Saturday, January 19, 2013

Time Management during a D&D session

Everyone in a D&D session should be involved in it, no one should feel bored.
I go over techniques to make sure everyone is actively participating.

Time for a D&D session is often limited.
I want to manage that time as much as possible.
People shouldn't feel left out or bored.

When going over the following list, it's important to keep things fun.
A D&D session shouldn't feel like work or feeling rushed.


"Time" by John Morgan on Flickr

All things players or DMs can do alone, they should perform alone.
DMs communicate one on one with players using email or other forms of communication.
This includes:
  • People levelling up 
  • Looking up how new powers work
  • Buying and selling items
  • Discussing character backgrounds
  • Discussing conflict situations
  • Talk with followers of their characters

This is a good way to keep the game going after ending the session.


I don't like people talking on their cell phone.
As long as it doesn't halt the game, people may talk quietly on their cell phone.
I make a 30 minutes social break before starting the game.
This way everyone gets a way to talk before the game starts.
This results in fewer disruptions during the game.


I dislike it when players are busy with their turn, that others start talking.
Usually  about video games, movies, television series, etc.
It's ok if they don't talk too loud and still pay attention to the game ("it's my turn already?").
So if it doesn't halt the game, I'm fine with it.

Keeping everyone involved in the game prevents talking.

Dice rolling

As a DM, I almost never roll dice manually.
I got a small computer program running on a laptop doing the calculations for me.
This program has the PCs defences and monster attacks.
This saves a lot of time. At higher level, there are more dice to roll and this really pays off.

It also rolls skill checks and other dice.

Slow combat

I play 4E and combat at higher levels can be slow.
Here are techniques for speeding up 4E combat.

Managing initiative

Players see a public initiative list.
This way they know when it's their turn.
I encourage them to say when their turn is done so the following player can start.

I often display the monster defences so that the players know if their attacks hit.
Sometimes they need a knowledge check before I display it.

Analysis Paralysis

This occurs when players are discussing their options, mostly out-of-character.
While the players enjoy this, the DM is often bored.
This can drag on for several reasons:
  • Out-of-character discussions: Players want to make the best possible solution, using player knowledge. This is logical but is hard to accomplish.
    It's best to limit out-of-character discussions and go for in-character discussions.
    Character knowledge is of a different nature than player knowledge.
    Player knowledge is more extensive and works more on assumptions about the DM, the story, etc.
  • Hard consequences: if the choices the characters are often life and dead, they will be more careful. Choices do matter, but the consequences shouldn't be too hard.
  • Insufficient information: if the characters have insufficient information they need to make a lot of assumptions. This takes a lot of time.
    It's important to provide enough information to make meaningful decisions.
  • Too many choices: if the characters have too many options with inter dependencies, they need a lot of time to think through all possibilities.

How do you keep everyone involved?
Do you have more tips and techniques to keep a session moving?


  1. Good article!
    What program do you use for dice rolling?


    1. Thanks.
      My previous DM used an Excel sheet for dice rolling.
      I hacked together a small java program for dice rolling.

  2. Good article. This is a link to software I use. It's a real time saver and I couldn't run some of the more complex battles without it!

    Best thing? It's free!

    1. It looks interesting. It reminds of Masterplan which I tried out a while back.
      Any idea how it compares against other software?

  3. Well I have tried a few. If I.had a computer I could compile what the ones I have tried and take the best coding and trail and error find what works LOL. XD..


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