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.


Hey Slowplayers :slight_smile: Me and @SidneyIcarus have got the go ahead to create some pilot/proof episodes of Discern Realities (The Gauntlet’s ‘Dungeon World’ Podcast) with an eye to rebooting/reviving it. We are going to discuss slowplay for our 1st episode!

In the future we are hoping to start and take part in some big conversations here in the forums to inform the episodes and draw on different ideas and voices. For now though: this particular thread is an exemplar of what we hope the discussions might look like. We’ll get in touch if we’d like to namedrop any of you (assuming we end up making something we’re happy with), and thank you in advance for the inspiring thoughts. Lu (and Sid too).


That sounds fantastic! And I really fancy the first topic. Giving Discern Realities immediately a new spin. And makes me think how I would celebrate SLOW in Dungeon World. Best of luck for you two!


Thanks @Gerrit. For no particular reason ( :wink: ) - how would you celebrate slow in Dungeon World?

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I haven’t thought about it yet. But it’s an entertaining task!

First of all, many of us played slow back in the days when fantasy adventurer parties were the main pastime for us. In German, the term tavern talk is the epitome of that kind of slow play with some GMs coming into forums devastated that they simply can’t get the party out of the tavern anymore, since they have a good time just with each other.

But I think - as also described above - can also be interpreted in more dimensions than just ‘putting the dice away’ and do character dialogues.

We love hard and fast cuts, not only but also because that’s what we get presented on film and TV shows. We are trained to stay excited. We can and should sometimes use RPGs to do things differently. In Dungeon World, that could mean taking our time with Move resolution. Even a Hack & Slash could be stretched into being a moment of reflection. What has led to the moment of violence? Was there any hesitation? A moment of regret? Or do we feel relieved from an anger manifesting in the blood spilled. What do we see when we look into a mirror right now?

Another dimension of Slow Play can be to let players take time for decisions or inspiration. I’m reminded of a gentle application of Archipelago’s Do it differently. Waiting for a good response on a Discern Realities or a Spout Lore can be hard for some people (like me). But we are rewarded with great ideas. Or with greater empathy at least around the table that being quick with grand visions isn’t everybody’s specialty and those who would prefer having more time finally can relax more in our games.


As an example of slow play: In our Ars Magica campaign, for a while at least, we played a lot of slice of life stuff: Relationships, Misunderstandings, people asking each other for advice - mostly light-hearted and even comedic stuff with occassional spikes of drama.
One of my favorite moments was when we played the little handkerchief gang - kids of maybe four or five - and they discussed numbers. And then they started counting, furiously and earnestly, to see how high they could go … we got to Seven before we are just dissolved into helpless laughter. Here we were, grownups, just … counting.

That was one of the funniest and most companionable moments in my RPG life. And that’s what slow play means to me: Meandering around, looking for fun and finding it, sometimes in the very simplest of things.

Like counting to seven.


Maybe I should create my own thread for this, but I just wanted to share a bit about a group that’s been doing the same slow play campaign for a little over two years now.

We meet once a month (or so). The DM grew up in the 90’s playing AD&D 2e and hadn’t really played anything since then, so he decided to run that. Most of our players had never played RPGs at all (two players including myself had played a lot of RPGs). Characters were created fairly faithfully to the 2e process (i.e. we’re mostly really bad at everything) and people are still often not clear on whether they need to roll high or low (because 2e :roll_eyes:).

So this sounds like a disaster right? And it’s true that we mostly get lost in caves, bicker amongst ourselves, and try to get out of desperately weird situations (we spent an entire session rescuing someone who fell off a bridge into an underground river, which eventually turned into half the party desperately holding onto ropes and weeds). We jokingly call ourselves The Worst Party.

But we’ve pretty much all kept coming back to the game because we enjoy hanging out with each other in character and getting into these ludicrous predicaments. I think the DM used to be annoyed at how slowly we did everything but has adjusted his style and now everyone is having a good time.


I think that “slow play” can mean a lot of different things, and it’s worth thinking about which you’re into or want to pursue/accentuate. These can all go together, or they can be entirely separate “dials”, as far as your game is concerned!

  1. A relaxed and slow approach to gaming in general - not anything to do with the fiction, but the social environment.

For example, do you take a whole extra session just to meet up, chat about the upcoming game, brainstorm, and throw out character ideas? When it’s your turn to choose an action, can you take your time and discuss with your friends, or is there pressure for you to announce something right now, before everyone gets antsy? If we have to look something up in the book, is it comfortable to pause, or do we put the book away and move on if we can’t find the information within a few seconds? Do we all speak loudly and quickly, over each other, or is there lots of breathing room and silent moments?

  1. The time pressure on the group in general.

Is there a strict time limit? In convention play, the last hour of your final session, or a one-shot with a strict timeline, we have to be aware of the clock all the time. By contrast, an open-ended home game which intends to be a campaign of indeterminate length, we can afford to spend a session, say, drawing portraits of each others’ characters, or writing out the stats on our company’s employees and the ship they use along the trade routes - no problem, we’ll get back to the action next week.

  1. The pace of events and their resolution in the story.

Does every scene push the story forward? Do important conflicts get resolved quickly and new situations develop, or do they stick around, unresolved, for a long time?

How many interstitial or sequel scenes does our story have? These are scenes where the characters relax, let down their guard, and/or deal with the emotional consequences of the action which has taken place.

In a dungeon crawl or typical D&D adventure, a sequel scene might be “making camp” and sharing stories around the campfire, or a character convalescing in the Houses of Healing after a brutal near-death.

What’s the ratio of “plot driving scenes” to “sequel scenes” in your game? At one end of the spectrum, we get breathless action or suspense stories. At the other, “slice of life”-style play, where we have breakfast, wash dishes, have a chat with a friend on the phone, or reminisce about our former life with an old friend.

  1. The pace of resolution, step-by-step, in the game itself.

What kinds of mechanical procedures and procedural steps does our game require to resolve an issue? Is it a single die roll, leading to a dramatic and final resolution? Or is it a drawn-out, step-by-step process, which we can delve into for lots of detail?

A familiar example for many gamers is combat. Is a fight over in a single roll, with one person down and the victor standing over them? Or do we have a whole detailed combat procedure, with moves and maneuvers and wounds and sword swings, which can create specific choreography, consequences, or character change? How many steps are there in each moment - does resolving a single sword swing require five rolls and two lookup tables?

You could also think of this is the level of mechanical detail. When I was much younger, and had a lot more time to play, we could use very rules-heavy systems without feeling constrained by them; these days, I don’t want my games to make me jump through any unnecessary hoops, because I don’t get to play as often as I’d like, and I want to get the experience I’m looking for in a certain timeframe.

  1. The level of fictional detail.

How much detail is there in any particular fictional event, character, or other element? You’ll note that this is quite separate from (2) and (3). We could, for example, have a game where action is constantly happening, but the level of fictional detail is really high: it’s all people jumping and diving and explosions, but we’re narrating it all like it’s in “bullet time”, watching the bullet fly towards our hero, inch by inch, as their lover leaps into its path, yelling for everyone to duck…

It can also be separate from (4) and (1), of course; some drawn-out mechanical procedures have a lot of fictional detail, and some have very little, and we can colour in our fiction with lots of fictional detail because we’re moving slowly and it’s not that important, or because we’re trying to milk the most intensity and drama out of every moment.