[RPG] How to make combat with a lot of summoned creatures quicker


I currently GM for a level 13 D&D 5e group of 5 players. Recently combat has become heavily bogged down, primarily because the party has discovered their new favourite ('Death by a Thousand Cuts') trick of Crusader’s Mantle + summoning every possible creature they can. Between, potentially, the 5 player characters, the two NPCs they often travel with, a familiar, the Circle of the Shepherd druid summoning 24 wolves, and the sorcerer animating 14 tiny objects, they can populate a small militia.

As a result, our rounds end up taking a long time just in terms of the number of turns. The rounds also become very uneven, with the summoner players having much longer in the spotlight than, say, the rogue. I have tried to explain to my players that this tactic is not very fun to GM for, and I have also contrived situations such that their enemies have more saving throw/AOE attacks available to them to try and thin the herd (though this does not always make sense and leads to my players having a weird persecution complex).

Historically, our combats have been fast paced and I already encourage players to have their turns ready before they come around. The main problem here is keeping track of dozens and dozens of creatures and the necessary dice rolling that goes along with it.

How can I run these types of encounters in a more fun and 'rapid fire' way with less admin? Is it possible to better even out the total time-per-turn, such that the non-summoner characters feel as influential? Should I:

  1. Approach this issue more as a group discussion about table dynamics?
  2. Adapt the encounters I throw at them?
  3. Devise new mass-summon house rules to try and speed things up in a fair way?
  4. Set a cap on the number of summons I'll allow to be active a once?
  5. Some other approach I've not thought of?

Any advice or experience would be appreciated.

Best Answer

There is no easy answer

This is a tough situation and the solutions are all generally things that can make players feel that their strategies are being specifically targeted. That doesn't leave you with a lot of options for how to address, but here are some considerations in evaluating what to do.

Talk it out

As has been discussed, talk about what's happening with the players. Managing so many creatures isn't fun for you, and that's totally reasonable. Let them know it's a cool tactic and can be used, but please don't use it all the time. Chat about what they like about it, what concerns you, and at least see if they can understand where your coming from and see if they'll choose to alter their strategies.

I had played a bard for awhile that used animate objects and it honestly got tiring for me, too. And it seemed too much, so I only used it when it really made sense to use it.

Summoning is tricky, the DM technically picks

Going by pure RAW, the character's aren't picking the creatures, the DM does. But honestly, that's not a lot of fun. I don't think I've played at a table where the DM has picked the summoned creatures. Using this in your discussion may be a reasonable tactic to show that if you wanted to press the rules-first approach, then you could allow them to summon, but that you choose (maybe randomly) the creatures. That limits the capability within the rules, but it definitely isn't quite the same fun/feeling for the players.

Nerfing the spells

I'm really not a fan of this, especially if the strategy and use is by the book (which it kinda isn't with the above, but you get the point.) Taking away toys because you don't like it can present it's own table issues. There are better ways to handle this.

Encounter design

This ultimately is most likely your biggest lever here. While you don't want to create every encounter that counters this strategy, it isn't crazy to start filtering them and also having the minions of the BBEG know the strategy to counter it.


The most obvious here is going to be bringing in monsters that are resistant or immune to mundane damage. Summoned creatures aren't usually dealing damage that bypasses magical damage resistance or immunity, so bringing monsters in with those traits nullifies the summoned creatures strategy.

Next up is area affect attacks. These summoned creatures generally also don't have a lot of HP (especially the tiny animate objects). Drop an AOE on the, and you'll wipe them out.

Environment design can also play a part here. Make it so it's difficult to maneuver or have room for the summoned creatures and the option to summon them gets taken off the table.

Keep everything as-is, but introduce Handling Mobs

Chapter 8 of the DMG (Thanks goodguy5!) offers some optional rules around Handling Mobs:

Instead of rolling an attack roll, determine the minimum d20 roll a creature needs in order to hit a target by subtracting its attack bonus from the target’s AC. You’ll need to refer to the result throughout the battle, so it’s best to write it down.

Look up the minimum d20 roll needed on the Mob Attacks table. The table shows you how many creatures that need that die roll or higher must attack a target in order for one of them to hit. If that many creatures attack the target, their combined efforts result in one of them hitting the target....

If the attacking creatures deal different amounts of damage, assume that the creature that deals the most damage is the one that hits. If the creature that hits has multiple attacks with the same attack bonus, assume that it hits once with each of those attacks. If a creature’s attacks have different attack bonuses, resolve each attack separately.

This attack resolution system ignores critical hits in favor of reducing the number of die rolls. As the number of combatants dwindles, switch back to using individual die rolls to avoid situations where one side can’t possibly hit the other.

I haven't personally used this before and, as always, talk to your players about it. This isn't about you as the DM using this for your monsters, but minimizing the player interaction with their summons. This may not be what they're looking for.

But having fun is the key

Balancing letting your players use the tactic they enjoy with challenging them and yourself is the name of the game. Let them shine, but also put them in situations where their go-to strategy isn't an option. Coming up with new strategies and working out how to handle an encounter differently can be fun, too.

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