Seven Tricks to Save Time

From Guardian

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0022

A Brief Word From Johnn

I found a great web site a little while ago with several pages of super roleplaying tips. Guardian, the site’s creator and tips’ writer, has kindly agreed to let me reprint a few here for you. I’ll be quoting Guardian again in future issues, but if you can’t wait please do go and visit his site:

I hope you enjoy his tips. They are D&D-centric, but I think all GMs can take a great nugget or two from them and save time in their game.


Rolling dice is your enemy. The more time you spend dealing with dice, the less time you can spend planning the critters’ moves, top bad guy’s plans, and dealing with the PCs’ actions. It’s not that you want to roll fewer dice (nothing scares hack’n’slashers like picking up a double- handful of d20s, with an evil, gleeful grin, and rolling all of them), you want to spend less time doing it. So, roll a lot of dice at once. When you need a number, start in the upper left corner of the pile, read it, and set it aside.

Apply some common sense. If a 3 hits AC 0 (THACO=3), and you rolled a 19, don’t even bother with the combat tables. You hit. On ability score or skill checks, if it’s a 5 or less, the character most likely succeeded. No real need to waste time checking.


Decide what the bad guys are going to do. Go around and ask the players what they’re going to do – in one or two words (“Kill everything, spell, magic item, hide, etc.”). Roll initiative. Call out the initiative. While you’re doing that, the PCs should be making to hit and damage rolls (even if they miss, the dice are at least rolled and not taking up your time waiting for the PC to roll his or her dice), looking up spells, etc. The idea is that the player is ready with the information by the time you get to her or him.

Now you and the players can spend the time describing the fight – role-playing – instead of dealing with mechanics. If you do a little roleplaying with the PC who won initiative, you’re actually giving the other players a chance to get their stuff together.Another note on combat. Roll the dice only when it’s necessary. If a party of 9th level combat-heavy dragonslayers is attacked by twelve 0-level bandits, the bandits are going to lose 99.99% of the time. An encounter like this is barely a sidenote in the adventure, and should be dealt with as such.

DM: “You’re four days out from Calanport when about a dozen rough-looking men step out of the trees on the path. You’re surrounded. The one in front of you, with an eyepatch, says, Give us your money.”Player: “I laugh at him and draw my sword.”DM: “Four minutes later, you clean off your sword and continue your journey.”

End of encounter. Elapsed time: 27 seconds.

In situations like this, the PCs probably won’t get any xp – there was absolutely no challenge involved, their character didn’t grow from it, and it’s not worth the time to total up all 57 xp. If your players are real sticklers, remind them to, “Work with me, guys.”

If you have a player who constantly dithers about what to do in combat, and despite all friendly assistance on your part, continues to waste time trying to decide what he’s going to do, start out considerate and gradually move to being harsh. Have one of the more experienced or quick players try helping the slow one (this is especially important for new players) to free you up without penalizing anyone.

If things don’t start improving after four or five sessions, tell the player that it’s better to make a decision – even if it’s a wrong one – than to stand there in the middle of combat and do nothing. If the problem persists, tell the player if he waits any longer, he’ll lose initiative, or give his opponent another free attack on him. If the player still dithers, go ahead and pass him over in initiative and come back to him when he’s made a decision.

If that doesn’t work, remind the player that he’s role- playing, and his indecision is also his characters’ – and start giving out free attacks to opponents. But whatever you do, DON’T KILL THE CHARACTER! This may mean a climactic combat is held up a bit. Not everyone can make snap decisions very well, and it may take time for the player to become comfortable with your style of play. Be aware that not everyone can adapt well to speed-combat.

You certainly don’t want to lose an otherwise good player simply because he or she has trouble making decisions in the middle of a combat game!Caveat: In the final climactic battle, switching everything to slow-motion detail, where every parry, every thrust, every spell, is life-dependingly precise, can easily make this the campaign players will talk about years later. Just be sure that you, as DM, stay intense in manner, speech, and demeanor through the entire scene! It’s exhausting, exhilirating, and worth every drop of sweat.

Always Be Prepared

This goes with being a great DM: Come to the game prepared. Be at least passingly familiar with major encounters, puzzles, magic items, and NPCs. When the players are discussing their next move with each other (in character, if possible) use the time to quickly scan over the next section of notes for the adventure.

In General

An hour before the game, I sit down and read over my session notes – what I want to have happen during the session. This doesn’t mean I railroad the players – quite the opposite. Keep the notes general enough for flexibility, but specific enough to give you a general plan to work from.

Shift As Much Work To The Players As Possible

If the player wants his character to research a spell, make a magical item, what-have-you, have the player do the spell writeup (in PH format) or magic item description (in DMG format) and give you a copy. Don’t ever accept an original. This way, if the sheet gets lost in the session pile of books and notes, there’s a backup. If the player doesn’t put the spell/item in the right format, or didn’t include enough information, hand back your copy with notes scribbled in about what changes need to be made.

When it comes to maintaining strongholds, territories, land, NPCs, etc. the player should be handling around 90% of this work and giving you periodic updates (email works great). The player should keep the original material and give you copies. Remind the players when their characters need to pay taxes, maintenance, etc. and let them do the writing and math. The player should draw up the floor plans, description, magical defenses, etc. It’s not your job. Take care of as much of this sort of material outside the game session as you can.

If a player brings it up during game time, and it’s not vital that it be taken care of right now, be polite and put it off until the session’s over.If your players have computers, make sure they send all this sort of material to you electronically. It’s so much easier to deal with bookkeeping in electronic form.

Track Down Tools To Make Life Easier

Irony Games has a load. Netbooks are a source of ideas and innovations (though you may have to wade through several K worth of flotsam to get to the diamonds). Build and distribute your own tools – just make sure you don’t violate anyone’s copyright! There are also some tools on my site you may find helpful.

Comments on Guardian’s tips? [email protected]

Have more fun at every game!

Johnn Four

Graphic of section divider

Request For Your Best Villain Tips

I’ve chatted about villains before, but they are such a huge part of the game that they deserve ongoing attention. For our next look at them in an upcoming issue I’d like to focus on tips for specific bad guy strategies, tactics and actions.

And I’d love to print your tips in this newsletter so that you can help everyone have truly evil and cunning villains!

Here’s an example of an ideal tip that would help GMs of all genres and game systems:

Have the villain give the characters something truly useful or helpful. The gift should be something the PCs want/need, but of minor consequence to the villain’s overall scheme.

Why the gift? Due to the source of the gift, the PCs will have great doubt, suspicion and confusion about it. Just the kinds of emotions you want to inject into your players and their characters!

And the PCs will probably sabotage themselves out of sheer paranoia. Another point to consider: if the PCs accept the gift, what will their friends and allies think?

A truly devious tactic.

Send your best nasty villain tips to: [email protected]