This document is intended to give Storytellers an understanding of the general principles of timing during a game session. Some of those principles include the pace of the game and plot introductions.
Pace of the Game
The pace of the game is one of the key elements of storytelling. The pace of the game usually refers to how fast or slow the game session is progressing. This can be determined by the players, the storyteller, or the current dynamic of the game session.
Some of the key aspects of game pace are:
There has to be an incentive for the players to move or act throughout a game session or else they would just stand around and not have any fun. There are many ways a storyteller can push their players to move or act when they need them to. A few examples are:
- Dangling a carrot – this can be done by clearly defining a goal that the players need to achieve.
- Imposing a time limit – restricting the amount of time the players have to complete a plot will encourage them to act quickly. Be aware that imposing too many time limits can be frustrating to players.
- Removing desired object – by taking away an object a player desires, the storyteller will cause that player to chase after it.
- NPC leading the way – having an NPC lead the players to a specific area will always cause the pace of the game to increase
While keeping the game pace fast at times is good; keeping it fast all the time can be detrimental. Players often want to regroup, gather their thoughts, ask questions, or formulate a plan. If you keep the pace fast, they will not be able to do these things which can jeopardize the level of enjoyment everyone is having.
If the storyteller notices that the pace is going too fast for some players, they can implement some of the below examples to slow the pace down.
- Introduce obstacles – by having something block the player’s paths they will be forced to slow down and determine how to remove the obstacle or find another way around it.
- Multiple routes – introducing multiple routes for players to choose from will cause them to slow down and think before they choose how to proceed
- NPC slows the pace – the NPC leading the way can just as easily slow the pace as they can increase it
- Roleplay – by forcing the players to roleplay with each other, or NPCs, they have to stop and get into character, which can slow the pace of the game for a time
Constantly slowing down the pace of a game can be just as detrimental as constantly speeding it up. Players may get the feeling that they are stuck in a rut and will not know how to proceed. Some may even stop interacting entirely due to the feeling that their efforts are always being held back.
A good balance of speeding up, or slowing down, the pace needs to be reached in order for everyone to get enjoyment at a game session.
Threat is the impression of actual danger a player may experience during a game session. The higher the level of the actual threat, the faster the pace will be as the player will be nervous and frantic.
Threats can come in many forms; the most common being combat. By introducing combat to a game, you are automatically increasing the pace of the game as players are more frantic and want the scene to end as quickly as possible.
The intensity of the threat felt by the players is determined by where the threat is coming from. If the threat is coming from the environment, then the level felt by the players will be low due to the fact that they may have time to plan and gather other help; they have a perceived level of control over the situation. If the threat is coming from another player, then the level felt by the players will be high due to the fact that they have no choice but to deal with the threat right then and there.
The proximity of the threat can also be a determining factor on the pace of the game. If the threat is a game away, then players will take their time and slow down the pace of the current game in order to plan for the next session. If the threat is in their faces and they have to resolve it right on the spot, then the pace of the game is sped up as players like to resolve situations like that as quickly as possible.
As always, by implementing a time limit to a threat, storytellers are automatically increasing the pace of the game due to fact that players have lost some of the control they thought they had, which induces a level of panic in their actions.
Tension is the impression of perceived danger a player may experience during a game session. This usually occurs from the belief in an unknown danger, but the danger must be known in some way or else the players may not be able to assign the correct level of tension to the danger.
Atmosphere is a great way to create tension during a game. The more the players are immersed in the game the greater control the storyteller has on the tension. Playing music during games or changing the lighting are good ways of changing the atmosphere.
Tempo is the level of intensity of action, or concentration, during a game session. There are usually two tempos – low and high. Low tempo games tend to be more thought provoking and mentally challenging; think mental and social games. High tempo games tend to be faster paced and panic inducing; think combat or time limited games.
There are many ways to introduce plot into a game session and there is no right or wrong way to do it. Below are a few examples to give you a better idea on how to introduce plot as well as an explanation as to how they relate to timing.
The most common way to introduce plot is at the beginning of the game session when all of the players are “hanging out” talking. This can be done via an NPC entering the room or from some information a player gained before they entered play. This method of plot introduction would typically be used if the storyteller needs to seed the beginning of a plot or get the last bit of information to the players to wrap up a plot.
This method can be problematic at times due to the fact that the storyteller has to rely solely on the player(s) with the information to investigate it and get others involved. More often than not, the player(s) get others involved too late into the game session and the storyteller cannot get all of the intended parts completed. This leads to bleed over into the next game or downtimes. This method should be used to introduce plot that does not have a time critical element to it. If there is a time critical aspect to the plot then consider starting the game out with action.
Starting a game out with action will increase the tempo and tension of the game, which will in turn increase the pace of the game. Many times this will catch players off guard and get them to make rash decision. This can cause them to work with other players they normally would not work with and add a different flare to the game. This method is very useful if the storyteller has nothing to work with, like a first or one shot game, or there is bleed over from the previous game. To prevent action bleed over, consider ending the previous session just before the action starts. That way everyone is able to jump right into the action as soon as the next game starts. If there does happen to be action bleed over into the next game, the storyteller can use the final method of plot introduction – in medias res.
By introducing plot right in the middle of action, the storyteller is letting the players know this is going to be a fast paced game. This method can also be used to bring two groups of players together if they were both working on different plot points and the storyteller needs to bring them back together to finish a plot out.
Pace and timing is key in a game session. Players should be the overall arbiters of the pace of a game but it is the storyteller’s responsibility to change that at times. The best piece of advice to keep in mind is that the right thing at the wrong time is going to be the wrong thing.