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Author Topic: How to: Pacing the player actions in OSR dungeon crawling?  (Read 723 times)

theOutlander

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How to: Pacing the player actions in OSR dungeon crawling?
« on: October 07, 2020, 07:38:48 AM »
As a DM I have the bad habit of focusing too much on minutiae of player turns. I know, because I've had players tell me about it.

What I mean is that when tinkering with the environment (i.e. outside of the combat action economy) I let them play they action in detail, and the NPCs or the environment respond in detail, so at some point we kinda lose idea of time and single turn actions completely take over the scene and drag it out. And if the player interacts with the party, I let them do stuff too, but again within the same minutiae, and the whole momentum dies out. This has the unwanted side effect of muddying the scene and it gets harder in my mind to find a proper break point so I kind of feel compelled to continue dragging things until a proper end scene/curtain fall is achieved, which is almost every time too late.

Basically, it's boring. How to make it not boring? Is it ok in an OSR dungeon crawl to treat the scenes more... well, cinematic - with more frequent spotlight change and faster action resolution? If so, how are described actions played out in the proper spirit of OSR?

And another question, somehow related to the slow scene progression. Is it ok to not ask for consent (no, not that kind) from everyone when they presumably do something as a group? Like, if someone says "I enter the dungeon", should I ask everyone if they are following or just go to the next scene if no one objects. I usually ask every one what they're doing because I don't want to retcon descriptions if someone changes their mind, but it doesn't do much other than drag things out. What is the OSR way of handling it or is it that my group just doesn't want to be bothered with such matters?

I know I sound like I'm asking for permission, so read "is it ok" as "is it usually done like this"? ;)

Nerzenjäger

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Re: How to: Pacing the player actions in OSR dungeon crawling?
« Reply #1 on: October 07, 2020, 08:20:41 AM »
Basically, it's boring. How to make it not boring? Is it ok in an OSR dungeon crawl to treat the scenes more... well, cinematic - with more frequent spotlight change and faster action resolution? If so, how are described actions played out in the proper spirit of OSR?

There is no proper spirit of OSR. Make the game your own. If you are bored of describing every empty room and each spider-web ridden corner, don't do it, skip them in a single sentence. "You pass several empty rooms until you reach..."

You might not believe this, but people have been playing this game very differently from each other since day 1.
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Zalman

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Re: How to: Pacing the player actions in OSR dungeon crawling?
« Reply #2 on: October 07, 2020, 11:04:15 AM »
These are really good questions.

Basically, it's boring. How to make it not boring? Is it ok in an OSR dungeon crawl to treat the scenes more... well, cinematic - with more frequent spotlight change and faster action resolution? If so, how are described actions played out in the proper spirit of OSR?

Absolutely, yes! Cinematic with fast changes is exactly how OSR works best for me. More generally, actions are abstract and encompassing: "You dive across the chasm, somersault, and suddenly stab the troll in the belly with your dagger!" is a description of one action, not three. Be broad, even generous in your cinematic description.

And another question, somehow related to the slow scene progression. Is it ok to not ask for consent (no, not that kind) from everyone when they presumably do something as a group? Like, if someone says "I enter the dungeon", should I ask everyone if they are following or just go to the next scene if no one objects. I usually ask every one what they're doing because I don't want to retcon descriptions if someone changes their mind, but it doesn't do much other than drag things out. What is the OSR way of handling it or is it that my group just doesn't want to be bothered with such matters?

Two things here: first of all, yes, it is fine to ask if everyone is doing what one person declares. Essential, even, to prevent some players from dominating others in many cases. "Is that the group decision?" or "Horvax enters the room, does everyone follow?" are perfectly fine questions and ensure that each player has autonomy and jurisdiction over their own character's decisions.

Back in the day, when groups tended to be larger and table-level consent was harder to come by organically, it used to be that each party established a "caller", which would be that player responsible for communicating to the DM what the entire party is doing (according to some pre-established guidelines, i.e. the "marching order" in which the characters always progressed through the dungeon.) Here "consent" is established by the mechanic, before play begins, and it's up to the players to choose a caller they trust, and to check that caller with their own input as the game plays out.

The second thing is: you do not need to retcon anything or let players "change their mind"! It's perfectly OK to tell them "too late," and move on to the next player. That said, a well-placed "Are you sure you want to do that?" can do wonders to avoid attempted takebacks.
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Steven Mitchell

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Re: How to: Pacing the player actions in OSR dungeon crawling?
« Reply #3 on: October 07, 2020, 12:59:33 PM »
Note that even with a "caller", it is always possible for a player to have his character not follow what the caller has stated.  When working correctly, there will be a slight pause in the caller stating the action and the GM adjudicating the resolution--to give a player a chance to say, "Wait!" 

A good caller will get a sense of when there might be doubt and consult with the party.  In effect, the caller is the person designated to work out "Are we good with everyone doing X, or do we need the GM to drill-down to a more play-by-play procedure right now?"  Once they have that worked out, then the caller relates what they need. 

This will not necessarily make the game move faster, though.  What it does is prevent the GM from being a bottleneck when there is disagreement among the players about the proper course of action.  So whether it helps or not with your issue is questionable.  If the GM has other things he could be doing during such disagreements that will overall help the game move faster, it might help.

EOTB

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Re: How to: Pacing the player actions in OSR dungeon crawling?
« Reply #4 on: October 08, 2020, 12:39:36 AM »
Pacing is the single most important element of an rpg session.  More important than realism, characters, correctly applying rules as written, or nearly anything else that beginning and journeyman DMs obsess over in threads.

In play there is are two variables and a constant.  The constant is the movement of the world apart from the PCs.  The variables are the urgency with which the players approach the session, and whether either the world or PCs are attempting to impose themselves upon the other in the present moment. 

To loosely use a ping pong analogy, I want to always return serve to the players immediately; put the ball back on their side of the net without delay. 

When you can’t do this, their attention wanders similarly to suffering slow-loading websites. 

Do you care how accurate something is if it takes five minutes to load and is splashed with a bunch of shut you have to click through to get to what you’re trying to read/watch?  No, you don’t sit there and watch the hourglass spin. You check out somewhere else until the page loads.

A lot of DMs are shitty web pages filled with ads for crap you’re not there for

Now if they fuck around with their urgency, and that independent constant of a world imposes itself on them - now the players must volley at the pace imposed. 

And everyone stays engrossed
« Last Edit: October 08, 2020, 12:43:27 AM by EOTB »
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mAcular Chaotic

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Re: How to: Pacing the player actions in OSR dungeon crawling?
« Reply #5 on: October 08, 2020, 01:58:38 AM »
Do you use random encounter / wandering monster rolls?

What you're really asking is a pacing question, and the use of various sources of pressure to keep players from taking too long inspecting every square foot of dungeon is important. You need time pressure to make them have to decide if it's worth it to waste time on something. At that point the players will decide on their own to move on -- and if they don't, you have to follow through on the threat. When they see waiting too long almost got them killed (or did get someone killed) they will not only be more engaged in the game, paying more attention to details out of necessity, because they have to make sure it's actually important, it will also ensure the game moves faster.
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theOutlander

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Re: How to: Pacing the player actions in OSR dungeon crawling?
« Reply #6 on: October 08, 2020, 07:29:58 AM »
Thanks for the responses!

Reflecting on the answers, I think the root of the problem lies indeed in the urgency imposed on the party. The stakes in question for each action.
And the hidden culprit - dead ends. What if the party stumbles at a puzzle, or can't find the hidden thing, or doesn't think for the proper way to exit the room: should I throw waves of random encounters at them, or let them die because of failed search roll/missed clue? I'm not sure how to handle such events, because if I improv a couple of times or give them leeway, it becomes a habit and then it's a matter of WHEN not IF they progress. And the WHEN part is what drags out.

mAcular Chaotic

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Re: How to: Pacing the player actions in OSR dungeon crawling?
« Reply #7 on: October 08, 2020, 08:46:08 AM »
Thanks for the responses!

Reflecting on the answers, I think the root of the problem lies indeed in the urgency imposed on the party. The stakes in question for each action.
And the hidden culprit - dead ends. What if the party stumbles at a puzzle, or can't find the hidden thing, or doesn't think for the proper way to exit the room: should I throw waves of random encounters at them, or let them die because of failed search roll/missed clue? I'm not sure how to handle such events, because if I improv a couple of times or give them leeway, it becomes a habit and then it's a matter of WHEN not IF they progress. And the WHEN part is what drags out.
You let the random encounters hit them, and if they die they die -- that's what creates the urgency for them to decide they should leave and move on.

Unless you don't like doing a game with deaths and want it more heroic?
Battle doesn't need a purpose; the battle is its own purpose. You don't ask why a plague spreads or a field burns. Don't ask why I fight.

Nerzenjäger

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Re: How to: Pacing the player actions in OSR dungeon crawling?
« Reply #8 on: October 08, 2020, 08:48:06 AM »
The inherent danger in many old school games is its potential lethality. If you think about it, the Dungeon Fantasy milieu truly is a horror scenario. Play it that way.
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theOutlander

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Re: How to: Pacing the player actions in OSR dungeon crawling?
« Reply #9 on: October 08, 2020, 11:18:13 AM »
Unless you don't like doing a game with deaths and want it more heroic?

No, not really. I'm probably care bearing my players though.  :D

S'mon

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Re: How to: Pacing the player actions in OSR dungeon crawling?
« Reply #10 on: October 08, 2020, 04:14:44 PM »
The Old School Way is:

1. Out of combat in the dungeon, PCs do one thing per ten minute Turn. You take the input, roll and resolve, go to next Turn.

2. The Party Caller tells you what the party is doing, so you don't need to get consent from every player. Players can say "no I don't" of course.
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EOTB

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Re: How to: Pacing the player actions in OSR dungeon crawling?
« Reply #11 on: October 08, 2020, 06:24:09 PM »
Thanks for the responses!

Reflecting on the answers, I think the root of the problem lies indeed in the urgency imposed on the party. The stakes in question for each action.
And the hidden culprit - dead ends. What if the party stumbles at a puzzle, or can't find the hidden thing, or doesn't think for the proper way to exit the room: should I throw waves of random encounters at them, or let them die because of failed search roll/missed clue? I'm not sure how to handle such events, because if I improv a couple of times or give them leeway, it becomes a habit and then it's a matter of WHEN not IF they progress. And the WHEN part is what drags out.

TL;DR don’t make winning rigid or built around your preference

If the adventure requires passing through a knothole vs failure/abandonment, then the DM is setting themselves up for failure/abandonment

My general philosophy is to design every scenario from the position that the players are going to straight-up frontally assault it.  There must be a success path requiring little thought, roleplaying, strategy, etc.

This doesn’t have to be easy, or even likely, but plausible (and sometimes it shouldn’t be hard or dumb).  A group taking this path can say “well, we died trying” if it doesn’t work out.

Then you can built in other elements that short-circuit this journeyman sort of default play that reward the thinking, devious, diplomatic, scheming, superior player.  There will be multiple alternative paths of these sorts, that makes success easier but aren’t necessary

Otherwise you’re playing “bring me a rock” as much as you’re playing D&D.  And you’ll have to end up giving them that rock yourself anyway, most of the time.
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mAcular Chaotic

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Re: How to: Pacing the player actions in OSR dungeon crawling?
« Reply #12 on: October 08, 2020, 11:30:26 PM »
Thanks for the responses!

Reflecting on the answers, I think the root of the problem lies indeed in the urgency imposed on the party. The stakes in question for each action.
And the hidden culprit - dead ends. What if the party stumbles at a puzzle, or can't find the hidden thing, or doesn't think for the proper way to exit the room: should I throw waves of random encounters at them, or let them die because of failed search roll/missed clue? I'm not sure how to handle such events, because if I improv a couple of times or give them leeway, it becomes a habit and then it's a matter of WHEN not IF they progress. And the WHEN part is what drags out.

TL;DR don’t make winning rigid or built around your preference

If the adventure requires passing through a knothole vs failure/abandonment, then the DM is setting themselves up for failure/abandonment

My general philosophy is to design every scenario from the position that the players are going to straight-up frontally assault it.  There must be a success path requiring little thought, roleplaying, strategy, etc.

This doesn’t have to be easy, or even likely, but plausible (and sometimes it shouldn’t be hard or dumb).  A group taking this path can say “well, we died trying” if it doesn’t work out.

Then you can built in other elements that short-circuit this journeyman sort of default play that reward the thinking, devious, diplomatic, scheming, superior player.  There will be multiple alternative paths of these sorts, that makes success easier but aren’t necessary

Otherwise you’re playing “bring me a rock” as much as you’re playing D&D.  And you’ll have to end up giving them that rock yourself anyway, most of the time.
If they can just go head first into every threat and steamroll it then it's more like modern D&D isn't it?
Battle doesn't need a purpose; the battle is its own purpose. You don't ask why a plague spreads or a field burns. Don't ask why I fight.

EOTB

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Re: How to: Pacing the player actions in OSR dungeon crawling?
« Reply #13 on: October 09, 2020, 04:50:15 AM »
If they can't go headfirst in and steamroll it, it's more like 2nd edition AD&D than it is 1970s D&D.

Killing them all and letting Crom pick them out is almost always not the best way to get through one of my adventures.  But neither is it a futile way to get through my adventures, or a slightly-punished way to go through my adventures (beyond the punishment opponents can plausibly dish back out to invading PCs)
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mAcular Chaotic

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Re: How to: Pacing the player actions in OSR dungeon crawling?
« Reply #14 on: October 09, 2020, 05:08:49 AM »
I thought OSR was all about avoiding fights to get gold because the combat was ultra dangerous.
Battle doesn't need a purpose; the battle is its own purpose. You don't ask why a plague spreads or a field burns. Don't ask why I fight.