One of the things that bugs me when I’m a player is the fact that games can tend to get really bogged down if the spotlight gets stuck on one player or style of play. Sometimes it is hard to avoid, and the nature of a particular session will be on one style of play or a particular player’s story, but I’m a firm believer in every player getting at least a little time in the spotlight in every session. When I’m a GM, I try to do things to remind myself to acknowledge other players in a game. Here is one of my organizational methods to keep from getting bogged down.
- I start every game with a list of each player and one play style/game element/or goal that they have.
- I then take my phone and set a pretty long timer. If the game lasts for 3 or 4 hours, I set the timer for about 30 or 45 minutes. Something that breaks the game up into 6 to 8 chunks.
- When the timer goes off, I look at the list and make a quick mental assessment of how the last half an hour of play has been. Has the last chunk of time been solely on planning for the fight? Do the players seem to be enjoying it? Is anyone bored? No, things seem to be going okay? Great, I do nothing.
- I reset the timer and when it goes off again, I make another quick mental assessment. Are we still planning for the dungeon? Has the shopping trip been going on a long time, does Joe who likes fights seem like he is bored. Maybe it’s time to handwave some things, cross tactical off the list and progress onwards.
I don’t use this as a hard and fast means of changing game focus at a preset time – that would be very forced and railroady. I use the timer and the list to remind me to look at what the game has been like for the last half an hour. Just a bit of a kick to see if everything is going smoothly and remind me to get my head out of the forest so I can look at the trees, as they say. As the game progresses and new situations occur, the timer keeps reminding me to look at my list. If Julie seems to keep getting the spotlight, maybe I should make sure that Mike or Sara have a chance to shine. I won’t force it, but I can track whose style of play has been emphasized this session and make sure that the others don’t get lost in the shadows.
Aside from helping me keep track of how the game time has been progressing, this also makes me assess my GMing style. If tactical does seem like it is going on too long, I am reminded of this and can ask myself why. Maybe I need to change some things to speed it up. Am I making it too hard to get the information they want? Am I not providing clear enough clues and the players are looking annoyed or zoning out because it is getting frustrating?
Any tool that makes you look at yourself and your surroundings in a fresh light can help you improve. In the games that I’ve used the timer and list, I’ve noticed a lot more player interaction. Part of this is because I’m making sure more people are participating and that builds up the energy at the table, but also because I’m not making any one person feel like they have to carry the game and that any one style of play isn’t dominating. And if I find that everyone seems to be having fun, I’m more than capable of ignoring the list when that timer goes off. Going on hour 3 of the epic fight but everyone seems to be having a great time? Sweet. Keep on rolling.
Do you ever feel that your games (as a player or as a GM) get too bogged down in one style of play or on one character? Do you use anything to keep the spotlight moving or do you feel it should just organically move on without any nudging from the Game Master?