Quiet Time in TTRPGs

So that December reboot thing hasn’t really been going according to plan, has it? I’m sure my audience of regulars is horribly disappointed.

Here’s a question that’s been bugging me: Is there room for quiet time in TTRPGs? What I’m referring to is moments in video games right after an explosive set-piece battle when the player is given nothing to do except explore the level for a while, maybe find any spare collectibles they missed, and they can move on whenever they feel like they’re ready for more gunfighting. An important note is that quiet time is not when gameplay is drastically reduced or taken away entirely. Quiet time is not a lobby, especially not a lobby that doesn’t even have chat. It’s not a cut scene (even if it’s a quiet one) and it’s not following your NPC buddy as he walks from one door to another. Quiet time is exploring and taking in a level at your own pace, free of enemy interference. It serves a critical pacing purpose by deflating the tension so that tension can be built back up again, instead of turning into a Michael Bay style constant, fatiguing malaise of maximum energy that becomes dull. I was going to link a YouTube video by game design pundit and recovering hipster Chris Franklin on the subject, but I can’t find the damn thing, so my text explanation will have to do.

How could you translate this to TTRPGs? Direct conversion is clearly impossible. Collectibles just don’t make sense in a TTRPG, not in the way they serve as a vehicle for quiet time, anyway. You could have collectibles attached to random loot tables, like having some awesome magic item like a Ring of Three Wishes be split into components (say, seven golden balls each marked with between one and seven stars) and let players quest for them and that would essentially be a collectible quest, but you wouldn’t find those things by tediously dragging your token across each and every room of a cleared dungeon and rolling a new Perception check each time, and at the end wondering if you should run through every single room again just in case you missed one of those Perception checks. TTRPGs don’t have any sense of movement, which means there’s no sense of exploring the environment. You can have a sense of discovery still, of finding out what’s over the next ridge, but you can’t have a mini-game where you try to find a small and easy to miss thing in a large and complex level.

Unless, I guess, you have complex custom maps which are visually clear enough to communicate necessary information in fights but also visually complex enough that a keen-eyed player can spot a hidden magic item like it’s a hidden objects game. That would be cool and it would be quiet time, but is well outside the ability of most GMs to create, so it doesn’t really solve the problem.

What about roleplay? A bit of relaxed conversation can serve as quiet time, but this can end up feeling more like a loading screen or a cut scene than quiet time. You’re stuck listening to this NPC while the GM deflates the tension so he can build it back up – except the GM is also deflating the momentum, which is different and bad, because you don’t actually care to shoot the shit with these particular NPCs. If the climax that was just reached happens to be of emotional importance to one or more NPCs, or even if it’s only of importance to PCs and the NPC is just there to prompt a discussion about it, this can work great. PCs discuss how they’ve been affected by what just happened or what they just learned. It gives people a chance to establish their character, brings all the PCs’ motivations to the forefront (which helps remind players why they as individuals as well as their teammates care about the quest outside of the metagame reason that they showed up to play D&D and don’t want to leave early), and it releases some tension to give the GM something to build up to again.

You can’t always do this either, though. What if the PCs have little to talk about? What if the events weren’t much of an emotional blow for anyone? What if you’re playing through a published adventure, and it turns out that your motivation of “save the world from Tiamat” is going to keep through pretty much the entire thing, without much need for discussion? What if all your players but one have a barely sketched out motivation to play at all? Having NPCs along for the ride who all have emotional reactions to what’s going on threatens to turn the game into that NPC’s story instead of the party’s, and there’s no guarantee that any of your players will be able to out-soliloquy your NPCs and thus retain the spotlight.

Is there a way to add quiet time into a TTRPG that can be done with the average GM’s resources and skills without relying on the players to have sufficiently well-developed characters to carry a scene with just a little prompting? Bear in mind that the solution (if one exists) doesn’t necessarily have to involve roleplay at all, although I suspect that’s a fruitful avenue of investigation.

Let’s Play Hoard of the Dragon Queen: The Summarized Ending

Hoard of the Dragon Queen has a much stronger finish than it does a middle. Castle Naerytar is an okay dungeon, the random encounters on the road are alright, but the lack of any particular involvement of the caravan makes it feel underwhelming, and I would’ve appreciated more guidance on what to do with all the other merchants and guards. Greenest was a great opening and Skyreach Castle is a great end, especially with the possibility that players can get their hands on a flying castle. That’s just awesome. My little brother did not actually pull that off, but it’s cool that they thought to leave the option open. Unfortunately, this ending is going to be botched up a bit by the several months of time between when it happened and when I’m writing about it, but it was filler to begin with, so it’s not a big deal.

The party met with Talis, who wanted to be the white wyrmspeaker and was rather put out at having been passed over for the job, and Talis agreed to give them the services of his four-armed troll buddy Trepsin to track down and kill Rezmir as a favor to Cyanwrath. Cyanwrath, in return, promised to kill the white wyrmspeaker and return his mask to Talis. If Severin, the red wyrmspeaker and leader of the entire cult, doesn’t like these shenanigans, Cyanwrath and Talis are staging a coup.

Talis reports that the party were killed and eaten by Trepsin to stop Rezmir from flying off with the castle immediately, and the party spends some time cleaning out the rest of Naerytar. Arvensis is killed, brought back at the temple of Malar found in Parnast, the town outside of which Skyreach Castle is currently hanging out. Malar is an evil god of the hunt worshiped by Trepsin, and he’s able to arrange with the Cleric to have Arvensis raised with no questions asked.

The party heads into the castle disguised as allies of Talis (which technically they are) and scouts the place out before ambushing and exterminating them. The party is critically underleveled at this point (the XP given out is just not enough for a standard party of five to keep up with the levels they’re supposed to be at), but they manage to ambush both Rezmir and Rath Modar while the castle is still on low alert. With the staff of fire and Hazirawn on their side, the party is able to fight off the vampire, his spawn, and a small army of ogres before barricading in for a long rest. Kobolds attempt to break into the room they’re hiding in while they rest, but the second a pick-ax strikes through the wall, Arvensis uses the opening to shoot a fireball from the staff. None of the kobold work crew survives, and the remaining kobolds refuse to take their place.

Rested up, the party is able to defeat the remaining enemies in the castle, including Blagothkus, but the dragon poses a serious problem. He’s directly guarding the treasure they came here to keep out of the cult’s hands, and the castle could be moving them closer to the cult’s ultimate hideout (it’s actually moving towards Rheged Glacier, which is the opposite direction from the Well of Dragons, but the party doesn’t know the location of the dragon cult’s hideout). After brainstorming a few different ways to disperse the treasure across the ground as the castle flies (much to the agitation of both Cyanwrath and Robyn), it’s finally agreed upon that the best plan is to position two of the castle’s ballistae in the ice tunnels with chains attached to their bolts. Arvensis will distract the dragon, then use the staff of fire and his own magic to shoot two fireballs and collapse the ice tunnel over the dragon’s head, whereupon the two ballistae will fire their bolts in an x-shape across the dragon’s back from behind. With the dragon’s head caught under the ice and his body restrained, he will be stuck and unable to turn around and confront the party with his terrifying breath weapon. The party can then attempt to stab it to death before he gets free.

Somewhat anti-climactically, this goes off without a hitch. The dragon dies, but soon afterwards the castle crashes into Reghed Glacier. Blagothkus was aiming for the frost giants camped nearby, but he’s starting to lose it and wound up crashlanding instead. The party stumbles, shaken but mostly unhurt, from the wreckage of Skyreach Castle into an unforgiving winter wasteland, having thwarted the dragon cult’s nefarious schemes for now, but having lost themselves miles and miles from civilization in the process.

Rebooting

It’s the first Monday of December, which means my November break is officially over. I’m going to cheat for today and count a post announcing the end of my inactivity as today’s post. I’ve also got some Anime Banzai photos that I never wound up sharing, and I have quite a few D&D sessions which I’ll probably just summarize. They’re mostly filler, anyway, and they’d probably make for better filler if they were original campaigns. I have campaign summaries for my Star Wars campaign ready to go, maybe I should post those sometime. I’m also hoping to wrap up Dinosaur Riding Barbarians’ alpha draft soon, so that’s exciting.

In any case, I’m back, stuff will be happening, not entirely sure what it will be. We’ll see when we get there.