This is another post inspired by Turn Based Living. In that post you’ll find the following observation:
When a game is well paced, I’m doing what I want when I want to as often as possible, the game keeps me coming back, and ultimately I get the most I can out of the game (side note: sometimes the designer is a better judge of what I ‘want’ to do, so I’m fine with being compelled to do something, as long as I enjoy it when I do it). Done poorly, a game forces me to spend a lot of time doing things I don’t enjoy in order to ‘enable’ the game, I incidentally waste a lot of time not getting at the heart of the game because I don’t know what I/the game wants, or I lose interest in the game or parts of the game because other elements are distractingly uninteresting or needlessly repetitive.
This observation is a nice way of describing several of my design goals for Lost Worlds. When we’re at the table, we only have a few hours. I want to cull out the wasted time as much as possible, and let everyone spend their time doing the things they want to do. So – that’s a bit tricky. Obviously, I can prep a couple of routes I think the party might go, and if I put a couple signposts out there that say “Adventure is this way!” my players are probably going to follow one of them. If I do that, and then I don’t deliver adventure, well – I’m failing the players.
Pacing the game in a tabletop RPG is harder than it might seem, since all the players are playing together at the same time, and all of the players may not share the same interests. It takes some social compromise to give everyone what they want, and a very skilled GM to recognize what it is each person wants in the first place! It’s not like a classic computer RPG where you’re the only player and you can pretty much drive wherever you want. The players are relying on the GM to understand their interests and provide an outlet for them.
It’s not all the GM’s responsibility though, or it shouldn’t be. Tabletop RPGs are a social game, and there needs to be a fair amount of communication going on about what it is the players want to be doing at the table. Players should have the power to drive the game, and the confidence to do so. Furthermore, the GM should have the confidence to allow it – to accept improvisation. And, if the players move the game in unexpected directions, they need to understand that the GM will have to improvise in response. This in turn requires a level of trust between everyone, not only that the GM will attempt to be fair in their improvisation, but that the players are signaling for the GM to provide content that the players want to interact with. When the players want different things, that social contract has to extend to the players to engage with the game unselfishly so that everyone can enjoy themselves.
So, I need to focus Lost Worlds in a way that attempts to maximize the types of things that I would guess the players want to be doing, BUT also provide a way out of a scene that everyone finds uninteresting. I have on the tip of my brain an idea of a scene structure where players have two votes in front of them. One vote is a “more detail vote” and the other is a “move along” vote. The game can progress as normal, but at any time players can vote on whether to drill into the scene in more detail, or to wrap up the scene and move on. Practically, players already do this with a facial expression, checking their phone during a scene, leaving the table, or standing up to make a dramatic die roll. I’m not completely sure I need to formalize it, but I’ve never seen a mechanic like this used and I’m curious what others think about it.