Speeding up "time around the table"

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There have been blogs that have suggested that the designers are looking to really improve the ‘speed around the table’ -- that is to say, real-time, not game-time. I believe M. Mearls in one of the podcasts even talked about using stopwatches during playtests to see how much real-time has been shaved off in a typical combat encounter. As a busy DM with limited playtime, I see this as a very positive thing. I believe speeding the combats has other indirect benefits, such as making “save or die” effects less problematic – “Oh you mean I’m paralyzed? Oh, well I guess I’ll play Xbox for a half-hour”.

So far from what we can glean from the designers, they are addressing the following game-stoppers, but it may be fun to speculate how they are addressing them as well 

- Sub-system / corner-case rules. The classic example being grapple.
- Presumably less dice rolling / lack of iterative attacks. This one is interesting to me only because it hasn’t been a major slowdown at my table. I would be curious to know how they plan to handle this in a compelling way (I have not played SAGA).
- Streamlined monster stats so when it’s the DM’s turn, he can quickly find the right strategy.

There are probably others missing I’m sure. I would go so far as to address other ‘slowdowns’ at the table outside of encounters, such as divvying up treasure.

What do you see as the choke-points that slow down the game at your table and what would you like to see improved? Also please, let’s not turn this thread into ‘I don’t see why rule X is hard’ because I believe there are already other threads discussing that.
dice rolling is certainly a factor... on a full-round attack action, a mid-level fighter may have several dice rolls to attack, perhaps rolls to confirm potential crits, then damage rolls, then possibly saving throws based on recursive effects... oh, did he have cleave? another set of die rolls... oh, and an action point to get another attack after a full-round attack action? more die rolls.

while dice rolling doesn't seem like a big deal, when you have possibly three or four "rounds" of rolling per character, it can add up -- especially for one of my regular groups, which often has 5-7 players + GM. adding even 10 seconds to each person's combat round adds 1 minute per round... so if combat lasts 10 rounds, we've added 10 additional minutes just from dice rolling.
I will concede that dice plays a factor and that it is cumbersome. Perhaps I don’t notice it as much at my table since the players all have a system for which die represent which attack, and they roll them all including damage dice together. I’m just curious how one die roll could evoke ‘the feel’ of raining several blows upon an enemy. I assume that this is a talent / feat in SAGA... Mechanically I’m sure it works; my curiosity stems more from its overall ‘game-feel’ in practice.
The only combersome thing I find about dice is how sometimes people will have a hard time 'adding relevent modifiers' and the DM will sometimes loose track of the 'target number.'

AND random skill checks during battle -.-

If these have been improved at all, that would be great.
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On the note of dice rolls, I think there was some thought that spell wont be xd6 per caster level and more like 1d6 + X/caster level.

Also i think the whole "grapple issue" will be resolved by making it work with a single (or perhaps 2) die rolls.
So for grapple you just announce you are making a grapple attack roll the dice and then compare it to the reflex defence (or armor class or what ever it ends up being) and then compared the same roll against a fortitude check by the opponent.

The monsters will prolly have a stat block that will be simple and really "tell" you how to use the monster.
I completely agree with this. Dice rolling is not as much of a problem as finding out and adding properly the applicable modifiers.
In general the whole party is paying attention to the rolls each one of the player does (so the feeling of progress, fun and interaction stays alive) , but they drift and lose interest when this player tries to figure out what they add up to in reality.

The only combersome thing I find about dice is how sometimes people will have a hard time 'adding relevent modifiers' and the DM will sometimes loose track of the 'target number.'

AND random skill checks during battle -.-

If these have been improved at all, that would be great.

Just remeber with out the dice rolling part all your doing is telling a story. Its the dice roles that are one of the tools that let your charecter interact with the story and be a part of it.
A single turn has three parts to it.

  • Decide which action to take.
  • Check the result of that action.
  • Apply the effects of that result.

When all of these can be done quickly, the game progresses quickly. If any of these steps take a long time, the game clogs up.

For example, the first step (decide) can be delayed by a player or DM struggling to find the best thing to do. A confusing stat block or character sheet is often the culprit, as is having to look up spells or feats to see whether the PC, NPC or monster really should be doing this.

The second step, checking, is where calculation, dice rolling and comparing with DCs takes place. "Does the action succeed or fail?" is what's being asked here. When the bonuses and DCs are hard to calculate, or there are nested conditions, or several dice must be rolled, this step can take a long time.

The last step, applying, takes the results of the second step and modifies the gamespace with them. Characters and monsters suffer damage and may go unconscious or die, bonuses and penalties are applied, the environment may be modified or destroyed, and character/monster behavior may be compromised in future actions (due to charms, paralyzations, etc). When this modification regularly causes multiple ripple effects that must be dealt with, it makes this step take a long time.
I've heard some people have systems such as different-colored dice.

But sometimes you are a player who plays online using a very simple system that doesn't have different-colored dice.

And I've played in systems where there is less dice rolling. d20 systems. You can still imagine as many blows as you want with one roll. (I will concede, however, that there are people who need to see a real thing.)
I don't mind the dice rolling, the dice rolling means "we're doing something."

We play with a caster heavy group that preps with large amounts of buff spells (cleric, shaman, & bard buffs plus maybe one or two others). We lose time figuring out what stacks with what and what applies to what. It is usually different each encounter and sometimes changes round to round so you can't even have an easy cheat sheet as we're usually dealing with a minimum of four spells or spell like effects (frequently more). Simplifying this aspect would be a big help in speeding up the encounter time.

The other big time killer comes from players looking up spells. Our group is very chaotic, even when we tell our fellow players what we intend to cast on our turn they will still take actions that will mess the plan completely up. (As a former infantry squad leader this drives me nuts) What that means to game play is our casters have to change gears almost every round to find a suitable spell. The primary spell they have the stats and effects down pat, but the secondary spell has to be researched to find range, DC, effect, area of effect, or whatever. Either a greater uniformity in the way spells function, a more reference friendly system, or a simpler system would help with these issues (probably a combination of these things would be best.)

Dice rolling is doing something. Taking an action of oportunity of some type is doing something. Role play is doing something. Flipping through books is wasting time.
Dice rolling isn't doing something when you'd rather get it over with and back to the banter.

Only one cent this time.
Big time waster: Looking up spells and effects, as mentioned above.

We need a digital database of spells or whatever. WOTC needs to make it, or at least stop threatening to sue fans when they make it themselves. When I play with a laptop at the table, and someone casts burning hands and isn't sure exactly what the numerical effects are, I should have only have to type "bur" into my laptop and select "burning hands" and read the spell description.

Books are a thing of the past. If you're charging monthly membership fees, give us something worth our money, or at least stop suing fans who are enterprising enough to spend money AND time bettering the game.
One thing I find is often a cause of the "Oh crap it's been 3 hours" effect is spell casters. Specifically the ones who don't know what spell they're going to cast, or what they were going to cast is no longer needed/something else would be better.

When I play a spell caster I make my decisions and rolls ahead of time to aid my DM. My turn only lasts a minute or so. But some of the other players aren't so kind.
Time wasters.

Working out iniative order in a combat. If a GM has five monsters and five players then this is annoying enough as the GM collects rolls and marks people in order and the monsters in order ( if minions increase battles to twenty monsters then this will be a true headache ). Just have one side go and then the other side go. One spot check is used if the situation is unclear as which side goes first and in most situations the encounter should dictate which side has iniative.

Rolling for every single skill all the time. Taking 10 should be the default mode unless something happens to make a 'panic' or 'reaction' style of check. The GM can thus note for example the thief has a spot of X and if the thief is in the lead then the thief does or does not see Y. It simplifies the math and makes it easier to prepare an adventure in advance. If the thief chooses to sneak then the GM knows which people that the thief can get by and which ones would spot the thief.

Clear up things like dodge feat needs to be specified ( it works against everyone ). Shield spell is 360. Keeps the GM and player having to constantly 'turn their minature/describe to GM' the character's facing. It is either a benefit or it is not a benefit.

Build more bonuses and buffs into the main class and leveling. Altering buffs during an encounter, especially when they have to be checked for mixing and matching, slows things down. Also, have limits to the number of buffs per character to prevent the player and GM from having to go through a whole list to add things up or check for the different applications.

Avoid things like the Crusader that is getting randomly dealt from his pre-selected choices. If the player chooses a feat or a talent then let the player manage the usage. An extra random step is frustrating and slow.

For spells like summon and possibly polymorph, a GM tool that prints out a stat card instantly or creates a stat block for the GM to use would be good. Similar to this is that there should be choices for players but avoid unlimited choice items and abilities. Nothing says slow then a person using the Guild prestige class to fill an empty spell slot with the perfect spell for the moment.
I agree with just about everything in Smerg's post. Dodge always bothered me in particular, in that I always had to remember and declare a dodge foe each round. It seems like a small thing but in practice it felt clunky and wasteful. Would dodge really be broken if it was just +1 AC always? That's probably another discussion

As some other have stated, I also agree with the excessive cross-referencing. There's strong indication that the designers are including all relevant monster powers in their individual write-ups. The worst offenders being spell lookups when running monsters, only to find the spell say something like "see lesser version of this spell". Ugh..
One way to speed up things would be to have one "to hit" roll per action and one "save" roll for defense at most.

e.g. Grapple must beat a specific DC for the type of action modified by the target's grapple score. Preventing a wizard's somatic components would have an easier DC than smashing his head against the floor, but both would only require one roll.

e.g. Instead of a roll to beat spell resistance the Monster (or character) is just given an add on their appropriate save Will, Fort, or Reflex.
I don't mind the dice rolling, the dice rolling means "we're doing something."

I agree with Tom's points here. Our group is pretty casual playing once a month. Half the fun is the potential for a one roll on a D20 and the ensuing head slaps and moning of pending doom! The other half of the fun is the Crit at just the right moment and the cheers and back slaps of a victory. For spell chuckers there is that great personal feeling when you do that 15D6 chainlightning roll!

Counting the adds is very frustrating but other players provide calculators and help counting.

The most frustrating part is the spell research especially at high levels where a character has enough spells to completely change tactics mid battle. The problem is we play so rarely we get bitten by history. For example in 3e a spell was a ranged spell and in 3.5 it is a touch spell. DOH! Now the player has to go findout what other sleezes they can come up with to help the party.

Removing some die rolls would work for spell chuckers and speed up play. For example mirror image could must be level based, no roll needed. Some buffs could be the same way.
I don't mind the dice rolling, the dice rolling means "we're doing something."

Just remeber with out the dice rolling part all your doing is telling a story.

Look, the problem isn't whether to roll dice in 4e. Instead, it's figuring out where the diminishing return on "detail" begins with the amount of dice-rolling required.

Example. Two or three sneak attacks from a mid to high level 3.5 rogue is just too time-consuming (and boring) for the amount of variation the dice actually demonstrate. 6d6 is almost always going to hover within a couple of points of 20. And a couple of HP for mid and high level characters means nothing. And, no, the odd variation on 6d6 (26 points! woo-hoo!) is not worth the time.

4e should (and will) retain dice-rolling...but there will be more flat and large bonuses to few actual dice (the above example will probably translate as 2d6 + 15 or something).
I'd only add that the rules should eliminate extra phases or steps to figure things out. If I cast a spell, then I'd rather make one roll (or maybe two) and call it a round. I don't want to make an attack, then beat SR, then roll damage, then saving throws, then .... It's those nightmare 10-step actions that kill me as a DM.

If I'm doing it behind the screen, the players get all nervous and suspicious. If I'm making them do it, they get all flustered and feel stupid, its even worse if there's a lot of "spell research" going into it.
Well at the games I play in are usually rather large (around 8 players) so even a couple of extraneous die rolls can really bog things down. Rules checks and player indecisiveness are also big time sucks.
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