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My group tends to over-analyse during combat, which slows everything down.

I press upon my players to make their decision and roll the dice quickly. My players are all experienced in the system and I rarely provide a description that is inadequate to make their decisions. I get the odd question, but it usually precedes something daring outside of the system - which is fine by me.

If a player takes too long, I skip their turn - assuming the character is doing something 'sensible' but not taking positive action. This is understood by all as the way it is in our group. As far as I know they find this way fun but we have a polite group that would roll with the punches.

However, is it fair to force the players the make decisions quickly in this way? Is putting pressure on them a reasonable request?

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10 Answers 10

up vote 45 down vote accepted

Combat needs to move. It's the most detail packed in the least in-game time most systems have to offer. And yet it's also (usually) supposed to feel fast-paced and action packed.

So yes, it's perfectly acceptable to hurry players along to the point of skipping a turn. It's even a rule in some systems. Here's an example from the Star Wars RPG (although I believe similar rules exist in some editions of D&D, and other games):

Speeding Play. [...] Don't let a player hesitate when it's time to decide what to do. If the player is dragging his heels, count out loud to three -- if you get to three and the player hasn't decided what to do, the character hesitated and can't act that round. Go straight to the next character.

(Don't be too strict with new players: give them a chance to get used to the game. It's also bad form to allow a player's character to be killed after he or she was skipped...)

There are some exceptions to keep in mind:

  • Complex situations demand a bit more lee-way. If there are a lot of enemies, tactical terrain, or special abilities being thrown about players will want some time to absorb that.

  • New players (and players with new classes/abilities) should be given extra time.

  • If your group is more hack-and-slash, you can allow a bit more time for combat. This gives people more of an opportunity to enjoy the strategy and mechanics of the combat.

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Wow, I didn't realise SW had rules for it. That's actually a smart idea. As we mostly play homebrews, it might be a good idea to put it in the rules. –  Rob Lang Dec 8 '11 at 10:36
    
We have used a timer which is activated by the GM as soon as a player is not decisive enough or didn't prepare his round. If no action is taken within that time, he automatically delays. –  Jo Heymans Dec 9 '11 at 20:01
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I agree. You can't stop and think about what to do next in real combat... –  Mike Wills Dec 13 '11 at 17:22
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Paranoia was the game where I first encountered the idea of skipping a player who hesitated. Of course, you'd expect it from Paranoia, right? –  YogoZuno May 16 '13 at 3:16
    
Savage Worlds has the same: you automatically Hold the action if you are indecisive. It seems to be a common enough RAW thing that it's not categorically unfair. –  SevenSidedDie May 16 '13 at 6:36

My view has always been that if they need to pause to ask you a rules question, for a better description, etc, then it's fair to let them slow the combat down to get answers to those things. But if they're just sitting there waging an internal struggle (or even just arguing with other party members) about whether they should smack the monster with their +5 sword vs throwing a fireball at it, then I press them to respond quickly. It's not like the monster is going to take a 5 minute break for their characters while they discuss battle tactics.

So, basically, if the reason they are being slow is out-of-character in nature, I give them a break. If it's an in-character reason, I press them to continue. In a game like D&D 3 or D&D 4, that usually means warning them that I'm going to be "delaying" them until they decide what to do. In a more fluid system like Hackmaster Basic, it means I continue counting segments by without them until they're ready to jump back in.

Usually, the warning that I'm about to move on without them is enough for them to make up their mind. I've found that with some players, you pretty much have to do this, or the game grinds to a halt for players who are prone to analysis paralysis.

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I have a technique borrowed from someone, passed on by @SlyFlourish on his blog:

Give them a real-time window for a BONUS to a roll.

I play D&D 4e, where each character acts in initiative order and this technique is implemented with a soundtrack. Each player has a 90-second theme that I mix randomly into the combat soundtrack. If they take an action that requires a roll on their turn, they get a +1 benefit if that roll happens during the playing of their character's sound track.

There are also monster and environment tracks to space things out a bit, and I don't give any bonuses or penalties for actions when those are playing.

This has a few interesting effects: The obvious one is that a player wants to act during his characters theme. But also, the other players become sensitive to the idea that they want to resolve their turn quickly if another character's theme starts playing.

I was initially afraid that folks would delay waiting for their theme, but that doesn't seem to happen with my group. There has been one "delay my turn" in order to let someone later in the initiative to match their character theme and get the +1 for a critical roll, though. I guess that would be a third benefit. :-)

Updated with a pointer to Slyflourish's blog, where he borrows the idea from Greg Bilsland's house rules. My version happens more often (1-3 times per combat) so I don't give the AP, but just the +1.

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This is a wonderful idea but I doubt it would work for our group as each player tends to get about 15 seconds. It would take longer to queue up the track! +1 for giving a bonus to being fast, although my cynical players might see that is a negative for being slow. –  Rob Lang Dec 8 '11 at 10:39
    
@Rob I'm not sure I understand. My tracks auto play in random order, so it takes no overhead on my part. :-) –  F. Randall Farmer Dec 8 '11 at 16:08
    
Oh I see. Do you use initiative in your system? Order of action is important for us. –  Rob Lang Dec 8 '11 at 16:25
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@Rob My understanding -- The music plays randomly over an initiative order. Sometimes your theme is playing on your turn... Sometimes someone else's is. The themes aren't timers themselves. The way they speed the game along is that if it's my turn, and the theme for the guy three steps down starts playing, I want to hurry up so he can act during his theme. –  AceCalhoon Dec 8 '11 at 16:39
    
@rob You'll need about 3x your average desired turn duration for this to work, I think. Imagine that my theme comes up as your turn starts, and you're just before me - you need to finish your action and pass to me for me to get the benefit. Also, if it is too short, people will probably stretch their turns waiting for their theme to start. –  F. Randall Farmer Dec 8 '11 at 18:17

It's only fair if you limit everyone the same way, and have a consistent penalty for failure.

That said, it's a technique that is often unpleasant for players, and may occasionally result in disintegration of a group. The one time I used it with a small group (5p), it resulted in players not wanting to play. In my large group (12p), it was a fact of life that, if I asked you for an action, you needed to have it for me in under a minute. No time was allowed simply to keep the group moving, and in a 12p game, it was acceptable to everyone as it was a stated ground rule.

Also, discuss the implementation of it before implementing it. Dropping it without warning is a decidedly aversive stimulus.

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+1 for discussing it with your players. Never change the rules out from under them. –  Jim Dagg Dec 7 '11 at 20:01
    
As I say in the original question, it is already implemented. It's been that way for years. My problem is that having done the same thing the same way for years might just mean that it has been unfair for years! For others reading this Q, this is a very good point. +1 –  Rob Lang Dec 8 '11 at 10:38

If your group is playing once in 10 weeks and has PCs with a lot of levels and therefore a lot of opportunities, this will result in players looking up diverse descriptions (initiative, range, duration,...). Their PCs would know those things, because all they do is being in the game's universe (or multiverse for that). I would not apply pressure at the players because in that case they do not have the time to find a good solution and have got to take a random one, which will be frustrating. The same would hold for new players or players of a class new to them etc., who need to look up/ask quite a few things, too.

On the other hand, if players just cannot decide whether to use the sword with the red or the one with the green hilt, or are distracted by things outside of your game, I would say: Apply time pressure.

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It's reasonable to put some time pressure on the players (or the GM). The game is a social construct at its core. If you must add a house rule to mechanically enforce this, decide whether you want to use the Carrot or the Stick.

Example Carrot: Get a +1 to hit if you announce your actions and roll in the first ten seconds of your turn.

Example Stick: If you're undecided after thirty seconds, your character doesn't do anything or takes a defensive action.

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In my games, players get 30 seconds to state their action or ask a rules/situational question. If they ask a question that's relevant, I answer it and then reset the clock.

For example:
How do I do a grapple?
If I charge X, does Y get an AoO on me?
Is X or Y more wounded?
How concealed is X?

My current rule is as long as the player is asking relevant stuff, they get no limit on questions. However, if he asks something that I think irrelevant, I'll ask about relevance and the player tends to explain, ask another question, or declare their action.

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The answer depends on what the goals are of your game. But in most cases, yes it's appropriate.

If the game is tactical and is mostly about the combat, then it is probably appropriate to time limit moves. Use a chess clock or similar timer, and just add time to the system mastery factors at work. Get group consensus, as "we want unlimited time but optimal results" is also a valid approach.

Also, much of the time wasted in deciding on moves is very frequently because of table talk - it's not one person sitting there in indecision, it's a committee meeting on every 5' move. Consider banning table talk and kibitzing about tactical moves. That'll cut back a large portion of your problem without a time limit per se.

If your goal is playing in-character and immersion, long pauses and metagame fretting are killing it. Set a short time limit and stick to it. Pretty much the same thing with the goal of telling a story; it's making the story slow and boring in the name of tactical optimization.

If the goal is casual socializing, then it's dependent on whether the long pauses are engaging or boring the group. If everyone will have a better time with a time limit, put one in. As the GM you have a bit of the responsibility to overcome the tragedy of the commons - everyone may want more time themselves but the overall effect is a boring game; they need your leadership in that case.

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Yes.

However, that's a qualified yes. In order to keep combat moving, sometimes limits need to be applied; it's quite realistic also. However, I'd say that there are a couple of caveats to that:

  1. System/Character. Some systems lend themselves to this more than others, just by the nature of the game itself and/or the character. If the character is a combat machine that can analyze thousands of moves in a second, it would be quite unfair to hobble the character because of the players limitations. This leads quite handily into the second point,
  2. Characters in the game. It's also quite unfair in my opinion to give the combat monster the same time to decide as the hacker, or someone with combat reflexes the same time as someone with combat paralysis, or someone with super speed the same time as joe normal. Take into account the abilities of the characters; after all, they developed a character that has those abilities for a purpose, and again, to give them the same time to decide would be unfair in regards to the abilities purchased.
  3. Situation. Though this isn't as important as the previous two IMO, the situation where the character is calm and collected waiting for an unwary opponent because he's sniping from 300m away for instance would give more time to think than the heat of combat. This is a bit more difficult to adjudicate, but will also give a big bang for the buck the first time they're caught flatfooted and have very little time to act.

Putting limits on the characters helps to move the combat along, and keep it more exciting and fluid. But it doesn't just have to be for a meta-game reason; these limits can be implemented in such a way as to give your combats more excitement and tension. But whatever you choose, don't spring it on the players, communicate as you implement it, and be quite deliberate and consistent in your setting of time limits. This final part is what will make it work, but it can take quite a bit of tweaking, so don't be stuck on one implementation just for the sake of it.

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How about giving each player a time to respond in? This time would be dependent on the "combat sense"/"combat experience" that the character has. So, Bob the ex-SAS, ex-Legion soldier can get three minutes to decide what he wants to do but Alice the librarian may only get 20 second. Numbers need to be tailored as I have not tested this.

On the other hand, if the party has worked together a lot, are all combat experienced, and have trained in fighting as a unit, then they should get some time to determine what they do as a unit.

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Hmm, I see the logic, but there is a slight contradiction. Namely, the pace becomes inverted - Bob feels like the slow guy now. –  Vorac Sep 19 '12 at 16:06

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