Behind the Screen: Time Management…

2007 October 17
by Dante

This week has been a series of topics for those who are new to building characters and roleplaying, and I’d like to discuss a topic that I feel is essential for all DM’s new and old: time management. Our sessions tend to go from outside boundaries of 6 pm to 1 am, so these recommendations might need to shift based on your situation but the concepts should remain the same.

The Clock As Your Best Friend

Oftentimes at the onset of a gaming session it feels like you have all the time in the world. Do the players want to roleplay their interactions with the shopkeepers? Their down time at the inn? Playing cards with the local barflies? Sure, no problem, we’ve got all night.

In cases like this, the clock can be your best friend. Oftentimes, I have found that most of the truly excellent roleplaying and character development happens in the first quarter to half of the gaming session. The players are fresh (usually due to a adequate dose of caffeine and pizza) and they are eager to get back into their characters after a hard week of Real Life. They are ready to go, and the DM should be too… I like to plan for some impromptu roleplaying and extended character interaction for this portion of the night.

The Clock As Your Worst Enemy

The scenario depicted above has only one problem: roleplaying takes time, and often not everyone is engaged if only part of your group has “taken point” in the character interactions.

Roleplaying is never a bad thing, but there has been several times when one or two players have wrested control of the spotlight and the rest of the group is sitting there, looking bored, and wondering when we’ll start moving along with the plot.

In fact, there are several good indicators that some of the group is involved in the session and others aren’t: exasperated sighs, off-topic discussion, and unscheduled breaks by your players. If these things start to happen, it’s time to wrap up whatever is going on and continue progressing the plot for the night.

As I mentioned before, roleplay like this takes time. Often, if left unchecked, this will leave more plot oriented or universally interesting elements until later in the session. I have considered the last quarter of the night “The Doomed Section” where very little good can be accomplished aside from getting to a good stopping point. If you plan to hatch any major plot points, shoot for launching them by the end of the third quarter of the evening. (Note for full disclosure: I am still bad at this, but I’m working on it!)

We have a few people in our group that have very clear expiration dates on how long they can play before they are physically done for the night, and once one player starts to fall victim to The Clock the engagement of the rest of the group soon follows.

The Almighty Break

I know many of the other blogs on GameMastering have covered this, and we have touched upon it here several times but it bears repeating: the five minute break is your best friend. I tend to get quite excited when my players are having the positive and engaging roleplay experiences in the first part of the night, however often The Break is necessary in order to get the plot progressing again.

In order to best utilize the most fertile section of the gaming session, I recommend plunking down an artificial five minute break around the two-thirds to halfway point of your session. The group will come back still energized from their good roleplaying experiences, and you can pull elements of this into the plot elements that will progress through the back half of the evening.

I can’t stress this enough: most of us DMs love the artistic flourish of the surprise ending to put a cliffhanging capper on the gaming session, however be very cautious not to wait too long or else it will lose most of its impact. No one remembers the Elder Dragon showing up when half of the group is in the post-caffeine coma and the other half has fallen asleep, so make sure to drop that early enough that they will remember it the next session!

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS