Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Bugger of Pacing

I ran a pretty slow session last night at my Continuum game. This is definitely against my normal trends.
Disclaimer: What follows is just a tiny peak inside my brain, and what I'm thinking while I GM. It's internal monologue, but posted in public so I can't just ignore it. No guarantees anyone will find it useful...
I have a tendency as a GM to throw too many things at the players. It's the single criticism about my GMing that I've gotten most often. My settings are very complicated and rich with plot threads, and I don't have a lot of patience for players dithering and weighing their options all session long. So if the players drag their feet at all, I tend to just lump unfortunate events on them until they take an action. Mostly it works, and nearly always gets the results I want, which is a taught fast-paced and exciting game. Sometimes, though, I over do it (hence it showing up as a recurring criticism). The strongest critique of this aspect of my GMing came earlier this year, in regards to it's impact on the fatigue rules in Savage Worlds. While I think not all of that situation was mine to own, I have tried to be more careful about it since then.

In a time-travel game like Continuum, in theory the PCs have all the time in the world to solve their problems. If there's not someone actively shooting at them, they can take as long as they want to solve the current dilemma, or even stick it on the back-burner and deal with it when they're more skilled. So, throwing more trouble at them would fly in the face of a major setting theme. Beyond that, Continuum has some serious "player driven" potential, in that PCs can teleport and time travel in the blink of an eye. As GM you have to be prepared for anything.

The previous session, they'd wrapped up a plotline / adventure (and had done so about 2 or 3 sessions ahead of schedule due to quick and clever actions on the player's part.). The wrap-up had happened in the final minutes of the session, so we hadn't really planned out a likely next move for the PCs. Their characters were in a fairly remote location, too, so there really wasn't much for me to throw at them if I'd intended too. The ball was in their court, and it took them a while to figure out which way to go. Nothing wrong with that.

I mostly let them take their time, but yet I feel conflicted about it. I threw in a couple short conversations with NPCs, but didn't ask for a single die roll all night. Yet due to that Savage Worlds situation back in January, I'm left wondering if maybe even those two GM-initiated conversations were me pushing too hard on the throttle. At the same time, the session seemed painfully slow to me. None of the players yawned or seemed distracted at all, but not much happened.

At least part of why I'm unhappy with it had to do with how much chatter and table-talk we had at the start of the session. Because there was no cliff-hanger, I didn't start the game as soon as I'd like. We chatted and chewed the fat for most of an hour. These are all good things for a group of friends to do, but I think it contributes to my feeling like the game was too slow. Players participate in your game to have fun, and as long as they're having fun they often don't care whether the time is spent killing monsters or just socializing at the table. Even though everyone had fun, the plot was at exactly the same point (in neutral) that it was at when the session started, and on some level that offends me. I have no one to blame but myself, but it's definitely something I should either try to pre-empt, or try to get over. Should I learn to relax, or learn to get the game on track before the late hour annoys me? I guess that probably depends on who I'm playing with. When I'm a player I just detest a slowly paced game, but nobody complained last night so I may be worrying a lot over nothing.

Sometimes getting the pacing right is way more effort than I'd like it to be.


Lee 'Spikey' Nethersole said...

This is an issue I struggle with quite a bit 9and I have been known to over reactr by throwing too much plot at the players). However when I do talk to the players about it the usual feedback (apart from stop throwing so much plot at us) is that the plot doesn't need to go anywheer for them to have fun.

Just playing out time in character that doesn't go anywhere as far as the urgent plot is concerned can be a lot less fun for us storytelelrs / GM's / refs than it is for the players.

r_b_bergstrom said...

Very true.