Mutual Disinterest

In any given scene in a game, there’s a chance that either the GM or one or more of the players aren’t actually going to be invested in it. A GM who dislikes combat writes a fight scene for an action-hungry group; one character leads into an investigation that bores the others silly; you get the idea. But what happens when you get into a scene that nobody’s actually interested in?

Despite how odd this sort of situation might seem, it happens pretty regularly. In my experience, it happens most often with fights, since a fight between well-matched opponents can be really hard to skip over or summarize. Sometimes, it’s a case of bad luck; for instance, a normally enthusiastic group just isn’t in the mood for a certain type of scene, and just the GM’s luck that’s the day she wrote that sort of scene for them. Or it might be a case of people making decisions that lead to a certain kind of scene, and not being quite sure what to do once they’re there.

The question, then, becomes what you do with it.

While I don’t normally hold with retcons, I can see using them as a way to get out of a scene like this—get the group to mutually agree to rewind to a set point, and then go from there. This, of course, works best if the scene doesn’t contain any important information or other things that a retcon would make really awkward knowledge.

Some groups favor “forget this, let’s montage this scene” and fake it into high gear. The good news is, it gets the scene done; the bad news is, if details matter, it can be hard to get through all the glossing over. This is one of those times when combat can be a group’s worst enemy, since usually the group’s change in status between the beginning and the end both a. matters and b. can’t just be determined by glaring at the dice for a few minutes and then making something up—but it isn’t just combat. The more uncertainty that needs to be rectified, the more important it is to play it out.

There is, of course, playing through to the best of the group’s ability. How well this works depends in large part on how much time you have, how much time it’s going to take, and just where people lie on the range from apathetic to downright disinterested.

And what about just admitting defeat and calling it a game? While it poses a risk of people losing what little mood they have left or forgetting the details over the break, it does at least provide a chance at fixing people just not being in the mood, and sometimes people given time to get used to the scene they’re in will come up with a coping mechanism that they might not have found if it had just kept going through the session. (Some people can even do this by taking a small break, but I haven’t seen it work near as often.)

Both sides losing interest in a part of a game can be frustrating, but there’s no need to let it break the game entirely. Know what’s happening, and know how to work around it.


  1. Philo Pharynx says:

    And please note that this may also apply when only one person of the group is engaged. It depends a lot on who’s engaged and why. Is this a scene that can be done by bluebooking? Can it wait until the end of the session after the others go home? (in one game, I often did this with a person I carpooled with) How much screen time has that character gotten?

    If only the GM is engaged, then they need to figure out some way past the scene and into something that more people can enjoy. If this comes up a lot, then it’s time to go back and figure out what sort of style is better for everybody (GM included).

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