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Monday, 7th April, 2008, 02:13 AM #1
Novice (Lvl 1)
Suggestions for Speeding Up Combat
I have six players in my D&D 3.5 campaign, all between 3rd and 5th level, and already, we're having issues with the pace of combat. A large part of this is that the majority of the players are new to Dungeons and Dragons, or haven't played since AD&D was in print, or are coming to it having only played Baldur's Gate or Neverwinter Nights on their PC. So some part of the slow-down is learning curve, and we can acknowledge and accept that.
That said, we have been enjoying things so far, except for the days when a single combat takes up the four hours we have to make things happen. These long combats seem to rob the session of its momentum, and make it hard for the socially-oriented characters to have their moments to shine.
So how do we speed up the combat? Here are what I see as problems:
--Keeping track of whose turn it is, and keeping them interested until their initiative comes up.
--The time it takes for the players and myself to decide what actions to attempt.
--A general feeling on the part of the players that their actions are limited to what's in the rule-book, either because a certain action isn't allowed in a round, or because by-the-book, the action is too difficult to make it worthwhile to try.
--Too many fight-to-the-death encounters.
As far as item one goes, I currently have everyone roll, write their names down on the dry-erase board in initiative order, and cycle through the list each turn. I'm considering switching to one-side goes, and then the other, and simply going around the table. However, I don't want to penalize the high-dex characters too greatly.
As far as number two goes, I'm torn between letting this improve as our familiarity with the game increases, and buying a six-second timer.
Number three I struggle with, in that I want characters to say I do this, and to trust in me to find or make up a rule for the moment. Towards this I've come up with some cards that have "moves" or "techniques" described on them, and the applicable rules and modifiers already worked out for the specific character. The hope is this will illustrate the breadth of actions available.
The last one is the easiest, and I'm determined to have all combats be goal-oriented, and to have as few mindless or fanatical opponents as possible.
Are slow combats a frequent problem? What things have worked for other people in the past to speed them up? Are my strategies going to work? Other thoughts?
Thanks in advance for your assistance and suggestions,
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Monday, 7th April, 2008, 02:52 AM #2
Myrmidon (Lvl 10)
I have a couple of suggestions.
Get players to roll attack and damage rolls at the same time. If the attack misses then you just ignore the damage. If there is a miss chance this can also be rolled at the same time.
If a PC has multiple attacks (i.e. from iterative attacks, rapid shot, wielding 2 weapons) and they are going to be against the same target roll them all at the same time. Obviously this might not always be possible. If a PC is likely to kill his target with his first attack and then attack someone else it may be less confusing to just roll the attacks one at a time.
Give the players a short amount of time to decide what they are doing (say 20 seconds). If they can't tell you by the end of that time then they are considered to be delaying their action and the next person in the initiative order has their turn.
Get one of the players to handle initiative. It is their job to let people know who's turn it is as well as who is next so that people are ready to take their actions as quickly as possible.
If anyone is playing a spellcaster get them to write the spell details (range, duration, etc.,) on to some index cards so they can quickly tell you the relevant details.
Get players to write down the book and page numbers for their feats, abilities, magic items, etc., That way, if you need to look it up to check something you know exactly where to find the information. This is really helpful if the PC has abilities from a number of different splatbooks. Sometimes it's hard to remember if that feat was from Complete Arcane or Complete Mage.
That's all I can think of for now. I'm sure there are quite a few more that I will remember later.
Olaf the Stout
Currently playing in a 5E Lost Mine of Phandelver / Princes of the Apocalypse campaign
Monday, 7th April, 2008, 01:31 PM #3
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Monday, 7th April, 2008, 01:51 PM #4
Gallant (Lvl 3)
We use a large dry erase board to track initiative so everyone can look up and see what the initiative order is and know when their turn is coming up.
Monday, 7th April, 2008, 02:49 PM #5
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
I'm with Olaf the Stout.
- Let one of the players handle Initiative.
- Let one or two players handle rule questions. I was both lucky and unlucky for having rule lawyers in my group. The bad part is that they really want to play it by the book. The good part is that they bring their books along and are willing to look things up when it is not their turn. Fight fire with fire, I say! Works for me...
- Roll as many dice together as possible.
- Provide "combat sheets" for your players where they can write down their to hit, damage, etc. for the various common buff combos. No more mumbling "well... +7 to hit, +1 because of Bless, don't forget Prayer, Protection of Evil, and now I'm Enlarged, or does that cancel? Uhm... and favorite enemy... Uhhh..." Let them compute it once and write it down. Some people can add up lots of numbers very quickly. I’m not one of them, and neither are some of my players. This is for us.
- Suggest a common-sense action or Delay if they aren't sure what to do. I find this helps the not-so-tactically-minded players. I suggest "Ready an action to hit the first monster to come within range!" and they'll brighten up and nod. Avoid providing more choice. More choice results in more time spent making a decision.
- All spellcasters should have Spell Record Sheets. Spellcasters are not allowed at my table unless they bring those sheets along!
Monday, 7th April, 2008, 04:17 PM #6
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
The best way to speed up combat is to have your players master the rules. At the very least, they need to get familiar with the basics of combat and the abilities possessed by their PCs. No amount of cheat-sheets, whiteboards, and rolling-in-advance are going to work if the players are not interested in learning the system. At the very least, some of the players need to get up to speed so that everything doesn't rely on you, i.e., so they can help each other while you focus on running the game.
If your players are not interested in this, I would seriously consider looking at a simpler, less tactical RPG to play. Honestly, I know a lot of people who are in love with the "setting" of D&D, but really aren't interested in the mechanics. If this is the case, I would take a look at games like The Shadow of Yesterday, Red Box Hack, or Questers of the Middle Realms. These games are easy to play and will allow you to play the D&D your group sees in their heads, but without all the tactical crunch.
I say all this as someone who's been playing for years in groups with "story focused" and "casual" players. One of two things always happens: a) the player realizes that D&D is a tactically-focused RPG that demands a certain amount of expertise to play smoothly, and thus they step up; or b) they don't care or are uninterested in learning the system, and thus need to have their hand held each combat despite years of time spent at the table.
If a significant number of people in the group are willing to do (a), you're in luck. If you've got mostly (b) going on, you've got to either hack D&D into something simple enough to get out of their way, or you need to find something else to do with these people.
Basically, the whole group needs to solve the issue. It can't be solved just by you, unless you're willing to more than double your effort. And, honestly, I don't think that's really fair.
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Monday, 7th April, 2008, 06:45 PM #7
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
I like to use 3x5 cards and write the PC names down, and one (or more) for the foes. Whenever a PC finishes their turn, i place them on the bottom. That way if someone delays i can easily change the order too.
Monday, 7th April, 2008, 06:51 PM #8
Novice (Lvl 1)
The two groups I'm in (one I DM, the other I play) both use these initiative cards.
They've been spot-lighted by I believe the RPGA. They're handy for the DM, as every character's important stats are right there for him to look at, and if he wants to make a save or check without them knowing, the information is all there. They also have cards for monsters that list attacks and damages, as well as a spot for keeping track of hp's. The pdf can be typed in, and can be saved if you have the right program, or what I do is export the information for later use, or print them off. If you're a dm like I am and like to have your encounters planned out before hand, this is a nice tool to use.
As for other ways to speed things up, I'm with some of the others that say to give them a set time to decide what to do. As they get higher level, you should probably expect combat to slow a little more, as they have more and more options to work with. But still, limiting it to a minute or two isn't that horrible.
I also agree with the spells on cards. I've played a few casters/manifesters, and have used spell/power cards for my characters and these help a lot. Also, I've gotten to putting my magic items on index cards as well, so that I know what they can do, and I don't forget about something. Doing this with combat feats would help as well I think, and might speed things up. Of course, this would limit their ideas possibly about just what they can try. If all they do is look through their cards to decide what to do, it might put a block on their creativity.
Monday, 7th April, 2008, 09:51 PM #9
My experience exactly. If your players are already willing to invest the time and effort in learning the system, then many of the ideas posted in this thread will help. If, however, they're not willing to do that, then none of these ideas will make much difference. Like it or not (and I'm pretty firmly in the not category now) 3.x simply is not a casual player's system. The designers never hid the fact that they intentionally built the system to reward the committed players. While a casual player can enjoy the game, if they're a significant part of the group, the whole game will likely come to a grinding halt.Originally Posted by buzz
Monday, 7th April, 2008, 09:56 PM #10
The Great Druid (Lvl 17)
If a player takes too long (20-30 seconds) to decide on an action (meaning, it might take longer than that to explain, but they're decided), make them defer.
I have each player hand me a token (something unique, so we know who's is who). During initiative, we arrange them in order, including the monsters. fasterthan a white-board, less printing than the cards (which are nice BTW).
players must have the rules for any spells their PC can cast (ie. own the PH or print them out).
GM assumes that PC chooses least dangerous route, assuming enough movement, to avoid Attacks of Opportunity. This means players dawdle less playing count the squares, if they know the GM isn't going to screw them, if they don't indicate the optimum path, but clearly have enough movement to go around.
talk faster, which leads to a sense of urgency, which keeps players moving.
Tell players to plan their move before their turn (which gives more than 20 seconds to decide)
Tell players, no talking if it isn't their turn (since their PC can't be talking more than 6 words anyway). It's OK to not enforce this if 2 people are quietly discussing a rule they need to know. The goal is to stop between turns co-ordinating, and extra noise, which makes it harder to get actions resolved.
Use a battlemat, and minis or tokens to indicate what is happening. A picture is worth a thousand words. Without any battlemat, you may have to describe the situation for each player, as they seldom pay full attention, and the situation can change as each takes his turn. A battlemat sums up where everybody is, and where the bad guys are instantly. It also gives something for the players to focus on, which keeps their attention. It also settles any misunderstanding of what's where, and can I get to it. Pennies and dice work fine as tokens, and the battlemat even be a non-gridded kitchen table.
Keep a few dawdle-monsters handy, suitable for the terrain the PCs are in. Anytime the players dawdle and argue about doing anything for too long, in an unsafe area, bring in the dawdle-monster to interrupt and hurry them. You wil have to judge what's too much dawdling, but when they plan for an hour, in the middle of the dungeon, before entering the next room, it's time for a dawdle monster.
My 4 player group can get a 6 combat-encounter adventure done in 4 hours. We hustle through combat.
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