When I was writing the Are Your Games Too Long? post I wanted to dive into this subject as part of it. I didn’t because it would muddy the waters a bit. So if you’re thinking of running shorter games or you just want to keep the players thinking about playing, here’s a way to keep the game going after you get up from the table.
First let’s acknowledge what sitting everyone down at the table is good for. Table time is the best place to handle rules heavy content. Normally this would be combat. My thinking is, keep the rules heavy parts of your game there. Don’t mess with it.
Now, there are also parts of the game that don’t really use a lot of rules but take up a lot of time. The biggest example of this is social interaction. There may be some bluffing rolls or intimidation rolls but they’re not used all the time. There’s also less of a turn structure when in a social situation. Players planning is also an example of a low rule part of the game.
In these situations with the right framing by the GM, the game could keep going even after everyone has got up and left. For instance, the PCs are in the town resupplying and healing up, they also know that the townsfolk know little bits about what’s been going on so they really want find out what each one of them know. At the table, as a GM, I would normally summarize what a group of the townsfolk know because role playing a large number of encounters with people who don’t really know much would be frustrating. If you take away the pressure to get the game going because the interviews are taking too long and spread it over a week, the role playing situation changes. Now you can hand the players small obscure clues, they can think about them and discuss them. The time consuming becomes intriguing.
So how can you implement this? After a game session, we all go our separate ways. Maybe you see people from your game group, maybe you don’t. How can you keep it going? One, people have to live their lives too so keeping it going can’t interfere with everyday life. Second you don’t want someone to have an idea about the game and have to sit on it for too long. You want them to think of the idea, carry it out and then keep going.
My solution for this is the humble text message. When a player wants to tell the GM or other players something, they pull out their phone and send a quick message. The GM gets the message and play moves along, slowly, but it’s moving. Having the right social contract for this kind of play is also important. Most groups will probably want to enforce the understanding that you don’t have to reply right away to a game text. This is where interfering with real life comes into play. Replies will come when the recipient has time to respond, expect it to take a while.
Some people may want to use twitter as a similar tool but that would need everyone in the game to have access to twitter. Most players will have access to a phone that can text.
A few shorthand rules can be useful. Putting a simple “g” at the beginning of the text will also help the recipient to process this text is about the game. They then can read it or store it for later. Agree on shorthands that will work for your game and the options for what the players can do in these away sessions will open up considerably.
The format will be different. There are new challenges to playing like this but when used in the right scenes, it can also open up possibilities that are hard to carry out around the table. For one, players might have more patience for little details. They have more time to mull over puzzles. They may also think more laterally about problems because the pressure to keep moving isn’t there.
GMs will have to think about who they’re not hearing from. Some players could easily dominate play this way and other will be lost. If the GM sends a clue to a player that they haven’t heard from, it may get them involved.
Playing over text message will take adjusting how you structure you games. It may take some thinking to get used to the idea. Try it out and let me know how it went in the comments.