It’s time for your weekly game. You’re ready to sit down and roleplay for the next six to eight hours. You’re in character. Your fellow players are in character. The scenario is interesting, engaging, and then combat starts. Three hours later, you’re on round six, and there’s no end in sight. You start to consider having your character commit suicide.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with a long, complicated combat unless that combat gets boring. The problem isn’t the combat’s length per se, but instead comes when every round is the same thing: waiting for five to ten minutes for each other player to get finished with his turn so you can have yours, and that’s not counting the minutes that drag by while the GM figures out what the various enemies are going to do.
It’s also not just combats that can cause the game to grind. Don’t you just enjoy those long, meta-gamey discussions about the absolute best tactics to use prior to a fight? Yeah, me neither. And how about those lengthy in-character discussions between the GM and one or two other players while the rest of you sit and twiddle your thumbs? I’ve never found that particularly enjoyable either.
What’s even more frustrating is that these bouts of boredom can happen even in the best prepared games with the most experienced, dedicated players.
Do Something! Chips
At the start of each game session, give every player, including the GM, a do something! chip. This chip can be any suitable item, such as a poker chip, a game token, or a shiny penny. When a particular scene starts to get dull, toss your do something! chip onto the table (or into a special container, such as a boredom bowl). Clever, considerate players will note your displeasure and maybe take steps to ameliorate the situation. If other players are bored as well, they can toss in their do something! chips.
Boredom’s Critical Mass
If during any scene more than one-half of group’s do something! chips are tossed onto the table, then that scene has reached boredom’s critical mass. What happens next? Well, it’s time for some shared narrative control.
After all, surely you’ve not just been sitting their being bored. Surely you’ve been thinking of some way to make the scene more exciting. The player whose do something! chip triggers critical mass has the responsibility to offer a suggestion as to what could happen next in order to make the game more exciting. The entire group can then take a quick five minute break while the GM figures out how to best implement the suggestion as quickly as possible.
Wes, Christopher, Eric, Terry, and Mark, the GM, are playing Pathfinder. The PCs are trying to solve a puzzle that will open a magically locked portal leading deeper into the dungeon. Unfortunately, the players’ puzzle-solving skills are lacking this particular day, and the group has grown bored. Wes tosses his do something! chip, setting off a chain reaction. Eric and Terry toss their do something! chips also. Boredom’s critical mass is reached, and it’s up to Terry to offer a suggestion.
“Um, how about this? Uh, previously undiscovered secret doors linked to magical timers slide open, reacting to how long we’ve been in the puzzle room. Undead monsters attack. The undead monsters were the puzzle room’s original designers, sealed in the chamber to forever hide the puzzle’s solution. If we win, a grateful spirit can reveal the puzzle’s solution as a way of thanking us for releasing him from his horrid unlife.”
Players nod and grin. The GM fires up the search engine at d20pfsrd.com. A few minutes later, the PCs face down a gang of undead terrors.