I have a little reputation around my table for something. Well, I’m probably known for quite a few things at my table, both good and bad. When it comes to tabletop roleplaying though, one of the things I’m known for is trying to keep the flow of gameplay moving. I have found that there is one single thing that keeps gameplay flowing more than any other, especially when it comes to combat. Do you want to know what it is?
During the course of gameplay, especially in a combat situation, you should be paying attention to what is going on and ready to make an action when it comes to your turn.
That’s it. Sounds pretty simple right? Well I can tell you from observation and experience, it usually isn’t. Here is an example of how a lengthy player turn might start out.
Jimmy: Okay, how many orcs are still up?
Gamemaster: Five. Two are fighting Frank. One is on Jessie. There is an archer that is firing at Jenna from the forest. The last one is fleeing because he’s pretty wounded.
Jimmy: How far away is the wounded one?
Gamemaster: From you, a little over 100 yards. There is a little brush in between you and him as well.
Jimmy: That’s probably too far for me to throw my daggers. What’s the range on throwing weapons again?
Gamemaster: Yes, for your character and his strength level that will be out of range for throwing weapons.
Jimmy: Could I run forward and throw my dagger at him?
Gamemaster: You’d still be too far out. If you wanted to do a max sprint after him you will probably be able to catch up to him and finish him off in another round. He is wounded and moving at half speed.
Jimmy: Naw, then I’d have to spend another round running back. Okay, what about the two fighting Frank, how damaged are they?
Frank: I’m a tank dude, I’m good. Why don’t you help out Jenna, she’s low on hit points.
Jimmy: Okay, how far away is the one on Jenna?
Gamemaster: He’s firing down from the cliff, so he’s only about 60 yards but he has high ground and partial cover.
Jimmy: What are the modifiers for that?
Gamemaster: It’s at your max range and like I said, he’s got partial cover so you’d need almost a Natural 20 to hit him.
Jimmy: Okay, can I run to him then and melee?
Gamemaster: Absolutely, he has the high ground on that cliff though. You can run up the trail and use an athletics check to get to him in one round. Then you can attack him next round.
Jimmy: What about the guy attacking Jessie?
And on it goes… This type of interaction is only something that I would tolerate with a brand new roleplayer, someone who is still learning the art of roleplaying, doesn’t know the game system, or is playing a brand new character. But it is an all too common interaction that I see with even veteran players.
There are circumstances when this is going to happen. Maybe you stepped out of the room to answer a phone call, use the restroom, or were distracted by looking up a rule for another player. In general though, there isn’t really too much of a reason for this to happen. But there is hope! There are things you can do to avoid this so let’s talk about those.
The biggest part of being ready for your turn is simply mentally preparing. There are several key aspects to mentally preparing for your turn. I don’t know if this is complex to some people, but it really shouldn’t be. Here are the basics:
Know when your turn is coming up. If you’re in a combat situation, know where you are in the initiative order so you’re ready when it is your turn. Once combat starts flowing, you should have a general idea of how much time you have to think of what you want to do before it comes around to you.
Know your character. Know what the character’s abilities do, how the equipment works, what spells they have and know where to find that information if you need to quickly look something up.
Know the rules. You don’t have to memorize every rule to the game, especially if you are a new player, but you should have a basic understanding of the rules. Know how dice are used in the game. Have a general idea how target numbers work. If you don’t know something, you should have a general idea of where to look it up in a rulebook.
Pay attention to what is going on in the game. In the example above between Jimmy and the gamemaster, Jimmy clearly is not paying attention to what is going on in the game. If the gamemaster has to repeat what happened and the current circumstances of the group’s situation to every person, every action, it’s going to be a very, very long game.
Know your character concept and their tendencies. This goes into simply knowing how to play your character. I see many players freeze up wondering what their character would do in a specific situation. News flash, you are your character! If he’s an aggressive, Conan the Barbarian type fighter then charge in and attack with ferocity. If he’s the reincarnation of Legolas, start dropping archer bombs on everyone in sight. If he’s Gandalf, well, you’ve won the game so just go home.
When it comes to physically preparing for your action, there are a few suggestions regarding this. Most of them relate to having the items you may need readily accessible to you when the time comes.
Prep your dice for your action. If you’re playing a game like Dungeons & Dragons, you already know that you will need a wide variety of dice. You will definitely need a 20-sided dice and most like two 10-sided dice for percentile rolls. Depending on the type of damage your attacks do, you may need a variety of other sided dice as well. Have an appropriate amount of each dice ready for when the time comes to use them.
Have your character sheet available. Your character sheet should be front and center for when you need it. If you have multiple pages, it should probably be faced up to the area that you will need to use. This may be the front of the character sheet for modifiers or perhaps your spell sheet if you’re casting a spell.
Have your player’s handbook marked or open to areas you may need to review. If I know I am going to perform a certain action, I’ll open the page of the handbook up to where that action is located. For example, if I’m going to cast a spell with a large description I find it in the book while I’m preparing for my turn. That way, if the gamemaster has any questions related to that action I’m already open to that section and ready to answer any questions he might have.
What If I Have Questions?
You may not be able to anticipate everything you need to properly ready your action. There are numerous ways to circumvent this issue without interrupting the gamemaster or the player who is taking their turn.
Have your questions ready. When it comes to your turn, immediately ask the gamemaster what your question is. “How far away am I from the Ork Berserker?” “Do I have line of sight on the Goblin Archer that attacked me last round?” “Is my character able to run inside the next room and close the door in one action?”
Attempt to answer any question yourself prior to your turn, if possible. A lot of times, you can find the answer yourself without asking the gamemaster. The answer to your question may be inside the player’s handbook, on the map you’re looking at, or somewhere on your character sheet. You’re already waiting for your turn, so why not try to figure out the problem yourself?
If you still have questions, prior to your turn you can ask another player, who isn’t acting, if possible. This is a good way to communicate and interact with other players at the table in a way that doesn’t interrupt gameplay. And besides, we’re not here to just play with the gamemaster. We’re here to play with everyone at the table. Find your group’s personal rules lawyer (or rules barrister, as our group likes to call them) and ask that player.
What If I Have To Change My Action?
Then change it. This isn’t rocket science. I understand that gameplay is evolving and can change from action to action. If the player before you takes an unexpected action that completely modifies what you wanted to do, then change it!
By preparing your action, you simply want to avoid being a major delay in the speed of the game every time it is your turn. There will be times though that you simply have to make a judgment call on what you want to do when the gamemaster tells you you’re up. However, this shouldn’t happen every single time it is your turn to act.
In The End
Why does this all matter? Who cares how long it takes for a player to act? Well, I do (obviously). Most players do. Most gamemasters do. Time is something that a lot of people don’t have a lot of extra of. Gaming is a hobby for most of us and fitting in even one session per week can be challenging for a lot of people. You want to be able to make the most out of the time you have.
With that said, one of the most important ways to keep the flow of the game moving along is simply paying attention to what is going on and ready to make an action when it comes to your turn. Use mental and physical preparation so you are ready when your name is called but be flexible. Don’t mull over things too much and just make the call. The quicker things get moved along the more of the story gets to be told.
Plus, what’s the worst that could happen? Your level one wizard gets his face melted off by a goblin shaman? Big deal… it’s not like anyone will even remember that.