I am a semi-beginner DM (ran 2 campaigns, a bunch of oneshots and a few dungeon crawls so I’m not completely new but I don’t consider myself super experienced either) and a problem that I now have with two of my players is that they seem to be unable to make a decision in a situation where they cannot know some choices will be better than others but aren’t able to assess which ones are the good ones. We are playing 5E but I think it isn’t really relevant here. Neither of the players in question is new to 5E, both have between 1-2 years of experience. One of them plays a spellcaster, the other one a melee based class.
One of the situations that we recently had was the party in combat with a bunch of cultists, in an underground temple, relatively big room, completely covered in magical darkness through which the PC wasn’t able to see but knew there were both enemies and party members somewhere in this darkness. On their turn the player decided to cast an AoE spell and spent over 15 minutes deciding where to center it... We play online using Roll20 and this combat was on the grid and this player spent over 15 minutes deliberating aloud, measuring the spell radius from dozens of arbitrary points in the room with the Roll20 tool and asking other players for advice but being able to make a decision.
They did eventually decide but I could tell some of the other players were annoyed by this, I was too, to be honest, an easy fight that was supposed to take 10-15 minutes ended up taking over 40 minutes as a variant of this happened on their every turn.
The other player also does it, for example if they’re fighting an invisible enemy, they might spend 10 minutes deciding which out of the 8 squares around them they choose to attack.
We are using the initiative tracker built-in to Roll20 that is visible all the time in every combat so every player knows exactly when their turn is and how many people go before them.
It only happens in situations like the ones I describe, where it’s really down to luck and they have no way of knowing the right choice, they don’t generally have problems with making decisions.
I don’t really know how to handle this, I have tried to gently speed them along, asked them multiple times to just pick a point, asked if they want to roll a dice to choose a point at random but none of that helped. They do realise that this is a problem because I have spoken to them about it and I don’t think they’re doing it maliciously or deliberately delaying the game.
I do realise that an easy way to prevent this is to not throw situations which trigger this at the players but this means I can never have them fight anything invisible or have any fights in darkness, magical or normal (neither of them have darkvision). This is a last resort for me, I would prefer to somehow help them make decisions quicker in those circumstances.
I would like to solve this without imposing a time limit for players’ turn, skipping their turn or making the choice for them. It feels antagonistic, I don’t like it as a player and don’t want to use it as a DM. Less important reason is that it’s a headache to implement with an online game. I will not kick them out either because overall they’re great players and we are all friends.