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, 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 some elements and focus in on others. (You can use a Loved, Blah, Hated list 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. 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?
Great advice, as ever. I’d watch out for number 4 though. A good story needs the boring stuff to put the excitement into stark relief. Calm before the storm, and all that.
It also sets a baseline for the game. If the boring stuff (empty rooms, etc) don’t exist then the least boring thing in the game becomes the baseline. Last scenarios hobgoblins become just more furniture (“you go through four rooms, killing three more hobgoblins and an ogre on the way…….”).
As you point out, that might be ok for some players (number 2), but Tread With Care, for that road leads to wanting Everything to Be Exciting, which invariably ends up becoming Everything Is Boring, and that’s the kiss of death 🙂
I couldn’t disagree more, greywulf! 😉
There’s nothing wrong with having boring stuff happen — the party travels a great distance, passes the night uneventfully, moves through empty dungeon rooms, etc. — but when would it ever be more fun to play through that than just say “it happened”?
From your hobgoblin example, it soundeds like they should have been furniture at that point. If the party can dispatch them without fear or expenditure of resources, then they should be skipped, removed on the fly or handwaved. Why keep slogging through them when what you really want to do is get to the next part of the dungeon, which is actually exciting?
Maybe I’m misreading your comment, but our perspectives here couldn’t be further apart. 🙂
Your point three is excellent and often overlooked. I’ve been a part of many games (on both sides of the screen), where the game lurches to a halt for an extended planning session.
A recent example was even worse. We planned out our next step in a Star Wars game, then quit for the night. Over the week, one of the players found out that a piece of technology worked differently than we’d assumed in our planning. When he told us at the beginning of the next session, we started tweaking our plan again… a horrible blow to the momentum. We got moving mostly because we got impatient– sure, the half plan wasn’t perfect, but at least we got moving again. I wasn’t going to waste another session on planning– especially not in a pulp setting (Star Wars). There’s a reason you come into the briefing for only the last two minutes in the movies…
Scott M said “We planned out our next step in a Star Wars game, then quit for the night. Over the week, one of the players found out that a piece of technology worked differently than weâ€™d assumed in our planning. When he told us at the beginning of the next session, we started tweaking our plan againâ€¦ a horrible blow to the momentum. ”
This is when emails between sessions can be worth their weight in gold(?!). I often encourage my players to do their planning, or other boring stuff like shopping between sessions, either on our Yahoo Group or by emailing each other (wouldn’t want that damn GM to be able to thwart you plans).