Paradoxically, one of the best things about 4e is how fun combat is as a player. All of the myriad tricks and toys to torment and flat out embarrass a monster. That great feeling when the board lines up to your will and you roll dice for like 20 minutes. Although some schools of thought suggest taking away player options in order to increase game speed, I would argue that those are things to make sure to leave in. I prefer to look at fixes from the DMs side, to see what I can do to increase encounter speed while still keeping it threatening.
My 4e Forever project involves a megadungeon. In preparation for writing it, I have gone back to the classics, near constantly reading some old adventure or another. In the case of my Saturday Gloomwraught campaign, I am running an old classic adventure, Judges Guild's Tegel Manor. This puppy PREDATES AD&D. Not precisely a megadungeon, but 240 rooms strong in the main level nonetheless.
So far, running it has been a tremendous pleasure, and the pace and varying threat level of the encounters is allowing the exploration to flow more naturally from room to room. At 12th level with optimized PCs, we got three combats in, plus at least a solid hour of exploration, in 3 hours. That to me is about perfect pace, and while I can't promise you that a combat will take such and such long, I can give you tips on how to get close to it. I think tinkering with this stuff might help give yourself more versatility in encounter/adventure design. So if you ever want to create a 4e megadungeon or update an old classic, try these tips:
I again want to encourage DMs to try using variations of these in your games. I used two of these in the session. The old adventure has a lot of rooms that are just like 'This room has an old broken sword in it. There is a Black Mold on the bed'. You could spend the rest of your playing days trying to run 4e Solos for all of the random monsters in this thing. Savages allow for the PCs to be threatened without taking all night. By giving the monsters a combination of multi-attacks (including action points), action recovery, automatic damage (auras and otherwise), and other tweaks, they run very clean, and pack a wallop. I thought it was awesome to see that the Middle-Aged DM posted a killer Savage. thats a bad boy; very cool. If you want another example and you never checked out Sorin 'Stinky' Yeate, check it out. You've got to try these, they are like 4e DM crack.
It is hard to fully embrace random wandering monsters in 4e if each encounter is going to take forever. The story has to go somewhere, and one slog after another is not really a great story. But yet, I want to use random tables. I love random tables. I think they add tons of flavor to an area and you are going to see a slew of them in 4e Forever. But I am not just talking about random encounters. I'm talking about rolling random numbers of creatures as well.
How can you get away with this in 4e where everything is balanced to a specific threat level? You can't use monsters to high or too low or nobody will be able to hit, and if you did use a lot of monsters, it would just be hit point city and take all year. That's where Morale comes in. Morale gives the DM a flavorful way to control combat length and difficulty. And since a low Morale monster will likely flee after just one of their allies is killed, this allows you to use way more of the monsters to begin with, so you can be more 'swingy' with the number of creatures. And if it does get out of hand, the PCs might...and you might have to brace yourself for this...they might actually have to run, for once in their careers. This also really encourages the DM to use many of the same creatures for random encounters, both for ease of running them, but also bc the fact that they may flee so early, discourages you from spending a lot of time on stuff you might not use.
So, in 4e Forever, you will see things like '3d4 Giant Wasps". A wasp gets really pissed and stings like hell, but ultimately it only wants to protect its area. It does not reason or try to follow a party or hold grudges. If seriously injured, it will likely stop fighting. A wasp's morale score might vary between 5-3, so even though 12 seems like a ton of Standard creatures to possibly throw at a party, the odds are really good that the fight will be over quickly. Personally, I love the flexibility it gives me in encounter design. I can have set-piece encounters that are really planned, or I can run more random old-school encounters with large numbers of monsters.
Speaking of fighting large numbers of monsters, give your players some henchmen!
This is going great so far in my group. My henchmen rules are here. Basically, once you hit 8th level you start attracting your own henchmen each level; they are kind of like super-minions. They help allow for a little swinginess in encounter difficulty, add a ton of flavor, and are just fun basically. It was actually a little sad when the first one died-died. Megadungeons are somehow more fun with a huge party.
Use unusual encounter areas
You could talk about this all day, but using both large and small encounter areas can add a lot of old-school goodness to your megadungeon. A lot of the rooms in Tegel Manor are very, very small. The whole party and a monster can not all fit into some of them. While using small-sized rooms exclusively would be a bad thing, it sure is awesome to do from time to time. You can also use several connected rooms to be sort of a 'sector' of the megadungeon.The PCs can enter any of them and attract creatures from all of those rooms. This is a good way to combine monster types as well as stagger how you add monsters into the combat, which is something I love. That 'should've saved the Daily' look on a player's face when the zombies walk in at the end of the second round.
Anybody running any 4e megadungeons out there? Leave a post if so!