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As per title, what is or should be the average time length in real time of one combat encounter in each tier of a DnD 4E game? I've noticed between heroic and paragon tier combat length starts to increase a lot. I have not reached epic tier with any group but am curious about it's length as well. I'm not sure if this is just our group taking a longer time or if it's something else so figured I'd try to get a gauge of what should be normal combat time.

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In rounds or in real time? –  dpatchery Apr 20 '11 at 16:07
    
Real time. I'll edit to clarify. Sorry 'bout that! –  The Jug Apr 20 '11 at 16:26
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This really depends on the pacing of your group. Our heroic tier group of 6 PCs usually gets through 2-3 encounters per session (about 3 hours). However, our combats are usually fairly quick affairs rarely lasting more than 2-3 rounds. We have experimented with a 2 minute turn timer but it hasn't had much effect on play speed, we usually do without it as we rarely had to call players on their turns.

I can't speak to paragon and epic tier combats, but I can imagine that they would take longer (both time and rounds) as monster HP seems to scale up quite a bit faster than player damage does, thus requiring more rounds per combat making combats longer.

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An example of how much this can vary - my group is very chatty and rules-focused so an average encounter (13th level party) is around 4 hours. Even if that's only 3-4 rounds! But that's just what works for us. –  dpatchery Apr 20 '11 at 19:26
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@dpatchery - that's a long time. I would go nuts. –  wax eagle Apr 20 '11 at 19:32
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In our latest campaign, we started out in Paragon tier. We have three players, one DM, and the DM runs a cleric to help out. Most combats are - to put it bluntly - excruciatingly slow. We tend to make it through two, maybe three combats in a six-hour session, and in our last session we made it through one (admittedly large) combat that occupied a good five hours.

For us, there are 4e reasons and group reasons.

  • Our players are inexperienced and don't know their character sheets, or the rules, that well.
  • Compounding this, players are constantly forced to use unfamiliar powers because of the encounter/daily power mechanic.
  • Additionally, many powers have at least one added effect that needs to be tracked. If it isn't tracked, then the power is nerfed. Tracking these takes a lot of brainpower.
  • Monsters (and players!) have lots of hit points.
  • We get distracted at the table.
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A good answer for this isn't time in real time, but in how many rounds it should take. A typical combat should take about 6 rounds of combat. This is calculated because of action points, monster HP, player tactics, ect. If you go over six rounds of combat, the battle is either too hard or the dice are just being majorly unfair to the PC's and monsters. One side or the other should be giving way by turn 4 and should be running or killed by turn 6.

However, if you estimate how much time it takes each player to take a turn at about 3 to 4 minutes, a typical 5 person table should take an hour and a half of player time to get through. Assuming the DM knows what they're doing, they can get their stuff done in about 30 minutes of game time, so you're looking at an encounter being under 2 hours.

Of course, this is all variable, but that's a good baseline I've run with for my home games. Constructed games, like Living Forgotten Realms, should be played in a much more timely fashion, about one encounter an hour, because of it being a 4 hour game that's run in conventions. Judge for yourself how fast your players are taking to get their turns done, and I mean all of it from Minor/Move/Standard to rolling the dice. I have characters that take their turns in 30 seconds, including mental math. Then I have one player that takes a good 5 to 10 minutes. Controllers will bog your game down, fighters and strikers will speed it up. The more dice you roll and the more tactical you have to be to be effective, the more time it'll take you.

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Unfortunately I have to give the weasel answer of "it depends." But I would like to share the factors I have used when considering this question:

1. Consider the Session:

  • How much time do you have for the session and what are you and your players trying to accomplish?
  • Review past sessions that you remember fondly and try to dissect what when right; but even more importantly, think of the sessions that bombed and try to determine what went wrong.
  • Real life considerations, such as sometimes everyone needs to leave early, so a really epic battle—even against a pack of kobolds—might fit the bill.
  • Tone matters, to me encounter length should be a tacit way of granting gravitas to the interaction—if it is important, let it weigh heavily upon the characters. Likewise a light-hearted "porter at the door" encounter should be that, heavy on minions and a breeze.

2. Ask your Players: Shameless plug, but I use www.surveymonkey.com to take polls. As I shape up an upcoming Dark Sun game, I asked everyone the following questions:

  1. Your perfect session—how many hours, how many combat encounters and how many skill challeges?
  2. Your perfect combat encounter, how much time and how many rounds?
  3. Your perfect skill challenge, how much time and how many rounds?

The results aren't scientific, since a six person sample size is difficult from which to extrapolate but I don't care—I care about my players and what they think. I'd be happy to share the results if you want them, but that is getting off topic.

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"Long combats" can be a sign of unfamiliarity. One of the results of moving into the paragon tier is the proliferation of new options; with Paragon Paths and retrained powers, this may be the result of a great deal of new information and tactics to process. (New sourcebooks also contribute — by the time you've played through 10 character levels, you're committed enough to the game that buying more of the Power books might seem like a good idea.)

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