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All of my friends (and my only and favorite role playing group) live far away from me now. One of them still lives in the city, the other three are in Nicaragua.

We've spent great moments roleplaying together using roll20.net as our tabletop, however there's a recurring issue with the group: they get too bored when waiting for their turns and they get too dispersed and distracted, even using Savage Worlds as our favorite system.

We use the chat to roleplay as at least three of them have no access to webcam, so dealing with the turns has been a pain, since sometimes the players take forever to decide what to do, and they're against the "let somebody else take the turn" rule, they seem to have even more pressure this way.

They take 5 to 10 minutes to think and decide what to do and soon they start losing interest in combat. This never happens when roleplaying where everyone is active, but handling turns in combat and waiting for their action just seems to kill the fun.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't see not having webcam as a big problem, even if it helps a lot. If they don't have a microphone, that's the big deal. \$\endgroup\$ – Flamma Aug 27 '14 at 16:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Flamma I completely agree, a call with everyone involved with a microphone should be necessary. With that, you can try to liven things up a bit, keep people engaged verbally. Spark up conversations either about in-game or out-of-game concepts. If you can keep people interested this way, it should make the whole game go by much better. \$\endgroup\$ – Thebluefish Aug 27 '14 at 20:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Although your specific case is happening online, is this behaviour restricted to online games? Seen it happen plenty of times with games IRL. \$\endgroup\$ – YogoZuno Aug 27 '14 at 22:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @YogoZuno: Some solutions will likely be different as it is online \$\endgroup\$ – Lyndon White Aug 29 '14 at 3:31
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I play online almost exclusively these days, using Mote. I DM two campaigns, and this particular issue comes up often enough.

First, you have to keep things interesting. Try to design combats with more than just "attack roll -> damage roll". It's not a simple task, but it's really important to make combats interesting. Add some ranged enemies, healing enemies, mages, etc. Throw in environmental hazards, or effects which occur between turns. Give the PCs a time crunch to win. Give them a reason to be concerned.

In terms of process, I have found that the method of forfeiting turns does help. If they take too long, they lose their turn. However, I found that rewarding them for taking swift actions is far more effective. I give my players a +1 circumstance bonus per five levels to any rolls they make during their turn if they begin taking actions within fifteen seconds. I call this bonus "seizing opportunities." It works phenomenally. That, plus some recommendation for the players to plan actions during someone else's turn, means that they are likely to have their plans ready and in motion within those fifteen seconds. The bonus is big enough to be worth striving for, without being so big that it's not worth sacrificing for the occasional tactical overview. Players are much more likely to confer with each other this way. This has sped up our gameplay immensely.

You can adjust the bonus, time limit, and everything else to whatever works for you. I just insist that rewarding players is a more effective motivator than punishing them. It also makes them feel good and have more fun. That is the most important thing.

EDIT: Now that I think of it, this is also a pretty effective way to speed up offline tabletop combat, for anyone else who might be doing one or the other or both.

EDIT EDIT: One other thing I should mention is that when playing through an online tabletop you usually have computing tools available. Take advantage of them! The human brain is great at lots of amazing stuff, like creativity, imagination, reason, and emotion. One thing it has a hard time with is mathematics. Fortunately, computers rock that stuff. It helps to shave more time off of a turn if you have as much action content (rolls, initiative order, etc.) hard-coded beforehand. Dice macros are a simple example.

On a non-computing basis, it also helps to have actions listed out in front of the player. I know there was a lot of hate around 4e's action system, but having a sheet of actions clearly delineated in front of the player was a huge advantage for newbies. Having some clear options in front of them helps remind them of what they can do, and thereby lets them make a decision sooner.

Naturally, you do not have to be as hard-and-fast as 4e. You can even go as simply as reminding the player of what they can do in your game, or give them some soft suggestions.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This... is pure genius. Rewarding the players this way is a incredible way to do this! I will try this rigth away! \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar Aug 27 '14 at 16:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Great idea, but just a note - if you're going to be continuing with Savage Worlds then you'll need to think very carefully about an appropriate bonus if it is going to come up regularly. +1 in Savage Worlds is a really, really big deal. \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Aug 27 '14 at 16:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Saying "a +1 circumstance bonus per five levels" doesn't mean anything in Savage Worlds because there are no levels. Besides, Savage Worlds has bound accuracy, so you don't want the bonus to scale as they advance. \$\endgroup\$ – Thunderforge Aug 27 '14 at 22:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Given merely as personal example. I stated to "adjust the bonus, time limit, and everything else to whatever works for you." No need to scale the bonus in Savage Worlds. \$\endgroup\$ – Tanthos Aug 27 '14 at 22:28
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They take 5 to 10 minutes to think and decide what to do and soon they start losing interest in combat.

This seems to be the core of the problem. It shouldn't be necessary to take 5-10 minutes for combat, especially Savage Worlds where combat turns are relatively quick and can be done in a minute or less. You didn't say whether or not this delay was because of analysis paralysis or because they had to figure out what had happened over the last round, but the solution seems the same for both: set a time limit for turns.

When I'm running Savage Worlds in the real world and players are taking too long to declare an action, I start counting down from 10. If they don't declare an action by the time that I reach zero, then we skip their turn. When I start the countdown depends on the urgency of the scene. Normally, I'll start counting after about 15 seconds of indecision. If I want to speed things up or create a sense of urgency, I start counting almost immediately.

If you use a microphone with your group, you can verbally have a countdown. If not, just type in the countdown at regular intervals.

The benefit of doing this is that it not only speeds up turns, but it ought to keep players involved as it will only be a handful of minutes for everyone else to go rather than up to half an hour.

Another technique you can do for Savage Worlds is to just announce cards and expect the players to jump in when their card comes. For instance:

GM: Ace [pause] King [pause] Queen

Player 1: I've got a Queen. [Player takes their turn]

GM: Jack [pause] Ten [pause] Nine [pause] Eight

Player 2: Oh wait, I have a Ten.

GM: We'll let you go on an Eight because that's where we are in the countdown. If this happens too many times, we'll skip your turn.

When I'm GMing large groups in real life, this technique is effective as it puts the onus on the players to make sure that they are going when they have a card, instead of on the GM, and ensures that the players are engaged so that they don't miss their turn.

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I ran into this issue a lot when my group was running purely in text.

In combat, you have to urge players to think about their next move before their turn comes up. Players who take a long time to act may cause others to alt-tab and browse or otherwise get distracted. I had to keep a sense of urgency in order to maintain order at the table and keep the flow of the game moving.

When I need an action or response from a player, I call their name. After a minute or so with no response, I'll prompt them again. On the third, I simply skip them all together, either costing them their action or making a simple action on their behalf (such as defending themselves in combat). If one player is stuck in thought, they need to at least bring up their concerns with the table to engage their allies for important feedback.

Additionally, shifting the game to require microphones will help keep the game moving. The delay on waiting for players with very wordy text input can be remedied through simple speaking. However this may or may not be acceptable to all players in a group. I managed to significantly improve player involvement in my roll20 games by requiring voice chat. Still follow the previous tips for keeping less active players involved.

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Question don't specify what type of games are you willing to play, so I will assume genre is not a problem.

I would try to play something that is not hack & slash, but other forms of roleplaying. You can make a lot of things to speed up combat, but it will always be slow. If dungeoneering and combat is a pain, keep it to minimum and focus on investigation, social interactions and other play styles that require less rolling and less waiting.

These kind of interactions not only are quicker and require typically less rolling and less math, they also tend to be more interactive, as they don't usually work in turns, so a slow player don't slow down the game so much.

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    \$\begingroup\$ it's tagged savage worlds. \$\endgroup\$ – wax eagle Aug 27 '14 at 17:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ He means that the question does not specify what style or genre of gameplay, not what ruleset. \$\endgroup\$ – Tanthos Aug 27 '14 at 17:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Reasonable. Not all novels have a fight in them, and not all roleplaying games need combat. If combat (or any part of a game) isn't fun, you could always stop doing it. Maybe come back to it later, after play-testing some of the ideas in other answers to see whether they make combat fun again. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Jessop Aug 28 '14 at 8:57
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I know that you mention your players are against the idea of someone else taking their turn. However, if the issue is spoiling the fun for people at the table then something has to be done. The players need to acknowledge that they are part of the problem and work with you to fix it.

There are some good answers here, but one Savage Worlds specific option that has not been mentioned is that people who are taking too much time are put On Hold until later in the round when they have decided what they are going to do. This is something of a compromise as players don't lose their turn in the round completely.

I use this very successfully face to face with players.

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