Geek Ken has a post over at This is My Game today talking about an idea for speeding up combat. He suggests doing away with rolling dice for damage and instead having fixed damage for each attack with some variety for crits, near-crits and barely-hits. The variety sounds like fun, but as I commented on that post, I don’t think the time it takes to roll and add up damage adds much to the problem of long combats.
What slows down combat is the time it takes to make decisions.
When I first started my Friday night online campaign in August 2010 with first-level characters, combat seemed to move at a pretty good pace. Lately, I’ve noticed that we’ve had some battles that have taken two hours to finish.
What has changed? The PCs are now eighth level rather than first level, and they have a lot more powers to choose from each turn. They have more interrupts on one another’s turns. They have magic item abilities to think about.
It’s probably also true that I haven’t had quite as much time to prepare for sessions as I did back in August, so maybe I’m fumbling around a little more on the bad guys’ turns. But I think I fumbled around back then, too, because I was a new DM. The time it takes me to run the monsters’ turns now is probably similar to what it was back then.
One of the reasons I’m so confident that it’s about decision-making time rather than mechanical time to roll and add dice is that we use MapTool macros that automatically handle the rolling and adding. When the fighter decides to use Crushing Surge, he clicks one button and the attack roll and damage roll show up for all to see, with the math done. Even if he’s rolling 12 dice for damage, it takes no longer than a single die.
What to do about this? Well, I don’t really know. Suggestions to streamline the math of combat won’t help me, since the computer is handling that part. Could I raise monster damage and lower monster hit points/defenses? That’s a possibility. I can have monsters flee or surrender when the fight is clearly lost (and I do that where appropriate).
In the end, it takes time for players to decide what they want to do on their turn. I have great players, and they pay attention and keep their heads in the game. They just have a lot of options at their disposal, and they enjoy the process of making the best decision on their turn. That’s the fun of a game that’s tactics-heavy, and I don’t want to take that away from the players. But it sure does take a long time!