Ask the Game Master: How long is a D&D turn?

Got a gaming question? Ask the Game Master to make a ruling, provide advice or referee your gaming troubles. Send your questions to [email protected] or reach out on Twitter or Facebook. This week, we’re talking about how time works in combat.

Time in D&D combat is confusing. Is it a round that lasts 6 seconds or each turn that lasts 6 seconds?

Here’s my concern: How could a barbarian swing his sword at a goblin, the goblin swing back, a cleric heals the barbarian, a wizard casts a spell, three more goblins fire arrows at the barbarian and a rogue sneaks up behind the archers and stabs one of them? It seems like too much.

I get it. It doesn’t seem possible.

But it definitely is. For the purposes of the game, each turn happens in initiative order, it all basically happens at the same time. The barbarian and the goblin swing at each other almost simultaneously, meanwhile cleric sees the barbarian is getting hurt and heals him. The wizard has spent this entire time working up a spell, which goes off right after. The rogue has spent his time sneaking around the battlefield to stab the archers, who have fired off arrows as they see their friend attacked by the barbarian.

Bang, bang, bang. All at once.

Still not convinced? Count out 6 seconds in your head. “One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand…” That’s actually a decent amount of time, and things like sword swings happen fast.

Have you ever seen how far you can walk in 6 seconds? It’s about 30 feet, the average speed of a medium creature.

Initiative is just a way to gamify the experience because everyone can’t actually act right at the same time. We take turns in the game, but if you’re visualizing it, it all happens at the same time. (And if you think about it, those hour-long battle sessions at the table? They’re all resolved in a couple minutes of fighting.)


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