I’ll admit, I was working on another post when the idea for this one hit me. And I’ll even admit that part of the seed for this one comes from frustration in my own games. That said, there’s some interesting things to discuss with regards to this topic, so let’s dive in!
As you may have guessed from the title and the above picture, this post is about those sessions where a lot happens and nothing ever gets done. It’s about sessions where you spend hours chasing down a clue that leads absolutely no-where and sessions where you spend your hard-earned resources to open a door that leads, you guessed it, no-where.
So without wasting any more of your precious time, let’s dig in and talk about how to avoid wasting everyone’s precious RPG time.
There’s two sides to this story, one from the GM’s perspective and the other from fellow players. I’ll start with the GM perspective since many of you are GMs yourself and might be interested in this. So, on to the issue and what to do about it.
I’m a busy person. Not ridiculously so but between work, sleeping and social obligations and prepping for my own games, I don’t have an infinite amount of time to actually play in roleplaying games. Between running games and playing games, I spend 3 of my evenings throwing dice and pretending to be a wizard. About half of that is my running my own games so really, I spend about six hours a week actually playing RPGs.
That time is precious to me and given that many of the GMs I’ve played under are pretty good at what they do, I consider it time well spent… usually. However, there are some times when I am heading home from a session or even when I’m playing and there’s a little voice in the back of my head asking the ever important question: “Seriously, what the fuck did that last hour accomplish?”
Anecdote time. I was playing in a high level Savage Worlds game, set in a magical version of renaissance Europe. The party found itself in the setting equivalent of southern Scotland and needing to be in Rome. Lacking powerful teleportation magic, we chartered a boat. That’s all fine and good because this is the main quest of the campaign and getting to Rome will advance the plot by leaps and bounds and lets us get to the important bits. Now I’ll freely admit that the trip from Britain to Italy in a sailboat is hardly a trivial matter. But when it takes half a year’s worth of playing to simply make the trip with not one, not two but at least three show-stopping events in between, you, as a GM, have fucked up.
And to add insult to injury, rather than have us do the reasonable thing and order our own boat (we captured one somewhere along the way) to make port in, oh I don’t know, the nearest port, the GM insisted we dock in the southernmost section of Italy and trek all the way north. I suspect he wanted us to have to deal with some NPCs or whatever but by god, this whole thing should’ve been a montage and one, maybe two sessions.
Similarly, there’s the GM hasn’t got a clue type of situation. The GM presents the party with a mystery. And there’s a series of clues to be found that can be put together to solve the mystery. And while fun, this unfortunately often boils down to the party desperately trying everything that looks even remotely like a clue. This can be made even worse when the GM introduces something that turns out to be unrelated or a worthless lead. It can be quite frustrating spending 20 minutes chasing down a lead, talking to an NPC, trying to wring that unhelpful bastard for information and finding out that they know nothing.
So this is my message to you, GMs out there: keep it snappy. Don’t bog things down with pointless diversions. I have other things I could be doing, but I chose to spend an evening playing in your game. Honor that arrangement.
Which brings me to players. My fellow players. The people who make playing the game worth it and the clowns who drive me up the wall. You’re not blameless in this either. Neither am I. What I’m about to describe, I’ve done this, we’ve all done it.
Imagine you’re playing a session and for some reason, you’re not particularly into whatever’s happening at the moment. Maybe your character is a cybered-up troll geared for combat and no good with the flowery words the elven exec is exchanging with your group’s face. Maybe you haven’t slept well and can’t focus. Maybe you don’t care about the combat happening because you’ve realized it’s just a speed-bump before the next boss. Maybe you desperately want to share the funny or insightful comment you came up with. Whatever the reason, you grab the spotlight at that time. You ask the GM about the specific details of an item that really don’t matter right now. You crack a joke at a vaguely related thing and derail the conversation for a good bit. Maybe you were only vaguely paying attention and now have to ask for clarification. Or maybe you choose to start a bit of an argument with the exec’s assistant. Or, worst offense of all, you disrupt play by yabbering on about some unrelated thing, like the news or that cool thing you ordered off the internet.
Congratulations, you’ve just stretched the scene by another 10 minutes that no-one asked for and the rest of the table who actually wanted to see where this went are stuck listening to whatever you chose to disrupt play with.
The other problem are players who don’t pay enough attention when it matters. You know who I mean. The people whose turn comes up in combat and who spend 20 minutes trying to figure out what spell to cast. The people who need to be told where their AC is on their character sheet after 20 sessions of D&D. The people who are so glaringly oblivious to the customs of the world that they derail the game for three sessions while the GM does their best to respond to their colossal stupidity in a believable world.
I’ve had a player who not only managed to walk out of a draft office after being summoned (thus being branded a deserter) but who also appeared to help their nation’s enemies in a very big and obvious way. And who then teleported into the capital and was surprised the locals weren’t too happy with him and threw him in magical jail. (Though the correct answer would’ve been to lop off his head and be done with it)
Like I said, I’ve done this but with my free time more precious than when I was still a student, I’ve gotten less and less tolerant for this. So my request to you, players and GMs: be mindful of just how much time things take. Don’t pad your sessions needlessly. Try not to distract the table with idle talk. And just let me get to the part where I murder some goblins already!