How long do you let the party faff about before giving them a nudge towards adventure?


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


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You’ve prepped the adventure, and your GM game face is on. Your quest hooks are laid like bait in a bear trap. You’ve got bandits waiting in the woods. Deadly peril is prepared to spring from the darkness in A3 (the Old Mill) and B1 (Collapsed Passage). Excitement and danger are hovering just around the bend, and all the players have to do is walk out that door. But then:

“Come on, guys. Let’s faff about in town all session.”

“I’m going to talk to an inn keeper for several hours!”

It's tempting to shrug and give it the old "so long as they're having fun." Ain't nobody want a railroad after all. But my tables tend to split between a hurry-up-and-get-to-the-next-thing and I-love-side-questing.

Therefore, my question to the board is this: When is it wisest to tap the breaks on the "main quest" and let the party linger? When is it best to nudge them forward with Chandler's Law? ("When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.") And how do you split the difference at your own tables?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)


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When I get bored of watching my players ignore my carefully prepared* adventure.

*HAH!

Scarab Sages

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DRD1812 wrote:

You’ve prepped the adventure, and your GM game face is on. Your quest hooks are laid like bait in a bear trap. You’ve got bandits waiting in the woods. Deadly peril is prepared to spring from the darkness in A3 (the Old Mill) and B1 (Collapsed Passage). Excitement and danger are hovering just around the bend, and all the players have to do is walk out that door. But then:

“Come on, guys. Let’s faff about in town all session.”

“I’m going to talk to an inn keeper for several hours!”

It's tempting to shrug and give it the old "so long as they're having fun." Ain't nobody want a railroad after all. But my tables tend to split between a hurry-up-and-get-to-the-next-thing and I-love-side-questing.

Therefore, my question to the board is this: When is it wisest to tap the breaks on the "main quest" and let the party linger? When is it best to nudge them forward with Chandler's Law? ("When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.") And how do you split the difference at your own tables?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)

As long as they like, as long as they like. When they're faffing about in town I have control because its a nice little sandbox to generate things in. The moment they step out of town the rails come off and I'm desperately improvising because they misunderstood the quest hooks, went to the river not the woods, have no interest in the old mill or collapsed passage but are far too interested in the old island in the middle of the lake which until 5 minutes ago did not have a mad necromancer raising undead werewolves on it. Oh a group of missing children yes er teenagers, missing teenagers who are going to become undead . . "Wait where are you going now?".


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I believe that Senko and I might be running games with the same players.


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Last game session I lost it on my players. I didn't raise my voice but I did get visibly frustrated and angry. Three of them spent 2 hours "faffing" about in town because the 4th player had tons of info her character had gathered during Downtime but she didn't share. She didn't share the email I sent her between sessions, and she didn't share at any time during those 2 hours while the PCs were talking to each other, gathering info, making checks to talk with Contacts and so on.

As to the "nudge" I gave them: when I asked them, after gaining all the info they wanted about a new area of the megadungeon which had very strong hints towards one of the 2 big bads of said dungeon, what they'd now like to do with their characters, the guy running the paladin just said "dungeon." Not "we'll go to the dungeon and check out that new area," or "we'll go to the dungeon and find out what the NPC Contacts we have there know about this new area" or anything like that. Just "dungeon."

That was the one two punch that sent me over the edge. The faffing about and the "dungeon" answer clearly showed me that even though I was giving multiple clues between game sessions as to who this big bad is in the dungeon, what their plans may be, and where to start a search for them in the megadungeon, none of the players was actually processing anything I was saying. I smeared my face with my hand, sat on the edge of my chair and through partially gritted teeth I spat answers at my players.

The big bad's name you've come to find out is X. They are supposedly a creature that cannot die per the writing on the dungeon wall you saw. They are concealing themselves somewhere in the megadungeon but you've uncovered that the builders of said dungeon knew about this villain and created a series of trials in order to obtain a weapon that has the chance of destroying this creature. The NPC you just interviewed told you of a hidden library chamber on level 2 of the megadungeon which has an entire fable around villain X on the walls, and the NPC even drew you a MAP to this place. Now, are you saying you just want to wander around the dungeon as you have been for the past EIGHT CHARACTER LEVELS?

So, in short I give the players a nudge when their faffing is a clear indication to me that they just aren't paying attention or making any of the connections in the plot of my game.

Oh, and Senko and Java Man, I also always run sandboxes with non-linear plotlines. Weirdly I only seem to get players at my tables that really enjoy Adventure Paths with clear railroad type stories. I think b/c they're all adults and don't really like making their own story connections, they want to the plot to carry them along.


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I always have stuff going on in the background, so if the players want to screw around for X number of days, that is perfectly fine with me. They'll just have to deal with the consequences, which can range from them losing standing in the town/city because they weren't around to help with an issue, or someone else did it instead (thus gaining standing or there was a lost life that could have been prevented).

Player's tend to perk up and pay more attention when things start happening around them that make their character's lives harder. I don't go after their friends/relatives if I can at all help it but .... if a friend of a friend falls victim to the events going around in the world and it effects the relationship between that character and that friend... That is a way to motivate even those of the darker, evil alignments to take a hand in 'taking care of business'.

To use the example given: The bandits are laying in wait, the traps are in place, ... and the adventurers never show. The bandits start getting bored and the adrenaline spike they can no longer sustain seeks another outlet. They start finding things to keep them busy while they wait for the adventurers, raiding nearby traveler or sending in scouts to gather info on the adventurers, what is taking them so long, who their friends are and the best way to draw them out into the open. The characters get some chances to spot or intuit the motives of the shadier than normal people lurking around. If they do nothing about it... well, they will eventually.


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Nah those moments are great. I just get to lean back in my seat and roleplay.


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Pathfinder Companion, Maps, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

If a plot hook has a lot of time pressure, that could limit how long they can spend doing other things before it is too late to undertake a given quest. Of course, there is a big difference between game time and real time, so even if you have a quest that they need to get started on within a day (game time), they may well begin doing things that take up the entire game session without missing the deadline in game time.


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DeathlessOne wrote:

I always have stuff going on in the background, so if the players want to screw around for X number of days, that is perfectly fine with me. They'll just have to deal with the consequences, which can range from them losing standing in the town/city because they weren't around to help with an issue, or someone else did it instead (thus gaining standing or there was a lost life that could have been prevented).

Player's tend to perk up and pay more attention when things start happening around them that make their character's lives harder. I don't go after their friends/relatives if I can at all help it but .... if a friend of a friend falls victim to the events going around in the world and it effects the relationship between that character and that friend... That is a way to motivate even those of the darker, evil alignments to take a hand in 'taking care of business'.

To use the example given: The bandits are laying in wait, the traps are in place, ... and the adventurers never show. The bandits start getting bored and the adrenaline spike they can no longer sustain seeks another outlet. They start finding things to keep them busy while they wait for the adventurers, raiding nearby traveler or sending in scouts to gather info on the adventurers, what is taking them so long, who their friends are and the best way to draw them out into the open. The characters get some chances to spot or intuit the motives of the shadier than normal people lurking around. If they do nothing about it... well, they will eventually.

… and this is why in my megadungeon game the PCs rarely spend more than a day in Downtime, don't make friends, don't have loved ones, and the players don't RP interacting with the general public. EVERYTHING is resolved through dice rolls and they keep wanting to go back to the dungeon to make sure the defenses they built around their NPC Contacts there (not friends, Contacts as per the optional rule) are holding and to keep monsters from backfilling or reinforcing their losses.

This isn't hyperbole. I warned them that things would advance in the background when they're away from the dungeon and they quote that back to me all the time. The guy running the paladin PC called out that unless I force his alignment to change he is going to kill w/out quarter all foes in the dungeon he can ID as evil or malicious. The reason is so that nothing is left alive to come back after them or to recover losses while they're gone.

Yes, have stuff happen in the background, but it doesn't always have to be negative and it doesn't even always have to be about the PCs. From a roleplay perspective the PC's need to have some level of security so that they have reasons to build connections with people and not expect that everyone they get close to will become a target. From a mechanical standpoint, what is the function of PCs having mundane Craft or Handle Animal skills at low levels, or Item Crafting feats at higher levels, if they never feel like they can take a few weeks to use them?

In my game yes, the dungeon WILL backfill, but aside from that the PCs' enemies aren't constantly gunning just for them. Instead I use multiple evil factions in the world vying for similar resources. For example the bandits may be waiting in ambush for the PCs, but while they're waiting a group of kobolds raid their hideout. A wounded survivor of the raid goes to the ambush site and gets the bandits to come back.

Skirmishes ensue b/c, behind the scenes, the kobolds are working for a dragon that needs a certain amount of treasure to trigger a premature metabolic change and force evolution into their next age category. However the bandits are secretly sponsored by a corrupt noble who is using these brigands to disrupt the local economy, slowing the flow of money in the region, to starve said dragon while they plot to slay the beast.

All the PCs know is that, after a weeks' downtime they pass an area on the road with the remains of the bandit ambush and a trail leading away to the west. Knowing my players, if this took them away from the main dungeon they wouldn't even follow it.


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Mark Hoover 330 wrote:
… and this is why in my megadungeon game the PCs rarely spend more than a day in Downtime, don't make friends, don't have loved ones, and the players don't RP interacting with the general public. EVERYTHING is resolved through dice rolls and they keep wanting to go back to the dungeon to make sure the defenses they built around their NPC Contacts there (not friends, Contacts as per the optional rule) are holding and to keep monsters from backfilling or...

I've seen the many stories you have about your players, Mark. I certainly feel for your situation but it is likely a table that I would not be attracted to or remain at very long. And that is likely just an issue with the players themselves, not the GM in question. They are likely very lovely people, but their playstyle is nearly incompatible with my own.

For example, there is a certain level of trust that has to be extended between the players and the GM, and a sense that neither is out to 'get' the other or that tries to single out and 'screw' them over. My role as a GM is to be a arbiter of the game world, narrator to the story, and guide for the players to explore it. I only make the game hard on the player characters when the player characters do certain things that would realistically backfire on them in any kind of rational or reasonable way. Otherwise, the game world continues to move as it would move without their influence.

As for dice rolls? I handle that with "You only need to roll the dice when there is some manner of consequence or opposition" style of game play. I want my players to feel like this isn't just a simulation that is handled with dice rolls.


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Hell, half of every game session I run is faffing around. I run a pretty loose game most of the time, with pretty much just a bare bones sketch of the actual adventure, though I do flesh out the critters they might encounter. We've had a standard joke throughout the years that "If I offer my players options A, B, or C they will choose Q" and I end up improvising anyway.

I let them wander around a town going to shops and such or if in the wilderness I let them poke around and discover things that I have to make up on the spot. But I can manage to make anything they do tie into the actual adventure somehow and they seriously never know the difference. If they're supposed to find Something Important™ along a certain path but they don't go that way I'll just drop it somewhere ahead of where they did choose to go. For thirty something years my games have been half planned out and half improvisation. Sometimes they go more in one direction than the other but everything works out. So, I let them faff about all they want and somehow make it point to the direction they need to go.


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@DeathlessOne: Yeah, you're probably right.

When I think back over ALL the tables I've GM'd for over the years, faffing off used to be some of the best times in a session, not a frustration. Used to be that my players would chat up folks in town; no skill checks or anything, even if using PF1 or 3x D&D, and during these scenes they'd reveal stuff that was important to them, to their characters.

They'd talk up what villain they hate, they'd make weird story connections that were totally different from what I had planned; sometimes it'd just be mundane stuff like jokes about an everfull spoon or wishing they'd see some cool ruin.

The players too would chat. I'd learn the movies they like, the shows they watch. They'd bandy about stories from other games they'd played or video games or whatever.

This was all fodder for my sandbox. Oh, you were OBSESSED with Krull as a kid? Maybe The Glaive (retractable star-blade weapon) would make an appearance. Your character is really into art? Suddenly an art gallery puzzle shows up in the next dungeon.

I used to really like faffing. Sometimes an entire game session would be just this, and I was totally down for it. The only thing I've EVER felt like I do particularly well as a GM is improvise. When my players go off the rails I had set up for them I readjust.

Its not that I'm particularly creative; I shoplift ideas from everywhere, like I said above. I can usually make it work b/c of tons of books of random tables, plagiarized ideas and a knack for twisting the existing story to make it look like whatever this new thing is was always supposed to be there.

I miss those games. I miss that level of trust you're talking about DO. I don't know why all my players these days are so cynical and jaded they think every GM is a killer GM, or they think PF1 is just a tactical simulation, nothing more.


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Mark Hoover 330 wrote:
I miss those games. I miss that level of trust you're talking about DO. I don't know why all my players these days are so cynical and jaded they think every GM is a killer GM, or they think PF1 is just a tactical simulation, nothing more.

Its good to know that there are GMs like myself (almost to the same degree) out there. Its a shame you don't have a steady group like I do in which to actually enjoy the game to the fullest.

As for why so many players are like that... I've got my own ideas on that but nothing really constructive to the conversation at hand. Let's just say that our art does not get the appreciation it deserves.


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DeathlessOne wrote:
As for why so many players are like that... I've got my own ideas on that but nothing really constructive to the conversation at hand. Let's just say that our art does not get the appreciation it deserves.

That's a great way to put it. I'm very fortunate to have the group I have. Life at large has a lot of us pretty jaded, but we put all of that aside once we gather for the Ritual of the Dice.


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Mark Hoover 330 wrote:
I miss those games. I miss that level of trust you're talking about DO. I don't know why all my players these days are so cynical and jaded they think every GM is a killer GM, or they think PF1 is just a tactical simulation, nothing more.

Might be time to break in a new group of first-timers. I found the opportunity to do that recently, and it's been crazy refreshing to see "that was so fan, I can't wait to play again!" after some simple clue-hunting and NPC interaction.

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