Recently one of my players was complaining about his other game. That group is a bit poky, often taking over an hour to make a decision. While there is no set length for deliberation, an hour is probably too long. If I can make a McDonald’s run and back, well, you get the idea. While we don’t want to discourage deliberation, sometimes the GM has the responsibility to try to help the group move on.
In this column we’ll look at some possible causes of overly long deliberation, and some possible solutions. The list won’t be exhaustive, but may get you thinking about how to maintain pacing in your own GMing style.
Some of the causes of long deliberations may lie with the players. In a new group or a convention group, players may not know each other. They just aren’t comfortable deliberating effectively. New players in an established group may have the same problem. They may not want to speak up and upset the pecking order. This slows things down as their opinions go unheard. Conversely, sometimes an outgoing player may have very specific ideas about how the group should proceed and may not be able to compromise. (Note that I am being kind by using the qualifier “outgoing.”)
Of course as GM’s, we sometimes contribute to the problem, too. Sometimes our descriptions of situations are too vague or leave out important details. Players may not have the right information to make a choice. Sometimes we don’t build a sense of urgency. If players don’t feel there are any time constraints, they have no reason to move along at a reasonable pace. Also, sometimes we may be bad role models. Sometimes we spend a great deal of time looking up every last rule or deliberating about an NPC’s actions. This doesn’t help the overall tone of the game.
Here are some thoughts to help move deliberations along. Remember to use them sparingly and gently. And if you’re particularly sly, your players may not even notice what you are doing.
Set a session end time – Decide on an ending time and stick to it. If players know that the session only runs three hours, they’ll try to get a lot of things accomplished in that time. Reaching some milestone during the session provides a great deal of satisfaction for players. Your habits will let them know that they only have so much time to do that each session.
Set a time limit within the game – Just as you plan to end on time, be sure the villains do, too. If players are taking too long to deliberate, you may wish to remind them that the vampires plan to sacrifice the kidnapped prince, and the sun is beginning to set. (Cue Christopher Lee and Rob Pattinson.) This is a nice option because it keeps them focused on the game world while reminding them that you don’t have all night.
Restate the players stated options – If players have been talking a while, you may wish to restate the two or three most prominent options for the party. This may clarify the choices, and send a signal that it is time to move forward.
Ask quiet players for their opinions – Inviting quiet or shy players to speak is just good practice. And who knows, they may cast a deciding vote or come up with something no one else has thought of. Or they might not say much, but at least you tried.
Noises – When all else fails, have them hear approaching footsteps or increasingly loud rumbles. Have the NPC they are talking to become fidgety or impatient. Of course, you can always have a bad guy kick in the door and start combat. But try the noises and fidgeting first. It’s easier on everyone’s nerves.
I don’t want to suggest that you should cut every deliberation short or seem impatient. However, there will be times when you need to help move things along for the good of the entire group. These are some techniques, but not an exhaustive list by any means.
How about you? What techniques did I miss? What techniques am I off-base with? Let us know below.