Most events have lulls in the gameplay. You can’t keep everyone actively engaged all the way through a weekend without them getting to the point that they can’t cope, that they stop caring and they’re too exhausted to have fun. Often you want people to have a chance to talk about what’s going on, and to work out where to go next. Giving them options and moral balances are good. A perfect victory is in my mind vastly less awesome – especially when it’s easily won.
My quiet periods tend to be Saturday afternoon and then at about 2130hrs. The second one is a killer for some games. If I get to 2230hrs and I haven’t found a reason to go and explore the woods, or something I need to actively do, rather than just talk about, then I’ll go to bed at 2300hrs and miss the best bits of the game. I’m aware it happens then I try and fight it, but that’s when I go to sleep and if there’s no reason not to then I end up struggling to stay awake. The overnight stuff is typically awesome and I have no problems if I can be awake and active at 2300hrs.
When writing an event we try and identify our lulls. Saturday afternoon is a major one for us here at Mandala LRP. We like using large monsters and visual set scenes and these inevitably look better in the dark. We have to write plot that doesn’t use them during the day, and will normally have a second and third plot line to help bolster player engagement at this stage of a game.
Along its length a plot line will occupy a variable number of players. It might start off low as a small number of players meet someone away from the others. It might build as there are strange effects from the thing they brought back from that encounter, leading to a large number returning to the place they found the other, while those left behind get their own little bit of stuff. It might get small. Most players are sorting other things, but one has found a book and three of them are trying to decode some information and you could have a plot go completely quiet while other distracting stuff occurs. We always have an idea how many of our players are going to be occupied doing what at each point if they play out as we expect and for some of the most likely alternatives actions they could take. We normally have reserve plot waiting in case our numbers are completely off and we need to bring something else in. Often it’s seeded before the game, but only used if it will add to the situation.
Depending on the game, it’s normally okay to have these quiet patches. A lot of ongoing games need time and space for the players to run things that make their world theirs, for example, tournaments and political meetings. This tends to work better at larger games than smaller ones. If you only have 20 players then they have much less potential to amuse each other than if you have 400 players. It’s worth being aware of the rogue players that might need something to stop them just wanting to go to bed, but equally for a lot of players they actually like a game that lets them go away at 2300hrs and get a full night’s sleep. You need to know your audience, and also know what game you’ve pitched.
The other issue with being too aware of a particular lull is that you start to expect it and you end up with a formulaic response. We were fighting not to resort to the same solution every time we can across one. If you always have the B-plot taking up that gap your game starts feeling samey and predictable from event to event. If you’re always getting the same lulls in your game it probably suggests that you’re running something similar every time and that you need to mix things up a bit and rethink how you’re timetabling your plot. This was certainly the case with our games at Mandala – but now we’ve recognised that we’re working to combat it.