In the beginning, when Wizards was hyping the new 4th edition system that was in the works, one of the promises they made was that combat would be faster and dynamic than it ever was before. They were right on one account. I will admit that it is definitely a dynamic and interesting combat system, but faster than 3rd edition? No way in hell.

By mid heroic tier, the combat system begins to become more and more bogged down. A combination of things work against it. One, there is an increasingly complex array of actions available to players. I have witnessed combat after combat come grinding to a near halt as a player pours over their options when it comes to their turn. This can be managed, but what about all the triggered actions?

Interrupting the flow of the turn, while interesting, causes its own problems. If they thought attacks of opportunity were bad in 3rd edition, they made it ten times worse in 4th with immediate interrupts and reactions. It gets so confusing at times -- in my paragon tier game especially -- even I occasionally get lost as to whose turn it actually was once all the dice have been rolled.

Finally, one of the biggest differences between 3rd and 4th for me -- and the biggest paradigm shift I faced when converting -- is the shift away from using a single bad ass mob against a team of adventurers. Now, it is typical to have five or more critters on the board, and even if you do use a solo, it typically has multiple attacks and even more triggered actions to keep track of. This means the DM spends a lot more time than he used to resolving monster attacks.

The end result -- at least in my games -- is any single combat typically takes two or more hours from start to finish. In my paragon game, it hasn't been atypical to see a difficult (EL + 2) encounter take more than three hours. While I like to have challenging combats, I also like to have time for roleplaying and story development. Three hours is far too long as an average. Even two hours is a stretch. Ideally, I would like encounters to resolve in around one hour.

Recently, I have been trying out a new solution. I'd already tried having heavily encouraging my players to have their actions sorted before their turn came up with some marginal gains, but when combat takes 6, 7, 8 or even more rounds to complete, there is only so much you can do. So, my newest experiment was to bring down the number of rounds any combat takes while keeping the same challenge level. To do this, I have been playing with the monster damage to hitpoint ratio.

I started by increasing the monster damage by 100% and halving its hitpoints. The result was astounding. A combat that would have taken us two hours easily was over in 45 minutes! It was also a hell of a lot more intense. The damage output of the solo I was using was SCARY. The PCs were going from uninjured to bloodied often in just one hit. For the first time in a long while, my bad ass monster was putting actual fear in the eyes of my players. It was just what I was hoping for.

The only problem really was that the combat now went a little too fast. We finished an encounter of equal to their level in a blazing two rounds -- too quick for the players to even have a chance to use some of their coolest abilities.

In the next game, I altered the ratio slightly to 60% monster hitpoints and 166% average damage using the MM3 damage calculations. Definitely a little less frightening than the 200% I was doing before, which had the potential to actually take a PC down in a single hit if the monster got lucky. Our next combat using this formula clocked in at 3 rounds and about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Not bad, considering it was an EL+1 fight.

Of course, using this system does expose a few imbalances. Controllers gain a severe advantage. Preventing a PC or monster from doing damage for even one round is a lot more effective that it was before. I'm not deterred though. So far, my players seem to be enjoying the new fast paced and intense combat, and I like that I can make the encounters challenging without them taking forever and half to resolve.

Anyway, your mileage may vary. Definitely try this at your own risk.

Have you tried out something that has really helped speed up combat in your game? Tell us about it. I'm definitely interested in tuning my encounters as much as possible.