deserttrooper One of the things that marks my GMing style is the fact that I try to keep my games nice and tight and avoid unnecessary distractions. If something that my players are trying to do is easy enough to accomplish, I let them succeed at it. Shopping trips happen off screen unless there is an interaction of importance or the players feel like it would be fun to play it out. Generally, this has served me well and created very fun sessions that focus on the cool things the players do instead of the minutia and details that aren’t that important.  One downside this causes is that I tend to rush the endings. The players are so close, the final battle is just around the corner and we’ve got about 45 minutes left…

But then things take longer than expected, the players spend a good chunk of time planning and I didn’t want to interrupt them, and once they are done with the battle we’re 15 to 30 minutes over and people have to rush home. Since I want to end the story and start with the next arc when we meet again, I usually end up rushing through the denouement. But the other day I came up with an idea to kill 2 birds with one stone.


Give The Players The Option To End One Scene Early

Sometimes, no matter what, some scenes tend to drag on. The players may be working towards some goal that you don’t quite understand or a combat or negotiation is just dragging on. Sometimes a scene just isn’t working and the players seem like they’d rather just move one. So give them the option to end one scene in the game early. Here is a scenario to illustrate the idea.




The characters are trying to garner a piece of information from the space station’s lead security officer. They’ve disguised themselves and are trying to work around his defenses. The Game Master doesn’t want this to be too easy, but the players are getting a bit frustrated. They’ve made some good rolls but haven’t asked just the right questions to get the information they want. Suddenly, Laura whips out a card that the Game Master gave to the players at the beginning of the game. On it are the words, end this scene successfully. “Hey, I’d like to move on and we haven’t used this yet. Everyone else for moving on?” Two other players are for it, the last seems non-committal. It’s a majority, so you take the card and begin narrating their successful verbal maneuvering around the security officer or you ask the players to narrate how they get the information and write that into the canon of the story. Once this is done, you tell them what it is they would have gotten from the security officer and they push forward. The players aren’t stuck in a scene they were getting frustrated with and you’ve got 30 minutes more to develop more interesting parts of the story.



This gives the players the option of saying we’re stuck, give us a hint. Many games offer options like this with storypoints, but this idea is more about ending an entire scene. The general layout of the plan is this:

  • At the beginning of a game or a story arc in your campaign, hand out a card that lets the players end a scene early.
  • Decide if it will require a majority agreement or unanimous agreement from the players.
  • When the players turn this card in, the Game Master ends the scene with a successful win-condition for the players. The Game Master can always rule that this doesn’t work  on boss fights, incredibly important scenes, or the like.

And that’s it. The game moves quicker and you don’t get bogged down in quicksand scenes. In fact, here is a card to use in your games. Feel free to print it out on cardstock or 3 by 5 index card and make use of it whenever.



Being A GM is About Leading The Group, But Boring Scenes Probably Aren’t Your Fault

Your role as GM is to provide a counter to what the players are doing and there are hundreds of reasons that a scene could be dragging on, so don’t assume that a slow game or scene is your fault as a Game Master.  It just happens and you should never take it personally. Planning Paralysis, each player having a different agenda, tiredness from the work-day before a game, a long session, not picking up on clues, etc. are just a minimal subset of reasons that a game might be slowing down. Often, the nature of a collaborative game is such that you will get bogged down no matter what. So a tactic like this is meant to give a bit of a reset and keep a game flowing.


A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours. – Milton Berle



So, what do you think about giving players the power to end a scene early in your games? Is it giving up too much Game Master control or do you feel that letting players control some of the flow of the game makes a better overall game? What other techniques do you use to keep your games moving along?

16 replies
  1. shortymonster
    shortymonster says:

    Damned fine advice, and I think it has an added bonus too. Not too long ago I was worried that my players were getting bogged down by stuff in my CP2020 game – – and was second guessing myself rather than just checking in with them. knowing that they had a way to hurry me along if a scene was dragging would be a great way to realise that quite often, he players themselves are OK with taking the time to do something. Not every time, hence the usefulness of the card, but knowing they have it, but aren’t playing it could be a bit of a boost knowing that they’re enjoying what they’re doing.

    • John Arcadian
      John Arcadian says:

      Thanks, and that is a great point. Knowing that the players have that option you can be more confident that the they are enjoying the challenge instead of being annoyed by it.

    • randite
      randite says:

      Yah, the feedback part of this simple tool is one I hadn’t considered. Makes it seem like an even better idea.

      Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the players feel “bogged-down” in any given scene. There’ve been times, on the other side of the screen, when I would have killed to have one of these cards.

      Frio Frijoles, sirs.

  2. mercutior
    mercutior says:

    Good advice, but who needs the card? I often find that RPGs require PCs to do x in order to move to y. In these cases the game grinds to a halt as the GM painfully (sadistically) watches the players muddle through. It could be that they’ve missed the secret door or just don’t ask the right questions. For whatever reason, game flow is stopped dead in its tracks. In my GMing, I just give them an epiphany. Someone realizes that they just haven’t asked the right question or searched the correct area. If there is no alternative in the arc of the adventure, then I see no harm in this. In the scenario above, if the PCs had another option (disguised seemed the best idea at the time), then I feel ok letting them “fail” only to find a different solution. Maybe even one that winds up being much more fun when played out.
    For those who feel hand-waving parts of the scene is just too radical (which at times includes me), I would suggest something that works along the lines of the GUMSHOE system. In a nutshell, this gives PCs a number of points that can be spent to find out additional information that progresses the plot. It changes the way skills are often used in RPGs, but it is actually less cumbersome than “random” die rolls to find stuff out.
    Player: “Can I use sense motive on him?” GM: “Sure.” Player: “32” GM: “He seems to be telling the truth.” BOO…
    Player: “I got a 28 on my perception check, is there anything to notice? GM: “What are you looking for?” Player: “With a 28 perception shouldn’t I find everything! Otherwise, why did I put so many points to perception?” You get the point.

    • John Arcadian
      John Arcadian says:

      The benefit of giving the players a card, to me, is that it acts as a reminder and permission. the players know they can use it, and since it is a resource which will get used up they are more likely to use it during a game, rather than be polite and lose it because they felt like they were stepping on the GM’s toes or altering their story.

      I do dig point systems for altering the narrative, like in gum shoe, and I don’t think you would need a system like this with a game like that.

      • mercutior
        mercutior says:

        Agreed. My group plays Pathfinder, so the GUMSHOE alteration using the rules from the Lorefinder Mashup PDF is extremely helpful in reminding players that they are still actually playing a role playing game.

  3. Roxysteve
    Roxysteve says:

    A bit Savage Worlds-y, but not bad for that. I’m a bigbigbig convert to Savage Worlds thanks to Gnome Stew.

    My only concern is that in using this to short-circuit a PC/NPC interaction the players don’t learn how to maneuver in the milieu.

    Which is a fancy way of saying that the players won’t ever start asking the questions you, the GM, need them to ask if they can get out of important frustrating conversations free. (I think most GMs would admit that once the GM is talking, only one in four of the players are actually listening properly).

    If you don’t care, fine. I tend to want my players to get on my wavelength as much as I need to get on theirs. I’ll help them any way I can, but they have to want to meet me halfway, otherwise the game becomes a dice-rolling affair rather than an interaction one.

    But the idea is sound, and less of a game-wrecker than those Adventure Cards PEG makes.

    • Orikes
      Orikes says:

      Since it can only be used once per game/story arc, I don’t see how it would prevent the players from ‘learning to maneuver in the milieu’. They’d have to use it wisely and once its used they’d have to work through all other scenes as normal.

      • Roxysteve
        Roxysteve says:

        Perhaps your games are more sandboxy, players always guaranteed a win unless the dice turn against them affairs than mine then (I run Deadlands as a more encounter driven thing, but my first love is my Delta Green group).

        My games often have a discernible, non-optional goal and can be high in intrigue and hidden motive content requiring social interaction to sort out. Dicing out of these situations is okay, but I ask (and get) more from the players according to their abilities.

        Part of the payoff is figuring out the understandable motives* of the bad guys so they can be made predictable and defeated by player cleverness instead of by better dice rolls or lame GM bone-throwing.

        In this way the players learn to be better at defeating my bad guys and really advance in game terms in addition to getting the shiny but essentially worthless XP.

        “They’d have to use it wisely”.

        Big assumption there. We are talking about gamers here. Wisdom comes as 4D6, pick the best three for most of ’em. 8o)

        * or patterns of behavior when given certain stimuli if they are by nature fundamentally unknowable. You may not be able to comprehend the motives of a Martian invader, but in my games they are always understandable in terms of stimulus/response.

  4. Scott Martin
    Scott Martin says:

    I like the idea too; I’ll have to print one out and hand it to my players next time and see if or when they use it. Just seeing the scenes they tend to skip, over time, will tell me which scenes need to be more interesting–or avoided, since they’re fun for only me.

    Or, maybe I’ll print it and try it as a game where I’m a player… see if the GM gives in to the power of the gnome on the card. 😉 We’ll see how that goes on Friday.

    • John Arcadian
      John Arcadian says:

      I would love to hear the after action report on trying to force that into a game. 🙂

      I think you’ve got a great point that this is an excellent research tool. Even using it only 2 or 3 games, you can see what types of things your particular group of players would skip. It also doesn’t have the survey error effect. When you ask outright, people will sometimes give the answer they think you want instead of the one they really, really feel.

  5. Roxysteve
    Roxysteve says:

    I love that the card comes with a hyperlink on it (not a long unobfusticated hyperlink though, so almost no-one would follow it in these trojan-infested days).

    It reminds me of the time I printed out a Norton “printer friendly” crib sheet only to discover that the idiot programmer had left all the main topics “collapsed” under javascript-enabled drop-downs.

    • John Arcadian
      John Arcadian says:

      I figured I would add the link there so that if it were used in convention games or players wanted more info on the concept, they could go there. I’m contemplating making more things like this or more cards based off some past concepts of system neutral game modifiers. I dig things that directly modify the story, but I like to limit those things when I use them. Having cards is a great reminder that the system exists, but also that it’s not there to be taken advantage of.

  6. Redcrow
    Redcrow says:

    I actually do just the opposite. If the group is close to the end and I know it will end up rushed, I’ll actually pad the game a little and avoid the end fight leaving things on a cliffhanger until the next session. This has the added benefit of starting the next session by jumping right into the action and ensures the denouement isn’t rushed.

    However, I do leave many things like shopping trips, etc. to off-scene endeavors in order to maintain better pacing.

  7. lomythica
    lomythica says:

    Great advice! I have def seen lots of long scenes in my years of gaming, and this tool could be quite helpful!

    For the link, you might also consider using a qr code.

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