How can I help my players be more decisive?

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Lord Karick
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How can I help my players be more decisive?

#1 Postby Lord Karick » Thu Feb 23, 2017 4:37 pm

Hi, just had a very slow session, probably not helped by it being evening (we usually play in the afternoon at the weekend), colds and a few bad dice rolls. I gave my players a quite open scenario - access and download security vids from a nightclub. The set up was essentially a re-skinned "The Hive" from Deus Ex. They could go about getting it any way they wanted - create distractions whilst the club was open, come back after hours, rush the place all guns blazing, anything would have done. Ok, they had a couple of duff dice rolls, but every decision takes them ages to make.
How can I encourage them to keep things moving as the GM without railroading the whole situation? They came up with some good ideas and I'm generally a yes guy rather than a no guy, but they just get so bogged down. Help!

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Re: How can I help my players be more decisive?

#2 Postby Freemage » Thu Feb 23, 2017 6:21 pm

Rule One: Communicate. Rule One is ALWAYS communicate. So, ask your players if THEY felt the session dragged. You might be surprised--they may have enjoyed debating the pros and cons of the best means to approach the situation, figuring out which skillset they were best equipped to tackle, and so on. Some groups do. In which case... congrats, you ran a successful game!

Second: If they agree that things could've been sped up, then it's time to talk about options. I'd suggest doing some note-taking the next time you're giving them something open-ended. Once you present the situation and let them start talking, time them, discretely. There's two things you want to note:

1: How long did it take them to decide on a plan overall?
2: How long did it take them before they came up with the plan they eventually chose?

The 'wasted' time is the difference between these two--that's when they kept tossing out ideas that never actually beat the 'good' one. If the 'winning' plan was the one that they came up with last, then frankly, they took all the time they needed, and you'll just have to accept that.

If there's a major gap, though--if they are just reluctant to settle even on a solid plan until they've mapped out every possible option, complete with contingencies... then it's time for a little bit of boot-camp. Talk it over with them first (remember Rule One), but one possibility--set an actual timer. Make it reasonable--you're not trying to put a huge pressure on them, just keep them focused on selecting their approach efficiently. If the timer goes off, they have to either poop or get off the pot. Be ready with a 'you spend too many hours planning' option for what happens next (so it shouldn't be a game-ender if they don't make the time-limit, just create a setback that's going to make actual success in the overall story harder, or cause some significant partial failure no matter how they proceed after that). Do this, at most, once per session.

And after that session is over? You guessed it--talk with them again. Figure out if the timer worked, if they found the extra limit so distracting that it made it harder, and so on.

BTW, you should also, during the note-taking phase, see if this is one or two players out of the group who are constantly seeking to nitpick the plan and tweak things. If so, it may be time for a private conversation with them, assuring them that you believe in the "Yes, And" approach to GMing, and that they can trust that 'a cool idea' is better than 'the one I had in mind when I set this up'.

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Re: How can I help my players be more decisive?

#3 Postby Snate56 » Fri Feb 24, 2017 6:24 am

What if your players are constipated?


"Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reasons."
>Mark Twain<

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Re: How can I help my players be more decisive?

#4 Postby Deskepticon » Sat Feb 25, 2017 2:41 am

Snate56 wrote:What if your players are constipated?


And if you gave them all laxatives, who "runs" the game?

But anyway...
Yes, I agree with the whole communicating bit. If they thought the session was fine, then it was fine. If they felt it dragged, ask them why. Sometimes if a scene is too open, the players don't have a clear direction. It may help to get involved in some of the planning, in a passive way. Maybe an NPC has some info they can contribute. If it gets the juices flowing, and it is ultimately the players who come up with the plan, it's a Win.

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Re: How can I help my players be more decisive?

#5 Postby galu » Sat Feb 25, 2017 3:42 am

It would be good to ask then why they did this.
Some teams actually like this planning phase (I played a lot of Shadowrun/Cyberpunk, and there it is quite common). While I don't like this as either a GM or a player, if they enjoy it, why not?

They cannot agree. This is more problematic, and quite common is large (5+() groups. It always helps if there is a de facto leader among them, you can try to push the decision on him.

What helps in general:
- generally try to engage in the conversation. (at least you are not bored). When doing this, I do not penalise them as a GM (with thinking up penalizing their actions, because I know the plan), I am rather acting as the PCs "knowledge of the game world".
- tell them before the game that it is not mandatory to create a perfect plan. Just tell them the "plans" of freeing princess Leia from the Death Star and later Han Solo from Jabba's palace. They are quite a joke if you think about it. But failed plans make "fun adventures" (we dress up as stromtroopers, until Kenobi - alone - finds (!) the unguarded (!) switches to set the ship free. VS "I will let myself caught by JAbba, and try to come up with something during our execution")

- in case of these professional heist scenarios (Ocean's 11, Ronin, etc.), you can allow them retconning preparation, in exchange for a benny. So, when they arrive at the place, the preparation is already made, offscreen. Then, when they encounter an obstacle they didn't think of (surveillance cameras, a demon in the closet), they spend their preparation bennies, and come up with some babble: "it's a good thing that Miguel warned of these cameras. Just a sec (dialing). "Ramona? Yeah, we are here. Fine as always, thanks! You can start the video taken yesterday evening.. and yeah, I owe you an opera night, and thanks!"

Phasma Felis
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Re: How can I help my players be more decisive?

#6 Postby Phasma Felis » Thu Mar 02, 2017 6:18 pm

This isn't a "solution" exactly, but I know when I'm indecisive in a game, it's usually because I'm worried about making the wrong decision, or misinterpreting clues, and screwing everything up. It might help if you can find some way to reassure your players--at least in the short term, to build their confidence--that they won't get themselves killed or wreck the plot by just jumping in and taking action.

That may be tricky if they actually will get themselves killed, of course. :) So I guess the details depend on the game and the scenario. Maybe you could allow them to make a roll or spend a Benny to learn some important fact that will make the decision easier, or--in extreme cases--just go OOC and outright tell them something they're waffling over. "You can trust Twitchy Ned," "the party of orcs approaching the castle just want to parley," etc. (That last one is from personal experience--we spotted a handful of orcs approaching in the distance, split the party and spent like an hour shadowing them and preparing traps and ambushes, and they wound up pulling out a truce flag as soon as they reached the gate.)

Porkchop Express
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Re: How can I help my players be more decisive?

#7 Postby Porkchop Express » Thu Mar 02, 2017 8:19 pm

I have similar troubles in my Rippers campaign when my players are in the position to create a plan. I've been trying to hurry them along to keep the game from getting bogged down and here's what I have been trying:

1. Straight out telling them they are running out of time as players and need to finalise something. Tabletop RPGs have always been about balancing the narrative needs of the world with the game needs at the table.

2. If they need extra knowledge because the unknowns are too great, then perhaps they can make an appropriate skill roll to fill in the blanks.

3. Set some kind of in game reason for their to be limited prep time in the game. If they spend too long thinking on their approach then the MacGuffin will be moved, enemies will be reinforced, the window of opportunity will close or what have you.

Unless they really enjoy planning and are happy for that to be the bulk of a session then the mantra ought to be that "a good plan today is better than a great plan next week".

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