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Success with RPGs under an hour?

Started by sirogit, August 06, 2004, 04:44:26 PM

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I've always wanted to run a game at the same speed as a tv show. In my expierince, gaming was always very slow. Too much looking up rules, arguements, over-elaborations, side-quest things. You end up spending four hours for about 30 minutes of story time.

So anyway, last night I did run this game, with no arguements, no rules questions, hardly any description and everything focused on immediate issues. In 40 minutes there was like 6 or 7 key plot developments, which I'd say is easily as quickly as most any tv show ro movie, and easily as much as three 4 hour sessions that I've expiereinced before.

The thing is, it generated a really pounding headache for me. Just having to consider all the story elements in a small time frame and make sure it all stays consistant.

Another thing was I really didn't have any time to appreciate the game as an audience, as the moments of inactivity were me giving the players time to think after handing them a need for decision, which usually meant them trying to catch their breath, staring at me admist total silence for five minutes. Which was hard to lay back and relax during because it sends me into "Get them to do something, damnit." mode.

Now, before I think about what exactly went wrong there, I'm wondering if its some sort of limitation of the medium. Are most people just not cut out to improvise at the same speed as more passive media(Tv, movies, etc.)? Do stretchs of nothing really important happening serve a purpose, to let you wind down and enjoy the game?


I totally hear you! I posted this similar topic, One Hour Challenges, not too long ago.

So, TV shows are scripted, and improv at all - hard improv to create a fleshy storyline without preparation or foresight is a gargantuan task, and I think it's a rush, but it's very hard, and it's really an epic-level GM feat to make it through.

I think the way out is, to some extent, take the plotting-stress away from the GM, and either share it amongst the players or put it onto the System. For example, lots of the "finite RPGs" have a mechanistic form for getting from beginning to end of a story: MLwM being everybody's favorite example, the GM's task is to RP the world and scene-frame fast all the time, but otherwise the pacing and planning is handled by the system and the dice. Same with InSpectres (keep playing out the mission until the rules say you've earned enough dice).

Otherwise, some "thin" trailblazing (i.e. either reward systems or consensual railroading) can go a long away. I mentioned RobD's use of Fate Point freebies in his Buffy game to evoke certain behavior or plot points ahead, and you can actually go a long way if you share the major high-points to come with the players.

I'm curious: how did the players like the gameplay outcome? And also, what kind of plot were you working with? One good model for TV serials is the A-plot/B-plot/optional-C-plot. Basically 3 plots, which together give most characters screen time, and each go on autonomously (with occaisional synchronicity if you're very savvy). Maybe if you reduce plot developments to: "1 or 2 big developments in the big arc-y A-plot, 3-4 for the one-off character-centric B-plot, and just one or two scenes of the C-plot comic relief about hair removal."


The game had pretty extensive prep, and I always had lots of ideas for places to go, the thing is, by the 40 minute mark me and the players were both incredibly tired and I was stressed out. All of my mental activity during play was in describing everything, worrying about stuff being consistant, etc etc.

I really didn't enjoy it at all. I had a blast prepping the game and working with the players during character creation was pretty fun. The players told me they had fun and that it was alot better than any of the their other games. I think if the game realized its potential and I didn't make so many mistakes it would have been really awesome, but that's not really the issue here, the issue is that I really couldn't enjoy the game and the pressure of it seriously hurt my head.

I wasn't really in peak condition for the game, for the last four days I've slept maybe 16 hours. That could possibly be why its so stressfull but I have my doubts about it.

I'll give a transcript later.

Mike Holmes

Heh, and people look at me sideways when I tell them that being in audience mode at times when using heavy scene framing play is something that they'll appreciate. Another data point supporting my analysis.

This can be really hard on the GM, yeah. So here are some ways out.

1. First, most importantly, get the players to help out. At some point, sit back and ask them what the next scene is going to be. Have them consider all of the consistnency data and the like for a moment. Hell, have one take over as GM for a bit if it makes sense.

2. Go slower. Was there a rush to play in only 40 minutes? Take your time. Shcedule breaks.

3. Stall. Put the players into situations where they are going to have to do some serious dialog. For instance, make them do public speeches (get the players competing here - like an election). This gives you a chance to sit back in audience mode for a while and watch.

4. Worry less. As it was this game was "alot better than any of the their other games." Aim for just "better." The game may actually be superior if you worry less. If it's not, then "Good" is probably good enough. Most importantly here, don't feel that you need to do as well the next time. Again, set a realistic goal for yourself, and shoot for that.

5. Be rested. But you already figured that out. :-)

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Quote from: sirogitI really didn't enjoy it at all... The players told me they had fun and that it was alot better than any of the their other games.
Intriguing. Well, you've seen yourself (in suboptimal personal conditions!) run a full-throttle 40 minute burst. So, you can ease up - use the same discipline to keep things moving, but possibly ease it to a pace that you, yourself, will still enjoy.

Ben O'Neal

Heh, sorry if this seems like a plug (ok, maybe it partially is), but have you seen anything of Scarlet Wake? I ask because it seems to be exactly the sort of thing you are talking about, without any of the problems that you mention. Admittedly, the color and goals of the game may not appeal to you, but the way it's all structured and the way play.... umm, plays out, may be exaclty the sort of thing you are looking for. Or at least, may be a good starting point to build you own ideas off of.

For instance, each player in a group takes turns being a protagonist, whilst the other players play the antagonists, and any supporting characters, according to brief descriptions you give them. Protagonist players have 3 "scenes" each turn to do their thing, which can't run longer than 10 minutes or contain more than one "event". "Events" are significant occurances, like attempting or narrating anything which is important to your character (regardless of success). So no turn will last longer than 30 minutes, and no more than 3 major events can occur in that time. And during each turn, the workload is distributed amongst all the players in the group.

At the end of your turn, play cycles, and you get to be an antagonist, essentially allowing you to become more of an audience member than the protagonist, but still being involved in the game. In addition, some special scenes which I call "snippets" are triggered after certain key events. Snippets are basically a scene of pure character development, like a flashback or those cheesy "thinking out-loud" scenes, so they provide time for the antagonists to really relax as pure audience members.

I don't know if any of this is making sense, but it's kinda hard for me to describe. But basically I find it works great, and your post really jumped out at me for being exactly what Scarlet Wake is. If you're interested you can download the rulebook here, or visit my forum (link in my sig). But as I said, at the very least it might give you some ideas about how to run short action packed game sessions without becoming massively stressed out.