Make Your Turns Go Faster – Improving GM GIT Part IV
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0996
Welcome to part four of my series on how to engage players better by avoiding a terrible GM trap.
While at a con I played under a GM who did 80% of the talking. That meant players were left with the remaining 20% of the spotlight to divide amongst themselves.
I was pretty dissatisfied about this after the game and vowed not to fall into the same trap in my campaigns.
This ratio of GM time to player time I coined GIT, or Game Interaction Time.
For my style of GMing, I think an ideal GIT is 40-50%.
Five or six players asking me questions, plus the usual narration and back-and-forth is going to mean I’m talking more than anyone else.
But I should not hog more than half the session.
In general, there are four things you spend time on while GMing:
The first three parts in the series talked about #1 and #2.
Today, let’s dig into #3.
Another way we can bore our players or make them frustrated by not getting enough spotlight is taking up too much Rolling time.
Great players have their character’s turn already planned out when the spotlight lands on them.
They know their character’s abilities and all the related rules either from memory or from notes they’ve made.
They also help other players with assists, rules lookups, and great ideas even when it’s not their turn.
At our best, we GMs can be like those great players.
However, like effective leaders, we need to know how to leverage the entire table to make our turns go better and faster.
Idle players can pitch in with managing minions, rules references, table clean-up between battles, and other tasks you might otherwise try to do all yourself.
We Master The Rules
We have looked at our planned encounters before the game and studied any tricky rules that might come up, like extended climbs, swimming, flying, or mounted actions.
If the system is new to us, we create cheat sheets so most rules are just a screen-check away.
And if you are blessed with players who are smarter than you, like I am, you can get them a copy of the rules or give them a heads-up on any rules that might stop play.
This then lets you focus on mastering just the new rules upcoming foes might introduce.
We Are Humble
When we make a mistake we admit it and correct it. I’ve sat uncomfortably while player and GM argued. Arguments are not the best use of our limited and precious session time together.
I’m lucky in that I get to make a lot of errors. Bad judgment calls, bad rule calls, or just plain bad guesses that I’m right.
Rather than taking up additional screen time hemming and hawing over mistakes (or worse, potential mistakes) when they come up — especially tough calls — I make a quick decision and listen to my players.
Five players will spot my errors quick. They call it out, I make a correction and learn, and the game dashes onward.
This also keeps players engaged. And there’s mutual respect from being humble enough to admit error. Both sides of the screen feel valued.
Some GMs seem to get mileage by rolling attacks and damage at the same time. This has never saved time for me, even when the players do it.
It saves what, a second maybe two?
And then you lose the awesome drama from seeing what effect a successful hit gets by keeping damage a mystery and rolling it separately.
In my experience, you save the most rolling time with great combat and action scene design. Fast combats are designed, not rolled.
Learn how to end encounters when the conclusion is inevitable. Stop session-consuming grinds with clever Combat Missions. And tweak monsters so fights end faster while making combat better stories and more dramatic.
Good design beats dice hacks every time.
Use Dice Instead of Math
One of the best mechanics for rolling speed is Advantage/Disadvantage die, which I first encountered in the Whitehack RPG, then later in D&D 5E when that game came out.
If a player starts stacking bonuses or penalties on the fly for situations or roleplaying, add an extra die to the roll and take the best/worst instead of fiddling with more modifiers.
Likewise, if you want to get a player better or worse odds with a check, just chuck two 20s instead of trying to figure out an exact modifier.
If calculating exact difficulty on a sliding scale system hurts your head, this approach saves you depleting your brain juice so you’ve got more ongoing for good RP.
While this method creates non-linear probability, so not as clean as a static +3 or +5, it’s faster to roll and determine a result.
It’s also more fun because you get to roll more dice!
Finally, sometimes you do need to calculate an exact target number.
Perhaps you prefer precision in your gaming. Or maybe you are ok with hand-waving rolls but it’s a major drama point and you want it done right.
Rules, character sheet modifiers, and situational effects mean you should take the time to do the full calculation.
However, when faced with that, I roll first and calculate second.
You’ll know if you roll very low or high. That’s a clear result. Awesome. Move on.
And if you get a middling roll, then fine, stop and do the calc.
Also, before you roll, ask a player to start adding up all the known modifiers, scores, and variables.
If you get a middling roll, they’ll have a head start and you only need to add up your side of the equation, such as secret modifiers or hidden foe scores.
However, I find more often than not I can make a fast call by rolling first.
I roll out in the open, so anyone can appeal one of those quick judgment calls for a full result audit. But everyone knows a result instantly when they see a low or high toss.
Hopefully these tips help with GIT problem #3, rolling.
Every opportunity you have to shave time off your GM turns means more spotlight time for players. It’s worth making these fine adjustments to your approach.