More Tips for Speeding Up Your Game

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on September 8, 2009

Combat in 4e D&D does take longer as PCs get tougher. But there are a lot of tips and tricks for Speeding Up Your Game. We’ve come up with a few new ideas on how to keep your game move quickly and smoothly.

Save Time, Pay a Healing Surge

When the outcome of combat seems inevitable the DM should call the fight rather than waste time playing things out (as we already discussed in Know When to Call the Fight). However, there should still be some balance. After all, if the PCs had played things out to the bitter end they would have used at least a few more resources. The solution – charge PCs healing surges. Usually one healing surge is sufficient, but circumstances should dictate how many surges are required to just move on.

For example, if the one or two remaining monsters are marked by the defenders, flanked by the strikers, and have fewer hit points remaining then the minimum damage two PCs can dish out with a single attack, then it’s pretty safe to say that the PCs will defeat the monsters. As long as one PC is willing to “pay” one healing surge then call the fight and move on. If things aren’t quite that clear cut, but it’s still apparent that the PCs will emerge victorious then charged them more healing surges. Depending on the circumstances the DM may decide that a specific PC must “pay” at least one surge to move on. This will probably be the defender who has the opponent marked more often than not.

I had three different DMs use this technique to keep things moving when I was at GenCon this summer. It was an easy sell to all the tables I played at and most of the players said their DM did the same thing back home or something similar.

Advanced Initiative

We’ve already suggested pre-rolling initiative as a way to speed things up, but here’s a new twist on this idea. Have all the PCs roll up six initiative checks before the game begins.

Keep the initiative checks grouped as six separate encounters. When it comes time to actually use these initiative checks, roll 1d6. The result determines which set of initiatives are used for that encounter. This will minimize any advantage observant and astute PCs think they’ve gained by knowing who rolled really good or really badly during any of the six sets of initiative.

DMs should also pre-roll initiative for all monsters and NPCs before the game begins. When I’m reading an adventure for the first time I keep a d20 handy and roll initiative for every monster as I review its stat block. It only adds a few seconds while I’m reading the adventure, but it saves time during the game.

Condition Tracker

A few weeks ago we created a Condition Tracker to help DMs keep track of which monsters were affected by which conditions. As we’ve put this to use in our main game I’m amazed to see how useful it really is. The DM can easily tell which monsters have ongoing effects and which ones need saves at the end of their turn. The DM saves a few seconds on every monster’s turn, every round. Those few seconds really add up quickly.

If you have any tips, tricks or suggestions for speeding things up, please share them. Anything that will keep the game moving quickly is beneficial to all of us.

1 Anarkeith September 8, 2009 at 9:57 am

I’ll be playtesting a variant of your condition tracker this Thursday. I’ve focused more on buffs and debuffs, and combined those conditions that are either subsets of one another, or have similar effects on play. I’m going to have the players track this. Either a designated player, or we’ll pass the clipboard to the person whose turn was just completed. Fire me an e-mail at my Google mail address if you’re interested in a PDF.

I’ll be interested to see whether it slows or speeds play. The intent is to better track buffs and such. Conditions are color-coded, and I drop a matching colored hair band over the mini to remind me.

2 skallawag September 8, 2009 at 3:59 pm

In my gaming session, I find that we don’t have that one person who “leads” the party with respect to turns. I’ve heard that the efficient gaming sessions are those who have a person playing the “Leader” role who then manages the initiatives. The Leader should tell the next person in the initiative that they’re up next and then notify the “on deck” person to get ready.

The other issue I see pretty often in my gaming group is that person who doesn’t really know his powers and needs to constantly debate which power he wants to use each time his turn comes up. Know your character, know your powers and don’t let everyone else fall asleep while you re-read your power card for the 6th time.

3 Ameron September 9, 2009 at 9:18 am

I really like the idea of getting the players to help the DM track this kind of thing. Let me know how that works out. I’ll contact you privately by gmail to get a copy of your tracking sheet.

Designating a leader at the table is an excellent idea. This is especially important as the PCs get more powerful and combat becomes more complicated and longer.

The only time you should struggle with your character’s powers is because:
a) you’re playing someone else’s character,
b) you’re jumping into a delve with a totally new PC,
c) your 1st level.
Otherwise there’s no excuse.

4 Icosahedrophilia September 9, 2009 at 6:21 pm

I may give the pre-rolled initiative thing a try for the PCs. Alternately, I may ask the players’ permission to have FightCard roll the initiative for their PCs, since that requires no bookkeeping overhead at all.

I also like “calling the fight.” One way to make it seem less artificial is to borrow the morale save concept from the original DDM skirmish game. Some monsters will fight to the death, sure. But most are likely to run away. Either have them flee if they get bloodied (or if the boss gets bloodied), or implement a morale save. At the beginning of a bloodied monster’s turn, roll a save; if it fails, it flees.
.-= Icosahedrophilia´s last blog ..Icosahedrophilia Podcast, Episode 35: A Rite Most Foul, Part 8 =-.

5 Ameron September 10, 2009 at 12:39 pm

I’m a big believer that not every single monster should or will fight to the death. This is especially true if the monsters are highly intelligent.

I think using an automated initiative tool is a great idea if such a tool is available. Anything that will speed things up is a win.

6 Eric Graham September 11, 2009 at 7:27 pm

I like the Condition Tracker, but another tactic I like is to use tiny, colored rubber bands or rings of colored twist-tie to mark miniatures with status effects. Just hang one of those super-small rubber bands (the ones used for small braids) around the neck of the mini: red is for bloodied, players with marking abilities can designate their own colors, and the DM can hold some colors for different monster effects. I like this option because it’s visual.

7 Ameron September 11, 2009 at 9:58 pm

@Eric Graham
My group doesn’t use minis, but I’ve seen rubber bands and pipe cleaners used at cons and it does the job very well. Coloured paperclips are also a cheap and easy way to mark minis. You may even be able to find some at work and not have any additional out of pocket expense. 🙂

8 Kaetel September 14, 2009 at 11:33 am

To speed-up combat, I use initiative cards. I order the cards per initiative order and flip the current player’s card to the back of the pile at the end of turn.

The card is also used as a condition tracker as all conditions are noted on it. I simply put a tick against the condition to remember it and voilà.

9 Chase_Dagger September 15, 2009 at 1:25 pm

A few “in my opinion” type of comments:

Condition tracker: I don’t understand why this is needed; don’t DMs keep track of monsters on paper already? Don’t you leave space to write in conditions?
I don’t see why I would print out all those conditions only to use 1 or 2 per monster; I just write the conditions on the same thing I track HP. I never considered this a significate time waster.

Advanced Initiative: I don’t see how this saves any reasonable amount of time, we’ve got what we call the Initiate Template, and it takes about 60 seconds for everyone to roll [monsters included] and for the initiative to be added to the sheet.

Calling a Fight: Like everyone else; “fights that drag on” are one of my biggest criticisms of the game. My goal is to run a game that entertains both me and my players, and this problem really gets under my skin.
Currently I agree that you’ve got to call the fight if you expect your players to remain entertained. I call the fight, but I’m disappointed each time it has to happen.
I think Wizards should highly consider a fix for this problem. I believe the healing surge thing is not a good workaround for my group, but I respect all ideas on how to deal with this.
I have different methods to calling the fight; some are ok, but they are conditional and can’t be used all the time. I feel that monsters should try to flee but if a monster flees; and the PCs don’t stop it, I don’t give them XP for that monster. How do you guys handle a monster that escapes, do you just hand over full Xp?

P.S. Ameron, what do you use instead of minis? Maybe you could explain why? I mean anyone can say they are too expensive and that is a perfect reason, but at the same time I find it super hard to resist especially since you can get some really good deals on used minis. Also I feel they add a lot to the game, not in functionality but in flavour and fun.

10 Wimwick September 15, 2009 at 2:57 pm

@ Chase Dagger
Thanks for the feedback. I’m only going to reply to your last comment about what we use instead of minis. I’ll let Ameron reply to the rest when he gets a break between movies (he’s currently enjoying TIFF).

The team at Dungeon’s Master uses Map Tools which you can find at We’ve been gaming with the same group of players for about 20 years. As family and careers have taken a larger stage in life we’ve found that the ability to play online has been key in keeping the group together as we can’t always show up in person. We currently have one player who lives 4 hours from the rest of us, but is online as often as possible during our regular gaming session.

11 Chase_Dagger September 16, 2009 at 11:43 am

Oh that’s interesting, I’m glad I asked. My group has a really hard time getting together too; we manage eventually to find the time, but I doubt that will last forever.
No one has to answer the other stuff; I’m was just commenting some of the tasks being streamlined seem pretty fast to me already, and the calling the fight thing to me is a big problem for the game.

I see that I did ask a few questions, but they aren’t very good. In hindsight the answers are pretty obvious (you must keep track of hp somehow.)

PS – Wimwick: Sorry for calling you Ameron in that other post. 🙂

12 Ameron September 21, 2009 at 12:23 am

We welcome your feedback. Don’t shy away from asking questions. If our experience can help you then we’ll share our thoughts. You can always email us directly if there’s something that we haven’t covered in one of our articles that you’d like to know about. We’re always looking for good ideas.

Thanks for jumping in whale I was on vacation.

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