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How to reduce down time in RPGs

ManyallalukManyallaluk Registered User new member
In a lot of pen & paper RPGs, there is a lot of down time. However in the table top world there are new-ish games finding ways to increase engagement. For example board games like 7 Wonders (everyone acts at once) or miniature games like Infinity (players can react to the current player).

Are there any systems or house rules people find effective at reducing down time or engaging players?

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    Hahnsoo1Hahnsoo1 Make Ready. We Hunt.Registered User regular
    edited June 2013
    I really think this is group-dependent. Some groups really don't mind downtime for their characters, and other groups relish downtime as a chance to roleplay some of the less prominent aspects of their character. Even board games suffer from downtime... 7 Wonders goes a lot slower when people suffer from Analysis Paralysis.

    It depends on what you are talking about in terms of downtime, too. My concept of downtime is "stuff that you do when you aren't adventuring".

    As far as house rules, I would highly recommend removing any roll-based mechanics during downtime and replacing them with something that can be easily calculated instead. This transforms an unknown variable into a known constant, and makes downtime a LOT easier and faster. For example, in Shadowrun 4th edition, nearly every task that takes time involves rolling a bunch of dice multiple times in a flawed mechanic known as the "Extended Test" (the worst thing to happen to the game, mechanics-wise). For downtime, our group simply prorated the time based on the 4 dice rolled = 1 hit mechanic, and assumed that the task never failed. If you wanted to "hurry up" the task, you can roll for it, but this really only happened during game sessions when we needed to build a cardboard tank really quickly or some other silly in-game "A-Team"-like task. Other examples for other game systems include rolling for adding enchantments to a magical item, or learning a new power or skill.

    During the game, encourage players to write down a to-do list. For example, if they find that they needed a specific spell that would be useful in this situation ("Dammit, invisibility would help right about now..."), then have the mage write down "To do: Learn invisibility magic". This gives them some easy goals to accomplish during their downtime later on. This is what I do when I'm a player ("God dammit, I could have used a Grappling Hook", "I should learn Mandarin Chinese"), and I find that I immediately know what to do with my downtime afterwards.

    You can also simply take away their choice. Some players don't like this, but there are ways to give them either the illusion of choice, or give them reasonable options while not taking away their autonomy. For example, you can say "Okay, after this run, each of you can raise a single skill by 1 point", without mentioning things like buying gear, learning a second class, or whatever. As much as I dislike Dungeons and Dragons, inverting the relationship between experience and level (you don't gain a level from raising a bunch of skills; you get a level, then you raise the skills afterwards) does exactly this, and helps reduce downtime. You can prepare options for the party after the adventure is over, but leave it open for players to come up with their own options. Gentle prompting (in terms of downtime options) is probably the easiest method of keeping it quick and easy for everyone involved.

    Another thing our gaming group does is maintain a group e-mail listserv (substitute any appropriate social media that you want), and we do our downtime when we're not in-game. We simply think about it over the week and post what we want to do on downtime by e-mail. Our lives are busy, and thus, this doesn't always work, but it helps with the downtime tremendously.

    If you are talking about downtime in terms of "One or two characters are off doing something on their own, and everyone else sits on their ass", then this is really about the GM's skill in managing multiple parties. I know that one of the cardinal rules of roleplaying games is "Don't split up the party", but in many games, this is completely necessary in order to maintain the narrative. The best option is to simply juggle back and forth between the separated parties, making sure that there isn't too much time where one party is just sitting. You can also utilize a "co-GM" to manage the 2nd party (which is absolutely necessary in larger groups anyway, assuming a party of 8 or more people), but this requires planning ahead and good teamwork for the GM team.

    EDIT: If you are talking about downtime, as in "This roleplaying system is slow, cumbersome, and boring.", I would highly suggest changing RP systems, or changing your style to reduce the amount of dice rolls. Dice-rolling, while a key feature of most roleplaying games, can be reduced in a lot of cases to speed up combat. For example, Initiative systems tend to add a bunch of unnecessary rolls to combat, bogging it down for the simple act of figuring out who goes in what order. You can just set all of the minions initiative to an arbitrary number, with the understanding that it is just there for expediting play. In Dungeons and Dragons, there is an optional rule to roll for Armor Class as well as To-Hit, and this magnifies the time wasted in combat by a significant amount. One of my favorite RPG systems, One Roll Engine, resolves combat and initiative with a single dice roll, which makes combat go significantly faster (ORE is excellent, by the way, and you should use it for pretty much any RPG setting).

    This isn't to say that dice are not important... I would argue that it is the most important aspect of Roleplaying games, as without the dice, you are just freeform acting and improving, like a bunch of flailing actors saying "Yes, and..." all the time. But much of the tedium of RPG combat comes from having a few too many dice rolls. You can have fun and engaging combat without rolling all of the dice required. Try cutting out the initiative rolls, or making damage rolls a static value rather than effectively a second roll to-hit.

    EDIT 2: Most importantly, if people are having fun, then you are doing NOTHING wrong. Again, some groups love downtime. You, as a GM, may not like it, but if the players are having fun and aren't feeling left out, then you have succeeded. No house rule in the world is needed if the players are enjoying themselves.

    EDIT 3: Another take on this problem would be Dogs in the Vineyard. They state upfront that you do not roll the dice unless you feel that the narrative should be different than what is being played. "Say yes, or pass the dice...", a variant on the whole improv mantra. I will say that this does work in some groups, but it tends to leave the introverts out of the game (people who tend to "Say yes" to anything going on, just to appease the group), and unfairly promotes the extroverts, or at least the more vocal members of the group (or the members who have had more training in drama or acting, at least). I like the tone of Dogs in the Vineyard, but I've seen first-hand how the attitude can alienate people who aren't necessarily looking for an improv acting course in their roleplaying game.

    Hahnsoo1 on
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    ManyallalukManyallaluk Registered User new member
    edited June 2013
    Hahnsoo1 wrote: »
    I really think this is group-dependent. Some groups really don't mind downtime for their characters, and other groups relish downtime as a chance to roleplay some of the less prominent aspects of their character. Even board games suffer from downtime... 7 Wonders goes a lot slower when people suffer from Analysis Paralysis.
    It depends on what you are talking about in terms of downtime, too. My concept of downtime is "stuff that you do when you aren't adventuring".

    Hahnsoo1, you are a writing beast!

    I should have clarified what I meant by "down-time." I was primarily referring to the turned based dynamic where one person is acting and everyone else is waiting. Analysis paralysis can slow down any game but the turn-based gameplay in D&D definitely exacerbates it.

    You brought up a lot of things that I had not considered. I intrigued by the 1 hit mechanic, inverse leveling and initiative resolution.

    Edit: I looked up ORE and I'm confused?

    Manyallaluk on
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    Hahnsoo1Hahnsoo1 Make Ready. We Hunt.Registered User regular
    Hahnsoo1 wrote: »
    I really think this is group-dependent. Some groups really don't mind downtime for their characters, and other groups relish downtime as a chance to roleplay some of the less prominent aspects of their character. Even board games suffer from downtime... 7 Wonders goes a lot slower when people suffer from Analysis Paralysis.
    It depends on what you are talking about in terms of downtime, too. My concept of downtime is "stuff that you do when you aren't adventuring".

    Hahnsoo1, you are a writing beast!

    I should have clarified what I meant by "down-time." I was primarily referring to the turned based dynamic where one person is acting and everyone else is waiting. Analysis paralysis can slow down any game but the turn-based gameplay in D&D definitely exacerbates it.

    You brought up a lot of things that I had not considered. I intrigued by the 1 hit mechanic, inverse leveling and initiative resolution.

    Edit: I looked up ORE and I'm confused?
    One Roll Engine is a roleplaying system by Arc Dream Publishing. It's typically abbreviated to ORE, and it's a generic system that is applied toward all of their roleplaying games. They make Godlike (World War II historical Supers game), Delta Green (Call of Cthulhu setting), Monsters and other Childish Things (roleplay as a monster under the bed!), and other games. Godlike is probably their most famous game, and it won a whole bunch of awards about a decade ago. You roll 1-10 d10, and look for matching sets. The number listed on the dice, and the number of matching dice determine various factors in dice resolution. It runs a heck of a lot faster than most other dice-based RPGs. In combat, everyone simply states what they are going to do, rolls simultaneously, and you just read the dice and run the combat in the appropriate order. But that's ORE, and it's probably a different RPG system than you are familiar with.

    Inverse leveling just refers to the fact that in Dungeons and Dragons, you "gain a level", then you get a bunch of skills and abilities based on your class. Level originally represented a relative magnitude of power compared between entities. For example, you'd assign a level by looking at a creature/hero's skills and abilities and estimate an overall power level. In DnD, getting a level grants you those abilities, straight up, instead. It's a concept that's so basic to roleplaying games, that most people don't even think about it. Many roleplaying games don't have levels, and instead organically assign points to various skills and abilities as the character grows. If we really used the word "level" as a calibrating tool, than Aragorn, the ranger/lost heir in Lord of the Rings (most people would say he's level 15 or more), would be no greater than level 4.

    The genius of the mechanic is that it brings downtime to a bare minimum for character progression (specifically... downtime can be slower for other reasons, of course). The downside is that it does not represent an accurate modeling of character growth. You will never "gain a level" in computer programming, then suddenly learn all the skills and knowledge needed to be the next level of computer programmer, for example. But again, it's a hell of a lot easier.

    I think you should talk about the context by which your games feel like they are slow, and what system you are using. Some systems are slower for a reason. Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 edition, for example, takes longer than, say, 4th edition, but there are aspects of combat that they try to model that extend the length of combat (Attacks of Opportunity, being the main one). It brings satisfaction from the tactical aspects, but it does make turn resolution a lot slower.

    One mechanic that I've used in Dungeons and Dragons in particular is simply take out damage and initiative rolls entirely. Set a damage value for the weapons, use some sort of scaling mechanic to give a bonus to damage based on your to-hit roll. It's faster, but I think it's less satisfying. It is DnD, and in DnD, people have the expectation of rolling to hit, then rolling for damage (a speedier way is simply rolling the d20 and the damage dice simultaneously... if you don't hit, the damage dice mean nothing, but if you do hit, you use the damage that is rolled). Initiative is easier to take out. You can simply use a deck of index cards with the PCs/NPCs names on them and shuffle. Give each player a token based on their DEX, which allows them to move up and down the chain if they don't like the order. Most people really don't care about initiative aside from the first round.

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    DirtmuncherDirtmuncher Registered User regular
    My cure for analysis paralysis in any game is a hourglass.
    You shouldnt be thinking minutes on something that has to be done in 6 seconds in D&D time.

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    PrimePrime UKRegistered User regular
    edited June 2013
    The type of down time your talking about I only really come across in combat. My suggestion here is a +1/+2 damage bonus (or something else) to attacks if the player has his move planed and ready by the time it gets to him. Non combat tends to flow really well at our table. So if its the RP side of things hold you back are you planning out the adventures/encounters or winging it? Do you keep lists of names/descriptions to hand? little things like this can save lots of "uhmmm one sec" time from the DM

    Initiative cards to hand out to people so they know who goes when worked well for us.

    Dont level up characters in a session, this should always be post session or during a lunch break.

    Prime on
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