I often hear the comment that combat takes too long to run in 4e, there is some truth to it. I’ve seen a lot of solutions involving tinkering with HP numbers or damage outputs. While those are perfectly valid, I think they are unnecessary. There are plenty of ways to speed up 4e combat without having to change any of the rules as written.
Replacing a few monsters in a combat with traps and hazards decreases the number of hit points the party needs to slog through. Simplistic traps like crossbow turrets make up the extra damage lost from an additionally creature, but can be deactivated or avoided without needing to work through so many hit points. Replacing a monster with a pit trap or pressure plates that shoot darts at specific squares can add a rich tactical element that can be exploited by either side of the combat. It gives the leaders and controllers with movement powers a chance to really shine. Not only does using traps make for a shorter combat, but a swinging pendulum blade or gouts of flame will be far more memorable than those extra two orcs.
Expy the dragon says:
If you don’t want a fight to the death,
do not include red dragons in your games.
Remember : Red dragon = TPK
Don’t Fight to the Death
All living creatures has a biological imperative to continue living, it is quite important. So your party has slaughtered the goblin warchief and his right hand man. Get into the mind of Grumar the Scraps Eater, the goblin minion who is huddled in the corner with his rusty short sword. He has probably just wet himself, people who used to boss him around just got sliced up and exploded with arcane fire. He stands zero chance of winning. If he thinks there is any chance he could get away free, he is going to take it! Likewise, a wounded animal is going to flee when things stop going its way. Also, don’t forget that players can try to force a surrender with intimidate or other social skills!
A big fight doesn’t need to be a lengthy ordeal. Minions deal a fair amount of damage and are still dangerous in groups, but they are very quick to drop. A horde of minions with a few more powerful monsters can make an epic feeling fight that doesn’t take an entire night to run. If the party focuses on the minions, they will be taking blows from the bigger guys. If they ignore the minions, they will find themselves quickly swarmed. The party will need to break down into their separate role, wizards get to past groups of minions and rogues can hone in on the big baddies. Not only does combat go faster but everyone gets a chance to shine.
Combat According to Plot
I firmly believe that combat should be always both important and interesting. I think one of the biggest misunderstandings of 4e is that idea that because the characters have a bunch of cool combat powers, combat is automatically fun and should be constant. I disagree, beyond the first few sessions with new characters, combat for combat sake is just not interesting. Therefore if a combat has no point, don’t run it. If a party has a skirmish with some trolls two days outside of the troll den, who cares? Their resources will replenish by their next fight, it should not be a hard enough encounter to kill the party and the only narrative purpose is to establish how far out the trolls wander. That battle could very easily be handled in a narration by the DM, instead of being an hour long combat. Likewise, don’t bloat a combat for mechanical purposes. If story-wise it makes sense for a fight to only have one or two combatants, so be it. So what if it is an easy fight and does not meet the xp quota? It makes sense in the plot. As a general rule, story should rule the combat, combat should not rule the story.
How do you speed up your fight in any edition?