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Now this may seem like the opposite of a problem at first but bear with me.

I've been DMing for my group for the past 6 months and so far it's been an absolute blast — all of us have been loving it! However, I'm a little worried we're burning through all my story really quickly. I'd like the campaign to last a fair while and it feels like we're just tearing through chunks of the story. This isn't exactly a bad thing and everyone is really enjoying it, but I'm just wondering if there are any ways to slow sessions down a little bit?

Our sessions are generally 4 to 5 hours long and in that time, the party gets through a whole heap of stuff that really I would like to have spread out over a couple of sessions instead.

Campaign Details

As it's been requested, here are some details on the campaign I'm running:

  • Open World with a main story in the background
  • Players generally follow the story plus their backstory arcs when the time comes
  • Of the 3 pillars, they mostly seem to enjoy combat but interaction and socialising is a close second
  • In each session plan, I have anywhere between 2 and 5 combat encounters, as well as several places they can visit, NPCs to talk to, etc
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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you considered just doing another campaign after that one? There's nothing wrong with going through the story at a good solid pace. Has anyone expressed displeasure with the situation? Isn't everything OK? \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 25 '16 at 12:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener Yeah another campaign is definitely an option! No, everything is fine, I would just personally like to slow things down just a little. \$\endgroup\$ – Jamie Brace Oct 25 '16 at 12:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi there, could you a little more detail as to what kind of campaigns you're running? Which "pillar of rpg-ing" are they heaviest in? How many sections/goals/areas/whatever and per whatever, how many encounters? \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Oct 25 '16 at 13:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ It took a lot of self-control for me not to answer with "play with my group." \$\endgroup\$ – Polisurgist Oct 26 '16 at 2:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Red Herrings. Create something that will grab their attention, and create the environment for them to investigate, but it doesn't have to lead anywhere. Just something for them to go "Huh. That was cool". \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Oct 26 '16 at 6:49
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More combat.

A combat encounter is generally much slower than a role playing or exploration encounter. More doesn't necessarily mean more in quantity - more complex encounters with more enemies (of lower individual power) and more tactical options due to environmental effects are good too.

More story

Make your story bigger.

  1. Deeper in the sense that there is more background exposition: so long as this involves player interaction - there is nothing more boring than being read at by your DM.
  2. Broader in the sense that the story has multiple threads, some of which are red herrings or dead ends but several of which are parallel paths - of course, this does mean preparing stuff the players won't see. That is, in this campaign: store it in your good ideas folder for future use.
  3. Longer in the sense of, well, longer. There is just more stuff between the beginning and the end. Be careful with managing the tempo so this doesn't just turn into a grind.

Less story

Yep, less. Insert adventures/encounters that have nothing to do with the main story but develop the world and/or the characters. Good fiction is rarely linear: why should the fiction you and your players create be?

More campaigns

Just finish this one and start another. A campaign that actually reaches a conclusion is better than one that peters out due to lack of interest or real world interference.

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    \$\begingroup\$ this is a fantastic answer, thank you! I won't accept straight away as per Stack tradition, but even so! \$\endgroup\$ – Jamie Brace Oct 25 '16 at 12:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ The last point is so true. Nice answer all around, as usual. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 25 '16 at 12:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you accept suggestions to add stuff to the answer: Downtime. Shopping, decyphering magic or ancient language, an item that's broken, and they need someone to repair it. Give them freetime, give them little off-story tasks, improvise a little, and off you go. \$\endgroup\$ – Punkgeon Oct 25 '16 at 12:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 that's not entirely coincidental: I've read it. Along with the Alexandrian's node structure, it helped clarify my own thoughts. \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Oct 25 '16 at 21:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 Usual bad-language warning for Angry GM. \$\endgroup\$ – Ladifas Oct 26 '16 at 15:46
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How to slow down the story depends on the group as much as it depends on you. What do your players like? Give them more of that! The following answers are ways my parties tend to slow down playing, but depending on the playstyle they might not work for you at all.

Everyday life

I had parties who could simply play around in a tavern for hours with ordering food, trying themselves out in dueling and trying (and failing) to woo somebody. Some players can really enjoy these scenes which have nothing to do with the campaign, so if your group likes these things, give them an opportunity. It doesn't matter if it's an encounter in the local tavern, some hard-to-bribe guardsman, a circus troupe or even looking for sufficient clothes, for some players these small everyday things are a great opportunity for roleplaying. Even if stuff is everyday stuff for the characters, it might not be everyday stuff for the players.

Planning

The other way to slow down the game is The Plan. Because if you give free reign to your players to make a plan and give them resources to have actual opportunities, my experience is that they will plan. And they will plan. And you will find yourself telling them to get going because their plan to get intel about a local noble includes staging a kidnapping by convincing the local church to go against the feudal lord. Overplanning is a big problem in keeping the game going sometimes, so if you want to slow down a game, give your players an objective, some resources and no limitations and see what they will come up with.

Combat

Combat can slow down play considerably, and a few well executed, tactical combat encounters can take up some major time in a session. While random encounters are not everybody's cup of tea, they can work to slow down the adventurers a bit.

Random encounters

Not every session has to be a close part of the campaign. Every now and then things do happen which are not connected to main plot. Be it a small problem in a village, a weapon stolen from the party or simply something strange in the neighborhood having a session or two to rest and do something not connected to the plot can help you with the pacing.

Finish the campaign

Don't be afraid to end the campaign, and don't try to make it longer than it feels like. Players like to have a conclusion to small and bigger arcs, and ending a campaign doesn't mean the end of the adventures. The characters can relocate, find new goals, get called to serve again or simply choose to retire. An unfinished campaign is something most people dislike immensely, while a satisfying conclusion is one of the best parts of a campaign as a DM or a player.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Please do provide a full answer to the question. Tack-on answers that go "oh and this" and add one more thing, are ultimately just suggesting only one thing -- how can we upvote that as the best solution? At least give a summary of the approaches you're recommending, and see if you can expand on what's already been said or have alternative recommendations on handling them. It may help to consider: what would you say if Dale M's answer was going to be deleted tomorrow? (Consider this meta for further reading behind this: meta.rpg.stackexchange.com/q/3326/1204) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 25 '16 at 13:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Great answer with very useful tips, especially about not being afraid to finish the campaign. \$\endgroup\$ – Trilarion Oct 27 '16 at 8:16
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Other people have given some good answers but I'll throw in a few thoughts on the matter myself.

The obvious answer would be to not slow down at all. If your players are blowing through your content and come back every week (two weeks, month, whatever) for more, that means you're doing a kick-ass job at keeping them engaged and playing. Slowing down might lead to them losing interest and you losing the momentum you've created.

Campaigns have a tendency to end in one of two ways. Either they end well, usually with a satisfying conclusion, or they just peter out untill they finally stop. You want to be in that first category.

Now, on to some actual practical advice because sometimes you need some tips and tricks for stalling out a game.

NPCs

Good or at the very least interesting NPCs with some sort of goal or motivation are fantastic for slowing play down. Having a crazy old man, tavern wench with a chip on her shoulder, enigmatic elven wanderer, pompous mayor, and more show up and harass the PCs with their daily problems, side-quests or just some fun lore about the area is perfect for giving you some extra time to play around.

These kinds of speedbumps are a great way to give your players a bit of extra content in the form of a side-quest or an extra bit of lore for the lore-hounds among them. And if you do it right, you're creating NPCs that players will latch on to, come back to and build relationships with that will also give you more content.

Encourage Personal Goals

In addition to making characters more interesting, characters having personal goals give you tons of material to work with. I always encourage at least some level of personal quest building because it makes the players that much more involved in the world. As a bonus, it gives you a great means of judging what they want to see in a game.

In my current game, one of the PCs is trying to get herself crowned king of the elven empire. As a goal, it's pretty big in scope but it tells me the player wants to see more of the elves, more of their culture, more of their way of succession and so on.

Mysteries without answer

Putting some sort of either unsolvable or hideously obscure mystery in your game is guaranteed to take up a heap of time during play. However, you have to be careful not to make it too frustrating. Ideally, this mystery is enticing but not critical to the main story so it can't bog down or break your entire campaign. Perhaps half of all the elves left at some point. It's mysterious and weird but probably not critical. Maybe they left a load of clues as to where they went and the players can pick up on the story and learn what happened.
You don't need an answer to what this means or why it happened when you introduce it. Let the players learn about it and use their reactions to guide this particular mystery in a satisfying direction.

Think more in terms of audio-logs or easter-eggs than actual story points but important enough to make players seek it out.

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The way I handle pacing is by providing my players with lots of options, lots of red herrings, and lots of interesting background noise. For example, when they are walking through town, they might overhear a rumor or two about the Mage's Guild having a new headmaster, and the old headmaster dying suddenly. They might similarly know that there's been a recent crackdown on duels in the city, or any other handful of things (many of which have nothing to do with the plot as I intended it, but are fun little things to flesh out the world...take notes of the rumors you do mention, in case you want to use them).

The net effect of this is that the players might go an a few adventures or investigate a few leads that have nothing to do with my overarching story, but provide them with some interesting background into the world. If i want to nudge them closer to the story I can drop more hints into the main storyline (say, the overarching story is that the head of the mage's guild is a LT. of the BBEG, but the players start looking into the noble's restrictions on duelling instead. During their investigation, they might find a note from someone in the mage's guild encouraging the restriction, which will lead them back to where I want them).

The best part is when players make some kind of really odd connection that makes sense, but you didn't plan. Since you're the DM, you can retcon your notes and make it so that whatever they thought is actually true (or not, but leads them somewhere you want them to be).

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