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Watch the Time

by Mike on 28 July 2022

"The key to becoming a great GM, more than anything else, is an understanding of pacing." - Monte Cook, Your Best Game Ever

Understanding the pace of your game may be the most important skill you bring to your game. There's many different ways to improve your pacing but we're lazy here so we're going to go with the biggest easiest one:

Use a clock.

Keep a clock in front of you when you run your games. If you need to, use a stopwatch or an alarm to keep track of the big blocks of time in your game session. Look at the material you want to run in the session, think about how much time it takes, and, during the game, track whether things are happening on time or whether things have gotten away from you. Take a break half-way through to re-adjust your material to fit the time you have left. Cut from the middle if you need, to reach your game's big conclusion. Ending early is much better than ending late.

Flow, Your Friend and Enemy

When DMing D&D games, we're often in a state of "flow". We're all-on. We're deep in the game. We're watching the players, thinking about the characters, and building worlds as they explore it. We're running monsters, putting ourselves in the eyes of our villains, and leaping into the shoes of our NPCs. We're busy, and it's a great type of busy. This state of flow, in which we're fully engaged in running the game, has many traits but one common one is losing track of time. That's not helpful when running a game on a schedule.

So we must account for this, and the best way is to use an external tool to help us do so. A timer, a stopwatch, or a clock works well. If you're good at keeping an eye on the clock, that may be all you need. If you find yourself missing it, set a timer to go off every 45 minutes or an hour (set it quietly enough that only you can hear it).

During your prep, think about how long various scenes might take and use your time estimates to see if you're on track during the game itself. Sometimes, in an ongoing campaign, it isn't a very big deal if you don't hit every scene. For one-shot games on a schedule, losing track of time can be disastrous.

Trust Your Tools

Humans are imperfect organisms. Some have a good sense of time and some don't. Tools, like a stopwatch, help us stay on time no matter our state of flow or the shifting in our perception of time. Understanding timing and pacing can be critical to run an awesome game. Grab a timer and watch the clock when running your next game.

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This work includes material taken from by Michael E. Shea available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.

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