Don’t Look Back: Ideas to Keep the Game Moving

Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition can be a complicated game.  During any one turn, one player can have a shifting variety of options that depend on the specifics of the situation.  As a result, turns can take quite awhile as players analyze the possibilities and make decisions.  According to the Wizards of the Coast D&D podcast, a player’s turn usually averages about a minute each, and dungeon master’s takes about twice that.  In my weekly game, it’s not unusual for turns to take even longer.  This is not necessarily a problem, depending on your group.  Analyzing the situation and making tactical decisions is part of the fun, so our group has decided not to be too concerned it.

It’s also not unusual for a player (myself included) to realize he has overlooked something on his turn.  Sometimes this is substantial, such as a dazed or immobilized affect, sometimes less so, like a few points of damage.  In my mind, this is a larger problem.  Rewinding to the point of divergence is the purist’s answer.  Most D&D groups place at least some value on Getting the Rules Right and this is the only way to really fix a mistake.  There is a price:  depending on how far you rewind, the mental set-up and activity of other players is wasted, results of good dice rolls evaporate, and combats take even longer.

The other, simpler fix is to always move forward.  Did you forget about those additional two points of additional damage from your daily?  Too late.  Did you forget to use a move action to stand from prone?  Don’t worry about it.  The game will probably move faster, but this can feel unsatisfactory when it comes at the expense of accuracy.  Battles might last even longer if many to hit and damage bonuses are abandoned.

Instead of either absolute, I’ve been developing a middle path.  In almost all situations in life and in game, the middle path leads to greater serenity.  My first guideline is to never interrupt a player turn or remove a dice roll because something was missed.  Seek balance in the medium term by incorporating the missing element to the current state of the game.  This is easy with points of missing damage or healing because hit points are already abstract and there’s little difference between the exact timing of heals and hits.  If a player took too many actions (because of a dazed affect, for example), add the penalty to a future turn:  extend the dazed affect through the turn following his successful save, for example.  This does add accounting to a player who has shown a capacity to forget details, but it’s worth a try.

If a player took two few actions (perhaps they forgot an additional saving throw or invulnerability) two options come to mind:  either let her take those actions after the current player – but don’t change their initiative order, or let her take all her actions on her next turn.  For example, if a player erroneously thought her character was dazed and only took a single action, let her take two additional actions when her turn comes back around in the initiative order.  Like the previous solution, this creates some bookkeeping, but it helps keep the game balanced, fair and, perhaps most importantly, moving forward.

I have to admit I haven’t trialed this much.  What am I missing?  Are there solutions that I haven’t considered?

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2 Comments

Filed under Advice, Advice/Tools, continuous improvement, Group dynamics

2 responses to “Don’t Look Back: Ideas to Keep the Game Moving

  1. I just ran into this very problem last week. One character dropped down a pit in mid-combat. I (the DM) thought she would stay down there and fight the rat swarm, mostly because there was a door that I thought she would want to investigate. So, I put her ordeal on hold while the rest continued their fight. Two rounds later, I’m discussing the situation with the player and she says that she’d Fey Step up and out of the pit immediately. So I ended up letting her do so and taking her two rounds worth of actions, weaving them into what had already happened in combat. I wouldn’t suggest doing that again. I like you middle path techniques much better. Thanks for the helpful post.

    • chad a

      I am starting to favor trending towards preserving flow but I hesitate to shut people down when they want to bring something in that they forget. It has to be a policy that everyone is game for.

      In the spirit of quality improvement (one of your themes), the best changes to the system are made outside of the session itself. Recently, we have improved our recordkeeping during combat with a player who tracts effects on a dry erase board. It is great if your players will take it on. 🙂

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