Pacing may not be the most vital thing to focus on as an SH, but being cognizant of it can save you and your players a good bit of frustration and discomfort when you're Running Sessions
Pacing is all about how quickly the PCs are moving through your plot. A well-paced session, even if it runs for a very long time, doesn't typically feel like a "long" session. Similarly, a 3-hour jaunt where the PCs barely get anything done can feel a lot longer than it is. The difference is how fast it feels like things are moving.
For an example session outline by the hour, see our [[Sample Session Outline]]
Pacing by the Plot
A good way to manage pacing is to plan for it from the get-go. When you plan your session, give yourself an estimate of how long you expect it to take. Then take each section of the plot (the initial hook, the opening combat, the chase, the big reveal, etc) and give it a separate estimate for just that section. If the section estimates add up to the total estimate, you're already en route to a good pacing schedule.
Leave the section-level estimates with your notes, you may need them later. As you run the session, if one section takes longer or shorter than expected, you'll have an early warning sign as to how ahead or behind schedule you are.
If you wind up running super long early on, it can be a sign to drop or trim up some of the later plot elements to make up the lost time. Similarly, if the PCs fly right through the opening bits you expected would take a while, you know you have room to run a more expansive or expressive combat or encounter later in the session without running over the time you expected.
Pacing by the Player
One X factor that you can't usually plan for is the number of players attending, and it can have a big impact on the pacing. A session with 8 players will typically take longer than one with only three. How can you plan for that? One good estimate is to give each of your players roughly 45 minutes of time in the session.
For instance, if you have 6 players, your session will take roughly 4-1/2 hours. If you have three players, the session might wrap up in just over two. A 5-hour session for 3 people will likely feel a little slow, and a 2-hour session with 8 people will undoubtedly feel rushed and frantic. Changing your expectations once you see your number of players can help ensure you're moving at about the right speed.
Pacing by the Round
If you get to where you can anticipate about how many rounds a session will take, there's a much tighter way to estimate your pacing from the get-go. Our sessions almost always average out to roughly 30 minutes a round. A four-hour session window thus allows only 8 rounds to get the PCs to the plot and through the plot, as well as wrapping it up at the end.
Folks coming from a classic tabletop environment typically get much, much more content into a four-hour block, but in text RP like this, expect it to take much longer round by round.
In Medias Res
There's a trick short-story writers use that we can leverage, especially for shorter sessions. "In medias res" is Latin for "in the middle of things," which is how most short stories start to save time. Instead of having your first narrative be the PCs' contact waiting in the bar, looking around for the people agreeing to help, make the first post arriving at the mysterious site outside town where the real action takes place.
Your narrative can make reference to the meeting with their contact "an hour ago, back in town" to give folks a window for how they got from where they were to where they are, but you have likely just saved 1-2 hours of introductory RP by leaping them straight to the start of the action to start their investigations and the like.
If the actual time the session is taking gets far enough out of whack with what you had planned, you may need a way to speed things up, which means dropping elements of the plot that you had planned.
To do so without the worry that you'll drop something vitally important, mark elements of the session in your notes that can be trimmed if you run short on time. They become the "bonus" elements that a fast-moving group can get time to enjoy, while a larger or slower group doesn't have to chew through them to get to the vital bits and the real meat of the session.
If you take time to mark the optional and "fluff" elements in advance, it can save you the worry later that you might be skipping something vitally important to the PCs, which might then cause even further delays and greater frustration.
One thing that can save a lot of time round-by-round in a session is cutting down on the time it takes you as the A/SH to post your narratives. Start your ruling and narrative-writing as the group is still posting. If you post in two parts (one half covering the first part of the PC group who posted that round, the other for the remainder), your players will have something to read during the 10+ minutes it'll likely take to rule and write up the results of the latter half of the group, as well as the 'hooks' for what's happening next round.
When you make your first post, to signify that it's only half a narrative, include a "[MORE]" or "[HOLD POSTS]" at the end of the post to let folks know that another narrative is coming before the next round officially starts. With your final narrative of the set, make sure to include a "[GO]" at the bottom of the post so that players know it's time to get posting on their end again.
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