This is a little thought experiment that I like to apply to games I’m playing or running. It’s just a simple question, but it ends up highlighting a lot of useful things, at least for me. It consists of asking one thing:
If the players could resolve every fight quickly and trivially (such as with a single roll), what would the game look like?
The purpose of this is not to theorize what your players would do if they were the worlds foremost ass kickers, rather it is to ask how much your game depends on fight scenes to hang together. It reveals whether fight scenes are a complementary component of your game, or if they’re really the only reason you play.
There’s not a wrong answer to this. If you’re running a 4e game that is basically all fight scenes with a little connective tissue, then that’s fine so long as you’re aware that you’re doing it. It’s very easy to get sucked into a nicely produced adventure or a meticulously handcrafted dungeon and think that the framework of walls and doors is actually creating something satisfying.
It also makes a good reality check for your pacing. Stopping and thinking about what happens if fights are much shorter forces you to think about how many fights you get in a session and how much time they take up. When I stopped and looked at this in my D&D 3e game it was clear that sessions were falling into a “plot sandwich” model, which is to say that I’d get in 1 or two fight scenes, with a clear pattern of plot-fight-plot or fight-plot-fight. Knowing this, in turn, helped me plan more satisfying sessions for everyone because I had a realistic sense of how much ground we could actually cover in a session.
Now, some games have an easy answer to this, because hey, no fight scenes at all. That’s all well and good, but the question is worth considering if only to alter to suit your game. If fights aren’t a cornerstone of your game, think of something else that is, and ask what happens if it’s abbreviated. Doing so is not a proposal that you actually remove the element, rather, it’s to see what thoughts and ideas its absence (and possibly the horrible mess it creates) suggests.
1 – Though that is also a fantastic question.