Numerous voices are currently discussing the resting mechanics and speed of combat encounters during D&D 4e games. More specifically, the problem addressed is the sometimes agonizing length of combat encounters and how it can drain the momentum from an otherwise good night of gaming.
The most recent addition to the fray is the thoughtful article by Robert J. Schwalb, which presents a possible solution for the slow grind of combat and awkward rest mechanics in 4e. As the speed of combat is discussed on forums and blogs (not to mention blowing up Twitter on some days), one thing seems to be missing from the overall discussion.
Perhaps I’m not looking in the right place, but I haven’t seen anyone analyze a gaming session in terms of how much time is spent on specific tasks before, during and after combat encounters. The thought occurred to me that I could record our next gaming session, but I reailzed that no one reading this article would know if our gaming group is similar to the majority of groups out there or an outlier. The data would be easy for many to dismiss and ignore.
However, I remembered the Dungeons & Dragons Penny Arcade & PvP Podcast Series, which is one of the main reasons I got back into D&D in the first place. The Second Series introduced me to the mechanics of 4e and reminded me how fun it could be to sit around a table with some friends, goof around, roll dice and beat the hell out of monsters.
Also, everyone can still access these podcasts (and if you haven’t, then you’re absolutely cheating yourself) to determine if their home games are in the same ballpark in terms of pace and style. There are other articles that discuss and respond to the series, but I believe a time-analysis will show interesting – and perhaps surprising – information about how time is spent during any given combat encounter in 4e, and how best to alter the experience to improve the game for DMs and PCs.
The first task was to create categories to code the podcasts. I kept the categories simple because it is possible to spend hours listening, rewinding, and listening again to get exact statistics. I settled on the following two categories to analysis the time of the turns during combat:
- Roleplaying & Tactical Decisions
- Rolling, Calculating & Results
If I had more time, then I would expand upon these categories. But they will do for now. I split each PCs’ turn into the above categories. The first category counts everything between the DM informing the player it is their turn to when the PC decides on their attack and prepares to roll. The second category begins when the PC rolls, calculates damage (if applicable) and any other discussions before the DM informs the next PC it is their turn.
I am not including the first episode in the series in the analysis; the group spends approximately 31 minutes on introductions and role-playing to begin the adventure. During those 31 minutes, the party interacts with each other and various NPCs. They ultimately arrive at their destination, and a combat encounter begins just as the episode concludes.
I analyzed the second episode of the series, which begins immediately with the process of assigning initiative. Initiative is established within 30 seconds, and I removed that small fragment from the time analysis. The combat encounter includes no terrain effects except for a large hole in the floor of the tower; the hole never comes into play although it is discussed tactically as an option. The enemies for the encounter are two human crossbowman and four human minions.
First, I recorded how long each turn lasted for the PCs and the DM. Whenever the DM prompted a PC that is was their turn, the timer started. As soon as the PC made their decisions and rolled dice to attack, then I stopped recording time for the Roleplaying & Tactical Decisions portion of the turn, and started timing for the Rolling/Calculating & Results portion of their turn.
For example, Binwin Bronzebottom is the first PC to act in the encounter. The DM notifies Binwin that his turn is ready 30 seconds into play (after initiative was decided). During the next 162 seconds, Binwin asks the DM questions about the environment, consults with his party and debates on movement and action options. Binwin decides on his actions, including an attack, and decides to roll his d20 at the 3:12 mark of the podcast. These actions were placed in the first category described above – Roleplaying & Tactical Decisions.
Binwin rolls and consults with his party to ensure he is adding up his modifiers correctly. He checks with the DM and is informed his attack hits. The DM records the damage and then announces at 4:34 of the podcast that it is the monsters’ turn. The 97 seconds between the 3:12 mark when Binwin rolled and the 4:34 mark when the next turn starts were placed in the second category described above – Rolling/Calculation & Results.
All turns were recorded with this system (yes, it took awhile!).
The results are presented in a few ways below. To begin, let’s simply look at how much time was spent in each round.
Continue reading “Analyzing Combat Encounters – Returning to the Penny Arcade/PvP Podcast Series”