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Chess players use a special clock to keep timings of each move within a reasonable amount, or they lose. During fighting session, I'd like to introduce a similar technique to prevent excessive strategic thinking and pressure the players (and the master as well) to a fast paced, more realistic fight. I think a chess clock is not appropriate, due to the two-players nature of the game. A sand hourglass maybe ?

Do you have other interesting solutions, with an additional coolness factor (the more the better) ?

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A word of advice: Tell your players that you're going to be imposing time limits before you start doing it. I've seen a player lose his turn because he stopped to ask the GM "Why are you counting?" – GMJoe Jun 18 '12 at 6:52
up vote 9 down vote accepted

Hourglasses (or Sand Timers, as you'll probably want to search for) are awesome for this. Amazon has them ranging from 1-5 minutes for very little money. Just make sure you have several of them (up to one per player) to ensure that you always have one ready to go for those times when combat is ticking quickly.

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This is very cool ...… – Stefano Borini Aug 23 '10 at 19:13
Damn right hour glasses are the way to go! Scared the crap out of Dorothy while she was in the Wicked Witch's tower, and it can do the same for your players. – LeguRi Oct 19 '10 at 5:40

I tried sand timers, but when a player finished early it was a pain waiting for sand to run out to start another player's turn (unless you have a 15 second timer, and then it's so fast it's not an issue).

Next, I tried a digital timer. Got a cheap one from Too fiddly (it was a poor design).

If you allow mobile devices at the table, these should all have sleek timer apps or functions.

However, the best solution for me is to use the time to plan my stuff and then, when I'm done, I'll give the player a five second countdown with my fingers and voice.

I use the time players spend thinking, looking up rules or hand-wringing to plan my foes' next moves, roll stuff in advance, and catch up on notes and other admin stuff.

I also have a little checklist I scan if I have extra time. "Has anyone/thing nearby noticed what's going on? What can you add this round to spice it up? R U forgetting a foe ability?" Etc.

I only spend a minute or less doing this stuff, but it keeps me on top of things as the rounds click by. If a player finishes fast, I stop whatever I'm doing and resume combat.

Players also use this time to ask me questions about stuff coming up on their turn.

It works well for my group. Maybe yours too.

Hmmm, I've wandered off point. You wanted to pressure players and get combat rolling fast. Best for that is a timer (I up-voted foxxtrot's suggestion) but have the players police each other. Competitive players will rule to the second, adding pressure, and it frees you up to do other stuff while you wait.

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I like the hour glass idea. Also, if they take too long to decide you could bump them down the list, which could allow the enemy to attack first, and destroy their plans. It would be more realistic.

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I'm old school, so if they spend more than 5 minutes thinking/talking, I'm starting the countdown (10 seconds, then we go with whoever has declared already). Everyone declares prior to round start, and they have the option of the last minute change, but they can only do one thing and they are the last in the round. Most of my combats are less than 30 minutes.

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Visual warnings (with an hourglass for instance) can be a good idea, but I'll rather be in favor of verbal warnings. By telling them "If you don't tell me what you do in the next 30 seconds, you turn is lost", you'll transcribe more acurately the stress of the battle.

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Sand timers or a good digital stopwatch.

I've a digital stopwatch that can be set for a countdown mode, anywhere from 1 second to 12 hours. Set it for the desired time limit, click reset when the time starts, and when it beeps, time up. If done early, stop, reset, and next guy.

With sand timers, the players probably should have 1 each, and a good $15 stopwatch is often cheaper than 4-5 sand timers with shipping. Plus it is more flexible, and less fragile.

If you can find one, tho, an old McDonalds or other such store break timer is also a good choice.

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