Why are my melee encounters lasting so long?

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Melee encounters for my group have been a grind since mid-heroic tier. On average, one "moderate" level melee encounter takes at least 3 hours; "difficult" encounters can easily take the entire 4-5 hour session. The problem is, melee, while a great pillar of the game, becomes painfully boring after a handful of rounds. 

If any of you frequent forum fliers are having deja vu, it might be because I've posed this question to y'all before. I took/implemented the following suggestions from the last time I inquired, but am still having the same old problem:

1. Half enemy HP and double enemy damage. This worked for a while but isn't "scaleable" at paragon level. Actually, the math totally falls apart around 9th or 10th level. At paragon level it's a complete disaster.

2. Have enemies retreat or surrender when the battle's end is predictable. This works great for intelligent monsters or NPCs -- people who see the value in negotiation -- but isn't realistic for the other half of the monsters. When I give in and wave the wand with the latter category of monsters/NPCs, it's proven to be dissatisfying for everyone at the table. 

3. Cut the party in half. The party used to have 8 players. Based on comments from my previous thread by DMs with more 4e experience with me, I brought in another player and split the group in 2, each with 4-5 PCs. This has worked well, but now that we're mid-paragon tier and each player has an inch-high stack of powers to choose from, time spent grinding through melee encounters has revved back up.  

Any other pointers? What am I doing wrong here?

Thanks in advance!
Steven
Make fights about more than just survival. Make them about something that the players and monsters can only affect the outcome of for X rounds, where X is the number of rounds you're interested in running at that point. After that, there's no point in playing out the rest of the battle and it should be handwaved.

The classic example is a ritual. The PCs have X rounds to prevent the ritual from happening, which they can do by killing participants, making skill checks, or whatever else. After X rounds, they've either stopped it, or it has succeeded, or something else has changed. They can take the out-of-game time to kill everything in the room, if they want, but there'd be no real point to it, so they might be more amenable to handwaving the ending. The enemies might even plausibly surrender. What do they care? They succeeded.

You're not required to use enemies that won't run away, or to make their only function to kill the PCs. Use them to buy time for the enemy, or to perform some menial but dangerous action. 10 skeletons walk toward 10 widely spaced piles of explosives, each holding a lighted torch. They're 3 rounds away. What does the party do?

The linchpin for all of this is to have interesting ways for the players to fail. The ritual is completed, which complicates things, but doesn't immediately kill the players. They just now have to deal with this new complication.

If the only way for a fight to be won (and then effectively end) is for one side's HP to be taken to zero, then start by changing that assumption.

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

I have had similar problems to what you describe. I think there's a couple of causes and, unfortunately, no magic-bullet solution.

First, 8 players is way too much for a 4E party. You were right to cut the group in half. I find that my 5-player group is slower in combat than I would like, and have found the sessions with 4 or even 3 players seeming to move much more quickly.

A major issue that slows down my group is that we are all in our 30s and do not have the same kind of time/attention to devote to D&D as we might have when we were 16 or 20. That means that none of the players spend time between sessions poring over rulebooks or their character sheets, and therefore although everyone knows the rules pretty well at this point (we've played probably 25 sessions over the past year+) nobody except for me really has immediately and smooth facility with them, or even with their own characters/powers (as we've been advancing at a pretty good clip--probably a level, with its concomitant powers and pluses increases, every 3 or 4 sessions). So every turn there's several seconds or more of puzzling-out that has to occur, and it really adds up.

I don't want it to sound like my players are uninterested--far from it, they go way out of their way to attend the sessions and are really invested in the story and their characters. And I can't--won't--be a harsh disciplinarian (MAKE YOUR MOVE IN THIRTY SECONDS OR YOU LOSE YOUR TURN!) to fellow adults.

We have recently been trying a more rapid combat that basically requires me (the DM) to be a little more involved in hurrying them along and getting them ready for their turn, rather than just sitting there while they struggle. I announce who is "on deck" in the initiative order so they can get their move ready. Also--and this takes the most work--I keep an updated copy of each character's sheet in front of me during the combat and know exactly what all their powers/options are, so I can offer suggestions. I don't mean "how about using your daily against this guy??" but rather, as I see them trying to count out ranges and puzzle out flanking and such, I can immediately help with "yeah, from there you'll be at +9 to hit with that power you just mentioned" or "if you shoot your bow from there you'll draw an opp attack" instead of having them ponder through it.

I would like faster combat, though. I almost wish 5E combat was initiativeless, with everybody's action occurring simultaneously. It would require a little more hustling/bookkeeping on the DM's part, but things would be much quicker and there wouldn't be much of that "well, I just went, so it's gonna be 8 minutes or more til my next turn, and I know what I'm doing, soooo iPhone!"
I would be interested to know a few things:

How many soldiers and leaders do the enemies have?

Soldiers have higher than average defenses and, especially in paragon, can slow down the paces by doing things like marking different people and inflicting status conditions that slow things down.  A large group of soldiers pulling your strikers apart can make the combat take a long time just by being what they are.  Soldiers are the defenders of the monster world and some of them are very effective at it.

Leaders, or leaderlike creatures that allow power recovery (when those powers can cripple) or heal can also extend the life of team monster by a lot.  Try to use those sparingly.

How high Op are these groups? How many rounds does a combat last?

A High Op party can maul through creatures like they are made of paper.  High Op strikers are doing over 1KPR, as are High Op leaders.  Taking a controller and a defender together to get 1 more KPR you have a team of players that are, on average, able to take out 4 monsters on the first round (1 leader, 1 defender, 2 strikers, 1 controller).

Then as you go down the list the combats take progressively longer.  There is nothing inherently wrong with not being High Op but there should be a certain amount of optimization going on, especially in paragon, to prevent the combats from devolving into at-will slugfests.

How long does a player's turn take?

When I ran a Battle Interactive the average player turn was between 45 seconds and one minute.  It had to be in order for them to get through a high-paragon BI in the time limit.  Home games have way more flexibility on how much time a game can take because it isn't as structured, but you want to make sure your players know what they will be doing when their turn comes around.  When I was running games with younger players (11-14 year olds) I would announce who was "on deck" and that player would be required to think about what they were going to do, pick up their attack dice in one hand and their damage die in the other hand.  This wasn't needed for a very long time before several of the players came up with their own way to figure out exactly what they wanted to do and were ready without prompting.

Also, for some players, a Cheat Sheet can be unbelievably helpful.  While yes it is simple to know your ATK bonus, CA is only an extra 2, charging is an extra 1, enemy being prone is +5 damage etc etc etc, having a Cheat Sheet to glance at and know exactly what they need to roll in a given situation can really speed things up.  Mental math starts to get a little crazy with +1s and +2s in paragon, not to mention AP turns.


How long do your monster turns take?

How simple are your monster turns and how long does it take you.  It should be understood that a DM should take no more than a minute to resolve minions, no more than 2 min to resolve standard actions and no more than 5 minutes for a solo.  Thats just the mechanics mind you, that isn't talking about how you are describing actions and what not (which you should totally do), but I'm trying to give you some benchmarks on timing for the mechanical side of the DM experience.

Are things like initiative clearly displayed at the table?

Initiative flags I have found are extremely helpful.  Making sure your players know when exactly their turn comes up can be helpful for planning, especially if you don't tell players when they are on deck or the player has a complicated turn coming up.  Status flags can also be helpful for when players do big, encounter alterning effects (like a War Chanter spends an action point and uses Mantle of Unity in the same turn).

Do your players know vaguely what they are hitting at?

I give my players a "Plus Yes" for every encounter.  That means I tell them in the first round what the highest defense is a the table for team monster so they know if they beat it they can assume a hit without asking me (rarely you will have to ask for their hit if the monster has a temporary bonus of some kind).  Less often my players ask for a "No" or what the lowest defense is at the table because that tends to be less useful.  That doesn't mean you have to tell what the defense is, or what creature has that, but it speeds up the parts where your striker is rolling 5 rolls and some of them are well beyond missing anything in the encounter.

Can your players take parts or all of their turns before it gets to them?

Everyone has a different opinion of this.  In situations like the BI it was basically required, at my home game some of my players take turns in advance some of them do not.  In one of my games most of the players take their turns in advance so they can concentrate on description of their action on their turn, but I completely understand some DMs not liking their players to do this.

How much distraction is there at your table? 

I've said before that Monty Python is as much of many DnD gaming groups as initiative can be, but if you want to go quickly you have to limit the amount of distractions at the table.  Are any of your players playing facebook games/on the phone / away from the table / cross-talking about non-game related stuff that is slowing down the pace of the game.  Some of this will happen, DnD is a social event, but some people might get frustrated if there is never any focus at all at the table.

Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
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I've never been a DM and I only play using MapTools. However, I have read a bunch on the forums and I've noted that combats can drag on for a long time. There are some things I would like to compare and contrast between the MapTools games and the post above this one. Hopefully it might help figuring out where the problem is.

Some things are automatic in MapTools. You just pick the power you want to use, tick boxes for CA, charge and similar, and then add the sum total of bonuses/penalites to hit and to damage (e.g. Prime Shot or Power bonus) and click a button. All dice rolls and all math is done by MapTools. In a similar fashion the initative list is automatic.

The drawback of this is technical issues (disconnected players, slow display of results etc).

So, what bogs down play for us? Mostly rules questions and primarly players not knowing what power to use or where to position. I've tried to prevent myself from being part of the last problem, but I've noted that often I have an excellent plan, but when it comes to my turn the monster I was going to hit is already dead or I need to do some healing instead or something similar so I need a brand new plan anyway. Still, having a time limit might help this kind of things along (especially for one player who sometimes ends up being indecisive about what power fits best from a RP perspective).

Summary/TL;DR:
Trouble shoot if it is the math/tracking initative/rolling all the relevant dice that is the problem, or if it is how long the players take to decide on action. Then pick the relevant advice from other posters.

Just my two coppers on "trouble shooting" 
The idea of having boxes you can check for Maptools is something that the Cheat Sheet does in real life games.  Basically gives you a grid of every basic scenario (ie, all the scenarios your character can give for themselves) to work with.  Its really helpful for system math.
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here
Here is a good thread compiling ways to accelerate combat. Smile
Here is a good thread compiling ways to accelerate combat. 



Helpful in general, but the question I think is why melee combats specifically are taking longer not all combats.
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
Show
Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here
Im running a low level game at the moment, with two 3 player groups. Its not uncommon for us  to have an "easy" encounter taking more than 1 hour. Its been lie this always, when theres no wizard or Sorcerer to hurl enemies with deadly blasts. I think the longest "melee" or non-epic spellcasting battle I've bee part of, took about 6 hour. We were a 4 man team agains a 4 man NPC team... in a tavern. Not much tavern left when we where done. ;)
Here is a good thread compiling ways to accelerate combat. 



Helpful in general, but the question I think is why melee combats specifically are taking longer not all combats.

Huh? What do you mean? How do your typical fights look like? D&D fights are in general a mix of ranged, melee and magic with melee in general dominating because monsters and PCs tend to favor it. If you have a specific problem with melee, all I can think off is that your PCs are ill-suited to deal with melee because ranged PCs dominate the table. In that case, they are less effective when forced into melee, and also have to spend more time manouvering around to use their effective attacks. If that is the cause, you are better off making melee fights easier and/or less common.
I second Matyr's suggestion of clearly displaying the highest and lowest defense among all the monsters, so players know what dierolls always hit or miss.
Example: fight against goblins. Lowest defense among them is the jester's 14 Will. Highest defense is the bodyguard's 22 AC. You write those numbers (without mentioning what defense they belong to) on a very visible place, and everyone knows that a 13 or lower always misses and a 22 or higher always hits. 

Also keep an eye on the length of player's turns. Enforce if you have to. 

Propose (or enforce) that players use averages when rolling damage, especially when they roll lots of dice. Takes a lot of unnecessary calculation out of the game. 

If a lot of players use immediate actions during someone else's turn, you could enforce a "only one immediate action per turn" rule. If multiple players/monsters wish to use an immediate during the same turn, the person or monster who is first in the initiative order has priority. 
Things that inadvertantly play a role:

Players OP - Are any of your players doin less than baseline damage? Are ALL of your players doing less than baseline? If you're striker isn't doing 25-50% of a monsters hp in damage in one hit, you're in for a long fight.

Players Tactics - Are they focusing their efforts all on one monster, or is everyone trying to take a guy one-on-one without any help? Are they flanking, pushing, sliding, proning, dazing, etc? Are they working together at all?

Players Knowledge - How well do they know their characters? Take a few mins at the beginning of the session for everyone to review what everyone else does and specializes in.



A few notes:

Lower the number of enemies - replace them with static or dynamic environmental issues. Maybe a fight that could've been 6 enemies is instead a fight with 3-4 enemies in a room filled with noxious gas that does 1d8+5 damage to all PCs/round.

Lower Defenses + Lower HP - It seems like you have already lowered hps, but if your players are under optimized, you might also want to lower defenses 1-2pts per. This will help your players hit more and thus do more damage faster.

Smaller arenas - If everything is melee based, shrink the battlefield significantly. My group recently fought a dragon with range 20 and a few other nasty things. I (a melee cleric) didn't actually attack until the third round.

Do you use one monster or multiple? More monsters, tends to go faster weirdly enough. They die quicker, and tend to have less complicated abilities. Solo/single high level enemies are missed often, and have lots of HP bloat. 


Consider giving the players a free +X to hit. If more of their stuff hits, they kill stuff faster. Do this if you notice they tend to miss a lot.


Do your players know what they plan to do when their turn rolls around? Pay attention to how long it takes them to actually take their turn. If any of them are taking "too long" to decide what to do, tell them you will hold their action until they are ready and move on. Encourage them to plan during other players turns, or even to come up with a "default" action when they can't think of anything esle to do.


Suggest they organize their powers into groups instead of one big pile. I usually group mine for defenders into the following catagories. "When I am Hit" "When Surrounded" "Default one guy" "Mobility" "Healing" "Big damage" "Assorted minor action stuff". Then I put the encounter powers on top, followed by at wills and lastly dailies. I just use the power cards in order depending on my situation. Once a card is used I put it upside down next to the pile, and as they recharge I re-add them to the pile. I hardly have to think when my turn comes around. "I am next to the boss. I will use the top from the big damage stack. Oh, and a random assorted minor action thing". "I am wounded, I will use the top from that stack [Healing Strike] to do damage and spend a surge, I have spent all my encounter minor action stuff so I'm done".


Do they horde their dailies for later fights? Encourage them to blow through them early and more often. Dailies tend to be more powerful, and using more will speed up the fight. As DM take this into account, and try for less fights each day.

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Here is a good thread compiling ways to accelerate combat. 



Helpful in general, but the question I think is why melee combats specifically are taking longer not all combats.



Huh? What do you mean?



What do you mean what do I mean?  Its the title of this post.  Why are his melee encounters lasting so long.  I feel like if you read the title and skipped everything to my post it would still make sense.


How do your typical fights look like? D&D fights are in general a mix of ranged, melee and magic with melee in general dominating because monsters and PCs tend to favor it.



You also have to have a mix of combats in addition to combats having a mix of roles.  You dont want every combat being one of each type.  I believe the problem the OP is having is when the fights are primarily or all melee based characters.  If he ever comes back and responds to some of the comments in here we might be able to learn more.


If you have a specific problem with melee, all I can think off is that your PCs are ill-suited to deal with melee because ranged PCs dominate the table. In that case, they are less effective when forced into melee, and also have to spend more time manouvering around to use their effective attacks. If that is the cause, you are better off making melee fights easier and/or less common.



This is where you start being helpful, but then I have to respectfully disagree.  If you are a ranged heavy party and melee is causing you a problem, you are most likely having trouble do to low OP.  A ranged heavy party should have multiple ways of inflicting slow/immobilize (possibly prone if you can be selective with it)/Dazed.  You should literally be able to run circles around a batch of melee creatures if you so desire. 
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here
My comments are in red:

 
I would be interested to know a few things:

How many soldiers and leaders do the enemies have?
It varies. I do my best to utilize a variety of role types and manage them appropriately: usually no more than 1-2 soldiers, who usually serve as the "bosses" in any given encounter and I hardly ever use them with leader types. When I use a leader (which I try to avoid because their healing/buffing properties seem to prolong combat even further), I never use more than 1 and I usually try to protect him with a couple brutes (low AC, high dmg) and a handful of minions (3-5). Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but I treat leaders a little like controllers in combat.

Additionally, I'm the first to admit that combat roles usually get thrown out the window once the battle is in it's 2nd or 3rd round. By this time, my artillery has been slid next to the PC defenders, my soilders have been immobilized, my controllers are being wasted by some jackhole PC striker from across the battle map, and my brutes are being pummeled by some area affect created by the PC controllers. It would seem once this has taken place, it's only a matter of as many round to finish everyone off...for whatever reason, that's not happening. 

How high Op are these groups? How many rounds does a combat last?

This is a big problem. The guy I mentioned in my OP, who I added so that I could split the party, is the only one who has a well-optimized PC. He's so good at it that I've invited him to play in both parties; he's one of those guys that lives on the 4e Char Op forums. This problem reaches into both groups I DM: one party is older, busy with "life", and more into story than min/maxing anyway. The problem is that if you don't min/max in 4e, you've got a melee time encounter to deal with. The other party I DM is young (14-17yo) and they just don't get it. They have one striker in the party, who, at 13th level, is only doing like 10-20%dmg with dailies. It's pretty bad. The new player and I have directed them to the aforementioned 4e Char Op forum, but I hold out little hope that they'll utilize it.

How long does a player's turn take?
I could make a few more tweaks in this arena, but time is as well managed as possible. I'd have to time it, but I'd estimate the average player turn to take 3-4min. Initiative hangs on the front of the DM screen and the new player I mentioned uses the index card method. We have the typical "gotta take this call/bathroom break/gonna get some more nachos" looseness to the game, but most everyone is ready when it's their turn. It used to be our biggest problem, but it's much better now. 

I don't create individual PC cheat cards (base ATK bonus, etc.), but we use colored pipe cleaners for conditions, marking, and bloodied. I guess I should make one and pass it out next session. I assume they all have a pretty good idea how basic actions since we've been playing 4e for over 2 years now, but maybe not. I'll put something together this weekend.


How long do your monster turns take?
Amazingly short. Maybe a minute for a horde-type encounter, 2 minutes for solo types. I use Perkins' charts for average dmg and rarely get into the variety of powers monsters have at party level. Exceptions include important story-driven battles, dragons, demons, etc. Basically, encounters that will have some affect on the campaign beyond the risk of death or imprisonment.  

Are things like initiative clearly displayed at the table?
See above, but yes. Initiative is kept hanging from the DM screen and is also kept by a player. This was the first piece of advise I implemented last time I posted the question and it's been amazingly helpful.
 
Do your players know vaguely what they are hitting at?

I get nervous being transparent about monster weaknesses and defenses. In both of my groups, it invites an amazing amount of metagaming. This solution, especially if discovered via roleplaying or nature/dungeoneering checks, may be something that will help and motivate non-roleplay-minded PCs to partake in more than melee.

Can your players take parts or all of their turns before it gets to them?
We've tried this, but it's caused more problems than solved due to trying to figure what conditions were applicable, modifiers, etc. etc. etc. Not to metion when/if these things expire (on the turn of the player, save ends, etc).

How much distraction is there at your table? 
Minimal, for sure. See above.




Melee combat shouldn't really make battles longer. Here is how I speed battles up at the player end.

(1) Award a +1 to hit if the players rolls the hit dice within a few seconds of their turn being announced.
(2) If a player is not ready within a few seconds, they delay. If it comes to the DM's turn, I keep going and will give two turns to the player if we missed the players turn in the last round.
(3) I warn players that they are next, while we sort out the current players turn.
(4) I encourage players to keep the same characters, so that they know how they work.
Comments back in Blue

My comments are in red:

 
I would be interested to know a few things:

How many soldiers and leaders do the enemies have?
It varies. I do my best to utilize a variety of role types and manage them appropriately: usually no more than 1-2 soldiers, who usually serve as the "bosses" in any given encounter and I hardly ever use them with leader types. When I use a leader (which I try to avoid because their healing/buffing properties seem to prolong combat even further), I never use more than 1 and I usually try to protect him with a couple brutes (low AC, high dmg) and a handful of minions (3-5). Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but I treat leaders a little like controllers in combat.

Sounds like you are treating things exactly as they should be.  Honestly this is a decent description of what any melee fight should be like.

Additionally, I'm the first to admit that combat roles usually get thrown out the window once the battle is in it's 2nd or 3rd round. By this time, my artillery has been slid next to the PC defenders, my soilders have been immobilized, my controllers are being wasted by some jackhole PC striker from across the battle map, and my brutes are being pummeled by some area affect created by the PC controllers. It would seem once this has taken place, it's only a matter of as many round to finish everyone off...for whatever reason, that's not happening. 

This to me seems to be the start of where things are going down hill.  From this description it sounds like your PCs aren't able to just killed that Artillery and aren't focus firing.  Recently I did a breakdown of how a hard encounter should go round-by-round with some decent Op and it doesn't look like what is happening here.  Your Controller should be the only one not focused on the kill target.  Everybody else should be focusing on the same guy or the same two guys to blow them up unless that PC can take the enemy out in a single round.

What might help, although I know this seems silly, is having your players take a gander at the Players Strategy Guide.  It is very basic, but it does a decent job of explaining some of the basic concepts that longer-term 4e optimizers take completely for granted.  Buying a copy and sitting it at the table might be a plan (Because you would never download a PDF copy and print it out of course...).

How high Op are these groups? How many rounds does a combat last?

This is a big problem. The guy I mentioned in my OP, who I added so that I could split the party, is the only one who has a well-optimized PC. He's so good at it that I've invited him to play in both parties; he's one of those guys that lives on the 4e Char Op forums. This problem reaches into both groups I DM: one party is older, busy with "life", and more into story than min/maxing anyway. The problem is that if you don't min/max in 4e, you've got a melee time encounter to deal with. The other party I DM is young (14-17yo) and they just don't get it. They have one striker in the party, who, at 13th level, is only doing like 10-20%dmg with dailies. It's pretty bad. The new player and I have directed them to the aforementioned 4e Char Op forum, but I hold out little hope that they'll utilize it.

The player who lives at Char-Op can be a big helper in this regard.  Sit down with the player and make copies of the other PCs, but optimized ones.  Don't change their core mechanics (don't turn them into a charge build if they aren't already, or start doing polearm momentum if they arent already etc) but make them stronger characters of the same class.  Then, tell your players that for the next combat you are going to use the "alternate" characters just to test them out and see how things go.  Most players, even ones who say they hate to min/max, change tune when they pilot a character that is just plain stronger.  They feel more heroic and more in control of the situation.  Piloting a strong character is also, to some extent, an ego boost for the person who wields it as they get the sense of being awesome when they single-round an at-level standard.  While the other players may not want to take the time to look around, or may say they dont have time, some of them (obviously not all) will take the hour or so it takes to flip through their class handbook and retool their character if they get to see the type of heroics their character could pull with the right numbers.

One of the key things with older players who use the term Min/Max comes from older editions where you could have incredible extremes.  You don't have things to that extent in 4e anymore.  The lowest stat is 8 with will only give you a negative in skills for the first couple of levels.  Gone are the days of a Half-Orc/ Half-Dragon who took everything they could to excel at one thing and is literally mentally handicapped.  All the new "mins" of the min maxing are instead of way below the curve, just slightly below average for the general population.  Explain this to your players and they will often time be less hesitant to build powerful characters.

How long does a player's turn take?
I could make a few more tweaks in this arena, but time is as well managed as possible. I'd have to time it, but I'd estimate the average player turn to take 3-4min. Initiative hangs on the front of the DM screen and the new player I mentioned uses the index card method. We have the typical "gotta take this call/bathroom break/gonna get some more nachos" looseness to the game, but most everyone is ready when it's their turn. It used to be our biggest problem, but it's much better now. 

I don't create individual PC cheat cards (base ATK bonus, etc.), but we use colored pipe cleaners for conditions, marking, and bloodied. I guess I should make one and pass it out next session. I assume they all have a pretty good idea how basic actions since we've been playing 4e for over 2 years now, but maybe not. I'll put something together this weekend.

If you give me your email I'll send you a copy of what I mean by cheat sheet.  It doesn't have anything to do with status conditions.  Basically what it does is put everything in one place for all the options a player has.  It would be easier to show you than explain it to you.  And to be clear it isn't a matter of not knowing, its a matter of mental math being a very common barrier, and also for the half-way-through-next-turn-forgot-to-add-charisma-twice condition.  Yes every player knows that 3+5+4+2+2+1+2= 19 but it takes a second and often times people get it wrong when they are on the spot.

How long do your monster turns take?
Amazingly short. Maybe a minute for a horde-type encounter, 2 minutes for solo types. I use Perkins' charts for average dmg and rarely get into the variety of powers monsters have at party level. Exceptions include important story-driven battles, dragons, demons, etc. Basically, encounters that will have some affect on the campaign beyond the risk of death or imprisonment.  

Sounds like your turns are faster than mine.  I use the Sly-Flourish DM Cheat sheet myself and roll everything at table.  While I know it takes more time there is something about the players getting to see my rolls that I like at the time (I dont play with a screen).

Are things like initiative clearly displayed at the table?
See above, but yes. Initiative is kept hanging from the DM screen and is also kept by a player. This was the first piece of advise I implemented last time I posted the question and it's been amazingly helpful.

Do players also have their own group buffs displayed for all to see in some way?  Our group's Warchanter for instance has a flag that says "+6 Hit / +9 Damage" that he holds up when another player takes their turn so they don't forget it. 

Do your players know vaguely what they are hitting at?

I get nervous being transparent about monster weaknesses and defenses. In both of my groups, it invites an amazing amount of metagaming. This solution, especially if discovered via roleplaying or nature/dungeoneering checks, may be something that will help and motivate non-roleplay-minded PCs to partake in more than melee.

Oftentimes it isn't about metagaming but speeding up the high and low rolls.  Your player knows before they ask that they missed that guy's AC when they rolled a 3, but they want to ask anyway.  If they know it won't hit (or vice versa they know a 19 is gonna hit) they can just skip that part of the equation and you can carry on with what you are doing.  Typically in my encounters the +Yes and -No are within 6 of eachother.  That means that when any player takes their turn there are a maximum of 6 possibly hit rolls where they have to ask me whether it hit or missed because they already know every other time. Of course there will be times where the players go "I bet the 30 is that soldier's AC" but then again they should be thinking something like that already.  All it is doing is quantifying something they already know.  Soldiers have high AC, Skirmishers have high reflex, controllers and leaders have high Will.  In practice it isn't as much of a problem as it would seem to be.

Can your players take parts or all of their turns before it gets to them?
We've tried this, but it's caused more problems than solved due to trying to figure what conditions were applicable, modifiers, etc. etc. etc. Not to metion when/if these things expire (on the turn of the player, save ends, etc).

I honestly have never seen this happen at a table and become an issue more than on a rare case, but it makes sense.  Another thing you can do to help with this is clothespins on your DM screen showing when conditions fall off.  Typically you need a "X Save Ends" and "X" for every condition (Like slowed is one pin and slowed Save Ends is another) but once you have them out you can clip them to where they go in initiative and they know what falls off where and when.

How much distraction is there at your table? 
Minimal, for sure. See above.

Good to Go then






Melee combat shouldn't really make battles longer. Here is how I speed battles up at the player end.

(1) Award a +1 to hit if the players rolls the hit dice within a few seconds of their turn being announced.
(2) If a player is not ready within a few seconds, they delay. If it comes to the DM's turn, I keep going and will give two turns to the player if we missed the players turn in the last round.
(3) I warn players that they are next, while we sort out the current players turn.
(4) I encourage players to keep the same characters, so that they know how they work.



The main issue with those things is that the OP was talking about how his players are older and he doesn't want to be as harsh with them on time limits.  He can do that, but it may really hurt the feeling at the table.  Some players, especially old school players, will feel like they are playing too much of a "roll"-play game if they are put under such strict rules.
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Just sent you a PM. 
I really like the idea of letting them run an opped version of their character. Alternatively I could also see giving them boons of some sort, either group or individual based.

You could do something like a nefarious demigod offering your players a magical incantation that would allow them the chance to gain an attack and damage bonus in exchange for their character eating some damage.

If your guys are into roleplay, you could easily wrap some combat bonuses in to help even out the math. 
@StevenJones
So the biggest problem is that combat is lasting too many rounds, even with you halving monster Hit Points. And you are fairly certain this is due to poorly mechanically designed PCs and possibly poor player tactics. That sums it up?

My suggestion is radical: Require every PC either be an Essentials class or be redesigned with you and your "charop" player present. Preferably both.

You have one group which is busy professionals who are "story first" and my impression is they have trouble remembering and tracking their powers. They'd probably be best served by uber-simple PCs, and by heavy use of DMG page 42 & Mark Monack's "Tutorial: Terrain Powers" article in a more improv style of play.

You have the other group of 14-17 year olds and they're probably having a ton of fun without fully groking the system. I'm guessing they love powers, but have trouble staying organized, deciding which power to use when, with attention span, and building effective characters. If they were making PCs in Character Builder with little guidance, I'm not surprised - I'm a 30-year old fairly astute adult and the plethora of options in Character Builder is overwhelming. My suggestion for this group is similar, with the added caveat to reduce or eliminate powers which require any sort of tracking outside of the Player's turn
@StevenJones
So the biggest problem is that combat is lasting too many rounds, even with you halving monster Hit Points. And you are fairly certain this is due to poorly mechanically designed PCs and possibly poor player tactics. That sums it up?

My suggestion is radical: Require every PC either be an Essentials class or be redesigned with you and your "charop" player present. Preferably both.

You have one group which is busy professionals who are "story first" and my impression is they have trouble remembering and tracking their powers. They'd probably be best served by uber-simple PCs, and by heavy use of DMG page 42 & Mark Monack's "Tutorial: Terrain Powers" article in a more improv style of play.

You have the other group of 14-17 year olds and they're probably having a ton of fun without fully groking the system. I'm guessing they love powers, but have trouble staying organized, deciding which power to use when, with attention span, and building effective characters. If they were making PCs in Character Builder with little guidance, I'm not surprised - I'm a 30-year old fairly astute adult and the plethora of options in Character Builder is overwhelming. My suggestion for this group is similar, with the added caveat to reduce or eliminate powers which require any sort of tracking outside of the Player's turn



This is a really interesting approach. I'm not sure it'd pass a vote, so I'd have to require it. If they didn't feel like I was a dictator before, this should do the trick :-)
I know if I was that Char-Op guy in your group and you required all essentials i'd be hard-pressed not to quit.  There is a way to make it fast without making it simplistic, there are ways to deal with analysis paralysis without amputating the brain.
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@Matyr In case you missed it, my suggestion was not an across the board Essentials requirement.

My suggestion was either Essentials or a DM-oversight non-Essentials PC (preferably both!), and even then this is obviously not for the "charop" players. IOW apply extreme prejudice ;)

@StevenJones Hey, you can be the dictator as long as they don't rebel ;)

I offered an extreme suggestion because it sounds like you've done quite a bit as DM to speed up fights.....but it's your players who are lagging in the offensive/strategic/tactical department. Obviously take with a grain of salt and your own best judgment. Good luck!
What do you mean what do I mean?  Its the title of this post.  Why are his melee encounters lasting so long.  I feel like if you read the title and skipped everything to my post it would still make sense.

No, I was reacting to a specific comment about there being seperate types of combat in D&D and that to me makes very little sense. I have never had any other types of combat that a healthy mix of ranged, melee and magic all in the same fight. If one thing dominates, it is melee. For me the whole seperation is just really odd. With that in mind, the generic suggestions work just as well if not better with melee combat than with ranged combat. It raises the question on what you exactly call 'combat' and 'melee'. Sometimes to give a player advice, you first need to know what exactly is going on and your comment confuses things for me.
I know that in my group the problem was partly caused by the party's cleric having maxed out on healing abilities. This meant that even if they were horribly outclassed they coulod just stay alive and duke it out.
One time I put them in an unwinnable battle and after two hours the last remaining fighter (they couldn't actually die that combat) finally took down the last foe.
In retrospect I made a few mistakes there I guess (mostly in communicating stuff to my players),  but the point is: excessive healing can relly draw out the game.
I know that in my group the problem was partly caused by the party's cleric having maxed out on healing abilities. This meant that even if they were horribly outclassed they coulod just stay alive and duke it out.
One time I put them in an unwinnable battle and after two hours the last remaining fighter (they couldn't actually die that combat) finally took down the last foe.
In retrospect I made a few mistakes there I guess (mostly in communicating stuff to my players),  but the point is: excessive healing can relly draw out the game.

If they couldn't actually die, you could have simply told them 'you win' and saved two hours of game time.

p.s. There are no unwinnable battles. There are only battles where the cost of victory is more than you bargained for.
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
What do you mean what do I mean?  Its the title of this post.  Why are his melee encounters lasting so long.  I feel like if you read the title and skipped everything to my post it would still make sense.

No, I was reacting to a specific comment about there being seperate types of combat in D&D and that to me makes very little sense. I have never had any other types of combat that a healthy mix of ranged, melee and magic all in the same fight. If one thing dominates, it is melee. For me the whole seperation is just really odd. With that in mind, the generic suggestions work just as well if not better with melee combat than with ranged combat. It raises the question on what you exactly call 'combat' and 'melee'. Sometimes to give a player advice, you first need to know what exactly is going on and your comment confuses things for me.



When I hear melee encounter I see something that is going to be mostly, if not all, melee powerhouse creatures.  A prevalence of Brutes, Soldiers and Skirmishers with maybe a leader.

You mix all of your encounters with a little of everything?  That seems like either your encounters are large enough to cope with such variance (as in very big) or very formulaic.  Take for instance the 3 encounters I tossed at my group last week.

1) A Melee Fight
2 Skirmishers
2 Skirmishers (of a different type)
2 Soldiers
2 Brutes
2 Lurers
Skill Challenge

2) Primarily Ranged fight with a Gimmick
1 Solo Controller
2 Elite Lurkers (mostly ranged)
3 Brutes
4 Artillery
Defensive Gimmick

3) Mixed Fight
2 Solo Soldiers
2 Leader/Controllers
5 Minions + 4-10 Minions spawning per round
3 Artillery
Skill Challenge
 
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@StevenJones
So the biggest problem is that combat is lasting too many rounds, even with you halving monster Hit Points. And you are fairly certain this is due to poorly mechanically designed PCs and possibly poor player tactics. That sums it up?

My suggestion is radical: Require every PC either be an Essentials class or be redesigned with you and your "charop" player present. Preferably both.

You have one group which is busy professionals who are "story first" and my impression is they have trouble remembering and tracking their powers. They'd probably be best served by uber-simple PCs, and by heavy use of DMG page 42 & Mark Monack's "Tutorial: Terrain Powers" article in a more improv style of play.

You have the other group of 14-17 year olds and they're probably having a ton of fun without fully groking the system. I'm guessing they love powers, but have trouble staying organized, deciding which power to use when, with attention span, and building effective characters. If they were making PCs in Character Builder with little guidance, I'm not surprised - I'm a 30-year old fairly astute adult and the plethora of options in Character Builder is overwhelming. My suggestion for this group is similar, with the added caveat to reduce or eliminate powers which require any sort of tracking outside of the Player's turn



This is a really interesting approach. I'm not sure it'd pass a vote, so I'd have to require it. If they didn't feel like I was a dictator before, this should do the trick :-)

If the powers are what's holding up the game for everyone, I would vote yes for this, actually. Boundaries do not a tyranny make.

But if they insist, you could try the house rule I use when feet are dragging. It speeds up combat considerably.

The 6 second rule, aka the HTFU rule: The player has six seconds to decide what to do on his turn once the character's situation has been effectively described or else he is assumed to take a full round delay action. This is particularly effective when a player consistently drags out the game as he weighs all the benefits and drawbacks of every possble action only to finally come to the same conclusion each round, which is "I power attack for everything I got".

This isn't meant to be a 'pounce on the player at first opportunity' rule, but the reasonable player begins deciding his second action as soon as his first action is resolved and in larger combats, that means he probably had ample time to weigh the options, look up the spell he's about to cast, find the page where he found whatever obscure rule he has been planning for 3 days to misinterpret, to find his dice, sharpen his pencil, go to the bathroom, go on a beer run, make a sandwich, etc. If not... give him six seconds.

Resist the urge to count faster for characters you don't like and slower for characters you do happen to like.
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
Make fights about more than just survival. Make them about something that the players and monsters can only affect the outcome of for X rounds, where X is the number of rounds you're interested in running at that point. After that, there's no point in playing out the rest of the battle and it should be handwaved.

The classic example is a ritual. The PCs have X rounds to prevent the ritual from happening, which they can do by killing participants, making skill checks, or whatever else. After X rounds, they've either stopped it, or it has succeeded, or something else has changed. They can take the out-of-game time to kill everything in the room, if they want, but there'd be no real point to it, so they might be more amenable to handwaving the ending. The enemies might even plausibly surrender. What do they care? They succeeded.

You're not required to use enemies that won't run away, or to make their only function to kill the PCs. Use them to buy time for the enemy, or to perform some menial but dangerous action. 10 skeletons walk toward 10 widely spaced piles of explosives, each holding a lighted torch. They're 3 rounds away. What does the party do?

The linchpin for all of this is to have interesting ways for the players to fail. The ritual is completed, which complicates things, but doesn't immediately kill the players. They just now have to deal with this new complication.

If the only way for a fight to be won (and then effectively end) is for one side's HP to be taken to zero, then start by changing that assumption.

True that.

Try to remember what the enemy is fighting for. Unless they are mindless automotons, they don't want to die any more than the players, so they might start fleeing after taking a bad wound (possibly leaving some of their heavy treasure behind... drop a shield or that extra quiver of arrows, or the heavy crossbow). I usually just draw a circle around the names of enemies that are fleeing on my hit point sheet, in case the players pursue. The enemies might also regroup, etc.

Another classic example is the fight that must be won before reinforcements arrive or things get much harder or before 'the gate' closes.

Mindless undead are fun to fight for this reason... half the time there is so little to be gained from hacking and slashing at them, so you usually just really need to kill (or otherwise get around) the ones who get in your way.
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
Your player turns are taking a bit of a long time, 3-5 minutes means that a round is taking 15-30 minutes. You should look at what you can do about that.

But a 3-hour combat is then 6 to 12 rounds, which is also kind of high and needs work.

If you're having a lot of rounds because the PCs can't hit the monsters... maybe lower the monsters' defenses.

If the PCs are hitting the monsters but not doing much... maybe lower the monsters' HP further, and/or give them penalties on saving throws. Whatever seems most appropriate to your problems.

Find tricks to get rid of monsters. Maybe a suicide vest - a particular monster has AC 20 and if an attack against AC is 25 or higher (or exactly 23, or something) then the monster explodes and does some appropriate amount of damage to all adjacent creatures. Monsters can also run away - and it doesn't take all that much intelligence to do so when either (a) the monster is bloodied itself and its current target is not bloodied, or (b) the monster's pack leader goes down or runs away. If you have more intelligent monsters, perhaps there are sympathy "kills": knock one down, another rushes over to it and will be a noncombatant as long as neither is attacked again.

Make the monsters a side issue. Perhaps the goal of a particular encounter is to get a particular McGuffin and get out of the room with it. Totally acceptable to achieve this without hitting a single monster even once.
"The world does not work the way you have been taught it does. We are not real as such; we exist within The Story. Unfortunately for you, you have inherited a condition from your mother known as Primary Protagonist Syndrome, which means The Story is interested in you. It will find you, and if you are not ready for the narrative strands it will throw at you..." - from Footloose
Yeah, I think I'll have to impose some kind of limit on PC turns. When it was pointed out that each round is taking 15-30 minutes, no wonder why it's gotten out of hand. We'll come up with something next session; I'll come to the table with some ideas.

You know, I was analyzing my last sessions combat/melee encounters and I was shocked at how high most of the monsters defenses were. Not just AC, but ref, will, etc. I hate to admit it, but I really think I may be subconsciously suffering from DM vs party syndrome. It's really something I need to consider next session.

Thanks again, guys.
Here's how I advise people to speed up combat in 3.5/pathfinde4r games:
1. Talk faster. No kidding. It doesn't take a poodle to realize that if you dawdle and talk slow and confused, combat will take longer. Practice this by running a combat or two kind of like an auction (well, maybe not that fast). This also allows you to be more descriptive on your monsters' attacks, without sacrificing time (OK, the orc sticks his spear into your belly and..ohhhhh...twists your intestines around the spearhead for 18 points of damage). If you talk like the micromachines guy, you're probably going too fast, unless your players are all high on Red Bull.

2. PEOPLE. SKIP THE LAMINATED INITIATIVE CARDS! Yes, you sure look like you've got all the cool stuff as a DM, but they're a waste of time. You fumble with them and have to move them and write numbers down with a Vis a Vis pen and erase those numbers and write them down again. Let me give it to you real simple like, eh? On one of those stupid cards you didn't laminate write the names of your players below "DM" and record the initiatives next to that during each combat:

Fight1 Fight2 etc. etc.
DM: 7.....18..
Earl: 8.....9..
Mary Jo: 22....21 (dang cheater! Remind me to use this silver tape on this one)
Billy Bob: 9.....2..
Dilbert: 1.....14.
OK, does anybody have any difficulty figuring out who goes when? It's fast, easy and effective. Just like Turbo-Lax. Now, you were able to
 put all that info on one card instead of 5 and you can  put notes  wherever you need them. No muss, no fuss (un-like Turbo  Lax).


 3. Group players who are on similar initiatives and  aren't affecting  each other's actions by simply saying, "Ok, you two go at  the same
 time." This has been the single most important thing for  speeding up  combat in my games. If you've got two fighters who are
 attacking two different orcs, at different ends of the room, you don't need one guy to wait for the other. Just let them roll their dice at the same time and report damage immediately.

 4. Like the DMG says, "Roll your attack and damage dice at the same time." This is no joke people. It works. Players that are resistant must be stopped because it KILLS your game time to sit there and watch someone pick through 453 dice to find their d8, only to mistakenly pick up a d10 and then waste your time to have to roll it again. Fix these players and you'll have more time for playing and less time being bored with slow combats.

 5. Skip players that aren't ready. Some players simply aren't paying attention. Either they must be ready, or they go after the other players (or last). Mages get about a 5 second reprieve. They're supposed to be smart and/or charismatic, not dullwitted brain-slugs. Tell them your feelings on the matter. Besides, being a power-hungry jerk can be fun sometimes, especially if your players wear a lot of leather insanity jackets and zippers.

 6. Cheat. If you monsters come up with the same initiative as one of the players, ALWAYS change it to something else (up or down, depending
 on how mean you feel that day). Do you know what? You'll save yourself huge hassles by not having to figure out ties. (I have the same problem
 figuring out my ties in the morning). Most people will call this "fudging the initiative to whatever feels right."

 7. Use EASY-TO-READ DICE! Ever get that guy who always has to lean over with a microscope and study his die to see what he rolled..several
 fascial expressions later (most of the time looking like he's doing something in his pants)..until he finally exclaims to his fellow sleeping players. "I rolled a 12..uhm..plus 3..plus 1..uhm.. so that's a 16 total. Does that hit?" No Earl, that does not hit, and on behalf of the other players and myself, I'd like to ask you why in the hell you bought camouflaged dice..Hey WAIT! Those dice are Koplow Cheaters Dice, I can make out a 20 next to that other 20! Earl, you're banned from playing until you go buy us some more Mtn Dew..[hicup]

 8. Explain to players that if THEY hurry up, there will be more experience in it for them.

 9. Use miniatures and a battlemat proficiently and rapidly.  It speeds up the game. BUT ONLY if the DM and players are ready to handle things. The DM must not be fumbling around for 13 orcs and one goblin in his lead miniature/POG tackle box. Players must be ready to accept that "where their pawn is on the battlemat is where they are when the dm starts combat." This means no whining. When a player whines, slap some duct tape over her mouth and play on. Later, when you need a scary monster sound for an otyugh, just tear that little bit of duct tape off of that player's mouth. It 's faster than using CD's for sounds (no, I didn't start a new number for that helpful hint).

 10. Kill monsters when the combat get's boring. I know, it sucks, but sometimes players simply aren't having fun killing your orcs. So, you simply wave your hand across your face and say,"Fade to black. The orcs are dead. They had 37 gold.  What do you want to do now?" I know, it seems like a totally good waste of meaningless and a particularly boring combat, but face it DM. You suck. You're combats are boring, long, all inked up with Vis a Vis, and maybe you should try something like Warhammer Miniatures Battles if you like that sort of thing.

 11. Yes, stay in character and eliminate non-game table talk. If players insist on doing that, skip their turn. When they whine..well, you know what to do...

12.  Sometimes it's just the game system.  Games like D&D4, WFRP3, Phoenix Command, and ROLEMASTER are slower games.  Everyone has to be at their best to keep things moving.

 Those are just a few of my helpful hints.

We "finished Temple of Elemental Evil at BenCon in less than 3 hours" using 3.5


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2. PEOPLE. SKIP THE LAMINATED INITIATIVE CARDS! Yes, you sure look like you've got all the cool stuff as a DM, but they're a waste of time. You fumble with them and have to move them and write numbers down with a Vis a Vis pen and erase those numbers and write them down again. Let me give it to you real simple like, eh? On one of those stupid cards you didn't laminate write the names of your players below "DM" and record the initiatives next to that during each combat:

Fight1 Fight2 etc. etc.
DM: 7.....18..
Earl: 8.....9..
Mary Jo: 22....21 (dang cheater! Remind me to use this silver tape on this one)
Billy Bob: 9.....2..
Dilbert: 1.....14.
OK, does anybody have any difficulty figuring out who goes when? It's fast, easy and effective. Just like Turbo-Lax. Now, you were able to
 put all that info on one card instead of 5 and you can  put notes  wherever you need them. No muss, no fuss (un-like Turbo  Lax).



The point of the initiative flags if that you don't do any of that.  You make flags for your monsters and the players make their own.  Its also partially about time, but also about everyone always having a clear idea of who is up next in initiative.  If all the info is on a sheet of paper or what-have-you that isn't clearly displayed for players that tends to be an issue.


 3. Group players who are on similar initiatives and  aren't affecting  each other's actions by simply saying, "Ok, you two go at  the same
 time." This has been the single most important thing for  speeding up  combat in my games. If you've got two fighters who are  attacking two different orcs, at different ends of the room, you don't need one guy to wait for the other. Just let them roll their dice at the same time and report damage immediately.



Great for NPCS/monsters a terrible plan for players.  It will get cluster-f-erying in addition to the fact that the game is built around people not taking their turns in tandem.  I know for my part that this can set up a lot of really awkward moments where everyone is taking at turn at once.  If you have 2 players going you better hope they aren't enabling leaders or you will quickly have 4 people taking a partial or complete turn all at the same time.


 4. Like the DMG says, "Roll your attack and damage dice at the same time." This is no joke people. It works. Players that are resistant must be stopped because it KILLS your game time to sit there and watch someone pick through 453 dice to find their d8, only to mistakenly pick up a d10 and then waste your time to have to roll it again. Fix these players and you'll have more time for playing and less time being bored with slow combats.



This is good.  Mentioned before but it can bear repeating.


 5. Skip players that aren't ready. Some players simply aren't paying attention. Either they must be ready, or they go after the other players (or last). Mages get about a 5 second reprieve. They're supposed to be smart and/or charismatic, not dullwitted brain-slugs. Tell them your feelings on the matter. Besides, being a power-hungry jerk can be fun sometimes, especially if your players wear a lot of leather insanity jackets and zippers.



Assuming your players are on board, great plan.


 6. Cheat. If you monsters come up with the same initiative as one of the players, ALWAYS change it to something else (up or down, depending on how mean you feel that day). Do you know what? You'll save yourself huge hassles by not having to figure out ties. (I have the same problem
 figuring out my ties in the morning). Most people will call this "fudging the initiative to whatever feels right."



With the exception of the built in, very easy, should already be on the initiative flag way of dealing with ties yes this is nice.  Not really cheating to go fast.

 7. Use EASY-TO-READ DICE!


Should be true at every table.


 10. Kill monsters when the combat get's boring. I know, it sucks, but sometimes players simply aren't having fun killing your orcs. So, you simply wave your hand across your face and say,"Fade to black. The orcs are dead. They had 37 gold.  What do you want to do now?" I know, it seems like a totally good waste of meaningless and a particularly boring combat, but face it DM. You suck. You're combats are boring, long, all inked up with Vis a Vis, and maybe you should try something like Warhammer Miniatures Battles if you like that sort of thing.



Already discussed, mentioned, yes its a good plan to mop up after the battle is already won.  Might want to consider charging players a healing surge or 2 to mop up to keep the balance running.
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here
I've also seen people "pre-roll" some numbers for vague things.  Passive "spot the trap" checks, etc.  Personally though, I think that we all love to roll dice, even if we don't always know what for..and the GM has that crazed look in his eye again ;)

Gamer Chiropractor - Hafner Chiropractic 305 S. Kipling st,Suite C-2, Lakewood, Co 80226 hafnerchiropractic.com

Other generic stuff (as in not really related specifically to melee encounter) occurred to me while I was responding to Emirikol.

Have encounter bags.  Put all the Minis / Initiative Flags / maps for a given encounter in the bag with the minis.  Write on the outside the name or description of the encounter.

Here is how setup happens at my table.

When the players start sitting at the table, talking about stuff and doing recap from last time they make an initiative flag and roll initiative twice putting the numbers on their flags.  They put their mini on the table and the session starts.

When a combat encounter happens I toss the initiative flags in the center of the table and one or more of the players aligns everyone in initiative order while I set out the minis on the field.  As they put them in order I do a short physical description (if one has not already been given) for each guy and what they are on the battlefield as I place the minis on the field.

I sit down, combat starts.  Everyone knows who is what/who goes where/what is going on.  I don't have to write any of the character stuff for the characters and we carry on. 
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here
This is not for everyone:

We basically go in initiative order right off... anyone who beat Team Monsters' ini gets to go first. After that we go into groups. Team Monster, then Team Player. On Team Player's turn, anyone can go in any order. Once all players have gone, TM goes again.

It eliminates a few things like players remembering when their turn is, or waiting on players to decide what to do. It has definitely sped up our combats, and we're a very optimized and tactically intelligent bunch who play close attention to what's going on.
There are a couple other things that I've found to be useful:
1.  Write down on a post-it who is having trouble (i.e. the dude who slows yoru game down).   Ask them what's keepign them from going faster.  Get them to admit they need to get their stuff together.
2.  Social pressure.  Talk to the other players and have them help you pressure slow players or people who have trouble paying attention.  This works 87.6% of the time.
3.  EXPECTATIONS:  Tell your players that you want combats to go faster.  YOu want them to act faster and you want them to move their mini's faster on the table.  Tell them BECAUSE you want the game to run faster so you can get more done.  Its of course important to tell them the "why."

Gamer Chiropractor - Hafner Chiropractic 305 S. Kipling st,Suite C-2, Lakewood, Co 80226 hafnerchiropractic.com

I've continued thinking about this over the holiday weekend and realized that the END of a melee encounter moves much faster than the beginning of the encounter. I think this is the case because the following reasons:

1. Players who are unfamiliar with their PCs and overwhelmed with the number of powers they have to choose from at 13-14th level. At the end of an encounter, they exhausted many of their choices and quickly select an at-will power.

2. Players that suffer from analysis paralysis stemming from a desire to the perfect power for the situation. As choices dwindle down, it's easier for them to choose.

3. Poorly optimized PCs. 

4. Monsters with high defenses.

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I can fix the monsters' defenses and usher along players who are having a hard time making a decision by coming back around to them at the end of the round. But what how should I handle #1 and # 3? I can ask the min/maxer of the group to sit with the guys who want to work on the mechanical aspects of their PCs, but I doubt many will take him up on the offer. I get skiddish about asking them to use a Essentials version of their PC, but maybe that will work??? Thoughts?
#3 is the make a better version fo their PCs and just hand it to them next combat.

#1 is make them a sheet they can easily see all their stuff on and leave a spot for a "when best to use" next to the power.  Tell the players to fill in with a sentence or less.  I've found for my players (and for me) having everything on one sheet of paper is very helpful.  I only reference the power cards if for some reason I really need the full description of something. 
Currently working on making a Dex based defender. Check it out here
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Need a few pre-generated characters for a one-shot you are running? Want to get a baseline for what an effective build for a class you aren't familiar with? Check out the Pregen thread here If ever you are interested what it sounds like to be at my table check out my blog and podcast here Also, I've recently done an episode on "Refluffing". You can check that out here
@Matyr just laid down the iron word on what needs to be done to solve or at least lessen your time-consuming combat problem.

I have created simplified char sheets before, and especially in 4e there's a lot of superfluous info in the power descriptions. For each character I'd aim for a build which can fit everything on one page (with controllers or slightly more complex casters being allowed two pages). Try to reduce most powers done to a sentence or two. Maybe even provide a checklist of powers (by type: at-will, encounter, daily) with a quick description, and then on the backside/2nd page a more detailed power write up.

I can post links to sheet examples I worked up in InDesign if you'd like. 

Also it sounds like you and your players are a bit held hostage by the powers system of 4e. Remember the powers are meant to be representative of the iconic kinds of things a character can do, not the entirety of all their abilities. Again, DMG page 42 and improvising are your friend. Players seem to easily forget this, but so can DMs.
You may even want to take the time to review their roles so they can better understand what a 'best action' for them would be. This would make it more clear as to which powers to pick, and may even make some of their powers obsolete.

If your Defender is looking at one or two enemies left on the board, they can roll a high damage power as opposed to something that marked. If the Leader is looking at a table full of enemies, but no one has been hit yet, use a dazing power. If the Striker starts their first turn and there's someone nasty on the other side, go NOVA on him!

I find players often mix and match a variety of powers which can be difficult to choose from. Especially powers with riders like daze, immobilize, slowed, etc. Because then the player is trying to identify which enemy and when it is best to use them! This can also lead to spreading out damage when players should be focus firing because no one wants to slow the guy that's already immobilized.
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