Not one second.
The players have been watching the battle go by for several turns before it comes back to them. But boredom is a luxury. You can only get bored if you have time to get bored. You get tense. Now, exigency and urgency work together. That way, when you lay into the exigency, they have a starting point. The little bit of narration — that scene setting — is vital to prompting the player. You need both. It creates the right pace and frame of mind and actually helps the player focus and reach a good decision quickly. But the trick is to just start doing it and not let up.
They will get better and better at handling it just like you get better and better at running it. They will make decisions more quickly, they will be more attentive, and they will make better overall decisions. But it IS a gradual process. It takes one to three sessions for everyone to fall into that groove.
You need to be like a frantic drill sergeant dolphin. You need to get into the zone. Set the scene, transition to the first player, set the scene, poll the player, resolve the action, apply and describe the results, transition away from the player to the next player, set the scene, poll the player, resolve the action, apply and describe the results, and so on and so on. Now, the absolute worst thing that can happen to a panicked drill sergeant dolphin as it races through the ocean, soaring into the air with the majesty of a gray slimy eagle, and plunging into into the water like a bottle-nosed bullet, is that it hits a speedbump.
Maybe it is swimming through a school zone or something. The point is, a speedbump can literally kill a racing dolphin. But it still happens. When a character moves, the player and the DM often think that the actual path is important. That is to say, you have to show every square through which the PC moves. Fair enough.
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But, hold on a second. After all, we have the game marked out in squares, right? So it should be pretty easy to eyeball how far a character can move unless the character takes a complicated path through difficult terrain or something. Usually, PCs move pretty directly. If there is a safe path between the starting space and the destination, assume the character takes it. Simple as that. Simply put, assume that a character is smart enough to take the most direct safe path available. And only in situations where it is literally impossible to take a safe, direct path in the speed allowed, do you need to start nitpicking over squares.
Provide simple choices. The other major source of slowdown is looking up rules.
It can be anything from how a spell works to a particular ability to the specific rules of jumping over a chasm. Every time you crack open a rulebook, you might as well just go out and shoot a dolphin in the head. They should get to know the rules of their characters and spells and whatever or have whatever references they need on hand at the table. If I catch a player with their head buried in a rulebook instead of talking to me, I generally take the rulebook away.
Players project themselves into the minds of their characters, visualize the situation, and make the decision they think their character would make. The rules belong to the GM. And the GM will make a determination. This, again, is one of those things that a lot of people argue with me about. Because they have decided their games should suck. If you want your game to suck, by all means, make it suck. Now, some people — some GMs — like to make allowances for spellcasters, because there are so many spells with so many complex rules.
Either way is fine. But those are the only two options. And if neither are to your liking, you can be a fighter. Of course, I also went out and bought the 5E spell cards for precisely that reason. But that other stuff — tracking initiative, transitioning, scene-setting, urgency, and exigency? You want a smooth, exciting, fast-paced combat experience? Try it.
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Try it for three sessions. Because my instructions are perfect. Hi Angry, I have been reading your articles for a month , plus older ones and i wanted to tell you how awsome you are. After my rant i want to thank you for helping improve my games even if i am a complete stranger, article like yours is what the world needs. About the spreadsheet, do people really overcomplicate things for turns so much?
Really good point on the spellcaster. What annoys me the most in my group is when a player playing a wizard says he casts a spell, and then proceeds to take out the spell description and read the whole thing out loud. Every DM should require the players to read through all the features their class has at least once.
By reading your articles I understand that I allow way too much at my table. Did you pick that class because the name looked cool? Given my circumstances, is there anything I should do to prepare them for it? Or give them a warning of some sort? I like the suggestion that Randy makes here. Losing your action is enough of a penalty for hesitance. Giving additional penalties is just needless dickery. And, for that matter, gives another thing to keep track of, which you usually want to minimize. Seriously, good article, but I am somewhat disappointed by the section on exigency.
The whole exigency bit can be handled Dungeon World style. Actually, no. Only one tiny part of what I said was like Dungeon World. As for how to set up cool opportunities, THAT has nothing to do with pacing combat. THAT has to do with how you are designing encounters in the first place. GMs need to maintain the pace of the game.