Combat Duration

Third session with my 7 year old child.  He is running three characters, and his math skills are still developing.  I never do the math for him, but we do try a number of different strategies to help him figure out the answers.  It can take quite a while if the answer runs up into the twenties.

Including listening at the door (which he does every time) and checking the door for traps (which he does every time since the first time he got caught in a trap), clearing a room of monsters takes about an hour.

I often read people who tried 4e and didn’t like it complaining about combats taking about an hour.  Assuming their math skills are better than my kid’s, I really have to wonder where the time goes.

If an ordinary five-on-five combat generally goes for three rounds, and the PCs kill one monster in round 1 and two more in round 2, team monster probably gets 6-11 turns throughout the combat, and the PCs probably get 12-14.  Lets use 20 turns in total to keep the numbers round.

If the combat takes an hour, that’s 3 minutes per PC or monster turn.  Since it doesn’t take much time to count 6-12 squares, and the use of a battle-mat greatly reduces the time required for the DM to describe the scene, most of that time must be used decision-making.  Which I don’t get, because if everybody’s turn takes 3 minutes, you have had ages to see the situation unfold before you and figure out what you need to do.

Maybe that’s the problem.  It takes so long to get to their turn that the players lose interest, and don’t start to take stock of the situation until their turn has already arisen.  So there is a feedback loop, where a series of long turns lead to more long turns because they cause players to lose interest.

I’m just spit-balling here, because I don’t have this problem and don’t really need to solve it.  As a DM I would be surprised if my average turn was not less than 30 seconds.  Maybe a minute, once in a while, if the narration of the result is complex.  As a player I take a while longer, because my DM pretty much always puts me up against monsters numbering two or three times my party size, on these huge, complex battle-maps where the parties start out farther away than greatbow range.  And he loads me up with so many daily power items I can’t even remember all of my options, and then has me run six characters including a bard, a cosmic sorcerer and, god help me, a runepriest.  And I swear, my turns still aren’t that long.

But I digress.  I suspect part of the solution to having shorter turns is to have shorter turns.  That is, as a DM, make your turns as soon as possible.  Keep the variety of monsters in a given encounter low, so you can remember how they all work, and choose speed over finding the best strategy.  That way your players have less time between turns.

Also, don’t be afraid to provoke opportunity attacks when it makes any sense at all, and call it out when you do so your players don’t waste time recognizing it.  That keeps your players involved between turns without having to make a lot of decisions, and MBAs are quick to resolve.

I guess if I started having problems with players taking too long I might restrict them to the simpler classes:  knights, slayers, thieves, scouts, and hunters are all pretty simple, with only one encounter attack power and no daily attack powers.  I prefer to start new-to-4e players with those classes anyway, or the next tier up in complexity (probably cavaliers, blackguards, sentinel druids, binder warlocks, hexblade warlocks, vampires, elementalist sorcerers, executioners, and maybe rangers).  Sadly, none of the bards, clerics, wizards or other ritual casters are particularly simple; experienced players only may apply.

I could also restrict access to out-of-turn powers.  The simpler classes tend to do that anyway.  But I would want to think hard about it before I did that.  Hopefully it will never become an issue.



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