The Art of Pacing

How do y’all pace your games?

I recently had the chance to play through the Starter set of the One Ring 2e, which features a lot of rules on travelling from place to place (a common theme in Tolkien’s world) and one thing that struck me was that travelling for days at a time could be given a brief paragraph description, maybe a small encounter, and voila you were on your way to the next objective.

This got me thinking about how much time I have players spend on certain aspects of the game. How much room do you leave for player deliberation and “side” activities versus keeping plot points coming? In the past if things got slow I invariably used the tool “Suddenly… x kicks down the door.” but that sometimes feels like I’m robbing the players of their agency for decision making.

Also curious more generally on your IRL game time vs in-game time passage and whether you find your Star Wars RPG to pass more time in the game than in real life or if its slower. For example, there’s a DnD campaign I am in currently and it is unbearably slow. We’ve been playing for a year (sporadically, maybe 15 sessions over the course of the year) and maybe 2 weeks have passed in the game world.

I totally wing it. I only plan out locations (planets) and NPCs, and the players drive the vehicle.

Whether I hit it or not, most sessions I structure as:

  1. Players have time to remember who their chars are and get more comfortable in their skin (30min to 1 hr).
  2. Actual interesting events that are on the docket for today’s session (~2 hrs).
  3. Denouement, wrap-up, seed things for next session or the long-term (~1hr).

That’s the general overview I use when planning out a session. I rarely ever get so formal about it, but that’s how I categorize our time. So I tend to plan sessions around that rubric.

As to time budgeted for deliberation, side activities, etc. vs “main plot,” I don’t usually stay so strict about time. Usually run off feel more than any hard rule. But if it feels like it’s dragging, I’ll use GM trickery to get things moving along. I figure one of my jobs is to call Cut and Next Scene at the right time. So, I try to keep a sharp eye out for when things wind down and it’s time to move on to the next thing.

Lastly, Real world time vs Game time is a problem for the players, imo. Meaning, I don’t care. If they want to have exclusively jack bauer days and nothing else, I’m not going to stop them. I don’t run the World in that fashion. But if they managed to stack-up 3 or 6 tasks that can be knocked out in sequence, necessitating 2 or 3 in-game days of non-stop adventuring… that’s their way. Only thing I’m responsible for is making sure the world reacts appropriately and also making sure they make Resilience/Discipline checks to stay awake, alert, and active for that time period.

Think I answered it all. get back at me if I missed something.


Yeah, had that problem with my last campaign.

Even with some quite long hyperspace jumps, the general urgency of the plot meant that nearly 3 years of playing boiled down to only a few months in game.

The new campaign I’m currently prepping is inspired by action cop shows (Hawaii 5-0, The Rookie, NCIS LA, etc.), and so the idea is that the game sessions represent the screen worthy cases, that forward the plot, and there’d be in game time between sessions where all the off screen, boring cases would happen that we don’t play out.

Also, inspired by the rules for it in the latest edition of WFRP, I’ve knocked up some rough n ready rules for players doing stuff in the downtime between episodes.

Pacing is hard, many players could have abilities or skills that require a lot of downtime, I play as a technician focused on crafting stuff. So travel time is quite important for me to create new weapons, droids, gadgets and cybernetics.

But at the same time I don’t want “infinite” time to create, part of building useful stuff is using it and having it shine. If I can build everything I want in one go there won’t be any new stuff to unveil to my fellow player characters, be it a weapon for our melee guy, a new starfighter for our pilot, a new improved armour for our tank or a new droid for our crew.

So what I’m trying to say is that pacing is important both ways, you don’t want too little time for the in-between stuff, but not too much either.

Our group likes to make (grand) plans and then try to make them happen, so we like to have a lot of time for roleplaying between the player characters. But sometimes it’s fun to be interrupted with som action as well.

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In-game pacing:
I generally play in “real-time,” calculating each day, week, month, etc. and I typically use some kind of calendar to track both galactic time (“when is X event going to happen?”) and to sort of journal the game (this happened then, that happened here, etc.).

Generally speaking, we plan et al OOC, then either narrate the IC planning or do some short RP sequences to summarize it, then move on to the action.

Since time is paced realistically (I give estimates of how long a given task takes, hyperspace travel times are plotted out, etc.), I find I have virtually no trouble pacing the game from a temporal standpoint.

For the actual play of the game, the players drive most of that, and if I see they’re getting bored I usually just hustle things along, often by wrapping up the scene and moving on to something more exciting, or asking them what they want to do next (in-game). My philosophy is that as long as the players are having fun, and the current fun is conducive to future fun (e.g. not leading you to a dead end, or sabotaging the game), then all is well.

Out-of-game pacing:
Hahahaa, you must be joking, right? Our pace is more of the meandering stopping and starting of a drunk driver high on weed. One minute we’re raiding an Imperial outpost, the next we’ve somehow managed to maneuver ourselves into some deeply philosophical discussion about the nature of war.

There have been entire multi-hour gaming sessions that amounted to a single encounter and a lot of philosophizing.

But we all have fun, and that’s the point.

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I’m a big fan of the GM Fast Forward button. Sure, there are times when the passage of time and action are hour to hour and day to day. But I also like to do things over six months or more. My current game is archeology focused. We might have social encounters and combat encounters over a few days but then I’ll hit the GM Fast Forward button and cover excavations over many months giving each player a chance to participate over time almost like Mass Combat.

I also like to use the “old” light speed travel times from game systems past: one week for short hops, two for longer and so on. Then I let the players have that as downtime for crafting, social encounters within the party, planning, etc.

When the party heads back to their home planet, then it becomes a few story advancing encounters and much of sandbox play where the players decide what they want to do. Crafting, shopping, chasing character-specific background stories, side quests, settling old scores and cultural encounters like art gallery parties. These are among the most memorable moments of the campaign and are often driven by the players exclusively or they take such encounters off the rails in hilarious fashion.

Except for rare occasions where there’s a lot of action, I rarely keep it day to day or hour to hour. That’s the old DnD style of play (at least from my high school days) which I consider No Fun.


All good points and sounds like a fun experience.