Use Initiative To Keep Players Engaged

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0873

Here’s a great tip for speeding up combats from RPT GM Gary Martin:

I’ve found one of the huge culprits at our table is the player zoning out while waiting for their turn.

Even if turns are slow, it makes them five times slower when you have re-explain what’s going on.

What I started doing was re-rolling initiative every turn. It amazes me how much faster we go now.

Your turn is hardly ever at the same time each round and you are pulled back to pay attention each new round to roll initiative. At the very least, this approach has my players engaged in what’s happening more than before.

Tony and I talk about great initiative solutions in Faster Combat. [Join Faster Combat] Different groups play different games. And GM and player preferences vary. So there is no universal way to answer ye ol’ question, who goes first?

However, I can tell you this based on my experience: initiative done wrong has terrible trickle-down effects for the rest of your game.

Without clarity of who goes first, who goes next, and whose turn is it now, you waste a lot of game time. So frustrating.

I think of it as a baton race. Sure, the speed of each runner is important to the overall race time.

However, the #1 key to speed in a baton race is actually the baton hand-off.

Any bobble, or worst case scenario — a dropped baton, instantly means the entire team is making up for lost time.

Baton teams practice clean hand-offs for hours and hours for this reason!

So it is at our game tables.

Lost time between turns because players have tuned out costs the whole game experience.

Having to recap where the player’s character is and what their options are kills any pacing or mood you’re trying to build.

Asking aloud yet again, “Ok, whose initiative is it?” is a waste of your brain cycles and breaks immersion. I like Gary’s tip. Use crisp initiative each round to keep players engaged. Get those baton hand-offs running like a modron!