From Len Henderson
One of the most enjoyable parts of roleplaying for many gamers is combat. However, especially in large groups, players can wait for a considerable amount of time between turns. This sort of wait leads to boredom and cross chatter, annoying the GM and the player whose turn it is.
Here are things I do to speed up combat.
Create Character Ability Cards
In my group, any ability or spell players might use should have an index card representing it. On the card are things the GM needs to know, such as range, casting time, requisite save, duration, and effect.
If a player says “I cast X,” he grabs the card and tells me what I want to know about X, rather than searching through the books to find it.
You should only need cards for those spells or abilities you actually use in combat, but I have players who have all their PCs’ spells and abilities on cards.
Create Rules Cards
I have a small box next to me with combat cards in it. Each card details a particular action that can occur in combat with the relevant rules for it. If one of my players says, “I attempt to trip the monster,” I can pull out the Trip card and the rules for tripping are detailed thereon. This saves having to pull out the book and finding the rule.
Create Foe Summary Cards
I write down on a card the combat statistics and special abilities of monsters or NPCs I know I’ll be using in the next game, especially if I’ll be using several different monsters in the same encounter.
This leads to less flicking through the monster manuals for statistics. If the monster or NPC uses spells or special abilities, I’ll do up a separate card for that as well.
Each player has a magnetic strip with their character’s name written on it. When initiative is resolved, I then put the strips on a metal backing board, in initiative order.
If initiative changes during combat, it is a simple matter to switch the strips around. I do the same with monster initiative.
Sandbox Delaying Players
I only give my players a short amount of time to complete their actions. If they are obviously delaying or are unsure of what they want to do, then I say, “Your character is delaying.” I then move their initiative strip to the side and do the next player’s turn.
When a delayed PC is ready, I move their initiative strip back into the order at the current point in initiative, and the player can take their turn.
PCs should be ready to take their action on their turn. There is plenty of time to plan whilst the other players are having their turn.
Enforce In-Character Talking
Cutting down on cross chatter is a big thing in my games. If you want to chat to the person next to you about how little Suzy is the apple of your eye, she’d better be a character in my game, otherwise go elsewhere to do so.
Cross chatter destroys the atmosphere the GM is trying to create, and it distracts other players, which slows the game.
Reinforce With Body Language
I have found that the body language shown by the GM is mirrored by the players.
I generally lean forward, speak a little more softly but with more intensity, and increase the tempo of my speech. The players notice this and do the same.
Looking in books for rules, or any activity that breaks eye contact with the players, slows combat.
Beginning GMs will spend ten minutes perusing a monster manual for a particular rule or ability. This breaks the mood and lowers the tempo. It is better to make things up on the fly. If you we are wrong, so be it. Look the rule up and remember it for the next game.