I think a lot of people notice that D&D 4e can drag a bit. I have especially noticed this in the few games that I have hosted this year. The Guys at RPG Circus brought up in one of their podcasts the idea of limiting the number of meaningless fights that you go through in an adventure and really skipping toward the last boss type of big encounter that you get near the end, but then again, there are still a lot of people that fall in that middle ground; these are the people that really like having lots of monsters populating their dungeon. They want to have a bunch of progressively more difficult combats which lead up to the big final boss encounter.
I guess that I fall somewhere in the middle of these two courts. I really feel a drag sometimes when I am throwing encounters filled with flunkies at the party; these combats take time, but the victory is almost always decided in the parties favor and very few casualties, much less damage, ever gets suffered.
If you look at games like WoW, even their developers realize that nobody wants to spend hours fighting the trash mobs in instances. They have started to shrink the size of the dungeon, limiting the trash mobs, and then break those dungeons down to 3 or 4 big combats before the final boss.
I really prefer this model. So, I have been trying to think up some house rules which I can use to essentially fast forward through the meaningless battles, that are essentially just filler before the party finally gets to fight the BBEG. This series will talk about a few of those house rules and how I plan to use them. Today I present the first of these rules: Overwhelming Victory
If you think about the typical organization of an organizations lair, or a dungeon populated with Gnolls/Kobolds/Orcs etc. you would usually expect there to be a lot of bad guys filling up a rather modest sized dungeon. But, playing out all of the combats with the rank and file can be monotonous. Now, you could simply say that the players mow through all of the enemies unscathed, but I really think that doing something like that takes a bit of fun out of the game. And, when you realistically think about it, even the mightiest of Players might take a lucky shot to the skull by a Goblin wielding a Big Hammer.
One way to keep these enemies in the dungeon, but speed through combats with them, and essentially skip their encounters, is to use a house rule which guarantees victory for the players, but has them rolling dice to see how much of their precious resources they expend. I think D&D 4e actually does a really great service by giving us Healing Surges, which can be used to gauge roughly how many times the players get hit in combat.
Basically, what I have decided to do in the future is that when the player’s are fighting an encounter which is below their average character level, I will have each of them roll a Saving Throw. For every level that the (not being played) encounter’s level is below the players, they get a bonus to their Saving Throw roll. If they make their Saving Throw, they make it through the combat unscathed. If they fail the roll, the group loses one collective healing surge. So, if you had 5 players and 2 of them failed their saving throws, 2 people from the group would lose a saving throw. The Default for this rule is that the person who failed the saving throw would lose his or her healing surge, but, if the group has a tank who want to lose that Surge for the team, he or she can lose his surge in exchange.
I look forward to giving this house rule a test drive. I will be interested in tweaking the bonuses to the Saving Throw, or the number of Saving Throws you force the players to make.