Just got the beginner box, and I'm doing the gm part. PC's can as a free action 'speak to other characters' does this mean that during combat the players should not be discussing tactics or helping each other out?

For example what should a gm do it they start discussing who will attack which enemy, trying to guess enemy hit points and who does what depending on initiative ("fighter charge goblin 1 next to wizard so she can cast x on goblin 2 on her turn")

Some example usages of this free speak action would be appreciated

  • \$\begingroup\$ In WFRP there is secret battle language, that allows you to shout / communicate somewhat, as free action. If you speak without it, it's a full action (matters, as you can't have multiple attacks then). Perhaps you have something like that in PathFinder. Also - discussing tactics may be part of role play if they have relevant skill - I routinely allow people do that if they have tactics. \$\endgroup\$ – LAFK says Reinstate Monica Jul 18 '16 at 23:36

PCs can speak as a free action.

Strictly, a round is six seconds, which bounds what they can say in that time. It generally makes for a better game if you are very lenient with that time (talking characters mean invested players).

There are no rules on how players speak.

You can set whatever rules you like at your table for what table-talk is acceptable, and should optimize those rules for maximum fun. Full stop.

My experience says you will enjoy games most by letting everyone talk freely. You can (and should) apply gentle social pressure to keep combats moving quickly, but tabletop RPGs are a social event: the more engaged everyone is, the better. If everyone is deeply into micromanaging the tactical situation, great! That means they are all deeply into the game you are running!

(If it helps, consider that any party is a group of subject-matter experts who are extremely good at what they do. They have also travelled together, often for weeks, and probably had some professional conversations during that time. It is extremely unlikely that even detailed coordination among your players will produce a tactical result as good as those characters should. So don't sweat the realism, and do worry about what makes a good game.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer, even though I do not agree completely. I often saw DMs to require players not to talk out of characters - such is discuss tactics - in combat (combat-like) situations, and there is good reasoning behind that. But it creates somewhat different game with bit more pressure on players, and this may or may not be what you want. \$\endgroup\$ – volferine Jul 15 '16 at 10:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ I decide it on a situational basis: Usually I let my players talk and tactic all they want, because their characters are Pros, I also think the characters will have created a very short and precise battle-language, where they can give complex orders with a single word or gesture to their long known friends. - But sometimes, e.a. a surprise attack at night in their room, where everyone is sleepy and has to act fast, I like to tell them "You have to decide fast. NOW: what do you do?" this makes this situations much more entertaining! \$\endgroup\$ – Falco Jul 15 '16 at 12:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Or another example could be a battle in a more mystery/horror setting, where the characters cannot see/hear each other. Then I may enforce this at the table for the players for a moderately short scene, they can of course talk, but no ingame-tactics or hints. Can give great athmosphere if used for single encounters to set them apart from the usual battles! \$\endgroup\$ – Falco Jul 15 '16 at 12:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Great answer! I especially like and support the "maximum fun" sentiment, and the parenthesised paragraph. Reflects how I try to DM too. \$\endgroup\$ – Angew is no longer proud of SO Jul 15 '16 at 12:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ At the table I played, half the discussions would be players cracking jokes at each others and the DM/NPCs. It did not really advance the game, but did make for fun nights! \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Jul 15 '16 at 16:47

There is not really a hard and fast rule for this, it's a matter of table rules for the most part. Table rules are simply the 'soft' rules that you, the GM, set for your players while they are playing at your table. Different GMs handle it different ways depending on their preferences and their player's preferences.

Per the Rules as Written, this means that could talk to each other or to an NPC as a Free Action. For example, demanding that the horribly outmatched goblin surrender would be a Free Action. Alternately, the Fighter could yell to the Cleric "I need some healing here!"

But, Out of character Table-talk is the domain of table rules. If you do not wish for your players to be able to discuss tactics out-of-character, then inform them of such. And if they start talking tactics, just assume that they are actually talking out loud in-character and their enemies can hear them. But if they are newer players, you might want to let them discuss what they want to do...at least until they get a good grasp of the game and the system.

Additionally, how much you can talk as a Free Action sits again as a table rule. If you want to play fairly strictly to the 'spirit' of the game, then a single round is six seconds long. So if they are going to talk as a Free Action, it needs to be less than 6 seconds long...no lengthy debates allowed. But, again...this is not specifically laid out in the Rules As Written, and is up to your discretion as the GM.

So, along with dice rules and the like, the degree to which you let your players metagame and table talk with regards to strategy, and how long you let them talk as a Free Action is entirely up to you, as the GM.

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    \$\begingroup\$ To add onto this. It is a good idea to encourage PCs to come up with strategy or plan of attack before heading into a battle. This eliminates the meta-game of strategizing during the heat of combat, when in the context of the game that should be near-impossible. \$\endgroup\$ – Francisco Jul 14 '16 at 19:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Remember that a party consists of people doing combat for their living, sort of. They TRAIN - mostly out of game time. Which means they are used a lot more to work as a team, including small hand signals and all that - than the players are. Talking tactics is a way to simulate that - as well as the fact that a player has less understanding of tactics than a mid level character. \$\endgroup\$ – TomTom Jul 15 '16 at 7:34

The characters have had days and nights in the game world to talk to each others about tactics and strategy, and to train together. It's unfeasible to require players to actually play all this.

So, in my mind, players talking during combat is reflection of this. It could even be seen as flashback scene, though I've never played it as such (would be disruptive to the combat going on). Not allowing it would be like having a group of strangers fighting together, instead of group of adventurers who been through a lot together (this opens up a way to simulate a group of strangers too, limit talking during combat).

This is what I would use as guideline for players talking: are they talking about something which reflects what characters already know, or is it characters talking about something they couldn't have gone through before.

Example: talking about combat tactics is almost unlimited. Talking about solution to a puzzle which opens the escape route is subject to limits (a few sentences per round).

How ever you do it, remember that goal is having fun. It's a balance of realism and immersion versus convenience and player agency.


It might be helpful if you specify whether you want a by-the-rules Pathfinder answer, or a more general DM/GM advice answer.

I have DM/GMed a lot of different pen and paper RPG systems, and in most of them, player to player communication is not specifically regulated by the rules because of the issues you hinted at with your question. In scenarios that were supposed to be very fast paced, I always used a rule of thumb to handle player to player communication/discussion in a tense combat situation. I had a sort of "mental clock" that would give the players a certain amount of time to discuss whatever they wanted, and then I would start dropping hints like: "You are running out of time". Or even (in extreme cases) I would start having NPCs do things if the players were really taking too long. Yes, that circumvents the initiative rules, etc, but I believe that an RPG is not a turn-based strategy game, and a certain sense of tension should be maintained. In other words, story and atmosphere can trump rules in my games when needed.

Obviously if you are talking about a situation where character communication is challenged or limited in some way, I would definitely apply the free action rule limitations to the actual players. For example; the scenario involves the characters trying to communicate while walking along a plank at night next to a massive, rushing waterfall. They can't hear one another very well, and that is the entire tactical point of the waterfall. I would limit player communication by forcing them to make a single statement that will count as an action, since the character has to basically bellow to their friend to be heard.


It is largely a matter of the Social Contract in your gaming group. See The Big Model. In a hardcore simulationist group, players (including the GM) would interpret the rule as allowing for 6 seconds of speech per character, possibly less if you also want to hear other characters. In most groups, short discussions are allowed, as the characters can be assumed to be better at working together and anticipating each others actions as the players are. In some groups, long tactical discussions are what makes the battles interesting.

If I am the GM, I generally allow discussions as long as they add to the drama. If they get dragged out too long, I intervene reminding people of the shortness of battle. I also use this if I see that one players choice is taken away by the tactical discussion of other players pushing him into one direction.

In my mind, and the Social Contract of most of my gaming groups, mistakes happen in battle, partially due to time pressure and fast decision making, and it's part of the fun that sometimes someone does something stupid. Note that the players will only feel free acting like this with a forgiving GM whose NPCs do not immediately jump on every tiny mistake, or who make mistakes themselves.


If you don't let players discuss tactics in combat, to their detriment, you might find them spending a lot of time out of combat discussing tactics. From a strict simulationist point of view, this is reasonable, but it can lead to a slow game.

Were I the player being treated this way, I might first try "Well this isn't happening now, we would have discussed our tactical plans the previous night", and if the DM doesn't allow it, "screw you, it's your fault we didn't have that scene, I demand you rewind everything."

Also, you're probably not simulating NPC enemies as having no tactical coordination.


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