Tabletop RPG Podcast and Roleplaying Resources

Category: Game Design

Stormtrooper Speed Test

I wanted to get a sense of the relative speed to run combat when using Traveller 2e, Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game 1e (the West End Games d6 version), and my own mass-combat wargame rules based on One Page Rules. Here are the results, along with my rules cheat sheet I used when running the mock combat.

The Setup

There are 5 Star Wars Stormtroopers firing at 5 Rebel agents who were discovered undercover, disguised in Stormtrooper armor. Both sides use identical stats.

Units don’t move, take cover, or do anything special (for example, characters don’t take reactions such as Dodge). It’s just a Napoleonic-era style division line fighting.

In the two RPGs, untill two opponents are down, fire at person across from you (or 1st person to your left if the person across from you is down). After two opponents are taken out, focus fire on the most wounded opponent. Combat continues until one side is eliminated.

After each round I stop to stap a picture of the end of round status.

Actual combat in a real RPG game would take longer than any of these simulations of course since there is table banter, people moving minis around, rules discussions, and so forth, so these numbers only give a relative sense of combat time.

The Results

One Page Rules Combat

[su_box title=”Wargame Stat Block” style=”default” box_color=”#8ff2ff” title_color=”#000000″ radius=”3″]

STORMTROOPER SQUAD [5]: Quality 5+, Defense 5+, Attacks: Assault Rifles (24”, A1), CCWs (A1)


Combat Rules Summary

Attack: Roll d6s for each model to hit.

Damage: d6’s for each model to defend. 5’s or better hit, and 5’s or better defend. Hit models are removed from combat.

Wargame Combat Results

Wargame Combat Results

Star Wars d6 Combat

[su_box title=”d6 Stat Block” style=”default” box_color=”#8ff2ff” title_color=”#000000″ radius=”3″]

Imperial Stormtrooper: All stats are 2D except: blaster 4D, brawling parry 4D, dodge 4D, brawling 3D. Stormtrooper Armor: adds +1D to Strength code for damage purposes only. Reduces Dexterity code and all Dexterity related skills by 1D. Stormtrooper Weapons: Blaster pistol (damage 4D), blaster rifle (damage 5D).


Combat Rules Summary

Attack: Blaster Rifle (5D to hit, TN 10 (for short range))

Damage: 5D damage – 3D Strength/Armor soak

Wound Resolution

Wound Taken: by comparison of rolls; Damage roll’s multiple of Strength+Armor.

  • DR<SR = Stunned (Prone, -1D per stunned level, if >= STR (2) unconscious, wears off end of creature’s next turn).
    Marked by [su_label type=”default”]Green Chips[/su_label]
  • DR>SR = Wounded (Prone, -1D till healed, can’t act this round).
    Marked by [su_label type=”warning”]1 Yellow Chip[/su_label]
  • DR>2xSR = Incapacitated (Prone, out of combat).
    Marked by [su_label type=”success”]1 Red Chip[/su_label]
  • DR>3xSR = Mortally Wounded (Prone, out of combat).
    Marked by [su_label type=”success”]2 Red Chips[/su_label]

Model Down = prone.

Prone Characters: +2 target number to hit , -1D on skill checks, costs an action (at -1D) to rise from prone. You can always fall prone without penalty at the end of your movement.

House Rule: A Strength to resist damage roll must be at least double the damage roll to completely soak it, so just beating the damage roll (but less than double) is still a stun (for normal damage). (this is from the 1e Rules Companion)

Combat Rules Outcome

d6 Combat Results

d6 Combat Results

Traveller Combat

[su_box title=”Traveller Stat Block” style=”default” box_color=”#8ff2ff” title_color=”#000000″ radius=”3″]

Imperial Stormtrooper 7773C8 Age 22  1 term Cr12,000
Skills: Rifle-2, SMG-2
Gear: Blaster Rifle 3D, Stormtrooper Armor +8 Protection


Combat Rules Summary

Attack: Blaster Rifle (+2 to hit, TN 8)

Damage: 3D damage – 8 Armor soak.

Wound Resolution

After 14 points of damage the character is out of combat.

  • 1-6 Hits
    Marked by [su_label type=”default”]Green d6[/su_label]
  • 7-12 Hits
    Marked by [su_label type=”warning”]Yellow d6[/su_label]
  • 13+ Hits
    Marked by [su_label type=”success”]Red d6[/su_label]

Combat Rules Outcome

Traveller Combat Results

Traveller Combat Results

Tracking Conditions in Star Wars d6

After running the simulated combat here’s what I am thinking about tracking damage in Star Wars:

Initial Thinking

  • Prone — Lay the model down on the table to indicate they are prone / crawling.
  • Shaken (1 Green Poker Chip) — The condition of ‘you can’t act’ we will call ‘Shaken’. We will house rule Shaken to clear at the end of the creatures next turn (as opposed to ‘can’t act this round or next’).
  • Stunned (1+ Yellow Poker Chips) — We track stunned with Yellow Poker Chips. You can have multiple Stunned tokens. Stunned effect clears at the end of the creatures next turn.
  • Wounded (1 Red Poker Chip) — We track stunned with a Red Poker Chip. Note that you can’t clear this condition during combat.
  • Incapacitated (1 Black Token) — Usually you remove incapacitated enemy NPCs or creatures from the board, but if you want to keep them on the board (for example, you want to keep the opponent alive and need to know how bad they’re hit) you can keep them on the board with one Black Token.
  • Mortally Wounded (2 Black Tokens) — Like incapacitated, but with 2 Black Tokens.
  • Dodge — We don’t track creatures doing a Dodge with Tokens. Instead, players track when their character does a Dodge and alerts the GM when it impacts combat. The GM tracks NPCs doing a Dodge. Usually, only important named NPCs would do a Dodge action.

After this initial post I came up with another way to track damage

  • Prone — Lay the model down on the table to indicate they are prone / crawling.
  • Stunned (1+ Green Poker Chips) — We track stunned with Green Poker Chips. You can have multiple Stunned tokens. Stunned effect clears at the end of the creatures next turn.
  • Wounded & Can’t Act (2 Yellow Poker Chips) — We track Wounded and Can’t Act with a Yellow Poker Chip. Note that you can’t clear wounded condition during combat, but the Can’t Act clears at the end of the character’s next turn.
  • Wounded & Can Act (1 Yellow Poker Chip) — We track Wounded with a Yellow Poker Chip. Note that you can’t clear this condition during combat.
  • Incapacitated (1 Red Chip) — Usually you remove incapacitated enemy NPCs or creatures from the board, but if you want to keep them on the board (for example, you want to keep the opponent alive and need to know how bad they’re hit) you can keep them on the board with one Black Token.
  • Mortally Wounded (2 Red Chips) — Like incapacitated, but with 2 Red Chips.
  • Dodge — Dodge action is tracked using special acrylic Dodge tokens.

Also consider using Litko tokens such as these:


Here are the key metrics from the simulation:


  • 12 combat rounds
  • Total Time 3:07 minutes = (3*60)+7 = 187 seconds
  • Average Round = 16 seconds
  • Average Time Between Player Dice Rolls = 8 seconds

Star Wars d6

  • 3 combat rounds
  • Total Time 5:53 minutes = (5*60)+53 = 353 seconds
  • Average Round = 118 seconds
  • Average Time Between Player Dice Rolls = 59 seconds


  • 6 combat rounds
  • Total Time 11:52 minutes = (11*60)+52 = 712 seconds
  • Average Round = 119 seconds
  • Average Time Between Player Dice Rolls = 119 seconds


OPR Wargame rules are 4x Faster than Traveller — The One Page Rules wargame system is about 4 times faster than Traveller combat. So you can run a mass combat that would take 2 hours in only 30 minutes when using OPR wargame rules.

Star Wars Combat is as Fast or Faster Than Traveller — Star Wars d6 combat resolved in half the time the same combat took to resolve in Traveller. Part of this I think is Traveller armor provides serious protection, whereas the Stormtrooper armor I think was a bit nerfed. If you increased the Strength and/or Armor of Star Wars combatants, I think it would take longer to resolve. This was surprising to me; I assumed that the different wound levels would increase combat time. Aside from this though, it seemed it was easier to hit opponents in Star Wars d6, making me think that surprising opponents and taking cover is a big deal, maybe even more impactful than in Traveller.

d6 Math is Simple and Fast — Star Wars d6 flowed much more smoothly than I expected. I was thinking it would feel more like Savage Worlds. What I noted was that (like Traveller) dice selection was fast (everything is a d6, unlike Savage Worlds or D&D). In Star Wars d6, most math is addition, with the only other math the quick multiplication of comparing Damage to Strength. It’s pretty simple to eyeball a number and say “is my Damage double the Strength roll?” You don’t even have to do the math — I can quickly decide 13 Damage is higher than but not double a Strength roll of 11 even without doing the multiplication. So in most cases you’re just adding dice scores together. Thinks like Armor let you add or subtract dice from the dice pool which is easier than math (this reminded me of Cortex, where physically adding and subtracting dice is done before the roll, making things easier). Compare this to Star Wars d6 2e or Savage Worlds where you take the results and do division on it to determine wounds. Even Traveller feels a bit more complicated — you’re subtracting 8 from the skill check to determine the Effect, and then subtracting Armor from the Damage result. Star Wars d6 notion of ‘add, compare’ feels simpler and faster than Traveller’s ‘add, subtract, add, subtract’ or Savage Worlds ‘add, explode, add, divide, compare’.

Traveller is More Predictable — Star Wars feels more ‘swingy’ than Traveller and its harder (for me anyway) to eyeball and determine likely outcomes. Traveller is more consistent (target number is always 8) and damage and the outcome of battles seems more even and predictable.

Damage Tracking Using Tokens in Star Wars is Smooth — Damage tracking was simpler in Star Wars than I was expecting when using Tokens. For Traveller, I use d6s which take a second to flip around to find the right set of pips on the die. Colored tokens in Star Wars can be placed under the mini and take less space on the battlemat. Unlike Savage Worlds, there is no ‘unshake’ option, so (aside from Stunned tokens), wounds, once received, stay with you. So combat is fast, and there is not a lot of extra dice rolls or fiddling with tokens to unshake or remove tokens.



Combat Speed Part 3: Mechanics that Slow RPG Combat

Over the past few months I’ve taken notes in several games I’ve run or played using different systems: D&D 5e, Classic Traveller, Savage Worlds, Call of Cthulhu, and Stormbringer RPG. I’ve also consulted notes I have from play in systems like Pathfinder. I’ve noticed that combat can take significantly longer depending on your rule system.

A recent Boot Hill game with old-school, fast combat

A recent Boot Hill game with old-school, fast combat

There are a variety of ways you can speed up combat that essentially makes the players efficient or makes them hurry up:

  • Have the players not talk amongst themselves to strategize
  • Have the players hold (or skip) their turn if they are not ready
  • Have a timer or countdown to force the players to act quickly
  • Have the players have a buddy to help them with math or rules questions
  • etc.

But just looking at normal games like most GMs run them, allowing players to take turns and actions as they normally do, it seems to me the far bigger factor in having fast (or slow) combat is one thing—

—The Rules

The last time I played in a Savage Worlds game, we had 9 players with 0 XP. We had around 45 total combatants. The combat took two hours (with two sixty minute rounds!!!) and we still only defeated half the enemy (the rest ran away since we ran out of time). And this is the game that is ‘Fast, Furious, and Fun’.

By contrast, a D&D 5e game I ran with 6 players at 3rd level had 31 total combatants took 50 minutes (with five ten minute rounds) with the PCs completely killing all enemy combatants.

To put it another way, Savage Worlds had 50% more player and combatants, but combat rounds took 600% longer while killing about the same number of enemies.

Regardless of how long the total combat runs, one big factor of enjoyment is ‘how long till I get to do something?’

10 minutes is about right. 30-45 minutes between actions is just way too long for my tastes.

Can you speed up a slower game? Sure. But the number one thing (I think) to speed up the game is choose a system that plays fast. Second best thing to speed up combat is to add some speed house rules on top of an otherwise slower game.

Which Rules Speed (or Slow) Combat?

Here’s my thoughts (based on qualitative analysis) on what makes the difference between slow combat or fast combats in RPG games.

Rules that Speed Combat

The fastest games had these two rules:

Fixed Initiative

There were many ways these games did fixed initiative that still resulted in fast combat rounds:

  • Stan’s D&D 5e house rule (character with highest Dex roll goes first, then Round Robin thereafter).
  • BRP — Character go in order of highest to lowest Dex score (no roll needed).
  • Classic Traveller — Traditional rule — characters have group turn order and essentially play in round-robin order.
  • Classic Traveller — Stan’s house rule — Characters go in order of Marching order based on minis (first mini in line goes first, etc.).

The key to speed is to not spend time recording everyone’s roll from scratch each combat, and to not change the combat order each round.

Non-Inflated Hit Points

All the fastest games used hit points. Almost all roleplayers have used hit points before; tracking is fast and intuitive. There is a logistics advantage in large set-piece combats to using a Savage Worlds style wound system, but this comes at the expense of speed.

The other element of hit points making for fast combat is that in the fastest games they weren’t inflated. Most characters and opponents had 10-20 hit points. D&D 4e, Pathfinder, and other games where you inflate hit points to 100 HP or more generally run much slower. This being said, D&D 5e got away from hit point inflation by what they call ‘bounded accuracy’ — basically making sure the HP progression is very slow, and increasing your damage output a bit so that orcs are still a threat at higher levels and you don’t have excessive HP grinds in battle at upper levels.

Its worth noting that BRP and Classic Traveller for the most part don’t every increase your hit points. Your skills improve, but not your HP.

Rules that Slow Combat

Here are rules which I see slowing down the flow of the game.

Variable Initiative

Having players recalculate initiative each round slows things down. For example, in Savage Worlds you deal and collect cards each round which taking time at the beginning and end of each round. Moreover, I’ve notice a few seconds lost here and there as the GM or players look around trying to see whose turn it is.

Soaking Damage / Unshaking

Savage Worlds has a cool mechanic that makes tracking wounds very simple — you use miniatures and have Extras be up/down/off-the-table. Wild Cards (boss creatures) have a soak and wound tracking mechanic just like player characters. It is amazingly elegant at enabling large set-piece battles. However, taking time to soak wounds (spend a benny, roll Vigor, fail, spend another benny, roll again,…) takes time. It also takes time to deal out shaken / wound tokens. Less of an issue in small combats, but in larger combat or with multiple Wild Cards you’ll start feeling the delay.

Variable Dice

A small thing maybe, but games with Polyhedral dice take longer than games like Traveller which uses all-d6’s. In games with variable dice types, it takes a few seconds to pick out what dice to use for damage. If a game uses Polyhedral dice, but at least standardizes the key dice rolls (d20 for all checks and attacks in D&D, d100 for all checks and attacks in BRP), it will be faster.

Savage Worlds by contrast potentially uses different dice for each check (if you have a d8 in Vigor but a d4 in Agility you’re selecting different dice as the GM calls for different checks).

Exploding Dice & Raises

I’m a big fan of the energy that exploding dice (also called ‘Acing’) which Savage Worlds uses. However, it does take time to tally up the rolls and do the extra math of division to calculate raises.

Extra Rolls

In Savage Worlds there are lots of extra dice rolls (running means another die roll, damage dice exploding means more dice rolled, a wild dice in addition to Trait die needs a separate roll to evaluate with a separate explosion). I like rolling dice, but with more die rolls comes more time spent.

Rules Debates / Complex rules

The more rules that are in a game, the more confusion and debate will result. Pathfinder is likely the biggest rules-lawyering-debate system I’ve played. Even Savage Worlds isn’t immune to rules discussions. The simpler the game, the fewer rules debates, the faster it plays.

Other Factors

There are some other techniques which I’ve considered which effect game play but lesser so combat time.

Theater of the Mind and Miniatures

Running abstract (or narrative) combat without minis is something I love. It takes time to draw maps. But once the map is on the table, I don’t find having minis and counting squares to be too much of a time sink. Pathfinder is a bit of an exception, with the math you have to do for diagonal movement. That being said, counting squares does take a little time. 13th Age solves for this to some extent with its Engaged/Near/Far mechanics that is akin to Fate zones which still allow minis but dumps the counting of squares.

Minion & Mob Rules

Some games have minion (1 hit and they’re out) and mob (pooled hit points) rules. I’ve found this help logistics so that the gamemaster has less bookkeeping, but they don’t actually make combat go faster or slower. Some ways that people track Hit Points, like adding a die counter next to a miniature to track hit points lost, can slow things down a tad.


I would like to see a more quantitative analysis done of combat speed between different popular rules systems so that people can understand what systems are truly fast or slow, and what can be done to speed up combat.

I would say that many modern games like Fate and Savage Worlds are not actually faster than many hit point based traditional systems. Slow combat speed is not necessarily a drawback — some would say a long Fate RPG combat is cool and desirable. It all depends on what you want in a game.

But if your players are stacking dice during combat due to 30 minutes or more elapsing between their turns, you might want to revisit your rules system. There are fast games that are still cinematic. Perhaps the best story-game is one where you breeze past combat and keep the narrative flowing!

Combat Speed Part 2: Stormbringer RPG Metrics

Theron Bretz's running Stormbringer RPG at NTRPGCon 2016

Theron Bretz’s running Stormbringer RPG at NTRPGCon 2016




As I mentioned in my last post, I recently played in Call of Cthulhu and Stormbringer games (both based on BRP mechanics). Combat speed was interesting.

Call of Cthulhu Game Combat Speed

I played in a Call of Cthulhu game (7th edition) which had 4 combats with 6 players, an average of 20 minute combats over two rounds with an average of 1-4 opponents.

Stormbringer Game Combat Speed

The Stormbringer game had 8 combats, running anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes each, with combat rounds taking anywhere from 3 minutes (if fighting only one creature) to 10 minutes (if fighting 6 creatures). We had five player characters. Here are the details on the combats (note that the last combat round was usually shorter since we’d finish before all player’s acted):

  • Combat 1
    Enemies: 5, Rounds: 3, Total Time: 20 minutes.
  • Combat 2
    Enemies: 8, Rounds: 2, Total Time: 21 minutes.
  • Combat 3
    Enemies: 6, Rounds: 2, Total Time: 13 minutes.
  • Combat 4
    Enemies: 4, Rounds: 2, Total Time: 6 minutes.
  • Combat 5
    Enemies: 1, Rounds: 2, Total Time: 5 minutes.
  • Combat 6
    Enemies: 1, Rounds: 4, Total Time: 11 minutes.
  • Combat 7
    Enemies: 1, Rounds: 1, Total Time: 2 minutes.
  • Combat 8
    Enemies: 1, Rounds: 2, Total Time: 3 minutes.

The total game ran from 6pm to around 9:30pm with a 15 minute break. We had 81 Minutes of combat out of 195 minutes of game time.

  • Percentage time in combat:
    42% of time was spent in combat, 58% was in roleplaying.
  • Average time to complete a combat encounter:
    10 Minutes
  • Average length of combat rounds, including partial rounds:
    5 minutes
  • Average length of full combat rounds:
    6 minutes

In my next article I’ll talk about conclusions about what speeds and slow RPG combat encounters.

Combat Speed Part 1: 5e Combat Metrics

Our climactic set-piece battle. Was proud to have Dr. Dennis Sustare (second from right, author of Bunnies & Burrows) play in my game!

Our climactic set-piece battle. Was proud to have Dr. Dennis Sustare (second from right, author of Bunnies & Burrows) play in my game!

I did some combat speed calculations in my D&D 5e Middle-Earth game at this year’s NTRPGCon game. In our big climactic battle we had 31 combatants (6 PCs, 3 NPCs, 11 goblin archers, 8 goblin swordsmen, 2 Orc chiefs and 1 troll).

Combat rounds were 10 minutes (< 1 minute per player with me managing three groups of bad guys in around 3-4 minutes).

Bad guys fought to the death. After 5 full combat rounds, 22 enemies lay dead and some PCs on the verge of death.

What’s interesting is 10 minute combat rounds (for around 6 players) is the same speed of combat for most old school games (Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer, Classic Traveller) I’ve run or played in recent months. As opposed to 20-35 minute combat rounds for Pathfinder/3.5e and games like Savage Worlds.

5e really does run fast! Shorter battles with < 10 enemies run about 1-3 combat rounds, 20 minutes average, about like the other old games. And with smaller battles (1 or 2 enemies) it can go even faster!

In my next post I’ll talk about recent Stormbringer and Cthulhu games I’ve played, and how those experiences factor into my analysis of RPG combat speed.


The Impact of the 'Bunnies & Burrows' RPG

Classic 'Bunnies & Burrows' game

Classic ‘Bunnies & Burrows’ game

I’m reflecting on how much I admire Dr. Dennis Sustare and his Bunnies & Burrows game from the 70’s.

Yeah, we play Rabbits in this game! :-)

Yeah, we play Rabbits in this game! 🙂

Bunnies & Burrows (or ‘B&B’ as we called it, in homage to ‘D&D’) was originally published in 1976, only two years after the first role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons was published. B&B was very innovative for its time.

Dr. Sustare GM'ing B&B

Dr. Sustare GM’ing B&B

Some firsts in the game:

  • First RPG in history to have a skill system (Classic Traveller, debuting the next year in 1977, would also have a skill system).
  • First role-playing game to have detailed martial arts rules.
  • First RPG in history to allow you to play non-humanoids.
  • First RPG to appeal as widely to women as to men.

I loved the spirit and innovation of B&B! So happy to have played in Dr. Dennis Sustare’s B&B game at NTRPGCon back in 2013! Read more about this game’s history — a lot of tabletop and video RPGs owe more than they know to this lesser known game.

My friend Marshall brought us bunny ears to wear. Ha!

My friend Marshall brought us bunny ears to wear. Ha!

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