4e Ravenloft combat... suggestions please

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Hi everyone,

I've noticed a disturbing trend in the RL game I'm currently running. After maybe 4-5 rounds of combat the energy in the rooms just dies. I've read some things that say this might be a tragic flaw with 4e. I agree that some times 4e combat flounders, even in the non RL games I've run; however, I"m not ready to give up yet.

Since RL depends so much on suspense, tension, and timing, I'm looking for ideas to maintain all of those things in combat. For example, in some of the older edition RL stuff there are tips for reducing hit points, increasing damage, slowing healing, etc. to maintain a sense of danger. Has anyone worked thought about something like this for 4e?

My players are naturally skeptical about anything like this because they don't want to die more often than normal. That makes me hesitant to try anything, but I am willing to try something with their prior approval.

Another thing that I've noticed is that the 2e module I'm currently working off (Dark of the Moon) has only 1 encounter per day. This means that the PC's are usually fully rested and have access to all their powers including dailies for each combat encounter. I know this is part of the reason that combat takes so much time. Any suggestions for fixing this? I've thought about squishing encounters next to each other, but I'm afraid of turning the adventure into a carnival ride; also, it would completely negate the weather effects for Vorostokov. The other idea was to add more encounters per day, but I'm against this because it will drag the adventure out forever.

If my players survive Vorostokov I'd like to put them in Barovia for Expedition of Castle Ravenloft. I hope that translates a little better to 4e.
The one encounter per day just doesn't seem to fit for Ravenloft as the party always comes in fully loaded. Another way to increase tension is to have battles joined part way through, make monsters that look like minions that aren't minions, creatures they expect to be really tough be just minions. Swarms would also work wonders for this. Try not to go for the energy sucking, drawn out fights, but rather endless waves. Don't worry if your fights are a little shorter either...

The biggest thing is to put longer stretches with little chance for an extended rest. Make them use their healing surges and daily powers. When they believe they're taxed to their limit, how relieved will they be when their characters finally see the sunrise, and they can get into the local church or pub for a nap in safety...
It sounds like the big problem is that combat is just not interesting for your group. The reasons for this might be varied and are hard to diagnose without watching play.
But, honestly, it sounds like they're used to the non-combat style of play and description and mood. If you shut off the description and atmosphere and just mechanically go through the rounds that might be part of the problem. If you're playing combat like it's a game within a game (like stopping to have a quick round of Monopoly or Catan mid-session) that might be breaking the mood.

Another way would be to work on ways to speed-up combat. Avoid long delays and pauses where people think, encourage players to roll attacks and damage at the same time.
Another option is to halve hitpoints. The math of 4e is more rigid, so if you half any numbers related to hp, healing, etc combat should go twice as fast. This is for monsters and PCs alike. It does make everyone more fragile and likely to drop after a single hit.

Also shake-up combats instead of just updating directly from 2e. Have many monsters and minions and terrain and such.

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Great suggestions. I've consider all of them.

I do think our play style could use a boost. I have new players so I'm still trying to get them out of their shells. Admittedly, I"m not the most experienced DM so I'm working on my self as well.

I would like to speed up combat and I am working on a number of ways to do this. Halving hit points is an option I've thought about, but I'm not quite there yet. I'd like to play another session or two and see if things improve.

One suggestion I read was to halve monster's hit points and double their damage (effectively halving player's hitpoints). This would decrease the encounter time dramatically without players having to make changes to their character sheets.

Gnarfflinger - you idea of waves is excellent. I'm going to try to write some of this into the module I am running since I have to convert it from 2e anyways. I'm picturing waves of wolves, or skeletons, or whatever, drawn out over the course of a day with only short rests in between. Then encounters are spread throughout the day; surges, action points, and powers are used; and there's less idle time.

Nicely enough, the arctic world of Vorostokov has been excellent for draining Healing Surges over time, so now my players feel like every fight could be their end. It has definitely added tension.
Dramatic events that shake things up really work well in 4e. It's an action movie game so you have to think of battles like Hollywood blockbuster action scenes.
Two groups of five people pounding each other on the snow isn't exciting. But doing it on a narrow pass while an avalanche is bearing down is. The ground starts to shake, there are sudden waves of crashing snow (that hit pre-determined places pushing anyone there across the board or knocking them prone).
Or fighting on a frozen lake that is unevenly frozen so, occasionally, the surface breaks and you fall into freezing water.

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The compilation of my Worldbuilding blog series is now available: 

Jester David's How-To Guide to Fantasy Worldbuilding.

Dramatic events that shake things up really work well in 4e. It's an action movie game so you have to think of battles like Hollywood blockbuster action scenes.
Two groups of five people pounding each other on the snow isn't exciting. But doing it on a narrow pass while an avalanche is bearing down is. The ground starts to shake, there are sudden waves of crashing snow (that hit pre-determined places pushing anyone there across the board or knocking them prone).
Or fighting on a frozen lake that is unevenly frozen so, occasionally, the surface breaks and you fall into freezing water.

It's funny you give these two examples. I've been thinking of an avalanche battle for a while now, and the fight against the BBEG takes place on a frozen lake. Any ideas for a cool battle against werewolves/wolves in a village where they recently massacred all the inhabitants? (This is my next chance to try out the horror check mechanic)
Have some of the werewolf pretend to be among the dead. So half the bad guys appear in the initial fight, then after a couple rounds more leap to their feet and transform (hopefully encircling the PCs).

You could add some terrain effects to the area. Like the squares around where the most people were executed could be tainted by blood and have an increased chance of criticals.
There could also be still burning buildings threatening to collapse and held up by a single beam (and if a character, PC or enemy) is pushed adjacent the building collapses.

5 Minute WorkdayMy Webcomic Updated Tue & Thur

The compilation of my Worldbuilding blog series is now available: 

Jester David's How-To Guide to Fantasy Worldbuilding.

Have some of the werewolf pretend to be among the dead. So half the bad guys appear in the initial fight, then after a couple rounds more leap to their feet and transform (hopefully encircling the PCs).

You could add some terrain effects to the area. Like the squares around where the most people were executed could be tainted by blood and have an increased chance of criticals.
There could also be still burning buildings threatening to collapse and held up by a single beam (and if a character, PC or enemy) is pushed adjacent the building collapses.

Good ideas. I'm thinking of having the first wave rush the PC's into the nearest building (I'm fairly positive the PC's will make for the first cover). After a few rounds a second wave of wolves will bust in through the back door and windows.

I also like the idea of blood; I think I'll treat it as ice or something (acrobatics check for balance if running, etc.). The fire thing doesn't work so well. The people were massacred while the werewolves were in wolf form (they have no hybrid form since they were created by a loup du noir; and they didn't want the villagers to know they were actually werewolves). Thus, no buildings were set ablaze. However, I'll think of some good hazards to throw in. Maybe during the massacre one of the villagers defended himself with a torch and now it set his home on fire. The PC's notice smoke coming from this sole building so they make for it only to find that it is one fire from within. Excellent!
Gnarfflinger - you idea of waves is excellent. I'm going to try to write some of this into the module I am running since I have to convert it from 2e anyways. I'm picturing waves of wolves, or skeletons, or whatever, drawn out over the course of a day with only short rests in between. Then encounters are spread throughout the day; surges, action points, and powers are used; and there's less idle time.

Nicely enough, the arctic world of Vorostokov has been excellent for draining Healing Surges over time, so now my players feel like every fight could be their end. It has definitely added tension.

Glad I could help. The_Jester touched on battlefield events, and it got me thinking about the section in the DMG that talks about incorporating a Skill challenge into a combat. Perhaps after your visit to Vorostokov, you could need to do some research in a library when the local mob wants to torch the place...

Another thing is putting options that are more important than killing the monsters--like protecting innocent villagers? If you're outside at night, when werewolves attack, have a family of villagers forced from their home by a fire. The Werewolves might want to take the easier prey and run as opposed to going after the heavily armoured guy with a Sword!