Friday, September 18, 2020

Every player, every turn

 Something I've struggled with at my game tables in the past, and something that's happened at every table at which I've been seated as a player, too, is the time-keeping muddle in "exploration mode." It happens something like this: 

The characters move and enter a new area, where the DM describes what they see. One player immediately wants to do something, and then immediately wants to follow up on that something. Say, there's a pile of trash in the room. Player checks the pile, and DM announces there's a chest hidden in the mess. Player wants to check for traps, then open the chest, and so on. During this time, the other players are left twiddling their thumbs, until the entire sequence is resolved to the first player's satisfaction. Then another player (or maybe even the same one!) wants to check out some other feature of the area, and a similar sequence ensues. Often the most experienced or most assertive player(s) dominate(s) the decision-making, and thus the action. 

So, how many turns did the party take in that room? Which actions happened concurrently, and which sequentially? And, just as importantly, did the less assertive players get a chance to join the game, or did they end up as mere spectators while the take-charge ones (maybe unintentionally) hogged all the action? 

One solution to the problem is to go strictly turn-by-turn, with players announcing their intentions at the start of each turn. You can let the group confer for a few minutes to decide what everyone's doing, and then make the announcements, either each player speaking for his/her character, or a caller relaying everything to the DM. Another method is to let each player announce without the group conference, going clockwise around the table, and each turn rotating the first move one spot clockwise, so everyone gets chances to go first. This may be a good approach to get shy or passive players involved.

Every player should choose something to do every turn, even if it's something seemingly trivial like watching other characters do their things.

If a player chooses to do something passive, like keep watch at a doorway or observe another character opening a chest, that character should get a chance to react in the same turn if something changes. If you roll a wandering monster, the door sentry will notice it first, perhaps with a reduced or no chance to be surprised. If the characters opening the chest trigger a trap, the one watching can rush forth to aid them with healing spells or potions or some such. 

This makes exploration mode a lot more structured, interestingly not unlike combat. I sometimes wonder if that lax attitude toward exploration is one of the factors that caused the game to shift over time to a much more combat-oriented format. After all, in combat, every player gets a chance to do something each round, whether or not they're willing or able to get a word in edgewise in a group that includes more outspoken players. Why shouldn't the same hold true in other parts of the game?


  1. The Angry DM has been doing some thinking about this mode of play. You might want to check out: