B Is for Boring

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.

An Example

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.

April 2nd, 2012  in RPG 5 Comments »

5 Responses to “B Is for Boring”

  • Stuart Lloyd says:

    Hi,

    Great to meet you through the April A to Z!

    I look forward to reading more about gaming. I also would like to make sure that combats do not get boring.

    Stuart

    Lloyd of Gamebooks – virtualfantasies.blogspot.com

  • Terri Pray says:

    Good post, the boredom aspect is one that used to get me when I first started playing. Being the ‘token girl’ in the group it was worse as I ended up as a Cleric sitting there waiting to heal people.

    Damn glad things have changed over the years.

    Here through the A to Z challenge!

  • Alex says:

    Perhaps its because I have so little experience GMing, but I find the best sessions are those with carefully directed chaos. Your solution with the secret doors, angry undead, and helpful spirit are completely unexpected and make the story just that much more fun. So bravo!

  • Mark says:

    Hmm. Nice theory but I don’t feel it’ll work well in practice. Most players would be just waiting to be entertained, rather than re-writting the scenario in their heads. Plus combat prone players would just chuck in their chips and suggest they solve the problem by hitting it. A good GM should be able to gauge the mood of the group anyway and adapt the situation to suit.

    Cheers
    Mark

  • Wes says:

    Speaking on behalf of Giant Boy, Eric and Me (I? Wes?), if Terry ever suggests a solution to boredom is throwing an undead gang at us, we are making bacon out of big red (Terry’s PC’s animal companion pig…)

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