A Tribute to Slow Play culture


I love this discussion! I’m mostly committed to fast play for a number of personal reasons, but you raise an excellent point, @Gerrit: there are players who don’t shine when it comes to quick improv, but who can make incredible contributions just as anyone else if given a little time.

I have a friend who’s very creative but just freezes if she’s on the spot. If she has time to think about her character and the story, she comes up with amazing ideas.

Despite my preference for fast play, I ended up writing a game that forces players into slow play. Melody of a Never-ending Summer follows a strict day cycle, where each player is prohibited from actively roleplaying their character and must instead describe a brief summary of how they spent their day. The game only jumps into the traditional conversation of an RPG in special weekly events and bonding moments between characters (these have to be earned through play). There are other special moments that have to be earned by slowly playing through the days and working towards a goal.

I feel this makes those special moments very meaningful, and helps people who aren’t great at improvising to “phone in” the day-to-day scenes and plan ahead for the special ones (and they know exactly when they’ll happen).

Is it possible to conciliate fast and slow play at the table? Or do you think it’s something everyone has to agree to?


That’s tough. Ideally, I think, you have two elements there:

  • Slow play that’s actively interesting and engaging for even the players who aren’t directly involved in any given scene. (In practice, I’ve found that difficult to pull off–especially with a larger group of 5-6 players, which is what I usually play with face-to-face. I’ve had better luck with groups of 3 players, and players who were all committed to the character stuff, like you often find among the Gauntlet.)

  • Slow play that’s punctuated by tight, tense action. Just because you have slow play, doesn’t mean it all has to be slow. When danger rears, fast, intense, consequential play is great–and gives excellent fodder for slow play later.


In regards to the first problem, I’ve been testing delegating narrative functions to players not in a scene when I’m facilitating a trad game. But then again, not everyone likes getting a GM question out of the blue


I wonder how much effect high-production-value AP shows have on our perceptions of how fast play should go. In a podcast format, all the pauses and false starts and sitting with an idea can get edited out, because that stuff is less fun for an audience person. And even in livestreamed games, the players view themselves as performers needing to be snappy to entertain the viewers. I know I’m always self-conscious about posting my Gauntlet hangouts recordings because I know they’re not as tight and zippy as, say, an episode of One Shot.


I just started up a new group with people all pretty new to RPGs, and a particular kind of slow play has emerged in this group that I’d never thought of before: taking the time to describe places in extreme detail.

Once we know what the next scene is going to be, we regularly spend half an hour just describing what the place is like, who the PCs might know there, what people are wearing, how the Maitre D is looking at you, or how the docks workers aren’t. “This is the kind of bar where there’s no door on the one bathroom, but no one cares. And there’s a thing in the corner some local inventor came up with; she calls it a pinball machine, and it’s constantly squeaking and spitting out black smoke.” These are the kind of details that GM advice is always telling you to include to set the tone, but I’m coming to really love reveling in them and getting the whole table involved. Doubly so for places we know we’re going to come back to or spend a lot of time.


I think I’m constitutionally incapable of this kind of play. I’m in two weekly groups that meet for two hours each, and both my design and play are warped around this constraint. We have long-running games sometimes, but each two hour block is always a self-contained arc. When I’ve played in more relaxed settings I just want to get more done - a four hour slot is just two, two hour blocks of intense fun, right?

I fully recognize that this is kind of messed up.


Is it messed up or efficient? :slight_smile:

Part of it’s absolutely time constraints, but for me it’s also frequency of play and cycling different games. There are too many games to play, so if you can “wolf down” mini-series-sized shorter campaigns and get onto the next system to try out, it feels like you’re doing stuff. If you can only meet once every 4-5 weeks, you want to get that good gaming juice.

I do like me some drawn-out descriptions of melancholy strip malls, though, so I’m torn.


It’s messed up in that I’ve worn grooves in my brain to default to that mode of play, when I fully recognize that a chilled out six hour sesh of Fall of Magic is very pleasant and totally correct. But in the moment I’m like “Barleytown, TLDR, let’s get a move on, this scroll has a back side too and we’re burning daylight.”


This is really similar to brain grooves I keep finding in my head that was put there by various RPGs (read: D&D)

I doubt I’m alone in this, but here’s a few examples of how my brain is warped due to it:

  1. When discussing a novel, a friend said the society depicted only works for good people. I countered with “or Lawful Neutral” as, fundamentally, I think of alignment as a 3x3 grid.

  2. Instead of “spoons” I think about “spell slots”. Granted, I do this in part intentionally as I am lucky enough to not need to count my spoons, but still.

There’s a bunch of other artifacts of my thinking that come from gaming, but these are the most obvious. I think the first is actively harmful.

Edit: I’m going to move this to another thread.


Playing with adults I feel I have to stick to short format, get in late get out early, purposeful play, because we all have too much going on to have a chance at continuing. I occasionally run games for kids and they are so much more willing to let things breathe. I’m hoping my kid enjoys RPGs, because I’d love running a summer long campaign leisurely an hour at a time without an obligation to get to the climactic part



I am often looking for ways to get into that “mode” of play. Do you have any online recordings of you playing in this style, or other game sessions that you feel do this well?

It could be interesting to look at specific techniques and see which could benefit from a “slow down”; it’s possible that it’s not a continuum from “slow play” to “fast play”, but that super interesting hybrids are possible.


I don’t, we’re not public performers. And it’s hard to tease out what we do “differently” since this is just how we’ve evolved, but I know we aggressively edit scenes, keeping lots of balls in the air as we move focus around the table.


Thanks, Jason!

I was typing in a rush (on the bus) and I might have come across as rather more demanding than I intended - my apologies! I’m still adjusting to (and a bit weirded out by) the new culture of recorded and livestreamed play. (I’m now running into people who say things like, “I’d love to play D&D with my friends, but I guess I’ll have to wait until December, because I don’t have a good camera or a good microphone at my place…” Very bizarre to me!)

What I meant to ask in my second sentence was if there were any public game personas or groups that you feel approach this technical aspect of RPG play in the same way that you do. Have you seen anyone who seems to do a similar thing?

I still think it would be very interesting to approach this somewhat backwards: look at both techniques that slow things down or draw them out, and techniques that speed things up and give focus, and find new ways of combining them.

For instance, in a thread like this, it’s possible that what people are looking for or want to celebrate isn’t the overall pace of the game, but the inclusion of specific types of scenes or interactions (like sequel scenes, to use writer’s jargon for a second, which get omitted entirely in many games).


One day I get you into online playing. Maybe a live action online game could pull you over the edge. :slight_smile:

Actually, @Paul_T, what you brought up about “where can I see this style of play” is for me the most fascinating element of Actual Play culture. That we can see styles and play cultures from such different angles.

Especially pacing at the table is something nearly impossible to describe. But with an AP you could actually watch it happen!


Yes, exactly! I find the idea of annotated recorded play (or even a game with commentators, like a sports event) a really fascinating idea.

If I were to make some kind of “player’s guide” these days, it might take the form of recorded play, with pauses and pop up boxes and occasional links and commentary to “explain” the rationale behind what’s going on.

As a really basic example, imagine a video of a good PbtA MC playing while a text overlay shows what MC moves she’s using as she plays. (On screen, you can see her saying, “the door shuts in your face with a loud crash!”, while the text overlay says, “MC move: separate them [in response to failed Negotiate roll by player X]”).

In any case, looking at recorded actual play is so much more efficient than trying to describe those same things in pages and pages of discussion, like people used to do in online “analyze actual play” cultures like at the Forge. I think that has tremendous potential, both as teaching tools and as a way to settle old debates and heal rifts between different “schools” of gamers who like to fight ideological battles online. :slight_smile:


This is kinda interesting to me. Over the last few (…uh…wow, six years now I guess) I’ve been part of a weekly meetup where we basically run two to two and half hour games. I’ve learned SO MUCH about pacing from those games, and there’s been a lot of really memorable stuff (including my sad conclusion that “sailing to Vinland” tends to strain Sagas of the Icelanders to the breaking point.)

But my HOME games have always been longer form, on a slower schedule: generally about six hour sessions every 2-3 weeks. From that have come the three Gumshoe Cthulhu campaigns I’ve done, which ran 18, 16, and 13 sessions respectively (and the first one had some marathon 8 hour sessions). We’re on Season Three of our ongoing Masks campaign, and are looking to do one season with each of us in the MC’s chair*.

I like both styles, and frankly a lot of the goodness in the long games came from me learning how to pace and push conflict in the short sessions. There’s something intensely satisfying, though, about pulling off a truly long term game, especially in my Cthulhuverse which now has its own legendarium and hefty cast of recurring characters**. (OTOH, finales are harder to stick in the long games.)

I just wrapped last night a 12-session run on the Hangouts of Alas For the Awful Sea, set on an American whaler in 1851. That game wouldn’t have flown without having a couple of the same people in each series, I think, but the turnover with the rest of the cast led to some really nice games, and the ending was appropriately downbeat. I don’t know how quickly I’ll do that again–it was a lot of investment and I was often spinning plates as fast as I could. But it’s probably worth doing again.

But first I wanna do a 5-session run of Tolstoyan Good Society again :slight_smile:

*It’s a literal chair; once I ran a session sitting cross-legged on my ottoman and could barely walk the next day, so I bought a nice recliner that is now the seat of the GM.

**The Legendarium includes characters from other fictional universes, most notably a “probably immortal” Mina Murray who has run various occult intelligence services including Majestic-12.


I recently played an online game that didn’t completely suck, so this is a possibility! I definitely want to try a LAOG with you at some point, Gerrit.

I think it would be possible, although agonizingly meticulous, to take apart a recorded session and break it down into moves, decisions, engagements, etc. I think @Bill_White has dome some text-based analysis of gaming sessions in a more academic format.


For the last fifteen years or so, I’ve been game mastering fast paced games with hard cuts between scenes. The hard cuts has even been seen in my collaborative storytelling games or whenever I play mysteries or intrigues. Every scene should lead to something else; something must happen!

Then I was introduced to Psychodrame (pdf) with the pitch “French kitchen sink realism with a really slow pace”. I didn’t think much of it, but after the prep and someone sat sighing looking at the photo for an entire scene, I was hooked. Not because of the atmosphere but because the prep made us realize why the person was sighing.

And this is a strong factor, from my experience, to be able to reflect. I guess this goes with everything, from setting atmosphere in the environment, get distance from a combat situation, painting a picture in the mind for what happens in the fiction.

I wrote a game of my own called Imagine, that has no conflict in it. It’s a six page game that where the participants reflects about where the story is going, much like the Eastern Asian narrative structure. The stories in them, like Memories of a Murder or Hope, isn’t about finding the culprit but about what the how the detective or victims are changed by the crime. For Western movies, I could namedrop The Man from Earth, or possibly My Dinner with Andre (which I haven’t seen).


Very interesting point! It correlates with a general feeling I have in my life: Why are we in such a rush so often? Is the goal really the only thing enjoyable?

To me there are two facets to slow play:
One is taking your time during a session when the spotlight is on you, when you’re answering a question, when you need to come up with something right now. Suddenly seconds feel like hours, my brain is racing like crazy and sometimes it feels like I let people down when I take too long (whatever that means in the end). But then I remember to breathe, and remind myself it’s ok to take as long as I need. It’s also ok to pass to the next player and admit that you need some time. I think it’s important to sometimes take a step back, to take some time, not following the impulse. I feel like this is a lot about patience with yourself and with others (and I currently feel an innermost desire to be more patient).

The other part of slow play is what a lot of people here wrote already about, taking it slow in the story. Expanding, exploring, setting scenes, talking detours, etc…
There are so many good thoughts here already, there’s not much I can add. Just that I think this depends a bit on the group and the people. Some might totally enjoy this, some might not and are really just driven by reaching a goal and a conclusion. But I think everyone should try this out a bit, and just see if this is something that might fit.

So in conclusion: I do enjoy slow play a lot. I even actively practice slowing down from time to time (not only in games). And I totally enjoyed all games I played in where we as a group took our time to let things breathe naturally.

Thanks for this topic! You spoke my mind @Gerrit


Back in 2009, I wrote a chapter for the Nordic larp community’s annual book Larp, the Universe, and Everything called “Face and Figuration in RPG Play” that breaks down a moment of play where something has gone wrong and tries to figure out how it is repaired. According to the abstract:

Abstract: This article employs a perspective that sees issues of face (i.e.,
social identity and connection) and figure (i.e., meaning and metaphor)
as fundamental features of communication in order to examine a snippet
of actual play from a game called Spirit of the Century, run and recorded
by the author at a gaming convention for an “actual play” podcast. The
in-depth exploration of this moment of play underscores the multiplicity
of frames within a role-playing game and the sophistication with which
players negotiate these frames for both diegetic and metacommunicative
purposes. The implications of this analysis for game design are briefly

I do think that recording RPG sessions and “listening hard” to those recordings, with the intention of improving one’s own play–in particular, one’s sensitivity to what is happening at the table in the moment, rather than merely retrospectively–remains super helpful, even in this age of performance-centered “Actual Play” video. That was the point, after all, of the podcast my brother and I put together called Virtual Play. We haven’t produced any episodes lately, but we still record every game.