Several questions (like this one) suggest imposing time limits on players to speed up combat.

Those suggestions usually lack expertise on the topic. I’m looking for your experience on that matter. Did anyone implement a system of time limits? How did it go? Did you play with a GM who did?

I’m not looking for general opinions whether imposing time limits is helpful or not, unless you’ve tried it in practice.

Some detailed questions:

  • How long was the time limit? Per round or per encounter? Level dependent? Character dependent (like in the answer with INT-dependent limit)?
  • Did you have penalties for exceeding time limits or rewards for compliance? What kind?
  • How did it affect combat? Was it more messy and random?
  • Did the time limits tax some classes more than others?
  • How did it affect the use of resources (scrolls, wands, wondrous items)?
  • Are you still using time limits?
  • What was your players feedback?
  • Did the GM impose a time limit on himself/herself?
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wait, you want a period of time that is specifically mildly annoying to players, no more, no less? \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Apr 28 '15 at 3:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Removed "mildly annoying", but I could explain: players are aware of the time limit and it might affect their actions, but the time limit is not imperative. Think about waiting for a delayed flight with a good book (mildly annoying) vs. waiting in front of a large, loudly clicking clock without a book and with a dead phone. \$\endgroup\$ – burlap Apr 28 '15 at 10:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Consider looking up Hackmaster, which officially implements this in its combat system. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Apr 28 '15 at 18:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've edited the question. \$\endgroup\$ – burlap May 9 '15 at 14:14

A time limit of 15-30 seconds per round for decision making used occasionally is annoying. Consistently imposing a time limit will be exacerbating.

I've imposed time limits on players' turns in combat once in a campaign where combat had become bogged down with inaction. I created a spell that "slowed thinking" forcing the characters to make decisions using less than their normal mental faculties. The characters were allowed a will save to avoid the effects of the spell. Players of affected characters got 2 seconds for each point of intelligence to decide what their character would do; failure to decide within the time limit resulted in the character taking no action. Only time spent deciding what their character would do counted towards the limit; rolling and resolving the effects of attacks and spells wasn't counted.

A spell block for this spell in D&D 3.5 would look something like the following.

Slow Thoughts
Enchantment (Compulsion) [Mind-Affecting]
Level: current campaign spell level, class of NPC that has it.
Components: V, S, M/DF
Casting time: 1 standard action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Targets: All creatures in a 20-ft. radius burst
Duration: 1 round/level
Saving Throw: Will negates
Spell Resistance: Yes

Affected creatures have more difficulty making decisions than usual. They can take no action that an ordinary person couldn't conceive and describe in 2 seconds per point of the creature's intelligence score. Creatures whose actions aren't completely described within this time limit take only the actions described within the time limit.

I gave this spell to an enemy and hit the party with it at the start of combat. I wrote down their intelligences next to the initiative list and timed the decision-making part of each turn. The character played by the worst offending player made her save against the spell, but her animal companion didn't. The spell sped up combat for that encounter and was mildly annoying to players. For players having trouble making decisions, this spell was a huge daze effect, taking away one or two rounds of actions. Subsequent encounters suffered from less drawn-out decision making.

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