Imposing a :30 time limit on 4th ed. players

Posted on August 24, 2009 by

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This posting stems from my previous one, where I highlighted some items bought at Gencon for my game.  One of them was a :30 hourglass, which I plan on implementing  at my table as a house rule.  Each player, on his turn, will have to decide what his action will be in :30 or less.  If he goes above that, he will lose his turn for the round.  This houserule opened the door to several comments and concerns, and I’d rather address them here, rather than in a generic ‘trinkets from Gencon’ post.  Keep in mind, I haven’t had a chance to play since Gencon, so it hasn’t been implemented at the table yet.  This is all in my mind right now.

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My thinking is the following:  Combat is taking too long, due to both the fact that I have 7 players, and the 4th ed. mechanics, which seem to increase the length of combats.  If I force the players to act rapidly, I’ll accomplish two things:  Speed up play, and create a sense or urgency at the table.

By speeding up play, we can get more accomplished in our sessions.  Our time to play is limited to a couple nights a month, and I’d like to make the most of it.   Too much time is being wasted by overly tactical players searching through every possible scenario on their turn.  Guess what?  If this were a real life combat, nobody would have that luxury.  Which brings me to the second thing I’d like this to accomplish, creating a sense of urgency.  Working with time restraints is always nerve-wracking, and this shouldn’t be any different.  What better way to simulate the adrenaline rush of a crazy combat situation than by making the players sweat out their turn and making them think fast on their feet?  A combat round is about 6 seconds, so a 10 round combat is about a minute in “game-time”.   Make the players feel the rush.

Some comments were questioning whether :30 was enough or not for a player to roll his attacks and damage for multiple enemies, and again, I want to emphasize that the time limit is imposed on the decision making, and not the actual attack and damage rolls.  A player should have enough time before his turn to get an idea of what he is going to do when his turn in initiative comes up.  Once he decides what his action will be, he’s no longer under the clock.  He’s acted and now we are just seeing the resolution of his actions.  The clock is reset for the next guy.

I played at a table in Gencon that created a similar sense of urgency.  Mike Shea, of the great D&D blog slyflourish.com, ran us through an impromptu game one night.  He requires that his players roll both their attack and damage before their turn in the round!  By the time he gets to you in initiative, you’ve already rolled both dice, and you are just quickly telling him who you are attacking and what your rolls were.  You had to act quick.  The table certainly moved fast, and I felt the pressure on me when it was my turn.  I want to recreate that feeling without necessarily doing it in that particular way.

So, seeing as how I haven’t done it yet, I’d like to put it out there for discussion.  I’d like to know if any DM’s out there are doing something similar, and if any players are playing in a game like this.  What’s it like for you?  Do you like it?  Is it quick?  Do you feel the pressure?  DM’s, are players responding in a positive way?

I look forward to your comments.

Edit:  One of my players suggested that the skipped player acts as if he’s doing an immediate defense (standard action, granting him a +2 to his defenses).  It’s not a bad idea, and it will probably be implemented.

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Posted in: 4e D&D, Gaming