Occasionally I'm going to post something about a D&D party that isn't the one on-line. This is one of those occasions.
Let me just say first of all that I would love to post 'content' everyday. It would be marvelous to have a new map, or a new table, that I could trot out and amaze everyone and piss off a few others ... but the reality is that it takes more than a day to churn out the kind of maps and tables that I consider worth creating ... that is, more than seven lines and two columns. More often than not, it takes more than a month to create a good map, and really a lot of time to come up with and create a good table. 'Content' isn't like simply writing my opinion for twenty minutes. And yet I like posting something every weekday on here. I don't want to post other people's crap, I don't want to post pictures, I don't want to post things that have nothing to do with D&D and I don't want to post about old modules and box art from shit produced 30 years ago. So what you get is my opinion. Luckily, I have a lot of opinions. Three and a third years now and the opinions are still coming.
Today the opinion is about an annoying habit that I see from players, one that stems from the language they use. It is a defensive mechanism, one that is designed to protect players, and I am certain that many a DM has fallen into its trap.
See if you can recognize it.
Player 1: What do we do, then?
Player 2: I think we ought to get together on having some kind of plan. How high is the fortress?
DM: It's on the top of the hill overlooking the sea, perched upon a 75 foot cliff that surrounds the fortress except where a very narrow cut descends from the landward side.
Player 2: How narrow?
DM: About four or five feet. It is not used for moving supplies - those are raised to the fortress by a rope that raises a large box.
Player 2: Does anyone have any ideas?
Player 3: We could climb up the side, perhaps at night.
Player 1: My father was a mountaineer and I have experience at that. We would need to get some equipment.
Player 2: We'll get it.
Player 3: Are there many guards?
DM: You have no idea. You can't tell from the ground.
Player 3: Maybe we should ask around the village. Perhaps someone knows how many guards there are, or has been up there and seen.
Player 4: We might watch to see if they carry torches. It's not night yet, right?
Player 1: I'm for climbing up.
Player 3: Me too.
Player 2: Great. If we're agreed we should get what we need and get started.
(All players look at the DM and wait)
DM: So, what are you going to do?
Player 2: What we said. We're going to climb up the mountain at night.
At this point, I usually sit, and wait, and the players start up again about their plans. They work more things out about what they're GOING to do, making no actual statements about doing any exact thing at this time. Virtually every idea is spoken of in the future tense, not in the present tense, and it becomes quite plain after twenty or thirty minutes that the party is waiting for the DM to say, "Okay, it's night, and you're climbing up the side of the fortress."
Only problem is, that's NOT for the DM to say. Until the party actually says, "We wait for night," the amount of time that is passing should be considered real time ... since in fact the players haven't actually done anything. They haven't said they go to the market to buy equipment, they haven't looked up any persons in the town, they haven't actually said they go to the foot of the cliff and so on. The tactic is a player trick to push the DM into editing all that for the sake of keeping the game moving ... and thus putting the responsibility on the DM for what was, and what was not gathered. Really clever players will try to argue that they did get this or that (past tense) before suddenly being on the side of the mountain, and the DM will realize that he jumped forward a bit too fast and now has to compensate the player. If the DM really isn't on the ball, the party can fuck around with him or her quite a bit this way.
Sometimes, I'll make a point in the running to tell the party that no time has passed and that they haven't done anything ... to encourage them to stop talking constantly in the future tense. Sometimes I'll sit and do nothing, waiting for them to say, "is it night yet?" so I can answer, no, it's about five minutes later than when we all discussed what we were going to do. And sometimes the party won't seem to notice, and I'll have a lovely forty-five minute or hour break in the middle of the running as they talk and talk and talk about the future. What a lovely thing is the future. It doesn't actually require the party DO anything.
I think we naturally do this as people, waiting for time to push us into activity, thinking mostly about how we're going to go to the gym or work or to the store ... and most of the time we're not really active about something until we're pushed by the clock into doing it. Uh oh, it's seven, if I don't get going now there won't be time to get back. And so we get into the car and go. Finally.
I really enjoy a party that doesn't 'plan' quite so much. And it moves the game along better when the player doesn't turn to others and say, "we should go there" but instead, without waiting for the others, says, "I go there." This will usually get the others to say, "Me too," and the activities will begin. If there's any need for a deeper plan, someone else in the party can say, "No, wait, don't yet."
But nine times out of ten a party makes plans when no actual plan is necessary. Why would one need a plan to buy equipment? Or get started on a journey. When the question "where?" is settled, don't mumble about what you ought to buy or have or get ... just go get it. Take charge of your character's actions - not everything needs to be a committee meeting.
It just wastes time.