Pacing is a tricky skill to get down right. A lot of factors go into making sure a session is paced right, and it often has to be adjusted on the fly more than pre-planned. Mess up your pacing, and you'll end up spending 6 sessions on something that should only take half of a session. Alternatively, you'll rush through something and miss all the nuance you wanted in the scene. Today, I want to talk about that.
Good pacing is a wonderful thing. It helps set the mood and tone for what is going on in the game. It keeps the action going. And it makes a session feel like enough happened in it. So what goes into having good pacing? Three big things:
1) How much time do you have?
2) How frantic do you need to get?
3) Do you have places you can slow things down?
Let's go into those separately.
How Much Time Do You have?
By this I mean you, out of character and in real life, how much time do you have? If you only have 1 session, then that means you need to get everything done in one session. It's no good sending everyone on a side mission because someone is missing session only to have to shoe horn said person into the middle of that side mission.
Once you know how much time you have, prepare with that in mind. If you have 4 hours, figure out about how much play each thing will take. If you have a combat, plan at least an hour for the combat.
Generally, when I have a time limit like this I like to break the session down into chunks. If I have 4 hours, I'll break the adventure down into 4ths. By the end of the first hour, I need to be at this point - or hurry things along to it. By the end of the second hour I need to be here. By the end of the third hour, things should be right at the climax. By the end of the 4th hour, things should be done.
Having these guide posts lets me tweak the pacing as I'm going forward. If we're 30 minutes in and not half way to the first check point, I know I need to skip some stuff to get the game back on track. If we're 30 minutes in and almost at the checkpoint, I can slow it down some and maybe add some complications.
This is especially important for one shots and convention games where you may never get to finish the adventure and can't go over time. But it's just as useful with a regular game.
How Frantic Will Things Get?
How high octane and adrenaline are things getting? This is more an in character consideration. As the action gets faster, details should become less and everything should move faster. During a chase scene you don't want to be giving super detailed descriptions, just enough to give a sense of speed to what is going on.
You want to know where things will be the most frantic and the most high paced. Why? because that is the point where your GMing needs to be the fastest. To sell the mood you need to be running the game at a high pace when things get to that high pace. And slow it down when not.
A Place To Slow Down?
Pacing can affect tension, and like tension you want to have breaks from high speed. Have some places built where you can slow things down and give people a chance to breathe. Some points of slow pacing to counter the fast paces is good, and necessary. Run things too fast, ratchet the tension too high, and you'll just wear everyone out. That's fine if it is what you're going for, but deadly if you need the players and PCs to hold out for longer.
How To Go Fast
Finally, going fast often means throwing out the rulebook. I don't mean you don't have rules. I mean that you rely more on rulings. You don't have time to look up how to handle something when you need the action going fast and furious. If you think a question will come up, prepare for the answer. If you get surprised, go with your gut and move on. Keep things going!