The best way to improve your craft as a GM is to play with a lot of different people, picking and choosing the best techniques and bringing them back to your own campaign. Insofar as I live in the biggest city in my state–a teeming metropolis of 60,000 souls–that’s easier said than done. That’s why I’ve been listening to a lot of Critical Role lately. You can get a lot out of the experience as a player, but I’ve also found it instructive as a GM. In particular, I’ve been paying attention to the way Matt Mercer paces his downtime activities. Or rather, the way he doesn’t. 

I tend to get antsy about pacing when I’m behind the screen. If I sense a lull in the action I’ll flash forward to the next day or introduce a random encounter to get the game rolling again. But if you pay attention to the flow of play in Critical Role, it’s never Mercer who decides to advance the action. It’s always the players who determine when the game moves on to the next thing.

“Do you have anything else that you want to do before you go to sleep?” is a common question. It’s easy to miss the first couple of times, but the longer I’ve watched the more I’ve heard that question repeated: Is there anything else you want to do? That question gives power to the players, meaning that they’ve got plenty of time to engage in side conversations, intra-party pranks, and yes, even shopping.

If you ask the average GM, they’ll tell you that downtime activities might be interesting every once in a while, but that it’s best to take care of shopping and crafting and all the other “bookkeeping stuff” between sessions. I’m beginning to question that common wisdom. The “boring stuff” has a way of giving players room to breathe. It allows them space to incorporate their own ideas into the flow of play. To add some dynamics to a game, bringing contrast to the moments of high drama. Or at least, that’s what I’m beginning to suspect.

What do you guys think? Do you like to linger over the “bookkeeping stuff,” or do you think that it’s better left to emails and forum posts and between-sessions play? Let’s hear it in the comments!


ARE YOU AN IMPATIENT GAMER? If so, you should check out the “Henchman” reward level over on The Handbook of Heroes Patreon. For just one buck a month, you can get each and every Handbook of Heroes comic a day earlier than the rest of your party members. That’s bragging rights right there!