Like all problems I feel in my game, I want to break this down. So what's going on? We've got a bunch of potential problems, and in no particular order:
- Player fatigue - folks, including me, are tired a lot lately and one player arrives a bit late straight from work
- System complexity - The system doesn't have tons of dice rolls - generally only one per round - but there is complexity to it in figuring things out
- Online game - being online slows things down as folks can't talk while others are talking, and distractions can run amuck
- Too many choices - Some of the players aren't sure what they should be doing and as things slow down this is harder...which in turn slows things down
- Lack of description - I didn't really try to spice things up, which makes it harder for combat to feel as fun
Almost all of these are fixable. Player fatigue is a matter of rest, and sometimes folks are going to be tired. I can fix System Complexity, Online, and too many choices by just giving people a time limit for rounds. It's not ideal, but it works. And I can kick my own ass for descriptions.
The Real Problem
The real problem is basically grass is greener syndrome. One of the three games I run is 7th Sea, and in 7th Sea combat is super fast. It works really well. It also lets you focus on other stuff a lot more with game. So much that when I have combat in games that aren't 7th Sea I'm just aware how slow it is. Everytime a player asks me what they need to roll against for difficulty, how many raises to call, how many setback dice, all I can think of is that in 7th Sea this action would be resolved all ready.
But there in lies the problem, knowing that it CAN be done faster...can I really sit and let it not? But 7th Sea's solution won't work for every game. Some of it might though...
Combat Has To Matter To Be Long
One of the things in 7th Sea is that Brute Squads make up the majority of the mooks PCs will run across. And if there are only mooks at a fight, then the fight isn't really a fight. Brute Squads don't roll dice. They do their damage - either at the end of the round or the beginning - but they don't roll dice. The PCs also dismantle them ridiculously quickly. They can spice up an action sequence where other things are going on (like a horse chase through a city or something) but it's not combat so much as it is checks with consequences.
However, add a villain and now you have someone who rolls dice as well. They also take actions. They also do things. This means that Villains automatically make things more like a set piece where the violence itself can be the action, but otherwise...it's more action than combat.
Consequences...Everything Has Them
Reducing combat in this way has it's own problems though, and ones I'm not sure I'm ready to address yet. For one, crunchier games have a lot of focus on combat mechanics. Players put lots of points into outfitting their character for combat. If they can't use those abilities they may feel those points were wasted.
Now the solution could just be to make them more significant when they happen - combat still happens - but it still comes down to taste. How much combat do the players want?