Epic DMs, help me out here

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I'm DMing an epic level campaign for something like a year now (we play once every 1-2 months), and I keep running into the same problems: optimization and combat length.

First about optimization: the party enjoys optimization, in somewhat different degrees (one picks a few good powers and combos, while another tricks out his character in basically every way possible). I can sympathize with them, since I'm somewhat of an optimizer myself, so I try not to constrain them in this. But from the start of the campaign, I feel I've mostly failed to challenge them appropriately. Remarks like "well, we're halfway and I've spent one healing surge" are common enough.

I try to up the scales regularly by increasing the encounter levels. This tends to work somewhat, but then I run into the next problem: time. 

It's a known symptom of 4e that the combats tend to last a long time. My players are all quite experienced, and we use some tricks to speed up the game a bit (like average damage). Still, a round of epic level combat can easily take an hour. One of the easiest tricks to make combat harder is to send in reinforcements after the first or second round, but that only increases combat length, and I know that nobody really wants that. 

So, what advice do other epic DMs have for me here? 
There is always going to be a balance to strike between grinding and rocket tag.

Try having twice as many monsters with half as many hp?
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Many a 4e DM have always had to cross these problems, so don't worry. It's one of the bigger set of pitfalls you can face when running a 4e game into the epic, to the point where it's almost expected of a DM to do so. Here are a few tricks I've come up with over the years to speed up combat and keep the challenge high when needed.

All of these are YMMV of course, but these are a few of the details that have made my groups combat scenes smoother, quicker, and overall better since we first started playing.



  • Cut all monster HP by 2 per level (before multiplication in the case of Elites and Solos). This little detail has saved me and my group a LOT of time in our more recent games.

  • Use less mobs. If you really want to go for a numbers game in a fight, consider employing 2-4 minions before using a standard.

  • Touching on the above point, minions are more than meat shields and disposable damage sources. Aid attack rules can make them turn any monster with a powerful attack into a dangerous foe. It's also neat to use minions who are less of a threat alive than dead. Try using minions that have death triggered auto-damage powers to make the PCs jump from time to time (though don't over do it of course ).

  • Use alternative encounter goals more often. If the focus is less on a pure stomp fest, combat tends to either go faster, or at least not seem as long.

  • Always make sure monsters bust out their best guns when they can. Don't worry about having a big badguy get most of the party in their recharge/encounter burst attack. At least two will do just fine.

  • Use less stun and daze against the PCs, and give important enemies ways to lessen (but not negate or remove) the effects of these abilities. Instead, try to deal more damage, or use other complicating effects in collusion with encounter hazards, like speed reduction in an area with difficult terrain to try and trick PCs into going around it, potentially triggering opportunity attacks from well positioned enemies or traps.

  • To touch on the above point, use less area in combat. When the grid is smaller in a width x length sense, fights can be more of a challenge due to the need for a more tactical approach to movement and positioning. Instead, use area height to keep certain enemies (such as artillery and ranged controller units) out of the hands of pesky melee Strikers or Defenders.

  • Still covering combat area, terrain complications and natural hazards can be a big part of combat, as can traps. Try using these things sometimes instead of monsters, or as an addition to a unit with a nasty trick when paired with it. Remember that terrain can be as alive and changing as any other creature, and that the best terrain works against the monsters as well. Nothing like the PCs using force movement to try and push the monsters into the lava or vice versa to speed up combat XD

  • Calling for reinforcements is a fine tactic to let monsters use every now and again if the number of enemies for an encounter was clear from the start, but don't take a good 5-6 enemy set and add more enemies to it. Instead, start with 3-4 of the enemies you wanted in an encounter and then add to this number. When using reinforcements, use entry points that either cut the field in half to separate PCs, or position the new foes to be in prime positions to shake their strategies up a bit.

  • Monster's shouldn't want to fight to the death EVERY encounter. If it's clear that the monsters will lose in two rounds or less time, call the fight and try to have the monsters flee/surrender/off themselves/whatever it is a unit should be doing to aid in story and setting. Likewise, players shouldn't be threatened by death, injury or even imprisonment in every encounter. Failure should complicate more than it just outright punishes.

  • Remember that combat and challenge don't always go hand in hand, and that one can't always challenge a combat optimized PC well even with all the above tricks and hints. One might suggest to use LESS fights to save time if possible and come up with other challenges to throw at PCS, like trap rooms, extended skill challenges that have multiple parts throughout an adventure to them, and good old fashioned RP complications. Being awesome with spell and sword may be a big draw, but it's not the only way to make a game and the characters interesting.


That's about all I can think of off the top of my head. Hope it helps. Happy Gaming
One combat round is an hour? Assuming 5 PCs and 3 different monster types per encounter, it's taking 7 to 8 minutes per person on average to complete their turn? I could walk down to the store and back in that kind of time. What's going on here? (I'm also assuming DM's turns are considerably faster than player turns, pushing the average time per player up a bit.)

How much time are the players spending on getting everything exactly "right" even if getting it totally "wrong" wouldn't make a lick of difference to the outcome? How much time is spent on table talk and strategy? How often does one player interrupt another player's turn to "offer advice" or suggest they do something other than they just did because of reasons?

If you're going into an encounter with the expectation that the characters will succeed, what exactly are you testing? How many surges and dailies they use? If the dramatic question of "Will the heroes defeat their enemies in this battle?" is answered before you even start, why is it getting screen time? (Perhaps it's "How will the heroes defeat their enemies in this battle?" But is that even a mystery anymore?) The answers to these queries might suggest more liberal use of alternate goals since the default dramatic question is no longer a question anymore.

I ask these questions because I'm sure you know how to challenge them mechanically given your expertise. So I don't think that's really the issue at all for you.

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

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It's a small change, but I offered my group the option of doing average damage instead of rolling every time, and they love it.  Damage is pre-written on the cards (along with damage on a crit). It's not going to single-handedly fix the complexity of epic, but it helps.
One of the things I'd do is institute the following set of rules:
Every PC gets 3 minutes to take a turn.
Every PC gets a total of 3 extra minutes in combat, usable whenever they want. For interrupts, OAs, just taking a really long nova turn, etc...
When you say go, the clock starts ticking.
Run out of time, you start automatically deducting from the extra 3 and once you're out of that time, your turn ends.
Try to spend a max of 6 minutes total on the monster turns per round.

You don't necessarily have to be religious about the rule. Just if anyone feels as if they're taking a really long turn, step in and fix it.

And if that doesn't fix it enough, drop the 3 minutes to 2 minutes and kick the 3 extra to 4 minutes.

After that, I'd just increase damage by 50% by the monsters and make sure the PCs can't auto-win initiative. If that doesn't scare them, increase the damage more. Throw in a bonus to-hit to get the monsters to roughly 50% to-hit chance. If the party keeps throwing up Mantle of Unity every round, put in elite leaders that grant big bonuses on AP usage to make up for it(or ask the party to not use that power if there are really extreme defensive values that add up very optimally.)

Etc...

There should be a certain point where the damage is high enough that you won't have to act in a perfect tactical manner to challenge the PCs. Which will make your turns faster.
How much time are the players spending on getting everything exactly "right" even if getting it totally "wrong" wouldn't make a lick of difference to the outcome? How much time is spent on table talk and strategy? How often does one player interrupt another player's turn to "offer advice" or suggest they do something other than they just did because of reasons?


I know what you're getting at here, and an hour a round is a bit of an exaggeration, but me and the players still feel that the answer to these questions is 'an adequate amount'. People play complicated characters that make or grant up to 8 attack rolls per round. With those kinds of numbers, it takes quite a lot of time to process everything. An example round from the Warlock's perspective:

- Warlord goes first, and grants the Warlock a free at-will attack with a +3 bonus to hit and a +15 bonus to damage. Warlock has to decide which attack he'll use, and what enemy he'll target. 
- Warlock first uses a free action to place his Curse on 1-3 targets. Has to decide which ones. 
- Warlock rolls an attack roll. The attack misses, so he decides to take some damage and reroll the attack. It now hits. 
- Warlock rolls for damage. Has to roll Curse damage separately, and tell both numbers to the DM. 
- DM writes down the damage. 
- Warlock takes his turn. He has to decide what power he wants to use and where he has to move to use it.
- Warlock moves, but has to decide what type of movement to use (move, shift, fly, teleport etc). 
- Warlock uses minor action to Curse even more targets. 
- Warlock uses close blast 5 against 4 enemies. Rolls 4 attack rolls. 
- Warlock hits two, scores one critical hit, and misses one. 
- Warlock takes some damage to reroll attack. The at-will he used during the Warlord's turn (Hellish Rebuke) triggers. He has to roll damage against the enemy, and report it to the DM. 
- Warlock rerolls the missed attack, and hits. 
- Warlock rolls and calculates damage for the three enemies and reports it to the DM. 
- Warlock rolls even more dice and calculates damage for his crit, and reports it to the DM. 
- DM asks Warlock what target was critted again, Warlock looks at the board and confirms. 
- DM asks Warlock again how many damage he did with the Hellish Rebuke roll. 
- Warlock now gets to push and prone the enemies 3 squares. Has to confirm with Barbarian where to place them so Barbarian can charge optimally. 
- Warlock uses action point to fire an attack at the critted enemy. Target dies, Pact Boon triggers, Warlock gets to teleport and give someone temp HP. 
- Warlock's turn ends. 
- Barbarian takes his turn and bloodies one cursed enemy. Warlock's immediate action attack triggers. 
- Warlock decides what enemy to attack with his immediate. 
- Warlock rolls his attack and hits. 
- Warlock rolls for damage, and reports it to the DM. 
- Barbarian continues his turn, and murders a Cursed enemy. Warlock's Pact Boon triggers. 
- Warlock can teleport again, and asks who needs temp HP the most? Short discussion ensues between Paladin and Warlord, before they agree Warlord needs it the most. 
- Warlock tells Warlord how many temp HP he gets. 
- Warlock is out of actions for the round, but advices Warlord and Paladin (un)asked to set up his next turn. 

And this is for just one character. See how that quickly gets out of hand, especially when you also account for the DMs monsters and possible alternative goals? 
I thought you said you used average damage? I read somewhere that most time eaten up in a combat rounds are finding dice, rolling them, and doing the math. We don't use dice at all (macros) so we don't have to go through any of this bit.

Even in Heroic tier, I ask players to think about how many actions they build into their character that don't take place on their own turn. Every interruption of someone's turn is a hit to the pacing of the game. I do the same for "pets" and whatnot as well. I also ask them to stick a big post-it note on their sheet saying how many minor actions they have (since many people dither when it comes to that). Anything that might slow the game down in some way, I implore them to consider alternatives.

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

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Players: Players 101  |  11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer  |  You Are Not Your Character  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs

Content I Created: Adventure Scenarios  |  Actual Play Reports  |  Tools  |  Game Transcripts

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- Warlord goes first, and grants the Warlock a free at-will attack with a +3 bonus to hit and a +15 bonus to damage. Warlock has to decide which attack he'll use, and what enemy he'll target.

No, he doesn't.

- Warlock first uses a free action to place his Curse on 1-3 targets. Has to decide which ones.

No, he doesn't.

- Warlock takes his turn. He has to decide what power he wants to use and where he has to move to use it.

No, he doesn't.

Etc.

I mean, obviously choices have to be made, but there are no wrong answers to those choices, or any of the other ones you listed. Literally any choice the player made would have roughly the same end result, in terms of life or death for the characters. Pretending otherwise is a waste of time for everyone at the table, including the player.

I get that sometimes those choices matter, but usually they don't, and if they're not taking much damage than they don't at all. I don't imagine this will make sense to them, but the bottom line is that they're doing this to themselves. The game presents them with choices, but not all of those choices are meaningful.

Try one game in which players have 60 seconds each in which to complete their turns. Make note of how much more difficult (or easy) the encounters are for them. I predict they'll be no more difficult. The characters might take slightly more damage, but they can certainly spare that.

And this is for just one character. See how that quickly gets out of hand, especially when you also account for the DMs monsters and possible alternative goals?

Alternate goals have nothing to do with your issues, and might even fix them. One combat round takes an hour? Ok, the group has one combat round to kill every single monster in three different rooms, and complete a skill challenge, before the location self-destructs. It won't kill the characters, but it will cost them half their healing surges each and destroy the dream-frescoes that hold the secret that would have made the idea of stopping their enemy only highly doubtful instead of utterly ludicrous.

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

I mean, obviously choices have to be made, but there are no wrong answers to those choices, or any of the other ones you listed. Literally any choice the player made would have roughly the same end result, in terms of life or death for the characters. Pretending otherwise is a waste of time for everyone at the table, including the player.

I get that sometimes those choices matter, but usually they don't, and if they're not taking much damage than they don't at all. I don't imagine this will make sense to them, but the bottom line is that they're doing this to themselves. The game presents them with choices, but not all of those choices are meaningful.



I agree with this, but this is a tough if not impossible sell to most players. One way I frame is to say, "Congratulations! You ended the adventuring day with most of your healing surges left! Tell him what he's won, Johnny! Oh, right, nothing! What did we lose? Oh, right, time."

I have another question: How many rounds (or minutes) into the fight is it before you know for certain the characters will prevail? Do you call the scene? Or do you grind it out?

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Session Zero  |  How to Adjudicate Actions  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
Players: Players 101  |  11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer  |  You Are Not Your Character  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs

Content I Created: Adventure Scenarios  |  Actual Play Reports  |  Tools  |  Game Transcripts

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But from the start of the campaign, I feel I've mostly failed to challenge them appropriately. Remarks like "well, we're halfway and I've spent one healing surge" are common enough.



Use these damage expressions.  I decrease monster hps a bit too (approximately 1.5 hp per monster level).  Throw more equal-level monsters at the PCs instead of higher-level ones.

I also use a custom monster classification I call the Berserker.  They usually have a double-attack despite being a standard monster, but this attack provokes OAs.  They die fast, but do massive damage before dying.
"Congratulations! You ended the adventuring day with most of your healing surges left! Tell him what he's won, Johnny! Oh, right, nothing! What did we lose? Oh, right, time."



Just had to say this made my day!

True story:  the session before last I started a shot clock to light a fire under the players.  By the last session, I didn't need it anymore.  Players had sped up considerably, and nothing suffered.  They admitted to me they thought I forgot to do the shot clock and were afraid I'd bring it out again, so they tried to go as fast as they reasonably could!

I'm not sure if I like the thought that players dislike the shot clock, but regardless, we didn't need it last time we played because players made an effort to take their turns faster.

Plus, I'm going to seriously try to convince the players, especially the strikers who roll insane amounts of dice for damage, to just use average damage.  Purely optional, of course.  Not sure how well that will work with so many situational factors to damage each time it's rolled, but I think it's worth trying.

OD&D, 1E and 2E challenged the player. 3E challenged the character, not the player. Now 4E takes it a step further by challenging a GROUP OF PLAYERS to work together as a TEAM. That's why I love 4E.

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Plus, I'm going to seriously try to convince the players, especially the strikers who roll insane amounts of dice for damage, to just use average damage. Purely optional, of course. Not sure how well that will work with so many situational factors to damage each time it's rolled, but I think it's worth trying.

Maybe average some of the dice (to be easier to work with) but not all of them (so that the players are still rolling something)?

6d6 becomes 4d6+7 or 2d6+14 instead of just 21
5d8 becomes 3d8+9 or 1d8+18 instead of just 22.5
... 

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A game is a fictional construct created for the sake of the players, not the other way around. If you have a question "How do I keep X from happening at my table," and you feel that the out-of-game answer "Talk the the other people at your table" won't help, then the in-game answers "Remove mechanics A, B, and/or C, add mechanics L, M, and/or N" will not help either.
I'm DMing an epic level campaign

I stopped running epic level games precisely because players took too long.

That said: as a player I was able to make Epic games run smoothly by simplifying my PC.
example: a fully optimized 24th level rogue averaged (for all powers) to about 60 dmg per hit, x2 w/sneak, x2 w/crit. This allowed me to launch multiple area attacks each round without slowing the game. Plus:
1) We assigned damage recording duties to a player.
2) Since monsters shared the same initiative, player could effectively go in any order... even resolving actions while others are still going.
3) For area effects: a d20 was rolled next to each affected miniature.
I have another question: How many rounds (or minutes) into the fight is it before you know for certain the characters will prevail? Do you call the scene? Or do you grind it out?


Depends on the victory condition, but usually not much more than 30-45 minutes. Most players will have had their turn by then, and it's clear whether the challenge level is too low, too high or just right. 

It would of course feel weird to call a scene before the end of round 1, so we play it out for a couple of more rounds before we agree to call it quits.
Loving the suggestions here by the way. I will contact my players (who have also complained that combats take too long, but don't know how to fix it either) and institute some groundrules for future epic combats. Since they hate the time loss, I don't think they will object to them.
Just had to say this made my day!

True story:  the session before last I started a shot clock to light a fire under the players.  By the last session, I didn't need it anymore.  Players had sped up considerably, and nothing suffered.  They admitted to me they thought I forgot to do the shot clock and were afraid I'd bring it out again, so they tried to go as fast as they reasonably could!

I'm not sure if I like the thought that players dislike the shot clock, but regardless, we didn't need it last time we played because players made an effort to take their turns faster.

Plus, I'm going to seriously try to convince the players, especially the strikers who roll insane amounts of dice for damage, to just use average damage.  Purely optional, of course.  Not sure how well that will work with so many situational factors to damage each time it's rolled, but I think it's worth trying.



I'm lucky in that I play online and macros take away any time lost on dice and adding up damage. Our combats are lightning fast compared to most tables in my experience. So I look for other areas in which to improve pacing in combat. Two rules of thumb I ask my players to consider are:


  • If you're up and the first thing out of your mouth is "Uhhh..." then just delay. Immediately. Don't use your turn to think of what to do - use other people's turns for that.

  • If I've just framed an exciting moment and ask "What do you do?" and your first response is to ask a dull question, log off in shame.


Depends on the victory condition, but usually not much more than 30-45 minutes. Most players will have had their turn by then, and it's clear whether the challenge level is too low, too high or just right.



If you've determined that the dramatic question is effectively answered by the current conditions of play, you can consider changing the dramatic question. Instead of "Will the PCs defeat these monsters?" is could be "Will they defeat them before the end of next round?" or "Will they defeat them without a single PC getting bloodied and feeding the Blood God?" Stuff like that. Create a reward and a cost for succeeding or failing (some form of advantage/disadvantage in the next scene is a good starting point).


It would of course feel weird to call a scene before the end of round 1, so we play it out for a couple of more rounds before we agree to call it quits.



For what it's worth, I always go to the very end of the combat round before asking if it's time to call the scene. I want to make sure everyone has had a chance to contribute equally.

Loving the suggestions here by the way. I will contact my players (who have also complained that combats take too long, but don't know how to fix it either) and institute some groundrules for future epic combats. Since they hate the time loss, I don't think they will object to them.



It's not great advice per se, but considering the issues inherent in epic level play and the fact that many fixes will just be on the margins, perhaps this is a good opportunity for a reboot in Heroic. For my part, I never run games past mid-paragon. There's only so much you can do.

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Session Zero  |  How to Adjudicate Actions  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
Players: Players 101  |  11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer  |  You Are Not Your Character  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs

Content I Created: Adventure Scenarios  |  Actual Play Reports  |  Tools  |  Game Transcripts

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

It would of course feel weird to call a scene before the end of round 1, so we play it out for a couple of more rounds before we agree to call it quits.

But that's equivalent to a couple more hours, and that's after the point at which the enemies stood a significant chance of harming the characters.

Given the interplay between the characters, it sounds like everyone would get to participate even before a whole round had finished, so cutting it short wouldn't necessarily shut anyone out. What else is weird about calling the scene before the end of round 1? Would it help if you thought of a round as more than six seconds?

Loving the suggestions here by the way. I will contact my players (who have also complained that combats take too long, but don't know how to fix it either) and institute some groundrules for future epic combats. Since they hate the time loss, I don't think they will object to them.

Good luck.

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



It's a known symptom of 4e that the combats tend to last a long time. My players are all quite experienced, and we use some tricks to speed up the game a bit (like average damage). Still, a round of epic level combat can easily take an hour. One of the easiest tricks to make combat harder is to send in reinforcements after the first or second round, but that only increases combat length, and I know that nobody really wants that.


When I ran 4e, I was cutting monster HP by a third (eyeballed) and we still felt it drag. (we topped at 16-18th level i think?) 


At epic you might consider cutting it even in half. 


Double the monsters half the HP. If stuff is dropping combat seems to go faster, even if the actual time spent is the same.  Alternatively, half the HP, leave the number of monsters the same, but take 5 healing surges from each PC. (5 is arbitrarily chosen, find a good one for your group)

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I'm DMing an epic level campaign for something like a year now (we play once every 1-2 months)...



I think this is at least part of the problem. If you don't play regularly (once a week or more), players won't be as quick with their decisions. If you play regularly, the shortcuts will become ingrained and they won't spend as much time making decisions. The Warlock will know where to move whomever without even asking the Barbarian because their patterns will have been developed. The triggers they need to monitor will be second-nature, the cost/benefit of doing a certain sequence will be pre-calculated, and so on.


Have these players played the characters from pre-epic or did the campaign start in epic? From personal experience, if I "build up" a character, I am much quicker with all decisions because I only have to worry about 1-2 extra triggers per level. Thus, I can build a base, and keep adding to it, which results in decision-making efficiency. 


Disclaimer: I am a newbie of ~4 months, and I've never DMd 

I'm DMing an epic level campaign for something like a year now (we play once every 1-2 months)...



I think this is at least part of the problem. If you don't play regularly (once a week or more), players won't be as quick with their decisions. If you play regularly, the shortcuts will become ingrained and they won't spend as much time making decisions. The Warlock will know where to move whomever without even asking the Barbarian because their patterns will have been developed. The triggers they need to monitor will be second-nature, the cost/benefit of doing a certain sequence will be pre-calculated, and so on.


Have these players played the characters from pre-epic or did the campaign start in epic? From personal experience, if I "build up" a character, I am much quicker with all decisions because I only have to worry about 1-2 extra triggers per level. Thus, I can build a base, and keep adding to it, which results in decision-making efficiency. 


Disclaimer: I am a newbie of ~4 months, and I've never DMd 


Disclaimer, nuthin'! I think this is a very good point. Right now, I imagine every time an action happens they all check their powers to see if there's anything they can do about it. After some time, they should begin to get a better feel for the kinds of things they can react to, as well as how important (or not) it is for them to get all their tactics right.

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

Also, don't forget that boring combats are always too long and exciting combats are always done too soon.

If all your combats seem to drag on and on and on, consider that it might not be just how long it takes that makes it seem to drag ... it may be that you have ... BORING COMBAT SYNDROME (dramatic music stab).

What I'm getting at is that if the fight is really exciting and the stakes are high and there are thrills and chills a-plenty, with surprise twists and changing tides ... what's wrong with three hours of that?  That would be awesome.  On the other hand, if you walk into a room and there are five orcs you have to get past in order to get to ... the next room, and it takes three hours to kill them, I could understand why people start checking their email and looking for snacks.

OD&D, 1E and 2E challenged the player. 3E challenged the character, not the player. Now 4E takes it a step further by challenging a GROUP OF PLAYERS to work together as a TEAM. That's why I love 4E.

"Your ability to summon a horde of celestial superbeings at will is making my ... BMX skills look a bit redundant."

"People treat their lack of imagination as if it's the measure of what's silly. Which is silly." - Noon

"Challenge" is overrated.  "Immersion" is usually just a more pretentious way of saying "having fun playing D&D."

"Falling down is how you grow.  Staying down is how you die.  It's not what happens to you, it's what you do after it happens.”

As a player in Sven's campaign, I'd definitely like to try some of those rules once. There are a few things I'd like to comment on:

-Average damage + cheat sheat mandatory for everyone seems like a very good idea. I'm a bit tired of 'oh yes, I have an additional +x which I forgot and-'.

-Having the initiative order in plain view for everyone might help, especially if you enforce a stric time limit. Perople should know at any time when their turn comes up. More on that below.

-Working on a strict time limit clock: doesn't seem entirely fair for leaders granting attacks. If I act immediately (I plan my turn well in advance and I think I can say that I'm one of the characters who acts faster than most) and grant everyone an attack, then time is very likely to run out before that is resolved. I'd then be granted no time at all to re-evaluate the state of the battlefield after that and whether I'd like to action point to do something else or not. Most of my turn isn't me attacking; it's resolving the attacks of the others.

-I hear the rule of halving monster HP and doubling the amount of monsters thrown around a lot. That would put *the entire encounter* into one-shot range for our warlock, who often uses his unleash the inferno daily to deal up to 100-120-ish damage to everything.

If the party keeps throwing up Mantle of Unity every round, put in elite leaders that grant big bonuses on AP usage to make up for it.


I really love this suggestion. It never occurred to me to use enemy leaders this way, but it makes a lot of sense. 

I think this is at least part of the problem. If you don't play regularly (once a week or more), players won't be as quick with their decisions. If you play regularly, the shortcuts will become ingrained and they won't spend as much time making decisions. The Warlock will know where to move whomever without even asking the Barbarian because their patterns will have been developed. The triggers they need to monitor will be second-nature, the cost/benefit of doing a certain sequence will be pre-calculated, and so on.


In principle I agree with you, but you know how it is: life just gets in the way too often to play a more regular game. We're all in our late 20s/early 30s, and we have to choose carefully how we spend our free time. 

Have these players played the characters from pre-epic or did the campaign start in epic? From personal experience, if I "build up" a character, I am much quicker with all decisions because I only have to worry about 1-2 extra triggers per level. Thus, I can build a base, and keep adding to it, which results in decision-making efficiency. 


They have all played their characters from level 1, so I trust them to be proficient enough with them. 

What I'm getting at is that if the fight is really exciting and the stakes are high and there are thrills and chills a-plenty, with surprise twists and changing tides ... what's wrong with three hours of that?  That would be awesome.  On the other hand, if you walk into a room and there are five orcs you have to get past in order to get to ... the next room, and it takes three hours to kill them, I could understand why people start checking their email and looking for snacks.

 
I know, that's why (from my perspective, at least) my players only face either awesome combats or ones they've been building toward. Never the "5 orcs in a room".
While I know that epic has its share of problems, I'm quite frankly amazed at how easily people dismiss an entire tier of the game by saying things like "my games never go past level 18". I mean, there are so many interesting powers, feats, epic destinies, items etc. there. Haven't your players ever told you they'd like an epic game or campaign? 

I have recently played my first epic game, and it was completely awesome. I can't wait for the next one to start. I loved having all the options of tricking out my character at my disposal. A heroic or even paragon game couldn't replicate that experience. 
While I know that epic has its share of problems, I'm quite frankly amazed at how easily people dismiss an entire tier of the game by saying things like "my games never go past level 18". I mean, there are so many interesting powers, feats, epic destinies, items etc. there. Haven't your players ever told you they'd like an epic game or campaign?



My group loves playing epic. But schedules never allow for much of it between breaks in gaming for school or work or whatever else have you. Most of the campaign ideas we've tried out don't go past late paragon, and one didn't even leave heroic due to time constraints and lack of ideas to keep it interesting. Out of the six campaigns we've had since 4e's launch, we've only completed 2 into epic.

We've got two newbies to 4e's system that want to try and run a full campaign in the group now, so we may get our third soon though
The first thing I did was change damage formulas on everything to maintain sanity. (Fireball does 2d6 + 1 per level). I made it so there is less dice and bigger base numbers. This means the players still roll for their damage but the minimum makes a big difference. Averaging dice is great, and speeds things up a lot.

As for what stories/etc to use. I use battles as one element of a scene, and the focus is on the scene itself. Players are always moving away from what they think is boring and the story moves on. The one flaw I encounter a lot in my level 30-40 epic 3.5 homebrew game is that characters with multiple spellcasting classes tend to stall out on their turns because they have "too many options" syndrome.

If you have good group synch with your players, you can actually allow them to take their turns at the same time. Just ask the whole team what do you all do? One player might be moving, while another rolls damage and another is attacking. All at the same time. Start slow, and little by little the turns get faster as everyone adjusts to each others speed.

Within; Without.

While I know that epic has its share of problems, I'm quite frankly amazed at how easily people dismiss an entire tier of the game by saying things like "my games never go past level 18". I mean, there are so many interesting powers, feats, epic destinies, items etc. there. Haven't your players ever told you they'd like an epic game or campaign?



No, they haven't. Our games move along pretty fast compared to most, and where I've run paragon and epic, you really start to notice the drag. My regulars frequently request that campaigns end only a couple levels into paragon, if that.

It occurs to me that "sector-design" dungeons might be something you can consider too. Instead of a given encounter (level) in a particular area, you increase the encounter level to level + 4, then spread out the traps/monsters across a wider location. (Compare your typtical set-piece encounter in a single location to this which would have those same monsters in several connected locations.) These threats may or may not "work" together.

So rather than fight everything all at once, they tend to fight a little here, a little there, avoid this bit over here, talk to those guys, etc. Resting "takes a few minutes" (they choose when to take it) and you write up a custom mechanic for random events to take place during that time. A random event is like a random encounter but not necessarily always some monster wandering into the scene (could trigger an earthquake hazard, a skill challenge, repopulate an area, escalate the next skirmish in some way, represent the enemy faction getting closer or attaining a goal, etc.). Random events interrupt short rests, and you can offer them objectives to reduce their risk of that (e.g. "Clear the Sub-Level" or "Reconsecrate the Altar of Time.") "Taking a few minutes" can represent anytime the PCs spend appreciable time on something so searching, disarming a trap, etc. can all call for a roll.

What is looks like in play are fast little skirmishes that sometimes turn into big skirmishes depending on what's happening, plus the pressure of having your short rest interrupted by something. This generally means the pacing of the game is improved and breaking the group from the encounter-short rest-encounter mode means change-ups in tactics and a reduction in that "gear shift" that we see from non-combat to combat (which also saves time).

That might not have made a ton of sense, so let me know if you need clarification.

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Session Zero  |  How to Adjudicate Actions  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
Players: Players 101  |  11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer  |  You Are Not Your Character  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs

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I think I understand what you mean. I like it, I really do. Sort of a Lair Assault approach.

The hard part is having all the maps ready for this. I have one wetwipe map, and it wouldn't be practical to keep wiping and redrawing it between encounters. I also have some published maps, but I find they hardly ever conform to the environment I have in mind. That's another advantage of playing online, I guess: you can prepare all your maps in advance, making the transition from one to the next easier. 
I don't play 4e but I imagine a lot of the things I use in pathfinder would be applicable. 

All players are expected to have their decisions made and attacks and damage, any skill checks or anything else rolled in advance of their turn.

If someone takes more than 30 seconds to make a decision once his initiative order comes up, he is considered to hold his action and I rotate to him once more at the end of the round, if he still doesn't know what to do he loses his turn and I start back at the top of the initiative order.  I used to have problems with people that had been playing for more than twenty years taking fifteen to twenty minutes to decide the best course of action and which spells were the best to use....combat would drag on for hours...if I did't do something to change that.

As for the maps, if a player declares an action that would place him at great risk but is unaware of the risk because he doesn't fully understand the picture displayed before him, you have a few ways to adjudicate this without greatly slowing down the combat.  One method is simply to ask if he was aware of threats XYZ before he made the decision, if he was not, then you simply side with the PC and move on, those threats are either mitigated, justified as having missed the PC, or focused elsewhere.  This keeps the combat moving the and the player happy.  Another option is to restate the threats and inform the player he will have one additional round to retract or modify his actions to negate those threats or consequences.  This gives him time to consider his options without slowing down the game, and he still gets to complete his action.

In combat without a grid, which comprises about 95% of all combats I have ever played through, fretting over exact details can take up a lot of time and cause a lot of frustration, so I simply don't do it.  As long as you trust your players won't abuse the system by feigning ignorance you should be ok to implement this. 
   
 
...and in the ancient voice of a million squirrels the begotten chittered "You have set upon yourselves a great and noble task, dare you step further, what say you! What say you!"
-Working on a strict time limit clock: doesn't seem entirely fair for leaders granting attacks. If I act immediately (I plan my turn well in advance and I think I can say that I'm one of the characters who acts faster than most) and grant everyone an attack, then time is very likely to run out before that is resolved.

You'd want to work with the other players, then, to make sure they are ready to take their granted attacks quickly.

 I'd then be granted no time at all to re-evaluate the state of the battlefield after that and whether I'd like to action point to do something else or not.

Yep. But the point is that the group is doing well enough that it's probably not necessary to perform that re-evaluation.

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

The hard part is having all the maps ready for this. I have one wetwipe map, and it wouldn't be practical to keep wiping and redrawing it between encounters. I also have some published maps, but I find they hardly ever conform to the environment I have in mind. That's another advantage of playing online, I guess: you can prepare all your maps in advance, making the transition from one to the next easier. 



Yes, doing it online is somewhat easier. I employed this technique when I was still playing regularly in person, however. I would pre-draw the whole location on these. Then bring them out as needed during play. Pre-drawing it also saved time at the table. I actually stopped using the wetwipe map altogether for the most part in favor of these. Thought I'd mention it in case it was a possibility for you.

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Session Zero  |  How to Adjudicate Actions  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
Players: Players 101  |  11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer  |  You Are Not Your Character  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs

Content I Created: Adventure Scenarios  |  Actual Play Reports  |  Tools  |  Game Transcripts

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

The hard part is having all the maps ready for this. I have one wetwipe map, and it wouldn't be practical to keep wiping and redrawing it between encounters. I also have some published maps, but I find they hardly ever conform to the environment I have in mind. That's another advantage of playing online, I guess: you can prepare all your maps in advance, making the transition from one to the next easier. 



Yes, doing it online is somewhat easier. I employed this technique when I was still playing regularly in person, however. I would pre-draw the whole location on these. Then bring them out as needed during play. Pre-drawing it also saved time at the table. I actually stopped using the wetwipe map altogether for the most part in favor of these. Thought I'd mention it in case it was a possibility for you.



gad I've been looking for these....the biggest ones I could find were half that size.
...and in the ancient voice of a million squirrels the begotten chittered "You have set upon yourselves a great and noble task, dare you step further, what say you! What say you!"
One other great resource I've found recently is wrapping paper. Many kinds have 1 inch grids on the back, and you can get a whole roll for a buck or two. You probably want something to tape it on (I just use a piece of cardboard) and you're good to go.
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