Ask Angry: Slow Decisions and Writing Poetry

Welcome to the first ever installment of my new weekly advice column: Ask Angry! That’s right. Every week I’ll take a question or two someone has sent me and I’ll answer it. With advice. Hence: advice column. Obviously.

If you want to ask a question, e-mail me at TheAngryGameMaster@gmail.com and put Ask Angry in the subject line. If you don’t put Ask Angry in the subject like, I’ll punch you. And ignore your question. And punch you.

Sky (AKA @skysurf3000 on Twitter) asks:

Help! My players take forever to decide/agree on what to do next. What should I do?

Hi Sky, thanks for asking. Before I answer, I’d like to ask you a question: if you hate it when your players take forever, why did you create players take forever. That’s right, I’m blaming you.

I know people love to invoke their favorite gamer buzz phrase “analysis paralysis,” which is the tendency of people to get so bogged down by the options and choices before them that they can’t make a decision. And they shrug and say “well, that’s just players, they get all analysis paralysis and stuff.” But that’s a load of horses$&%. There are a few reasons why players do tend to overanalyze, and there’s not a lot you can do about them. But they aren’t crippling. They become crippling because the game lacks “exigency” and “clarity.” Which are two much more awesome words than “analysis paralysis.” You can always tell a bulls$&% buzzphrase by the way, because it rhymes or has a catchy meter. Never trust GM advice that rhymes. Remember this simple mnenomic:

If the advice has a rhyme; it isn’t worth your attention because it totally sucks! Good advice never rhymes! F$&% rhyming advice.

Anyway, back to your question. Exigency is a sense of urgency, the sense that you must act now or lose an opportunity forever. Exigency is why all sales are “two days only” and all special offers “expire in the next hour.” And it really, really works.

In an urgent situation, DO NOT LET UP. Remind the players that there is an urgent situation and it’s getting worse. Make them feel nervous, panicked, whatever. While Dingus the Fighter is trying to figure out which weapon to use, remind him that Skippy the Wizard’s face is being chewed off right f$&%ing now and what do you?! QUICK! HIS FACE IS BEING EATEN! Do not let the pressure of the situation let up just because the players are thinking.

If the situation isn’t urgent, though, like when the party is having their planning session over dinner, you should let them have time to think. But you have to pay careful attention to when they start going in circles, repeating and rejecting the same plans over and over again. Interrupt them, more and more frequently, with flavorful reminders that time is running out. Have the waiter come and clear the plates and refill their ales. And do that again. Comment on how dark it is getting outside. And how late into the night it’s gotten. Just useless lines of flavor text that remind them that the world is not standing still. And the longer they go on, the faster time passes and the more frequent your flavorful interruptions become. Don’t actually rush them. Don’t mention how long they are taking. Just make it really, really clear that you’re keeping track of the passage of time (even though you aren’t) for some scary reason.

Exigency is only half the battle. That fights off the player’s sense that they have all the time in the world because time stops when they plan. But you also have to be aware that sometimes the players are arguing about a course of action because they are legitimately not sure what to do next or where to go next. That is, you’ve either given them too many goals or too many options or the goals and options aren’t as clear as you think they are. This is a common problem because GMs are never as obvious as they think they are. And they are afraid of being too obvious, so they try to be even more subtle. Remember this simple mnemonic.

If you try to be subtle, the players get muddled.

It’s always best to make sure that there is always one really obvious goal and one really obvious way of accomplishing the goal. It doesn’t have to be the best goal or the best path. In fact, it shouldn’t be. The most obvious solution should be risky. That way, the players know what they are trying to accomplish and how they are going to accomplish it. And when they do have options, try to limit those options to two or three choices tops. Of course, if they want to invent new options and new goals, go with it. That’s what players do. But make sure they can make a snap judgment if they need to.

You can’t do much about general indecisiveness, but you can make it hard to be indecisive with exigency and clarity.

Nathan Martin asks:

… My question is about everyone’s favorite alignment-locked dunderheads, the Paladin. I’ve always loved the classical interpretation of the paladin in RPGs, but as always, I’m at work trying to improve the genre I use and decide if it’s viable in my game. A common vanity in classical paladins is some kind of code that they follow, and I’ve been working on a full write up of the original codex laid down by the first paladins. However, I wanted to have some kind of chant or smaller version of the code to let the players have access to, as the paladins don’t memorize it and these days it’s vastly incomplete anyway. I’d like to end up with something like the Old Code from the movie Dragonheart. I’ve never done anything like this before and I was hoping you could provide some tips on where I could start. I’m kind of stuck on this one, and I would appreciate any help you can give me. …

First of all, Nathan, you don’t have to begin and end with a paragraph of effusive praise for me. I know I’m awesome and I’m going to answer your question regardless. Flattery just embarrasses both of us. Seriously, readers, I cut like ten lines of “Angry, you’re f$&%ing awesome.” I thought Nathan was going to ask me on a date instead of asking about paladins. And Angry ain’t into that crap.

Now, I can clearly see your love for the classical Paladin. You use such complimentary terms like “alignment locked” and “dunderhead” and “vanity.” It’s clearly one of your favorite classes. So I totally respect that. And I don’t want to critique anyone’s writing style here, but if you’re going to write a short chant or catchy code, you’d best learn to tighten up your writing. Just saying. I’m effusive too. So this is the pot calling the kettle out or whatever.

Okay, first of all, if you want to write a catchy sort of anything – poem, code, chant, riddle, dirty limerick – you need to summarize your key points. Grab a piece of paper and decide what the five virtues or seven virtues or three virtues of a paladin are. Like, Courage, Truth, and Compassion. Whatever. Now, take those three words and play a little bit of word association. Write each word in the middle of a piece of paper and start adding words around the word. Then add words around those words. For example, if I were doing compassion, it might look like this:

Ask Angry Image

Now, come up with a nice structure for your thing. Like, let’s say I’m doing a Paladin based on Compassion, Courage, and Truth. So let’s do three threes. I’ll do three lines for each virtue, each espousing a sub virtue. And then I will start drafting.

  • A knight is Compassionate
    • A knight gives all of himself to others in need
    • A knight honors his liege, his family, and his foes
    • A knight is just, tempering judgment with mercy
  • A knight is Truthful
    • A knight never lives nor suffers a falsehood to exist
    • A knight…
  • A knight is Couragous

And so on. Yeah, I’m not writing the whole damned thing for you. Write the lines out in simple form. And then you can go through and keep cleaning them up and rewriting. You have to keep polishing something like this until it shines. Like the rings I mentioned under marriage. Like the Three Rings of Virtue, eh?

A knight is Compassionate
He gives of himself to others in need
He honors his lord in word and in deed
In judgement makes mercy and fairness his creed

Yeah, okay, it still needs some work. But I’m tossing this off in like fifteen minutes. You write your own damned chants.

Honestly, this approach works for anything. Riddles, omens, songs, whatever.

Hope that helps.

3 thoughts on “Ask Angry: Slow Decisions and Writing Poetry

  1. Just ran into the endless planning issue the other night and I totally dropped the ball on exigency. They really had no time (they were in the middle of a dungeon crawl) and yet I let them discuss options for too long and all the momentum went out of the session. It was very frustrating when I realized what I’d done.

  2. I’ve experienced (created) this problem recently. Angry, assuming the situation is pretty urgent (e.g. combat, or a monster is about to burst through the door into the room) do you ever reach a point where you simply say “OK, you spent too long deciding what to do, the thing bursts into the room, roll initiative” or even making PCs skip their turn in the combat order because the player couldn’t decide what to do?

    • OK ignore me I just read the other article about urgency and exigency where you suggest that PCs take the dodge action if they can’t decide what else to do!!

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