Tips for Fast and Exciting Combat
One of the biggest problems that plague tabletop RPGs is slow combat. Slow combat means you’re spending less time exploring and more time rolling dice and crunching numbers, which can make the game less fun and exciting. Sure, the flying combat with the Manticore through the clouds is exciting and fast-paced. But the third time you run into guards in the hallway of the Evil Tower, you’re starting to get bogged down.
To that effect, I’ve compiled a few tips to keep combat moving quickly, and keep things fun and exciting:
Know your character, read the rules
You don’t have to have everything memorized, that’s what your character sheet is for. But knowing all your options helps your turn to move faster. Having to look up a spell or your list of special moves takes up time, and makes your turn slower.
Before the game
Read through the entire chapter of the rulebook for your character class. Then, read through any relevant other chapters ( combat rules if you’re a fighter, spellcasting if you’re a wizard, etc.). Take notes on your sheet for anything that you wont easily remember. Bookmark anything that you think you might have to look up later.
During the game
If you’re not sure how a rule works, either look it up outside of your turn, or don’t use it. Don’t make other players wait for you to look it up. You always have next turn, next combat, or next session to show off that cool ability.
After the game
If you get caught up in an edge case of a rule, don’t pause the game to look it up. Have the GM make a ruling, and then look it up after the game. Report back your findings to the group before the next session. Also read through the rules for anything you weren’t clear on. Improve your notes so you can use that cool ability next time. If you found yourself using the grapple rules a lot, copy those down onto your sheet to make them faster next time.
If you know your character well, your turns will be shorter, and you’ll be more easily able to:
Know what you’re going to do before your turn
Particularly as the group gets larger, there is a lot of time between turns. Don’t wait until the GM prompts you that its your turn to start looking through your actions and spells. Make a decision about what you’re going to do before it gets to your turn. If circumstances change and your plan doesn’t work anymore, thats fine. Having a main plan and even a backup plan before it gets to your turn keeps things moving.
This step becomes much easier if you:
Pay attention to other players’ turns
If you’re not paying attention during other players turns, you’re not aware of the state of the game when it gets to your turn. “Wait, where is that guard?” “Who’s standing next to her?”, and “Wait, he’s dead already?” all slow down your turn. This one is also a bit of a feedback loop. If you’re not paying attention, your turn slows down and other players will tune out because they already know the information. Then they’ll miss what goes on during your turn, and the cycle starts all over again.
This one is particularly hard when we’re playing online. You start to get bored, so you open another tab and go surf Reddit or start watching a Youtube video. Then when it gets to your turn, you have no idea what’s transpired. A lot of in-person tabletop games have rules like ‘No phones at the table’ for this exact reason. Online, that’s a lot harder to enforce. If you can have the self-control not to surf the web during the game, do that. Your fellow players will appreciate it.
I’m also terrible at this as a player. I get antsy and lose focus when I’m not doing anything. So I’ve come up with a few different things that help me.
First, I try to stand while I play. My headphones have a long cable, so I can pace back and forth in front of my desk while we play. This prevents me from getting distracted by the internet, and helps me to focus on what I’m hearing from from fellow players instead of what I’m seeing on the computer screen.
Second, I try to find something to do that helps me focus, and doesn’t distract me. For a while, that was drawing. I started to draw our party’s caravan, cart by cart, which helped give my hands something to do while allowing my head to focus on the game. Lately, I’ve been painting minis during our games, which has the same effect. Since the task doesn’t involve words or reading, I can still listen to the game and hear everything that happens while I keep my hands occupied.
So that’s what I have to say about that. I’m not perfect, so I get these wrong plenty of times. But, in my experience, when we get these things right, everyone’s turns move smoothly, and we have a lot more fun around the table. Try them out, and let me know what you think.