflourish.com/three-monster-powers-to-...
    Personally my solution to long combats is to make most combats interesting and actually have some kind of purpose. Either because they show a new monster, have a cool new "gimmick" in some way or just are well designed fights. I don't believe in a random dump 5x monsters into a map anymore. I try to make each combat as interesting and dynamic as I can, so nothing really feels boring or uninteresting.
    This article was disappointing.

    The first suggestion, I liked, though I wish the article had been a little broader in describing what I call orthogonal victory conditions. Basically, it's setting win conditions that aren't "kill everything". That works great. Tailor it to the encounter, make the world come to life more. Awesome.

    Doubling PC damage. Yeah, no. 4E is balanced the way it is quite carefully. Doubling PC damage is going to nullify monsters as threats. There's also the fact that you can achieve the same effect with less at-the-table math by halving all the monster HP beforehand, which makes combat even FASTER because you don't have to waste 2 seconds adding a x2 to all the damage the PCs do.

    Doubling ALL damage doesn't have the "nullify the threat" effect above, but it makes up for it by vastly increasing the added time for each damage calculation. Just halve everyone's HP if you want to do this; doing the math before the game is much better than doing it during the game.

    Averaging damage: this works, though personally everyone I've dealt with loves rolling dice too much to do it.

    Fewer monsters: This only works when the narrative allows for it. There's only so much you can shave off from the encounter without fundamentally changing its narrative punch.

    Simpler character options, aka beg your players not to take interesting stuff: Wrong. Wrong, wrong wrong. Wrong.

    Keep it Exciting: No, Matt, see, the problem with encounter length is not the length of the encounter, strictly speaking. It's that combat all too often outlasts the point where it's fun and/or exciting and then becomes a hassle. If we could implement this step on a regular basis, we WOULD NOT REQUIRE THIS ARTICLE. The entire problem with combat length is that combats are long to the point that it cuts in on the fun. If they were all long but worth it, there wouldn't be a problem. Relatively minor combats are dragging on, and they end up not really worth the time.

    You know what REALLY helps speed up combat?

    Writing down the bookkeeping. Make power cards out of index cards, keep monster profiles at your fingertips with cards or pages of stat blocks, write initiative down on something, calculate as many bonuses as you can before the fight even starts, etc. Sure, it's more prep time for the DM, but you can find 20 minutes before your weekly game to do this, I'm sure.

    There's also the thing that newbies have the most trouble with: watch the field even when it isn't your turn and plan your turn in advance. By the time the person before you is done, you should know exactly what you're doing. 
    Keep it Exciting: No, Matt, see, the problem with encounter length is not the length of the encounter, strictly speaking. It's that combat all too often outlasts the point where it's fun and/or exciting and then becomes a hassle. If we could implement this step on a regular basis, we WOULD NOT REQUIRE THIS ARTICLE. The entire problem with combat length is that combats are long to the point that it cuts in on the fun. If they were all long but worth it, there wouldn't be a problem. Relatively minor combats are dragging on, and they end up not really worth the time.


    This is the school of thought to which I most greatly subscribe. No length is too long if you are having a great time. Dynamic super-fun combats don't feel long. If a combat I made feels long, then I blame my own design.

    But, there is still a tendency for combats to occupy too great an amount of time compared to the time available for gaming and relative to the overall narrative. In my home campaign, in 4 hours I usually have a single complex combat and then a lot of RP. I would like for it to be a bit easier to have two complex combats and have them resolve quickly. By this I mean that the story of the combats and the action behind that story should ideally not be so dominant clock-wise to the rest of the narrative.

    In organized play, you can squeeze three combats, but it is difficult to do so. Everyone has to be working hard to make it happen and you lose some of the space where players can just explore and ad-lib. Guys like MVincent get a reputation for being able to run quickly and well, because it is hard and takes skill to accomplish. Similarly, it takes a lot of effort on the authoring side and in playtesting. Ideally, it would be a simple affair to support three combats in four hours, because three combats is a nice number for the narrative flow of a four-hour adventure. Ideally you would not need so much expertise both in authoring and at the table.

    Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
    Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

    On one hand I can say the article gave good tips I know work from some experience.  I've done a version of doubling everyone's damage by doubling the monster's damage and halving the monster's hit points this does speed things up a bit.  I' also try to keep my complexity as a DM low by avoiding lots of fiddly powers and I use lots of minions to keep my book keeping simple.  I also use average damage for monsters unless they critical.

    On the other hand this article did not give me any new ideas for speeding up combat.

    Other things I've done to speed up combat.
    I commonly use a terrain feature my player's call "sub-minions"  these are "enemies" that are so far beneath the player they have no chance of hitting and can't be missed by a player even on a 1.  The effect is that they are mobile terrain they have a turn in the initiative and can move 6 but then occupy a square the player can't move through unless they "dispatch" them.  Any attack will dispatch a sub minion whether it's an unarmed punch, a swordburst, or aprimatic burst.  There is no damage or to hit roll the player just has to spend that action to get rid of them.  The upsides is that they require no book keeping, the players get to feel powerful as they're reminded of how awesome they are compared to the average thug, and it's a fun way to run massive combats occasionally (the players have waded through literally a hundred sub minions to take on a cult leader and his guards.  The downside is moving sub minions can be time consuming especially if no one in the party has any at will area effects.
    Keep it Exciting: No, Matt, see, the problem with encounter length is not the length of the encounter, strictly speaking. It's that combat all too often outlasts the point where it's fun and/or exciting and then becomes a hassle. If we could implement this step on a regular basis, we WOULD NOT REQUIRE THIS ARTICLE. The entire problem with combat length is that combats are long to the point that it cuts in on the fun. If they were all long but worth it, there wouldn't be a problem. Relatively minor combats are dragging on, and they end up not really worth the time.



    I have to disagree. As someone who is actively implementing numerous measures in my next campaign to cut combat length... I'm not planning to do so for every battle. Elaborate boss fights and intense and dynamic set piece combats? I'm fine with those running 1-2 hours. My players remain entertained through such combats. It is entirely possible to have some fights that are worthy of the time spent on them.

    The key is that not every fight should be like that, or just about nothing gets done. I'm not saying I agree with everything in the article, but the idea of 'speed up random encounters and skirmishes with mooks, but allow important battles to run normally as long as you keep them interesting'... I definitely think there is a place for such logic.

    For myself, in my next campaign I'm going to treat some combats as normal battles - and not make any adjustments to them - and others will be considered 'skirmishes', in which I'll be using the 'no rolled damage' rules, fixed initiative orders, running without a grid, and using various others features (one attack roll for area spells, no OAs, etc) to try and speed those up. I'll also likely have such encounters filled mainly with skirmishers, artillery, etc, who can do solid damage while remaining easy to take out. I'm avoiding any of the double damage / reduced hp rules, since I feel that can end up messing a bit too much with the balance/difficulty of the game.
    I concur with MrMyth the speed of a combat should reflect the flavor of that combat.  Sometimes a fight should be exhausting to reflect a tireless enemy other times combat should be accelerated to evoke more of a sense of surprise.  Combat velocity can be used as a stroytelling tool.

    I would also point out that DMG2 does have other good tips for speeding up combat as well.  Including assigning different bookkeeping and organizational tasks to players.  If anything the quality of advice in that book is one of the reasons I was dissappointed in the lack of innovation in this article (despite the good advice).
    Kinda weak sauce.

    I like that they listed pros and cons for each move, and that they're trying to address the problem of overly long combats, but this is far too small of a band-aid on this sucking chest wound in the game. "Here's a bunch of risky steps you can take to redesign one of the foundational elements of the game a little bit to maybe help out, if you're prepared to do some work," is not the most useful way to address the problem.

    The MOST useful way to address the problem is to redesign the game with other things in mind, though I accept that they probably can't do that. Well, not in a dungeon article, at least. ;)

    Y'know, it's a first step. I'd like bolder steps. Break the cutie. Joss the combat system. Give me new hotness.



    Its only a 'sucking chest wound' for some groups.
    im assuming everyone uses a combat tracker but if you dont, that saves a ton of time. like so much that until you use one you shouldnt complain about combat length
    im assuming everyone uses a combat tracker but if you dont, that saves a ton of time. like so much that until you use one you shouldnt complain about combat length

    You would think that if it was that impactful that it would be mentioned in the DMG or in an article specifically devoted to expediting combat.  That being said, I have used one, and I find it mildly helpful in speeding up combat, but doesn't really make it any faster than a dry erase board and magnetic name and condition plates.

    Celebrate our differences.

    yeah theyre gonna push third party software in the dmg
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