Words written on parchment detailing an attack by a pack of wolves

There’s a saying I’ve heard in reference to D&D, and I find it hold to be pretty true. “In D&D, 2 hours of travel takes five minutes, but five minutes of combat takes 2 hours.” Because combat can be such a slog, we always need to look for ways to speed it up so it doesn’t slow down the entire rest of the game.

One trick to speed combat up its to take the average of damage rolls. Normally when you hit in combat, you roll for damage. Instead, you could just take the average value for each hit. For example, a longsword would deal 5+ strength mod, instead of 1d8+ strength mod. You lose out on the variety, but you save time by not rolling the dice or making that calculation. This can be done for the PCs or NPCs. If you’re a bit skeptical about it, try easing it in when you have a lot of NPCs to run. And bring it up with your group if you think the players are the ones who need to be doing this.

Introduce “count up” damage. So a lot of DMS hide how many HP a monster has behind the screen. They don’t want to share this info, because they don’t want the party to know exactly how much it has. This is fine, but it does lead to the DM tracking all of the hp loss. Instead, you can have your players count up how much damage they’ve dealt. The players won’t know how much HP it has, but they will know how much damage they’ve done to it. So counting up isn’t immersion breaking. And that way, they can just rattle off the number, and you’ll know if it exceeds the creatures max HP. Also, credit where credit is due here, this idea isn’t mine. It actually comes from a video done by Matt Colville, and it really stuck with me.

Another tip is to delegate. Have your players make rolls for friendly NPCs, and maybe even give them the ability to direct their actions. You have enough to worry about with running the baddies.

Lastly, I have another borrowed idea. This is one I haven’t tried, but I’m definitely interested enough to want to give it a go. Active defense. Instead of rolling for monsters to see if they hit the PCs, have the players roll to see if they can avoid the monster’s attacks. This idea comes from Eva Brown (wonderful person, and there will be an interview with her coming up shortly.) I’m not sure how it plays out, but if it works out in a fair and balanced way, then the DM has to make even less rolls, and merely just has to decide what the enemies do.

You could also implement a house rule of a turn timer. A lot of time is lost to players being indecisive and deliberating what to do on their turn. This would be sped up if you simply don’t allow them to take too long on their turn. Either have them lose their turn, or declare an action for them if they don’t choose. If you plan to do this, make sure you tell your players ahead of time. And also, give them a little heads up when it’s about to be their turn. That way they know to start thinking of an action if they haven’t already got one planned.

Hopefully you can use some or all of these tips to speed up those long-drawn out combats. I know that combats tend to take really long, and it tends to be the part of the game I want to speed up the most. In theory, these tips should all shave off at least a few minutes from your battle time. Choose the ones that work best for you, or maybe even use all of them. I imagine it’d go very quick in that case.

How long does combat usually take you?

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