Home » Ancient Posts » D&D Combat Length Poll: How Long Should the Average Combat Take to Play    
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@Phil DeLuca: While OD&D's rules were an extension of the man-to-man part of a set of minis rules, they did not play much like those rules by the time the game was published in 1974. No version of TSR D&D was about making detailed tactical combat decisions. Combat was always very abstract and very fast because individual combat encounters were never intended to the only (or even the main) point of play.

In the 1990s TSR added some optional rules (the Player's Option books) which added an optional set of detailed tactical combat rules that were quite complex and required a long time to play out each combat — but they were optional.

The designers of D&D 4e did assume that what 3e players "really meant" when they said they wanted shorter combats was that they wanted more exciting combat that took as long or longer to play out. Unfortunately for the 4e designers, many pre-4e players did not want what the 4e designers thought they wanted.

You are probably right, however, 4e is the only version of D&D that manages what you consider interesting and dynamic tactical combat — however, it had to change the game so much that it no longer seemed to be D&D to many pre-4e players and it did not provide shorter combats — even as an option — for those 3e players who said they wanted shorter combats and actually meant what they said.


Phil: I disagree, obviously. From its earliest incarnation, D&D used a highly abstracted, not tactically-detailed, combat system. Players would make abstract, high-level decisions regarding combat and the rest would be entrusted to the abstract principles embedded in the combat tables and Referee decisions regarding special instructions from the players. It would not be until later that game systems would develop detailed, tactically-oriented combat systems that required players to make moment-by-moment character decisions related to combat, and require special tactical savvy on the part of the players.


D&D's oldest roots are in tactical war gaming. To say "D&D is not" is to ignore history.

That said, I maintain that this is not a "real" piece of research – players want exciting and dynamic combat, not necessarily short combat. It's hard to get that in the "middle editions" (1E through 3E) but 4E and the very earliest seem to manage well.


Clarifying: If I understand correctly, this is to be the average length of a single encounter/combat, without regard to any narrative status such as "boss monster", "scrubs", or whatever. Correct?

Bah, who am I kidding? I'd want a D&D combat to be as short as possible regardless. There are some games that center on tactical combat and the choices involved therein, but D&D is not and should not be one of them (for a whole host of reasons, the most important of which is that it is the point of entry into the hobby for most people, and tactically-oriented combat is best reserved for people who have already found that they like the hobby and want to explore that aspect of play in more depth).


I've posted about this poll on the Google+ RPF and tabletop communities, so fans of all editions should see it.

Greyhawk Grognard

No 4E fans, I see!