Back from PaizoCon it is always refreshing to see so many GMs and players in action. Each demonstrating as many different variations of how to play the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game on and OFF the table.The specifics of game logistics can be critical to an enjoyable experience and too important to ignore. One aspect of particular note is the group’s attitude toward taking breaks from the game.
Around the Table: Break Time
Most games last between 4-5 hours a play session. This duration would require breaks (at least 15 min by most labor standards) if it were part of a workday. And yet, we have seen GMs and players sheepishly ask for a few minutes away from the table and feel downright guilty if they have to ask for more than one. In a marathon game or multi-session convention such breaks should probably be built in. For our purposes we are not talking about a single player or the GM running to the bathroom. While we all would likely prefer to keep stomping down dungeon corridor there are a lot of good reasons to take breaks from the table:
- Bio Breaks: While probably the most obvious, a week of Convention gaming will show you just how often people are ignoring their bodies. When a GM calls a break, more people will take it than ever would have asked for it nearly every time. A brief aside here, it is ALWAYS okay to take care of your health. Physical or Mental. Players, communicate if you think you will need more breaks than usual (for a four hour game, that is probably just one or two).
- Media Breaks: While in the past we have witnessed tables try to shut down phones, tablets or laptops they are now a fact of life. If you want to discourage facebooking, email checking and the like try offering up a “planned media break.” This can both assure your players that they will have time to update and respond (maybe even share how awesome the game is) and also maybe to suggest it isn’t something you enjoy them doing while you GM. If the issue becomes persistent, don’t be passive aggressive about it with break management, talk it out.
- Mental Relief Breaks: If you read yesterday’s article about evil campaigns, Andrew Marlowe’s recent blog about Horror Adventure or Monica Marlowe’s recent Inspire Confidence article on Consent, you probably are aware that some players struggle with issues from real life when similar situations arise in game. And a portion of those players give consent deliberately as a method confronting or working past various issues in a storytelling medium. Some times they push themselves too hard to confront things even in an imagined realm, give them a breather if they need it. Regardless of the source, sometimes a little headspace to process a traumatic moment and assess their well-being.
- Family & Friends Check-Ins: Non-Gamer loved ones are likely to be far more supportive of gaming as a hobby if you don’t get so absorbed in a game as to not contact them for a day or two. A check-in at safe arrival and an ETA of your time back at home during a later break are great ideas to keep the ords calm.
- GM Logistics: GMs may need to build out a terrain tiles or draw a new map. Pawn or miniature selections, framing dialogue or looking up a ruling can also take time. If they are running cold (emergency GMing to cover a cancel) they may even need prep time to read ahead in a module or fabricate the next encounter.
Obviously, a single break can be all of these to different people simultaneously. The chances that your group will need at least one of these things each game and you may want to just plan for them. The GM can review modules, scenarios and prep ques for possible breaks as part of their planning for a session. However, it is of course NOT required that a session has breaks. We recommend checking with the group before a game and keeping the following in mind:
- Table is Ready At Start: Make sure all players are in a good space when the game begins, rushing into the beginning of a game is just asking for a player to have to break later. Get a clear check from each player individually on this and make sure a player isn’t just being pressured or bullied into beginning. That said, chronic tardiness is a show disrespect for the entire group and should probably be addressed with the individual.
- Hydration: A reminder about water isn’t out of line, Player or GMs. Especially in longer games. If you are playing at a home this is an easy fix but LGS and event games can be trickier. Packing in water bottles is recommended.
- Clear Statements About Breaks: If you intend to run with little or no breaks, make it very clear at the time. The same is true if you intend to bull rush the end of a session after one or two breaks. A “final non-emergency break” call is not a terrible practice.
- Establish Clear Time Marks: Identify clear start and end times for the game session. If you are not going to take a break then try your best as a table to work toward the stated end time. Unless the ENTIRE group expresses a lack of concern with the end time then honor it. People may not feel comfortable explaining other needs or commitments (particularly in LGS or Convention play) and may have anything from medical needs to another game as commitments to attend to.
As always, clear communication is the best policy when dealing with breaks in game. A little time for texts and some water can make sure everyone is engaged when it is time to kick in the door and battle the Orcish Warqueen. Take care of each other and have fun!