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What are good ways to make my sessions move faster and my plot to develop quicker?

I like to keep a balance between roleplay and dungeoncrawling, and don't mind spending hours in a dungeon on purely hack n slash adventures or at a city-based political conflict. But my new group is terribly slow both at plot development and strategic decisions. They spend hours discussing smal things, like if it's better to get in the front door or backdoor from the lord's mansion, or if they should cross the bridge or swim through the river. Similarly, they check rules repeatedly to decide what combat maneuver to do or what spell to use, and combat goes as slow as half an hour per turn.

They all have a lot of fun with the game and are very happy with the campaign, and they don't agree with my complaints that the plot advancement is too slow.

What I really need are some key tips to make the game seamless faster, without changing much of the mood of the game. How can I push them, and myself, to a quicker pace?

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1) Don't.

Seriously. If everyone is having fun, let them.

That said, you are also a player. If you're not having fun and really need to move things along in order to have fun...

2) Interrupt

The joke is "suddenly, ninjas attack!" But interrupting with something new and unexpected can move things along.

"Suddenly, rough men push into the bar. They see you and one of them points at you. "There they are! Get them!" They rush to attack you, clearly intending to do you harm."

"The phone rings. Your [father/sister/ex-wife/old college roommate] pleads for help, then the line goes dead."

"As you sit outside debating whether to go in through the front or the back, the front door opens and the wizard steps outside. He asks, "Are you going to be long? Because I have shopping to do." He crosses his arms impatiently.

"While you're debating the best way to attack the camp, you hear clash of steel on steel and shouts coming from the camp!"

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They're having fun!

First off, congratulations on having fun with your group! They're having fun, and that's the important part. You should let your players know that you want them to move more quickly, and therefore you will be changing their social contract to reflect this. Any change you make must preserve a lot of the fun. If the overall amount of fun decreases, that's a bad thing. Now for solutions:

Enforce Timing!

Not every situation allows for players (or their characters) to plan things. Sometimes there is a time limit, like in combat, or when a room is filling up with sand/water. You may have to say things like "you've taken too long with your turn, so your character is just defending himself/herself, trying to think of what they should do."

This could also translate into implementing the house-rule that debate time translates into in-world debate time, and that any points brought up by the players will be brought up in the course of their character's conversation. If they spend a half hour debating how to approach a problem, so do their characters. Such debates will can have repercussions on their characters.

Dynamic Situations

The situation can change as they're talking about it. If they're talking about how to sneak into the governor's mansion, have a guard walk by, or have them learn from a town cryer about how so-and-so is facing imprisonment because they went in the back. Maybe when they get there, they see the back door has been bricked over. It changed because they took too long.

Perhaps the most potent use of dynamic situations is when other characters in the world fix or alter the problem while they're debating. I've had a friend do this, simply because his players could not decide what to do. Some NPCs got the gold/glory/credit while the player characters realized they missed their chance. I do recall that they became much more expeditious thereafter.

Reward Quick Actions

Challenge a player or players to make rash choices, or when someone does act quickly, they get extra XP. Even if it isn't the most ideal or tactical choice, reward it because it happened fast! That may make people move along.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I like the 'They missed their chance and someone else did it' idea \$\endgroup\$ – Razaard Aug 18 '14 at 12:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ As much as I like the idea, as a Pathfinder player in Rise of the Runelords, more than once we were harshly punished for rushing things too much (traps in our face, no strategy during combat ending in almost death, forced to flee from a boss battle because she buffed herself a lot and we did not take time to think about how to deal with her or if we even should go head first into danger, and so many other things...). Our last game session lasted 8 hours, we did only three combats (including a boss) and a bit of investigation. We took time to think and to prepare and it did us good. \$\endgroup\$ – Eregrith May 19 '15 at 8:55
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Sounds like your group is possibly slow to pick up on clues.

When they come to a decision making point, either determining where to go, how to progress the story, or other non-combat roadblock, you will need to motivate them. Slowly retell a summary of the events that led up to this point, perhaps a key event, person, place, or thing that they might not be actively thinking about. Don't flat out give them the answer, simply get their thinking process started.

When plotting out strategic decisions in advance, let them take their time. That's what planning is for. If you're actively in combat, remind them that a round is roughly six seconds and they need to act more swiftly. If they continue to eat up large blocks of game time plotting the events of a six second action, consider skipping their turn and coming back to them next round, since they're currently busy planning. Give them a sense of consequence for inaction.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ They are terribly slow picking clues. They skip every important bit of information if delivered smoothly, and get stuck overthinking about random unimportant details. \$\endgroup\$ – Razaard Aug 18 '14 at 12:57
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Before you use the techniques below, you need to explain to the players that you would like to speed things up a bit and that it is OK if they don't always get the best possible strategy in a situation.

If the players hate the idea then think again, you may have the sort of group that likes ponderous play. Perhaps suggest playing this way for a few sessions because they might like this too.

Tell the players that they have X minutes to collectively make up their mind

Perhaps not appropriate for your group, but helpful to others! When the time runs out then stuff will start happening around them as if they are not there. Start a stop watch (say on a cellphone) and put it where everyone can see it. If they are still fussing, start adding modifiers, making it more difficult for them to achieve it.

Have dice and stats at hand before combat

Looking through books and character folios takes time. Have them open and ready. Photocopy out common combat spells so there is little reference.

Let them be late to the party

Use this one sparingly. If the players take a long time planning (after you've warned them), when they show up to the event, have it in a state that it's already progressed. If goblins are raiding a village, then the village should be on fire when they arrive, most of the goblins having already cleared off. There is still a fight, still people to save but it's not the joyous win they might have hoped.

Reward them if they are early

Opposed to the one above, you can let them steal a march on the enemy by not fussing and being early. I would make the rewards narrative, to make their victory sweeter or give them new allies.

Drive with a friendly NPC

Inserting an NPC on the player's side can give them a bit of motivation. The NPC can then be used to "do things first" to help scrub possibilities off the many connotations of plans. I also use NPCs to do the silly stuff the more risk-averse players are afraid to.

Drive with a neutral NPC

When dealing with NPCs that are not on the side of the players, it can be useful for them to be impatient. The village blacksmith "hasn't got all day!".

Give an in-game time limit

If untold evil comes out after dark, the party might feel pressed to get into shelter when the sky turns orange. You can do this by giving clues while they're planning. "The sun is behind the clock tower", "The clouds have turned orange" etc. Subtle hints are the way to go, it's up to them to make the logical connection.

You (as a GM) must be ready

Have all your events, encounters and stuff ready beforehand. If you slow the game down, then there's nothing the players can do. The more organised you are, the easier it is to keep the players busy.

Talk faster

As the GM, if you get excited and talk faster then they will too. You might stumble over words, that's OK, the action demands roughness! If I know a certain section is coming before the session, I will write it down in notes. That way, when I come to it, the words are already in my head.

Have the next plot hook dangling

If the players know what to do next, they're much better at getting on with it. Even in a sandbox game, you can offer a broad number of obvious choices for the players to do. If they don't feel like they have group (or personal) objectives then they will tend to lag. This can be difficult in a dungeon crawl where the objective is loot. The loot's not going anywhere!

Make the plots interesting

If the plots are interesting, the players will be desperate to find out how it ends. They will force the game along to find out what happens next.

Drive plot between sessions

If you can, the downtime between sessions is really useful to wet the appetite of the players. When they get to the session, they will want to find out what's next. Use the downtime to dangle little tidbits of information that they can't discover without being in-game.

Help them make choices

Where appropriate, you can give them advice. Particularly when buying stuff as that can take ages. Your knowledge of the game books can help suggest the place to find the right sword or the most appropriate armour.

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Q: What are good ways to make my sessions move faster?

A: Escalate the consequences as they ponder.

For example, the party is debating the front or rear door entrance. Tell them "A nightly patrol is seen off in the distance. It will be here in just a couple minutes." If they continue debating past a couple minutes, "the patrol warns your target of a danger tonight. The guard at the front door is visibly doubled."

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This is somewhat a different kind of "How to make play faster" question than most people ask- if they're having fun, and you simply want the plot to move faster (not necessarily each individual scene in play), you have a pretty simple answer to work with...

Plot Density

Many games, go clue/fight, clue/fight, clue/fight to conclusion right? Make sure that each step of the way is MORE information dense. Instead of getting a clue to an aspect, give them a whole side of a story - a lot more useful information. Stick to more meaningful fights.

They'll still take just as long processing, but you'll get through more plot.

If they're not having fun, or if you decide that the game they want to play and the game you want to run are totally different, then you can start looking at other solutions, but if you are otherwise happy with play and just want the larger campaign/story arc issues to move faster, just load up each location/character as pushing things along further while cutting out the less relevant encounter/clue/locations.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ For me, the problem with this is that they don't get enough experience. I wanted them to level up and made a random encounter last session, it was an easy fight but took us over 2hrs to go through. Maybe I'll have to stick to low level adventures \$\endgroup\$ – Razaard Aug 18 '14 at 13:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ XP progression is a very different situation than plot progression. You know that fights do not have to be the only or even primary way to get XP, right? You can simply set them up by goals completed or increase the XP per encounter instead. You should nearly never use random encounters w/that kind of group - it eats up too much time and is too randomized for the effect. OTOH, if the fight itself is eating up too much time, that may be system based or players interacting WITH the system (choices, etc.) \$\endgroup\$ – user9935 Aug 18 '14 at 16:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah it was not completely random (they entered war territory, a 'dangerous road' and ended up being attacked), It was just not necessarilly important to the plot. I could have used some XP for them but I wont do it again. And as i described, non combat situations also take a long time to develop, I do reward them for it but it takes forever too \$\endgroup\$ – Razaard Aug 18 '14 at 18:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ So: 1) They're totally having fun with it. 2) You're not having fun with it as far as pacing. Right? As I mentioned, you should consider if the game they want to play is the game you want to run. \$\endgroup\$ – user9935 Aug 18 '14 at 18:25

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