John Bell has a neat talent. Multiple times while playing Necrocarserous, the party would encounter a situation where we just…didn’t matter that much. There would be two or more non player characters talking with one another, or having some altercation, and there was really no room for the PCs to play a part. I suppose we always could have made ourselves relevant. We were, after all, standing right there. But when the brain parasite was awkwardly hitting on the living statue that had been cursed with de-petrification, there really just wasn’t much of a reason for us to say or do anything.
This all sounds like horrible refereeing, but see, that’s John’s talent. It wasn’t. That dude can sit there talking to himself in different voices for 15 minutes straight and it’s goddamn entertaining.
So why in the world is this relevant to you? Well usually these little one-sided RP scenes weren’t just John having fun with his NPCs. They were a tool that he was employing to make the players more aware of the passage of time. It happened during the train robbery, when we said we just wanted to wait for it to be over. It happened again when we MacGyvered a siphon for a vat of poison gas, and opted to sit around twiddling our thumbs until the vat was empty. In general, these scenes happened when we told him we were going to wait around and do nothing.
Using time as a finite resource is a tried and true refereeing technique. Time which the players spend by waiting calls for a random encounter check. But assuming no encounter occurs, time just kinda skips forward. These skips are hardly the death knell of good gaming, but it is a hiccup that always feels a tiny bit awkward for me. Particularly in those situations where an encounter check isn’t appropriate, and the players are free to wait willy-nilly.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I lack John’s talent for artfully talking to myself. In fact, I lack pretty much any thespian qualities at all. But even an artless referee like myself should be able to inject some role playing into moments that would normally be handwaved away.
Do your players have hirelings? Now would be a good time to give them a little character. When was the last time they had to make a loyalty check? Are they still feeling jittery about that? Do they feel appreciated by the PC? Do they think they deserve a raise? Maybe consider rolling a random character trait for them and simply making idle conversation with one of the PCs.
Are the PC’s in any sort of common area? If there are people passing by, maybe they want to sell the PCs some cheap trinket, or maybe they want to know why the PCs are loitering about. Maybe they want to convert the PCs to their religion, or just want to solicit donations to some worthy cause?
Do the PCs have any Intelligent Items? Then hot dang, this is the perfect time to actually do something cool with that Intelligent Item. I don’t know about you; I’ve always thought Intelligent Items were the bees knees, but I never know what to do with them when they’re in play. Well all this standing around probably has them wondering why the PC isn’t spending more time pursuing the item’s goals. Or maybe the item has some suggestions about how the PCs could pursue its goals better. Or maybe it just wants to shoot the breeze.
Is there anything you think your players might talk to one another about? Obviously you can’t force them to role play with one another if they don’t want to. But you can provide them with game information as a gentle prompt. “Character X, as you’re doing all this waiting around you notice that Character Y’s black eye looks pretty bad.” If your party is one that enjoys inter-party deceptions, waiting could even be turned into a tactical liability. Time spent waiting around is time that your companions have to possibly notice that your coin purse is a lot fuller then theirs is for some reason.
This idea is hardly a game changer. It doesn’t really add any meat to your campaign, it’s more like a garnish. Something to make the whole experience a little bit nicer; to cover some otherwise empty space. Little role playing asides are a neat way of drawing the players into a living world, where time doesn’t simply jump forward because they’re not doing anything. It’s something I’m going to be trying to integrate into my own refereeing in the coming weeks.