[RPG] How to improve pace of the sessions


I'm running a campaign for about two years (around one session a month) and I'm unhappy with the pace of events. In those two years we covered not even two months of game time with single session advancing the clock by only few days. I see multiple problems with that

  • The sessions are uneven, sometimes we hit high point, but sometimes we slog without a payout
  • Players are not getting their moments in spotlight every session as slow flow of events means that it is hard to significantly vary them. So if the session is all-talking then it is hard to throw in some combat that is matching the plot, and the other way round.
  • I'm not able to introduce big changes in the game world I would like to – as those need a time to play out

I think the core of the problem is that we are playing out every awake moment of the characters – there are no visible scenes, only continuous flow of character actions and world reactions.

It may be also aggravated by the fact that I to not to limit character possible actions while having multiple active NPC working against (and sometimes with) them (and each other) – so the players may feel that they are constantly fighting on multiple fronts and try to cram as much actions as possible in available time.

I would like to cover more "game time" each session and be able to focus on selected scenes giving every player his moment in spotlight. At the same time I would not like to reduce player freedom to much by arbitrarily deciding what is skipped and what is played.

Our sessions take on average 6-8 hours so they are not short.
I'm running Birthright so the game is much more plotting and scheming heavy than usual D&D.

As for my players – they are usually content with sessions, but sometimes they complain that we did not get much done in a session, or that that they were anxious to hit some milestone that we did not manage to reach before time ran out, or that there was not much for their character in the specific session.

Best Answer

You said:

I think the core of the problem is that we are playing out every awake moment of the characters - there are no visible scenes, only continuous flow of character actions and world reactions.

I had a campaign very much like that a while back. It took them multiple sessions to just do one task walking around an island. They didn't mind at first because just the experience of camping in-character was entertaining, but we did eventually agree to settle into a breezier pace.

In my experience, the key is to think about movie pacing. Do they show every waking moment? No, they say "Let's go to a place" and then the next scene is "Ok, here we are at the place, let's do this!" You can absolutely do the same thing: "OK, about 4 hours [or even 4 days] later, you arrive. As you approach, you hear..." Basically, get to the good stuff.

Note that this approach requires trust from both parties. You have to trust that on the one hand, your players will interrupt you if they wanted to do something particular; and on the other, that their characters are reasonably competent and act like it. Your players have to trust that you won't pull the old "You didn't say you got dressed this morning so now you're all naked and freezing" - if the adventure doesn't specifically call for resource management as part of the tension, and players want to clarify things a little bit retroactively, let them.

PC: "OK, I offer the princess a drink."

GM: "A drink of what exactly?"

PC: "Of water from my waterskin, which, it goes without saying, I filled up at the well before we left town."

GM: *the briefest of pauses to consider if their character is like that* "...Right, naturally. She accepts gratefully."

If you and your players don't want to spend time listening to each other fill waterskins, you have to actually let that go without saying. That doesn't mean you can't show more mundane parts of life, but usually you'll do a bit of that towards the beginning as people get to know each other and establish routines, then count it as done and gloss over it the next time. For example, you can ask them how they do watches once if that's applicable, let them argue it out (preferably, for my taste, in-character), and then assume that they do them the same way in the future.

In my case, part of the problem was trying too hard to avoid metagaming - so I'd roll lots of random encounters including harmless animals, but the players would treat each one seriously and look around for danger, which took up quite a bit of time. It's okay to assume that's going on as you're traveling, and only actually ask your players to roll to see if they notice any danger when there's actual danger to notice. Along the same lines, you can ask in very broad terms if they're going through a dungeon carefully searching for traps/treasure vs. moving quickly (the DMG has specific guidelines for this), and then just roll for them, use passive Perception, or ask them to roll quickly when there's actually something to find. This saves your players from describing, in detail, how they search each room... which can be part of a good game that tests player skill (you don't find the gem in the dresser unless you actually tell me you're searching the dresser) if you're all into it, but definitely slows down the action.

In general, just remember that you don't have to roleplay everything out just because it happens. For skill rolls, the Angry GM (warning: he is indeed angry and a bit vulgar) advises to only roll if there's a chance of success, a chance of failure, and a consequence for failure. You could almost say the same thing about roleplaying - only make the characters go through a scene if there's some decision to be made, some opportunity for the characters to really show who they are, and/or some way they could really screw things up and then save the day. That's what good stories are made of, right?