Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Questions From An Askew Point of View - Part 1

I have recently been thinking a lot about the differences and difficulties I encounter when I compare my particular style of GMing to those of other GMs.

Now since the pick-nitty nitpickers live to pick apart any statement made, I will try to clarify. When I say compare I may not be using precisely the right word. I am not comparing as in which one is better than the other. Rather, I am noting how a lot of people use approach A, a smaller group uses approach B and myself and a few others use C for example.

This has lead me to create a series of questions that, hopefully, will enable me to better understand my fellow gamer. These questions will only pop up from time to time so I can get on with other things. Consider them an irregular regular feature.

The first is
A Question of Time...

I noted in another post how many people seem to focus their sessions on one or perhaps two elements. For example, 'this is a combat heavy session' or 'we mostly role played last adventure'.

Now as I understand it, and correct me if I am wrong, most gaming groups today have sessions lasting roughly 4 hours or so. If this is true it goes part of the way toward answering my questions about time and time management but not quite all the way.

OK, so assuming you have a party of 3-6 PCs, a total of 3-5 NPCs and 4 hours in which to participate in an adventure, how many battles can you expect to have? Note that I mean separate battles with separate initiative, a new series of rounds, etc.

Assuming the same criteria, how many rooms of a dungeon would you see explored by PCs on average (regardless of combat encounters and such).

If the session is sort of focused on one thing, as in the aforementioned examples of a combat heavy session, a role play heavy session, an investigative session, etc., is it planned out that way by the GM or does it just end up happening?

In a way, all this boils down to a bigger question of 'How much gets done' or 'How much stuff happens' in a single session. I am very curious about this. I have watched other GMs do their thing, obviously played in a number of adventures and campaigns by different GMs (though granted not many) and read through numerous session recaps. I'm trying to get a better sense of how the hobby uses this most precious resource...time.

I will save my own opinions on the subject for after I have received some responses.

Thanks all,

Barking Alien


  1. I don't pre-categorize sessions. Generally speaking after 2 or 3 combats that are comparatively short (B/X, about half of sessions) the rest of the session is homebase/recovery/plot/administrative sort of stuff. The rest of the time (when using TFOS) the sessions rocket by with a chaotic mix of combat & non-combat elements. Using TFOS means that breaking them down by category is meaningless.

    Some players want to battle as much as possible, while others want to be clever and others want to 'live an adventurous' life. To accommodate them all at the same table I use rules that allow for fast, bloody battles and don't get in the way of their imaginations.

    (PS I could get IE to let me comment at all, had to use Firefox. I assume it's a Blogger problem.)

  2. There's no criteria on this for me. Combat? From none to the whole session being a slugfest. Same goes for everything else.

    I remember one time where the whole session was a real time climb up a mountain face to get to a cavern entrance. When we were done we could have scaled a real mountain :)

    I noticed how this event criteria has really crept into things, like reading the series on creating adventures out at WotC. It's like a bread recipe. :)

  3. With my recent Savage Eberron game, I've been trying to run it as a sequence of fairly self-contained but linked one-offs. In each of those, I've tried to get in a small fight at the beginning to get everyone into the game, then I tend to make up the middle bit as a I go along, with a rough idea in my head of what the players need to achieve in order to get to the finale. This is a big set-piece that can be a fight, but in one recent session it was a ski chase.

  4. The way the session is spent is in general not directed by me. I try very much NOT to be the director of a session as I think it's really the players role to do that - I lay out the area and let the players drive wherever they want to go. Now if we left off 3 levels into a dungeon last session, then we are likely starting off in that same dungeon, but I don't stop in the middle of a fight. I set up rumors in a D&D game or newspaper headlines in a supers game, but it's up to the players how, when, and even if they pursue those hooks. Just remember those session summaries are written up after the fact. They are reports, not scripts.

    I tried run a Shadowrun game in a strictly episodic fashion and it was tough because my players just don't care about things like that They wanted to wander/fight/gamble/build/die alone in street ambushes without session time as a constraint on those activities. I tried to pre-plan each session by starting them en media res (usually en media gunfight)and filling them in on the details after the fight, then letting the rest of the session be the players effort to get out of the situation. Beyond the player issues, I also began to feel like I was taking too much control over the flavor of the session instead of letting the campaign flow, so I eventually gave it up for those reasons.

  5. These responses are interesting and not exactly what I was expecting, which I have to say is awesome.

    I have recently been reading about and witnessing the phenomena of sessions being taken up by a single activity or perhaps a single activity taking 85% of the session time with a second activity filling it out.

    I tend to run much longer sessions than most people these days. An average session for my group(s) is about 8 hours long. For my money, if I can't run a game for at least 6 hours, I'll stay home and work on ideas for when I can.

    Now, it also seems (or seemed as I'm not so sure it is true now) that we get a lot more done in a single session compared to other groups. At first I figured 'play twice as long, get twice as much accomplished' or 'have twice as many activities take place'. But that wasn't it. Not exactly.

    Writing up some recaps of old games I came across the realization that I just cram a boatload of goings-ons in one sitting. Combat in my games moves very fast and I direct scenes a bit more (where appropriate) to facilitate a feeling of pace.

    I will open En Media Res at the beginning of a campaign or a story arc if the previous adventure has ended. I am happy to let my PCs wonder but honestly, few do and none often. I also run a lot of games where the adventure comes to the PCs (for example: Your ship has been contacted by Starfleet Command. They need you to check out an anomaly in the Dibira Sector. In Superheroes games the Mission Monitor may go off or you're contacted by the Chief of Police or the President!).

    I like having control over the flavor (as noted by Blacksteel) as it's one of the few things I have a say in. Maybe our definitions for flavor are different but I think that's about all the GM really does is provide flavor.

    The PCs in my more Sandbox games are welcome to go wherever and do whatever they want. I can't control their choices. I can't control their actions. All I as the GM can do is decide what the universe is like. What's the atmosphere, the feel. How does it look and act. That's the flavor for me.