Two common criticisms I hear about 4e D&D is that it’s all about the combat, and those combats take too long. Heck, I’ve even said so myself and suggested ways to fix it. But y’know what? I’m wrong, and so are you. Let me tell you why……..
“To get to the next level it’s just ten combats! It’s all fighting and nothing else!”
Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong! That’s the kind of twaddle repeated in RPG forums by people quoting other folks, none of whom have even read the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Page 121 covers it pretty well, but it’s also worth looking at in more detail.
To get from 1st to 2nd level takes 1,000XP. That’s one Major Quest (finishing the adventure!), one Minor Quest per character (a side-quest or something specific to the character) and 6-8 Encounters. I’m using 1st-2nd level as this keeps the math easy, but this scales all the way through to 30th. Same principle, bigger numbers, that’s all.
So there’s a Major Quest, which is….. a role-playing goal. It might be “rescue the kidnapped Princess”, “liberate the island”, “defeat the lich and free the slaves”, or whatever. Depending on your style of play and group preferences, you might fit more than one adventure into each level (especially if you prefer lighter, single session Delve-style adventures), or it might take several levels just to complete one larger mega-adventure. That’s up to you, but I’d suggest that one Major Quest per level is a reasonable average for 4e.
Then there’s Minor Quests. I like Minor Quests. These are things which further the personal advancement and goals of each character – in other words, more role-playing goodness, all wrapped up with an XP reward. Using the “rescue the kidnapped Princess” Major Quest, for example, a Half-elf Bard might have “….and compose a daring tale about the deeds!”. Another player could have “…. and watch for clue to the whereabouts of my evil brother”, or “…..and steal that dagger from the Fighter. I wants it!”. Or anything, really. If you’ve got 5 players, that’s 5 Minor Quests all going at the same time, as well at the Major Quest which is the goal of the adventure. Phew!
That leaves us with the Encounters. Six to eight of them, and not all of those should involve combat. They could be puzzles, skill challenges, social interractions (ie, pure role-paying with not a skill roll in sight) or anything else which takes your fancy. If you have a group which enjoys lots of combat then making seven out of eight of them combat-related might be ok, but I think that’s right at the upper limit. Similarly, one combat out of eight is probably too few unless you’re playing a deeply immersive story-telling game. That’s cool, and entirely within the realms of D&D as written. The rules don’t tell you how much combat you should have in your game, despite what some folks think.
I find 5 combats and 3 non-combats is a fair average in our game, but that varies widely. We’ve played sessions with no combat at all, and ones which have been extremely combat intensive. S’all good.
So, a level (in our experience) averages out to:
- 1 Major Quest
- 1 Minor Quest per character
- 5 Combat encounters
- 3 Non-Combat encounters, puzzles or skill challenges
Your numbers are, of course, likely to differ.
But ten combats per level and nothing else? I don’t think so.
“Combat Encounters take too long!”
There’s no denying that an encounter in Fourth Edition takes longer to complete than an encounter in Third Edition. And there’s a reason for that: they’re not the same thing!
I’ve touched on this before; an Encounter in 4e might encompass 2, 3 or more traditional “encounters” including different monsters, traps, etc all acting at the same time. For example, if a 3e adventure features two rooms and a trapped corridor, in 4e all of this would count as a single Encounter Zone with the monsters working together (or even at odds!) to battle the PCs. So there’s no surprise that 4e Encounters take a while to play through – they’re effectively two (or more) encounters in one!
That goes some way toward explaining 4e’s encounter philosophy, but doesn’t tell the whole story. 4e is designed in such a way that every character is likely to have something to do, all the time – which means that everyone is going to do something, all the time. There’s no deadzone in 4e where a player just skips his turn because he’s out of spells, or a character is out of action due to a fluffed saving throw. More action is good, but the cost is that your time-between-turns is longer. And it’s fair price to pay, I think.
Of course, you might not want encounters to last the same length as two or three third edition encounters (even though it amounts to the same thing), in which case reduce the number of monsters, halve the hit points, use more minions or apply any of a number of techniques I (and countless others) have already covered. Whatever works for you.
But to say that the problem is the system itself – nope, it’s not. 4e gives you the choices and freedom to tweak it according to your playstyle. Quit bitchin’ already and read the damned DMG!
There. I feel better now. Thanks for listening.