A Tribute to Slow Play culture


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.