Pacing is something of a weakness of mine. Veteran players who are used to how I run games are well aware that I tend to snowball pretty quickly, and as soon as they start feeling comfortable something will happen sooner rather than later to keep them on their toes.
While this sort of default pacing is great for more action-y games, there’s the issue of how to keep games with a slower, more deliberate feel without it becoming boring. My current campaign, Hearts and Souls, is a primarily political game with a lot of interaction, introspection and politics, but without a lot of fights. I’m honestly still trying to come to grips as to how to properly pace the game, and while I feel that the players are still enjoying themselves, I’m hoping that the campaign doesn’t end up being too slow to enjoy.
Part of my struggle here is that I actually fall into the same trap that many GMs do: I rely a lot of combat to provide the big set pieces for a story. However, in this game, combat should be less common for everyone so I don’t have that crutch to fall back on. It’s a funny situation for me as now I’m forced to learn to work on my pacing and make sure that I don’t have any empty scenes.
Empty scenes are the enemy in social games. The moment you have plain interaction where nobody is actually after anything is one which has a high probability of dragging on for a little too long and affecting the pacing. While it is almost always nice to play things out in character, once you’re just making small talk with no objective then you’ve got an empty scene.
So how do we avoid that? I’ve been giving it some thought and here are a few things I’ve put together:
- Set an agenda – Every scene needs to be one where the participants are after something. Whether the players are trying to achieve something, or block someone from getting their way, having an agenda per engagement is a great way to make sure that each scene has something at stake.
- Keep notes – Having notes is always a good thing. While there may not be any such thing as a “random encounter” in social games, being able to ambush an NPC by bringing up something that was relevant from a previous engagement is a good way to push your agenda without having to wait for the GM to introduce it.
- Mix it up – As a GM, try to avoid scenes that devolve to simple talking heads. A lot of RPGs have plenty of opportunities to introduce interesting situations where conversations and such can happen outside of the court or the office. Much like a day of golf with the boss, consider catering to interests to make the other character more receptive. A modern game might have people talking policy over a game of tennis, a round of golf, or in a firing range while Hunting and other kinds of sport make for good occasions for historical games.
It’s not a lot yet, but I’ll have to admit that this is a learn-as-you-go thing for me. This is perhaps the first game I’ve run that was completely political as opposed to mostly horror or action so I expect a lot of fumbling around.