Combat encounters in Dungeons and Dragons can easily last one and a half hours or more. The tactical combat lovers at your table will enjoy every minute of it. However, players who are more interested in role playing, exploration and world building may feel like getting back to other parts of the game as quickly as possible. Here are a few tips to keep those combat encounters short, or at least make them feel like they are. Please note, I’m not saying you should do this all the time. None of the things on the list are the “right way”, they just make things a little quicker. So, how about some speedy combat encounters?
9 Tips for Keeping That 5e Encounter Moving
1. Choose stronger monsters over large numbers of monsters
Less monsters means less turns for the DM, less saving throws and less for the DM to keep track of. That means more turns and playtime for the players. It should shorten combat, but the players subjective experience of the time will also go quicker, as they will be more engaged.
2. Avoid monsters with Legendary Actions
Monsters with legendary action get 2-3 extra actions during a round of combat. Obviously, this takes more time, but it also breaks the flow of combat. More time for the DM, less for players. This will make combat seem longer.
3. Avoid conditions or set pieces that would create disadvantage on attack rolls make it harder to hit on attacks, or reduce movement speed.
There’s a high wind that puts all players at disadvantage for ranged attacks. Everyone is mired in the mud, and they have half movement speed as a result. As a result players must spend extra turn getting to the enemy to avoid the disadvantage, or miss a lot of shots. Both slow combat way down. Avoid a lot of cover as well. Some is good, but it raises AC. Make them work for it.
4. Choose monsters that would prefer a standup fight over those that prefer hit and run tactics.
Some monsters do all sorts of cool stuff: turn invisible, charm people, teleport. All that’s fun, but maybe just pick a brute who wants a straight-up fight.
5. Wear the party down before a big fight with smaller fights, environemental hazards, and lack of ability to rest.
6. Avoid Creatures that rely on stun or similar effects.
Stun, paralyze, and sleep put PCs out of the match. Less damage is dealt, and combat lasts longer. It also makes for a few boring rounds of combat for the player who can’t do anything but roll saving throws. As a DM, I’m really torn about effect that prevent players form doing anything on their turn, especially when it’s going to last multiple rounds of combat.
7. Use conditions that increase the amount of damage dealt, e.g. magical fields that cause extra damage, or increase chance to hit.
The old stones of the ruined arena still crackle with the magic that made this place notorious for bloody spectacle. It seems as though your blade craves the blood of your foes. You can feel the sword twist in your hand, changing the arc of your swing just enough that am miss becomes a hit. And the hit, the blade bites deeper than it should. (+1 to all attack rolls, all damage is critical. All players are terrified of getting hit back.)
8. Monster to choose: Moderate AC, high damage. Use strikers that will scare your players and make combat dramatic, not tanks that will just bullet sponge.
I think that one’s pretty straight forward…
9. Make combat dynamic with a change of setting. When the BBEG’s minions are dead, it runs to another room/space and the battle continue there with a new set of conditions.
Keeping things moving will help keep things moving!