Sometimes the result of an encounter is easily seen even before the fight starts. If I let the PCs automatically win the fight, are there rules to determine how much resources it would cost them? I.e. how much HP lost, how many spell slots spent etc.

I'm considering a rule like "one point of HP equals 10XP, one 1st spell slot equals 20XP. The encounter is 200XP total. How do you arrange the cost?"

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is the outcome obvious to both sides? If so, why would the weaker side not retreat/flee? \$\endgroup\$
    – Verdan
    Oct 17, 2019 at 4:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Verdan Undead. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 17, 2019 at 5:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Could we have some more context about what kind of situation your PCs are in? Fighting so many trivial encounters that they don't even want/need to play them out? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 17, 2019 at 5:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Verdan: That should be an answer. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 17, 2019 at 13:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ If it's so one-sided, does it warrant awarding of XP? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 17, 2019 at 15:43

3 Answers 3


I have faced and handled this issue in OSR and Pathfinder play as follows:

  1. The game master eyeballs the situation and makes a suggestion to the players: each character takes d6 damage, each one is attacked by two skeletons, etc., and after that, all the enemies are declared dead.

  2. Players accept or decline the suggestion. If they do not perceive it as fair, or if they have a stratagem they want to use, or if they just want to feel their power and roll some damage dice against some zombies, or test their new abilities, then they can opt to use the combat rules. They can, of course, make a counter-offer, too, if so inclined.

  3. Once you have consensus, implement and go on.

Sometimes it is the players start with a suggestion - how about we spend all our alchemist's fire and the zombies (on this open field) are declared dead, with no rolling? If you feel it is a reasonable expenditure of resources and there are no surprises in wait, agree. Otherwise, play it out or make a counter-offer.

But if I misjudge?

  • First, do not do this unless the outcome in the situation is obvious. Combat is problem-solving and resource management, so once the problems are solved and it is only a matter of accounting, make an estimate and go with it. Wait until there are no more surprises in wait and stratagems are settled and fairly optimal.

  • As a special case of "outcome is obvious", do not use this if an important character's life is on the line. This includes the player characters.

  • This mostly happens with non-intelligent enemies.

  • If you have a clever and fair player with an eye for this kind of thing, ask them. "Fair" means that they can and want to make impartial judgements about what will happen to their character and the team. Not everyone is up to this.

  • Since you ask for explicit table consensus, it is unlikely that you will screw the player characters badly. You might give them an easy win, but where is the harm in that?


  • Zombies. Player characters climb onto a roof, decimate the stairs, and then blob off zombies one-by-one as they come. The situation is solved, so I suggest one attack against each by a zombie with a hefty penalty. This is accepted.

  • Fast characters, slow zombies, open plain. Expend some ammunition and done.

  • Dungeon corridor blocked with big moveable walls/shields. Mindless undead on the other side. Oil and fire. Some rolls to see if the pavises catch fire, some strength rolls to see if the undead break through, and then done.

  • Character that can fly, with infinite magic, against mindless undead with only melee attacks. Expend time, done.

Player reactions

Players have been fine with this. Once I made too generous an offer, they declined, and went on to make tactical mistakes and lose a character. What followed was the example with the alchemist's fires, above.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for including that! Any more information for OP (and us) to consider in using this is what really turns this into a more helpful answer :) +1 \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Oct 17, 2019 at 13:13

If the encounter is that trivial: don’t

All sorts of don’t really:

  • don’t bother putting it in in the first place
  • if you really must have it for thematic reasons, don’t bother with resources or XP - “You wade through the skeletons, your weapons and cantrips breaking the undead apart. A few manage to strike some feeble blows which clang uselessly off your armour or are nimbly avoided. At the end of the corridor is ...”

Table time is too limited to waste on not playing the game. The game is the bit in step 2 of the rules on (I believe) page 5 of the PHB - the players decide what they want to do. The player hasn’t been born who wants to do math for a trivial encounter that doesn’t advance the plot.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for if it's not necessary, don't waste time - but there may be times when players do want the feel-good of stomping enemies. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Oct 17, 2019 at 13:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch That's true, but in a fight like that, they would typically either drop one AOE damage spell and be done with it, or expend no resources at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Oct 17, 2019 at 14:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells Sure, but if they want to do that, then taking that option away could lead to a Bummer moment. Just because no resources were spent didn't mean players didn't have fun. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Oct 17, 2019 at 14:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also there certainly are players who want to do the math for a trivial encounter that doesn't advance the plot. I know it might be rare, but there certainly are such. I'm one of them. Also don't forget you also get to roll dice.0^0 \$\endgroup\$
    – DRF
    Oct 17, 2019 at 17:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch if the players want to engage it’s not trivial. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Oct 18, 2019 at 2:39

The normal rules don't cover this, however there is the Unearthed Arcana: Mass Combat (playtest) material, which describes resolving fights without going through turns. The scale is bigger than what you say (hundreds of creatures on a minute by minute scale), but it might give you a starting point.

In short, you calculate the BR (battle rating, derived from challenge rating) for both sides. Then the sides take turns attacking (initiative order), making opposed BR checks. If the defender wins nothing happens, if the attacker wins by 10 or less, reduce the BR of the defender by 2, if the attacker wins by 11 or more reduce the defender's BR by 5 and make a DC10 moral check to see if they flee.

Like I said, the scale isn't perfect.

I think a system based on rolling die might serve you better--rolling die and random results are the heart of dnd. Roll a d6 to see how many 'rounds' the combat lasted, add a modifier based on CR. For each round, distribute d20s to represent hits and roll off to see how many hits are taken, multiply by the average damage of the encounter. For each turn each caster rolls a d20 compared to their spell list to determine which spells were cast and their spell slots used.

If it's an easy fight then why not just have the players scare off the enemies without expending resources? You can also resolve the encounter with roleplay rather than fighting, or play out 1 or 2 rounds quickly.

You may want to assess why you need this mechanic rather than trying to invent one.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the answer! The campaign has ended, I was thinking about improvement in the future. There were several cases when such a rule could be handy: 1. to get through the battlefield to reach the general, who and the elite guards are the real boss fight, and I want the army could count for something; 2. to fast-forward a sidestory and get back to main quest as fast as possible: 3. to bring a lost PC back to the party in a hostile surrounding, and his drifting about left him with scars. Anyway, it's not a must-have, but would be good if possible. \$\endgroup\$
    – Manas
    Oct 17, 2019 at 12:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you tried or seen the system you recommend? Any Pros and Cons? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Oct 17, 2019 at 13:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I have not tried the playtest rules I linked, I have been in a game where we rolled multiple turns at once. Pros: fast. Cons: it's not really D&D and you lose all strategy and tactics within the fight. We had the same situation as OP, fighting through an army to reach the general. This was in PF and I was a melee Synth mind you. I'm sure pure casters and people who rely on precise gameplay found this frustrating. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 17, 2019 at 13:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, didn't mean the playtest. THat was a really good recommendation for a starting point. I meant the section where you seem to come up with a system. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Oct 17, 2019 at 13:50

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