Like any non-renewable resource, gaming time is precious - time-consuming table-top RPG sessions even more so. My own Rifts group can barely afford 2-3 games a month, always on a weeknight and usually lasting only 4 hours or so. It can really cramp a well-planned adventure’s style. But don’t worry - these tips will help to prune away the time-wastery and get your all-too-brief games working on minimal schedules for maximum fun!
1. Write A Half-Assed Screenplay
A real screenplay would be ridiculous, since you’re writing it for what amounts to a game of directed improvisation. However, this shouldn’t stop you from formulating what screenwriters call beat sheets - the major events that need to happen to progress the plot, regardless of what happens in between. Screenwriters have the luxury of knowing precisely what’s going to happen on every page, but you don’t.
BEAT SHEET - GHOSTBUSTERS
- ENCOUNTER: Library Ghost Discovery!
- Go Into Business For Ourselves
- ENCOUNTER: Trap Slimer!
- EPA Investigation - That’s A Big Twinkie
- Ghosts Busted (Out) - All Hell Breaks Loose
- ENCOUNTER: Final Battle with Gozer!
Doesn’t look like a full-length movie, right?
In a game, the Ghostbusters could leave the university on their own terms instead of being thrown out (although to be fair, being thrown out is a classic adventurer move), Tully could be hit by a car fleeing the Terror Dog across Central Park West if he’d rolled a 1, and Venkman doesn’t necessarily have to date Dana (especially with a pocketful of tranquilizers, dude). It wouldn’t be as incredible as the actual plot of Ghostbusters, of course. But none of those extra events need to be there to affect the beginning, middle, and end. It’s a good rule of thumb for any open-ended adventuring.
2. Turn Sidetracking Into Fast Tracking
Dilly-dallying (very technical terminology here, try to keep up) and other in-game sidetracking can be neatly twisted into furthering the plot, as long as you can think on your feet. Maybe that brawl Hrothgar the barbarian starts in the royal antechambers before the group even meets with the queen results in getting thrown out (it’s a classic for a reason) - but not before a courtier slips a note into Hank the wizard’s pocket to meet at a nearby inn. Perhaps the mission has simply become clandestine, or maybe the party is now answering to a would-be usurper of the throne instead of the queen? You can use these unexpected developments to get you to the next beat.
3. Know When To Quit
Deadlines put a real pressure on efficiency and pacing, which can turn a well-crafted story into a headlong rush to finish the game by the time limits imposed by kids, spouses, or early shifts the next day. Two-parters or multi-session campaigns are another option. But with any discrepancies in your player turnout, it can get disjointed - and besides, no one enjoys being left out.
By establishing your beats, you can cut whatever you need to in order to get to the end, but be prepared that sometimes it’s still going to result in fudging the boss battle just to finish on time. Do yourself and your players a favor, and embrace the two-parter when you have to. A cliffhanger is always better than a lame ending. If you decide in advance it’ll be a two-parter, you’re better able to end the night on a high note.
4. Accept Your Fate
Sometimes a planned story just doesn’t work out at all. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing! Some of the best games I’ve run have been completely off the rails.
I once had a group of Rifts characters go to a post-apocalyptic city-state to prevent an assassination due to take place at a public ceremony. The players decided that the best way to do this was to prevent the ceremony from taking place at all, and spent the entire session pitting rival street gangs against each other, reasoning that an all-out turf war would put a halt to the event and thus fulfill their objective. It was loads of fun, even if we never got to a single beat that I had planned!
Improv is the name of the game for a GM, and it’s important to recognize that and run with it.
Hopefully you can take these tips and put them to work for you. If you don’t need to worry about time, then by all means go ahead and enjoy your bizarre un-cramped lifestyle. Also, please let me know the name of the self-sufficient paradise island you live on. For the rest of us, we do the best we can with what we have. Keep rolling those dice and most importantly, have fun!
Brett Caron is a freelance writer and author. He’s a regular contributor to Palladium Books, writes for the Huffington Post on occasion, and has released 2 eBooks with Trese Brothers Games (on sale now). You can follow Brett on Twitter and Instagram at @brettcaron.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.