Managing large group of PCs in combat

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I have recently started a group with six players and am noticing that the combats are turning out really slowly. It' a lot of waiting time and it's sad when one player don't have much to do when his or hers combat round finally comes ("I have no powers left so I do a basic attack... and miss... I'm done.") Some of the players are new to DnD, so my hope is that things are going to be better in the future.

But I still wonder if six people is a to big group for a combat heavy DnD4-campaign. Any tips for managing big groups of players in combat encounters and make it a fun experience for everyone?
You set up with one problem, but describe a different one. Combats running slow is different than combats running long. I run an 8-player group, and occasionally, all eight actually show up. So I have some experience with this. We tend to get three combat encounters into each five hour session, along with heavy non-combat roleplay. Here's how.

Combats running slowly:
This tends to be an organization problem. To help with the organization:


  • We write the initiative order on the white board, and each player knows ahead of time that their turn is coming up. This cuts down on transition time between players.

  • If a player is not "ready" when their turn comes up, we skip them (they move further down the initiative order). If the same player does this too often, they will end up losing an entire turn over the course of the combat. (This has happened... once.)

  • Lastly, our players roll all their dice at once -- to hit and damage dice. This makes it just a little bit faster.



Combats running too long:
This is generally a planning and execution problem. I find that this is best overcome through encounter variety.


  • I always vary the encounter levels. Those three encounters tend to be: Level -1, Level +0 or +1, and Level +2 to +4. I also mix up the order these occur.

  • I sometimes use all-minion encounters at any of these three level stages.

  • As DM, I use average damage on everything but crit maxes.

  • I batch my monster initiatives into groups.

  • I almost never run a solo monster "all alone".

  • When I do, it is NEVER in the level +2 to +4 range. These become churn-fests.


Note: There are many many many other ways to speed up combat (in round length and total duration), but these are the generic ones.
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 bought a big whiteboard and some magnetic tape and made some initiative tags. So it was easy to arrange and organize. I'd remind the player who was up next that they're "on deck" so they start thinking of what to do. 

Another way is to use index cards. Fold them in half and arrange on the DM screen with the names on one side. Yyou can write vital statistics on the other so you don't need to ask if something hits. You can write the monster names and stats on one side and just the name on the other, then after a couple rounds flip the monster card so the players know its defence numbers so they don't need to ask either and can just say "I hit for X damage!" 

 

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In addition to the excellent advice in the above posts:

  1. Offload as much combat admin as possible to the players (managing initiative, running friendly NPCs, tracking status effects etc)

  2. Keep your monsters simple; avoid having too many different types of monster in a given combat and ensure that the majority are simple to run.

  3. Encourage players to spend a small amount of time planning tactics at the start of each combat.  Subsequent turns should be a lot quicker if everyone is executing a plan.


IMO, there isn't anything inherently wrong with a long combat.  It's when combats feel like they're dragging that you have an issue.  Making combats tactically interesting helps with this.

Having said all that, every player that you add to your group reduces the time that every other player gets in the spotlight - there's no way to completely avoid that.  I'm happiest running games for 2-4 players and actively try to avoid more than 5 (although not always successfully...).