An oft-vaunted advantage of TSR-era D&D is that it lends itself to mildly faster combat than 3.X (in whiuch the interraction of feats and other factors can occasionally slow things down as the participants work out bonuses and other game mechanical effects) and substantially faster than 4E (where the implicit assumptions of the game lends itself to combat encounters turning into fairly involved grid skirmishes).
This was brought home for me in yesterday’s AD&D session, where I decided to run a brief and whimsical mini-adventure since one of the players was absent. (He’s one of these casual gamers who won’t take time out of his honeymoon to sit alone in front of a computer playing D&D online – what a dork!) I was actually able to make the adventure reasonably detailed and complete it within the session and toss in a quick but vicious combat.
To be fair, had I just thrown the players into a fight against 5 minions in 4E it would have been comparably quick. On the other hand, that isn’t how balancing encounters in 4E works. I’m not going to edition-war here and spout off about how running balanced encounters in 4E is the death of roleplaying – if I were running 4E, I’d be going for balanced encounters because I see the fun of 4E as residing in its detailed tactical combat and would feel that if I didn’t implement that in a 4E game I wouldn’t be delivering the best the game has to offer.
But equally, I wouldn’t try to run a one-evening adventure in 4E featuring a balanced combat unless I intended to have very little happening before or after it.