Use This 10 Idea Checklist To Fix Your Pacing
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1023
RPT GM Jim B has a great idea for us today about how to better manage pacing with a cool checklist:
Another way to adjust pacing is with a midpoint checklist.
The midpoint checklist is a series of brief entries you prepare in advance that you’ll refer to when you reach the halfway mark of your session.
You might use only one or two items from your checklist. You might not use any. It’s a check-in in case you need to adjust the overall pacing of the session.
Nothing on the midpoint checklist is real or true or fated until you decide to invoke it. They’re all optional, invoked only if they’ll help you with the pacing.
There’s a fictional precedent for the importance of the midpoint.
Go to the halfway point of a movie or novel that your players like. You’ll probably find an important transition in the story’s pacing:
- The hunter becomes the hunted
- A reactive character becomes proactive
- The stakes get higher
- The mission gets more urgent
- The tone gets more grim
- Major revelations are made
- The exploration and resource-gathering of the first half transitions into focused action in the second half
- There’s a calm before the storm
Your midpoint checklist can include a line or two about each item.
Some checklist items might not be applicable.
Challenge yourself to come up with a distinct response for each entry, but it’s okay if you can’t come up with something for everything on the checklist.
Don’t make the entries too detailed. You want a list you can remember or skim quickly.
You want a list you can adapt readily during play, no matter where the PCs are or what their situation is.
The Midpoint Checklist
Finally, a Success
What if the PCs have had a long run of failures and disappointments?
Come up with an easy win you can give them if morale is low.
Examples include a new ally, a useful item that’s poorly protected, or helpful information that lands in their laps.
If table morale is fine, you wouldn’t invoke this.
Finally, a Setback
What if the PCs have had it way too easy?
Name an extra setback you can throw in their way at the midpoint, such as the sudden loss of an important ally or a key resource, or the discovery of new dangers ahead.
If the PCs are already sufficiently challenged and the pacing is good, you wouldn’t invoke this entry.
An Important Revelation
What important fact should the PCs know by the time they reach the midpoint?
Name a way you can reveal the fact at the midpoint if they haven’t discovered it by then.
Examples of midpoint revelations include:
- The villain’s identity
- The villain’s location
- The villain’s true goal
- The MacGuffin’s location
- An enemy vulnerability the PCs can exploit later
- Finding out about a useful resource (that might be challenging to find)
If the PCs already have a strong idea of what to do and where to go, you might not need any additional revelations. This pacing fix is about giving the PCs a new focus if they need it.
If the villain has been reactive instead of proactive, or if the villain hasn’t even been aware of the PCs up to this point, devise an incident showing the villain is now working against the PCs directly.
As always, you’d introduce this only if it would help the pacing.
Come up with a revelation that tells the PCs the stakes are higher than they realized.
Maybe the PCs (or the people or places they care about) are more directly at risk than they realized.
Maybe greater numbers of innocent victims are at risk — a whole village instead of an individual, a whole region instead of a village.
This fixes the pacing if the PCs aren’t sufficiently driven to press on.
Come up with a revelation that tells the PCs they need to hurry.
Maybe a new rival comes on scene. Maybe they learn about a hard deadline. Maybe the villain escalates his plans because the PCs are getting closer. Maybe there’s a time bomb.
This fixes the pacing if the PCs aren’t in enough of a hurry.
If the pacing needs a push, introduce rivals — someone whose goals conflict with those of the PCs.
As a pacing decision, these rivals won’t appear if they’d disrupt the pacing, but you can invoke them if they’d help the pacing.
“When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand” (novelist Raymond Chandler).
If the pacing is lagging, a simple fix might be to stage an attack, or the threat of an attack, against the PCs.
Come up with an armed opponent you can bring in. Like the rest of this checklist, this is optional.
You’d invoke this only if it would help the pacing instead of hindering it.
Peace and Quiet
Sometimes, the pacing fix is to give the PCs a safe haven and a quiet break so they can recover or plan.
This might be their last safe haven for a while.
Come up with a way you can give the PCs a safe rest break.
This should be movable (not dependent on a fixed location), so you can invoke it no matter where the PCs are.
It could be a neglected shelter that (by definition) happens to be near wherever they are as of the midpoint. It could be a suddenly discovered enclave of allies who’ll keep the enemy at bay, at least for a little while.
You’d invoke this only if the PCs need a rest break.
Some plot twists can adjust the pacing in the middle of the session. Various sources of plot twist ideas include elements that could work well as midpoint twists.
For this checklist, these twists are all optional, invoked only if you need them to fix the pacing.
Plot twists that are essential to the story should be handled elsewhere.