Pacing has always been my Waterloo.
The tricky part about Pacing in running games lies with the fact that unless the players are in the exact same location, at the exact same time and have the exact same stakes and goals with same amount of information, it is nearly impossible to calibrate a situation to communicate a uniform level of urgency.
Urgency, in this case, is the concept of pressing importance. What may seem urgent to one person might be not quite so pressing to another. For example, a Paladin with a sworn oath to defend a certain orphanage will drop almost anything to give aid upon learning that the said orphanage is on fire. On the other hand, a self-serving rogue with no emotional investment might just view the news as a quaint bit of trivia.
So, we’ve identified the fact that different characters will view a given situation with varying degrees of urgency. Given the fact that I tend to run games where I present different characters with personalized issues that address their character backgrounds and personalities, what happens is that everyone experiences different levels of urgency at different times in the game.
However, when I do present a threat large enough to affect everyone in the group, the result is a massive response in kind. All the players suddenly go into full-on paranoia mode, going so far as to occasionally drop the role in favor of efficiency. Given that I tend to run non-party intensive games like World of Darkness, this is often something that smashes the characters together like some sort of scary Player Golem that basically steamrolls the threat.
I’m not entirely certain if my threats are too vulnerable to that (I loathe to power up the opposition, I don’t want to go into an arms race against players, as a GM with unlimited resources it only seems petty,) but the fact remains that pacing ends up all kinds of screwed.
And thus why I’m trying a campaign that doesn’t raise the stakes too high, and eases off from my usual consequence-oriented GMing style. In some ways, the Awakening High game is a sort of experiment at trying to provide conflict without raising lethality. As a GM, it’s very easy to present conflict in terms of health hazards, but this sort of game might help me improve further by working on my pacing and denying the temptation to make the next threat something that is just that much deadlier.
Uneven pacing seems to be a reality in my games, and to be honest I’m not sure that a homogenous experience is actually desirable. Part of the charm of RPGs is the fact that I can create a narrative that means different things for the different players. Ultimately, I still don’t have any answers on how I can work on my pacing, but hopefully now that I’m running again, I’ll be able to pay more attention to what I’m doing.