View Full Version : A little help here, please...

Talonne Hauk
6 March 2002, 07:09 PM
I've been gaming for a long time, so I'm no novice at GMing. But I'm running into a persistent problem; I have very headstrong players. Whenever the party has to make a decision by committee, it takes them forever to come up with a plan of action, and it seriously eats into gametime. Bear in mind that all my players are friends, so none of this delves into personal insults, and what have you. And to some degree, they enjoy the bickering, as it helps flesh out their characters. But at what point do I drop the hammer? Part of the problem has to be my fault as the GM, because I probably allow them too much free reign in their problem solving, but I don't want to stifle them, either. Any suggestions on how I can improve gameflow?

Donovan Morningfire
6 March 2002, 07:21 PM
To borrow a phrase ...

Kick when their pants are down (not literally mind you)

Sometimes the best things to get the action back into high gear is an immediate threat. Just make sure the threat fits into two criteria:

1) Isn't too dangerous, but can't just be ignored w/o severe consequences either.

2) Fits into the general plot of the adventure.

I've found threats that fit those two things work wonders to getting the players back into gear. Eventually, they'll get the idea that planning by commitee is fine, but dickering over the fine print while under fire is a bad idea :)

6 March 2002, 07:53 PM
I agree with what Donovan said. Having a built-in "expiration date" to the scene will help keep things in track. For example, the players have only so much time to plan and kibbutz before they drop out of hyperspace, or the superior comes into the room and says "We're moving out," or the bad guys are about to leave and they have to move now -- you get the idea. Perhaps a few instances of going into action without a working plan will teach them to be more efficient.

For when you need very quick decision-making, I recommend a method a friend of mine uses when he GMs. He asks them what they're going to do once, gives them about ten seconds (max), repeats the question, then starts counting down, "Five... four..." When he reaches zero, the player is passed over, unless they panic and declare their action quickly. This keeps people from agonizing what moves to make, and keeps the other players from getting bored. It doesn't work for every play style, but might help your situation.

6 March 2002, 08:00 PM
Sorry, had another thought on the tail end of that last post.

I used to have this same problem with my players. They would really get into their characters, and they'd talk forever if I let them. One, in particular, was a huge chatterbox and would work out every intricacy of her character, out loud, until she'd nigh bore everyone to tears.

I have a very "cinematic" style of gaming, compelte with fades, cut scenes, beginning and end credits, etc. So one of the methods I employ is the "wrap it up" gesture. My players generally want to end on a good note, not just trail off lamely, so they know that when I make that gesture, it's time to find a good "exit line" and quit. It's understood between the members of the group that everyone does this. If someone doesn't see it, I will as gently as possible say "okay, stop" when someone has a good exit line, and move quickly on to the next scene. I try not to interrupt them until I've felt they've said all they've needed to say.

I've been fortunate enough to have players who know when to quit, but sometimes they get carried away. My suggestion would be just set up some house rules and be as tactful as possible, but firm.

Ghost In The Holocron
6 March 2002, 08:41 PM
Setting time limits, like in dgswensen's post above, is what I do for my games. It's been a regular part of the decision making process in my games since as far back as I can remember, and my players are used to seeing it happen every so often. I usually set a limit, say 3 minutes or so, for group decisions to be made under some time presure. For individual actions, I sometimes do the count down thing as well -- "It's your move. What do you do?"... "Five... four... three...". It keeps everyone on their toes since they could loose some actions in a key round of combat.

One thing to remember is that you might want to get the players acquainted with the process rather than completely surprise them -- which might lead to some complaints. Explain it to them the first time you try it and see how they react. If things go well, make it a standard part of play. Seeing as your group is also a group of friends, it shouldn't be much of a problem. Good luck!

Dark Knight
6 March 2002, 08:48 PM
This is simple its been stated before and its going to be stated again. when they decide that its going to take 20 minutes to make a 5 second in game decision you must have them ambushed. No ifs ands or buts about it. if there lazy on the trigger someone else has to be quicker.

Reverend Strone
6 March 2002, 08:59 PM
There are a bunch of ways you can handle this kind of thing depending on the flavour of your campaign and the nature of the situation being debated.

One way our play group has employed at times when the pressure is on and the characters should be acting quickly, is exactly as Ghost in the Holocron suggested, with a short countdown to make a decision. That works well in a pinch.

In some situations it might even be appropriate to flatly lay down the law and say- no consulting this time, you just have to act (if it's one of those split seconds reaction situations).

The other one that has yielded great entertainment for many adventures we've had is to actually make a policy that these kinds of discussions happen in game and in character. It really depends on the characters as to whether this can work, but in one D&D adventure I played in, we were all playing young 17- 18 yr old 1st level players who all grew up together in the same small hick town. we came across this dead sheep in a paddock that looked like it had been mauled by wolves and ended up having this huge fourty minute debate about what to do with the thing.

It was hysterical, and it fit the characters. Here's these young idiots all standing round telling how it is with no one listening to each other. It actually did a lot to help flesh out the characters and how they viewed each other. Of course, this might not work in every situation or for all play groups, but for us, it was highly enjoyable.

There's a couple of solutions anyways. You can always settle for simply putting a time limit on your players, but my experience has been that the less I 'discipline' my players, the more relaxed and fun the game is.

Of course, as we all know, some players aren't as mature as others and tend to need a little discipline now and then for the sake of the group, but that's what heavy rule books are for.

darth maim
6 March 2002, 10:56 PM
I'd say that if it's a single player decision and they have no idea what they want to do skip them... inititive is great but even a quicker reacting person with no clue is gonna get hit. If it's a group decision make them do it in character. Picture it they're standing in front of a senator and they start going on about P1:"should we trust him?" P2:"No way man... let's just kill him and hide the body." P3: "I don't think so, lets just distract him and steal his access codes..." The reaction of an NPC the first couple of times they have to do this will more than teach them the virtue of quick and simple decision making.

Reverend Strone
7 March 2002, 11:08 AM
The Darth just managed to say in a paragraph what I seemed to need a small novel to explain. Thanks Darth.

darth maim
7 March 2002, 01:25 PM
Originally posted by revstrone
The Darth just managed to say in a paragraph what I seemed to need a small novel to explain. Thanks Darth.

Yeah I noticed after I posted that you said roughly the same thing....

well you know what they say about great minds right?

7 March 2002, 03:10 PM
Usually this occurs when the threat is on appoach, also usually menacing. I stop game time (if appropriate) say "now what?". They bicker, brainstorm and sometimes have a plan of attack within minutes. Then there are those times when all they do is bicker. If i feel like too much real time has pasted (I'm twiddling my thumbs!) I just have what ever threat they were bickering about happen/arrive. They learn it's safer to work as a team that way, and better to be quick about it!

But like everyone else is saying if they are not getting anywhere I'd get them to act by reacting to a threat!

7 March 2002, 03:24 PM
i included a stop watch in my gaming bag and took it with me when i gm. start the clock and give them a few seconds to let them make up their minds. then run with the next guy.

my new group has yet to have this happen but my old group always got snappy and decisive when i whipped out the stopwatch.

make sure that your reasons for doing this are clear. there are players who know what their character will do whenever and whatever may occur, then there are others that take a few minutes. some players take less time to get into character and others take more time. if your players belong to the former then they will understand the need for the 'clock' if they are of the latter then the watch will do more harm than good as they will continually jump out of character and take forever to get back into character. in instances with the latter, you could always quote my first DM:

"that orc is charging and probably doesn't want to wait around until you have made up your mind about what to do"

well you know what they say about great minds right? - darth maim

what do they say about great minds? that they come in packages of six with a little plastic ring around them all?

Reverend Strone
7 March 2002, 04:59 PM
There's also that one that goes,

"fools seldom differ".

I can't speak for the Darth, but I tend to suspect I fall a little more snugly into that category than the great minds one methinks.

7 March 2002, 09:07 PM
Sure, combat declarations are easy to limit by time. That's a trick that should be in every GM's little bag. If you don't have it yet, go get it and keep it handy. :)

But it sounds like this problem is happening more during the downtime, than in combat. That is, your party of low-powered neophite PCs needs to rid the planet of that stronghold full of mercenaries that have been raiding the outlying farming communities. They obviously need a plan, but how long do they get to come up with it?

I've got two methods that I use to handle these situations (ever since I was a PC in a DnD game where we debated storming the Ogre compound for TWO DAYS real time before we got around to it...) -

First, we pause the game. I tell the players "I'm going to go get a drink in the kitchen. Consider your options, you've got ten minutes then we need to move on, so don't waste your time." They know that our time together is limited, so it's not too harsh to limit the time, but I always do it up front, so I don't have to cut them off unexpectedly. Also, I sometimes go away during their discussion, so that when I return it signals "go time" for us.

The other concept comes from an old playwrite's axiom. "If the scene's getting slow or dull, have a man burst through the door with a gun." (<-- that's a really bad paraphrase, by the way)

I use something in game to motivate them, usually through information from an NPC. A few examples:

The military group is in the briefing room figuring out how to blast the pirate base. They're taking forever and not making any progress. So there's a tone, and a lowly junior officer pokes his head in. "Um, excuse me Sirs, but we've just gotten word from our listening post that the target is mobilizing their forces. It appears that our window of opportunity is closing faster than we thought."

It worked for Indiana Jones, too. How many times was Indy sitting around with one of his pals talking when some kid bursts into the room calling, "Indy! Indy! Come quick!!" ? :D

Episodes of Star Trek are pretty good at this, too. (please don't flog me) Slower scenes with plot driving conversations typically end with someone outside the conversation interrupting with information, or giving a status report, or something similar.

But you get the idea. Give the PCs the not-so-subtle hint that just because they're sitting on their butts talking in circles doesn't mean that the other side is wasting any time.

9 March 2002, 09:04 AM
Originally posted by Talonne Hauk
Whenever the party has to make a decision by committee, it takes them forever to come up with a plan of action, and it seriously eats into gametime.

This is something that I think every GM has to face at one time or another. While it does take several hours at times to run a 45 to 60 second fight (sometimes it does when not everyone is to up to date on rules), there is no reason why players should be given time to come up with a plan. In other words, why should someone who has less than a split second to decide how to get out of an ambush have time to coordinate with his or her friends on all their escape moves through ten minutes of panicked BSing? The answer is simple:

They as a team should plan ahead!

They should think of a retaliation plan in case of ambush.
They should know who the resident expert is for things such as fast talking, slicing, piloting, shooting stormtroopers..whatever. They should know who to scream for and fast. The party should know and the person should know what their specialty is...and they should all agree on certain plans before the poison arrows fall from the sky.

"Geek, front and center. Get me through this door and into the vault. Hurry!"

"Tank, shoot those bad guys if they come any closer!"

"Face, see if you can get us in to see Jabba."

"Maverick, stop playing sabaac! We need you up front in the pilot's seat."

Deciding plans and defining roles before hand can help them make the decisions they need to in a reasonable amount of time.

Now what should they do with things that are unexpected? They should do what their gut tells them to do, and they better do it fast. Most of the time there is not time to talk, so someone better act or they will all lose initiative. They should get one chance to act, and I believe in a count down....usually a three count. If they do not act (unless they are doing some type of delay), they should lose their initiative after the count of three. Lets be serious now....one...two...three....that is a very generous amount of time to decide an action. In real life, you best be quicker.

Talonne Hauk
9 March 2002, 09:51 PM
I played with my group tonight, and it went a lot smoother, in large part due to some of the great suggestions provided here. It also retaught me a very valuable lesson; that as a GM, I shouldn't be hesitant to crack the whip a little in order to improve the game. But also, simply taking a few minutes before the session started to discuss this with my players helped, because they realized their part in this, too. Thanks, everyone!

11 March 2002, 06:58 AM
I'm sure that these cases are all extreme cases of pc's taking their time, but I don't have a problem delaying the action while the party decides what to do. After all, this is an abstraction and often times, people are playing a character that is smarter than the player!

If it ever got really out of hand, I'd use an egg-timer... it's a bit less obtrusive and easy to use.

Good ideas, just remember the players may need to take that time occasionally!