Do You Suffer From Leftover Location Syndrome?
Leftover Location Syndrome is like the opposite of a cliffhanger. It’s when you start a session in the same location you left off last time and your players go (internally or out loud), “oh man, I forgot we were still here. When are we going to get to the good part?”
There’s a difference between cliffhangers that should be played out and cliffhangers that should be glossed over. Mentally making that distinction will help you avoid LLS.
Consider these two examples.
Cliffhanger #1. The PCs have just broken out of jail. They’re back on board their ship (probably with whatever they stole), fighting their way out of impound. They deal with one police galleon, then a few more bear down on them. They can’t outrun them, so they heave about, let loose with the cannons, aaaand then it’s the proverbial stroke of midnight in the real world. Because people have jobs in the morning, you leave off on a cliffhanger.
Cliffhanger #2. The PCs have spent several sessions infiltrating the local thieves’ guild to steal evidence that will clear their names. Tonight they finally acquire the files they wanted… but they also uncover something else: a scheme that could threaten the throne, involving respected businessmen and politcians – even a few of the party’s NPC friends! This changes everything. You close the session.
How are these two cliffhangers different? And how should each one be resolved next week?
Cliffhanger #1, is rich with In The Moment Excitement. But we all know there’s only one way this situation is supposed to play out. The group’s just done a “breakout” scenario, after all, and now they’re looking forward to some action on the high seas. Having them lose the fight and land back in jail would just be bad pacing. The only reason the police galleons are there at all is to make this session exciting – not to drag the campaign back to somewhere we’ve already been.
This kind of cliffhanger can be glossed over.
Think of it this way. The group was playing with a shiny toybox called “Fighting Your Way Out of Port.” That toybox has lots of cool stuff in it – so much that you didn’t get to all of it tonight. There’s enough left in the box that you could easily fill up another hour of play tonight. But there’s not enough left to make for an exciting opener next week.
Next week, just assume the party’s successful. Cover the events of the battle with a brief description, maybe call for a combat roll from each PC, (where failure just means they limp away with damage that’ll have to be repaired), and arbitrate some consequences. Any “battle damage” can just become a story element in the next scenario, rather than something you have to painstakingly keep track of.
Cliffhanger #2, on the other hand, is loaded with what I call Carryover Excitement. The PCs (and the players) just discovered a true game-changer. They’ll be in the same location next time, but the scenario will now be completely different. Friends have become enemies. Any danger they were in before pales in comparison to what’s ahead.
Assuming you’re not dropping this bomb on them when they had something else they’d rather be doing (which would again be bad pacing), they’re still going to be excited about these new possibilities next week.
Next week, just build energy by reviewing it a little, then ask them what they want to do. Maybe put the spurs to them with another minor plot twist (they get caught and have to flee with half of the incriminating documents)
So, when you have a cliffhanger to resolve, just ask yourself what was fueling it last week – was it In The Moment Excitement, or was it Carryover Excitement?