Campaign’s Pillars: How to Pacing Your Game’s Exciting Moments
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1034
Manage pace during sessions instead of scripting it. This lets you react to your game as it unfolds and is one less strict plan you must track.
But, leaving pace to encounter-level decisions burden you with yet another thing.
Until you’ve made pacing a habit and can spot opportunities to switch energy up mid-session, it might feel overwhelming to keep pacing radar on all the time.
Today, I want to share with you a solution that ties into your campaign’s mojo.
This approach also offers you a basic guide for improving your sessions in several areas, not just pacing.
I call this GM tool….
Figure out your campaign’s iconic features.
Three features are about right.
When a feature enters play, make a huge deal about it.
And so, as you run your session’s pacing, don’t worry about the small stuff.
Instead, when a Campaign Pillar triggers, you make that a major pacing moment.
This means you don’t have to micro-manage the details. It relieves you from analyzing and assessing real-time for energy pivots, encounter switch-ups, and velocity changes.
Rather than fiddling with pacing levers, you find opportunities to add Campaign Pillar encounters.
From the players’ experience, they get your usual interesting encounters. And then they get a couple amazing spikes of awesome Campaign Pillar encounters. These anchor the whole session in their minds as exciting and memorable.
It’s much easier to manage sessions this way.
What Are Campaign Pillars?
In 1996, professor and game researcher Richard Bartle published a paper that divided players into four types based on their primary gaming motivation:
While people don’t fit into clean boxes, we can use these categories to help us think about what situations make our campaigns even more exciting for our friends.
You can take the Bartle Test online to see where you rank. Here’s one, for example.
Ask your players to do the same and add this information to your Player Rewards Map.
Here’s how I rank in the Bartle Test. My Socialiser score is higher than I thought it would be. ?
According to the designers of 5E, D&D has three pillars: combat, exploration, and social interaction.
With these examples, you might decide your Campaign Pillars are:
- Discovery — secrets, wondrous places, shadowy corners of the world
- Action — fast-paced scenes like combat, chases, and intensified skill challenges
- Loot — cool magic items, great player rewards, awesome character developments
And so, during play, when an encounter triggers that has a strong flavour of Discovery, Loot, or Action — or Killing, Achieving, Socializing, exploring — you jack up the pacing.
Your world’s Only Factor works well here. What gives your world a unique game play experience? That becomes a Campaign Pillar.
Your villain makes a great Campaign Pillar. Any scene involving your Big Bad Evil Guy in direct confrontation or through indirect machinations gets special pacing consideration.
How to Use Campaign Pillars for Pacing?
I’m hoping you see the possibilities here for creating Campaign Pillars.
They focus your prep => Try to include at least two pillar moments each game.
They help stop micro-managing => Let minor encounters play out. When a pillar encounter triggers, pause and make a big deal about it.
Pillar encounters make sessions memorable => Players recall the things they got the biggest charge out of. Align your Campaign Pillars with player preferences and you win.
When a pillar encounter starts, slow the pace.
Build the encounter up and savour it. Here’s where you put your best efforts of description.
Intensify these encounters. Layer on a complication, twist, or danger.
Crank up the stakes.
Prep your Lego pieces. Figure out foe tactics ahead of time. Tweak your map for better reveals. Get some juicy treasure ready.
You might call a break just before a Campaign Pillar encounter runs. Recoup energy, gather your thoughts, and prep what’s need to run the encounter to your best ability.
All these things affect pacing.
This is why the Campaign Pillars technique works.
Rather than forcing surgical precision of pace each game moment, you pick your battles instead, pun intended.
Make two or three encounters each session a big thing. Your campaign becomes more exciting. And you get natural rhythms for your session’s minor moments.
Take five minutes today to figure out your three Campaign Pillars.