What is the number one way to make combat go faster?
For D&D type games, it is mastering the rules.
When you can make decisions based on accurate rules knowledge, not only do you have more options available, but you play with more effectiveness and confidence.
You also need to make fewer rules references on or between turns. You help other players make their moves faster, as well.
You no longer hesitate on your turn due to lack of rules knowledge. Calculations speed up.
And the biggest reason rules mastery makes you faster in combat? Decision and execution speed dramatically increase. You know what to do and how to do it, and you get on with it.
In Boxes, And Out
As a bonus, once you have internalized your game’s rules, your entire thinking changes. Thus, the game changes for you – and it’s wonderful.
First, you can think in terms of game rules and all the options they present. Pathfinder, for example, offers a lot of maneuver options. Sometimes using a maneuver or skill gives you a better result than just piling on more damage.
Second, you can think outside the box. With rules mastery, you know when you are leaving the security blanket of procedure and into the realm of imagination – and you will know how to translate that back into game mechanics terms fast.
Get that lateral thinking into play. Try roleplaying to end the fight a different way. Look up from your toes and beyond the tip of your axe and scan the battlefield for opportunities.
Reluctant Game Masters Take Note
I have been doing research recently on how to run combat faster. My group is already pretty efficient from various things we’ve tried over the years, but I want even more speed.
Turns out I am by far the slowest player at the game table.
As GM, I have a lot to do, as pointed out by Campaign Mastery readers: several critters to run, meta game issues to manage, and little time between turns to think about my own moves because I am refereeing character actions.
However, one thing I can do immediately to take a big chunk out of my turn speed is to master the rules. I asked Mike for his advice on that recently, and he’s got an excellent series on the topic.
If you find combat slow, look to your own turn speed first. Could be you can make the biggest difference to faster combat by learning the game rules a bit better.
Create Your Own GM Combat Screen
An easy trick to learn your game’s rules better is to create your own game master combat screen.
This specialized GM aid not only gets you reading, studying, and writing your rules, but it gives you a great GM aid in the end to make future combats faster.
Most commercial screens waste space. A lot of space. For example, my current pro screen offers only one side of information! The other side has art on it. What a massive waste. While the art is inspiring for players, I’m sure, the effect wears off. Groups get banner blindness due to familiarity. Useful information never goes stale.
Further, the information on my screen includes non-combat stuff. For a general purpose screen, that is great. But when you are in combat, all other matters pause. You do not need any other information at the moment.
So, give me only reference to what will help combat go faster or easier.
Creating your own GM screen gives you a focused GM aid such as this.
What To Put On Your Screen?
This is a custom screen. Make it suit your specific needs.
If you have already mastered some rules, there is no need to add them to your screen even though it might seem odd.
For example, if you have memorized the effects of several conditions, don’t list those. Just write out the conditions you need to learn better.
Before creating your screen, play a combat or three and observe where the pain points are. Using Mike’s tip, log what rules give your group hiccups. Then note those rules on your screen.
For example, I can never remember the tiers of Detect Evil. That should go on my screen.
Again, it might seem weird to put the rules of Detect Evil on your screen and no other spells, but that’s just your left brain of retentiveness looking for completeness and order.
Can’t remember the AC of full plate? Note it on your screen, but exclude the ACs of armour you do know.
Take Advantage of the Player Side
When creating your screen, put useful stuff on the other side to help your group fight faster and better.
What would help players during fights? Action types and costs? Attacks of opportunity explained? Certain spell charts?
What about offering a space for players to write stuff they keep forgetting, such as certain spells, feats, and bonus damages?
Start a list and pass your screen around so each player can add oft-forgotten tactics and opportunities.
While getting faster is one goal, getting better is always my mission, too. So enlist your GM screen to help you add flavour to combat.
A simple reminder to roleplay during fights could help.
A table of simple combat descriptions could help you a lot too.
Some random name charts and a traits table might help you develop foe roleplaying on the fly.
Make A Simple Screen
Do not feel like you have to fill every inch of space with 9 point font.
Get a cereal box, cut it to size, and dot your new screen with Post-It Notes. Five minutes and you are done! Add notes as problem rules and reminder ideas come up.
Digital Screens Rock
I use a Google Spreadsheet instead of a cardboard screen at the table. You might find PDFs, desktop wallpapers, and other digital methods better.
Use whatever works for you.
However, while one part of this exercise is about creating a useful GM aid, but the other part is about mastering the rules by researching them and writing them out. Downloading a screen made by someone else only gets you a small win.
In this case, the building of your own screen is of the greatest benefit to you.
What Do You Think?
How do you master your game rules?
What tables do you find most useful on your commercial screen?
What information would you put on your custom GM combat screen?