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6 Tips for Maintaining Momentum (Oct. 2006)

Treasure Tables is in reruns [1] from November 1st through December 9th. I’m writing a novel as part of National Novel Writing Month [2], and there’s no way I can write posts here while retaining my (questionable) sanity. In the meantime, enjoy this post from our archives.
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Every GM has experienced slow spots, hiccups and other delays during gaming sessions. There are so many moving parts involved that it’s almost inevitable — but it’s not unavoidable.

Here are 6 tips for keeping your sessions flowing smoothly.

1. Build momentum into your scenarios. If you’re writing your own adventures, keep the action going starts with how you structure your scenarios. For example, if you include a highly tactical encounter that the party knows about in advance, it’s a safe bet that the players will stop to do some planning.

There’s nothing wrong with players taking time to plan (see tip #5), but all too often “some planning” turns into “too much planning.”

2. Know your players. This tip isn’t limited to maintaining momentum, but it’s particularly important in this case. If you know your group gets bogged down in details, that’s information you can use to build less detailed encounters, help them along at crucial moments, etc.

3. Take an active role in keeping things moving. One of the hats GMs wear is that of meeting facilitator [3], and that’s a great thing to keep in mind during games.

From the proverbial “Suddenly, ninjas kick in the door” to subtle nudges from NPCs and — perhaps most useful — simply saying, “We’ve still got a lot of cool stuff to get to — let’s finish up here and move on,” this is part of your job as the GM.

4. Skip the boring stuff. Another tip with broader applications, skipping the boring stuff means you have more of the fun stuff — simple enough, right? What qualifies as boring stuff varies according to group, which is where tip #2 comes in.

By keeping tabs on what excites your players — and what tends to bog them down — you’ll be able to handwave [4] some elements and focus in on others. (You can use a Loved, Blah, Hated list [5] to help narrow things down.)

5. Spot the difference between good planning and frustrated flailing. Sometimes, players plan because they enjoy it, or because they need to (or both). Other times, they plan because they have no idea what to do — which is usually a sign that what you thought was the logical focus of the adventure isn’t actually in their flashlight beam [6].

6. Know when to take a short break. Ironically, sometimes the best way to maintain momentum is to come to a full stop for 5 minutes, grab a Coke and recharge your mental batteries. When everyone comes back to the table, they’ll be refreshed and ready to go.

What tricks and techniques do you use to help maintain momentum during your games?
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Normally there’d be a discussion going on in the comments below, but due to time constraints I’ve turned off all comments during reruns — sorry about that! You can read the comments on the first-run version of this post [7], and if you need a GMing discussion fix, why not head on over to our GMing forums [8]?