Do you ever find yourself asking questions like “is this combat overstaying its welcome?”, “Is this six hour puzzle in my D&D game excessive?”, “Is this blog post intro wholly too indulgent?” If so then you may be beginning to feel one of the most important aspects of being a masterclass Dungeon Master….
Hi, we are Ben and Joe of We Speak Common. We’re two long time friends, nerds and D&D players who, two years ago, decided that our weekly Dungeons and Dragons games weren’t quite enough for us. We took the plunge and launched a podcast for anyone that loves the hobby as much as we do. We wanted to create a space where new and seasoned DM’s and players alike could get into the D&D headspace. Whether that was listening to our tales, advice and thoughts to get in the mood to prep up their next session, or to learn more about what D&D is and how to run games. And so, We Speak Common was born.
We’ll tell you more about us a little later.
But first… PACING
Pacing is one of the most important and useful tools a DM has at their disposal. This is because at its core D&D is storytelling. It’s why we as human beings find ourselves drawn to it so strongly, it’s in our core to tell stories, like our ancestors did while sitting around campfires. To tell good stories, engaging ones that you love to come back to, you need to understand pacing.
As DM’s, and players, we love to get lost in our worlds. We can spend hours reading and writing lore, detailing NPC backgrounds and playing out scenarios that inform and develop the realm we live in. But when it comes to running a session, or a campaign, we have to think about the player's perspective. This happens to be quite small when compared to the understanding a DM has of a situation or story beat, and so changes how we might pace a string of encounters.
Let’s say your party has recently been through a whirlwind series of fights and battles, they’ve been against the clock and have just delivered the mcguffin to the quest giver! They might be ready to slow down a bit (they might want to jump back into the fray, this is where understanding your group is key), a change of pace here would feel natural and warranted. A shift to a more daily routine, to restocking supplies and having social encounters would give the players the feeling of rest, a breath of fresh air. If we spin this hypothetical on its head it can still work out. Perhaps the party has spent the last two tennday in town and now are running out of things to do. When a farmhand comes running into town shouting about the gnolls that have attacked his home there's a sudden injection of urgency, a get up and go the party was missing.
In its basic form this pacing change is delivering to your players the feelings that their characters are experiencing, and that’s why it’s so important. If you can make your players feel the same sense of calm before the storm, frantic rush or mello afternoon, you’re doing it right. The skill coms in seeding that the gnoll attack will happen without tipping the party off. This is the claw marks on trees they saw on their way into town, the half eaten baor corpse found in the forest and the pike’s that line the wall outside the farm. Suddenly when Gnoll’s attack and kick start the pace there's a reason, or at least there’s clues that it was expected… not randomly rolled on a table in the DMG. If you can start thinking about pacing and where the feel of the story is going, you can begin to build on that and deliver it to your players sitting at the table.
As with most things this takes practice, and you’ll get better at it over time. Here’s some tips to get you started:
1. Feel the atmosphere. You players are the best hints you have at if the current pace is right. Are they enjoying their days in the city, running errands and getting jobs done? Do they long for a dungeon to delve into or a fight to break out in the local tavern? You’ll know from them if the current pacing needs a switch up.
2. Plan the change of pace. Don’t just suddenly have a beholder attack the local lord governor just because you need to have something exciting happen (or do, that could be fun!). Plan the how and why, give meaning to the change of pace so that the party can explore this new arc with reason and purpose.
3. Find some time to write small pace changing encounters that you can pull out in the case that you need to move the story on. These could be an urchin child pick-pocketing a party member in the streets, starting a chase to retrieve their gold. A small cottage the party comes across on their travels, where a friendly Hag sells tea and wares. Small bite size encounters to add a taster of a different pace that you can offer up in a number of scenarios.
4. Stick to your guns. Sometimes a DM does in fact know best! Impatience, confusion and frustration can all be powerful motivators for players when employed purposefully by the DM. This is something we discuss heavily on our show and often get wrong as it's one of the harder aspects of pacing to get right. But when a DM implicitly plants these feelings in the players it can greatly enhance the eventual payoff. Yes the players may feel the slow pain of chasing the dragon from village to village, always one step behind it’s trail of destruction. But when they do come face to face with the source of their frustration the emotional weight of that battle will be tenfold!
5. Don’t worry about it! Sometimes you’ll get it wrong, we all do! But that's fine as long as you learn from your experience and tweak things next time you run a session. As with a lot of things in DMing and D&D, you’ll get better the more you do it and the more you try new things.
And that's it for the basics of pacing, something you can use in your next session, and a topic we’ve bought up loads on the show. We’re always welcoming new people into our party at We Speak Common, so here’s everything you need to know and what to expect if you decide to join us.
Each week on a Thursday morning we release a new episode that focuses on a different aspect of the tabletop RPG. Sometimes we talk about tales from our games, the epic highs and lows and how we achieved those as Dungeon Masters. Sometimes we tackle a specific subject and give advice on how we would approach it, other times we talk about subjects our listeners have messaged in and occasionally we build whole new worlds, encounters and rule sets. One thing’s for sure, we always have a laugh.
Over time we’ve built up a community of listeners that often get involved with the show to help build out ideas and techniques to craft better stories and games. We’re slowly building to our goal of being the UK’s representation of the Dungeons and Dragons Community, and have even featured on Local BBC programs talking about the hobby and our show. We’re super excited by our partnership with Dice Dungeon, teaming up with another UK D&D company and showing the world the UK loves this game is part of our mission!
But that’s enough of the sales pitch. In all honesty, at the heart of it, our weekly chats are ways for us to just have some fun getting deeper into the hobby we love. There’s no other word for it but love. We like to tell stories, and we want to be better at it. Having these weekly discussions, talking about the different ways we do things and riffing together to come up with new ideas helps to be better storytellers and game makers. We hope it does that for you too! We’ve been playing for over 6 years now, together and separately, we’ve developed our personal styles and now we want to share that. Most importantly it’s fun for us to have these conversations and to hear from you guys, your thoughts, your techniques. As a bonus we’ve met some amazing people doing some great stuff in the community, like Dice Dungeon! We continue to share what they are doing with our audience, and highlight some of the cool lesser known products out there. Sometimes we even get to give some of those cool things away!
So, if you want to join us our next episode will go live at 6am on Thursday morning. You can catch us on Spotify, Apple and google podcasts, as well as a whole host of other platforms; there's a full list at www.wespeakcommon.com
You can get 10% off by using code "WeSpeakCommon" at checkout.
We hope to hear from you soon.
B & J.