Does combat take too long in your DnD sessions? Are you spending hours on just a handful of rounds? You’re not alone. This is a common problem that many DMs face and it can be hard to fix. If you’re struggling with this, there is a simple rule that can help: the 1:10 rule for combat.
What is the 1:10 Rule
The 1:10 rule is a commonly used roleplaying mechanic that limits the time players can make choices about their actions to ten times the length of action their character can take. In combat this means that when a player’s turn comes up, they are given one minute to make up their mind about what they want to do. Since a round of combat represents 6 seconds, the player only gets 60 seconds to make a decision.
How this plays out is when a player’s turn starts, so does the clock. They can still ask questions and get clarifications from you, but they are out of question time when the timer runs out. This actually does a really good job of simulating the snap decision making process of battle much more than infinite time to ponder their moves does.
It is important to note here that while you are limiting their time, if they lack proper information to make a decision it’s your job to rectify that. So be lenient when you have to spend more than a minute clarifying a situation for your players. Your descriptions are your time, not theirs.
At first the 1:10 rule can seem harsh, but that’s only because it takes time to get used to it. The rule itself has been in place in TTRPGs of all sorts for a long time and it’s still often passed around online because it is effective.
When your players have infinite time to think about what they want to do they won’t feel the need to make snap decisions. In that situation they might want to ensure they are making the most optimal decisions they can. But in doing so they slow down the game for everyone else. The 1:10 rule, while strict, cuts down on this and pushes players to pay attention, make quick decisions, and apply active listening to combat.
Introducing the 1:10 Rule to Your Game
1:10 rule is something you add to solve a problem, but your players are not likely to be excited about it when you introduce it. They might agree that combat is dragging on, but at the same time they could feel that it’s too restrictive. The biggest gripe is often that it’s such a huge change from what they are used to. We’ve seen players take 10 minutes for a single turn before. When you cut that down to 1 it feels like a completely new game.
To ease players into this, don’t be too strict on the first use, simply offer warnings when they start to go over. Additionally, to make the whole thing a little smoother, ensure you visualize the time for them. You can do this with a few 1 minute hour glasses, one for each player, or if you’re a huge nerd, many chess clocks have a one minute reset button built right in.
Either way, it’s much easier to implement when your players can see what a minute looks like and can get a feel for it without any harsh punishments on its first use.
New Rules Require the Carrot, Not the Stick
When you change game mechanics it’s often best to talk to your players about it well beforehand and offer your reasoning as to why you’re putting the new rules in place. This open communication sets the stage for your players to feel like they are helping you solve a problem rather than you telling them they are a problem.
One additional thing you can do that will make this rule feel easier for your players is offer them an incentive to stick to it. One that we like to use is to offer them advantage on any looting rolls they do if they stay under their time limits on their turns. If they do go over, no advantage for them. This isn’t a huge reward, but it does help incentivize the adaptation of the game rules without relying on only punishment.
In the case that your players really cannot stick to the rule, you can introduce punishments. The most effective one is simply to have your player bungle their turn if they cannot decide and move them down one slot in the turn order. This is not as harsh as skipping their turn for the round, but it is still very punishing and should only be used if your player really drags things out without good reason.
Rules Apply to Everyone
The hardest part about adapting to the 1:10 rule is following it yourself. You don’t have time to think about the enemies’ decisions on the players’ turns because you have to maintain the game and calculate all the little behind the scenes details that happen to keep the game running.
Because of this it is often best for you to plan ahead and write up a decision tree for your monsters before combat starts. This simple act will tell you what the enemies will do in any given situation.
When do they attack, when do they run, who do they target? These are simple questions that you can keep on a note card and follow to speed up your combat and make sure you are following the same rules as you set for your players. If you fail to keep to the 1:10 rule, your players are going to be less likely to keep to it themselves.
An Elegant Solution to Common Combat Problems
The 1:10 rule really works to help stop common combat hang-ups. Simply restricting the time your players can take to decide on their actions can speed up your game a lot. It can make combat feel punchier, enhance the engagement of your players, and offer a challenge to the players in a meta sense to stay on the clock.
Remember, talk to your players about the rules before you introduce them and be sure that everyone is on board. You need to adapt your implementation of new rules to your players and this may mean that your time limits are longer or that your punishments/rewards are stronger.
Lastly, remember that the rule isn’t set in stone and you’re still in charge of maintaining the game. So give the 1:10 rule a try and see if you can improve your next combat scenario.