Good players talk about the way they intend to react to the story; they make plans with the party. But what happens when the planning takes over? How does a GM get the game back on track? Today, we look for ways to hone their plan-making energies.
Dear DovahQueen: How do I keep my players from too much planning. Timers? Forcing decisions? Round table, making sure everyone gets input, and then voting? Whenever my players face a challenge they spout off what feels like about a dozen different plans.—Ambnz
Dear AMBananaz: If you’re running into the problem of your players making too many plans, then it sounds like you have a table full of good players. I think it’s more common that PCs tend to be as a leaf on the wind waiting for the GM’s railroad to take them to their next set-piece. But! That doesn’t change the fact that too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing. And even the best plans can’t go anywhere if nobody can agree on them. I’ve got a few thoughts for you that I think may help.
For starters, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; the GM’s number one job isn’t to tell a story. It is to babysit the players into behaving in such a way that the story can be shared. Even though the players aren’t doing anything wrong per-say, they still need to have their creative energies channeled into a more productive means. To this end, let’s give the party however much time you’d like them to spend on planning. This is going to have to be for each GM to decide. Maybe you only have enough session time to give them ten minutes; maybe they’re having great fun and it’s no issue letting them scheme for an hour. Regardless, set the amount of planning time you want them to have and let them know. This is step one to getting it under control. They don’t all have to agree yet, but this should stop over planning from cutting into too much precious game-time. At the end of the allotted time, simply go around the table and allow each player a turn to briefly speak on their chosen one idea. Keywords: briefly and one, and enforce those keywords. If the players, as a group, can’t agree on a single plan, you have two options. You can either remind them that splitting the party is a typically bad idea and allow that to happen, or you can ask them to vote on what the whole party is going to do. I don’t typically like it going to a vote because there’s honestly *nothing* inherently fun about voting, but if you’re at a point where the group just isn’t going to agree on something otherwise, it’s at least an efficient way of moving forward. Moving forward being the goal at that point.
Another method that I think could help a lot would be to arrange your sessions so that you’re presenting problems that need a plan at the end of the session. That way, they’ll have the whole week or month or whatever to discuss their plans outside of game. A positive side effect of this is that they’re still talking about your game outside of the session; it widens the impact of your stories entertainment value, if that makes any sense. Like, killing off a beloved NPC in an emotional way makes waves, right? If they have to plan how they react in-between sessions, it’s going to keep them talking about the scene all week. In a way, it makes that impact last longer which is a win-win for our purposes!
Realistically though, I would recommend doing both of these ideas. Taking the planning and moving it to post-game time should save a lot of the headaches, and for those in-game planning moments, just putting some limiters up front will keep the party working within bounds that you’re comfortable with. You’re their “fantasy babysitter;” don’t hesitate to tell them how it’s gonna be.
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Art credit: “Planning the Assault” by Astri Lohne