A lesson learned about mass combat

I have a long running D&D campaign going at the moment; this is my first real campaign so I have learned a few things along the road. One thing I learned through a terrible second half of a session is how to NOT do good mass combat.

So the group of heroes had entered a dungeon under a swamp, built to god of death, typical D&D stuff, when they on their way out entered a previously unexplored room. This room was packed with zombies, ’cause the bad guy used it as a zombie storage room. It was a optional encounter. The heroes entered the room and started murdering the 15-20 something zombies, of which some were a beefed up kind of zombie, AKA lots a more hit points.

I mainly did two things wrong with this encounter. The first thing was giving the players a combat advantage in the form of high ground. The zombies could only get to the heroes by going up a stair, which the party’s beef cake blocked and could just push the zombies back down the stairs. So no one in the party, except maybe the person on the stair was in any danger.

Secondly, I rolled all the dice. You might think “isn’t role playing about rolling dice and see what results come out?” Well yes, but when every zombies gets to do a roll, that takes time, a lot of time. The encounter lasted over an hour, just because I made every zombie roll their die individually. Also, I made a third mistake, which is debatable. In the beginning of the encounter I wouldn’t say a zombie died unless their hit points were at zero. This only prolonged the suffering and by the end of the encounter I let the zombies die like flies just to end the combat.

Now lets clear a few things up, a long combat encounter is not bad in and of itself, but when there is no real danger, action, drama or stakes at stakes, it just becomes a choir. Combat should not be tedious, if it is, it is done wrong. You could have a whole session centered on combat, but than it has to be interesting combat. Giving the players/heroes an advantage in combat is also not bad, but when the advantage cancels out the danger of combat, it is probably a bad advantage, well at least in this situation, since the fight still lasted over an hour.

So what should I have done instead?

The advantage should probably not been so strong, the chokepoint with the stairs was cool but I could have let one or two zombies get up the sides or swarmed the player at the stairs. Regarding the dice rolling, instead of rolling individual dice for the zombies I should have made just one roll for all zombies of the same kind and used that result when they used the d20. As for damage, I should have used the average number stated in the zombie stats and only rolled to see if they hit. Finally, I shouldn’t have rolled unique hit points number for the zombies, or if I did, used one for all of the same typ. Instead I should have used the number stated in their stat block.

Those are my mistakes, try to learn from the so you won’t have to do the same.

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