Reduce Table Transactions

by Mike Shea on 22 August 2011

Running a smooth game requires a lot of management at the table. There are a few easy tricks, however, to keep things running smooth. A good DM, for example, learns how to manage the flow of information at the table by reducing the number of transactions between a player and a DM required to run a battle.

So what in the nine hells is a transaction?

A transaction occurs every time a player transfers a bit of game information to the DM or vice versa. Obviously you don't want to control roleplaying or storytelling, but in combat, limiting the number of transactions can do a lot to speed things up.

The right data at the right time

Consider the following example:

player rolls dice

"Twenty two"

"versus what?"


"Against whom?"

"That guy"

"Which guy?"

"The troll with the red eye and the axe"

"Ok....what was the roll again?"

How many times does that exchange happen to you? I know, in three years playing 4e, it happens to me a lot. Improper flow of information can add a lot of unneeded time to your game. Properly managing this flow of information can cut way back on the length of each turn. Consider the following:

"22 vs. AC against the troll with the red eye"


"36 damage and dazed until the end of my next turn. Done."

"Got it. Next!"

Talk to your players and reward those who give you information in the method that works best. You might give them a +1 bonus on their next attack roll, for example. Spend the time working on this with your group and you'll save hours of time over the life of your adventures.

The magic number: Give out the highest defense

I'm a big proponent of revealing monster defenses but sometimes it takes a bit too much work to build up these cards every session. For a simpler method, give your group the magic number. Give them the highest defense of all the monsters in an encounter and tell them that any attack roll higher than that requires no checking, they simply give you the damage. You can go a step further by writing it on a folded 3x5 card and sticking it on the table. When they forget, a simple dose of mockery and humiliation from you and the group will get them to remember...

This magic number can cut out two to ten transactions on a single turn.

Whatever method you choose, keep in mind that every transaction between a player and a DM takes time at the table. Simple modifications to the flow of information can speed up your game and ensure that all your transactions are ones that bring joy to your group.

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