More on Bad GMs : When it goes on too long

I want to continue my thoughts on managing your GM. Today I want to focus specifically on when you’re stuck at the game table too long. I find that in 4e, the two biggest users of time are combat and debating what to do. In our games we also spend a lot of time chit-chatting, and sometimes the games run too long because we want to reach a particular milestone or good stopping point, i.e. the “just 5 more minutes…” scenario. But in general these are good problems to have.  The tipping point for me was the DM’s challenge game I played in at PAX.  There we were held hostage until 1:30 AM, when I was ready for bed by 11.

There’s a lot a GM can do set the pace of an adventure and if it goes poorly, sometimes it’s his fault. But to be fair just as often it’s the fault of the players, and sometimes it’s just the nature of the game. In the case when GM is in a position to move the game a long, here are some suggestions to help him out so you can get home at  a reasonable hour:

You can encourage the GM to call a combat if it is going on too long. There comes a time in a 4e combat when you’ve got two guys left, they’re surrounded, and it’s only a matter of time to wear them down. This is the long slog and for many people (me included) it’s not a lot of fun. Players and GMs may be disinclined to call the combat at this point.  In some ways declaring victory feels premature or like it’s cheating, and we all want to feel like we’ve earned the victory.  Additionally, a GM may have motivation for wanting to wear the players down, to use up consumables and healing surges before the next battle. Also ending the combat early removes a chance, however slight, of player death. When you’ve reached the long slog, suggest to the DM that maybe he should call it so you can get to on the rest of the adventure. Feel free to bargain: offer to exchange hit points or healing surges to exchange for what you would have lost. In that PAX game, I got our DM to agree to call a combat once all the enemies were bloodied. That was followed by a few more frustrating rounds, but we got there and were then able to move on. Alternatively maybe the GM could award everyone automatic hits, that way there’s still random damage and a chance of death, but you won’t be delayed by waiting three turns to hit. A similiar strategy is to ask the DM for some random bonuses, like the @Wizards_DnD encounters tweets (#dndenc): they’re like a bonus +1 (not game changing, but gives 5% increase to hit).  I’ve been trying to get my DM to accept them during the game, but so far, no luck.

That should hopefully take care of the encounter speed. I’d be interested in hearing of other player strategies. There’s a lot a DM can do control the pace of a combat through monster/terrain choice, but those are pretty much out of our hands!

When it comes to the other type of encounter: skill challenges (or no-challenge RP), time can be wasted deciding what to do–or worse, coming up with suggestions and having your DM tell you that your decisions are invalid. Here you could try a “c’mon man, throw us a freakin’ bone!” to get the GM to give you hints. If the available options aren’t obvious, it’s possible her puzzle is too obscure. Ask if you can use any of the knowledges or insight to divine a course of action, or ask her to supply you with some options (not all of them have to have good outcomes). If the issue isn’t that you’re unable to come up with fruitful actions, but rather you can’t decide between players, you can try to get some more information out of the DM to help make that decision, or at least get her to acknowledge you’re deadlocked and could use a hint. This doesn’t happen very often, but I’ve found that GMs that want to watch you struggle aren’t inclined to give you hints, either. At a game I played at PAX, I basically wore down the DM by whining, but really he shouldn’t have let it get to that point. In my weekly game, each player gets a “free reroll” chit each night; I wonder if players (maybe one per party) get a “hint token” each session to exchange for such situations. Or maybe just a freebie divine guidance ritual.

In the “just  5 more minutes” situation, this seems like a good problem to have: you’re having too much fun to stop, even if you’re really, really tired. I previously had a post with great suggestions in the comments for stopping mid-game, so that could help there. When you’re playing a con game or 1-shot, there’s no next game, so it’s best to remember why you’re there. It’s tough socially but sometimes you have to walk away from the table. It’s douche-y to do this at exactly when the allotted time is up, but certainly there’s no need to be chained there hours after it was supposed to end. Besides, it’ll give the DM a clear message to plan better next time.

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One thought on “More on Bad GMs : When it goes on too long

  1. Pacing – the most underrated GM skill ever. I didn’t do this so much when I was DMing our group because it was a different kind of narrative experience than my typical games that I GM but this is one of those areas where, as a GM, I reach into my Teacher’s Bag of Tricks.

    In this case: keep a watch on the table behind your screen, or next to your notes, or somewhere else where you can keep an eye on it without it interrupting the flow. Plan ahead of time how much time you want to spend on exposition, development, climax, and denouement. And stick to it; if the opening action scene is running long, tie it up. If the middling planning session is dragging out, introduce an in-game factor that indicates to the players that they’re running out of time, etc.

    This is more difficult in 4E where things are more rigidly structured which limits the fluidity with which a DM can change the pace of a game, but your suggestions are good ones not just for players, but for DMs to pack in their toolkits. Along with a watch.

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