There are very few things that can slow down sessions like combat, especially when there are multiple attacks, many ongoing spell effects etc. to take into account. Here are a few tips and tricks on how to make combats go faster.

Ever had a session where one combat dominated the whole session? And it was only three, maybe four rounds in all? This has happened to me. We had been playing the same campaign for 9 months and were finally confronting the main villain. We were very excited and spent almost an hour using every enchantment and casting all sorts of protective spells. The combat itself took over three hours. In that time I made three dice rolls. Oh, did I forgot to mention what I was playing? A cleric, I was playing a damn cleric…

Combats are often inevitable part of most roleplaying sessions, especially in fantasy roleplaying games like D&D and Pathfinder. Combats also tend to make the narrative more exciting, after all, your character is in life-threatening situation and needs to fight in order to survive.

The problem however with combats is that they tend to seriously slow down the storytelling and unfortunately often take up way too much time. I’ve often tried to figure out how I can make sure that combats run smoothly and are still interesting and fun.

Here’s a list of a few things a game master can do to make combats go faster.

  • Pre-roll for NPCs and monsters
    This is something that can really speed things up, and put even more focus on the PCs. By pre-rolling attacks and damages you need not spend time rolling dice in session. Of course, sometimes that is a part of the atmosphere, e.g. when fighting a BBEG and you decide to roll openly, but most of the times you can simply pre-roll most combat rolls of monsters and NPCs. There aren’t many combats that last more than 6 rounds, so you probably won’t need more that 6 rounds worth of pre-rolls.
  • Initiative markers
    By using props to indicate initiative you help those players who zone-in-and-out to know when it’s their turn. This is can be really helpful, e.g. if you’re playing with younger or inexperienced players. I’ve seen people use marked clothespins or similar initiative markers, in fact, anything that you can use to indicate in what order combatants act helps.
  • Timers
    I’ve seen game master use timers, e.g. egg timers or small hourglass. This can be helpful in games where you have many players, in order to make sure that they don’t take too much time for their actions. In high level games, however, this can do more harm, since obviously you need more time resolve all actions.
  • Dice rolls
    Here’s a funny thing. You don’t need to see all dice rolls made by players. You can have player A vouch dice rolls for player B who in turn vouches for the dice rolls for player C etc. While player C is declaring his actions, player B could be making all the needed rolls for her character, while player A vouches. Basically, instead of waiting your turn to roll, you make your rolls while it’s the other player’s turn.
  • Phases
    You can divide the combat turn into phases. In the first phase the group has a few minutes to discuss actions, in the second phase to make all the needed rolls, then in the last phase the round starts. This can speed up combat, especially mid- and high-level. In fact, you cut down each player’s round for the amount of time it takes to make all rolls.
  • Fixed damage
    4th edition Monster Manual introduced different roles of monsters. Minions was the lowest form of monsters, but they had one interesting thing, i.e. fixed damage. This is something game masters can use, e.g. use the median of each die plus strength modifier as the fixed damage (1d8+3 become 8) and only roll critical hits.

These are just a few ways of to make combat go faster. Of course, many game masters and players like to play out each and every aspect of a combat scene and that’s awesome. As long as your game fits your style.

If you know another way to make combats go faster, let me know in comments.