Delay of Game! 5 HP penalty, still the fighter’s turn!

Or rather the flow of your game session.

Flow or pacing is a pretty big deal when running a game session. And it’s so much more than simply having a smooth combat where everyone is ready during combat. It’s one of the more difficult things to get a good grasp of and implement well. It took me a good long time to really suss out what worked for me with how my game. Part of it came down to good session planning and the rest was just practical table top gaming habits.

Planning how you want your session to run sounds easy at first, but it does take some finesse. Start with the basics; length, the plot points, and what you want your players to accomplish. I like to keep the game sessions that I run to be around two to four hours long. Being an arguably responsible adult (as are most of the people that I play with) this fits it with the time I have available as well as my players. It also fits the attention span of most people. Sure, we’ve all heard of the 8 to 15 hour games that people are down for playing when they were young. But from personal experience, they sucked. People tended to drift to something else, or thumbing through manuals and stop really paying attention.

Another important thing to mention is when running a session of decent length is to know when to break. Get the breaks in; I like to do it before boss fights. It gives me time to get the table ready, and give my players a chance to strategize and be back at the table refreshed. Ready to tear the boss up, or die horribly; AND they can’t say they died because all they could think about was using the restroom. If you feel your party start to slip into la la land, hit the brakes, and let them get up.

Good habits are the best way to keep a good flow for your game, but are sometimes hard to instill in yourself and your players. I’ll list a few, but know that as people are great and varied, so are the things they do.

First and foremost, make sure EVERYONE (yes, even the GM) has a good grip on how combat or skill check works in the system you are using. This can kill the flow of the game in no time flat. I know that not everyone has the capacity to memorize all of the rules and nuances for every system they play. And if people are having issues with it, the rest of the group should be there to assist. Perhaps jot down a note card with available actions or a sequence of actions from round to round. Anything to keep things moving.

Next, try your best to keep rule books off the table. Having to look things up right in the middle of combat or dramatic moments is terrible. If a player calls out a rule you flubbed, or you are unsure about something trust your gut, make a ruling and look it up later. Post session rundown or breaks are great for this. Research can wait, your game should not. If a player insists on challenging a ruling, die off for it. Then look up the issue later.

One of the more draconian things that I do to keep things on track is timed turns. Especially when things are dicey for the characters. Indecision is a killer, not only of characters but of game sessions. During stressful moments I will point to a player and ask directly what they are doing, anything less than a clear action is ignored and they are skipped for the next in initiative order. Some will claim that it is mean, and it kind of is, but rest assured they will be ready the next time their turn comes around.

Before I forget to mention it, there is one thing that all if not most RPG groups like to do is have side conversations that do not pertain to the game at hand and spin off into full blown tangents. How you deal with this is entirely up to you, but it is critical to recognize where things are going and when to try to get people back on track. This is one of those things that are really difficult to avoid, especially if one or two of the players have gaming history together. They will like to tell “war stories” of past RPG exploits. I myself am guilty of this way too often. I’d advise you as a GM to let them tell their piece, but the reign things in soon. Sometime the old stories can be long winded; a simple “Nice! You’ll have to tell me about that after the game/in the next break.” Is a polite way to say, “OI! Get on with it” and back to the current task.

Finally, limit distractions. Phones should at least be set to vibrate. The TV should be off. And if you plan to have music during your game, make sure the set list is long enough to last, or keep your remote handy to restart the playlist.

So there you have it,  a few things to think about for your sessions. If you are having trouble with keeping things flowing, reflect upon behaviors of the group and write down things that you want to change. Bring them up with the party, and gain consensus. It will make things loads easier.

Thank you for reading, and happy rolling!

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