Speeding Up Your Game

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on February 10, 2009

My gaming group meets once a week for four hours. Due to the longer and longer distances people have to travel, the game has to end promptly to allow people to get home at a reasonable time. Playing longer than our four hour allotment just isn’t an option. So we have to make the best use of the time we have. Here are some of the tips and tricks that we’ve come up with that have really made a big difference.

Be on time

Our game begins at 7:00 p.m. We allow a 10 minute grace period and then we start. If you’re late we start without you. In the age of cell phones there’s no excuse for not notifying the group that you’re running behind schedule. Sometimes beginning the game down a PC makes things a lot more challenging for the players who are there on time. Often the guy running late will give us permission to run his character as an NPC until he arrives. This is of course contingent on us having his character sheet.

Initiative

As soon as we’re set up and ready to begin gaming, everyone rolls four initiative checks. We designate one person as the initiative tracker (always a player and never the DM) and he records all the initiatives. This way, when an encounter begins we’ve already determined the order of the PCs. The DM asks that the numbers be read aloud before anyone acts and then he inserts his combatants in the line-up accordingly.

On Deck

Another initiative tip is for the initiative tracker to give an “on deck” warning. This way the player who’s next can get their actions ready. If there are a lot of participants in a combat it’s easy to forget when you go. Getting that on deck reminder before your actual turn comes up lets you take in the situation and decide what you want to do without slowing down the game.

Don’t Hog the Spotlight

When it’s your turn all eyes are on you. Be ready to take your turn. If you’ve already been prompted that you’re on deck then you should be prepared (unless something totally unexpected happened). Be clear and decisive about what you’re doing. And then when you’re finished announce that too. With each player announcing “I’m done” at the end of his turn the initiative tracker can tell the table whose turn it is now and who’s on deck.

Too Bad

Once you announce that you’re done, then that’s it, you’re done. If you forgot to roll a save vs an ongoing affect or you forget to mark your opponent then that’s too bad. The most common thing slowing down play was people acting out of turn. If you forgot to do something on your turn, that’s too bad. It only takes a few forgetful rounds before everyone remembers to shift 1 square or make a save vs poison.

Pre-roll

Most gamers love to roll dice. It’s a huge part of D&D. So you may not find this particular tip right for you. In some cases, if you know that the person who goes before you will have no affect on your actions or the target you’re attacking then pre-roll attack and damage. When your turn comes around you just recap what’s happened. Many DMs want to witness rolls so make sure DMs approve this shortcut before you start pre-rolling. An illegally pre-rolled 20 rarely comes up 20 again when rolled in front of everyone.

Roll All Your Dice Together

Regardless of whether or not you’re pre-rolling, roll all your dice together. This should include the d20 to attack, plus all relevant damage dice. Just be sure that if you have different powers or abilities using the same dice value that you make it clear which one applies. “The green d6 is my weapon damage, the red d6 is the fire damage and the blue d6s are my sneak damage.”

If you find that you’re not getting as much accomplished during your gaming sessions as you’d like to, try introducing some of the tips and tricks outlined above. They may not all be right for your gaming group, but anything that speeds up the game is a win. Do you have tips for speeding up the game that we haven’t covered? Please share them with us so we can all benefit from your tried and true methods.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 skallawag February 11, 2009 at 4:58 pm

You forgot the part about keeping everyone on a sugar high so that they act and react faster.

2 Ameron February 11, 2009 at 7:45 pm

@ Skallawag – The key is to find that sweet spot between the sugar high and the involuntary trips to the bathroom during combat which inevitably bring the game to a halt.

3 Quid February 11, 2009 at 7:48 pm

May I recommend hearty doses of Jolt Cola and All-Dressed Ruffles?

4 Ameron February 11, 2009 at 7:55 pm

@ Quid – That’s not a good combination. Experience taught me that this can (and did) lead to… messy consequences. On the plus side the ugliness didn’t happen until after we finished gaming for the night.

5 Scott February 18, 2009 at 10:00 pm

As GM I also like to keep a sheet with a few key stats for each PC, like perception and AC, so I can make some rolls and determine effects without constantly having to ask the players.

Great tips!

6 Ameron February 19, 2009 at 5:41 pm

@ Scott
Thanks for the post, Scott. I too keep the PCs key stats handy for the reasons you mentioned. Thanks to the new character builder offered through D&D Insider every character sheet is now accompanied with a summary card. This provides all the key stats a DM needs to make those secret rolls you’re talking about. Yet another great way to speed up the game.

7 Josh February 23, 2009 at 1:51 pm

The summary cards are pretty neat and I think are great for some DMs but with my rather disorganized mannerisms I am not sure they are all that useful.

I like your suggestions I just fear that my players will have less fun if I tried to implement them. I am certain that I would see many frowns if I implemented a “Too Bad” rule and while at least one player does role their damage and attacks together the others seem to be against this idea. For that one I can’t totally blame them… I don’t know why but it just feels kind of wrong to me.

I guess in a lot of ways as a DM I tend to be a bit of a push over. I really want everyone to have fun and when I see things I am doing that is limiting their fun I tend to back off of it.

Overall however, these are great suggestions. For initiative, our group has one player that is in charge of keeping track of the turn orders. That player writes the order down on the dry erase board and tells the players when it is their turn. I also give out the monsters initiative to speed things along. Another player is also in charge of keeping track of how much damage the monsters have taken and any status effects on them. This has helped a bit but I think having six players is really what ends up slowing our games down.

8 Ameron February 24, 2009 at 2:57 pm

@Josh

Thanks for commenting. We’re glad you stopped by Dungeon’s Master. Of course my suggestions for speeding up your game are merely guidelines. Only use them if you think they’ll be helpful at your gaming table.

We found that until we implemented the “too bad” rule, people were always acting out of turn. Of course there was some complaining when we started enforcing the rule, but it caught on quickly. Don’t forget, this rule works on both sides of the screen. From time-to-time the players benefit when the DM forgets to make saves for the monsters.

I agree that you want to make sure everyone is having fun, so don’t implement house rules that will anger the players.

I like the idea of designating a player to keep track of the monster’s damage. It’s one less thing for the DM to worry about and allows him to focus on running the rest of the game. I’ll have to try that the next time I’m the DM.

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