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Accessibility features and aids for players and GMs with ADHD and similar impairments


Just mentioned something related to it in a chat, and accordingly I have to immediately run off and start a thread about it. ;)

Many RPGs have a lot of math and conditional situational effects. Often these are only very simple additions or straightforward effects, but when you're surrounded by half a dozen people chattering excitedly, and leafing through papers to look something up, it can quickly become overwhelming for people with impairing conditions regarding information processing. Doubly so when you're the GM and trying to run a handful of monsters and NPCs simultaneously with paying attention to the players' conversation what they will try to do next.
Yes, you could simply ignore what the players are doing and just have each them state to you what they do when their turn comes up. But that's an ability that many of us simply don't have. I feel that this is something that many game designers don't really consider when creating their systems which would generate fantastically granular and balanced results if fed through a computer. But over the years I've discovered a few techniques that made running games so much easier for me, and I am sure others have also found many other ways to make their games easier to handle for themselves and their players who are struggling with some aspects. So I'd really like to hear what everyone has to share on this subject.

Since this is a discussion about dealing with a neurological impairment and accessibility, we really won't need any arguments about "that's not a problem" or "that's not any more efficient" or "it's really not that hard to do". For average people it may be, but we don't tell deaf people to just listen more closely either. Anything that you have found to have helped you or some of your players is welcome here. It might also help other people too.

Group Initiative

The biggest challenge for me, which I struggled heavily with for many, many years when running D&D 3rd edition, is the simple mental task of putting the initiative counts that the players tell me and that I have rolled for their opponents in the correct order. Six or seven numbers, from highest to lowest. It is a simple task, but when players are already discussing strategy, it becomes a really painful chore for me. Many people recommend making little stands for each PC and monster and putting them in front of you in the initiative order for the particular fight, but for me and my particular problem that doesn't actually help at all.
A different solution that I have found is from much older D&D editions which doesn't use initiative counts at all. Instead, all participant in a fight are put together into groups. Generally one group for PCs and one group for enemies, but it can often make sense to have different groups for the 8 goblins and the 1 cave bear that was disturbed by the commotion. To roll initiative, simply roll a d6 for each group. Making it a blue d6 for the PCs and a red d6 for the enemies can be an additional aid. The side that rolls the higher number goes first, the other side goes second. Finding the higher one of two numbers is something I can still do confidently. :geek:
When it is the players' turn, it is up to the players to decide who of them goes first. Sometimes one player will decide to wait until another PC has taken the turn to follow up on something the other player did that turn, but generally it can be whoever has first reached a decision what to do on that turn. After they are all done, you do the same thing for all the enemies.

While this has been super useful to me as a GM, this can also do wonders for many players. With individual initiative, you often get the situation that a player has not paid attention and is surprised when his turn comes up. Then he puts away whatever he was doing and starts taking a good look at how the situation in the fight looks now. Then he starts thinking about a strategy, maybe having to look up a specific rule, then discovering that his idea wouldn't work. This can take several minutes until the player has finally taken his turn and it is now the next player' turn. Who is surprised that his turn is up, because he got bored waiting for the other player and went doing something other than paying attention to the game... And if you have players with ADHD, this will only get so much worse!
Group initiative works wonderfully to address this issue. All the players are doing their strategic thinking at the same time. If some players take longer to make a decision, they can continue to think about it while other players are taking their turns. This already can save a lot of time. Then when it's the monsters' turn, all the players have an incentive to pay full attention, because the next turn is going to be their turn. As soon as the GM is done with the monsters, all the players have to start thinking about their next turn.

Less Enemy Variation​

When I ran a D&D 5th edition campaign last year, I had this really bad idea to make fights with lots of different types of enemies. Bandits, scouts, thugs, spies, and bandit leaders all together in the same group to get a nice variety. Conclusion: Awful idea.
It added very little variety to the fights as the players were concerned, but added a significant amount of complexity for me. All these enemies are pretty similar, but each of them has a different attack bonus and damage roll. Really not worth it. Having large numbers of enemies to run is not necessarily an issue, but I recommend using only one or two types at the same time. Even when you have 10 different variants of goblins, juggling just three at once might be more mental workload than is fun.

Simple Variety​

If you want a bit of variety in your enemies, rolling hit points for each of them individually can actually be surprisingly effective. It can make the difference between one guy going down in one hit and his otherwise identical buddy going down in four. All their other stats remain the same throughout the whole group. If you remember it, you can even describe the one 12 hp goblin as being particularly big and nasty looking compared to his 5 and 7 hp friends, and mention the poor little fella with only 3 hp trying to stay far in the back.

The Rule of 1​

In the kinds of games I usually run, there's a lot of cases of success chances being 2 in 6 or 3 in 6 or something like that. Even with practice I kept getting mental overload from trying to remember if 2 in 6 means that 5 is a success or a failure. To overcome that problem, I came up with the rule of 1. For any such odds that ever come up, I throw out the original rule and pick the closest approximation from among 1 in 4, 1 in 6, 1 in 8, 1 in 10, or 1 in 12.
When a table says the chance for a random encounter in this area is 2 in 6, I throw that out and change it to 1 in 4. Not the same, but close enough. When it comes to making such a roll, all I have to remember which dice to use. A 1 always means "yes". Some dice have an 8. Some dice don't have an 8. Some dice have an 8, but it's not the highest number on that die. All dice have a 1, and it's always the lowest number. Even when there's total chaos going on around me, I can always remember: "Something happens on a 1."

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I have one of the players track initiative and tell everyone whos turn it is. I just tell him what the monster initiative(s) are and it seems to free me up some. Not sure if that works for each table, but I would think most have a player who can take on more than just his PC. Same with the player that looks up spells or conditions that I cannot remember.

Dealing with different monster types or variations in the same monster, like an orc and an orc chief or bowman, can get confusing even if they all act on the same initiative. I want to say that 5e tried to have more the 2e feel with monsters early on in that you just run into a group of orcs and they say that one has max HP and is the chief. I think I liked 4e better in that you break the monsters up and have cool powers for each. Not sure if keeping just the base monster and vary the HP like you mentioned would be the best option. Another option is to have the players roll for each monster, but that is a bit controversial with some tables.

Another thing I did for a player is to color code the dice for weapons. We had a little cup for the black d20 to attack and the black d8 weapon damage, but also placed a red d6 for the flaming part of his weapon in the cup. He rolled all the dice at once and now knew if he hit and what part was fire damage vs weapon damage is that was needed. We also made healing cups with d4s in them for potions and such.

I had a player who had trouble with the concept of spell slots in 5E.

So I made a mat. For each spell level, each box had the level where it became available.

Ssort of like this (For 5E Cleric
Cantrip: No slots used
Level 1: ①①②④
Level 2: ③③④
Level 3: ⑤⑤⑥
Level 4: ⑦⑧⑨

It made it so much easier to use manipulatives (gaming stones) on a mat, rather than her trying to track on sheet. And, end of session, snap a photo of it to set it up beginning of next.

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