Out of time constraints (my group can generally only meet for 3-4 hours every other week), as a GM I frequently find myself prematurely "killing" off monsters when it seems clear to me that the players have swung the battle to their advantage. To a certain extent this feels like a cheap move, and terribly obvious. Does this lessen the win for players? Having every enemy surrender or flee seems like it would be just as bad. What sorts of techniques do GMs employ when it just seems like combat has gone on long enough?
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Consider other "Combat Outs"
Dave "The Game" Chalker has written pretty extensively on his blog about The Combat Out - alternative endings to combat encounters when the result is a forgone conclusion.
The Combat out is:
I use the "summoner dies" pattern all the time. It makes the combat more interesting, especially when your players know you do it - they start to get all tactical about shortening the combat - and you, as DM, have to adapt. For example, make sure your summoner has cover (see My necromancer keeps dying (and can't raise himself)!)
F. Randall Farmer's answer is great. One thing that isn't addressed is the concept of 'prematurely "killing" off monsters'.
Let's take a close look at what this does:
Suggest a Trade
So here is my suggestion: Leave it up to the players. You are basically saying, "This is done, and is just cleanup", why not ask the players if they want to play it out? You could even turn this into a tactical choice: by putting a cost, say "2 healing surges from the group's total number of healing surges", the players get to decide if it is better to expend those healing surges and win instantly for sure, or risk fighting longer and possibly saving, or losing, more.
Either way, make it clear that the entire point of skipping the remaining battle is to get to the more interesting story or tactical elements (depending on your type of players), that by skipping you are trying to optimize the amount of enjoyable content in the session, as well as keep your pacing sane.
I'm in much the same situation. I run a bi-weekly game of PF that lasts between 2 and 3 hours. I find that sometimes prematurely ending a long slog combat is necessary, and killing the enemies is usually the best way to do that. Options like fleeing and surrender often interfere with suspension of disbelief and can create more problems. Fleeing can cause a chase scene as the PCs seek to finish off their kill, and surrender can take up hours as the PC's interrogate their prisoner, decide what to do with it, and eventually turn it into a pet ... A story for another time
The trick to killing the enemies off quickly is to dress it up nicely for the players, with narrative. If you say:
the players will be justifiably disappointed. On the other hand if you say:
The point is to still give the players credit for the cleanup, and to make them awesome in their victory. They usually won't complain. It's also important to give them the rewards just as if they had played through killing the enemies. Players will spend hours killing sheep for 2xp...
I disagree about not letting the enemies surrender/flee. If you do it right, it can be a good way to speed up combat without fiddling the dice. There's two main reasons that players may not want the monsters to surrender: Mechanics and Roleplaying.
Why players want to kill the monsters
Why the monsters surrender/flee
It's also important to explain to your players why the enemies are giving up. If the players think it's a tactical move to attack again later, they'll ruthlessly hunt down and slaughter them. If the foes are clearly terrified or are joyous at being released from the control of the BBEG, it's a lot easier for the PCs to accept. This will save time and make your sessions provide more plot/storyline.
"The goblins turn and run away" and "The goblins fling down their weapons and flee haphazardly, gibbering in terror" convey two very different impressions.
A key thing to note is that killing everything was definitely not the norm in the middle ages - the family/friends of the deceased would not be happy, and the companions of such bloodthirsty fellows would be shocked to see such things. In a fantasy game, suspension of real-world facts that hamper enjoyment is natural, but sometimes this can be useful to bring back.
As a player in a similar circumstance (i.e. my group plays once every week or two for 3-4 hours) we find ourselves in that situation more often than not. I personally do not like the, they run away and we get loot/exp as I think it does lessen the victory. That said, there are definitely things that can be done to speed up game play. Our GM will occasionally have the monster with the most hit points left (assuming it is an intelligent being) try to do some task to bring about the end of the encounter instead of wasting player's time attacking and rolling dice, etc. This might mean he's trying to destroy some equipment or lift a gate or summon a portal or whatever else. This has two advantages. One the players know that targeting him is generally useless so we'll focus fire the remaining guys. Second, we save 10+ attacks worth of time in hit points. Plus turns go quicker as there are less things for the GM to do on his turn and less time is spent on the player's side with strategy. Lastly, he can usually incorporate that monster's action into the story for roleplaying purposes.
Our gaming group also runs into fairly consistent time constraints. What we have done, that has pretty much resolved them, is basically doubled damage. We double the number of dice rolled for any attack. So a rogue that would normally be rolling 2d6+ dex +2d6 sneak attack is rolling 4d6 + dex + 4d6 sneak attack. The enemies' damage is doubled in the same way, but healing is NOT. Combat is more brutal, and shorter, but overall depletes the same amount of resources, only in half the time. Using tricksy combat outs is great, occasionally. If this is a consistent problem, you may want to consider this houserule to shorten encounter times and remove the need entirely.
You have some excellent answers on how to "wrap up" combat. I just want to take a step back here: the fundamental problem here is that the monsters are there to provide fun and that is not happening when combat becomes a grind.
I suggest you avoid the grind in the first place.
I highly recommend this classic anti-grind advice from Stalker0 on Enworld.