18 ways to increase combat duration

Table of Contents

It is impossible to defeat an army of goblins in
5 rounds. It takes at least 6 rounds.

Role-playing sucks?

They’re called role-playing games but for most of us the fun part is killing stuff. Why else would computer games like World of Warcraft get millions of players? Because they got rid of most of the role-playing and kept all the monster bashing.

The threshold

Fights break out all the time in the world of Dungeons & Dragons but they never last long – about 5 rounds according to this article about the monster creation process. The article mentions a concept that some DMs use intuitively – the threshold. The threshold is the moment in combat when the monster changes its strategy. When it’s almost dead, a monster will attempt to flee, go berserk, dance a polka, whatever. Makes sense. But Wizards proposes abilities tailored around the threshold. I think it’s a good idea and it should keep players on their toes.

18 ways to make fights last longer

Anyhow, 5 rounds for an entire combat is not nearly enough. So here is 18 ways to increase combat duration in your D&D campaign:

  1. Fudge monster hit points. If the PCs are nowhere near death adding a bunch of hit points to the opponent will make things interesting.
  2. Low monster damage. If the PCs don’t take much damage they can fight longer. This is great in combination with tip #3.
  3. Don’t give the PCs any – or weak – offensive magic item. If they can’t deal a lot of damage the fights will last much longer.
  4. High monster AC. It is much more rewarding – and much longer – to kill a creature you can barely hit.
  5. High PC AC. This works for the PCs too. If you want them to fight for a long time you’ve got to keep them alive.
  6. Easy way to hide but no way to run. The monsters have an easily accessible place t0 hide and regroup but no place to run. The PCs can also have a similar resource. Kind of a reciprocal ambush situation.
  7. Reinforcements. Let the enemy come in waves. The PCs don’t face much risk when they face only a handful of weak opponents at once but the monsters just keep coming.
  8. Feeble mobs. If you have a bunch of high-level characters in the party, let them have fun and slay an insane amount of mindless zombies. Always fun.
  9. Fort siege. Set up a siege with attacks coming from infantry, siege towers, catapults, tunnels under the walls, flying mounts, you name it. Just keep it coming.
  10. Army fight. This could be part of a fort siege. The PCs take part in a chaotic melee outside the castle walls.
  11. Regenerating monsters. Aren’t trolls great?
  12. The monster cannot be killed. Give a usually easy opponent an immunity to your party’s main strengths. It’s not nice but your PCs don’t need to know they didn’t stand a chance! Be careful not to kill your whole party.
  13. Summon more monsters. Let the enemy summon monsters halfway through the fight (that’s a threshold ability!).
  14. Mirror image. I still remember the first mage I faced in my very first game as a player. I still hate that spell to this day.
  15. Split the party. They can still be on the same map, all fighting at once, but unable to collaborate. That could possibly reduce their fighting skills enormously.
  16. Allow easy healing for PCs. Potions, hidden cleric backup, band-aids for the PCs so they can take on a tough opponent or a large number of enemies and take a lot of damage without dying.
  17. Time stop. If a wizard anywhere in the world casts time stop, your fight just got a little longer!
  18. Improvize. This is essential and could / should be combined with any technique you choose to use.

Let me know if this stuff works for you or if you have fought epic battles before. 10 rounds? Easy. 25 rounds? I don’t think I’ve ever managed 25. 50 rounds? Any comments, suggestions and stories are welcome.

Keep rollin’.

19 thoughts on “18 ways to increase combat duration”

  1. One of my most memorable “long” encounters was with a party around level 5 or so. Basically we were in a cave type dungeon of some sort. Long story short, we eventually wound up fighting an endless horde of zombies. Through certain contexts and clues alluding to limitless magical undead making stuff, we quickly realized that it was -literally- endless and had to escape. We fought through a more manageable group of zombies during our escape, all the while being chased by the endless group. We eventually came to a clearing where there were some boats and a couple of the main-line fighters held off the horde long enough to get away. Oh, and then a dragon showed up.

  2. There has been talk here of changing the environment or changing the enemies. Here’s a trick I used once that worked out really well: I gave the enemy the spell “Death Stop Shade”. It was a one-time use item, but it was basically a cloud that floated over an enemy’s head (think of a cartoon thundercloud over an angry Donald Duck). Anyone within the shade simply could not die. The cloud got smaller each round, and once the enemy’s legs had fallen off he could no longer fight with his hands because he was dragging his not-yet-corpse around to stay under the shrinking cloud. It was a bit gruesome, but fun, and allowed the PC’s to goof off a bit during a serious fight.

  3. When they fight a high level creature have it call out very loudly and attract more creatures to fight and also when they fight like insects there could be a colony of them near by.

  4. The WotC article says that the typical monster has an average lifespan of 5 rounds. This is primarily a byproduct of 3.x ed. D&D’s emphasis on a single monster (or just a few monsters) in an encounter. So another solution could be, switch to a different system!

    I would caveat that a lot of the suggested ways to increase a combat’s duration could very easily be Not Fun. I have both played through and GMed several of these methods and generally found that more rounds = diminishment of climax. But if the battle lasts long enough, the sense of satisfaction increases. Tricky balance.

    I would say the key to any increased battle duration is to not let it grind into an “I roll… You roll…” cycle. It’s really hard for the GM to sustain excitement after you’ve described for the 20th time how the drow soldier has missed your character… The best way to prevent the grind was nailed by niggle: change the environment.

    A variety of ways to do this:

    1) give the PCs a reason to move. Maybe one of the combatants is attempting to flee with a needed object – the PCs should pursue into a new area with new tactical considerations.

    2) have the environment change on them. Niggle’s mechanical/magical mayhem room is a great idea. Is the room sinking? Caving in? Is it some sort of factory with conveyor belts and moving cranes? Slow-flowing lava rolling towards them?

    3) give the PCs ways to change the environment. Opening/closing a portcullis, creating barricades or cave-ins, severing a rope bridge, etc.

    I recently ran a game where the party invaded an ogre lair. The game could have very easily just been a grind of wave after wave of ogres. And it was. Except I gave the party lots of chances to change the environment by withdrawing and pursing to new areas, creating barricades and a cave-in, and then the ogres tried to smoke them out. Hundreds of dice rolls over and over against the same basic monsters for hours on end, but it turned out to be a pretty fun game instead of a drag.

  5. A 16th level Ninja with a +45 Hide, +50 Move Silently and a 47 AC… With a Short Bow. Attack, Hide with -20 = 1d20+25… He he he, now they wish they’d put ranks in spot.

  6. I don’t increase the hp during the battle as such, but I usually roll them using the same rules PCs use = max at first and reroll any ones. The monsters should have the same advantages as the PCs.

    And we rarely fight plain monsters anymore – I like to add PC classes. A monk kobold is much more interesting.

  7. I increase the HP of monster mid-combat all the time. As long as my players aren’t near-death all it provides is a little more time in combat, which I know they enjoy more than walking around in the dark. Its something you have to judge moment-to-moment; if they have a really great idea to kill something, and it actually works, then don’t steal that from them. However, if they’re just stabbing it as hard as they can over and over again, then I have no problems with pumping it up a little.

    Otherwise, just pit them against a giant mob of easy to kill goons and let them chop away. Combine that with a goal (get to the bomb before it goes off, kill the boss behind all the goons, etc) to keep them motivated. Works for me!

  8. 40 rounds! Maybe it was too evil. I’m sure your players had fun. They just don’t ever want to do that again. There’s a nuance there.

  9. I had one combat last about 40 rounds, but that was considered so universally evil by my group I’ve never done it since. Essentially they were inside a mine when an enemy army came after them, and they began to retreat when more of the enemy came at them from the other side. They got stuck on a hill with enemies above and below, and artillery from an airship everywhere. Ultimately, they had to run at the forces below to draw the airship’s fire, then back away quickly and use the explosives to blow a hole in the enemy lines. I enjoyed it, but… they didn’t have a whole lot of fun.

  10. hmmm, all good ideas! u could just give the enemy a shit load of healing potions (of some sort)! the one i didnt like the most was changing PCs HP i meen they not stupid nd it would stop it bing as realistic! really even changing monsters HP isnt a good idea nd if u do u should look at changing their CR as well… i think…:P

  11. Pingback: Dungeon Mastering » How to prepare a great game in less than 30 minutes
  12. I once ran a combat where i had the terrain changing in combat (shifting sands, angled and greased stone floors, and elevating pillars of stone) that would shift at random *cough* to hinder and sometimes trap the players. the players not only quickly found ways to use the same terrain to their advantage, making combat longer and much more interactive, but used it to escape if need be. It made the combat slightly slower but more enjoyable, and not one of the players attention wandered.

  13. Good point. I guess it’s not something your reallly want to do every time. Having a super long fight should be a change of pace.

    However if you have a lot of difficult fights, the PCs would freak out and be paranoid if they ever fought a 2-rounds-and-out encounter!

  14. Figuring out the optimum duration for a battle is tricky. I used to think swamping the PCs with wave after wave of monsters was the way to go, but then I played the old gold-box Pool of Radiance game. Even after cheating my arse off, boosting stats to 25 and replicating terrific equipment, combat still used to drag on and on simply because there were so many monsters…

  15. Demons summoning other demons are especially annoying. It might not increase the length of a combat though because demons kick ass.

  16. Pingback: Basement51.com » Blog Archive » Kampaigns of B51: Timeline of Camlann

Leave a Comment