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D&D 3E
Okay, I played a session of DnD over AIM the other night, and the… 
5th-May-2005 12:13 pm
Okay, I played a session of DnD over AIM the other night, and the session just about began with a combat. The bad thing, is that the session ended with that same combat. This happens in just about all the session I run (live and electronic), where combats take a ridiculously long time, and it's really rather disappointing, as I find combat somewhat dull. I'm more of a roleplay DM, and I've tried the little tips in the dungeon master's guide on how to streamline combat, but it still takes a while. It stems a bit from people not listening to my advice and planning actions before their turn, but this isn't affecting the length too much I don't think. So I spose I'm curious about how other people handle combat, or if they've ever tried anything to streamline it.
5th-May-2005 07:35 pm (UTC)
I find the average combat should take between 45 minutes and an hour and a half. Significantly less at low levels, but almost never more.

To speed up, a simple rule is:

If a PC takes more than 30 seconds (with some leniency, if they want to ask for DM calls) to come up with an idea, they default to holding an action. They can come back at any time before their next action if they come up with something they want to do. You can be nice (or not) and have them default to ready to (some pre-ordained choice, like counterspell), but the PC may not want that option.

Your responsability as a DM is also not to take too long on the NPCs turns. With 4-6 PCs, you should be able to finish a round of combat in 5-8 minutes. If your combats are running longer than 20 rounds, even at 5 minute rounds, use less opponent NPCs, who are stronger, rather than small swarms. Or, stop trying to 'defeat' the PCs. Let the PCs win it, or come up lucky, as the combat runs longer. retcon in the NPCs having bonuses from spells that wear off (Bless, for instance, only lasts 1 minute regardless of caster level--10 rounds; this only works if the PCs don't successfully dispell the opponents, but what the heck) or similar. if you don't know the answer to something off the top of your head (what spells the NPC has on them, in the case they are getting dispelled) make it up oin the fly and go with it. And just as the PCs don't always make the best choice when deciding how to act, the NPCs can flub it sometimes, too.

5th-May-2005 07:44 pm (UTC)
Time limit the PCs. Give them 30 seconds or a minute to act, then move on. Also don't tlet them ramble too much making plans. Not like any plan survives contact with the enemy. :)

Do as much prep for your NPC's and monsters ahead of time as you can. For spell casters do out a rough list of what they'll cast in what order for example. Also have all the data you're going to need in a nice stat block. Nothing worse than watching the GM fumbling through a half dozen books looking up some number.

How long are your sessions? In our current game we manage about 4-5 hours of play a night, which covers 2 fights and an hour or two of RP between them. Thats with a huge group (GM + 7 players). Bigger groups will of course take longer to do anything.
5th-May-2005 08:58 pm (UTC)
On the other hand., if the PCs come up with a plan, there is no reason to foil it for the sake of foiling it (well, unless you've got a PC that is betraying the rest, but thats a rarity).

If the OPCs have a valid plan, let it work. Hell, give the PCs a bonus for sticking with the plan (and pull it if they revert to something else).
5th-May-2005 09:27 pm (UTC)
Sure, but at least from my experience if you give the group time to plan, they'll keep planning till the cows come home. We've been known to spend an hour or two going into ever more detailed and strange possibilities when in fact, as soon as the bag guys surfaced we had to throw out 99% of our work and go on instinct. If you're worried about things going long (opposed to just sitting back and enjoying the back and forth), limiting this time can help.
5th-May-2005 07:46 pm (UTC)

i use this largely as-is. combat tends to be very quick and quite deadly for whoever doesn't "get the jump" on the other guy. That said I've had a couple combats drag on and on because people kept rolling poorly on attacks and amazingly well on defence.
5th-May-2005 07:50 pm (UTC)
Miniatures can speed combat up, believe it or not, because it makes all the fiddly bits of positioning etc. much easier to see and understand. They also cut down on arguments.

Online RPing always takes forever. People type slower than they talk, as a general rule.
5th-May-2005 08:09 pm (UTC)
My group uses masking tape-covered quarters as character markers on a 1-inch-square grided white board. The quarter is the perfect size for the board and, because of the tape, infinitely customize-able. In addition, the nature of white boards allows for easily edited battelfield notations by way of dry erase markers.
5th-May-2005 08:22 pm (UTC)
You can spend $30-50 on a nice wet-erase, roll-up map grid from a reputable gaming store (I have a 3'x4' with square on one side, hex on the other), or $10-15 on a 2x3 white board. Using a yard stick, I laid out a grid using a permenant marker in red ink that wouldn't dry-erase, then black dry erase marker to draw rooms and halls. Every few weeks I had to touch up the grid, but it worked well for small-scale combats.

You can also get 30-second hourglass/sand timers from classic games like Boggle for timing individual PCs. I may be a hardass, but rather than allowing them to disrupt the flow with a "held action", I'd probably make them lose their action entirely for the round.

The GM I played under who has earned my greatest respect for a variety of reasons kept 3x5 cards on all the PCs and NPCs as well, and after rolling initiative he just stacked the cards in the right order. Worked really well.
6th-May-2005 02:17 am (UTC)
My GM bought a white board somewhere online that had the grid on it already. The 3x5 card idea is great.
5th-May-2005 08:10 pm (UTC)
Well, AIM or other chat programs always take longer due to lag and confusion. But as a DM I try to 1) avoid making combat the focus of a story, and 2) allow for storytelling resolution of minor, unimportant combat.

If the group is faced with a small group of low-level peons that they must defeat in order to pass on to the next stage of the adventure, just ask your party how they'd handle it and hand out some end-of-combat consequences. "Okay, Jerry, your barbarian wades in and breaks skulls, but takes a little damage in the melee. Lose 10 HP. Samantha, that magic missile was timely, don't forget to take it off your readied spell list. Bill, your ranger uses up six normal arrows in the fight and you take 4 damage from a thrown dagger."
5th-May-2005 09:44 pm (UTC)
I really like the storytelling resolution method songwind, real snappy. But I'm also curious on how you dole out the rewards and damage and such; is it just ad hoc or based on rolls or what?

I forgot to say that my girlfriend and I also fashioned a 4x4 foot combat board out of this nice pliable whiteboard material using permanent markers to make 1 inch squares, and it works nicely. For aim gaming, I just use a grid I made in paint, then use little markers, and all the players have the map. I tell them what initial combat positions are and then go from there. I can't even imagine what gaming would be like without a map, it'd be chaos... Thanks for the 3x5 card idea too krrayn, it's so simple, yet so brilliant. Thanks folks.
5th-May-2005 11:55 pm (UTC)
"Six....five...four...three...two...one...Time's up. You skip your action this turn."

If they interrupt you with an action before you finish speaking the above, they take that action :)
6th-May-2005 04:42 am (UTC) - Well, there's your problem
This happens in just about all the session I run (live and electronic), where combats take a ridiculously long time, and it's really rather disappointing, as I find combat somewhat dull.

If you find it dull, then you're not doing it right. (This is the basic rule of RPGs--if you're not having fun, you're doing it wrong. I.e., try something else.)

As a fan of combat, I'll dispense my advice as follows:

1: *ENCOURAGE IN-COMBAT ROLEPLAYING!* Have the enemies shout insults at the PCs, argue, make snide remarks, and generally do more than just "roll, attack, miss". In fact, if you're not able to remove the game-terms from a combat and still have something cohesive and interesting, you're doing way, WAY wrong.

2: Write up tactics beforehand for your NPCs. Especially ones that are spellcasters or have smiliarly non-simple special abiltiies. If your players are slow in deciding what to do, suggest that they do the same--or give them their options. (i.e., instead of saying "Bob, what do you do?" say "Bob, do you attack the orc, run away, or do something else?")

3: If you have a PC open anyway, look into some combat-facilitaor programs. Even a spreadsheet with numbers on it can speed up play. If you're going online, there are literally half a dozen programs that will handle almost everything for you--including things like a shared minatures board that AIM simply doesn't provide.

I've got other bits of advice, such as ways to mechanically encourage roleplaying or expanded combat rules, but if your problem is a dislike for the central aspect of the game, then you need to consider if a different sysem would be better for you.
6th-May-2005 05:34 am (UTC)
I do indeed throw in all sorts of fitting remarks from NPC's, monsters, descriptions of actions and attacks (as the PC's don't readily do it), and things going on in and around the combat area. I also dislike using terms like "attack of opportunity" and all the other technical battle jargon of D&D, as I feel all those terms tug at the players' minds from the realm of reality, which hurts the atmosphere. I suppose I don't dislike combat, but I dislike how it tends to detract from the roleplaying side of the game. With the suggestions given and a little time I'm sure I'll warm up to combat though.

Now what's this about mechanically encouraging roleplaying? I do have trouble getting some players to roleplay in combat sometimes, and in general. I've been trying to formulate effective ways of eliciting roleplaying for a while now.
7th-May-2005 04:06 pm (UTC)
Gotta agree with the time limit thing.

I take about 30s on any given turn, because I'm planning while everyone else is acting. Same with another player in a group. A third player does the same thing but is a litle more indecisive, so he takes about a minute. The other three players only start thinking about their action once their turn arrives, and they take far too long. This is in part due to their lack of familiarity with the combat rules.
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