Talking as a free action in table-top rules

Imperioratorex Caprae

Henchgoat Emperor
May 15, 2010
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I've been thinking about something recently. While there are people who're pretty good at multi-tasking, talking is not always an easy thing to do. It does require some concentration to perform an action and talk at the same time. Its one thing to have a fight and shout orders as a professional soldier, or in the case of adventuring, handle a combat encounter and give minor tactical updates.
However I've had games slog on because players would discuss tactics during every encounter. At that point I decided to implement the quick initiative rule, which basically goes like this:
Every round we roll initiative, determine who goes when and then do a quick round robin where the DM points to each person in succession and that person has a short amount of time to decide their action. No tactical cross-talk, just quick heat-of-the-moment discussion.
I did this the first time after a small encounter took 2 hours to get through (only 10 rounds). So the next encounter, I didn't tell the players I changed the rule, I just sprung it on them. When they rolled initiative, and a player got the first move I pointed to him and said "you have 3 seconds to decide your action, go."
He looked at me with a dumb expression and said "uhhhhh..." I replied "Ok, your character stands there with a dumbstruck look, next" and went down the line. After the first round went much like that and the characters were caught flatfooted (granted the enemies were only a minor threat and I purposely had them roll badly on account of being scared shitless of these adventurers, I am fair... sort of) I gave the players a full rundown of the hotseat rule, or quick initiative. I told them that combat is a fast paced environment and you don't have time to discuss tactics, draw swords, choose an action and go unless you want to spend at least one round having a discussion where the enemy will have the advantage of acting against you. In a fight, you don't have time to do that, you just have to react. Its one thing if you spend time training in hand signals, or short word or phrased code, but combat shouldn't take forever to get through. It encourages players to work together and think on their feet, and ever since I decided to do away with the idea of talking as a free action, games felt more fluid and combat felt a bit more... well real I guess. I mean the players were initially resistant but once we were able to move through encounters without someone holding the game up because they were flip-flopping between spell or ability choices, they were on board.
So what do you folks who play tabletop think of the idea that talking is not always a free action?
What would you do in that situation?
 
Aug 31, 2012
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Imperioratorex Caprae said:
I've been thinking SNIP
Well, I used to play a lot of Cyberpunk 2020 and combat was done in 3.3333 etc second rounds, so while talking to other players was a "free" action, you only got 3 seconds of it, assuming you were able to communicate over jamming, gunfire, range or whatever. Cyberpunk 2020 combat rounds could take an age anyway, especially once the autofire with special ammo types against armour got going so players would usually have quite a while to formulate their own plan of action during the preceeding round. They can then tell me what they're doing and the others got 1x3 seconds each to say "no, kill that guy dumbass!"

That said, as I'm sure you're aware, it all depends on the group. Some people want to go for the realistic as possible roleplay simulation, others much prefer to be able to sit down and discuss with each other at length because they aren't actually the sort of cyber special forces types that their characters are and don't have small unit tactics down to a T and don't really want to put the effort into it to learn them for real (or at least some sort of approximation). If there was a particular dislike of an idea I wouldn't force it on them.
 

sanquin

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Jun 8, 2011
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Thing is it's very different when you're in a fight, directly facing enemies, opposed to having a grid or map on a table with some indicators on who's what. I can tell from my experience in both D&D and LARP. Something that takes you less than a second to think about, react to, and counteract in a face to face fight, can easily take you up to 10, even 20 seconds to figure out and tell others about in tabletop games.

As an example.

In tabletop you first have to figure out where every ally and enemy is standing, and what direction they're facing, then place them in a kind of mental map. Then you have to figure out how to best flank that enemy an ally is fighting with. So you look at the squares, trying to calculate with the squares whether you can move to flank or not. If you can't, you have to start the thought process over. If you can, you have to then choose figure out what square/hexagon/something gives you the best flanking position. Then FINALLY you get to the 'telling the DM you're going to do X or Y' part. In my average tabletop game, this took about 1~3 minutes a person from start of the turn to telling the DM what the character would do. Or more if there were a lot of enemies.

Now the LARP version. I simply look around me, and with a quick glance I can see where enemies and allies are standing compared to me, as well as the weapons they're using and thus their reach. Without having to count squares I can just start running/walking, and reach my destination rather than being limited to X feet/meters per turn. I also then don't have to decide on a location to flank the next enemy, as I can just freely move myself until I'm facing his back. It usually takes me 3 seconds tops to go from 'I will now decide what to do next' to 'I'm doing it now'.


So I think it's unfair for the DM to impose a 3 second rule on actions for fights. Especially since I'm used to D&D's 'a turn takes about 6 seconds' rule. I would consider something like 10 seconds fair though, after an explanation of what enemy/ally is where if needed. As you are right in that it shouldn't be possible for you to discuss in-debt tactics in the middle of a fight.
 

chozo_hybrid

Jund 'Em Out!
Jul 15, 2009
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As a GM, I allow my players a sentence, so long as it's not too long. I'm pretty relaxed on it, since my players don't abuse it.

As for your 3 second rule. Jeez. How did the players react to that? Because to be honest, as the one running the game. You have all the time you want to plan encounters etc, the least you could do is give them a minute or so to decide what they want to do, if they're taking 5-10 mins to figure it out sure, but remember, the main idea is that they find the game fun. If they like your ruling, then good on them, but I don't think it would go down well on my table.

EDIT: I thought initially you meant the free action of the characters talking in battle like Pathfinder and most other games give you.

One thing I will say though, springing the rule like that on them and expecting them to go with it immediately is not a nice way to go about it. When making rules like that, at least announce it at the start of the session or something.
 

DoPo

"You're not cleared for that."
Jan 30, 2012
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chozo_hybrid said:
One thing I will say though, springing the rule like that on them and expecting them to go with it immediately is not a nice way to go about it. When making rules like that, at least announce it at the start of the session or something.
I completely agree. It's not a bad rule, per se, but it is a rule that is really awful to throw at people surprisingly.

With that said, even then, 3 seconds is quite short - I'd consider a thinking time of a minute be the minimum. Unless fights are actually just a distraction and not a major event (say, the game is about random blokes or aristocracy or something and fights are supposed to leave them scuffed but be winnable). Bit it doesn't sound like it is, so 3 seconds, I think, is too short.

What system are you playing OP? If it's D&D, there are ways of improving battle times without an arbitrary limit of time (they could be combined, of course). Especially in 4e, where the battles really drag on.
 

Gethsemani_v1legacy

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Oct 1, 2009
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Like Sanquin said, in real life your perceptional awareness is way better than it is when you play a board game or pen and paper game. During my time in the army we ran many combat exercises and eventually my squad did lots of things on instinct that you have to actively consider when extrapolating to a board/pen and paper game. Our communication was as much non-verbal as it was verbal, with stances, weapon pointing, head facing and lots of other small details in how we conducted ourselves giving our squad mates an idea about what we were focusing on, where we suspected threats to appear and if we were ready to fire, and what kind of fire (point, suppression, target etc.) we intended to use. Add to this how we continually assessed the situation individually and transmitted this information in short bursts that made sense in the context of where we were ("Two o'clock, rock!" was enough to identify a potential enemy position, "Magazine!" enough to indicate an intention to reload, "Zipper back!" enough to start a tactical retreat) but might not make much sense when spoken around someone's dinner table. On top of all that we were drilled in standard tactics, which meant that we knew how to react to various situation, and so far I've yet to meet an RP group that maintains a Standard Operating Procedure for their combat encounter.

All that combined is why I tend to be fairly lax with restricting the talking during combat encounters. It can be assumed that while the player makes a long monologue about flanking the enemy, the character probably just shouts "cover me!" or something to that effect and the other characters interprets body language, movement direction etc. to get the idea that their buddy is about to flank. As long as the combat doesn't bog down due to extended discussions, let the players talk. In my experience it is usually the rules that drag combat on (especially in "realistic" systems) and not players talking, the talking tend to crop up because individual players can go 10+ minutes between actions. That's also why I almost exclusively use the New World of Darkness rules.
 

DoPo

"You're not cleared for that."
Jan 30, 2012
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Gethsemani said:
In my experience it is usually the rules that drag combat on (especially in "realistic" systems) and not players talking, the talking tend to crop up because individual players can go 10+ minutes between actions.
Also, in addition: overly complex rules can make peple discuss them a lot, as well. Because of all the nooks and crannies in the rules[foontote]you can get a bonus of X if you do Y and also that guy does Z but if we do A, B and C, the other guy would get a different bonus which may or may not be more useful for the current situation. But if we do D, E, F, we'll be in an even better situation next turn, as long as G doesn't happen and so on and so forth[/footnote] they do promote discussing how to exactly tackle everything. And when the game advances, the players usually get way more abilities, adding more potential courses of action which lead to all sorts of interactions. But furthermore, even the enemies get more abilities, which again raises the complexity of planning, you now have to plan around what the enemies can do.

Gethsemani said:
That's also why I almost exclusively use the New World of Darkness rules.
Out of interest, have you tried the God-Machine updated rules? I've never had a chance to give them a spin, so I don't know how well they behave. They look like some help (Down and dirty combat, for example) but I don't know how effective they are in practice.
 

Winthrop

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Apr 7, 2010
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I'm always opposed to these kinds of rules on the basis of fun. Sure those two hour tactics discussions drag, but my GM cursed me and another character with silence once and didn't let us talk in or out of character for the next 2 or 3 adventures (~6 hours of play time). The person next to me at the table was new and when the GM would say stuff like "roll fortitude" he wouldn't know what it meant so I'd explain it to him and the GM would tell me to stop talking before I could. It was a 4 man group so telling half of us that we couldn't talk in or out of character dragged the whole experience down. I always find that while limiting talking is more realistic, it can really hurt the fun of the table. We had this one badass (same guy who couldn't roll fort) who triple critted a dragon but rolled 1's on every roll for 10 turns against a rat. We kept joking about how rats are the toughest creature in the game, and silencing that kind of talk brings everyone down. Although that rule applied outside of combat as well, which makes it much worse. Anyway 3 seconds is far too short in my opinion. I'd say at least a minute or so in combat because I often need to ask for rule clarifications with my current GM (I'm new to the system and he is new to GMing so he forgets rules or has minor inconsistencies sometimes, clarifying tells you more of what happens which can really change the outcome of a battle)
 

Gethsemani_v1legacy

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DoPo said:
Gethsemani said:
In my experience it is usually the rules that drag combat on (especially in "realistic" systems) and not players talking, the talking tend to crop up because individual players can go 10+ minutes between actions.
Also, in addition: overly complex rules can make peple discuss them a lot, as well. Because of all the nooks and crannies in the rules[footnote]you can get a bonus of X if you do Y and also that guy does Z but if we do A, B and C, the other guy would get a different bonus which may or may not be more useful for the current situation. But if we do D, E, F, we'll be in an even better situation next turn, as long as G doesn't happen and so on and so forth[/footnote] they do promote discussing how to exactly tackle everything. And when the game advances, the players usually get way more abilities, adding more potential courses of action which lead to all sorts of interactions. But furthermore, even the enemies get more abilities, which again raises the complexity of planning, you now have to plan around what the enemies can do.

Gethsemani said:
That's also why I almost exclusively use the New World of Darkness rules.
Out of interest, have you tried the God-Machine updated rules? I've never had a chance to give them a spin, so I don't know how well they behave. They look like some help (Down and dirty combat, for example) but I don't know how effective they are in practice.
I can't say that I have. I stopped buying supplements back in 2008 and have been running on my old rule books ever since. For me personally the rules as laid out in the core rule book are pretty close to what my ideal rule set would be like; quick, easy to learn and simple to adapt (add or subtract a die for any modifiers that affect the roll) to many different situations. They work well enough for groups like mine that like the occasional fight but are more interested in the dramatic and narrative aspects of fighting than the rule-twinking, beard growing munchkin aspect that appeal to others.

We did a run of Exalted and while it was fun, it all to often dragged into rules semantics and endless follow up dice rolling that made "quick" combat encounters last over an hour. In comparison we could sort out fairly involved party vs party fights in NWoD in about 20 minutes, tactical deliberations included.
 

Frission

Until I get thrown out.
May 16, 2011
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Wow, you are a scary GM, if you don't mind me saying.

Anyway, since most of the people I play with are friends we never had to enforce the talking rule. The whole point is to have fun right?
 

Grumman

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Sep 11, 2008
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That is a terrible rule. The character will naturally have a far better understanding of their circumstances than the player will, and so it is unreasonable to expect the player to convey their actions as quickly as the character must implement them. For example, a PC will know just by looking whether they have line of sight to an enemy, but the player might have to ask for this information. Or the player might have a plan that is not covered by the rules and is thus subject to a DM's veto - it is a lot easier for the PC to decide whether dropping a chandelier on someone is a viable tactic and carry it out with a well timed slash of a sword than it might be for the player to explain what they want to do, receive a response from the DM whether it could work, and then confirm that they will be doing it.
 

Colonel Mustard

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Jun 2, 2010
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I've got be honest that seems rather...overzealous, and just springing it on your players out of the is completely unfair, tbh. I can totally get trying to pick up the pace in combat, and more often than not fights have slowed down my sessions much more than I'd like, but in my player group I've got one player who does enjoy coming up with elaborate plans for dealing with fights, and seeing as the other players are cool with him and actively enjoy pulling off his schemes I'd much rather let them have their fun than just force them to hurry it along. I appreciate it is a little metagamey, but his character has generally taken on the role as party tactician, so it's generally roleplayed as him coming up with a plan on the spot and then giving brief orders like "flank left" or "fireball on that group".

Tabletop stuff is fiddly at times, especially with crunchy, rules-heavy systems like Pathfinder, and trying to get a grip on a fight scene is going to take a lot more time than it would in an actual, real-life fight. And really, half the reason people go to play these is for the social side of it, and that includes talking and chatting. It's fine to hurry things along a bit if people get distracted, but your game should be for the players first, not for the GM.
 

Something Amyss

Aswyng and Amyss
Dec 3, 2008
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It's a game. Considering all the other things you can do in a 3, 5 or 6 second round (depending on the game), I honestly just don't care for the most part.

However, I've made it clear that this fits in with my standing "bored now" rule. These are words you don't want to hear at my table.
 

Hemlet

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Jul 31, 2009
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The only times I've had to instigate a timer for combat turns is when I had players who weren't paying attention or had trouble paying attention (large group+a few members with ADHD and the like=it happens), and even then only in mid to high level D&D. It's one thing to re-describe where bandits are taking cover up on a cliff every few turns. It's another to re-describe the Mindflayer Death Squads using magic to teleport, create illusions, alter the terrain of the battlefield, and fly every few turns. Especially when the players are also using magic to do what the MDS's are doing and then some, which also needs to be described again because that also has a significant impact on the options available.

I get what you were going for, and if your group is okay with it then awesome, but:

a)Springing a new rule on them like that is kind of a dick move, prepared situation aside.

b)I can only see the time limit of 3 seconds to talk working in low level or low/no magic settings. Some spell effects, spell combinations, and what the player intends to do with said effects can just get too complicated to cover in 3 seconds. In your position I'd consider bumping the time up to 1-2 minutes, giving players time to think and explain themselves while still keeping the pressure up. It may seem like a lot, but depending on how long your game goes and what system you're playing, it could become just a fact of life that everyone's turns are going to take at least 5 minutes to resolve through sheer number-crunching and quick rules checking anyway.
 

Smooth Operator

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You sprung an overarching new time sensitive rule about combat on them during combat so they couldn't prepare for it? This is one of the biggest dick moves I've come across mate. That sort of DMing will quickly make your players resentful, just imagine then spending hours around a table with people who hate your guts.

If you really have an experienced group who understand all mechanics and they fully know what their actions do then you can start establishing a quick fire ruleset for sure. That is before the game starts and with the players approval, so everyone clearly understands how things work and when this can be mitigated with less skilled players or lack of information.
You do not ever do this with people who don't know the full extent of the rules, yes you need to keep pushing them along so the combat goes somewhere but you can't let your impatience screw everyone else over.
 

castlewise

Lord Fancypants
Jul 18, 2010
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I would separate out the two problems of encouraging combat rounds to go more quickly and the realism of discussing tactics during a three second round. If you want fights to be more realistic, and if your players are on board and think the hotseat rule is fun, then this seems like a fine thing to do. If you just want to keep people from taking forever to finish their turns then this is probably overkill.

My experience is that talking tactics is part of the fun. I would be seriously annoyed if a dm told me I couldn't ask which party members need healing, or discuss if we should focus down the big bad first or each tackle a minion, either during or outside of my turn. If someone is taking too long, or excessively planning there are more subtle ways to encourage them to speed things up.
 

Imperioratorex Caprae

Henchgoat Emperor
May 15, 2010
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I did forget the qualifier, that I had previously talked to the players to shorten their tactical discourse. It wasn't that these were major fights either, it was minor stuff that would have taken about 10 minutes max to finish even without the rule. When you've spent a few games that were mostly minor encounters and very little of the rest of the campaign in tactics, you might as well be playing a miniatures game and not an RPG.
I did warn them I'd do something drastic if they didn't rein in their impulse to draw out tactics. That being said, I feel sometimes the DM has to be the bad guy. I didn't enjoy doing it but yes I was frustrated and I had a long discussion afterward with the other DM who would periodically switch out with me when I was bored.
I've run many games in my life, more than I can remember and I've found more often than not players use the "but we're having fun" excuse to do whatever they want as if there's no DM there to enforce the rules and ensure the game moves forward. I don't take every game seriously, which is why I used to keep a copy of Paranoia handy for times where I felt we all needed to decompress.
I don't mind fun, I like fun. But unlike my standing "any Monty Python reference gets you a negative to the next roll" rule (or some varition of that) and other small rules, the "quick initiative" isn't a standing rule, it just gets sprung when players start slogging encounters.
Also noted this was a gaming group that would meet regularly for years and the rule was a long time coming as the tactical sessions would grow exponentially the longer we played together. Something did have to be done, and while it was drastic, it curbed a poor player habit of abusing the "free action" rule and also sharpened players ability to think quickly and make of-the-moment tactical decisions.
I like to encourage practical application experience over just knowing the book, and admittedly the group wasn't happy with the first run but later (after the other DM and I had a discussion) they all understood that they were making my life hell.
The game isn't just for the players and the DM is not the players *****. When you treat the DM like some arbitrary mechanic you can "pause" to do whatever you like, the DM will also resent you. Rather than blow up on the players, I just used the overarching rule of "the DM makes the rules" to let them know they were taking advantage of my normally easy going nature. I'm a fair DM for the most part and I do allow a lot of leeway most of the time.
Yes I can be a dick, but it only comes out when people have abused the part of me that is a decent and accommodating person. In other words, do not mistake kindess for weakness.
Other gaming groups have learned not to take advantage of me by way of Tomb of Horrors being injected into the campaign (or something comparable if they've already experienced that).
I do apologize though for the lack of information, I wanted to get this out there last night/early this morning and I was afraid I'd
forget to post it if I waited til I woke up.
So yeah, it wasn't totally reactionary, it was a long time coming with plenty of warning (though the warning was vague since I didn't know exactly what I was going to do til I did it).
It was a reminder that the DM is also supposed to have fun too and one shouldn't forget the guy/gal who made the game possible for you to play in the first place. Its a mutual fun agreement that I've noticed players seem to forget from time to time and need a reminder.
 

Foolery

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Jun 5, 2013
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Realism in a fantasy game that only takes place in the shared creativity of the players? Har, har, har. You just reminded me why I refuse to play certain tabletop games, DMs who take everything too seriously. Yeah, a timer is fair, but 3 seconds is not. 2 to 4 minutes is usually fair.
 

chozo_hybrid

Jund 'Em Out!
Jul 15, 2009
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Imperioratorex Caprae said:
It was a reminder that the DM is also supposed to have fun too and one shouldn't forget the guy/gal who made the game possible for you to play in the first place. Its a mutual fun agreement that I've noticed players seem to forget from time to time and need a reminder.
I agree with this particular sentiment, players sometimes treat the person running the game a bit badly from time to time. But the relationship between the DM/GM and the players should never be antagonistic, we have to be better then that. I have had words with players in the past about things that displease me during a session, and I always ask for feedback at the end of the night to make sure I'm doing okay by them as well. So I don't think I'll ever have to do what you did, with any luck.

They may have known you were going to do something about the combat time, but it would have been better to warn them of the rule before the first combat at least. I know you say they knew something was coming, but that something was never explained according to what you said. Sprining it like you did

Paragraphs are your friend, makes text walls easier to read :D
 

Imperioratorex Caprae

Henchgoat Emperor
May 15, 2010
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chozo_hybrid said:
Imperioratorex Caprae said:
It was a reminder that the DM is also supposed to have fun too and one shouldn't forget the guy/gal who made the game possible for you to play in the first place. Its a mutual fun agreement that I've noticed players seem to forget from time to time and need a reminder.
I agree with this particular sentiment, players sometimes treat the person running the game a bit badly from time to time. But the relationship between the DM/GM and the players should never be antagonistic, we have to be better then that. I have had words with players in the past about things that displease me during a session, and I always ask for feedback at the end of the night to make sure I'm doing okay by them as well. So I don't think I'll ever have to do what you did, with any luck.

They may have known you were going to do something about the combat time, but it would have been better to warn them of the rule before the first combat at least. I know you say they knew something was coming, but that something was never explained according to what you said. Sprining it like you did

Paragraphs are your friend, makes text walls easier to read :D
Oh I agree, I just was very tired and burnt out at that point. Like I said it turned out ok, and the players actually enjoyed it once they got used to it. But at the time it wasn't something I'd planned ahead for, it was just something I threw together spur of the moment in frustration. Especially after I'd asked them to shorten their initiatives so we could move on.

Also with paragraphs, I know what they are I just don't always edit my posts after typing them. I'm a flow-writer and do my editing afterwards, if I feel I have time.