Why does combat take so long? / What to do about players who always show up but don’t seem to want to play?
Role Playing is not an autocratic game, but a group of people coming together to tell a story. The GM’s job is not to tell everyone else sitting at the table what or how to do anything. The GM’s job is to determine what is happening in the world as the characters interact within it. As I see it, the GM is responsible for setting the tone of a game, and for pacing of a game, and for setting the appropriate level of immersion (a topic for another time). But the story is not the GMs alone, the other people at the table also have responsibility to each other person.
Robin Laws, in a very good book, spells out a number of reasons why people play in RPGs. It’s an insightful list, but meant as a resource for GMs to design games. What it doesn’t do is inform players about how to act themselves. Don’t sleep during the game should be a no brainer, don’t bring a guitar so you have something to do when there isn’t combat should also be a given; but both things are situations that have happened, or continue to happen, in my weekly game (in which I am a player). Ruminating on the situation has inspired this post. There are a few very basic things a player should be doing to facilitate the game.
Whether playing a game, working in a job or developing a school project if you are a member of a team you have a responsibility to be engaged. That means paying attention to what is going on, being aware of goals and what the group is doing collectively to achieve those goals, but being engaged also means anticipating future needs and taking the initiative on issues you can contribute to. Being engaged, really, means only being earnestly interested in achieving a groups final goal.
It’s strange that it needs to be said, but RPGs are a social game. Most people create a character in a game to take part in the role of main character of the story. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it’s important to keep in mind that the rest of the people sitting around the table are equal members in the story. If you’re always the first to speak, you’re probably playing the game wrong. Also, if you’re in on every single roll, you’re stepping on other players. It’s easy to grab the limelight whenever you can, but if it’s because you’re louder or quicker then you’re taking away from the game. The GM should be aware of this and put a stop to it, but players must also be vigilant and play the game like a team.
I’ve seen games where, when a players turn in combat comes up, he stares at his sheet for a few moments, then looks around the table and asks , “What should I do?” This is only slightly worse than the more common situation of a players turn coming up and the player saying, “OK, what did everyone do?” This is related to the scenario where a players turn in combat comes up and he starts moving other peoples minis. That’s right, he doesn’t even know what mini is his. The players have a responsibility to know their characters and what they’ll do. Not every action must be the optimal decision, but every action should flow. The decision making process for combat doesn’t start when the players initiative is called, the player should remain engaged the whole time and know what they’ll do. The player should already know whatever feat / maneuver / combat options are available to them and have whatever dice / cards are necessary. When the players turn in combat comes up, they state movement, skill usage, and then roll. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to resolve a players turn. There are many factors that can slow combat down, but player preparation can make great strides to speed it back up.
One good suggestions I’ve seen put to good use is to create three or four 4 round strategies. This way there is no need to evaluate every possible action since thought has already been put into how it unfolds.
Gaming is a social event. No one expects the sort of singular focus that is expected of a job, but there is a purpose for getting together, too. If while at a party to watch the Superbowl (or the final episode of Lost) someone keeps distracting with discussions of metrical composition of Greek poetry that person will not earn any bonus points for their efforts. Likewise during an RPG session, don’t worry about the conversation wandering off course, but if other members of the group are getting agitated, don’t blame them — you’ve all agreed to be there for a reason.
This isn’t a comprehensive list, of course, but is basic advice that should already be known, yet often is disregarded. I’ve learned that a little discipline goes a long way and being mindful of my friends enjoyment has added to my own.
Go ahead. Ask me anything. Anything.