How to run a tactical situation quickly, especially with a large group.
Action sequences in movies are fast, furious, and over all to fast. They are the moments that most gamers are looking forward to. They inspire much of what we gamers do in combat. Yet combat in most games is slow, ponderous, and takes up much game time. Gamers tend to blame the game systems. Yet, I have seen complex systems (Rolemaster and Champions) being played with great speed and effect, and simple games (BESM) where combats with four people took as much time as the combat with Rolemaster took with 12 players. While certain game systems are slower/ faster than others, it is the Troupe, the GM and Players, who really determine how fast or slow it all goes.
Combat can be resolved quickly as long as everyone involved wants it to be quick. If you actually timed how long people spent on certain things in combat, you would find that most of the time is taken up by the players, not the GM. Start training your players early.
Make sure that they know the game mechanics that apply to their character. Quiz them. It sounds lame, but many people don’t really know all the mechanics on how to run their character. Once you get them thinking about it, and bring them up to speed, you can get more out of them.
While they don’t need to know the rules as well as the GM, they do need to be familiar enough with the rules to be functional.
As a GM you need to be organized. You need to have all the characters combat numbers at your finger tips and you need to have all the bad guy’s numbers at your fingertip.
I personally make a magik board with an action chart appropriate for the game. I do this for the heros and villians. I mark off damage on the board as well, so I know how much has been applied to who.
A magic board is mini whiteboard, a quick and easy tool that any GM can use. All that is required is to put a thin piece of cardboard, backed in white paper, inside a plastic page protector. By using water based markers (overhead markers), you can draw on this magik board, and erase it with water. (Some people have had success with dry erase markers.) You can put a segment/ action chart in the back, and mark off when people go, and never have to make a new action chart again. The magic board has thousands of uses. It is a useful tool that I highly recommend.
I also require my players to give me updated copies of their character sheets. I keep those in my campaign binder for quick reference. That way I do not have to slow down the game to ask for information about the character. Notes: In case a character claims they bought someting or have X-number, the copy in your book is the one you go by. That keeps the players constantly making you copies.
To player better and faster, have a GM binder that holds notes, characters, and other things that relate to the campaign. This binder should be tabbed in section and layed out so you can access info you need. I sometimes photocopy important sections of the rules that I frequently use and put them in the front of said binder.
Figure out how you want to set up your GM space for your own comfort and ease of access (to information). Once your figure it out, always set up your stuff that way. You will know exactly where everything is.
Oh. If you are a magik player, use your spiral lifepoint counter to keep track of the current initiative.
Tell them what you are doing
At the begining of the campaign and at the begining of the game, set down some ground rules for yourself and your players.
Tell them you will be running combat as fast as you humanly can… then go faster. If players realized that you are working really hard to make this go quickly, they will work with you.
State that you are not going to repeat yourself. That specifically includes descriptions and initiative counts. Players need to pay attention or they need to make perception rolls (and possibly half moves) to look around for that information. (Exceptions can be made for reasonable distractions or being absent for some reason). If they miss something, they have to retrieve it later.
Tell them to declare or pass. If on their initiative a player, who has had 15 minutes to figure out his next action, does not want to declare an action immediately… skip them until later in the count.
Since you have a track of everyone’s initiative, call them by name, rather than let them listen for a number, fumble for their number, then respond.
You can opt to use a chess timeclock or an 2 minute egg timer. At the begining of a persons initiative (dex count), hit the timer. They have 2 minutes to determine what they are going to do, and start the game mechanics to do it (die rolls, motion, etc). When your players get used to the time clock, you can declare the entire turn must be over by the ding. Note: after a while, you can toss the clock away. Players internalize the time limit and keep playing at that speed.
Side conversations are forbidden at a volume over a whisper. This is a must in larger games, that are usually held in places that are too small.
Have players help other players with game mechanics and information. This relates to the whisper rule. If a player looks confused, stop, point at another player and tell them to help the confused one. Then move on. Put your rules lawyers to go use. (The same thing goes if they are confused in a roleplaying session… put a roleplay artist in to help them).
Kill all distractions, that means the magic games (which can be put on hold), TV, CDs, and computers, must be in a neutral position and can not distract anyone. The exception to this is character sheets on computers. But if the computer is being used for none game things, then the player has to go to hard copy. Breaking this rule gives you bad karma or fewer experience points for the run.
Keep using the same rules and structure for your combats. Once the players get used to it, it will become second nature to them.
I might also suggest that you use the same format for resolving all combat actions. The one I use for example is:
1) "Character’s name" Howitzer?
2) "Player’s Response" "Yo"
3) "What are you doing?"
4) "I am xxxxxxx" This should include dialog and the fun comic like description of what they are doing. Description first, game mechanics second.
"Rearing back I smash the ground, "ROOOOWWWRRRR". To generate a shockwave effect. 18 dice.
The player usually rattles off the required number (11+cv) or what ever is appropriate, but sometimes I ask them for the required numbers.
5) Move things on the tactical board, if needed.
6) Roll dice. We roll all the dice required, so roll the damage dice at the same time as the attack. You may not need the damage dice, but that is one less time you have to pick up and roll your dice.
7) Tabulate and apply the results. Move characters again if required.
8)GM Describes the character’s final panel with the results. "Howitzer double smashes the floor sending a shockwave, things fall over, rubble is created, and the ninjas all jump and flip out of the way, except for this one in back who rolled badly."
You need to make sure that description is included. If not, the game degerates down into a simple number fest and you might as well be playing Squad Leader. You have to do it maintain the Genre feel.
Take a breath. Do the next one.
Determine the basic strategy for all of your antagonists before the game starts. What will be their combat objectives and their regular tactics. Note it down on their sheet or card. If the antagonists are part of a horde, lay down a basic strategy for the Horde.
Cue card: Set up notes for yourself about good bits of description, game mechanics to use, and dialog to be presented. If you do it ahead of time, you can just whip it out when appropriate, remind yourself what to do, and do it.
(Players should have cue cards too)
Players should have "standing orders" things they do every combat or every time things get wild. These should be listed on a sheet. If they figure out wha they want to do before hand, the players will play faster.
There you have it. MoonHunter’s advice on how to make combats run quickly and effectively.