Help A Lazy Group Find Ways To Speed Up Combat

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tldr - Speeding up our 4E combat encounters would be nice for me and my group, but we don't want to work at it like it was our job.

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On email currently my group are discussing how long it takes to play combat encounters, and how it would be nice to fit 3 encounters into an evening instead of 2 (counting an extended RP/explore session as an encounter).

Lots of threads on this subject abound. The difference here is I'd like to set some unreasonable constraints on what our group would be willing to do, by declaring we are too lazy to actually work at the problem, and hear from DMs and players in similar situation.

We play on a Friday night, after a week's work, quite late. We're all pretty tired when we play, and have little willpower or concentration to work aggressively on the issue. We're all friends, and as DM I don't want to be laying down the law on player behaviour, even if IMO it wastes time.

What we don't really want to do (but feel free to explain why it's easy and doesn't cause a problem):



  • Time each others' turns

  • Add house-rules (such as half HP, double damage for monsters)

  • Be ruthlessly efficient about action sequences

  • Punish players for not meeting play style ideals

  • Think :-)



What we are willing to do:



  • Use props, or organise combat stats in a particular way

  • Organise combat round sequence a specific way

  • Distribute responsibilities between players

  • As DM, I could put in some extra prep time

  • Reward players for playing efficiently (an extra encounter per session would be great reward, but seems out of reach without something that rewards at a smaller scale)



Currently for props we use battle map, tokens, and I prepare encounter sheets with all monster stats on 1 or 2 pages. When I can, I prep these in "encounter packs" with all necessary maps and tokens ready to go during play - setting up a combat encounter is usually just 2-3 mins, which is great. One of the players halps by tracking initiative.

What we seem to be wasting time on:



  • Complex turn deliberation

  • Forgetting to Mark, Curse, move to get LoS or range, then revising things mid-turn to fix it. I'm loathe to stop this optimisation, because the players like to play this way (personally, I don't play like this, which is what started our conversation)

  • Forgetting save ends conditions, needing to interrupt one turn to fix the mechanics of another

  • In fact, generally forgetting stuff!



So far, all I have come up with is more tokens might be useful to show conditions on the board. Assuming there are 4 different colours, and that's all you'd see at a glance, can anyone recommend an efficent way to organise these (i.e. should it be good guys 'til end of next turn/save ends and same for bad guys, or should we split marks, curses, ongoing damage).

What else is there we could consider? All opinions considered lazily Tongue out

Something I've found useful is to get a stack of blank 3"x5" filecards, and use them to track monsters' and players' current statuses - you can easily re-order them to track initiative, any effects that need their duration tracked can just get their own card (immediately before or immediately after the relevant character's card), and during play, you can just put the top one to the bottom when their turn ends.

Because anything relevant to the current character's current turn should be on their card, it should be easier to remember everything - the hardest part is checking through the cards to find the right one(s) to take damage and apply conditions to...
M:tG Rules Advisor
All those tracking aids and stuff save about 5-10 minutes, tops. This isn't much time at all, considering 4e combat. I do all of that wonderful combat helper stuff, but it has a minor impact on time. It is a godsend on the ease of running/tracking factor - completely worth it just for that. 

If after say the 3rd round, there's no way any of the players would have to make a death save before beating the opposition, have the monsters flee/surrender or ask the players to describe how they win the encounter. Recognizing a good point to just freaking stop is the biggest time saver. I admit, this can be hard to remember, but it saves the most time.

I use these drama cards. There's one card called mopping up, which provides players a way to end a won encounter if I as GM am caught in the combat grind trying to shave off some PC HP (which is often). It got used in the last game and it was great. I think I need to make sure the party always has the mopping up card.

4e combat is very front loaded. Rounds 1 and 2 are usually awesome. The rest is attrition without constant DM intervention and pacing technique (but these usually are ways to keep a long encounter interesting into round 7, which isn't what we're looking for here). When I'm tired, I need help in providing an out to end an encounter. If in planning, you can write yourself a combat out for each encounter, that will save you a bunch of time. Otherwise, give players a "power" to end a won encounter.

Might not be the solution for you, but that's what I'd do for my game. I don't like timers or punishing players for taking to long. My players try to be efficient anyway.
What we don't really want to do (but feel free to explain why it's easy and doesn't cause a problem):



  • Time each others' turns

  • Add house-rules (such as half HP, double damage for monsters)

  • Be ruthlessly efficient about action sequences

  • Punish players for not meeting play style ideals

  • Think :-)




I don't think any of those are generally necessary. Well, thinking is helpful, but the rest of that stuff can be avoided.


What we are willing to do:



  • Use props, or organise combat stats in a particular way

  • Organise combat round sequence a specific way

  • Distribute responsibilities between players

  • As DM, I could put in some extra prep time

  • Reward players for playing efficiently (an extra encounter per session would be great reward, but seems out of reach without something that rewards at a smaller scale)


 




Use props. Go to your local craft shop and pick up a pack of pipe cleaners. Use these to make little rings, and use a big index card taped to the front of the DM screen or whatever to indicate what color (or combo of colors) means what. My group does this, and generally, it's helpful. For instance, red means bloodied, white-and means marked or otherwise targeted (with the other color correlating to the person marking, or the person who cursed, etc).


What we seem to be wasting time on:



  • Complex turn deliberation

  • Forgetting to Mark, Curse, move to get LoS or range, then revising things mid-turn to fix it. I'm loathe to stop this optimisation, because the players like to play this way (personally, I don't play like this, which is what started our conversation)

  • Forgetting save ends conditions, needing to interrupt one turn to fix the mechanics of another

  • In fact, generally forgetting stuff!




For your part, write down on the monster's sheets when they have any conditions on them. If it's a save ends, write "SAVE" in big letters and circle the whole thing, so it draws your attention. For the players, some groups use condition cards, that may be helpful, or you can make pipe-cleaner-rings to indicate those conditions, and that may help, as well.


As for speeding up combat, in generally, track initiative. Use a card taped to the front of the DM screen (or whatever) to track everybody's initiative, who goes when. Let whoever is next know they are "on deck" so they can start figuring out what they want to do.


The obvious solution to stuff being forgotten is to write it down. Once you start writing it down, you just have to get in the habit of referencing it, and that will help alleviate the problem.

"Not only are you wrong, but I even created an Excel spreadsheet to show you how wrong you are." --James Wyatt, May 2006

Dilige, et quod vis fac

Never go back. If someone forgets something, it's forgotten and that's incentive to remember it next time.

Provoke more opportunity attacks and defender marks with monsters. Makes combat more exciting and burns HP faster.

Make fights about something other than grinding each other to dust.

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

Bonchour,

Like rmsgrey does, I use cards.

I took Magic cards and glued white paper on them. I wrote each players name, each monster ( Large 1-3, Blue 1-4, Red 1-2, etc...We have small circle for monsters ) and I slipped them in protective sleeves.

When the initiative is rolled, I place the cards in initiative order ( Logically ) and when someone got a dazed, slowed or other condition, I write it on a small paper and slip it into the sleeve too. I cut these papers longer than the height of the card so we can see what condition affect who. So, when it's a player turn, I can say:"You're dazed!" and I write "S" it's a Save Ends. If I wrote "red 1" it means the effect is up until the end of the "red 1 monster" turn.

Sometime, it's good to remind player that it's a combat, they can't speak 5 minutes about what they're gonna do. I ask them what they're gonna do and make them roll the dice. Rolling damages and hits at the same time may be a good thing too ( But I don't use it )

But, using cards is the best thing we did! Using Power Cards, USing Initiative Cards and I'll use Monster Cards soon!
I'm playing: Abin Gadon, Halfling Bard Winston "Slurphnose", Gnome Sorcerer Pasiphaé, Minotaur Shaman Eglerion, Elf Ellyrian Reaver (Ranger) DMing: Le Trésor du Fluide (Treasure from the Fluid) Un Royaume d'une Grande Valeur (A Kingdom of Great Value) La Légende de Persitaa (Persitaa's Legend) Une Série de Petites Quêtes... (A serie of short quests) Playtesting: Caves of Chaos We're building the greatest adventure ever known to DnD players! Also playing Legend of the Five Rings and Warhammer Fantasy. Sébastien, Beloeil, Qc. I am Neutral Good and 32 years old.
Never go back. If someone forgets something, it's forgotten and that's incentive to remember it next time.

Provoke more opportunity attacks and defender marks with monsters. Makes combat more exciting and burns HP faster.

Make fights about something other than grinding each other to dust.


These are solid suggestions.

I previously had the same problem that you describe, OP, and let me just say this: I tried everything the forum had ever suggested... and none of it worked - at least not until I kicked the one player of mine that was precisely the sort of player you describe out of the game and then told the others "the game starts flowing faster, or the game ends."

We use some simple table-behavior rules to facilitate the game flowing faster:

1. if you want to discuss strategy, you have to do it in character - and during a fight that means yelling your plan to your allies over the din of battle, risking that your enemy knows what you just said.

Strategy discussion has gone from "hey Nick, if you move over here next turn i could push this guy over here and then you could use burning hands readied for after Greg clears out of the way" which takes a bunch of time to "Voros yells out 'Get clear of that beast, I have a plan!' and I'll ready burning hands for when Greg's character moves out of the way."

2. Everyone reminds everyone - Players make sure I remember ongoing conditions on the monsters, and I remind them of their ongoing effects right as I tell them it is their turn.

3. You pay attention and get ready for your turn during other people's turn or you will be assumed to use total defense, stand still, and fail all saves that you might be needing to make.

4. Once the DM says "Alright, let's get started" all side converstations such as cool stories of what happened since the last time you saw the other players stop

I encourage players to show up early, or hang out afterwards, so that there is a time when we can share such stories - and I excersize a strict policy of saying "Hey, quit that," during schedule session time.

That might be another thing that helps your group - set a formal schedule to the gaming session so that everyone knows when they are supposed to start playing and exactly how long they are going to play for so that they can see for themself whether they feel they really have the time not to focus on the game.

ATTENTION:  If while reading my post you find yourself thinking "Either this guy is being sarcastic, or he is an idiot," do please assume that I am an idiot. It makes reading your replies more entertaining. If, however, you find yourself hoping that I am not being even remotely serious then you are very likely correct as I find irreverence and being ridiculous to be relaxing.

I didn't see "change character classes" on either list, but that's one thing your group might be able to do to speed things up.  If you can, steer the party toward abilities and classes that spend less time granting temporary modifiers, acting out of turn or granting themselves additional actions when they succeed at their regular in-turn actions.

You can also avoid using monsters with similar abilities.  Triggered actions and status effect tracking slow stuff down.  They can also make combat more variable and interesting, but if you make one of the three fights in a given night a straightforward one with no special creature shenanigans, who's going to complain? 

Also, enablers are faster on the table than healers.  Avoidance takes less time than mitigation or recovery.  A party with a good healing cleric in it undoes the things you do; a party with a a good warlord in it does more of the things they do, or makes 'em do it better.  If your leader is focused on making the bad guys miss more or making the party swing or hit more rather than making them survive being hit, combat stops being a marathon and starts being a race.  If your players have higher defenses rather than more HP and surges, you spend less time rolling damage, and your controllers get to rob them of fewer of the actions they could have used to end the fight.

My group has a dry erase battle map, and when initiative is rolled we write everyone's name on the side of the map with some space.  One player (who isn't the DM) tracks action order.  The DM has little square chips with all of the modifiers and status effects his monsters can dish out, and if someone is hit with one, the chip sits next to their name until the condition is cleared.  If we had a runepriest or other sort of enabler in the group, he'd be using the same mechanic, dropping chips next to the people who benefit from his buff with the buff written simply on it.  It makes monsters who dish out status effects and rock action denial much faster and easier to manage, and it's right there next to the map.

Use miniatures (or tokens) with round bases.  Give your ranger a 1" green square, and tell him that's his Hunter's Quarry.  Give your fighter a couple red 1" squares and tell him those are his marks.  Dump a pile of black ones in front of your warlock and tell him those are his curses.  Tell them to keep them in front of them at the table until they're ready to employ them.  They go under the affected creature.  If the table isn't too cluttered, those little squares will remind them to do whatever's needed to impose that effect, and you'll be able to see what effects are on which creatures because the corners will stick out from under the bases.

You can track bloodied and other more persistant conditions on the initiative track, or you can loop some red pipe cleaners and hang them on the miniatures that correspond to bloodied combatants.
"When Friday comes, we'll all call rats fish." D&D Outsider
Never go back. If someone forgets something, it's forgotten and that's incentive to remember it next time.



My unilateral enforcing of this as DM last session, and the negative reaction of the players is what triggered the debate in the group. This is my personal preference to the subject both as player or DM.  The other players are more keen on optimal mechanic play and although of course they do try to remember first time round, would feel "Never go back" is too negative an incentive.

I don't want to police my friends play style in this way, and they don't want to police themselves.


Provoke more opportunity attacks and defender marks with monsters. Makes combat more exciting and burns HP faster.

Make fights about something other than grinding each other to dust.



These we can use. Thanks.
Thanks everyone for replies so far. Many good things to think about.

Ideas I like immediately, and will suggest to group we use one in next session or two:

Props - Index cards for initiative. I'd like to understand more about dealing with the horrible cross-referencing required (a mark is on a specific creature but lasts until "the end of your next turn"), so noting it in one place seems not enough. I like the description of cards with sleeves for stashing notes on conditions.

Props - square markers for marks and curses etc. I use custom counters with same picture on both sides, one side has red edges for "bloodied". Some larger tokens for underneath could give more status at a glance. I also like the pipe cleaners version - having two colours covering condition type and source is smart.

Status tracking next to map - we have space on the table, and offloading altering status tracks to a helpful player could be a big win. Having really simple markers on the map as reminders, and the detail on the tracker might be

. . . . obviously using all these together would be too much - the ideas are all good, but they overlap, so we'll have to see what fits the group.

Encounter design with less monster status effects. Yes I could make more of immediate effects and less to track, even if I deliberately target this on just half the encounters, it would help.


Ideas I also like, but need to defer:

Drama cards to fast-tarck end of combats, or combat-ending powers for all players. I'd like to hear more about how these work on a practical level. Shaving the last 2 rounds off a fight might be a big saving.

t
What we are willing to do:



  • Use props, or organise combat stats in a particular way

  • Organise combat round sequence a specific way

  • Distribute responsibilities between players

  • As DM, I could put in some extra prep time

  • Reward players for playing efficiently (an extra encounter per session would be great reward, but seems out of reach without something that rewards at a smaller scale)



Currently for props we use battle map, tokens, and I prepare encounter sheets with all monster stats on 1 or 2 pages. When I can, I prep these in "encounter packs" with all necessary maps and tokens ready to go during play - setting up a combat encounter is usually just 2-3 mins, which is great. One of the players halps by tracking initiative.

What we seem to be wasting time on:



  • Complex turn deliberation

  • Forgetting to Mark, Curse, move to get LoS or range, then revising things mid-turn to fix it. I'm loathe to stop this optimisation, because the players like to play this way (personally, I don't play like this, which is what started our conversation)

  • Forgetting save ends conditions, needing to interrupt one turn to fix the mechanics of another

  • In fact, generally forgetting stuff



If you are willing to use a laptop to help DM, I really cannot recommend DM battlescreen highly enough. You can add conditions to creatures and it will automatically alert you when the things take effect, you can delay indecisive players with minimal paper work. You can make a monster repository with monsters you usually use and possibly make some generic ones just to throw in when you need to. 


  • Complex turn deliberation


Player figuring out what they are doing? Delayed. Still get their turn but not yet. I usually give players about 6 seconds to tell me what they are doing before they get delayed. They then can jump back in whenever they are ready.


  • Forgetting to Mark, Curse, move to get LoS or range, then revising things mid-turn to fix it. I'm loathe to stop this optimisation, because the players like to play this way (personally, I don't play like this, which is what started our conversation)


I would put my foot down on this or just assume they always curse/always mark/always quarry unless otherwise said. Just tell them they can do it next turn, it's the heat of battle, sometimes things get missed.


  • Forgetting save ends conditions, needing to interrupt one turn to fix the mechanics of another


Use DM battlescreen to track conditions, no fixing of turns once the next turn has started (I would verbalize the turn ending "The turn is now ending, is there anything you forgot?"). I know it's not fun, but tell your players it's for their benefit, that you want them to get better and faster with their turns. Rewarding them for forgetting is not going to stop it. I would probably give them a warning. Each player gets one warning per encounter, where they get to interuppt this turn with last turn, but after that they have to play with what they said. As a player, I think that would be fair if everyone is trying to get the game going faster. 



  • In fact, generally forgetting stuff


Smoke less pot? Undecided
Give your players awesome loot: Loot by Type
Never go back. If someone forgets something, it's forgotten and that's incentive to remember it next time.

My unilateral enforcing of this as DM last session, and the negative reaction of the players is what triggered the debate in the group. This is my personal preference to the subject both as player or DM.  The other players are more keen on optimal mechanic play and although of course they do try to remember first time round, would feel "Never go back" is too negative an incentive.

I don't want to police my friends play style in this way, and they don't want to police themselves.

Optimal mechanical play is the enemy of game speed and is, in my opinion, to be discouraged at every turn. Combat isn't that hard, and even if it is losing a combat encounter isn't that big a deal. Also, exact numbers rarely matter.

Yes, that suggestion is a harsh one. I don't tend to use it myself, unless the amount of backtracking is more than a turn or so. However, I am harsh on myself and will usually not try to back up to recover forgotten monster actions, unless it would be very much to the PCs advantage (e.g. someone died when they shouldn't have). I'll also try not to back up the action when I'm a player. I'm just one person, but I hope this has the effect of speeding up my personal games.

Provoke more opportunity attacks and defender marks with monsters. Makes combat more exciting and burns HP faster.

Make fights about something other than grinding each other to dust.

These we can use. Thanks.
Good. Some people think that provoking more attacks will slow things down, but there's not much to think about with them, and the more you provoke the quicker the PCs will be about them.

Please also note that you don't have to be playing the monsters "dumb" to be provoking more attacks. A monster with a large number of HP and high defenses might reasonably conclude that risking an extra attack is worth some tactical advantage, such as smashing a striker.

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

My brother and I play this strictly for the combat and have spent time streamlining things while staying true to the rules. We also use Maptools extensively for this.

1)  Knowing your characters and monsters is key. What traits and triggers the characters and monsters have ought to be on a reference sheet. More important for the chars. Monsters aren't that complex most of the time and only need a bit of review. Chars on the other hand have a ton of powers, feats, racial features, and weapons. Having a trigger list that encompasses the whole party makes life easy.

2)  Combat Log sheet. We make our own. Basically it's a table printed in Excel which has cells big enough to make shorthand  and graphical notes for each actor in combat for each round. So for example:

Round 1:  Player A 25/40 Means
Stun------------------| Stun til end of player's turn
Slowed---------------|---------------|       Slowed til end of player's next turn
Dazed----------------o Dazed save ends. (If failed save extend the line and circle if made put a x on it)
Weakened----------|----------------|  Weakened until end of actor D1's next turn.
(D1) 

Note:  Delays and readying throw a little wrench into this but you can also put an intitiative timing mark on those effects if you want to.

Curses, marks, etc can also go on this. I use map tools for that but it's easy to write on the combat log sheet. You may want 2 versions one with all the chars on it and one blank in the name column for the monsters.

3)  Initiative and delays.

Have an init. chart and have a player in charge of that mess. That player can also make notations on the combat log when people ready or delay and effects end early or late as appropriate.

4)  Memorize or make a cheat sheet for the most common rules-modifiers for cover and concealmeant and what attacks are modified. Don't worry about doing every critters stealth vs perception stuff. etc.. 


Dumb forum wont preserve my formatting! But I hope you get the gist.

Optimal mechanical play is the enemy of game speed and is, in my opinion, to be discouraged at every turn. Combat isn't that hard, and even if it is losing a combat encounter isn't that big a deal. Also, exact numbers rarely matter.



I agree entirely with this sentiment, and when I play it's quickly, by feel for general strategy, without optimising.

It's not how my friends play. After many sessions it is clear that I am better off accepting that, and how it eats combat time, than trying to fight it or encourage the players to think like me.

Actually they usually trash me at more traditional strategy board and card games, where I play by "feel" and usually lose :-) Same difference, different game.

Yeah, the mechanics resolution glut per turn only increases as you level too.  It's a problem with the sytem, quite honestly. 

Love 4e's rich, team-oriented combat system... hate its overlong duration, including the excessive amounts of interruptions, checks, and stops you have to make throughout each combat turn. 

That said, there's a lot of angles you can take in addressing this, from an encounter/story goal perspective, to using social skills to influence or end an encounter more quickly, to using more minions, to adding more offensive/damaging elements to encounters, and so on.

There's a bunch of articles on encounter options, speed and efficiency (yeah - it's a huge deal to me too!) over at Leonine Roar.  

I recommend you start by checking out Faster D&D 4e Combat: Top Tips, and look around or check out other articles mentioned from there. 

LEONINE ROAR : Amp Up Your D&D Game : Visit my D&D blog :: FASTER COMBAT : Crush Your Combat Grind
Optimal mechanical play is the enemy of game speed and is, in my opinion, to be discouraged at every turn. Combat isn't that hard, and even if it is losing a combat encounter isn't that big a deal. Also, exact numbers rarely matter.

I agree entirely with this sentiment, and when I play it's quickly, by feel for general strategy, without optimising.

It's not how my friends play. After many sessions it is clear that I am better off accepting that, and how it eats combat time, than trying to fight it or encourage the players to think like me.

Actually they usually trash me at more traditional strategy board and card games, where I play by "feel" and usually lose :-) Same difference, different game.

I really recommend plotting a few encounters with fights that are not in any way meant to challenge the players, but that have a goal that is failed by focusing entirely on the combat. Someone gets away, important information is destroyed, townspeople are hurt, a route is blocked, a mission is failed. People optimize, I find, because people tend to focus on surviving combat as unscathed and unexpended as possible. So, give them that, make it clear that they don't need to work for it, but that if they do they will lose. If you can keep with this, then maybe they'll start to see that the exact numbers in combat are less important than achieving the goal of the encounter, which can be achieved as quickly or slowly in out-of-game terms as the DM likes.

It's hard, and I haven't quite got the hang of it myself, but I really think that this approach has the potential to fix a lot of the issues that people run into with combat.

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

Late to the party but I figured i'd at least share this story.

My group had one player primarily who took the longest time with his turns. He was a ranger and it almost always came down to 'twin-strike'. The huge deliberation time was primarily due to him being so competetive; he absolutely HAD to make the right play.

To remedy this I picked one of the options outright discounted by the OP; I timed everybody's turns. Now, before I explain why, let me say that this probably only works well in a competetive group where they all want to shine as best as possible.

For one session (2-3 encounters) I timed everybody's turns and then calculated an average turn time per encounter. I didn't limit their turns, just sat with my phone's stopwatch and recorded it. It was eye-opening. It put numbers to the things we'd all been thinking. The competetive ranger player began thinking earlier, it halved his turn time! Everybody else sped up noticably too (and their gameplay didn't suffer for it). Shaved 30mins easy off most encounters. Probably more!

If you feel your group members are slow, i'd suggest giving it a try for 1-2 sessions and look for an impact in play speed. If it doesn't work then ditch it. I figure its worth a shot

Now, when the group slows down over the course of multiple sessions I time them again (just once) and play speed picks right back up!

Cheers

Blinkey ;)



+1 to having the players converse in character, it should eliminate a lot of the more complex tactical stuff, and completely removes situations where the players discuss optimal turns only to have the ranger use twin strike on the nearest enemy.  Half HP/Double Damage Monsters has honestly worked really well for me, both as a player and as a DM.  Encounters move a lot faster but are also more frightening: Monsters can bloody PCs in a hit or two, but often drop in two or three hits anyway.  Even if it changes the balance slightly, it's far more fun, at least in my experience. 

For tracking conditions, the best thing I've discovered is the little rings on soda bottles below the cap.  They fit nicely around the miniature's bases and come in a variety of colours  (Red for Bloodied, Yellow for Marks, Light Green for Hunter's Quarry, Blue and White for whatever status effect is applicable).  As long as people are paying attention (which they should be, otherwise that's your main problem), it's easy to follow and eliminates the 10-20 seconds it can take to remind a player what effects are on whom. 

Also, having people know what they're doing on their turn really cuts down on turn length.  Have your iniative tracker (not you) remind players who's up after the current turn, so they can have their dice in hand and ready to go.  On that note, have players roll damage along with their attack roll.  If it misses, no big deal, and if it hits, then you don't have to waste time rolling another set of dice.  If players roll the same die for different things (Charging Barbarian gets 2d6 brutal +1d6/Ranger with Twin Strike), have them use extra dice (we all chipped in for a pound of dice from Amazon) and roll everything together - Red d20 and d10 for one Twin Strike, Blue d20 and d10 for the other.

It really comes down to experimenting with stuff and finding what works for your individual group, all these things have worked in the 3-4 different groups that I play in, so I think it's good advice, but once you find something you really like, stick with it and make it work.  Good luck!  (my 2 cp)
Well, we had a surprising result. One of the players took it upon himself to time everyone's turn, and share the results.

Simply being timed had a surprisingly good impact on the speed of combat, despite the fact that everyone had just levelled up, and had a new feat and power to consider. The players naturally went to more generic in-character statements and actions, and we cut down from 2.5 mins per turn to 1.5 mins per turn average.

The player mentioned this is something he's done before in a work environment, and that the gains are usually short-lived as people get used to being timed. However, it's very nice to see that the players have it in them to sort it out with very little push.

For my part, I deliberately tweaked the encounter so the monsters were handing out less conditions and had abilities triggered off immediately obvious things from the map.

My goal is now for few assisting props that might help "lock in" this new speed, by giving some support to tracking. Thanks everyone for input so far!
If you are willing to use a laptop to help DM, I really cannot recommend DM battlescreen highly enough. You can add conditions to creatures and it will automatically alert you when the things take effect, you can delay indecisive players with minimal paper work. You can make a monster repository with monsters you usually use and possibly make some generic ones just to throw in when you need to. 


+1

I used DMBS my last session.  It took an encounter or two to get familiar with it, but boy does it track!  I highly recommend it, too.

Additionally, we use clothespins across the top of the DM screen where there is a thin sheet "border" with the init order on it.  Each pin has a player's name or monster number.  Once clipped, the top of the pin is inset with a piece of foam.  When a condition occurs, a colored stick-pin is stuck in the foam on the clip (green=poison, pink=bloodied, red=fire, black=immobilized, yellow=dazed, etc...)  This way, a glance at the top of the screen shows what conditions are on what PCs (or monsters).

Just our way.  YMMV
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In the past, my DM has allowed us, while we are on deck, to roll the attack roll and damage roll (we were trusted to be honest, and we were).  Rolling the attack and damage before your turn actually starts speeds up the combat by having you think about what you will do on your turn beforehand, and then your turn is about being descriptive rather than considering what to do.  If the NPC dies on the turn before, or is moved, or something like that, which is possible, we usually already had a plan for what we will be doing in the case of that contingency.  It also keeps us involved in keeping track of our own initiative.  If you can trust your players to be honest, then this will speed up combat and give them a little extra time to be creative.

I also like the idea of markers for conditions.  With save ends conditions, I can't wait for my turn just so I can try and not be immobilized anymore.
Here are a few suggestions:



  • Track initiative where everyone can see it; a wall-mounted white-board is great for this.

  • Buy Alea Tools! www.aleatools.com/Ultimate-GM-p/ugm.htm These magnetic markers attach to the bottom of any 1" mini (and other sizes, which allows you to have color-coded conditions for PCs and monsters. Believe me, these made it a breeze to track even a half-dozen conditions on a monster with ease: marked, bloodied, dazed, prone, etc.

  • Don't permit out of character strategy talk during a fight. It's got to be in-character and brief. Maybe a non-active PC could shout, "Shoot the demon now!" but that's about it. Be fair, though, and don't play monsters as if they had a telepathic hive mind - unless they do. Taking out committee strategies will be less optimal, so be sure to keep it even with the monsters.

  • Don't go back - that's great advice and worth repeating. The same goes for rule calls, unless they are absolutely critical. If Warlock Bob forgot to add Prime Shot, he's SOL, but if he dies from a failed death save, but then someone realizes he should have gotten 3 instead of 2, let him try again on his next turn. Less harshly, though, allow players to add effects that don't in a big way. For instance, if the warlock above missed by 1 point, I'd say it's still a miss. However, if he realized he forgot to add his extra damage, I'd let him do it on his next turn. Why?

    • Adding some missed damage or a condition doesn't necessitate undoing history. Just let the player roll damage when he remembers, and if it bloodies/kills the thing as a result, awesome! One less monster to deal with.

    • The player will be less worried about missing important things, and so able to make their decisions more quickly.



  • Have the monsters use their big powers early in the fight. If a monster uses its only encounter power(s) right out the gate, then that's less for the DM to track. At the same time, it threatens the PCs, which makes them use their own encounter powers sooner. The fight will be tougher, and once the encounter powers are blown, there's less hand-wringing over what powers to use.

  • Encourage the PCs to use Intimidate checks to make bloodied enemies surrender. Now, this seems like a long shot, since in a fight it will be Intimidate v. Will, where the monster gets a +10 bonus. A first-level monster like a goblin cutter has an effective Will 21 against the Intimidate attack, but a single standard action allows Intimidate checks against every bloodied enemy who can see and hear the PC. It's like a Burst 20 attack instant kill with a tough defense to beat. A first-level PC can easily have have a +9 to the check, meaning that, statistically, he could take out just under half of the bloodied baddies just by looking scary.

    • Try a house rule for Intimidate checks as a minor action against a single enemy: If successful, the monster is dazed from fear for 1 round. Good on each enemy once per fight.

    • Another option: Once the big bad dies, his followers have to make a saving throw to not flee or surrender.



  • Make fights easy. The DMG suggests fights of the same level, but go ahead and throw in some more L-2 fights. The monsters get dead quicker (and they were going to die anyway), and the PCs feel more badass. Also, stay away from solos and regeneration.

  • Keep the kinds of monster in a fight as low as possible so you have less to manage.

  • After a round or two, if not at the beginning, exactly what the monsters' defenses are. No more "Did I hit?" questions if they can do the math themselves.

Sarlax Chicago, IL --- Find local gamers via Google Maps @ http://nearbygamers.com/
Just about all of the suggestions given thus far in the thread (and a whole lot more) can be found in the Combat Accelerators thread linked on the Useful Links for DMs thread. Scan through it, take and use what you like, and ignore the rest.
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.
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