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I currently GM for a level 13 D&D 5e group of 5 players. Recently combat has become heavily bogged down, primarily because the party has discovered their new favourite ('Death by a Thousand Cuts') trick of Crusader’s Mantle + summoning every possible creature they can. Between, potentially, the 5 player characters, the two NPCs they often travel with, a familiar, the Circle of the Shepherd druid summoning 24 wolves, and the sorcerer animating 14 tiny objects, they can populate a small militia.

As a result, our rounds end up taking a long time just in terms of the number of turns. The rounds also become very uneven, with the summoner players having much longer in the spotlight than, say, the rogue. I have tried to explain to my players that this tactic is not very fun to GM for, and I have also contrived situations such that their enemies have more saving throw/AOE attacks available to them to try and thin the herd (though this does not always make sense and leads to my players having a weird persecution complex).

Historically, our combats have been fast paced and I already encourage players to have their turns ready before they come around. The main problem here is keeping track of dozens and dozens of creatures and the necessary dice rolling that goes along with it.

How can I run these types of encounters in a more fun and 'rapid fire' way with less admin? Is it possible to better even out the total time-per-turn, such that the non-summoner characters feel as influential? Should I:

  1. Approach this issue more as a group discussion about table dynamics?
  2. Adapt the encounters I throw at them?
  3. Devise new mass-summon house rules to try and speed things up in a fair way?
  4. Set a cap on the number of summons I'll allow to be active a once?
  5. Some other approach I've not thought of?

Any advice or experience would be appreciated.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is part of your issue the actual rolling involved? Would an answer citing ways to expedite the rolling be acceptable? \$\endgroup\$ – goodguy5 Jan 29 at 14:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related, in that saves/hits don't matter, the math works out the same: My DM insists on rolling a single save for groups affected by AoE save spells. How does this affect my odds of successfully affecting the enemy? \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jan 29 at 15:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Erik I'm guessing the 24 wolves are from casting Conjure Animals at 7th level, which means the wolves only stick around for 1 hour and then disappear. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Jan 29 at 16:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your question focuses upon how to deal with a ton of summons, but I'm curious if your lack of fun stems from the notion that this is an extremely effective tactic from RAW perspective? \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Jan 29 at 23:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ "my players having a weird persecution complex" - That's not quite a fair assessment. By all accounts they're playing by the rules and their strategy is valid. However their GM has complained about it and contrived scenarios specifically designed to defeat their tactic. They actually have a pretty reasonable and non-weird basis for feeling a bit persecuted. \$\endgroup\$ – aroth Jan 30 at 3:54

10 Answers 10

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There is no easy answer

This is a tough situation and the solutions are all generally things that can make players feel that their strategies are being specifically targeted. That doesn't leave you with a lot of options for how to address, but here are some considerations in evaluating what to do.

Talk it out

As has been discussed, talk about what's happening with the players. Managing so many creatures isn't fun for you, and that's totally reasonable. Let them know it's a cool tactic and can be used, but please don't use it all the time. Chat about what they like about it, what concerns you, and at least see if they can understand where your coming from and see if they'll choose to alter their strategies.

I had played a bard for awhile that used animate objects and it honestly got tiring for me, too. And it seemed too much, so I only used it when it really made sense to use it.

Summoning is tricky, the DM technically picks

Going by pure RAW, the character's aren't picking the creatures, the DM does. But honestly, that's not a lot of fun. I don't think I've played at a table where the DM has picked the summoned creatures. Using this in your discussion may be a reasonable tactic to show that if you wanted to press the rules-first approach, then you could allow them to summon, but that you choose (maybe randomly) the creatures. That limits the capability within the rules, but it definitely isn't quite the same fun/feeling for the players.

Nerfing the spells

I'm really not a fan of this, especially if the strategy and use is by the book (which it kinda isn't with the above, but you get the point.) Taking away toys because you don't like it can present it's own table issues. There are better ways to handle this.

Encounter design

This ultimately is most likely your biggest lever here. While you don't want to create every encounter that counters this strategy, it isn't crazy to start filtering them and also having the minions of the BBEG know the strategy to counter it.

Counters

The most obvious here is going to be bringing in monsters that are resistant or immune to mundane damage. Summoned creatures aren't usually dealing damage that bypasses magical damage resistance or immunity, so bringing monsters in with those traits nullifies the summoned creatures strategy.

Next up is area affect attacks. These summoned creatures generally also don't have a lot of HP (especially the tiny animate objects). Drop an AOE on the, and you'll wipe them out.

Environment design can also play a part here. Make it so it's difficult to maneuver or have room for the summoned creatures and the option to summon them gets taken off the table.

Keep everything as-is, but introduce Handling Mobs

Chapter 8 of the DMG (Thanks goodguy5!) offers some optional rules around Handling Mobs:

Instead of rolling an attack roll, determine the minimum d20 roll a creature needs in order to hit a target by subtracting its attack bonus from the target’s AC. You’ll need to refer to the result throughout the battle, so it’s best to write it down.

Look up the minimum d20 roll needed on the Mob Attacks table. The table shows you how many creatures that need that die roll or higher must attack a target in order for one of them to hit. If that many creatures attack the target, their combined efforts result in one of them hitting the target....

If the attacking creatures deal different amounts of damage, assume that the creature that deals the most damage is the one that hits. If the creature that hits has multiple attacks with the same attack bonus, assume that it hits once with each of those attacks. If a creature’s attacks have different attack bonuses, resolve each attack separately.

This attack resolution system ignores critical hits in favor of reducing the number of die rolls. As the number of combatants dwindles, switch back to using individual die rolls to avoid situations where one side can’t possibly hit the other.

I haven't personally used this before and, as always, talk to your players about it. This isn't about you as the DM using this for your monsters, but minimizing the player interaction with their summons. This may not be what they're looking for.

But having fun is the key

Balancing letting your players use the tactic they enjoy with challenging them and yourself is the name of the game. Let them shine, but also put them in situations where their go-to strategy isn't an option. Coming up with new strategies and working out how to handle an encounter differently can be fun, too.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The other problem with choosing summons randomly is that if you summon more than one type of creature, combat becomes even slower as you now need to juggle multiple stat blocks for the summoned creatures. The alternative is rolling to randomly determine which one creature type is summoned, and rolling to see whether you summon 24 wolves or 24 bunnies isn't very satisfying for anyone. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Jan 29 at 14:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 on Chat about what they like about it. This is going to be a key aspect of how to deal with it. If the GM knows what exactly the summoners like, he/she may be able to come up with solutions. \$\endgroup\$ – Aventinus Jan 29 at 15:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think I've played at a table where the DM has picked the summoned creatures How have you found balance working out in this case? I played in a pretty high-powered game a while ago, but even in that one casting Conjure Animals for eight Giant Poisonous Snakes or Constrictor Snakes was an encounter-trashing event. Are the players in your games going for the (IMO weaker) higher-CR options? \$\endgroup\$ – Sarah Jan 29 at 22:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ OP stated that the strategy their players are using includes casting Crusader's Mantle, which means that all the creatures are dealing an additional 1d4 radiant damage. Unfortunately, there are very few creatures that are immune or resistant to radiant damage, so your first counter doesn't really work. \$\endgroup\$ – Doc Jan 31 at 7:24
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What you should do depends very much on your group. My experience from older editions tells me that your first instinct is correct:

  1. Approach this issue more as a group discussion about table dynamics?

    That's definitely a great first step indeed! If no one at the table finds this being an actual problem, then great. IF there are problems with this situation, then it would help further discussion to knows what exactly people find problematic, boring and unfun. And maybe they already have some ideas how to solve it?

  2. Adapt the encounters I throw at them?

    This one is tricky. If you will "simply" adapt away the advantage they got by coming up with this strategy, they may feel cheated. On the other hand, if bad guys will get to know their strategy, and adapt, in-game, then it is only natural response of the world to their actions. And the world should respond to PC actions.

  3. Devise new mass-summon house rules to try and speed things up in a fair way?

    Probably you should, but only after discussing why, what and how with your players. Rule that worked well at my tables was that all creatures of the same type (like Druid's 5 wolves, for example) would all do the same thing and share the same rolls as much as possible. Or at least sharing the same roll-time, that is for 5 wolves she would roll 5 d20 for bite attacks at one time, and then roll all the damage dice at one time, adding damage up. After all, what does it matter which wolf did which damage point? But that was what worked for us in earlier edition. You might want to ask a separate question just about that, and you definitely need to discuss it with your table.

  4. Set a cap on the number of summons I'll allow to be active a once?

    Gosh no! Players have built their characters around this summoning, didn't they? Taking that away only after does not sound fair. From my experience this will lead to hurt feelings, at least unless they agree to do it during 1. discussion. And even then I strongly suggest giving them a chance for a limited rebuild of their characters.

  5. Some other approach I've not thought of?

    Don't know, neither have I, points 1 to 3 (discussion, encounters, house rules as needed) always covered it nicely for me.

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    \$\begingroup\$ creatures of the same type would all do the same thing and share the same rolls +1 for this simple but ultra-effective way to reduce crunch time. \$\endgroup\$ – Aventinus Jan 29 at 13:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Aventinus yep, 24 wolves at the time cost of one. There are some drawbacks of this, indeed, but that would require another QA to explore fully. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Jan 29 at 13:11
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I just want to focus on the "Rolling dice takes a long time" aspect of this question, as I view it to be the critical point.

Reduce Rolling

Find any shortcut to cut down the amount of rolling and adding. Primarily pre-rolled and mob attacks (DMG p 250)

Pre roll attacks

Find your favorite random number generator and get about 50 values. When the time comes, just go down the list and mark off all of the successes and use average damage/results. The player can do this if you trust them (or don't care); otherwise the DM can do this.

Mob attack rules

There's a chart on DMG p.250 that outlines a way to handle a bunch of attackers at once, but Slyflourish also has a handy widget for just that occasion. Plug in your values and off you go.

Average success

If 20 creatures are attacking with a 50% chance to hit a particular target, then, on average, 50% of them hit that target. Just deal average damage times ten and that should be close enough. I've done this on a smaller scale, so I can't guarantee that it works with the higher numbers you mention, but I don't see any logical reason why it wouldn't. Do this for each target.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Bold that widget =) \$\endgroup\$ – Cireo Jan 29 at 22:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Upvoted for applying averages across the mob. \$\endgroup\$ – Codes with Hammer Jan 30 at 15:45
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As always, there are two ways of handling this, in-game and out-of-game. However, I recommend doing both.

Out-of-Game Approach

I think that the heart of the issue is the following sentence:

I have tried to explain to my players that this tactic is not very fun to GM for [...]

Role-playing games are team games, which means that everyone should have fun. Yet, you are not having fun managing these fights. You mentioned that you've "tried to explain" this to your group, but most likely, you didn't do a very good job. Maybe you weren't direct enough. Nevertheless, the first thing you should do is to gather the group and directly express your feelings. Tell them straight up that you're not having fun managing dozens of creatures and ask them kindly to change their tactics and be sure to offer alternatives when doing so (see below).

In-Game Approach

You have already suggested a few solutions so let me comment on some of them and offer a few ideas.

Adapt the encounters I throw at them?

It depends on how you're planning on adapting. Simply increasing the number of enemies won't do it since managing dozens of creatures is already what fatigues you. One way of dealing with this is home-brewing a monster or spell that takes summons out of the picture because of a McGuffin. This will throw the group off-balance. However, you cannot use this for multiple battles.

Set a cap on the number of summons I'll allow being active a once? Some other approach I've not thought of?

Instead of setting a limit to the number of summons which will only partly solve your problem, you could offer your players an alternative: Instead of summoning dozens of creatures, the summoners may master a way/spell/technique to "combine" all their summons into one higher level summon. You can let them choose what summon this will be exactly. Why not even letting them create if from scratch if it makes them feel better? Of course, you may need to balance it afterwards, however, I think that this is a trade-off they'll appreciate. Furthermore, you can do all this in the form of a quest. Maybe there exists an ancient spell to achieve this that they'll have to find the scroll of.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Action economy in 5e typically mean lots of lower cr Simmons > a single higher cr summons. Not sure that's a solution the players would accept. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jan 29 at 13:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Yeap, you are right. Home-brewing this rule will change the complexion of the class. Molot's solution is the best, however, I do think that it's worth leaving my idea as an (unconventional) alternative. \$\endgroup\$ – Aventinus Jan 29 at 13:14
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The DMG presents a couple of rules that might be useful to you in situations with many summoned creatures on the field. Note that you really have two problems here:

  1. Large mobs are bogging down the pace of play during combat.
  2. Large mobs are unbalancing combat, forcing you to rely too heavily on big AOE spells to counter them.

Try the rules for mob attacks in the DMG

DMG Chapter 8 includes a section on handling mobs, which seems perfectly designed for your situation based on the intro:

Keeping combat moving along at a brisk pace can be difficult when there are dozens of monsters involved in a battle. When handling a crowded battlefield, you can speed up play by forgoing attack rolls in favor of approximating the average number of hits a large group of monsters can inflict on a target.

This section gives a table that lets you quickly determine the expected number of hits based on what roll on the die is required to hit. For example, if the druid summons 24 wolves and they each need to roll a 14 to hit their target, the table says that 1 out of every 3 attacks hits, so you skip the 24 attack rolls and just roll damage for 8 hits. And for these damage rolls, you might want to use a dice rolling app to speed things up even more, or even just use average damage if your players don't mind the lack of randomness. Once you determine the number of hits, you can distribute them evenly over the available targets, or roll a dX for each hit, where X is the number of targets, to randomly assign each hit to a target.

You gave an example of a mob of octopi grappling a target, and you can apply these rules there as well, with some slight modifications. Determine the DC using the target's "passive" athletics/acrobatics, i.e. 10 + the relevant modifier, then resolve the grapples against that DC using the mob attacks table. Sure, in theory this actually removes all randomness from the grappling, since no damage rolls are involved. But really, was there any randomness to begin with? What was the probability of the target winning enough of those 24 grapple contests to have a chance of escaping next turn? Probably pretty close to 0%. So in a sense, this is just adhering to the principle of only rolling when the outcome is uncertain.

You can also apply the same table to saving throws against AOE spells. Once again, determine the die roll needed for success given the summoned creatures' saving throw against the save DC of the spell, and look it up on the table to see how many attempted saving throws are required for one to succeed. For 24 wolves, if a natural 15 is required to save, then 1 out of every 4 wolves makes the save, so 6 make the save and 18 fail. (Of course, maybe not all 24 wolves are in the spell's AOE, so adjust accordingly.)

Try using the optional cleave rules for attacks against mobs

For enemies attacking player-summoned mobs, you might consider the optional cleave rules in DMG Chapter 9:

If your player characters regularly fight hordes of lower-level monsters, consider using this optional rule to help speed up such fights.

When a melee attack reduces an undamaged creature to 0 hit points, any excess damage from that attack might carry over to another creature nearby. The attacker targets another creature within reach and, if the original attack roll can hit it, applies any remaining damage to it. If that creature was undamaged and is likewise reduced to 0 hit points, repeat this process, carrying over the remaining damage until there are no valid targets, or until the damage carried over fails to reduce an undamaged creature to 0 hit points.

(Yes, technically these rules are for players attacking enemy hordes, but we're reversing them here since this time it's the players bringing the hordes.)

Essentially, excess damage from an attack carries over to the next creature, assuming the same attack roll also hits that creature, and continues doing so until either the attack misses the next creature or there is no more overkill damage.

In practice, using this rule against mobs of identical summoned creatures is effectively equivalent to treating the summoned mob as a single large pool of hit points, somewhat like a swarm. As an example, suppose a big enemy rolls 24 damage on an attack that hits against a swarm of wolves with 11 HP each. The attack will kill 2 wolves and deal 2 damage to a 3rd one. This will give melee attackers a fighting chance against these large hordes by making it easier for them to quickly thin them out, hopefully without seeming overly punishing to the players. Note that you probably want to use the cleave rules only when attacking mobs, not in any other context. And it's probably fair to let your players also use the cleave rules against any enemy mobs they encounter as well, to make things feel fair.

To resolve multiple attacks against mobs more expediently, roll all the attacks at once, then roll the total damage for all the hits and then apply this total damage to the mob using the cleave rules above. You can describe this narratively as an enemy hacking their way through the horde, carving a path toward the players.

Using the cleave rules helps single-target melee attackers remain relevant against player-controlled mobs, which can in turn enable you to threaten mobs without having to always resort to big AOE spells, something you said the players are getting fed up with. If this works well, your players should actually feel less persecuted, since you are no longer obligated to throw big AOE blasters into every enemy composition in order for them to put up a fight.

Counter player-controlled mobs with enemy mobs

One obvious counter to player-controlled mobs is to throw enemy mobs at them. However, you are probably loathe to use this tactic because it will slow down combat even more. But, if you find that the above rules allow you to handle mobs more quickly and efficiently, this opens the door for you to incorporate similar mobs into enemy compositions without bogging things down so much. Obviously, you should only try this once you have player buy-in for the above rules and feel you have mob combat running smoothly.

Play test!

Obviously you will need to see how these rules work in practice with your group. If your summoners really like rolling dozens of attacks, this isn't going to be very satisfying for them. On the other hand, maybe they'll like getting to automatically roll damage without an attack roll, making it feel similar to an AOE spell. Even if they really like rolling dozens of attacks, maybe you can still convince them that it's not very fair of them to be hogging the spotlight like that when everyone else only rolls at most 2 or 3 attacks, and this is a way for them to have their cake and eat it too. You can also emphasize that running combats more quickly lets them get through more gameplay and story in the same amount of time, which might be more rewarding overall for them even if individual combat rounds don't feel as spectacular. Regardless, I think this is worth trying for at least one battle/session to see how it works. Make sure to present it as a test to see how they like it, rather than a declaration of "this is how mobs work now".

Remember, the standard D&D combat rules are already a coarse approximation of real combat. When fights suddenly get an order of magnitude larger, it's OK to further coarsen that approximation for the sake of expediency. And it's also OK to switch back to the normal combat rules for a particularly pivotal round where the exact number of hits from a mob might determine whether an important bad guy lives or dies.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Yeah, I start out saying to use it for enemies attacking player-controlled mobs, since that's the problem to be addressed, but there's the bit at the end about allowing players to cleave through enemy mobs as well, for fairness. (In practice, I suspect enemy mobs are going to be rare.) \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Jan 29 at 16:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting! Not sure I'm totally on board, but still interesting :) \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jan 29 at 16:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch The main reason I suggest the cleave rules is because OP mentioned feeling obligated to use mostly AOE spells to thin the herd, even when that doesn't make sense narratively, to the point of stretching credibility. The cleave rules can help make melee attacks more relevant again. I'll edit to be more specific about this. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Jan 29 at 16:10
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Law of Averages, Streamlining & an Initiative Buddy

I have had similar problems, where having a bunch of summoned creatures, allies, henchmen, companions, and multiple attacks from some classes can change he nature of battles - from being exciting, dynamic and interesting to a grinding and frustrating halt, where my head grows dizzy and the players get bored waiting for their turn. Zzz...

As mentioned already it is important to discuss your plans with players and explain that the changes are to pick up the pace and make the battles more dynamic and fun again.

Law of Averages

This is a fantastic technique to speed up the resolution of damage. Many of the DMs I have played with have used this as well as using it myself. For example, if a player summons 8 1/4 CR creatures (wolves), then, on a successful attack roll, the creatures do average damage - instead of you/player rolling for damage. The average damage is right next to where it says Hit: # in the Actions section of each creature, e.g. a Wolf: Hit: 7 (2d4 + 2) piercing damage.

Note: If you want to calculate average damage for a homebrew or modified creature, halve the die and add .5, then times the number of dice, and add the modifier at the end. In the above example, the average of a d4 is ((4/2)+.5=2.5)x2 + 2 = 7. Round down if there is a .5 remaining.

Streamlining rolls

Suggest grouping together the initiative of creatures under a player's command, rather than each creature having its own initiative. For instance, a player uses Conjure Woodland Beings (PHB p. 226) and calls forth 8 wolves. You can have all eight wolves attack on the same initiative. Suggest that for attack rolls the player rolls all dice at once, e.g. 8 x d20 to determine how many hit. Then resolve damage by using average damage (as above). For simplicity you can even have a house-rule to pair up the initiative, i.e the conjured wolves' initiative is the same as the player's, so it all happens on that player's turn.

Related: How do I handle initiative and turns for a group of monsters?

Initiative Buddy

Finally, have a player keep track of the initiative for you. Delegating this takes pressure of your shoulders you and allows you to concentrate on keeping the battle moving quickly. The Initiative Buddy is also in charge of telling the next person to prepare what they'd like to do when it comes to their turn. This minimises the classic moments of : "Erm, yeah so let me look through all my spells, wait, what did that do again, let me check my PHB, ok, what does that mean?, oh ok, I'm still not sure, erm... ok, I've decided. Oh wait, I don't have any 3rd level slots left."

These three simple techniques, can make battles run much smoother and return fun to the table.

Break a leg! ;)

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Minion Mobs

For speeding up combat with a bunch of summons, I would suggest combining your minion groups into batches and then treating those as single entities. The new Mob has a number of attacks per round equal to (total summons * number of attacks per summon). They share a health pool equal to (average summon health * total number of summons). When an enemy attacks the mob, every time they do (average summon health) damage, one of the summons dies and the mob loses that many attacks. Since your mob is uniform, enemies can attack vs the base creature's AC.

Practical Math

Enough theory, let's look at a real(ish) example. None of these numbers are going to be correct because I don't have a MM handy and I want to make the math easier.

Your high-level druid summons 24 wolves, that have an average of 5 HP and a 1d6 Bite attack each round at +2. You create a Wolf Mob with (24 * 5) 120 HP, which can do 24 Bite attacks each round. Invest in a dice rolling app. The Mob gets a single initiative roll and acts fully on its turn. When enemies attack the mob, every 5 points of damage that they deal reduces the mob's number of attacks by 1. Any attacks against the mob are vs AC 15 (or whatever a Wolf AC is).

Special Considerations

Since the Mob is an abstraction of a large group of the same creature, you need to decide how closely you want to represent that concept. Technically, if an enemy Fighter hits for 20 points of damage they would normally only kill 1 wolf. But you could argue that the wolves are close enough together that "extra" damage still hits the Mob hp pool.

If you want to stay truer to the idea of 24 individual wolves running around, then any attack that does at least (average HP) worth of damage kills a single wolf. But then if you do something like a Fireball spell, you have to figure out how many wolves get hit by hit and subtract that number from the Mob count. Anything that needs saving throws would need be rolled multiple times, but since the Mob shares base saves that is just another fistful of d20s.

Fast and Fun

My suggestion would be to keep the Mobs at a higher level of abstraction and just treat each attack against them as being against the whole and subtract numbers accordingly. If a spell does damage on a save then roll a single saving throw, but if the spell effect is some other thing that removes enemies on a failed save then roll that many d20s and just decrease the Mob count by however many failed.

If you find out that melee fighters are too strong against the mob then you can go back to each attack only killing a single member. If you think the Mob is too strong on its turn then maybe break it down into smaller groups, say two Mobs of 12 wolves each with different initiatives.

The rules are going to take some tweaking, and you are definitely going to have to get your players on board with whatever you decide on. But lumping creatures together to speed up play is absolutely feasible. Swarms are an extreme example of the same thing, since no one is going to roll attacks for hundreds of CR1/16 Rats.

Shutting down your PCs play style is going to feel unfair and unfun for them. Changing the rules to speed things up should still let them have the fun of rolling tons of dice without every combat taking 7 hours to resolve.

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On the DM side

  1. Don't nerf! That just leads to hurt feelings and bad attitudes.
  2. Make encounters where summoning a stampede isn't an option
    • 10'-15' corridors would prevent a lot of beast melee attacks
    • Small rooms prevent hordes from appearing as they can't occupy each others spaces
    • Innocent bystanders
    • So many creatures give quarter, half, or full cover to enemies
  3. Talk to the players. Is this the type of game they really want to play?
  4. What's good for the goose... There are evil summoners in the world too.
  5. Focus firepower on the summoners, not their minions.
    • Most summon/animate spells require concentration. And opponents at this level know it. If they can just disrupt the one guy, 24 inconveniences go away.

On the player side

  1. Pre-roll everything (my last group used this to great advantage)
    • Roll 2 d20s as well as standard damage dice. Two, because by the time the summons attack there could be advantage or disadvantage.
    • The player must determine which is the primary roll and which is the secondary roll before hand so it's not all your best rolls go first.
  2. Groups attack as one
    • Instead of each creature attacking, group them into small mobs
    • It's not 24 wolves attacking, but six packs-of-4. They must all move as a unit and attack as a unit. They also take damage as a unit
    • Take the sum of all their hp, and when they have taken one creatures hp worth, one is dead. So you no longer need to track individual summons hp
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Enemy summoners is certainly a solution to the balance problem, but exacerbates the pacing issue. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan C. Thompson Jan 29 at 20:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Addendum to DM.2 Rooms with pressure plate flooring that activates traps. Make the puzzle easy, and the party can navigate it simple enough, but a dozen+ summoned creatures there's going to be an errant step somewhere. \$\endgroup\$ – aslum Jan 29 at 20:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson, it does, but sometimes players don't understand the problem until faced with it. It should only take one or two times before they see that it takes a whole session just for one encounter. And it isn't that fun with all the bookkeeping. \$\endgroup\$ – MivaScott Jan 29 at 20:42
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Use DMG mob rules to speed things up

There are two sets of them. The first is tables that map accuracy to number of hits for mass units, and the second is permitting attackers to "cleave" through multiple weak creatures (PCs as written, but use for monsters).

Enforce command limits

Neither spell gives you full control over the creatures.

Conjured animals are friendly and obey your requests, but are still animals of animal intelligence. Complex commands like "5 of you assist while 21 of you attack" or whatever are not something you can expect animals to follow without extensive training.

Similar limits apply to animate objects. Your choices to give a bonus action a general command (like guard a specific spot), or as a bonus action tell any subset to move and do a specific action. Nothing says you can do complex programming.

They'll generally move as a horde, and do the same thing en-mass.

If they start doing complex dancing within those rules, remember the PCs have 6 seconds per turn. Start saying "you start giving that order, but then 6 seconds is up. You can continue on your next turn". And not "pick a different order"; the goal is less spotlight, not more.

Use average damage

Don't roll damage for each hit. Just use the average damage values.

Do some custom building

Horde of animated arrows:

  • Large construct swarm, unaligned
  • HP: 280; 20 per arrow. AOE attacks damage all or multiple arrows at once.
  • AC: 18, Attack: +8 to hit (2 attacks), 4 damage per arrow (+1 per arrow with crusader's mantle) (56/70)
  • Swarm Cleave: Damage leftover from reducing a creature to 0 HP can be used to attack another target.
  • STR 4 (-3) DEX 18 (+4)

Wolf Pack

  • Gargantuan beast swarm, unaligned
  • HP: 240; 10 per wolf. AOE attacks damage all or multiple wolves at once.
  • AC: 13, Attack: +4 to hit (2 attacks), advantage if there is more than 1 wolf, 4 piercing damage per wolf (+1 with crusader's mantle) (96/120). DC 11+(1/3 number of wolves) strength save or be knocked prone (19)
  • Swarm Cleave: Damage leftover from reducing a creature to 0 HP can be used to attack another target.
  • STR 12 (+1) DEX 15 (+2) CON 12 (+1) INT 3 (-4) WIS 12 (+1) CHA 6 (-2)

I divided their attacks into two attack rolls, and added cleave to handle being able to drop 1 foe then move on.

I rounded base damage up, and mantle damage down.

So 14 arrows is two 56/70 damage attacks.

24 wolves is two 96/120 damage attacks.

This is ridiculous, but at least it is fast.

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This is something I've dealt with myself in a few systems, and I fell back on the language of the spells. I ruled that the summons are NPCs, so I as the GM move them. And since the spells specifically say the summons obey verbal commands, I only allowed the summoner to state general commands or objectives to a crowd, who would do their best to achieve them (which mostly just involved me pushing a pile of models around and making a few rolls). There are only six seconds in a round, after all, and there just isn't time to give out lots of detailed instructions. I told them they'd get increasingly granular control as the number of summons went down and went so far as relinquishing direct control if they summoned one thing.

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