Telling Stories: Only a little time

Yes, I know, it's a horrible logo. I'm not always good at those.In an ideal world, you would have all the time you want for roleplaying and work.  And whatever other hobbies you have, too.  Skateboarding, maybe.  But reality doesn’t work that way.  You have a limited amount of time in a given week, and with enough demands on that time it becomes really hard to also work in 2-3 hours of roleplaying on one night.  Let alone on multiple nights.

Your options are simple.  Find more time to roleplay, or get better at making roleplaying work without a whole lot of time.  If you’ve attempted and missed out on the former, well, time to fall back on the latter.  How can you do more with less time?

The simple answer is that it’s tricky, but it is doable.  What follows are the best tips that I have for making sure that you still get involved in roleplaying even if you aren’t able to go for marathon sessions on a regular basis, or even if you’re just a bit shy on time for a given week.

As is not having time for petty bullshit.

Getting down to business isn’t always comfortable, but it’s generally far more efficient.

Go straight for the heart

I will be the first to say that it is really nice to ease into a scene.  Instead of jumping straight into the meat, you can just sort of amble, laze your way into what you need, goof around a bit, smile, all that fun stuff.  It’s great.

I will also be the first to say that if you are working on a constrained schedule, clamp that shit down.

If you have half an hour to do what you need to do, you do not have time to slowly walk to the door and knock.  You can assume all of that shit goes unsaid.  Talk about what scene-setting you need, then launch into the damn heart of the scene, the most interesting part, the bit that’s going to stick in your memory.  You can fill in the blanks for everything else if it becomes relevant at a later time.  You want to do some roleplaying, do it and do it fast.  Don’t waste your time on extraneous bits of dressing that you do not, in fact, require.

Think of roleplaying like a delicious dinner and the setup like dinner rolls.  A good dinner roll is tasty, and if you’re hungry, you’ll have no problem eating all of them before the meal arrives.  But if you’re not, then why would you fill up on rolls before the meal?  Just assume that your character had a reason for showing up at a given place and launch into the meat of what you want to do.  Focus on that dinner, not the delicious rolls.

I may just be hungry at the moment.

Avoid crowds

A crowd of roleplayers moves at the speed of its slowest member.  Typing speed does not map conveniently to overall roleplaying ability, of course, but when you are trying to make the most of a short schedule, the guy who can type one response in the time it takes you to type seventeen lines is going to wear on you.  And the more people get involved, the slower everything moves.

One-on-one sessions are the best option for quick roleplaying, simply because both of you can agree on what happened beforehad in a snap and just start going.  It also means that you’re only waiting for one person to respond instead of a whole cluster, which further accelerates the pace of events.  By contrast, big group functions can easily grind on for the better part of an hour with nothing haven taken place beyond set dressing – fun if you’ve got the time to enjoy it, but remarkably tedious if you’re working on a constrained schedule and need to get things moving faster.

Holding off on big group events when you’re short on time is just smart practice.  Two people is ideal, three is doable, but four is pushing your luck.  If there are multiple people who really want to roleplay with you, well, that brings us to our next point…

Take control or be controlled, in short.

If something is important, you make time. That does not mean, however, that you let your time be ruled by others.

Schedule, schedule, schedule

One of the best bits of advice I ever got was to schedule the things you do and hold other people to those schedules.  If you make plans with someone to do something at 4:00 and they’re not there or calling you at 4:10?  You’re going.  It sounds harsh, but it’s all based around the very simple principle that if you trat your own time as if it’s worth something, people will respond.  When you don’t have much time to spend anyway, this becomes even more important.

Make your plans for a specific time, and give yourself a reasonable amount of time for a quick scene.  If you think you can manage 7:30-8:00 do that.  If your would-be roleplaying partner doesn’t show up on time, well, log off and leave.  You do not have time to stand around and wait endlessly for someone to finally show up.  I’m not saying that you should announce this in the style of a 1980s business mogul, but leaving and gently saying “yeah, I really need to be on-schedule, I don’t have the time to mess around” is completely fair.

If you only have time for half an hour of roleplaying every day, you want to make sure that you are actually getting half an hour of roleplaying, not ten minutes of roleplaying and twenty minutes of waiting.  Your friends should respect that, and if the schedule doesn’t work for them, you can work on coming up with one that does.  But at the same time, you need to police your needs and your available time.  The alternative doesn’t work well.

No matter what you do, roleplaying on a very tight schedule is difficult, just because it can quickly balloon in scope and be difficult to manage.  It is doable, though, and I’m sure there are tricks that I’ve neglected to mention; if you have some of your own, feel free to leave them in the comments.  Next week I want to talk about the three-beat scene and using it to make your roleplaying more directed and effective.  After that?  Let’s talk about creating satisfying starts.

About expostninja

I've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.

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