Maintain Momentum with the Blank Board Mindset

“I creep up to the door and look through the keyhole. What do I see?”

“It’s actually an open doorway.”

“Oh, then I don’t do that. What’s the doorway like?”

“It’s a 12-foot arch that leads right into the other room. There’s some ornamental drapes on the sides of it.”

“Ok, I hide behind those and peep out. What do I see?”

As a GM, sometimes sticking to the details of your prepared scenario slows the game down.

Correcting a player’s first impression takes time – he stops his action and asks questions about the layout of the room, other players are joking about him getting spotted because he thought there was a door there… and before you know it, the game’s moving slower.

For what? Nobody was interested in what kind of door it was anyway. The player wanted to know what was going on on the other side.  Correcting his assumptions about the room was like tossing a glue trap in front of the game.  And I've seen it happen in every game I've either played or game mastered.

Here’s the problem: if you’ve ever played a video game, you can tend to think of your rpg environments as video game levels – as something written ahead of time. And if you picture your environments as gameboards you’ve prepared, you’re going to get stuck on details – for you to keep track of what’s going on, the players have got to see exactly what you see, after all!

But if you picture your environments as empty gameboards, it’s easy to make tweaks that keep the momentum going.

The Blank Board Model
Any time your game comes to a new scene, imagine a chessboard with only white squares on it – heck, erase the squares if it helps. Once you have your blank board, allow every action and word to potentially conjure a new piece onto it. And – this is important – no-one at the table knows how it will look until it’s all set up.

or, you know, picture a holodeck if it helps
Tell your players they’re in a room with columns and drapery – add walls, columns, and drapery to your own mental chessboard. Tell them there’s a door to the next room – add your 12-foot open archway with the ornamental drapes.

Then, if your player says he goes up and looks through the keyhole – mentally remove that open archway and replace it with a door that has a keyhole. And you don’t have to tell anyone that you changed a thing.

Of course, some details in your game shouldn’t be changed. These are essential; they are related to the story in some way, or to a puzzle the group has to solve. You shouldn’t be expected to change them just because the player imagined them differently.

But using the “blank board” mindset will help you mentally separate the details which are incidental (like what kind of door it is), rewrite them when necessary, and move on with the game.