Wednesday, March 22, 2017

GM's preferred pace vs. player's preferred pace

I often find myself telling my players to speed up. I often find myself making rules to force my players to speed up, and rules and table rules that punish slowing down or reward speeding up.

But, inevitably, these fail. Sometimes right away, sometimes over time. And when the chips are down and the risk to their paper man is highest, things slow to a right crawl. We even had an entire session devoted to to PCs trying to grind out a victory from certain defeat - hours spent on a fight measured in seconds because everyone wanted to make exactly the best move possible and ensure all t's were crossed and i's dotted because, well, TPK is a comin'.

My personal feeling on taking your time, considering your move, and making j-u-u-u-s-t the right selection of action or location or modifier or whatever doesn't really work out. You're always choosing in an absence of complete information, and choosing in absence of accurate information much of the time. You don't know what the opponent will do, you don't know what the dice will say happens, you don't even necessarily know the things you think you do. You might think dragons can breathe three times a day ("thrice per day" - someone had to say it) but it turns out it's four times. You might think he's wearing a inertial screen and vulnerable to x-ray laser fire but not know he's also wearing an x-ray laser disrupting suit.

I figure, better to the something that's within the ballpark of "best move possible" right now than something you've rationalized and calculated and convinced yourself is much closer to "best move possible" minutes after your turn around the table has come up.

I'm also one of those people who knows right now what I want to do next turn. I can't wait for everyone to finish their turns so I can get to do the thing I thought of. And I'm stubborn and persistent enough to not change plans turn to turn, so I generally play quickly in a "this, and that, and here's my roll! And done!" fashion. I'm often going so fast that turn-order changing actions (Waits in GURPS, Attacks of Opportunity in Dragon Heresy, etc.) cause me to just keep going as if the person interrupting was doing their turn and the person up after them is up. Yes, that's a flaw. Rush, rush, rush.

But at least some of my players now, and some of mine in the past, don't play this way. In fact most of them don't. They will deliberately slow the pace down when it comes to crunch time. They'll do so unintentionally and unconsciously as well. This ranges from players who don't even consider their actions until their turn starts ("Okay, it's my turn? Where is everyone? What can I see? What's my penalty again?") to those who don't know it's their turn (the ones that, say, walk away from the table while the guy who always goes right before him is going or even right after) all the way to folks who play like I do.

Naturally, the more things slow down, the longer combats take - and thus, each second in the combat is magnified in importance until "this second's action is basically what my day's gaming comes down to." You can't mess that up or risk a bad move, you don't get that many and it's a long time before the next one. Better take it slow.

It's a mismatch. It doesn't ruin game, but it does mean we perceive things very differently. Me? "These guys are slowing things down for no real benefit." Them? Probably some variations of "Peter's pushing us to hurry up and then punishing poor decisions, I need time to make better decisions."

What I've noticed, though, is I really can't rule or request speed. Nothing I've yet tried has kept the pace where I'd like it - players leaning in over the table, dice in hand, waiting for their moment, and then springing in with the first move that seems good. I can get the tension you'd think you'd need for that, but some people will speed up and others will slow down.

I can enforce rules - real-time wandering monster rolls is one I've done, 1-2-3-next guy, etc. - but it's not productive in most cases. It puts a real workload on me, and as the GM, I'm running every NPC and need to give 100% attention to each PC's actions, so when I need a quick pause and take one people take it as tacit permission to do the same. I say permission for lack of a better word - we're mostly adults, they can play how they like, I don't have to approve.

But it's one of those quandaries I can't seem to settle - my desire for pace and risk to PCs, vs. the logical desire from those risking their PCs and who have a naturally more methodical pace to slow things down.

It's probably something that can't be solved, although I'm theoretically open to ideas. It's just an observation of the mismatch between how my friends play the games we play and how I like them played. Yet, like I said, it's not such a deep mismatch that it makes us incompatible. But it might explain why I'm always looking for pace, simplicity, unloading the GM's burden, speeding up decision making, and otherwise making things go fast. We're always playing below the pace I'd really like to play at, even if it's the pace that is the middle ground between the fastest and slowest of us.

And if there is actionable advice from here it is this: be aware of the preferred pace of yourself and your fellow gamers. You might not be in your comfort zone of space, but they might not be either. Finding common ground you can live with is tough but important, and being aware will help you do so.


  1. This is all very interesting, and makes me think a lot about the pacing of my own game.

    A thought: how slow would people have to get before you'd consider forcing their hands using a multi-player chess timer? There are, I believe, some commercial ones available, but if you have a device at the table you can easily just do it free online using a tool like this one:

    It's a pretty brute-force solution, and certainly might not be to everyone's taste. And I wouldn't impose a cap on the length of turns. But in some groups it could be worthwhile just to run the timer, and then compare everyone's total times at the end of the session. If some players are fast, while other players are consistently really, really painfully slow without realizing it, then being able to compare "total turn time" at the end of the session might be a real revelation, to the latter, and encourage some changed behavior. As long as it doesn't ruin the fun by feeling like too much stick, not enough carrot...

    Just a thought. Great post!

    1. That's an interesting idea. Just running a clock so we can see how long it's taking might be informative. It might be intrusive in a bad way, but equally, it's possible that it might get people to budget their time differently.


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