The thing that really surprised me about running 4e was how amazingly simple it was in practice. Setup is perhaps a different story, which I can’t speak to yet, but assuming you have an adventure in hand and a bunch of players, it’s nearly frictionless to run.
A well-presented adventure, as per WotC’s example, puts stat blocks for each monster with each encounter. These literally have 70% of what you need to run the encounter. You get each attack listed clearly, with the bonus to hit and the damage included, along with any other effects. Everything the monster might do is right there.
Each encounter also has tactics and of course room descriptions, which is another 15% of what you need. Tactics aren’t absolutely necessary but it’s handy to have the script for monster actions available. The room description gives you special features, treasure, and all that. Note that traps and such are statted up as monsters, so you continue to have the stat blocks handy and the mechanics aren’t any different. Skill challenges also fall into this chunk of material.
All in all, an encounter is going to be two or three pages. I haven’t checked but I bet the vast majority of encounters are two pagers.
The other 10% is condition modifiers, attack modifiers such as cover, and so on. I think I’ll have these memorized pretty soon, but in the meantime there’s an excellent Dungeon Master’s Screen which is stable and laid out in landscape format. The latter means you can see players behind it. It has all the charts you want. Literally. It’s impressive.
I added in Paizo’s GameMastery Combat Pad, which is a magnetic whiteboard designed for initiative tracking. I didn’t need it; I could have tracked initiative on the battlemat. But being able to slide counters around when people hold or delay is handy.
So what I discovered was that I could run the whole game standing up, with the combat pad tucked in the adventure booklet, in my left hand. Right hand’s free for dice, moving minis, checking off hit points. This may sound really trivial, but I ran four combats in five hours and I didn’t have to look anything up more than once or twice — OK, having players doing some lookups for me was handy, but even so. 4e is ridiculously easy to run.
I’m thinking about more tweaks. I found some full-sized 1″ maps for the WotC modules that some people did in Dundjinni and Campaign Cartographer (note to players: spoilers, try not to peek too hard), and I think I can use those to good effect to cut down on the time it takes me to draw maps. Also they’re pretty.
I’m definitely gonna use these encounter worksheets next time. It’ll make it easier to track hit points. I’m considering backing one of ’em with magnetic paper so I could use the initiative magnets on that instead. We’ll see.
But it’s all gilding the lily. The core smoothness lies in the game. Kudos to WotC and the designers.