Handling spells that take a long time at the table?

Our last few sessions I've noticed the turns for my divination wizard & druid players taking significantly longer. The usual culprits seem to be certain divination spells like arcane eye, commune with nature, or scrying; but others are things like reading the fine print on Leomund's tiny hut, Mordenkainen's private sanctum, or rope trick; or a player narrating heroes' feast and describing the many effects it has.

I appreciate that the spotlight moves, lingers, and moves again. While some of this may be situational (delving aboveground ruined cities, players have some control over when they long rest, players having some control over how much risk they take on during an adventuring day), I am noticing a trend for my 11th level group, with the primary casters taking longer to resolve their turns than the rogue or paladin players. All experienced players who've been running these PCs for a while together.

Which spells do you notice eat the most table time? Which should I watch out for and anticipate?
How do you handle arcane eye and similar spells without it taking forever?
Have you noticed a discrepancy in turn length for primary casters vs. non-primary casters, and how have you addressed it (if at all)?
 

Saelorn

Adventurer
There are definitely spells that take a long time to resolve, such as arcane eye and heroes' feast, but I never noticed it causing any problems with turn length. By and large, the really complicated spells are used outside of combat, and infrequently at that. While it does take some time to get everyone up to speed on the specifics of private sanctum, we only ever had to explain it the first time, and after that it took no time at all to resolve.
 

aco175

Adventurer
Some zone spells that move with the player like spirit guardians. Not only does it move the player makes multiple rolls each round. We play with a grid so I'm not sure if that generally takes longer.

I do not think punishing the players with losing their spell would be a good idea. I think it all balances out at some point, maybe next campaign someone is trying a caster for the first time or first time in 5e or such. I still have my father need to add up all the save bonuses, not to-hit because that is all added beforehand, just saves.
 
Our last few sessions I've noticed the turns for my divination wizard & druid players taking significantly longer. The usual culprits seem to be certain divination spells like arcane eye, commune with nature, or scrying;
That's prettymuch just netrunner syndrome. You're resolving an exploration scene that only involved one character, because that character is using a special ability. No different than the old halfling-thief scouts-ahead thing (minus the whole being eaten by ghouls thing, of course).

but others are things like reading the fine print on Leomund's tiny hut, Mordenkainen's private sanctum, or rope trick; or a player narrating heroes' feast and describing the many effects it has.
Some things just have detailed mechanics, sure. Like 3.x grappling, to give a non-spell example.

I am noticing a trend for my 11th level group, with the primary casters taking longer to resolve their turns than the rogue or paladin players. All experienced players who've been running these PCs for a while together.
I think either did a great job keeping the melee types interesting & engaged, or just weren't paying attention, prior to11th level. ;)

How do you handle arcane eye and similar spells without it taking forever?
Maybe call for an Investigation roll, then hand 'em a map?
Have you noticed a discrepancy in turn length for primary casters vs. non-primary casters, and how have you addressed it (if at all)?
Yes. Frankly, even in editions that try to minimize it as much as possible. There's really nothing much to be done. You could try to pad the activities of characters with few choices, modeled by simple resolution mechanics by adding detail, but I doubt it'd make anyone feel better.
 

Gadget

Explorer
Well, most of the those spells are 'out of combat' spells, and that, combined with the fact that many martials (though certainly not all) have limited out of combat utility, and that is what happens.
 
There are definitely spells that take a long time to resolve, such as arcane eye and heroes' feast, but I never noticed it causing any problems with turn length. By and large, the really complicated spells are used outside of combat, and infrequently at that. While it does take some time to get everyone up to speed on the specifics of private sanctum, we only ever had to explain it the first time, and after that it took no time at all to resolve.
Sorry, I wasn't using "turn length" as a strictly combat term, I more just meant those spells shifted the amount of time those spellcaster players are in the spotlight. In the more general sense of it being a cooperative game where where everyone takes a "turn" and the DM manages pacing and spotlighting to include everyone. Yes, most of this has been outside of combat.
 
Some zone spells that move with the player like spirit guardians. Not only does it move the player makes multiple rolls each round. We play with a grid so I'm not sure if that generally takes longer.

I do not think punishing the players with losing their spell would be a good idea. I think it all balances out at some point, maybe next campaign someone is trying a caster for the first time or first time in 5e or such. I still have my father need to add up all the save bonuses, not to-hit because that is all added beforehand, just saves.
Yes, my players are pretty good about knowing their spells. There's always a learning curve when they get a new spell and haven't figured it out yet. I definitely would not even consider "punishing the players with losing their spell." That was never on my mind!
 
That's prettymuch just netrunner syndrome. You're resolving an exploration scene that only involved one character, because that character is using a special ability. No different than the old halfling-thief scouts-ahead thing (minus the whole being eaten by ghouls thing, of course).
It guess it is similar to that, yes. How did you resolve "netrunner syndrome"?

There's a few important distinctions that can make it harder to run.

First, arcane eye doesn't open doors. When arcane eyeing a ruined city with multiple adventure sites, I had to go back through each area description and check which structures had open doors/windows that would be open which the wizard PC could "drive" the arcane eye through.

Second, like you said, there's no risk of discovery (save in corner cases for enemies with truesight or other reliable means of detecting invisible sensors) ...which usually would get the other PCs involved

I think either did a great job keeping the melee types interesting & engaged, or just weren't paying attention, prior to11th level. ;)
I suppose that could be. Historically, I have a pretty keen sense for keeping all the players roughly equally engaged. Recently, with these higher level spells, it does seem like I'm having to... worker harder, I guess... to get roughly equal engagement from non-spellcaster players when the spellcaster players are taking more time than they were before.

Maybe call for an Investigation roll, then hand 'em a map?
In this case, I've already handed them the area map of this ruined city. They can see it from an overlook and they've acquired an unmarked map. In this, with arcane eye being cast, would you just hand them the DM's keyed map of the area? I feel like my wizard player would not find that detailed enough. He has asked for location of monsters in the past, for example.

Yes. Frankly, even in editions that try to minimize it as much as possible. There's really nothing much to be done. You could try to pad the activities of characters with few choices, modeled by simple resolution mechanics by adding detail, but I doubt it'd make anyone feel better.
Yeah, I get that. But there's got to be creative ways to implement it. For example, what about just filling in the blanks as the PCs explore? It wouldn't give them as much agency up front, but then when they get to, say, Area #15: Ruined Bazaar, I could add a bit more to the description based on what the wizard PC arcane eyed. Essentially, fill it in after the fact to keep the game moving and everyone engaged?
 
Have you tried aggressively pointing at your watch while they work on resolving the spell?
Oh, a couple folks are moving in mid-December, so there's already a bit of a time crunch with our campaign. Everyone is very well aware of it. I've also pointed out their tendency toward over-analysis, and they're doing better about reining in those tendencies. I've done a decent job of balancing their agency and moving things things along so they don't drag.

Fortunately, this last casting of arcane eye came toward the end of a session. I explicitly asked the player to play along for the last 15 minutes, and then cast arcane eye, so that we could resolve it between sessions. This was fortuitous, because the last two times he cast arcane eye were mid-session and I just had to run with it the best I could.

How do you handle spells like arcane eye? Do set a timer or something?
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Oh, a couple folks are moving in mid-December, so there's already a bit of a time crunch with our campaign. Everyone is very well aware of it. I've also pointed out their tendency toward over-analysis, and they're doing better about reining in those tendencies. I've done a decent job of balancing their agency and moving things things along so they don't drag.

Fortunately, this last casting of arcane eye came toward the end of a session. I explicitly asked the player to play along for the last 15 minutes, and then cast arcane eye, so that we could resolve it between sessions. This was fortuitous, because the last two times he cast arcane eye were mid-session and I just had to run with it the best I could.

How do you handle spells like arcane eye? Do set a timer or something?
The players mostly self-police in my games. We have a general rule: If you think the thing you want to take for your character is going to take more time than usual in a way that detracts from the game, don't take it.

In the case of arcane eye or, say, looking through a familiar's eyes, I have a bit of an advantage with Roll20 in that I can just setup the eye (or the familiar) such that everyone at the table can see what it sees, under the assumption the caster is describing things. This way everyone is engaged as they discuss what they see and what to do next.

If I lacked Roll20, then really I'd ask players be very specific with their goal when using a spell like arcane eye. They're obviously looking for something - what is it? I'll just skip to that if possible and fill in necessary details about the route the eye took later e.g. "The eye passes through a bed chamber and a study before finally going into what looks like a laboratory in which the villain is putting the finishing touch on the doomsday device." I don't really need to describe the bed chamber and study in any great detail here, at least not until it's relevant to the PCs' plans.
 

BlivetWidget

Explorer
I think the real driver leading to spell slowdown is twofold:
-Lack of familiarity with the spell... usually for both the player and DM.
-Lack of trust... usually for both the player and DM.

If you run a game where either the player or the DM knows how the spell works and both parties trust each other, it's quick and easy. Player casts Leomund's Tiny Hut, one of two things should happen:
(a) DM says everyone gets a safe long rest
(b) DM asks what the spell does, player says they get a forcefield camping tent that lasts the night, DM says everyone gets a safe long rest.

In both cases, immediately continue onward from the next day (or to fireside chat) with no appreciable loss of game time.

Where we run into trouble is when neither party knows what the spell does and everyone needs to look it up, or when one party is trying to pull one over on the other, typically a consequence of having an adversarial DM or having once had an adversarial DM in the past (so I'm not saying it's you). These forums are rife with DMs who want nothing more than to find a loophole in this or that spell to make it useless to the players.

Back to Leomund's Tiny Hut, the adversarial DM will go, "haha, they think they are safe, but I will decide that now all of my dungeons are filled with burrowing creatures who will go right under the hut!" At the table, this will devolve into an argument over what really defines a "hemisphere," people will be looking up Sage Advice, and if nobody is being obstinate, they will all realize that yes, the Tiny Hut has a floor and so burrowing creatures are useless against it. So the adversarial DM will start adding creatures to the dungeon that know Dispel Magic. Etc. This is why the player in that case is so heavily invested in what you're calling the "fine print" of the spell: they feel it's their only defense. Same if they don't declare their intentions with the spell: they feel they need to surprise the DM to get what they're looking for.

When I've got a player who takes a spell, I just let it do the cool thing. The player who chose Leomund's Tiny Hut had to weigh it against really cool spells like Fireball. When they chose it, they essentially told me that they want to help the entire party, not by being in the spotlight themselves, but by giving everyone else a good night's rest and a chance to shine the next day. I want the players to succeed, we're telling a fun story together, so I don't lose anything there.

So to reiterate, I think there needs to be both familiarity with the spells and trust between the involved parties. Familiarity is an easy fix, but if the trust is lacking it may not even be your fault, possibly just bad past experiences. In that case, all I can suggest is a frank discussion. Let the players know you want them to succeed, and ask them to tell you want they want to accomplish when they cast the spell so you can quickly tell them if it can do that or not, and focus on the result instead of the process.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
The way I gave dealt with it is if you scout ahead alone or use things like arcane eye you get around 5 minutes to do what you want and then the camera shifts back to the main group.

In combat you get away with about a minute to make a choice. If the player is paralysed with indecision I assume the PC is and default to fight defensively.

When you've got 5 or 6 players it's like herding cats. I limit agency of individuals so everyone gets to participate. I don't mind if they want to spend half an hour chatting amoung themselves.

I do mind if one PC wants to hog half an hour or whatever.

Similar deal if three people want to split off and do whatever and the other 3 are sitting there doing nothing. You get 5 minutes or so.
 
It guess it is similar to that, yes. How did you resolve "netrunner syndrome"?
Well, never running cyberpunk or shadowrun, of course.
More generally...

  • getting back to everyone else frequently, with something for them to do.
  • killing the halfling theif while he's out scouting alone.
  • focusing on the results instead of the process. (Hand him the map. Continue The adventure and feed information from the scouting scene as it becomes relevant.)
Essentially, fill it in after the fact to keep the game moving and everyone engaged?
Yes. That way, instead of consuming a huge chunk of time and losing momentum, it's integrated and moving things along.

* approach it top down: what is the point? The goal/objective? What is everyone else doing to achieve it? Focus on progress towards that objective. If one PC uses a spell to search for a missing artifact, and doesn't find it, that's it. Next idea.

I suppose that could be. Historically, I have a pretty keen sense for keeping all the players roughly equally engaged.
I had a geeling, from past conversations. Well done, then. :)
. In this, with arcane eye being cast, would you just hand them the DM's keyed map of the area?
No, I suppose j might've held the overhead map back until they did something to get it.

One thing I learned from running M:tA is that excessive information-gathering needn't de-rail a plot if you can position it to hook & drive the plot, instead.

Again, it depends on what they're after, or what you want them to find. Let the uberspell open that door - quickly - and get to doing things the other side of it. Treat these spells more as enablers of facing the challenge, rather than solutions to overcome it.
 
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delphonso

Explorer
Netrunner syndrome is a real concern. In Shadowrun and any game, I allow metagaming here. The PC with Arcane Eye can be muttering what it sees and the other PCs can be chiming in to investigate parts. I do the same in the Matrix in SR, even though it's against the rules. I find it is a lot more interesting for everyone. In other cases where there's a combat happening and the PCs are protecting the runner, it's easy to keep it interesting.

For spells, I encourage my PCs to know their spells well through flavoring. I'd much rather have PC say 'I open my palm toward the kobolds and blue smokey daggers fly out at three of them' than 'I cast Magic Missile hold on...okay 1d4 per enemy. I'm attack these three.'
My PCs have responded well to it by learning their spells well. I haven't played with characters who have a ton of spells lately though, so it's been a reasonable request so far. A wizard with a full book is a bit different.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
For Arcane Eye dpecifically, remember these are not unknowns. Doors will be shut by wary or savvy foes. But, frequently, instead of playing through space by space, I just hand out maps they can readily scry or eye or familiar.

For complex spells effects, I or they preprint out cards with the bonuses and hand ghrm out whrn thry are in effect.
 
I think @iserith, @Zardnaar, @Tony Vargas, you guys honed in one my issue...

The players mostly self-police in my games. We have a general rule: If you think the thing you want to take for your character is going to take more time than usual in a way that detracts from the game, don't take it.

If I lacked Roll20, then really I'd ask players be very specific with their goal when using a spell like arcane eye. They're obviously looking for something - what is it? I'll just skip to that if possible and fill in necessary details about the route the eye took later e.g. "The eye passes through a bed chamber and a study before finally going into what looks like a laboratory in which the villain is putting the finishing touch on the doomsday device." I don't really need to describe the bed chamber and study in any great detail here, at least not until it's relevant to the PCs' plans.
Yeah, the couple I've seen arcane eye cast it was never with a specific end in mind. I actually asked something like "what are you looking for?" and the answer I got back was a survey of the city's structures and – because the druid cast commune with nature – the location of powerful undead in the area (there were lots). Basically, he wanted the "drone's eye view flying through the city." There wasn't a specific agenda. Just recon.

The way I gave dealt with it is if you scout ahead alone or use things like arcane eye you get around 5 minutes to do what you want and then the camera shifts back to the main group.

In combat you get away with about a minute to make a choice. If the player is paralysed with indecision I assume the PC is and default to fight defensively.

When you've got 5 or 6 players it's like herding cats. I limit agency of individuals so everyone gets to participate. I don't mind if they want to spend half an hour chatting amoung themselves.

I do mind if one PC wants to hog half an hour or whatever.

Similar deal if three people want to split off and do whatever and the other 3 are sitting there doing nothing. You get 5 minutes or so.
It's not that the wizard player wants to hog a bunch of time. It's not a dysfunctional player or DM issue, as best I can tell. He just wants to play a convincingly know-it-all well-traveled archaeologist divination specialist. The issue seems to be when casting arcane eye to survey an area that is information rich, providing that information has been time-consuming at our table.

* approach it top down: what is the point? The goal/objective? What is everyone else doing to achieve it? Focus on progress towards that objective. If one PC uses a spell to search for a missing artifact, and doesn't find it, that's it. Next idea.

One thing I learned from running M:tA is that excessive information-gathering needn't de-rail a plot if you can position it to hook & drive the plot, instead.

Again, it depends on what they're after, or what you want them to find. Let the uberspell open that door-quickly, and get to doing things the other side of it.
Exactly. Last time and most recently, there isn't a specific goal. He's just trying to get as much information about a dangerous city as he can. What are the main structures? What enemies and hazards are readily visible? He wants a general survey.

There's like 30 locations in this city which would be visible to an arcane eye. In 1 hour, the arcane eye can cover about 18,000 feet (30ft/6 sec round = 300 ft/minute = 18,000 ft/hr) or 72 hexes (which are 250-ft). The interesting areas of the city amount to about 20,000 feet or 80 hexes. So there's 2,000 feet, or 8 hexes that would be left out of a single casting of arcane eye.

Very much agree that info-gathering can be used to hook and drive the plot.
 
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What I've done for now is give the wizard player this map with keyed areas. I covered the key as I wasn't sure if that would be revealing too much.

I already shared a similar max with the PCs – just lacking the area letters – so I feel like just throwing on some letters isn't enough. I'll see what I can come up with that's succinct but useful.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I think @iserith, @Zardnaar, @Tony Vargas, you guys honed in one my issue...

Yeah, the couple I've seen arcane eye cast it was never with a specific end in mind. I actually asked something like "what are you looking for?" and the answer I got back was a survey of the city's structures and – because the druid cast commune with nature – the location of powerful undead in the area (there were lots). Basically, he wanted the "drone's eye view flying through the city." There wasn't a specific agenda. Just recon.
I think in a case like this, I'd want to help that player find that specific agenda so we can zero in on it. Or, failing that, I could offer a reasonable number of specific choices the players can make that either point toward the plot (if I'm running an event-based game) or toward opportunities (if I'm running a location-based game). That would be no different than describing the environment in any other scene by presenting the basic scope of options so the players then have context enough to act and get to new decision points.

As a player, I'm using my precious 4th-level spells to drive toward my goals pretty strongly. But I realize not everyone thinks the same way in this regard.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
Sorry, I wasn't using "turn length" as a strictly combat term, I more just meant those spells shifted the amount of time those spellcaster players are in the spotlight. In the more general sense of it being a cooperative game where where everyone takes a "turn" and the DM manages pacing and spotlighting to include everyone. Yes, most of this has been outside of combat.
"Resolving mechanics" is not the same as "in the spotlight".

My hunter/cook shifter would describe meals. A caster could describe a Heroes Feast. Thos are both minor spotlight times. If a player is unsure of the effects of the spell, looking it up (or having it read to them) isn't spotlight on that character, any more than the DM looking up hunting mechanics would be spotlighting my shifter.
 

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