A while back, I created a blog post that was the first in what (may) be many Campaign Repairman posts. You can view that original blog post here. In this first followup entry, I want to take a look at the solutions we've implemented, and how well it's working.
Since that post, we have made the following changes to our campaign:
- I make sure all of my adventure prep is done the night before. No trying to prep before the game.
- We moved the venue of the game from a player's apartment to the WotC offices, eliminating the need to go home early.
- Thanks to the above change, we now have access to a whiteboard. The whiteboard hosts an initiative tracker (made by the talented Mat Smith) as well as a map of Faerun and occasional player notes.
- The group of players has dropped from 6 to 5 as a result of non-game commitments.
So, with those in mind, let's take a look at how they've affected the problems I mentioned before.
Problem #1: We don't start playing until 7:30 at night. This one has been helped a lot. Playing at the WotC offices is a more central location for several of the players, and it has eliminated a step where people would meet and then carpool to the apartment. On slow nights we start at 7:00, but we have also started at 6:30-6:45 a few times. If I go get food and everyone gets there on time, we consistently start almost 45 minutes earlier than we were before.
Problem #2: We tend to get sidetracked by conversation, slowing the game down. Not sure that many of the above changes had anything to do with this, but for some reason the game has seemed a lot more focused. I think part of it is the group size dropping by 1, and then also I think part of it is my increased preparation.
Problem #3: Players seem distracted at the table, causing slowdowns. There are certainly vastly fewer distractions at our new venue. Since it's no one's home, we are less distracted by domestic duties and hosting, and by things like pets or spouses entering. There are just fewer distractions from the outside, and it really focuses us on gaming.
Problem #4: The DM has trouble keeping the game focused and on pace. Greater preparation the night before has made me more confident in where each session is going or could go. That, in turn, has made it easier to keep people focused by providing in-game prompts (i.e. if you're distracted, I can make something happen to snap you out of it). Additionally, I feel more in control of the environment since I can basically establish the play space myself, rather than feeling like I'm a guest in someone else's house.
Problem #5: Combats are taking too long, reducing the amount of encounters per session. The visible initiative tracker is helping, and increasing player confidence does as well. That said, I think there's still too much analysis paralysis on the part of some players, so it's possible I need to provide either clearer options or continue to prompt people between turns to make their decisions ahead of time.
So, overall, some progress made, but some to go. The players have reached 10th level, and it looks like we're going to have an all-day game session that will cover all of 10th level and get the characters to Paragon tier all in one fell swoop. If you're interested in reading a bit about the campaign, I've got an Obsidian Portal wiki for the campaign here.