It’s easy to let game night slip away into discussion time and going off on tangents. This article should help give you some good ideas on how to speed things up and get the most out of your session. It’s not rules specific so you should be able to put it to use for any system.
I’ve written several articles, listed under GM Help and Player Help, to give various resources to help game nights out in general. This article is specifically tailored to speeding things up. Two can play at this game, so be sure to share this with your whole group. Since it is for players and game masters.
- Be ready on your turn. Pay close attention to what is going on if it involves your character. It’s one thing if your character isn’t present or going to act anytime soon. This can be anything from knowing what action you are going to take in combat, all the way to what you plan on saying to the elven ambassador of Bulth’we. It can be frustrating for the whole group when it gets to someone’s turn and they ask “Wait, what happened?” or say “Hang on, let me think.” These speed bumps add up fast over the course of the night. For “shy” players, it also means they are put on the spot when it gets to their turn and they are unprepared. If your are truly at a loss, then pass your turn to a later point in the turn order, this will give you some time to think or figure out what you need to do.
- Prepare spell notes. Spells require a lot, or very little, attention and resources. In all cases you should have some form of spell notes out and ready. The most simple of these is just writing down the name, some basic information, and the page that the detailed spell information is on. The more complex, but highly rewarding one, is using printed out spell cards, or some digital spell sheet on a tablet or smart phone. I am a fan of the, Spell Name – Attack or Save DC – Simplified Effect Info or Damage – Page Number of spell. This make it easy and keeps it from taking up a whole lot of space. On top of that, writing this down or typing it up and printing it out makes you inherently learn the information of the spell so you may end up knowing it offhand. At the worst, you’re provided with the page number so it is very easy to find and pick up from the book to settle any potential disputes.
- Track your own (resources, inventory, etc…). Some game masters are big on tracking everything you have, from spell components, to ammo. There is nothing wrong with this, those rules exist for a reason. When this happens, make sure to track things as you go. Index cards rock for this, don’t keep marking and erasing on your character sheet. Just use simple tick marks or check marks, whatever you need to track things fast. Don’t try and track everyone’s everything. Some people volunteer to do this, don’t. You are responsible for your own stuff, and in combat, flipping through or erasing stuff is just tedious. Just track on something separate and blank. I typically write; xbow bolt //// or 10gp spell comps. To represent that I’ve fired and lost four crossbow bolts, or used ten gold worth of spell components. Then, at the end of the night, or when I get to town, I can just refer to the index card to restock. It also keeps me from redoing things on my character sheet when it gets to that point.
- Roll ALL the dice! I see this method being used very rarely, which surprises me. It’s programmed into the fifth edition character sheets on Roll20.net (For D&D). But, when you’re rolling dice that require damage as well, or other dice, just roll them all at once. If you roll 1d20 to attack and 2d6 for damage, then roll all three dice at the same time. No need to warm up each time you roll a dice. If you miss, it’s not wasted time, because it’s still just one roll. Instead of hunting the dice out when you hit, just roll them at once and go with it.
- Pass notes. Table chatter can distract everyone from the game. It keeps people from paying attention to what’s going on. When you pass notes to the target of your discussion, you’re saving everyone from potential distraction. On top of that, if it’s their turn, or they are involved, they can look at it after they are done, instead of demanding immediate distraction from the game. This doesn’t mean everyone be good and sit quiet. But, when you have something to say that doesn’t need to be said, then just pass the note along. This is also super smart for preparing things ahead of time, and in secret with the game master. Notes allow you to do things that would normally be meta gamed against. Want to steal something from an NPC but have a lawful good person in the party? Pass the note the the gm and go from there. This makes sure that the person doesn’t go “OH! I want to roll perception to see if I notice that!” Instead, the gm can ask for it, or they can use a passive score.
For Game Masters…
- Cut corners. In most cases, and most combat, you don’t need every last bit of information from players or enemies. Get passive ability scores from your players. They don’t always get to roll for perception or insight, whatever have you. Using passive abilities lets you bypass extra (mostly unneeded) rolling and dive straight into the action or lack of action if they succeed. Don’t deny rolls the players deserve, but if they aren’t actively using a skill, having the passive really helps. The same goes for enemy information. All you really need is basic attack information, defenses, and that’s about it. Write the page number for the enemy so you can look up anything else you need very quickly.
- And, rules. When it comes to any system, there are plenty of rules, and options, and variants, etc… Enough to keep any rules lawyers busy. But, you don’t need all of those rules all of the time. In fact, you may not need most of those rules. Cut out rules that you don’t like, or rules that you don’t agree with. Let your players know ahead of time what rules you are not using. Don’t want to track ammo? Don’t want to track weight, or be forced to handle stocking towns with specific spell components? What about magic item requirements of having to attune to items? Get rid of things you just don’t want. Perhaps you’d rather set a permanent turn order for players ahead of time. They tell you the turn order they’d like to act out in, and you just roll to see if your enemies interrupt that turn order. There are all kinds of things you can cut out of these systems.
- Delegate your tasks. Not everything must be done by the GM. When everyone rolls initiative, have someone else track turn order. Have your players tally experience, or keep track of the loot they’ve picked up. Got extra hirelings or npcs that are travelling with? Let players pick them up and control them. If they do something the character wouldn’t normally do, have them roll against it, or you roll against it. Make sure the players are ready and setup before the game is going, and have someone keep things clean through the night. You don’t have to award extra incentive for this, the extra incentive is that you open up more game time. That’s not to say you can’t toss some goodies their way, but they shouldn’t expect it from you either.
- Limit OOC. Like players passing notes, make sure that the interruptions are minimal. If there is a discussion or debate opening up, give it due time, but don’t go over five minutes. Or, save it for after the game or between sessions. This isn’t saying stop them from joking and having fun, the chatter is part of the game. Just remind them that the game is still going and the clock is ticking. One fun thing I used to do is add difficulty as time went on. If they kept breaking OOC, and it took too long, or they wanted to talk about tactics for too long… I’d add a couple of orc reinforcements. Perhaps a couple of kobolds slipped away to trap a tunnel ahead. Maybe those cultists finish their spell just as the players break in, instead of giving them time to fully stop it.
These are just some ideas and tips to help speed things up. I hope they help! If you need help as a player or game master, feel free to comment below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Till next time!