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Planning and Analysis Paralysis
Posted By Scott Martin On August 7, 2008 @ 3:57 am In GMing Advice,Tools for GMs | 21 Comments
This post is inspired by John Arcadian’s recent post, Ah, the good old Scry and Fry. Before I get into this post, however, I want to whip you into a frenzied mob. March with me and demand a solution to the whole “Scry and Fry” thing, especially the fry part. Gnome Arcadian, show us the solution or (raising torch high in gnomish hands) we’ll show you the meaning of fry!
Ahem. He brought up an excellent point that has plagued many campaigns I’ve enjoyed as both a player and as GM. The problems he mentioned reminded me of the similar problems encountered in some board games, resulting in analysis paralysis. In recent campaigns I was a player who helped waste a lot of time on discussion not deeds. Let’s look at two specific cases.
In previous sessions our rebel agents posed as rich gamblers and came to Cloud City aboard a gambling yacht. Now we were on the station and facing a huge obstacle: how do four agents disrupt an imperial guardpost, mining operation, and gambling Mecca? We spent some time investigating in various ways (we spoke with our local contact, took a tour of the station, rented a cloud car to look at the station from the outside, infiltrated the mob, etc.) We came away with a wealth of options.
That was our mistake. We had many interesting options and could make good predictions. We lost half a session (something like two or three hours) debating what approach we should take and lovingly crafting a plan. A couple of players mentally checked out as the planning went on and on, but in the end we came up with a brilliant, layered plan. Of course, now it was too late to actually implement it, but next week we’d start off strong.
During the week, however, one player noticed additional flaws in the plan. We started the next session with him mentioning the problems he’d spied and describing the new plan to the players who hadn’t read his email during the week. Just as we started to bog down in debating the merits of the new plan, one player piped up, “I though we solved everything last week.” I remember explaining the reasons for the changes for a sentence or two before I stumbled to a halt. We all hit the same point at the same time– we’d do the new plan now and trust to the dice. It was awesome– we wound up running three or four simultaneous, crazy cool plans at once. Two characters sabotaged the fighter bay, another sneaked into the imperial commander’s room while posing as a gambling boss’s bodyguard, while the third group got into a secure zone, sealed the station, and took over the communications array. It felt very like the movies. [And it got even better as the session went on... but that's plenty of example.]
Our characters had previously done great deeds on behalf of our nation, when word came to us that the King had been assassinated. Prior to that we’d kind of known that he had no heir, but on hearing of his death we knew that our country was in trouble, that civil war might break out. The families and factions were divided… and everyone wanted to know who we (the recently minted heroes) thought should be king.
We had a thumbnail sketch of the five factions, as rumor presented them. The group decided that we really had to meet the various candidates before we could endorse any of them. So we had a few sessions of traveling around the country, being wined, bribed, and asked to throw our support behind one faction or another. It was interesting for a while; we approached it like a mystery, trying to decode which was the “good” faction that we should support. But there wasn’t one good faction and four bad factions… there were a lot of tradeoffs and shades of gray. Traveling the realm and gathering information from people who were trying to impress us cut way back on the combat, which drained a couple of players’ interest.
Finally we had met everyone we were going to meet and discussed who the characters wanted to support. A curious thing came out of it; while the players couldn’t really come to an agreement on who should be in charge, we did agree that our characters looked up to the nobility. So we told the GM that our characters didn’t feel it was their place to interfere… and that OOC, we would love to solve the problems that came with their poor selections. We’d solve the new problem by spell and sword when the wrong person came to power. With that decision the game unstuck and resumed a happier course.
Hopefully the examples were entertaining– I think that there are some common issues that they illuminate well. Several factors seem to contribute to analysis paralysis:
So how do you have plots with these great themes and complex choices without bogging down in discussion and planning that loses half the group’s interest? I’ve had some success using these solutions, but I’m sure there are many more. Contribute them in comments!
Are planning delays a big problem for your group? Tell us about your problems and solutions. I hope that you can combine John’s article about streamlining information gathering and this one to streamline decision making and get to the fun parts of your game faster.
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