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My gaming group is large. I have 10 players, 5 or 6 of them show up every session, but most of the time I have 7 people sitting at the table. Almost all the time there are some NPCs with the party, and a lot of monsters in the regular encounters.

What strategies can I use to make the combat turns resolve faster?

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closed as unclear what you're asking by Rubiksmoose, SevenSidedDie Apr 11 '18 at 18:41

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  • \$\begingroup\$ [Related] How can I manage a party that has grown too big? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 11 '18 at 17:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is there any part(s) of the combat process in particular that stands out as particularly slower than you'd like? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 11 '18 at 17:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you please point out where precisely the time consuming parts of turns occur for you? It is on the DMs turns? The players? Is it the NPCs that tend to clog things up? Or the enemies? Is it analysis paralysis? Or is it people not paying attention? Without more details it is not really possible to help effectively. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Apr 11 '18 at 18:40
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I have a few different suggestions that might work:

Roll attack and damage at the same time

This cuts down on the roll. You have them in your hand as a player at the start of the turn and you roll them, and if they hit, then you don't need to grab another die and roll it, it's already taken care of.

Egg Timer

Give the players and set amount of time, 30 seconds or 20 depending on your group size, and that's how long they have to make their decision. If it takes longer, they ready and action to do an attack with their weapon if anyone gets too close to them or cast a cantrip if someone gets too close to them.

Escalation Die

This is borrowing from the 13th Age System (if I remember correctly), it's a D6 that for the first round isn't out there, next round it's there as a 1 and everyone adds it to their roll/modifiers, next round it's a 2 and so on. This should increase the number of hits and make things go faster.

Bad Guy Mobs

The first two are for the players, next is for everyone, and now this one is for the DM. When the monsters attack, they attack as a group. They have group HP, group damage, group to hit, etc. When you get them to half HP, their damage drops, now you aren't rolling separately for a lot of guys and eating up as much time.

Minions

Why would minions make it faster, they are still more guys, but using minions means that you don't have to keep track of damage and do extra math as the DM. Instead you know, one hit and they die, and you can give them extra damage so that they pack more of a wallop if they do hit. You can also change it out to two hit minions as well, so that what looks like a minion might not die immediately unless critically hit which keeps the players still on their toes.

My Experience

I've used both the minion and the mob suggestions. The mob suggestion is borrowed form Star Wars Fantasy Flight RPG with the Stormtrooper and others that are better as a group. I would way that the mob is the one that allowed me to go the fastest though, minions add in some fun for the players because they are able to potentially take out a lot of guys quickly which always feels good. Combining the two can kind of work, but not as well as others.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ For accessibility reasons, I've replaced the “bolded paragraph that looks like a header to sighted people” with actual heading marking/formatting. This makes the headers (and the sections they represent) logically annotated, making them accessible to machines and to machine-assisted humans. Check out the FAQ on accessible headers for more. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 11 '18 at 17:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you tested any of these solutions in your own group? If so, have they worked to speed up turns? Which ones worked better? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Apr 11 '18 at 18:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've done mob and minions myself. I think that mob is the biggest time saver of the two I've done. I just read about the Roll/Attack from The Angry GM (I believe), and then Escalation Die was something I read recently in the 13th Age Core rule book. \$\endgroup\$ – The Scando Apr 11 '18 at 18:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TheScando: It is great to include personal experiences in answer to support solutions such as these. So if you have a minute please add some to your answer. I think you will find it much improved. :) \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Apr 11 '18 at 18:11
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Reduce die rolls

5E already tries to speed things up through simplification of math and reducing total die rolls, but there are still a few short cuts you can take.

Roll one initiative per group

Let the players choose one player (likely with the best initiative bonus) to roll for the player group, then you (as DM) roll once for the opponents using the highest creature mod. Then each side goes as a group, taking their action in whichever order they choose. This reduces the bookkeeping and such of delaying actions to go after another player and more importantly, allows you to skip a player that has not yet decided what to do (or is still looking up the rules relevant to their action) and come back to them when they are ready. Similarly, the DM can have the simpler monsters go while contemplating what the trickier monsters wish to do.

Combat becomes simpler as a result, which can be both a pro and a con, depending on how "realistic" or detailed your group likes to be. The main benefit with this change, really, is that the game isn't held up by the indecisive players, and no one has to worry about losing their place in the initiative order because they aren't ready or choose to go after another PC's action.

Eliminate foregone conclusions

If the creature that was attacked has 2 hit points left, does the attacker really need to roll damage? Look for such situations where it is overwhelmingly likely (even if not 100%) that a particular outcome will result from an action and simply choose that result without requiring a roll.

In the case above, even if the attacker did not have a modifier to damage that guaranteed 2 or more points of damage, the changes of the player rolling a 1 are quite small (25% on a d4, and less as damage dice improves). Where you place the cutoff is a matter of preference or expediency, but 90-95% likelihood might be a fair start.

Some people really enjoy rolling dice, so this particular option might not go over well with some players, so you might want to let the player choose whether or not they wish to roll.

It is also important to note that the rolls should bot be omitted in situations where the outcome is critical in some way - use prodigiously on mooks, but not on PCs or the Big Bad. If the target is just about to pull the lever that will release the Kraken or some such, even if the target is a mere minion, the outcome of the die roll could significantly color the action going forward, and so even if there is only a 1% chance of it surviving, make the roll. The suspense alone would be worth it.

In the same vein, if the battle is over and the PCs are simply mopping up bad guys, say as such "You guys quickly kill the remaining goblins and spend the next five minutes catching your breath." Its also worth simply having the goblins decide to flee or surrender once the battle begins to go badly for them, possibly eliminating a few rounds of combat.

Know your PCs

The GM should have the essential stats of the PCs available to him/her. AC, Saves, Passive Perception. This can speed up enemy attacks by not having to constantly consult with the PC on the result. You roll the dice, compare the result, state what happens, and move on. You may wish to also mention the resulting roll to the players just in case there is a circumstance in effect you forgot about, allowing the player to correct you if you made a mistake, but outside of that, it could really speed up the action on the DM's side of the table.

Additionally, if the GM is familiar with the PCs capabilities, he might even be able to take into account their likely actions or suggest actions in order to reduce the amount of time spent having the players fumble about or try to interject what their characters are doing. You can assume that the sneaky characters are being so, and if it is relevant, the DM can roll stealth only when it is appropriate rather than constantly calling for rolls or having characters volunteer them when the DM knows there are no enemies about. This can take away some player agency, so use with caution, but this can be especially golden when DMing a game with newer players.

Other tricks

If you trust your players, maybe have them all do their actions at once, rolling and doing the math, then you apply the results in the order they are ready to relay them to you. You won't be checking everyone's math or even know if they truly rolled what they say they did, so this does entail a fair amount of trust, but this can make the player side of the round go quickly. This works best if you are doing initiative per side as mentioned above.

However, with large amounts of enemies and NPCs, the DM side of the table is the one most in need of speeding up. While the DM does his/her thing, most of the players are not interacting, and might become bored. As such, being organized so that each monster's actions can be resolved as quickly as possible is perhaps the most critical thing to do.

  • Have the stat blocks handy and have notes with relevant rules to reduce the amount of time spent digging through play books.
  • Don't be afraid to make GM calls in order to avoid looking up obscure rules. Making a call that makes sense, even if it might not follow the rules as written, is okay if it can keep things moving smoothly.
  • Use the default damage. Monster stat blocks provide the average damage next to the die rolls for each attack ("1d6+2(6)"). Simply use that number instead of rolling damage and performing the math.
  • Fudge. Fudge a lot. One PC being attacked by 5 kobolds? Roll one attack with a bonus +2 per additional kobold, and if it hits, use the average damage given in the kobold stat block, multiplied by the number of points the target number was exceeded by, divided by 2. Or something. But you get the idea. Find creative ways to combine multiple creature attacks (for the minions at least) into a single die roll.
  • Let the players control the allied NPCs, to a limited extent anyway. This gives them more to do and you less, so it's win-win.
  • As Slagmoth mentions in the comments, using a party shot caller can help if players are constantly changing their minds as other players actions become apparent. It is also extremely useful if you have a mix of experienced and inexperienced players as it gives the more experienced players a chance to help the less experienced players with their strategies.

Pick and choose what works best for you and your group, but the spirit of the advice will likely help you find your own shortcuts in each specific circumstance as relevant to you.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Party caller was a trick from way back in the day, you could add that to your already good list. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Apr 11 '18 at 18:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also include that your ability mod is included as a modifier to your damage. If you have a +3 Dex mod and you hit the 2 HP Goblin with a Ranged Attack, do you really need to roll damage? Your Modifier would put the poor creature down by itself. However, I would add the caveat that you should always roll if the character is important enough to merit Death Saves, because a roll might just end-up exceeding their Hitpoint Maximum and auto-killing them. Or not. \$\endgroup\$ – SeraphsWrath Apr 11 '18 at 18:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeraphsWrath You are right, that part isn't as clear as it could be. My intent was that, in addition to such cases as you describe where there is 0% chance of failure, even in cases where there is a small chance of failure the dice rolls can be omitted, though, as you point out, only for less critical situations. If the target is a PC or the Big Bad, the die roll increases suspense, and so should not be omitted. I'll edit to clarify. \$\endgroup\$ – cpcodes Apr 11 '18 at 21:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth Added to the post. Sorry it took so long, I was trying to figure out how best to integrate it. And thank you for the suggestion. \$\endgroup\$ – cpcodes Apr 12 '18 at 16:45

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