D&D players and DMs: do you feel that, in general, D&D 5e combat takes too long?

One thought on “D&D players and DMs: do you feel that, in general, D&D 5e combat takes too long?

  1. D. Walker says:

    Every time I see people talk about how they feel Initiative bogs them down, it boggles my mind. They always seem to try to fix the problem by adding more complexity, which seems utterly backwards.

    I don’t have the slightest inkling how rolling, and then rerolling each and every round is supposed to speed things up. How is a more complex system, with more dice rolls, and more calculations, supposed to end up working faster?

    And the weird thing is, they always seem to shift their argument halfway through. They stop talking about speeding up initiative, and start talking about how they want to give the players more time to think and make tactical decisions.

    How in the world can initiative be too slow, but at the same also not give your players enough time to think? And how does distracting them with extra dice rolls and extra calculations manage to solve anything?

    If your players don’t know what to do on their turns, that’s not a problem with the initiative – that’s a problem with either your players, or with you as a DM failing to keep them engaged and paying attention.

    Yes, sometimes a player gets their ideas ruined accidentally by another player. But that’s just how life works. Combat is messy, in both real life and in stories. Plans never survive contact with the enemy. You have to adapt on the fly. That’s just the reality of fighting.

    If your players are struggling to adapt on the fly, there are two things which are overwhelmingly likely to be the culprits.

    1) They Aren’t Paying Enough Attention
    2) They Aren’t Familiar Enough With Their Character’s Abilities

    Players have to pay attention. If people are taking their turn, and then zoning out for the rest of the round, something is wrong, and it’s not the initiative order.

    Now, maybe you’re not doing a good enough job of keeping them interested. Maybe they’re bored, because the combat encounters you give them need some work to make them more engaging. Or maybe they’re bored because you’re not describing what’s happening in an interesting enough way.

    If every fight just feels like an endless bland stream of “roll; hit; damage; roll; miss; cast a spell; saving throw; resisted; roll; miss; roll; hit; damage; Orc Number 4 dies; you gain 20 XP”, then people are quite naturally going to zone out.

    Fights need to have interesting hooks to them. Enemies need to behave like real living creatures with logical motivations and choices, not like bags of hit points that stand around trading blows until something dies.

    Fights also should take place in believeable and interesting terrain. A bland, empty room with a bunch of dudes in it hitting each other over and over again is boring as heck. Give your players (and your enemies) interesting tactical choices based on the terrain. And especially add elements that can be used to tell a fun and engaging story during a fight as well!

    Give lots of little interesting details! If a fight breaks out in a tavern, have the NPCs flip over tables to provide cover – but also describe what was on those table when they get flipped, what it looks like / sounds like / smells like as things fly through the air, and even how it affects the battlefield after the fact.

    Maybe they spilled some tankards of ale, making wet areas on the floor that characters can slip in. Maybe they upturned a bag of gold coins, and some greedy or desperate NPC is crawling around the floor frantically trying to pick them up. Maybe the edge of the flipping table landed on a bystander’s foot, causing them to howl in pain, and possibly even join the fight.

    If a fight is interesting enough, most players will pay attention.

    That said, sometimes the problem won’t be with you. Not everyone knows how to be a good player. You may have to sit them down later and have a chat with them about their lack of involvement, and figure out what’s up.

    Now, the other big issue that can cause players to not pay attention is simply that they don’t really grok what’s going on.

    There’s always at least one or two players who can’t seem to keep their own character’s abilities straight. You know the type. “Umm… what do I roll?”, and “Wait… what are my spells again?”, and “Uhh… don’t I still have that potion (which I drank four game sessions ago, and which everyone keeps reminding me over and over that I no longer have)?”

    Players have to familiarize themselves with their characters. They need to know what abilities their character has. They need to know how those abilities work.

    They need to know what dice they’re supposed to roll in common situations. They need to know where to look on their character sheet to find information needed in uncommon situations. They need to understand how modifiers work, and when they apply, and how they apply, and why.

    They need to know the difference between a Dexterity check, a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check, and a Dexterity saving throw. They need to know the difference between their Spellcasting Ability, their Spell Save DC, and their Spell Attack Bonus. It’s fine if they don’t know the exact numbers off the top of their head – but they need to know where to look for them when they need them.

    They need to keep track of their own inventories. They need to keep track of their own hitpoints. They need to keep track of their own spell slots and ability uses. They need to do the basic work necessary to run their own character, because everyone else is way too busy taking care of their own stuff to do it for them.

    If a player doesn’t know this stuff, they’re going to get lost in the weeds. They’re going to feel confused and left out. They’re going to stop paying attention because they don’t understand what’s going on. And combat is going to slow to a crawl, because they’ll never be ready by the time their turn comes around.

    If you have a player who always seems lost and confused in combat, odds are good it’s because they don’t have the information they need to make good decisions – because they don’t know or understand how the whole thing works.

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