4e and the Monster Grind


4th Edition


One problem I've had with 4e is the following: it seems like in every battle there's one or two monsters who get left to the end, and they just won't die. It turns into a bit of a tedious slog: the party defender already has the critter locked down, the strikers keep attacking, the leader makes sure that the defender says healed, and they just have to wear the creature's HP to zero. This isn't a big problem, but it is an annoyance, and it seems to happen very often (last session, it happened in three of the four battles we ran.) I'm starting to think that the "last creature" should just surrender or run away, or if it's a creature that wouldn't do that, I could just have a "cut scene" where the party beats the thing to death. I'm wondering, is this just an aspect of 4e, or is it bad encounter design on my part? Has anyone else experienced this? If so, what did you do to solve it?


Astute1 wrote:
One problem I've had with 4e is the following: it seems like in every battle there's one or two monsters who get left to the end, and they just won't die. It turns into a bit of a tedious slog: the party defender already has the critter locked down, the strikers keep attacking, the leader makes sure that the defender says healed, and they just have to wear the creature's HP to zero. This isn't a big problem, but it is an annoyance, and it seems to happen very often (last session, it happened in three of the four battles we ran.) I'm starting to think that the "last creature" should just surrender or run away, or if it's a creature that wouldn't do that, I could just have a "cut scene" where the party beats the thing to death. I'm wondering, is this just an aspect of 4e, or is it bad encounter design on my part? Has anyone else experienced this? If so, what did you do to solve it?

This is a common issue (has been for most editions) but in 4th ed like 3rd I go to the final option, I drop it's HP's down so the story can continue or decide 'right the next hit kills this thing'. Ok this needs some extra narration like telling the party 'the creature looks angry but exhausted' and even giving the option for a good intimidation check to cause the critter to run(often causing Attacks of Opportunity from Fighters). After all why do the critters have to have set HP's when we have weedy minions with 1 HP.

Ultimately if the thing isn't the last Encounter big boss then it's death isn't important. Because my creatures HP's are defined by me in the moment my players can't metagame by thinking 'one hit will kill this thing'. Instead I let me descriptions tell the creatures state.

Thats my suggestion.


I've seen some good discussion on this - one thing pointed out is that the big question isn't whether there is any danger, but whether finishing off the monsters will take up further resources or healing surges from the party. One suggestion I saw was, when the encounter is nearly over and only a few badly injured monsters remained - allow the PCs to burn a healing surge to finish them off and win the fight.

While somewhat narratively disruptive on the surface, I can see ways to 'frame' it that would work more smoothly within the system - just like it can be seen when enemies are 'bloodied', have a tag for when enemies are 'demoralized'. Demoralized might occur when an enemy is bloodied, more than half its allies are defeated, and the remaining PCs outnumber the remaining monsters.

Certain effects might be in play with demoralized enemies:
1) Intimidate checks can be used to force them to surrender.
2) 'Finishing Blow' - An attack that all PCs have access to, only usable against demoralized enemies. Costs 1 Healing Surge, and finishes the enemy. When a Finishing Blow is used, other PCs can chip in extra Healing Surges to finish off additional demoralized foes - thus ending the encounter in one big moment, at the cost of a few surges.
3) Flee - you can rule that certain enemies flee or surrender as soon as they become demoralized.
4) Immune - some enemies might be immune to being demoralized, and will always fight to the finish. You might rule that Finishing Blows can still be used against them, but they can not be made to surrender or flee.
5) Resistant - some enemies might be resistant to being demoralized, such as Solos. You might make a Finishing Blow still available, but only when they are below 1/4 of their hitpoints - and have it cost extra Healing Surges in order to work.

Now, none of this actually needs to be codified - in my own game, I tend to figure out on the fly when or if enemies will yield, run away, or if they fight to the death. But putting in a visible framework might help to know when is a good time to let the fight come to an end, and let people feel like the decisions aren't completely arbitrary.

Anyway, just some ideas on the sort of thing you could do to allow fights to come to an end when the ending is inevitable, while still making PCs expend some resources or actions to actually win the fight.


Astute1 wrote:
One problem I've had with 4e is the following: it seems like in every battle there's one or two monsters who get left to the end, and they just won't die. It turns into a bit of a tedious slog: the party defender already has the critter locked down, the strikers keep attacking, the leader makes sure that the defender says healed, and they just have to wear the creature's HP to zero. This isn't a big problem, but it is an annoyance, and it seems to happen very often (last session, it happened in three of the four battles we ran.) I'm starting to think that the "last creature" should just surrender or run away, or if it's a creature that wouldn't do that, I could just have a "cut scene" where the party beats the thing to death. I'm wondering, is this just an aspect of 4e, or is it bad encounter design on my part? Has anyone else experienced this? If so, what did you do to solve it?

I've noticed this problem too. So, I've kind of had to wing it occasionally in order for the slogfest to end.

Basically, I've noticed that this usually happens when the PCs aren't using their dailies in the battle versus the last couple big guys. So, what I like to do is cut the HP for non-minion monsters in half (just look at their "Bloodied" number to find that out) unless it's a BBEG fight, or some other battle I WANT to last a while.

Unfortunately, if you cut the monster HP in half, it does tend to give your PCs a huge advantage as the fight is shorter and they are going to get hit less than if you'd had the monster at full HP and combat take longer. To combat this problem, I up the monster damage as well - usually by an additional die (so if they normally deal 1d8 + 3, I make it 2d8 + 3). This keeps the battles shorter - but more intense.

Hope this helps.


I frequently use the surrender or flee solution. It just makes sense. Even the Big Bad Guy will run to fight another day. It also give some free AoO if you want it to to speed up the end of the battle.


P1NBACK wrote:
Unfortunately, if you cut the monster HP in half, it does tend to give your PCs a huge advantage as the fight is shorter and they are going to get hit less than if you'd had the monster at full HP and combat take longer. To combat this problem, I up the monster damage as well - usually by an additional die (so if they normally deal 1d8 + 3, I make it 2d8 + 3). This keeps the battles shorter - but more intense. Hope this helps.

See I never have a problem with the PC's finishing a fight quicker because I drop the HP's of the enemies, I drop the XP's accordingly so they advance a little slower( although the PC's advance when I want it to happen regardless) and after all it's not a competition between the DM and the Players, its Ultimately about the story.

If however the PC's are getting it too easy then I can easily include a few more minions.

It's a balance, but bear in mind I adjust the HP's during the encounter if the encounter is taking too long which has probably stretched the PC's more than it should anyhow.


ProsSteve wrote:
It's a balance, but bear in mind I adjust the HP's during the encounter if the encounter is taking too long which has probably stretched the PC's more than it should anyhow.

The main things I am looking to accomplish in a typical encounter are:

1) Force the PCs to expend resources; whether they be healing surges, consumable items, encounter and daily powers, etc... If a PC makes it through your typical encounter without expending a decent amount of resources, then something is wrong. Now, depending on the level of challenge, the actual amount of resources can vary dramatically. They should be expending resources ever encounter though.

2) The fight shouldn't consume the entire game session, and should leave plenty of time for non-combat gaming. I think there's a "sweet spot" to encounter length. Generally, if I can keep most of my combats around 6 to 10 rounds (with 10 rounds being a BIG battle), I am happy. Under 6 rounds and I feel the players don't feel challenged, and over 10 I think the players start to get anxious for the encounter to be over.

3) Intensity. I want my players to feel like they are fighting for their life every time they get into a combat scenario. FEEL is the keyword. They don't necessarily have to be on the verge of death, but having a feeling of suspense makes combat more intense. That's improved greatly with minions, as I can swarm the PCs with tons of minions and they can feel an incredible threat - yet, generally they just mow them down, which leads into number four.

4) Make the PCs feel powerful and as if they are advancing the plot. Random encounters can be good to get your PCs adrenaline flowing, but I like to have most of my combat encounter deliver an advancement in plot - whether it be a clue, or an item they need, etc... I like to use weak foes and powerful foes. Minions make great weak foes the party can get their pride up as they take them down easily. Powerful, challenging foes that cause the PCs to get down to their last surge or daily or whatever, make the PCs feel like they have accomplished something by beating such a dangerous enemy.

Now, the problem with 4th Edition is that it seems like a lot of the battles can linger on after the 4 things above have been accomplished. That's why I use the "half-HP" rule and "double-die" rule outlined above. I think it shortens the combat slightly, but makes that shorter combat filled with much more suspense.


I usually have monsters retreat after they become bloodied. I just read a post on enworld by a DM who lets PCs spend healing surges to kill monsters near the end of fights, as a cut-scene mechanic.

TS


P1NBACK wrote:
ProsSteve wrote:
It's a balance, but bear in mind I adjust the HP's during the encounter if the encounter is taking too long which has probably stretched the PC's more than it should anyhow.

The main things I am looking to accomplish in a typical encounter are:

1) Force the PCs to expend resources;
2) The fight shouldn't consume the entire game session, and should leave plenty of time for non-combat gaming.
3) Intensity. I want my players to feel like they are fighting for their life every time they get into a combat scenario.
4) Make the PCs feel powerful and as if they are advancing the plot. or...etc

Well I'll take what you've said on board and give it a try, I'll probably have leader types or elite warrior\brutes doing the extra damage.

I ran the Kobold Hall adventure and whilst the groups fighter Drey( a rather rash character who dives in first without thinking) had used up a lot of his Healing surges by the time they met the dragon, the rest of the party were still pretty fresh. Saying that the dragon dropped all bar one of the PC's (who'd used all their surges) before it was killed as it tried to flee. The party cleric finished it with an AT-WILL.
I'm also interested in using the cut-scene option, I'll talk to my players and see what they recon. Cheers.


I've certianly seen this as well. I have to wonder if we might approach an interesting solution if we instead consider those fights were this did not happen. What was different about fight X that made it intense right to the end?

I've certianly been in both situations but I don't currently have a real theory on how it was they differed. What was it about the situation or (more likely) the enemies that made battle X exciting right to the end? If we could work that part out we might be able to design some kind of rule of thumb so that DMs could stack the deck in their adventure creation to make it so a higher percentage of their encounters are thrilling up until the end or, as a close second best, at least end very, very, quickly after word.


Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:

I've certianly seen this as well. I have to wonder if we might approach an interesting solution if we instead consider those fights were this did not happen. What was different about fight X that made it intense right to the end?

I've certianly been in both situations but I don't currently have a real theory on how it was they differed. What was it about the situation or (more likely) the enemies that made battle X exciting right to the end? If we could work that part out we might be able to design some kind of rule of thumb so that DMs could stack the deck in their adventure creation to make it so a higher percentage of their encounters are thrilling up until the end or, as a close second best, at least end very, very, quickly after word.

Personally it almost always seems to be a run of really bad luck by the players. I've watched carefully several game sessions and seen either players that i've DM'd for or games I've been in where the PC's just roll a few points under what they need to hit the enemy, whilst the enemy still hits them happily.

The game at that point start to drag as a single encounter takes a lot longer than it should and the element the combat was based for is lost as the combat becomes boring and frustrating for both PC and DM.

Where it goes right seems to be just good fortune where the enemy barely miss's the PC's but hurts them badly when he does hit and the PC's scrore some telling damage.
It's a tough one to 'make happen'.


I ran 5 encounters last session. Of them, 3 ended up a bit "grindy"

Encounter 1: a Gnoll Huntmaster and a pack of 5 Hyenas.
Terrain: a hilly graveyard with a road running through the center. Lots of cover and difficult terrain.
Grind Factor: almost none - about 2 rounds at the end after the hyenas were all dead. I did have the Gnoll try to run away, but the players slowed him to prevent this. After that, it was a straight beat-down.

Encounter 2: 10 Goblin Cutters (minions), 2 Orc Drudges (minions) and a Human Mage
Terrain: An alchemy laboratory - tables, chairs, a staircase to a landing, and a large pot of boiling liquid.
Grind Factor: none!

Encounter 3: 3 Gnoll Marauders, 2 Gnoll Huntmasters
Terrain: an inverted step-pyramid room (10 feet forward, 10 feet down, 10 feet forward, 10 feet down, etc.)
Grind Factor: Plenty. The Marauders have a lot of HP, and weren't able to do much maneuvering. The Huntmasters took forever for the party to kill due to fluffed rolls and dodgyness.

Encounter 4: 1 Gelatinous Cube
Terrain: the bottom of the step-pyramid room
Grind Factor: Some. This was mitigated by the fact that there was a serious risk of player death, but the two players who were in danger of dying didn't enjoy this fight very much.

Encounter 5: 1 Ogre Savage, 1 Gnoll Claw Fighter, 2 Goblin Blackblades
Terrain: Crossroads of 10' corridors
Grind Factor: Some. I don't think I'll run many fights in 10' corridors again, it really doesn't encourage much tactical movement. The end of this fight dragged into "keep hitting the ogre" and wasn't really much fun for anyone.

The big problems that lead to grindy battles as far as I can tell are:
1) Lots of fluffed rolls - one possible solution to this that I've seen kicked around is to allow people to use their Action Point for a re-roll on an attack roll instead of an extra action. That way, if you fluff with your big daily power, you can get another shot at it.
2) Boring Terrain - 4e really requires dynamic terrain more than 3.5. It's no longer acceptable to have your fights in open areas or narrow hallways. In fact, I'd suggest spending as much time on terrain as you do on your monsters.

Dark Archive

ProsSteve wrote:


I'm also interested in using the cut-scene option, I'll talk to my players and see what they recon. Cheers.

Well, I can't speak for your players, or anyone else for that matter, but I was playing in a campaign where the DM used cut scenes and it created a lot of discontent with the players. The campaign died after just two sessions, and some of the players and the DM haven't been back since. Part of the problem was that the DM did not talk to the players before he started using cut scenes, but another big factor was that many of the players, myself included, felt that our characters were being taken away from us.


ProsSteve wrote:


Personally it almost always seems to be a run of really bad luck by the players. I've watched carefully several game sessions and seen either players that i've DM'd for or games I've been in where the PC's just roll a few points under what they need to hit the enemy, whilst the enemy still hits them happily.
The game at that point start to drag as a single encounter takes a lot longer than it should and the element the combat was based for is lost as the combat becomes boring and frustrating for both PC and DM.

Where it goes right seems to be just good fortune where the enemy barely miss's the PC's but hurts them badly when he does hit and the PC's scrore some telling damage.
It's a tough one to 'make happen'.

It strikes me that something is flawed if some high percentage of combats are too grindy based purely on the dice not co-operating.


Astute1 wrote:

I ran 5 encounters last session. Of them, 3 ended up a bit "grindy"

Encounter 1: a Gnoll Huntmaster and a pack of 5 Hyenas.
Terrain: a hilly graveyard with a road running through the center. Lots of cover and difficult terrain.
Grind Factor: almost none - about 2 rounds at the end after the hyenas were all dead. I did have the Gnoll try to run away, but the players slowed him to prevent this. After that, it was a straight beat-down.

Interesting. This is actually the kind of fight I would think would have a high probability of going 'grindy'. What I'd envision is that the players concentrate on the Gnoll Huntsmaster and mostly ignore the Hyena's until later. The problem of course occures when the Huntsmaster is dead and the threat level has dropped significantly but there are still 5 Hyena's to slog through. Hence I think there might be some useful information is answering - Why did you players concentrate on the Hyena's and not the Gnoll?

Astute1 wrote:


Encounter 2: 10 Goblin Cutters (minions), 2 Orc Drudges (minions) and a Human Mage
Terrain: An alchemy laboratory - tables, chairs, a staircase to a landing, and a large pot of boiling liquid.
Grind Factor: none!

No surprise here to me. Minions are never really grindy. The one hit one kill kind of sees to that. This strikes me as the extreme edge of the wedge in terms of a not grindy fight. Lots of minions which the players want to kill due to their high damage potential and ease at dispatching and yet they are also highly motivated to dispatch any kind of a wizard like enemy quickly for fear of being pummelled by repeated daily powers. However every fight can't be a 'egg shell with a hammer' backed by lots of minions so hopefully we can come up with something more in terms of guidelines.

Astute1 wrote:


Encounter 3: 3 Gnoll Marauders, 2 Gnoll Huntmasters
Terrain: an inverted step-pyramid room (10 feet forward, 10 feet down, 10 feet forward, 10 feet down, etc.)
Grind Factor: Plenty. The Marauders have a lot of HP, and weren't able to do much maneuvering. The Huntmasters took forever for the party to kill due to fluffed rolls and dodgyness.

This has been my experience as well. The encounter that is most likely to be really grindy is the one that seems to be the default assumption for 4E. your party of 5 adventurers faces 5 normal enemies of average level appropriate strength. The bad guys now have a ton of hps and there are no real obvious targets for the players. They are not really doing much to 'manage' the battle because no enemy is better or worse then any other particularly so tactical decision making drops off and with it goes player engagement. This kind of encounter, in my experience, is the one most likely to turn into a dice slog. I'd tend to edge away from this choice especially at the level appropreate category; 5 tough hombres will at start to scare your players (and that helps re-engage them) while 5 weaklings will presumably be done with quickly so their not quite as bad.

Astute1 wrote:


Encounter 4: 1 Gelatinous Cube
Terrain: the bottom of the step-pyramid room
Grind Factor: Some. This was mitigated by the fact that there was a serious risk of player death, but the two players who were in danger of dying didn't enjoy this fight very much.

This one does surprise me. I've mostly enjoyed being a player when we faced off with the Solo's though the Solo's have usually been really tough which tends to make the fight interesting.

The most boring kind of Solo is some kind of 'attrition master'. The monster does not really land big hits but it has either such a good AC or so many hps that it'll eventually do significant damage to the party - but that'll take at least 15 rounds.

Astute1 wrote:


Encounter 5: 1 Ogre Savage, 1 Gnoll Claw Fighter, 2 Goblin Blackblades
Terrain: Crossroads of 10' corridors
Grind Factor: Some. I don't think I'll run many fights in 10' corridors again, it really doesn't encourage much tactical movement. The end of this fight dragged into "keep hitting the ogre" and wasn't really much fun for anyone.

Here again I've noticed something of a similar problem in terms of 'grindy' fights. The one really big melee mauler and his pack of side kicks is a problem fight in that I'm going to concentrate my firepower on the mauler and so is the rest of the party. This fight is OK until the big mauler dies and then everything from that point on is a boring grind because the threat level just dropped dramatically and yet there are still a lot of enemy hps out there. Here I think maybe monster choice might really help. weaker artillery types supporting the mauler means that we have to choose between taking down the mauler of going after the softer but still damaging artillery first. An interesting controler type thats adding bonuses to a Melee Mauler makes for a more interesting fight and finally some kind of built in plan for the adventure that involves the side kicks beating a hasty retreat back to their buddies or some such once the mauler goes down allows one to use the Mauler but end the combat quickly when the 'grindy' kicks in after the Mauler dies.


One general rule of thumb I've noticed as a player in 4E is that one hard fight is better then two moderate ones in terms of enjoyment. Essentially speaking I start disengaging pretty quickly if I know we are going to win without any deaths and we are not going to use daily's or anything like that here and the whole event is basically just a matter of tossing dice for the next 40 minutes. Hence avoiding this apathy should be a general goal.

Some of the best fights are ones were the unexpected happens, especially if it changes the perceived danger level by notching it up some what.

Last 4E session we played really featured the grind through around 3 encounters and then the last encounter of the evening turned into something really fun when we bumped into 4 Zombies and a Goul. We had started by really underestimating the encounter.

This led directly to a lot of excitement as we talked among ourselves and there was a series of changes in our tactical thinking as the encounter wore on. Quite simply if the players are in a state were they are re-evaluating their thinking in regards to a combat then they are heavily engaged in whats going on.

In this combat things went from "Save your daily's guys" to "Help! unload with everything - Quick, Quick!" over the course of about three rounds. Starting from us feeling pretty secure on round one, moving to a period of debate and some confusion over what the appropreate level of escalation was during round two and finally to a peak during the combat when we decided, by round three, to go hog wild.

Another big boost in a combat like this is the ability to utilize great combo's and impress your fellow players. My favourite moment of this combat was the Sword Mage pretty much declaring that he was done for when he had lost nearly all his hps - I'm the cleric so I step up to the plate and pretty much declare "your not done for - watch this!" I start flicking down cards comboing a new daily power I just got from some magic armour we found with with healing word and spending action points to get more healing on top of that all of which I'm enhancing with the use of something or another that adds to all my healing actions for a single round and voila! Swordmage is back up at near full and in fighting trim. I'm happy 'cause I just got the spot light for a couple of minutes, I've also just got to use my powers in an interesting and elaborate combo and best of all all the rest of my fellow players are duly impressed by what I did. This combat also features a couple of other players getting do do their big schtick as well.

None of this really comes up in two easier fights hence my belief that, on average, fewer harder fights is better.


Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:
Astute1 wrote:
Encounter 1: a Gnoll Huntmaster and a pack of 5 Hyenas.
Interesting. This is actually the kind of fight I would think would have a high probability of going 'grindy'.... Why did you players concentrate on the Hyena's and not the Gnoll?

Because the Hyenas were up in their grill from the beginning of the fight. The groups started about 20 squares apart, and the hyenas covered that ground really quickly. The warlord and paladin had to stay and help the ranged guys deal with them, otherwise the mage and warlock were going to be hyena food. After the hyenas were (mostly) taken care of, the warlord and pally moved up to engage the gnoll.

Dark Archive

Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:

One general rule of thumb I've noticed as a player in 4E is that one hard fight is better then two moderate ones in terms of enjoyment. Essentially speaking I start disengaging pretty quickly if I know we are going to win without any deaths and we are not going to use daily's or anything like that here and the whole event is basically just a matter of tossing dice for the next 40 minutes. Hence avoiding this apathy should be a general goal.

-snip-
None of this really comes up in two easier fights hence my belief that, on average, fewer harder fights is better.

This is how I feel as a player. If the fight is easy and I do not have to use any daily powers it quickly becomes a boring dice tossing.

On the other hand, a really hard encounter where the party balances between victory or death is cool!

Why is that so?

Well, if I have cool powers, I want to use them. And on average a daily does cooler stuff than an encoutr power. And on average that is better than an at will power.
And there has to be a sense of danger to the PCs life. Otherwise there is no feeling of achievement.
"No gain without pain" holds true for RPGs too.
Sure, a cakewalk once in a while is fun too. But that is not an encounter that will be memorized years later.

But if fight hard fights, you have to rest earlier than with easy fights to reagin HP and powers.
Which brings me back to the old 5min adventuring day discussion.
Maybe this is not an edition flaw, maybe this is a fundamental rule of epic roleplaying games:

A memorable encounter is an encounter creates a sense of danger for the PCs.
To create this sense of danger, there has to be a chance of loosing this encounter.
To win this encounter, the PCs use up their most powerful ressources.


Tharen the Damned wrote:
But if fight hard fights, you have to rest earlier than with easy fights to reagin HP and powers.

Remember that at higher levels, you'll have more encounter powers to work with. At Paragon tier, you can spend the first 3-4 rounds of each fight using nothing but encounter attack powers. In Heroic tier play, encounter powers are still 'special' - you want to save them for the right moment.


The Dilemma

So, I think this is at the core of the problem:

1) If you only have one big fight a day, PCs can just burn all their resources and smoke the fight pretty easily.

2) Ideally, you want to be able to have several encounters in which they expend resources, thus preventing them from simply going nova.

3) However, if you have them fighting 3-5 fights in a day, you don't want each fight to take them to the limit. But you also don't want the fights to be so negligible that they don't consume any resources.

4) The result is that you have a number of fights that aren't dangerous enough to be intense, but are still tough enough to take what feels like a significant amount of time.

Possible Solutions

So, how can you solve this problem?

-Make sure non-dangerous fights are still interesting and unique. Interesting terrain, traps, or even just very distinct and unusual enemies might be enough to make a fight engaging - so that the time feels well spent, even if the fight isn't all that dangerous.

-Make non-Boss battles designed to be quick but brutal. Focus on artillery, skirmishers, lurkers and minions, rather than brutes, soldiers and controllers. These enemies will hit hard but fall fast, making for short fights that still drain resources.

-Take it a step further - in non-Boss battles, use some of the suggested rules from earlier, where PCs can burn a healing surge to 'defeat' a bloodied enemy. This will let them speed through these fights, while still expending resources.

-Another way to do the following: Damaging terrain that hits everyone. The battle takes place beneath a cloud of burning ash, or amidst the acidic fumes of a fell cavern, or in a freezing hailstorm, etc. These effects will make the battle shorter, as both PCs and Monsters take damage every round - and while the enemies die faster, it also drains PC resources.

-Finally, you can just go with the Double Damage or Half Hitpoints or some similar suggestion. The question becomes whether to also keep these up for important battles that you don't want to be over in only a few rounds, or just apply these to the interim fights.

Other Suggestions

And of course, there are always other ways to speed up combat.

-A group with less players will move faster than a group with more players - in my current game, the first session we only had 4 PCs, and got through 6 fights. In the second, we had 7 PCs, and only got through 2. Numbers do make a difference.

-You can still mitigate this in other ways. After the 2 combat session, I focused on making sure I was prepared for each session - having maps drawn up before hand, initiative pre-rolled for bad guys, and other similar steps taken to make sure I could keep things moving quickly.

-Some things simply come with time. As players get more familiar with their characters, they will have less need to check their books or consult their powers - they will know what they want to do and how it works.

-You can always encourage quick decision making - try to get players to figure out their next action when others are taking their turn. I know that when my players spend their downtime just chatting, instead of watching the battle, and then spend 5 minutes deciding what to do when their turn comes around (thus encouraging other players to pay less attention)... well, it can be a vicious cycle. Encourage people to be ready to take their turn as soon as it comes around - and make sure to do the same yourself. Have an idea of the monster tactics, and worse case, just choose something to do rather than worry about the optimum move!

Anyway, I don't think the core of 4E makes the grind a guaranteed experience, but there does definitely seem the potential for it - usually in less consequential fights filled with certain types of opponents. I definitely think a lot of this can be mitigated just through encounter design alone, but there are a lot of other good ideas (especially in this thread) on other ways to keep the action quick and in the moment.

Dark Archive

Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:


No surprise here to me. Minions are never really grindy. The one hit one kill kind of sees to that.

Of course, my first experience DMing 4th edition involved my party getting slaughtered by a bunch of kobold minions, simply because they were rolling so low that none of the players could hit them.

Dark Archive

My thoughts are from a player's perspective as I am only player in 4th edition.

So

Matthew Koelbl wrote:
1) - 4)

It depends how you define "fight". You could stage an encounter that uses multiple waves of opponents and in the end the "boss monster". Or you could take the same number of opponents but use them in 3 or 4 different encounters. While the latter might feel unengaging, the former keeps the PCs engaged as they can not rest and recuperate in between.

It also depends how often you have to play to go thorugh one game world day.
If you need a few sessions for one day it is certainly engaging to have an encounter every session, even if it does not take up all your ressources.
If you play through the same number of encounters during the same session it might be boring.

Lastly it also depends on how often you game. If you meet each week or more, a plain vanilla encounters are ok if you get a memorable battle once in a while.
If you meet less often, you want to get straight to the point. You want to use all your powers every session. If I look forward to my monthly game and I get Orc & Pie (again!) I will quickly get frsutrated.

So a lot of what makes an engaging encounters lies in the timing of it during the day in the game world in during the game session.


Tharen the Damned wrote:
...good stuff...

Yeah, it definitely changes based on length of game sessions and how often you meet.

I like the idea of setting up encounters as waves followed by a boss - the big danger of that, though, is PCs using up their encounter powers and other specials early on, and ending up fighting the boss with only their At-Wills.

I wonder if a solution might be to let encounter powers recharge when each wave hits (including healing words and second winds), but not let the PCs fully heal up in between. Thus, they still feel the building tension, and need to start pulling out potions and other resources to keep themselves in fighting shape, but get to keep fighting back equally hard throughout the encounter.


Tharen the Damned wrote:


But if fight hard fights, you have to rest earlier than with easy fights to reagin HP and powers.
Which brings me back to the old 5min adventuring day discussion.
Maybe this is not an edition flaw, maybe this is a fundamental rule of epic roleplaying games:

A memorable encounter is an encounter creates a sense of danger for the PCs.
To create this sense of danger, there has to be a chance of loosing this encounter.
To win this encounter, the PCs use up their most powerful ressources.

Interesting...but I'm not at all sure I like were your leading us. In a sense I'm so opposed to the 5 minute work day that I'm motivated to try and find ways around this argument even though I tend to agree with your conclusions.

Its not that I absolutely hate the idea of a battle being epic and being something that the players have and then go off and rest for the day. There are a ton of reasons why this sort of fight can come up in the plot line and be really cool. The PCs being the victims of an assassination attempt in an urban adventure for example is the kind of encounter that probably should be the only battle that happens that night as opposed to 4 or 6 encounters. On the other hand anything that involves exploration of some local, be it a dungeon, ancient ruin, haunted castle etc. really gets broken up and becomes a lot less effective, as a story, if its broken up and the PCs keep leaving and coming back.

I wonder if its possible to balance encounters so that there are fewer of them (with more exploration in between) and they are hard but not quite at the level of difficulty were every PC has used every daily and all their magic item powers. Something more in line with each encounter forcing some of the players to use dailys while others save them for the next encounter. I think most exploration type adventures don't need that many encounters to be fun (in fact I think there is a tendency to have to many fights) but just one or two battles is definitively to few to really get a good feel for the kinds of bad things that hang out in this local - some kind of middle ground is needed, I suspect.

I think 4E is pretty good in terms of motivating players to forgo the leave and come back option by making it simply an unsound tactic. Quite simply you don't have to make 'being on alert' that much more powerful before the players are making a sub optimal decision to leave and return tomorrow. Dailys are a lot of fun but they are usually only a little more powerful then encounter powers.

I'm also concerned a little with the idea of making an encounter tough by having it be wave on wave of bad guys. Thats a great encounter occasionally but its a dangerous one if used to often because we as players soon run out of dailys and encounter powers and this can turn into a fight were the only powers we can use are the at wills, one of which is probably best for this particular encounter and soon enough your in a situation where teh player uses the exact same at will power every round for the next 18 rounds - thats not very much fun unless its rare and even then its best if the players have a clue that they are facing a wace on wave type situation - so that we have to make hard choices about when we expend our limited resources.


Matthew Koelbl wrote:

The Dilemma

So, I think this is at the core of the problem:

1) If you only have one big fight a day, PCs can just burn all their resources and smoke the fight pretty easily.

2) Ideally, you want to be able to have several encounters in which they expend resources, thus preventing them from simply going nova.

Well I'm certain that going Nova does not always mean the PCs smoke the baddie - friggen Dragon nearly had our hides and we sure went Nova on it.

Beyond this I'd say that not all encounters are bad if they are designed to just be one offs. I think that the problem is not 'smokin' the opposition so much as one big fight does not work with the plot much of the time (though its fine when it does work with the plot).

I think maybe there are other reasons why we would want to stay away from always having single big fights.

*Plot - The single big fight often just does not work well with the story.

*Time - Big fights can be fun and exciting but they tend to take longer. Your breaking up the story for longer when you introduce one.

*Exhaustion/pacing - That battle with the Dragon or Demon Lord etc. sure was epic but while you were high fiving the other players when you won your also basically finished for the night or at least for the next while. All that tension and excitement is really, really, draining on a player. You can't just keep throwing these kinds of battles at the players constantly or we go numb and become really fatigued.

However I do think that one can mitigate most of the above by careful adventure creation. Fatigue due to hard fights for example is a significant issue, but your players will be ready for another tough fight in a couple of hours for sure and maybe they don't need any fights at all between now and then. Let them explore their surroundings and work on mysteries, ancient riddles and devious traps - or maybe just let them interact with some interesting NPCs until they are ready for another tough fight in an hour or two.

Matthew Koelbl wrote:


3) However, if you have them fighting 3-5 fights in a day, you don't want each fight to take them to the limit. But you also don't want the fights to be so negligible that they don't consume any resources.

4) The result is that you have a number of fights that aren't dangerous enough to be intense, but are still tough enough to take what feels like a significant amount of time.

Time for me to go home from work so I'll have to finish my response a little later.

Edit - well it looks like you can edit from two completely different computers even if they are on the other side of the city from each other, cool.


Lets see...where was I?

Matthew Koelbl wrote:

Possible Solutions

So, how can you solve this problem?

-Make sure non-dangerous fights are still interesting and unique. Interesting terrain, traps, or even just very distinct and unusual enemies might be enough to make a fight engaging - so that the time feels well spent, even if the fight isn't all that dangerous.

Here again I'm going to sound a note of caution. I've been in dozens of 'interesting' fights since we started playing 4e. Seems the designers have gone hog wild on interesting fights. The problem is I think they are often missing the point or mark or some such. A lot of these fights with interesting twists just were not that interesting. I think there has been a little too much time making the fights interesting and not enough time developing other aspects of the adventures, now this is a bit of a side issue compared to what we are discussing on this thread but I do think that the point that attempts to make fights interesting is often not really the solution, advancing the story is usually a better alternative (course if you do both thats kind of ideal). Another significant issue I've had with the 'interesting' fights is that they are really hit or miss. I think from a players perspective making interesting and meaningful tactical choices is a big part of the 'fun'. A lot of these interesting fights don't really engage the players that much. The answer is often linier - player takes note of situation, jumps to the obvious conclusion and we are right back to what amounts to a potential dice slog. Another danger is that the interesting effect often isn't really meaningful at all. I've been in more then one encounter where something was going on because there were weird moving fires and such but we just kind of moved in, killed the baddies and went on our marry way and to this day I don't know what the hell was up with some of these rooms - maybe worse yet I'm not even all that curious to find out - which has got to be some kind of bad sign.

I think there has been a tendency to make fighting stand in for the adventure in a lot of cases (this is not just a 4E problem - its a D&D problem) and, by and large, I think that approach is often a mistake. Really I think trying to get combat down to between 40%-60% of play time would usually amp up the experience for many players. I mean if your players are big combat enthusiasts and are telling you they want more hacking and less yacking well great - I'm sure most DMs can fairly easily accommodate that. However I think a significant issue with a lot of games that are featuring player boredom (of which Grindy Combats is a significant symptom) is not so much that the combats are all that boring but that combat has become a stand in for the rest of the adventure. Hence the solution is not so much better combats but less combats as a percentage of total playing time.

That first combat of the night often does not feel really Grindy even if it totally fits the definition of a Grindy Combat - 'cause the players like rolling the dice, they are having fun. Its when we get to the third and fourth combat and we've been doing nothing much more then going from one combat to the next that the real grind kicks in. We got bored after the 2nd battle and the little 15 minute interlude of the room with the Gnomish Princess trapped in a hamster wheel was not enough of a break.

Matthew Koelbl wrote:


-Make non-Boss battles designed to be quick but brutal. Focus on artillery, skirmishers, lurkers and minions, rather than brutes, soldiers and controllers. These enemies will hit hard but fall fast, making for short fights that still drain resources.

Yeah! Now generally if I have not responded to one of your points that probably means I agree - but here I want to go out of my way and say I really agree. Less brutes and soldiers in the non-epic fights is definitly a good idea and probably a little counter intuitive.

Matthew Koelbl wrote:


-Take it a step further - in non-Boss battles, use some of the suggested rules from earlier, where PCs can burn a healing surge to 'defeat' a bloodied enemy. This will let them speed through these fights, while still expending resources.

Might want to talk this sort of thing over with your players. I have to say that this totally and utterly rubs me the wrong way and I'd be vehemently opposed though I'm not sure if I can really put my finger on why - verisimilitude problem maybe?

Matthew Koelbl wrote:


-Another way to do the following: Damaging terrain that hits everyone. The battle takes place beneath a cloud of burning ash, or amidst the acidic fumes of a fell cavern, or in a freezing hailstorm, etc. These effects will make the battle shorter, as both PCs and Monsters take damage every round - and while the enemies die faster, it also drains PC resources.

-Finally, you can just go with the Double Damage or Half Hitpoints or some similar suggestion. The question becomes whether to also keep these up for important battles that you don't want to be over in only a few rounds, or just apply these to the interim fights.

Again I'm no big fan unless its more consistently applied and is shown to be good for the game as a whole. Having double damage/half hp bad guys mixed in with 'normal' Solo's and BBEGs rubs me the wrong way significantly.


Matthew Koelbl wrote:

Other Suggestions

And of course, there are always other ways to speed up combat.

-A group with less players will move faster than a group with more players - in my current game, the first session we only had 4 PCs, and got through 6 fights. In the second, we had 7 PCs, and only got through 2. Numbers do make a difference.

-You can still mitigate this in other ways. After the 2 combat session, I focused on making sure I was prepared for each session - having maps drawn up before hand, initiative pre-rolled for bad guys, and other similar steps taken to make sure I could keep things moving quickly.

-Some things simply come with time. As players get more familiar with their characters, they will have less need to check their books or consult their powers - they will know what they want to do and how it works.

-You can always encourage quick decision making - try to get players to figure out their next action when others are taking their turn. I know that when my players spend their downtime just chatting, instead of watching the battle, and then spend 5 minutes deciding what to do when their turn comes around (thus encouraging other players to pay less attention)... well, it can be a vicious cycle. Encourage people to be ready to take their turn as soon as it comes around - and make sure to do the same yourself. Have an idea of the monster tactics, and worse case, just choose something to do rather than worry about the optimum move!

While I think these are generally good points I also don't think they are exactly relevant to the issue.

Specifically I feel that me and my fellow players are, about half the time, really good at being fast and on the ball with our turns and the combat is running smoothly. Thing is, so far as I can tell, there is basically no correlation between combats feeling 'Grindy' and speed and attentiveness of the players. Combats can feel 'Grindy' even if all the players are doing their duty in terms of being on the ball and the DM is organized. In fact, in my experience, 'Grindy' combats are the ultimate cause of a lot of the problems you list above and not the other way around. We are bored - so we are getting distracted, hell we are searching high and low for something to distract us, heck at this point other peoples lint collection is pretty fascinating.

Beyond this I suspect that thrilling and exciting combats rarely have many of these problems (though disorganized DMs sure can occur) - we are focused on whats going on and everyone is talking about the fight at hand and the tactics we plan to employee in order to prevail and win loot and glory.

Dark Archive

Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:
Interesting...but I'm not at all sure I like were your leading us. In a sense I'm so opposed to the 5 minute work day that I'm motivated to try and find ways around this argument even though I tend to agree with your conclusions.

As DM and player I am strongly opposed to the 5min workday. As DM it is im my hand to get the timing of the encounters right and as a player it is in my hand to use my ressources efficiently.

Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:
I wonder if its possible to balance encounters so that there are fewer of them (with more exploration in between) and they are hard but not quite at the level of difficulty were every PC has used every daily and all their magic item powers. Something more in line with each encounter forcing some of the players to use dailys while others save them for the next encounter. I think most exploration type adventures don't need that many encounters to be fun (in fact I think there is a tendency to have to many fights) but just one or two battles is definitively to few to really get a good feel for the kinds of bad things that hang out in this local - some kind of middle ground is needed, I suspect.

My whole rambling above was only about fight encounters, not about the time spend in between. Of course you do not have to have a combat every session. Roleplaying, Traps, Riddles, detective work and whatelse will take the majority of game time.

Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:

I'm also concerned a little with the idea of making an encounter tough by having it be wave on wave of bad guys. Thats a great encounter occasionally but its a dangerous one if used to often because we as players soon run out of dailys and encounter powers and this can turn into a fight were the only powers we can use are the at wills, one of which is probably best for this particular encounter and soon enough your in a situation where teh player uses the exact same at will power every round for the next 18 rounds - thats not very much fun unless its rare and even then its best if the players have a clue that they are facing a wace on wave type situation - so that we have to make hard choices about when we expend our limited resources.

Yeah, you can play this trick only once in a while. But think about the PCs fighting in the Chapel of the Ratgod. Combating waves of Cultists in the main temple and then Ratmen in the sacristy and to finally confront the Highpriest and his demonic Bodyguard standing at the Altar.

And again, timing is important here. The players should be aware that somewhere is BBEG. The players should have all their ressources. And they should always have a way to get out of the mess if the dice hate them. All that is the stage the DM can set. Then it is up to the PCs. If they act stupid and do not use tactics or do not flee if things turn bad, I have no qualms to deliver a TPK. But as game with most of my group for more than 23 years I know them pretty well an can get the timing right most of the times.


On Friday, we had two encounters, both of which fell into some grind.

Encounter 1: 2 Ghouls, 2 Specters (normal)
Terrain: a bunch of smallish "islands" in a sea of necrotic mist. The players could hop from island to island with good Athletics checks.
Grind: some
What happened here is that the players entered from one side of the room. The character with the best athletics check, the Warlord, hopped over towards the other side, which is when the ghouls popped out from that side. The Warlord won initiative and ran straight back to the rest of the party, who were all sitting on the other side of the room. They "bunkered" themselves there and let the ghouls come to them. I thought the specters, who have an area attack, would get them to spread out a bit, but they chose to hunker down and face them. There wasn't much tactical movement.

Encounter 2: 3 Ghouls, 1 Mad Wraith, 1 Flameskull (hard)
Terrain, a large, fairly open room with lots of rubble and a high ceiling, also, a waterfall and a small pool on the far side.
Grind: some
Here again, the party chose to turtle up in a corner rather than take the fight to the enemies. This was despite taking some rather nasty hits early on from the Mad Wraith's Aura and later from the Flameskull's Fireball attack.

Potential Causes of Grind:
1. My players like to turtle up. I've tried to discourage this with enemies who have area attacks, but it doesn't seem to disuade them so far.
2. Ghouls. Ghouls are the type of monster who lead to static encounters. High AC, fairly high HP, and an attack that hits often for low damage and immobilizes (save ends). I starting to think that using Ghouls (or other Soldier types) really increases the chance of grind in a fight.


Astute1 wrote:


Potential Causes of Grind:
1. My players like to turtle up. I've tried to discourage this with enemies who have area attacks, but it doesn't seem to disuade them so far.

Maybe force them into chases and concentrate on more range attackers. Concentrate on making them charge out and mix it up or be slaughtered at range by including few if any melee combatants in some of the enemy groups. Maybe even have it so that the range combatants will fall back to their own melee types if the players advance. Hopefully you can just get your players out of this habit - I've, at times had players behave this way (Turtling in bottlenecks) in 3.5 and found that it was possible to get them to change tactics and once they did they did not quickly return to the tactic unless I did something that made bottlenecking the obvious answer.

Astute1 wrote:


2. Ghouls. Ghouls are the type of monster who lead to static encounters. High AC, fairly high HP, and an attack that hits often for low damage and immobilizes (save ends). I starting to think that using Ghouls (or other Soldier types) really increases the chance of grind in a fight.

Interesting. I did not really look at a Goul (I'm a player and don't normally handle my monster manual). That said I comment in a post above that we had a fight with a Goul that was really fun and exciting. One of the best and most memorable encounters in 4E so far for me and I think the rest of the players in my group.

Possibly thats because, for us, the Goul was clearly a 'boss' creature in the encounter and was a real tough enemy for our level. In other words I'm thinking that Soldiers are maybe not universally bad opposition but should be handled with care - making good enemies if they are alone and acting as a kind of leader of the bad guy group while being bad enemies if there are a bunch of them since they're high hps and AC no longer acts as a focus and challenge for the party and become something thats true of a bunch of the bad guys.


David Fryer wrote:
Jeremy Mac Donald wrote:


No surprise here to me. Minions are never really grindy. The one hit one kill kind of sees to that.
Of course, my first experience DMing 4th edition involved my party getting slaughtered by a bunch of kobold minions, simply because they were rolling so low that none of the players could hit them.

Thats where the DM screen comes in. If the PC's are getting really whipped by the critters then a few failed rolls by the enemy might rebalance the encounter.

I've run a number of campaigns where the PC's have virtually died due to them rolling average to bad and my NPC\critters rolling well in fact one of my first DMing experiences(AD&D) I rolled in front of people and kept rolling 20's. Killed the entire party(not good)!!

Since that time I generally keep a lot of my rolls out of sight, allowing me to stop the party dying due to bad luck on their part and good rolls on my part.


I believe there was a morale mechanic in 2ed. Roll 2d10 under a TN varying from 7(poor) to 15(very high morale)
Every time conditions changed,(e.g. monsters lost 25%- 50% of HP or unit strenght, leader died etc.) the DM made a roll and if the monsters lost they'd cut and run.
It made for shorter combat in 2e ,and will allow for minion loss to have an impact on unit morale (if nothing else) in 4e :)


Jit wrote:

I believe there was a morale mechanic in 2ed. Roll 2d10 under a TN varying from 7(poor) to 15(very high morale)

Every time conditions changed,(e.g. monsters lost 25%- 50% of HP or unit strenght, leader died etc.) the DM made a roll and if the monsters lost they'd cut and run.
It made for shorter combat in 2e ,and will allow for minion loss to have an impact on unit morale (if nothing else) in 4e :)

In my experience the moral mechanic was rarely fully applied at the actual table since it became to complicated being a whole other set of numbers with modifiers for the DM to track. It also had a bad habit of feeling out of place with creatures choosing not to run when it made more sense for them to flee while others fled from fights that they were clearly winning. There was also a dichotomy of the mechanic already being somewhat to complex and yet it was not nearly complex enough to feel authentic. Worst of both worlds basically. This was especially true with villains that were BBEGs. No DM wants to roll dice with such creatures, instead they retreat if and when the DM says they do.

What usually happened, in my experience, was that the DM used the numbers as a base line to work out roughly how 'brave' the opposition was and then wrote in tactics that took this into account so that less brave creatures had a 'breaking point' (usually defined as some percentage of hps or a certian number of dead members in the group) much earlier then the more brave creatures..


Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Society Subscriber

I've got two house rules I'm testing/using to deal with this issue.

1) Morale/Vulnerability. When most of the bad guys are down, the morale of the remaining bad guys can drop, making them Vulnerable 5 to all damage types (in other words, when I've got just one or two bad guys left, I can start adding 5 damage to any amount of damage the PCs deal out to those bad guys).

2) The Mook Rule. I wanted something in between regular monsters and minions, mainly because the metagame for minions is a bit annoying. Something that goes down fast, but not "just 1 hit point." So I created Mooks. A Mook is identical to a regular monster, but has 1/3 the hit points and is worth 1/2 the XP. (They get more XP value than hit points because they do last a couple of hits, and they deal out full damage in that time.) I've used Mooks in a grand total of 1 session so far, but they worked really well.


My DM and me came up with the idea of "situational minionhood". This rule means that in some situations monsters/NPC's that wouldnt normally be thought of as minions would be classed as such. For example in a small preview game we had our party rogue get out of her restraints, kick our guard in the stomach, use him as a springboard, jump onto his shoulders and then break his neck with her thighs. The guard was a lvl 2 human guard with 30 odd HP's, but in this case he was a minion. Its all really controled by the "rule of cool" and is generally used as way to create awesome cinematic moments, and we have never tried to exploit it, becuase we dont know when it will happen. In this case escaping the restraints, jumping up and disabling the guard was all a impromptu skill challenge. Works quite well AND the guard was worth full XP as a reward for completing the skill challenge.


Lots of good ideas here!
For my game group the easiest solutions seems to be
"The breaking point" (jeremy macdonald)
and
"Morale / vulnerability" (cintra bristol)

Hunanoids and monsters break and run when a certain % of them has been slain.
While undeads and other beings without morale suffer increased Vulnerability when their numbers dvindle.

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