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I personally find general concept of enforcing time limits on player turns during combat a very, very good thing for the following reasons:

  • Just like in a real battle, you don't have a lot of time to think. Time limit represents this quite well.
  • You don't have enough time to get distracted until you are acting again, no time is wasted while you think of something else, check Facebook feed etc, because waiting for everyone to finish may get boring.
  • You can go through more encounters per hour, combat doesn't take forever to resolve.
  • Combat becomes much, much more intense.

Etc, etc.


How I suppose time limits to work:

  • You are only allowed to talk during your turn. That includes no asking for any clarifications, tactical advice, discussing what goes on while it's not your turn.
  • While turn of the player who acts before you starts, GM calls out your name and says that your turn is next.
  • When that player has acted and math is applied, GM describes what has changed. You are supposed to listen carefully, GM doesn't describe what's happening for each player individually. Sometimes it can take 10 seconds, sometimes minutes -- doesn't matter.
  • Your turn starts, you have 30 seconds per action your character can do. During that time you are supposed to tell the GM what are you doing and roll dice. Math doesn't count. If you need any clarifications, you have to use those 30 seconds. Same if you want to say something to anyone in-character during combat. Once you roll, you stop talking, GM counts and announces the result of your roll and current situation.
  • If you don't both describe your actions and roll dice during those 30 seconds, which most likely means that you didn't have any plan in your head, you make a "default action", which is decided in advance.
  • If you only described what you want to do partially and your time ran out, you have ~3 seconds to say if you do what you had time for to describe, if you perform a default action of if you do nothing.
  • Of course, people may ask for a game to pause if they need to bring some tea, answer phone etc. After all, such intense combat may get people tired.
  • GM describing what goes on between your actions doesn't count.
  • Taking a full-round action has to be described during your first 30 seconds. If you don't do it, you cannot perform a full-round action that round, and one of your actions is lost as usual. Though, you might (in advance) name any full-round action as your default action.

The only real problem I see is that new players need more time to think anyway, sometimes even some help from others, but there are some experienced players who object to such solution.

I am myself new to Pathfinder E6, which I am going to use this solution for, so answers related to this system are most welcome.

What are the drawbacks of setting time limits on turns?

I expect answers stating exact problems that were caused by time limits actually observed during gameplay.

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There's loads of drawbacks to time limits on turns.

A few have already been mentioned by other answers; I include them here for the sake of completeness, with details from my own experiences:

  • Time limits on turns penalize players for having mechanically complex characters with a lot of options. Given that Pathfinder is a system that generally rewards players for building complex characters with a lot of options, this might annoy players who like that sort of playstyle. I've heard of people trying to counter this by giving players of analysis paralysis-prone classes (such as wizards) extra time, but any system that gives players varying turn time limits is going to require discussion before you get player buy-in.
  • Time limits on turns raise questions about what does and doesn't count toward a player's turn. If a player decides what to do while they still have time, but resolving the action pushes them over the limit, do they get to finish? What if the only reason they went over the time limit was because something they did provoked an attack of opportunity from a character whose attacks of opportunity take forever to resolve? What if one of the player's dice falls into their drink, and has to be wiped dry before it can be used? What if the player receives an urgent phone call? What if a different player receives an urgent phone call, and insists on everyone else waiting for it to end? What if the player makes their decision in a timely fashion, but during their move action moves into a position where they can see something new, and the GM has to describe it? What if the player learns information during their move action that renders their plan for their standard action unfeasible, forcing them to re-evaluate? If all the turn just prior to the player's changed the battlefield drastically, is it fair for them to get a little more time? A group can answer any and all of these questions, of course, but they're not all clear-cut and easy questions to answer, and disagreements over what the answer should be can detract from play.
  • Time limits on turns tie character skill to player skill, which limits what kind of characters players are able to roleplay. In effect, players who are less familiar with the rules or less skilled at making quick decisions are prohibited from playing characters who are quick, decisive, and highly intelligent. One of the pleasures of RPGs is the potential to play a character with strengths you don't have, and time limits can undermine that.
  • Time limits on turns discourage players from asking questions about their surroundings and making clever plans. In-character, a lot of details about the environment should be obvious at a glance. Players, on the other hand, have to ask for this information and wait for the GM to explain it, which takes time: "Is the chandelier held up by ropes or chains? How many? And how far off the floor is it?" Yes, you can rule that time spent on such queries doesn't count towards a player's turn, but the time a player requires to translate received information into their mental model of the in-play environment and formulate follow-up questions is harder to account for. In addition, the complex tactics and creative plans that can be built on such information take time to come up with - and since such plans are a big part of the enjoyment of the game for some players, discouraging them can be a bit of a downer.

And here's some previously-unmentioned drawbacks to time limits on turns from my own experience as a GM and player:

  • Having time limits on turns may make players feel condescended to. I've known players to interpret an imposed time limit as a suggestion that they couldn't manage their time otherwise, which they found insulting. To be fair, saying you'll count to some specific number and not let someone play if they don't stop misbehaving is treating someone like a child. There's ways of presenting the idea that help avoid hurt feelings, but some players will feel insulted no matter how you try soften the blow.
  • Having time limits on turns can make players feel rushed. Yes, that's the whole point, but bear in mind that some players find being rushed stressful, and prefer a more relaxed pace of play. Potentially you could offset this by removing other sources of stress, though you'll have to consider what your players find stressful to do that.
  • Time limits on turns increase the amount of bookkeeping required by the game. Not by much, admittedly, but having to pay attention to a stopwatch or a collection of hourglasses is an additional cognitive weight added to a system already heavy with bookkeeping complexity. Worse, the brunt of this mental load is borne by the Game Master, who already has a lot to deal with without having to stare distractedly at a sand-glass.
  • Time limits on turns may lead players to make mistakes in their haste, leading them to frustration. A too-hasty judgement can be the difference between life and death, or between flesh and stone, or between having one's soul stolen and getting to keep it, and realising that you would have been able to avoid an undesirable outcome if you'd had another minute or two to contemplate can be incredibly frustrating. You can reduce the frequency of this by having longer time limits, but it will almost certainly still happen occasionally if your time limits are short enough to provide their intended benefit.
  • Assuming that the penalty for not finishing one's turn within the time limit is losing one's actions for the round, time limits on turns may prevent a player from roleplaying competent characters. This is similar to the already-mentioned drawback of time limits also limiting roleplaying options, but is even worse: Some players may find themselves effectively forced to play characters who are apparently incompetent in combat. This is doubly-true if they built a mechanically complex character before the time limit was imposed.
  • Time limits on turns discourage players from acting in-character during combat. Many players find banter and conversation and acting out character dialogue and describing their characters' actions fun things to do both in-combat and out, but time limits on turns rather limit the benefit of talking being a free action.

The actual impact of the above drawbacks is playstyle-dependent. Personally, I find them too irksome to bother with, but I've known tables that barely noticed most of them, or were willing to live with the drawbacks of turn time limits as long as they continued to be outweighed by the benefits. I've therefore mentioned every method of mitigating those drawbacks that I know of, with one big exception: Nearly every drawback I've mentioned above can be mitigated to some extent by increasing the time players have to complete their turns in. Of course, this also reduces the benefit of having turn time limits in the first place.

If my answer has discouraged you from using turn time limits (and it should have), a good alternative is to tell your players that you would like to keep combat snappy and exciting, and suggest they pay attention during each others' turns so that they can plan their actions in advance. (This is easier if you allow players to speak when it's not their turn, so that they can participate in combat banter.) Provided that your players are responsible and self-disciplined adults, they'll most likely agree with your reasoning and co-operate. In my experience, this method provides all the benefits of turn time limits listed in your question, without any of the disadvantages listed in this answer.

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The Benefits and drawbacks of having time limits on turns vary game to game and the people who have responded before me have gone over several very good points. For my 2 bits...

Different players have Different Experience levels

In more complex systems or high level play there can be a lot of abilities, class features, spells, buffs, debuffs and other things that affect combat. And while an experienced player may be able to handle it well, a new player may have to stop and ask what exactly that spell the party cleric just cast on them actually does. Now you may be running a campaign where such uncertainty could deepen the narrative, but enforcing turn time limits put more experienced players at an advantage.

Different Characters are more complicated than others

I have played characters where even at high levels I have been able to finish my turn in less than 30 seconds consistently. Whereas in a much more... "involved" multiclass character even when I already knew what I was going to do, the number of saving throws, attack rolls, and damage rolls involved made the turn take way longer: for example, action surge and quickened casting make a sweet combo in D&D 5e. So even when a player knows exactly what they intend to do, a more involved character is going to be notably more restricted by the time limit than an "I attack that guy twice" character.

Some more minor recommendations

Those are the 2 big ones; if you do set up a time limit on turns, I recommend the following:

  1. Discuss it with your players first.

  2. Make the time limit long enough for the players to actually do everything in their turns.

  3. Make the time limit variable. Especially for new players. I would not strictly enforce the time limit on players who are new to a system.

    3b. And if a person is doing a complicated wombo-combo, as long as they are not actively slowing things down, let them finish.

  4. Actively encourage players to be familiar with their party's abilities (especially their own) and to plan ahead during the turn order to figure out what they are going to do next. A lot of the time where the games I DM get slogged down is when people tune out when it is not their turn. Time limits are often an effective way to encourage this behavior, but I advise trying to address it directly as well.

I hope this helps. It has helped in the campaigns I have run.

P.S. In one of my campaigns I put a "no action" time limit, where if a player isn't taking an action, asking a question, or other form of participation for a specified amount of time, their turn ends. So a person actively trying to do... anything gets enough time to do it while people who "zone out" or don't think ahead are encouraged to correct said behaviors.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the P.S.! I also think that it's what should be done instead of a hard time limit for a turn. \$\endgroup\$ – Luris Mar 31 '17 at 9:12
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Placing time limits on turns further couples character skill and player skill. This is not a bad thing inherently, but it is a bad thing in many playstyles. You need to make sure you and your players are on the same page before doing that. You can allow character differences to play in somewhat, for example, I once played a round of D&D 3.5 (which is basically Pathfinder) with a sort of speed-chess like system for out of game turn time limits. The base time per round was intelligence based while the maximum you could have banked at once was wisdom based. Nonetheless, this system will always add a significant element of player skill to the game that wasn't there before, and people may be upset about that.

There are no other drawbacks, but the tie-in to player skill has a number of complications. The most fundamental one is that it changes what sorts of characters players can make. While it does let players who are fast on their feet make and play characters that would otherwise be impossible to pull off, this will not be noticed as much as that all players, but especially slower ones, will not be able to play characters that they otherwise would be able to play.

That said, there are a LOT of drawbacks to your specific implementation:

1) The implementation is non-symmetric. The GM has no limit on their turn, which basically nullifies most of the benefits of timed turns in the first place. Furthermore, it is rather condescending.

2) Players can't collaborate during combat because they can't talk to each other without waiting a round this is kinda ridiculous and will break the kind of simulationism you claim to be seeking.

3) Your rules cause a lot of problems with the pathfinder rules. Specifically, there are many, many actions that can be taken out of turn. Your rules don't allow for that, so, for example, if I use an immediate action at the start of another player's turn, I will have the opportunity to fully negate their turn. Furthermore, I have no time limit applied to me at such a time. I can declare that I'm casting featherfall as an immediate action, and dither over the target indefinitely. Everybody loses their actions, but it's not like the bad guys can do anything until I pick who I'm targeting because the immediate action has no time limit. In fact, if I'm not engaging in PvP, such abilities are probably unintendedly powerful in your system, since engaging them during an opponent's turn allows all the players time to think. Of course, declaring the action will be difficult since you can't talk even OoC out of turn, but you presumably could say during your turn "I cast featherfall during the turn of the first goblin that gets a turn before it can do anything".

3b) Readied actions pose a similar problem: "I ready to strike the dragon when it swoops by me" Later.. "Ok, the dragon swoops by you, do you attack it?" "...". Having to declare whether to use the readied action or abandon it during your own turn is very problematic.

3c) players with lots of characters are much advantaged by this system. In fact, having bag of enslaved rats is basically necessary for party communication. Since player communication is tied to character turns, having a bunch of alternating rat turns with rats completely irrelevant to the combat allows players to talk to eachother out of character and to request clarification from the GM.

3d) this system encourages players to shout over eachother. If I'm engaging in PvP with another player, I should try to interrupt their turn with as many actions as possible in order to divert GM focus and cause them to lose their actions. In order to prevent this, I should ignore and talk over the GM during my turn so that my actions have been stated within the time limit. This will make the already strained relationship this system lends itself to worse.

4) loss of action is too severe a penalty. The drawback to an overly severe penalty is that life and death will often be a matter of accident. This is worse in that the system is horribly one-sided. The default action system mitigates this, but not well (see #10)

4b) Furthermore, this penalty makes no sense in the fiction, while you are seeking fictional realism. This is bad.

5) The absurd and overly harsh limits on player participation, especially player verbal participation, limit player agency in the sense players normally participate in Pathfinder.

6) The absurd and overly harsh limits on player participation, especially player verbal participation, set the players against the GM. This game will be a game about rebellion and defiance, not in the game-fictional sense, per se, but in a postmodernist sense. The players, to exercise agency, must trick you, find loopholes in your regulations, and engage in positive collaborative experience despite your attempts to crush their spirits, forbid them from exercising any creative or perceptive inclinations, and generally stop them from having fun.

7) This system will make combats drag on a very, very long time-- in fact I rather suspect they would never end at a certain point-- and abstract the focus of the game to how the players can exclude the GM rather than anything interacting with the game world. This does not sound like something I would have fun GMing, and it also runs contrary to your stated objectives.

8) A lack of time limit on math allows players to use math to get more time. Cast a spell requiring the GM to solve a partial differential equation before casting one that you need time to figure out. Again, talk over the GM while he's trying to do the maths so that way you can get extra info on the record and give your teammates more time to think and more info about what you're doing.

9) This dramatically increases GM bookkeeping and the reliance on GM discretion since the new rules are largely hand-wavey in terms of what counts as what and the GM will need to constantly arbitrate these new rules.

10) The default action system bypasses most of these problems. Players should lay out a complicated and elaborate interlocking network of conditional statements that form a comprehensive party plan as their default action. Then the players should go off and do something fun while the GM resolves combat, as they wouldn't be able to participate much, anyways. This excludes the GM from the fun group activity that the players get to do while he or she runs the combat out mechanically according to the players' default action flow chart. It also means that the players' will not be very engaged with the combats and will need to be brought up to speed as to what happened afterwards. The GM will also probably be told they misapplied certain sections of the flow chart at least sometimes, and thus end up going back and recalculating things again.

Basically, timed systems only have the inherent difference that they included 'using timed systems' as a part of the skillset game performance is based off of. Your timed system, however, is very, very problematic and would best be avoided. If your goal is to achieve a more intense combat with more engaged players, I suggest you ask about how to do that in a separate question, or even how to do that with time-management.


Extra information regarding speed-chess as a timing system:

I really like the speed chess version of this and if you choose to do it, I'd recommend you go that route. You can get apps for that for smartphones and computers and stuff, and it allows for a very flawless switch between timers. So, like, GM sends it to Bob's turn for combat and Bob asks for a description of the orcs and hits it back to the GM who hits it back when he's done describing.

You can learn more about the different kinds of speed chess [here]( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chess_clock#Time_controls). We used something based off of the Fischer system with Int score/2 seconds as the per-turn delay, Wis score/2 minutes as the starting and maximum banked times each combat, and Con score/2 seconds as how much time you get back every time you fully run out of time at the cost of increasing penalties. If I remember correctly the penalties were something like fatigued-->exhausted-->unconcious, except I think being staggered played in somehow. In any case, I don't remember the rules entirely and I don't have them any longer so you'll have to come up with your own adaptation.

If you decide to use sandglasses, you will want a lot of extras so no one has to sit around awkwardly waiting for the sand to run out after someone took a fast turn. Generally, sandglasses should be avoided, though.

If you use some variety of digital timer, that would be better than sandglasses but dedicated timing software more directly designed for your purposes will work even better. At the very least, you need to be able to reset the timer to a preprogrammed value with ease (at least, if your GM timing limitations for NPCs ends up working anything like ours did. You could also base something off of that many-v.s.-one grandmaster exhibition format, but I don't know if they make timers that have a pool for that sort of game that could work for this. There is a chess stack exchange, you could ask there. Actually, that sounds like a useful thing just for playing chess as well so I asked about it. You can see the question here.

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While my experience was not quite with a time limit on turns, I have had a DM place time limits on the combat as a whole. With this the newer players would actually take longer to complete their turns due to the pressure of the time limit. On top of that there were players who weren't good at math, which would have the time of them adding their modifiers to the dice roll put more pressure on everyone. Overall, it was an experience that was interesting once or twice, but having it happen every combat made the game less fun.


If you believe that it will be a good idea to place such a limit on the combat there are other issues to think about. What counts toward the limit? Does a player asking you what their character knows about a creature or obstacle count against them? Does the time it takes for them to grasp what you have told them? If you don't count it against them, when does the time limit start again? All of that should take no time for the character to know, but it could take a minute or two to tell the player what they know.

Also, what will happen if they don't act within the time limit? Do they lose their turn? What if they were in the middle of explaining to you what their character is doing when time runs out? Do they only get part of an action because they could not explain their action quick enough?

These questions were answered easily enough by my DM through having the time limit apply to the combat itself. He set a timer at the beginning of the encounter and if it wasn't done by the time the timer went off, he killed off atleast one character then and there.


Something else to think about, do you force your players to show their physical might in swinging a sword, whip or shooting a bow to determine their ability to use those weapons in the game? If not, why do you want them to have to show their mental quickness in choosing what actions to take? In game, a wizard with 20+ Intelligence will be a lot more intelligent than any player sitting at your table, just like the fighter with 20+ Strength will be stronger than any of them.


I feel adding a time limit to turns for all combats is something that should be discussed with the players involved, as it can very quickly remove any fun they were having with the game. As I said, it can be interesting on occasion, as long as the players actually have enough time to take their turns.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I will consider adding more time to more "intelligent" classes" or those that have multiple actions, that's interesting. BTW, if you want to ask for clarification, you should better use comments on the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy Mar 31 '17 at 9:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Those questions I do not need clarification on. They are part of my answer because they are things I want to make sure you, or those who are looking at this question in the future, have thought about and have an answer to before deciding if they will impose a time limit on turns. \$\endgroup\$ – shufly Mar 31 '17 at 10:07
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I only have personal experience with time limits until you have to state what you will be doing, not limits for the overall execution of turns. But I do have experienced situations where others that are not the acting player can negatively influence turn duration. The most common being the DM.

Limits for stating your action

In my experience those are good because it simulates the hectic pace of actual battle and is just about decision making. Those parts of role playing combat that would not apply during real combat (math and rules) are not touched by this.

Limits on turn duration

A lot of things can slow down a player's turn which he is not responsible for. Among those are questions about line of sight (or -effect), cover and the like that the DM has to answer. Saving throw rolls for enemies the DM has to roll, Rolls for Spell resistance or attack rolls where the DM has to confirm success or failure.

Example

The party is fighting lots of enemies within a gigantic staircase. Most enemies are on the highest landing, some in corridors leading away and the party is partly on the landing and partly on the stairs down. A mage wants to cast an AOE that deals damage, imposes debuffs and possibly makes targets prone (sirocco). As he was lower on the stairs he began asking "can I target this area?" Answer "no"... this repeated several times, while it would have been instantly apparent in real combat. Then came SR rolls, saving throws, distribution of debuffs which all took a while. All this could well have broken a set time limit while on his own the player would only have needed to target, roll for SR and damage and be good.

For that reason I don't think limiting the whole turn with a stopwatch is a good idea unless the time is stopped every time someone else has to do or decide something.

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Time limits and talking restrictions make the game less social. Now, sometimes the players can be a little bit too social. In those cases, a simple, "can we focus for a bit" helps a lot. Though in some cases, after saying something like that several times, "OK, do you think we can possibly manage to focus for 5 minutes?" or "how much do you actually want to get done tonight?" can get the point across. It doesn't matter how social the group is as long as everyone is having a good time.

Another disadvantage with turn time limits is that it puts a further disadvantage on new players. The wizard presumably knows his spells backward and forward. The player may have to look things up since the player doesn't have an 18 INT.

Now, time limits for characters with a low Wisdom score can be fun.

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There are no drawbacks, all depends on your group's playstyle.

For every drawback listed on the other answers, you could also use those points as an advantage and write an answer listing all the advantages of using a time limit. That might or might not work for different groups.

It seems (to me) most are considering that this time limit to be 6 seconds, or something really short, or they simply have little experience on this play style. The OP talked about 30 seconds, and from my experience (i personally put a 1 minute limit on everybody, even myself), that is plenty of time for everybody to think their strategy and react to the situation. If you have 4 players and each of them has 30 seconds to act, that means you have roughly 3 minutes before it's your turn again.

If you cannot think on a strategy for your next action within 3 minutes, then you are not using your time between turns properly, lay down your cellphone, stop and pay attention to what is happening, listen to everything the GM says even if it's not your turn.

As i said, I personally put a one minute limit on turns, when i call for a character name saying it's their turn, they have one minute to declare what their character is doing, otherwise the character will be paralyzed by the combat and delay their action, which means they will act last in this turn. If, by then, they also take longer than a minute to act, their character finally loses their turn.

Whenever I, as a GM, need more time to read something up, i avoid using whatever would force me to stop the combat, and will read whatever i have to read while players are discussing their actions or rolling die, and i only describe the result of their action and take notes of whatever happened (hit point damage, spell's durations, who goes prone or unconcious, etc). That way, players will very rarely stop their line of thought and wait for an answer from the GM.

That is what you should use your preparation time before the game session for, to read up on the adventure (at least once), read stats blocks, see what spells or abilities a creature has and read those you don't know about or don't remember their effects. However, if you have to improvise, then improvise, never stop the combat so you can read the grapple rules again.

I decided on this playstyle pretty much since i started with pathfinder in 2012 (so it's about 5 years now), and i very rarely had to enforce that rule. Players usually know that combat is not a game they can pause, then consider all strategies available, then unpause and act. You have plenty of time to think on strategies between turns, based on what the other characters are doing on their own turns. Whenever i had to enforce the time limit, i only had to do it once for the entire campaign.

This one time, i had players have 10 seconds to think on their action, because they were in a room quickly filling with water, while a sarcophagus-mimic creature was beating their characters down while they tried to find an exit to avoid certain death, either by living sarcophagus or by drowning. One player literally cried during the combat because he was so desperate to exit that situation. After the combat, thought, the player turned to me, with a smile on his face and said "NEVER do that again! And i hope there is treasure...". Of course i didn't take his words as literal.

However, i do not recommend this playstyle on a table with novices, they usually have very little system mastery and have no idea of what are their options in combat, so they want to discuss strategy before acting, they want to ask things completely irrelevant to combat (like, "how much xp until the next level?"), or simply speak about subjects off-topic to the game while it is not their turn. So enforcing a time limit will not work because they are not that interested in the combat in the first place.

On the other hand, i play on a table full of veterans (some have 20 years of rpg experience) where one turn can last an entire hour because they sidetrack from the game completely. Sometimes the GM even says "Screw this, i don't want to roll combat, you guys kill everything and walk away, let's skip this".

It will depend on how interested everyone is on combat scenes. And that is not something we can tell you it's a good or bad thing, you will have to feel your group's playstyle and adjust either yourself or them to what kind of game experience you are trying to achieve. There is no point on having time limits and players not enjoy the combats because they need more time between their cellphone and the combat grid.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The "simply speak about subjects off-topic" seems to be a good argument for time limits. One of the points is to draw people away from cellphones. BTW, +1 for "It will depend on how interested everyone is on combat scenes". \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy Mar 31 '17 at 14:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ This... Doesn't answer the question. "What are the drawbacks of placing time limits on turns?" You seem to be responding to the other answers, in which case, this should be a comment. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Mar 31 '17 at 14:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe alright, i will change my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Mar 31 '17 at 14:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe What exactly seemed wrong with this answer? Seems to stand on its own. \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy Mar 31 '17 at 14:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Baskakov_Dmitriy It didn't actually list any drawbacks. It still doesn't. It does contain useful information for someone planning to implement turn time limits: It's a good answer to the question "what are the advantages of implementing time limits on turns?" But that wasn't the question that was asked. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Mar 31 '17 at 23:24

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