Long Fights

4th Edition

I am planning to try a Long Fight as detailed in DMG2 page 55 and wanted to elicit advice from people who have run them before. How did it go? Was is grindy? How many encounters worth of monsters did you use? What frequency did you grant benefits? Did you give your players meta-game knowledge about the benefits?

Any advice or observations would be appreciated.


I haven't followed the advice specifically in the DMG2, but I have read it to compare against long battles I have conducted in the past. The only new concepts is granting the characters additional healing surges, or the re-use of powers, so the hardest part it just planning what makes sense in the context of what you have planned. Skill challenges are excellent to break up encounters, and allow certain creatures to be bypassed. You should also create empty rooms, secret passages, or other avenues via ritual, etc. to grant the party a short rest. They may even find unexpected allies.

You do want to avoid brutes, or solo elites, etc. that are a big drain on the parties resources, unless you plan ahead and grant them other avenues to regain resources.

Since no one has tried this I shall let you know how my experience went.

I have been running a twice monthly game for a little over 2 years now and the players are now 14th level. They were hired to take out a Yuan-Ti temple to my homebrew death god.

I created 4 equal level encounters for 6 characters, including Minions, Brutes, and even some Elites. The party make-up includes 1 Controller, 2 Defenders, 2 strikers, a 2 weapon Ranger and a 2 weapon Barbarian, as well as a Miracle Worker Cleric, so I had no doubts about their ability to deal large amounts of damage and heal themselves. The main Defender of the group failed to show, but I left the encounters as-is, I would rather fudge die rolls in their favor later than have too weak of encounters.

The first room contained 10 Minions, a Brute swarm, a Controller, and an Elite Soldier. My initial thought was to have the 1st wave appear after X number of rounds, but instead I decided to wait until the party had killed half the first group because X number of rounds may be too early if they were having a slow start, or it might be too late if they were doing too well. I set an Encounter Power refresh on killing all the minions, and killing the Elite Soldier. The Minion one came too early and not everyone was able to benefit from it, so I should have changed that to another enemy, though I think it was just luck that they wiped the Minions out so early since they were all spread out and there were more important threats in the room.

Once the group had killed the Minions and the Swarm, I had the first wave appear at the end of the round; a Brute, an Artillery, and 3 Skirmishers (when I created the encounter, I thought for sure the Brute was an Elite, but discovered too late that it was a Standard monster). I had an Encounter refresh set on the Artillery and an Action Point refresh on the Brute. The Ranger started planning for his replacement character when one of the Skirmishers did over 70 points of damage in one round, but the Cleric had no issues keeping everyone healed. After the group had killed 2 of the Skirmishers and the Brute, I had Wave 2 show (a Skirmisher, an Elite Soldier, and 3 Artillery). The morale of the group took a big drop and they were looking for an exit strategy, when the Cleric dropped a Mass Cure Light Wounds. The whole group cheered and was ready for more.

We had to quit here, as this had taken us 4.5 hours (there was some RP before the fight). I think they are in a good position still and they all told me afterwards they really like it, one of the players who also DMs wants to try this in his game as well. Our next game is scheduled for the 20th, after that I will let you know how it all turned out. The Final wave is an Elite Soldier, and Elite Artillery and their target a modified Elite Yuan-Ti Malison Incanter.

Raevhen wrote:
though I think it was just luck that they wiped the Minions out so early since they were all spread out and there were more important threats in the room.

Maybe...but it'd probably not be luck in the group I play in and may well not really be luck in your group as well.

Certainly there has been a major overhaul in targeting priority since we began to play 4E. Our targeting priority is along the lines of...

#1) Archer Minions - with their ability to concentrate fire, especially on the low hp to surge ratio characters (such as the wizard) these guys must die and now. Because they are minions they die real fast. The cleric should be using healing powers on the defenders and melee strikers because they have the best surges and get the most from them - if your cleric is forced to spend surges on the wizards that is usually a really lousy deal - the wizard probably does not even get hit again but your forced to heal him because you can't take that chance...and he gets some measly handful of hps too boot.

#2) Melee Minions - While any given hit is negligible the damage adds up, they are so easy to kill it often makes sense to just take them out of the picture - it'll be easier to maneuver around with them gone as well. That said if you have a good controller talk with him about his upcoming plans - there is no point in wasting a good hit on a minion if the controller plans to take this whole group of minions out when his round comes up.

#3) Lacky type archers, most artillery - similar to the minions, the damage and danger these guys present far outstrip their defenses. Taking them down early is a good plan.

#4) Lacky type Melee, most Lurkers - These guys generally do about 2/3rds to 3/4s as much damage as the average attack by the big boss but they have maybe 1/3 the hps and lower defenses to boot. The PCs can reasonably expect to take these guys down at a reasonable clip and every one that falls notably reduces the amount of damage the PCs are taking each round.

#5) The Big Boss - Made out of hps and defenses, often coming with multiple 'ha ha can't touch this' tricks and generally just annoying; take this guy down last. No matter what you do this dude will last many, many rounds but usually won't do that much more damage then the other baddies in the room (except the minions) so it just makes sense to save him for last.

Now sometimes there are legitimate glass cannons in the room and if you can ID them then raising priority on the 'needs to die now' list makes sense but usually its just not that clear. More likely you realize that some guy is a soldier with some insane AC and your guys that target AC switch to an easier to hit target - this makes sense but its also dangerous and confusing and its critical to keep up the communication when this happens as here is fairly often where the tactical planning on a battle breaks down.

Note that this list might almost be the opposite of 3.5s priority list. In 3.5 low level minion types can't even hit you, ignore them. Enemy archers might be a problem but if your wizard can't handle crossbow bolts coming at him then there is something wrong with his build and he'll never live to high levels. Archers almost always do significantly less damage then melee types. The lackey types often have lots of hps, almost as much as the big boss but they do not have the big boss schtick - that combo the friggen DM came up with for his beloved big boss that probably is capable of doing 100+ points of damage if it works...so make sure it does not work by having the whole party pour damage on this guy...the total firepower of the party is upwards of 300 hps a round, few bad guys have more then 600 hps so it just makes sense to shut this guy down and then mop up the remnants.

Obviously this is a simplification. Make the Dragons side kick a mag and watch the player argue over what has priority for example. Still its a pretty good representation of the players 'rule of thumb'.

Sounds like you are going along the right track; the only change I would make is not using minions as a determination of power resets or actions points, unless they come later in the battle as re-enforcements. Otherwise, they are easy to meta-game and wipe out, while offering nothing to the party early in the battle.

The long battles I have used in the past were the result of bad planning on the party. They were trying to infiltrate an assassin’s guild. Therefore, the entire area may be alerted to loud noises, etc. Expecting this, I created areas as safe havens, that both the party and the inhabitants may not be aware of like secret rooms or passages, or areas that may have opponents that are neutral to the party. In the case of the assassin’s guild, which was built under a grave yard, certain areas the assassins believed to be haunted had spirit wards in place (this was an oriental campaign). Unfortunately, the party was scared away by the spirit wards themselves. Had they explored the area, they would have found a safe haven to recover.

I also create areas that can be bypassed via combat or skill challenge. These become focal points, if placed later in the adventure, when characters are on the run, and need a way to survive. This really helps to bring out the role-playing, when the situation is tense, and there are direct consequences.

I chose to not let the players know what monsters grant power refreshes so they wouldn't use meta-game knowledge to plan who to kill ("okay, lets kill this guy and use our encounter power cause they'll refresh right afterwards").

Part of the reason I chose the Minions rather than the obvious choice of the leveled up Snaketongue Celebrant was because he was the obvious choice, with his range 10 Area Burst 5 Restrain power with a refresh on a 5. He is still alive, but won't be for long, after his third successful use of the power the group has targeted him, expecting him to have a refresh :)

The other reason I chose the melee-only Minions was because I intensionally spread them out in the large room, thinking it would be some time before the group got to them all.

If I had to do it again, I probably would have made the Celebrant the Refresh monster, just because of the trouble he has managed to cause the party.

Of course, hind sight it 100 percent, so I was just reflecting on how I may adjust a similar scenario in the future. You definitely supplied some inspiration in the ever expanding set of tools to make 4E encounters dynamic and interesting.

I am starting a new dark sun campaign, so I will try to incorporate some of these new ideas, although it probably won't be as exciting at first level.

The other trick is to mix all these ideas together, so the players don't become complacent and expect a little help (regaining resources) after every encounter.

One approach I've taken in the past is, instead of having points at which powers recharge, I instead will have powerful 'terrain powers' or the like built into the encounter itself. That avoids a bit of the metagame aspect - instead of needing to get lucky and kill off Lord Recharge at the right time, the party can instead figure out how to get someone up to the pots of boiling oil to pour down on the minions below. Etc.

This isn't to say that I haven't used the recharge approach before, but I like one that instead ties into terrain because it both feels a bit more natural, and lets you explore some cool terrain and scenery at the same time you provide PCs with bonuses that can help them through a long combat.

I've just run a long fight with one of my pbp groups and thought I'd share the underpinnings of it - as well as the way it finally worked out.

The group were on the cusp of paragon and this was going to be their last ever heroic level encounter, so I wanted it to feel like a rite of passage. With that in mind, I planned for it to be a long fight and did that I've wanted to do for ages, and embedded a skill challenge into it.

The party needed to re-enact an ancient ritual that would trigger a huge conflagration in order to heal the land. Since the land was "wounded" and resentful, it was going to send mutated aspects of itself to stop them.

Essentially, they had to do a balancing act. The base mechanic was that land had a concordance which moved one step up or down a hostility scale each turn on its initiative. This automatically meant the terrain was a constant challenge to them.

Siphoning power made the land more hostile and increased the areas of difficult terrain and the number of monsters appearing.

Killing monsters acted as a blood sacrifice and appeased the land. Appeased land granted regeneration to all creatures and at high levels of benevolence allowed them to re-roll to see if an encounter power had recharged.

Once they started to enact the ritual itself, the land responded with a series of mini-earthquakes (severity determined on the hostility scale).

Since they had to channel and deliver 20 points of power to the land while fighting off a variety of monsters (I had a list and rolled randomly for what appeared), it forced the party to make a lot of highly tactical desicions about where to spend their actions. As the encounter was very much based on being in the right place at the right time, I deliberately ran a set of monsters with movement powers that shoved them away from where they wanted to be, or into places I wanted them to be.

It took fifteen rounds - epic in pbp terms :) and lasted a month, but felt engaging the whole time as while there were always choices to make about what was best for the group this turn - and they weren't easy choices either.

For the record, they made it. They blew every power they had, were all bloodied, and even with the cleric's consecrated ground, were on a knife-edge right the way through.

If anyone is interested in the stats, I have them.

This sounds very interesting especially the mechanic to siphon power, and roll for a recharge. For the later did you just borrow the monster mechanics? In addition, I am not sure how you implemented a skill challenge into this in regards to how skills were used. I would definitely be interested in taking a look at it.

The skill challenge involved them siphoning power. It required them to use a standard action to do it and they could only store up to 6 points of power at a time. They could use any skill they liked (with appropriate rp) with a DC20. Failure moved the land one step up the hostility level, making life harder for them.

I had to keep a running total of the good and bad effects through a turn so the land could go up or down on its init. Mid-encounter, that was genuinely exciting as one of them would kill a monster and they had to decide if it was better to keep the land benign (not siphoning power) or take more power and let the land stay neutral.

The monsters were re-skinned centaurs, since most of their powers have a push/slide effect anyway and I added a fragile but dangerous artillery which was so perverse that whenever it used its power the land automatically took two steps towards hostility. Those guys they had to take down very fast or they would have been dealing with extremely hostile terrain.

For the land states, I used concordance stats for the various good/bad effects and flavoured them to suit the situation.

The whole adventure revolved around them becoming accepted heroes in a country which loathed them and I also ran a background concordance for that to give myself an instant picture of how people were likely to respond to them.

Spoilered for space:


This is complex, but I wanted something suitably epic. It's a variant on a skill challenge, but with added combat.

In a nutshell, there are three things you need to do here.

1. You need to draw power from the land in order to gain enough resources to recreate the Skyburning.

2. The land will resist this as it's twisted by the weakening of the Ward. You need to somehow maintain a balance between siphoning enough power and not upsetting the land too much.

3. You'll be attacked. Part of the land's resistance will take the form of tencaru attacks.

The land starts neutral (level 5) At the start of each turn, depending on what has happened, it's attitude will move up or down a scale. Low is positive and improves things for you. High is negative and can make your lives significantly more difficult. Think of it roughly as a concordance, and the land as a wondrous item you need to placate. Note that the land can only increase or decrease its hostility one step per turn.

Siphoning power.
You do this by -
(a) making a skill check of any kind (DC20) as a standard action on your turn. EDIT: Note that failing the skill check increases land hostility. Since this is a quick and dirty method of siphoning power, it is more difficult. Land hostility will take a two point hit per point siphoned this way.
(b) by killing something.
Any character can hold up to 6 power points at a time. They can be transfered between characters as a minor action. Power can be used in the following ways:
(i) To deliver back into the land within the pink circle via an attack power. The attack does no damage, but on a hit, delivers the power point. You need to deliver 20 power points into the land in this way. The land has defenses of 21. The next power point delivered after that triggers the Skyburning.
(ii) You can also use power points to increase one damage roll you make by 1d6 or to give yourself 5 temp hp.

Land hostility
(a) Each power point siphoned upsets the land and will make it more hostile. However, it can only increase/decrease its attitude one step per turn.
(b) Killing a creature is effectively a blood sacrifice and pleases the land, reducing the hostility.
EDIT: The increase/decrease is based on the whole party's actions during a turn. If more of you succeed with your actions than fail, land hostility goes down and vice versa.

That sounds like a pretty epic encounter.

It was awesome.

It was indeed.

I should just add that my son should take a lot of the credit for the encounter design. We discussed it at length and I told him what I was aiming to achieve with it. He suggested (and designed) the perverse artillery, provided the concordance style land effects and helped make my vague concepts into something that actually ran.

We just had a long fight like this in one of my games, where the DM basically sprung 3 encounters at once on us. We were in the middle of a town hall / rally / assembly in an elven city, and suddenly demons and monsters erupted from the earth, and the party had to split up to fight them off in different parts of town.

So we had two full-scale encounters the PCs were up against (a solo monster in one area, and a half-dozen demonic imps in another) with only half the party in each fight. And when we finished those battles, we returned to the assembly to find that traitors and rebels were trying to assassinate the queen in the confusion, which gave us a third fight (with dozens of combatants on 3-4 different sides) without any resting.

The entire thing ended up as over 20 rounds of combat and several hours, with no resting for the party... not directly.

Instead, the DM had an NPC provide us with some magical beads of recovery. We each got 5 red beads, which could be used to either spend a surge, regain an encounter power, or regain an Action Point. We also each had a blue bead that would restore us to full if we dropped. Basically, all the sort of things we would have gotten from resting between fights, just parcelled out and used at our own discretion.

And overall, it worked great. The fights felt really tough, but with the beads we got through them. By the end of it, we were largely tapped out of resources, healing and beads - but alive. Despite the total length, everything moved very quickly and the intensity was kept up throughout it.

It helped that it was an online game - this meant the DM could have several different maps that we could easily flip back and forth between.

Overall, I liked the use of the beads as an easier approach than figuring out 'mini-milestones' in combat to restore powers - it meant that we could pace our recovery efforts, rather than potentially getting bogged down at one point and having no way to get past it to the next 'refresh point' of the encounter.

I'm bringing my conversion of Expedition to Castle Ravenloft to the table this Friday, and I've decided to run the first couple of encounters as one long fight.

Those of you that played in my short-lived pbp version know that the first encounters include a bunch of zombie minions accompanied by a couple of extra standard monsters. Each encounter happens at an intersection on the way to the center of the village, culminating with a big fight there. I've used gaming paper to draw out the entire length of road and the square (somewhat shortened). I'm going to describe the scene at the square as a lone paladin fights off the hoards of zombies, then place the party way back at the first intersection and have them fight their way there.

I like the ides of Matt's beads, but can't figure out a way to incorporate them, so I'll probably use killing off the standard monsters or maybe check points as recharges for an encounter power and spend a surge. I've scaled the adventure down to first level, so that should be enough, and each part of the encounter will only be a first level fight.

I often equated rest points, or finishing one battle just before another, to be the equivalent to the euphoria you feel after an andrenaline rush, or physical exertion, and therefore gain a benefit like a restored healing surge, power recovery, etc. This is just an option, if you don't want to rely on items, but want to add in quick physical recovery, or even a moral victory, even when things look bad.

It was certainly one of the most fantastic combats I have ever been a player in. It constantly felt on a knife edge, but we have been playing as a group for a while now, and in our own way we work well together. There was much discussion of how best to proceed at certain points, and it was very engaging.

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