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The Grand Falloon

Tricks to Speed Up Play

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I have a problem with my games moving slowly.  I don't think it's really my players, I think it's mostly me, the GM.  Everyone seems to enjoy the game, so it's not at a critical point, but I get to the end of a session and realize we've barely covered anything.  I'm familiar with the tricks GMs use to keep their players on task, but I need something to keep myself on task.  Does anyone have suggestions?  Timers? Outlines? Set break times?

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Combat usually goes okay, I think because there's a pretty clear step-by-step.  We tend to get bogged down during the story. Part of it is probably my players taking a bit to decide on a course of action, but I think a bigger problem is myself not pushing the narrative to move.

I'm wondering if I need to try to give my games more structure, so that the story has a clear step-by-step like the combat.  Maybe a quiet timer to tell me to move it along. Maybe using D&D 4e-style skill challenges or Blades in the Dark clocks.  Then I can say, "How are you dealing with this situation? Okay, do this before this. Go."

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It's not everyone's style, and a lot will depend on your group, but I almost always have clocks(*) ticking during a game.  I find without clocks the players have almost zero sense of urgency.  I try to have clear consequences for action and/or inaction.  If the players have "analysis paralysis" I might gently nudge them and say "a good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow", or I'll pull that old Raymond Chandler trick of "when in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand."  I mean, not quite that...the even has to make sense in the plot...but I generally try to have fallback events that move the plot along.

To step back to a more macro viewpoint, it's really about keeping track of the important NPCs and what their clocks/goals are.  The whole point of the game is that the PC's goals are going to conflict with some NPC (**) somewhere, and those NPCs aren't just sitting around waiting for the PCs to act.  Heck, they might not even be aware of the PCs, which is often a lot more amusing.

I try to keep "downtime" to a minimum.  Anything that involves paperwork or tedious role-play goes in this category.  Gear shopping, crafting, healing, remote hacking, scholarly investigation, etc are usually handled either outside of the game (via email or whatever) or in summary form where each PC gets to roll once as I go around the table:  "Ok, PC1 was shopping for gear and...yep, you got the ammo you needed, but it was a bit more expensive (success with threat).  PC2...wow, you didn't manage to find any dirt online about that politician, but you did get a text from an old friend, we can look into that later (utter failure plus Triumph).  PC3..." etc.

Some downtime is fun.  If the players just want to have their PCs blow off some steam in a bar fight, or pulling Force Move pranks on construction workers, that can be a hoot.  But the minute the players start looking at each other like "my giddiness-well just dried up, what do we do now?" I start reminding them that if they don't get the power core to the unfortunate denizens of Arctopia, there will be a lot of meat popsicles to explain to the Rebellion...

Lastly, I try to get a read at the end of each session what the players plan to do next.  There are two main scenarios which I approach differently.

First is at the end of an arc.  I like to make small story arcs, within the larger campaign, that are 2-3 sessions long.  Generally an arc ends with the PCs back home or in some relatively safe place.  At the end of the arc I'll get a sense of the downtime activities they might want to engage in so we can do a quick summary-around-the-table.  Then I ask what plot actions they want to do next.  This is usually a pretty small list, in fact if I've done my job there are usually only 2-4 reasonable things they will want to do, because their PCs goals are at stake, and some new clocks are ticking.  If they pick one of them, half my job is done because I can prep for a single course of action.  But if they can't decide I just flesh out what I can and wing the rest using story cubes and the like.

Second is within an arc, and this is usually the easiest.  At the end of these mid-arc sessions, the players are usually in a tight place (cliffhanger)...captured, lost in the wilderness, pinned down in a firefight, fleeing through the streets of Corellia, or they just made hyperspace but the ship has a crit or two.  This makes it easy to paint the scene, introduce and resolve challenges, etc.

Like I said, not a style for everyone, but maybe it's helpful.

-------------------

* the more clocks the better.  Some are campaign clocks, and the PCs may not be aware of them, at least at first.  Some are story-arc clocks, suitable for goals over 2-3 sessions.  Some are immediate clocks, suitable for encounter goals.

** not all NPCs are sentient, it could just be the volcano that's about to blow...

 

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One difference between my 2 games that have a much difference pace is providing things for then to react to versus giving them objectives mission.  Objectives missions like robbing banks, attacking bases, or thing were the group talks for a long time about how they are going to handle it.  Give problems that pop up which they have to react to versus planning against. 

Skill challenges are great ways to avoid the planning,  let then pick what skill they want to use and how they are thematiccly going.  Then give them info based on what they rolled.  Limit the number of rolls to keep it from taking too long,  but if they fail to many roll they are caught during the planning stage and action starts now.

I use key notes versus outline.  I will make personal issues that can come up, a group issue that can come up and one or 2 ideas to continue the campaign.  Then as the game goes on I will grab ones that fit in to the story, and try to include as many as I can.

 

I hope this helps,  but if your players are having fun  and not complaining it may not really be a problem.  One of my groups get distracted and side chats A LOT,  but they enjoy the side conversion so it is not a problem for the group it just slows down the story.

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A lot of it will be reading your players. They they are struggling you need to help guide the situation. It is always helping to have an NPC that can come in and do things along. However if things are moving slowly but they are enjoying themselves, let them. I agree to much does time is a problem but some of my best story arcs have gone from such downtime.

I had a player spend a rediculous about if money in a small town after a very successful mission. Well toes the end he rolled a despair on buying a Droid. Turns out the droid was part of a pirate game who noticed the spending. It tagged the PC ship with a tracker, sabotaged it to drop it off hyperspace in the middle of nowhere and the pirates showed up to ambush them. The pirates were no match for the group but the arc was epic and the players loved it. That player is still paranoid about droids. None of that would have happened without some down time activities.

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The first question that comes to my mind is: Is this even an actual problem?

My Table quite often finishes a session (doesn't matter if i'm GMing or playing) realising that actually nothing was accomplished, BUT the whole crew had a blast anyway.

Have you asked your group if they feel too slow moving and if they probably want more guidance or narrative pressure?

Building adventures with time running out from the get go can help with the pacing. Set yourself some timers or deadlines for things to happen no matter how far you or the group managed to get until then. Either all speed up or they can only chase what they actually want to accomplish. It can be quite a task to prepare for this as it can quickly turn into "we are always too late" but give it a try.

Ideas for such plots can be something like:

- a very dangerous enemy is chasing them and every 30 minutes of non combat time they get closer unless the group manages to solve certain things within the time limit. After a set number of "fails" a chase sequence starts to get away, and it gets more difficult every time

- the party is after someone who is about to (for example) blow something important up and they only have a few hours of non combat game time to find and stop him - set a timer which you can stop when combats begin and remind them (and yourself that they need to hurry)

 

On the other hand players often run into analysis paralysis and most of the time you need very plot specific hints to shake them out of it. It helps to set  atimer for yourself when you notice they are struggling a bit and if they still sit there after like 5-10 minutes give them some hints. So all can move on.

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I think this is suggested in one of the core rule books, and probably shouldn't be used if you feel like you are the one keeping the pace slow, and not the players, but I believe it is suggested that you flip a light side point to a dark side point if the players are taking too long. 

Honestly, if the players are having fun, I don't see a problem at all. Let them take their time and not rush through the campaign/story. 

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