Unless it’s part of the system and will be expected of my players, I rarely run games that are action packed. I like it this way, as it gives my players time to think about what they’re doing. It also gives me time to think about responses to what they’re doing. This is especially true of my current game, as the plot is very loosely written, and depends an awful lot more on what the players choose to do. This means that several times a session, I have to contend with something that I never would have thought of, and then need to integrate it into the plot. This is no way a complaint, as I love running games this way.
I try my best to make player agency very important, to let their actions decide the fate of the story, and maybe even sometimes the world. It also means that I need to be able to think on my feet and not let things slow down too much. Sadly, this has been happening a bit more than I would like recently. The game I’m running uses the CP2020 system, but is not set in that world. Instead of action, I was looking for in investigation based game. this is all down to talking to the players about what they would expect, and I think I’ve been living up to my end of the bargain.
The last three weeks’ games have been very intense. Things have gone wrong and needed sorting, conspiracies abound, and all that jazz. But for the 3 sessions before that, it hit an almost snail like pace. Looking back, there was one big reason why it got bogged down for a while, and that was people going shopping in character. CP2020 has all manner of great things that can be bought for the characters, from weapons, to computer programs, through sub-dermal video screens and a whole array of cyberware. I wanted to try and limit the amount of time that would be spent shopping for obvious reasons.
The group doesn’t meet up apart from the time we spend gaming,so shopping needs to be done during the game, and really sucks up time. True, my girlfriend is in the game, and she can take care of her shopping out of the session if she wants to, but even that doesn’t work if it happens half way through the game, and she really needs a new voice box. One way I was cutting down this time sink was by keeping money a rare commodity. This was only ever going to be a stalling tactic though, as they were trying to earn money, and I had no real in game reason to stop them, nor would I want to. Punishing the players to make my life easier would very much be considered a dick move.
Plan B was to keep the various chrome books and weapon catalogues out of their hands. I have played and run CP2020 long enough to have a pretty good idea about what’s available, and even if it isn’t I would be able to quickly make something up for them. Keeping books full of shiny toys away from the players proved harder than I would have liked though, and thus explains some reason for the slower game. But there was something else.
The plot line had plenty of downtime written into it. True, there are deadlines for completing certain portions of the plot, but my players have been kicking ass and taking names, and are currently ahead of their deadline by a few days. This means that I either invent busy work for them, or just declare that a couple of days has passed and move on.
Busy work generates its own problems, as it just adds extra threads that can be tugged at, and when they don’t lead anywhere, it is obviously going to be frustrating for the players. I could fudge things and tie random encounters into the plot, but doing it in a way that seems realistic is pretty hard considering I’m doing an awful lot on the fly as it is. I could also just let them carry on with the threads, adding story to them if that’s the way they want to go.
This has been very tempting on more than one occasion. There’s a whole big city out there to explore, full of people and stories, but I have a time frame of my own to work with, and the more I deviate massively from the meta plot, the harder my job of giving the players a conclusion to several months of gaming that would be worth the effort. So, neither of those options are great in the long term. Instead, I’ve been letting the players use their down time in character.
This has meant trips to the casino, drunken flirting with wealthy widows, and setting off explosive devices inside giant robots; none of which has anything to do with the plot. It has meant that on occasion, players have little for their characters to do while others are getting more attention. Far from an ideal situation, I think you’d agree, but better than skipping over some chances for character interactions and some top notch role playing.
If you find yourself in a similar situation then, my advice would be to let the players set the pace. Don’t keep them busy with things that don’t concern them, and give them the chance to explore the world at a speed that’s right for them. Just keep an eye on all of them, and do what you can to lessen the breaks when one or more of them just sits around waiting for the rest to catch up.