July 7th, 2011 | 6 Comments
As many readers may know, I’ve moved my fantasy game from DnD4e to Hero 6th to GURPS 4th. Our first session was last weekend. The session seem to go well — though I don’t know how well the characters are built, as we had no combats (the game ended with a cliffhanger as a very scary bad guy walked in on the party while they’re exploring the basement of an abandoned tinker shop).
Even though we were missing two people, we had nine players. Because this was a mostly investigative session, and since there were so many players, they ended up splitting up to investigate different leads.
As a result, this session was virtually all sidebars. There were a few times when the entire party came together to compare notes, but for the majority of the 7-1/2 hour session I was dealing with two or three players at a time.
The Problem With Sidebars
The biggest problem with this situation is that when I’m running a sidebar with three players, there are six players just sitting there, doing nothing.
Even if I’m really good at balancing the player-to-GM time, it’s still a losing proposition:
If I have three groups of three players each, and I devote 20 minutes to each group, that means every group is sitting around for 40 minutes of every hour doing nothing.
Near the end of the night, I was doing one sidebar with the two rogues who happened to have stumbled upon a major clue in the main story line. It was a long sidebar, and it could have resulted in the only fight all night. Because of this, I threw up an obstacle they couldn’t get past. They would have to get at least one other party member to get past it.
In case that wasn’t a big enough hint, I said, “the party needs to get back together.”
While I only got a few comments about player downtime during sidebars, I was very cognizant of how much time people were spending doing nothing.
When Meta-Gaming is Good
For a brief moment, I thought about letting the two rogues into the basement and have them ambushed and overwhelmed. That would have encouraged the players to stay together in the future.
The reason I didn’t do it, had to do with encouraging role-playing.
From the very beginning, I knew why the two rogue players didn’t share the information with the rest of the party. I don’t even have to ask — both of them were doing exactly what their characters would have done.
But I don’t want to punish players for good role-playing. I also don’t want the majority of the table sitting around for hours doing nothing.
This hasn’t been a problem before, but if it looks like it’s going to be a trend, I’ll talk to everyone about it.
I love it when the players get into their characters. And I think it’s awesome when the players’ portrayals of their characters cause their own stumbling blocks in the story. But I think there’s a point when you have to step back, look at the table and realize *everyone* is there to have fun.
Written by Stu
Stu Venable is the producer of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast and writer and editor of DoucheyDM.com. He is founder and director of the Poxy Boggards and a member of Celtic Squall. He holds a degree in Journalism and Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach. He is a husband and a father. He hates puppies.
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