Using Intermissions

edited September 2009 in Play Advice
I try to try out at least one new trick for each game I run. I'm starting a new game this week, and I've decided to try using intermissions: cut action and take a 15(?) minute break.

Now, there are normally breaks in my games -- but they more or less happen on their own. The difference here is making it more structured: deciding on the number of breaks and their duration beforehand, and letting players know about them beforehand.

I assume other people have done stuff along these lines, and would be very interested in hearing about their experiences.

Some things I've been thinking about:

One goal is to amp up the energy by letting people rest, and by letting them know approximately when they can rest. I'm a bit concerned about breaks sapping the momentum, however. Possibly either end with a cliffhanger, or lead with action after the break to retain/regain the momentum.

Another goal is to have people take care of their needs during intermission, as opposed to making more tea or taking potty-breaks during the game proper. How long should an intermission be? Just long enough for people to attend their needs, or a bit longer -- so they can get some table chatter out of their system?

How to slice up the session? One big break, or multiple smaller ones? One big and a couple of smaller ones? This depends on the length of the session, obviously.


  • In convention games, I like to take a five-minute break in the middle. It's for me, more than the players: it helps me recharge my creative batteries and coffee cup. I do this at the end of the scene. It can help cut short a flagging scene and come back to the next one with new energy.

    Sometimes, the players look rather mystified when I do this. This happens especially during Cthulhu games, when there's a very slow burn, and if you break halfway through, they think: we can't break, nothing's happened yet.

  • I like the idea of breaks. I wrote a deliberate break into my new game - when you reach point X, stop and relax and talk about the game so far, go pee, refill your cup, get a snack, stretch. If you don't plan for breaks they will happen anyway, but perhaps not at the most auspicious times.
  • And we also have a break in our weekly games for supper, after which the play is usually more intense and focussed.

    As GM at cons, I sometimes get up from the table and leave the players to their own devices for a bit. I'll do this if they are having some kind of in character pow-wow because players like to discuss things without the GM around. It also gives me a chance to think about how things are going and whether I need to change anything.
  • edited September 2009
    I'd go for a 10- or 15-minute break every two hours or so, maybe less. It depends on the energy level and what is going on, but I would say that after the 90-minute mark you should start considering the break... if things are still rolling along full-force then you can wait until the two hours are up.

    I think people tend to underestimate the effect of a focused, short break -- roleplaying can be pretty exhausting, and often a sort of mental myopia sets in as well (I hear some people call this 'immersion', omgi'mhilarious) that a brief break can help clear away. At the same time if your 'breaks' end up stretching into 30-minute diversions, that's probably even worse.
  • The standard I use is one 5-10 minute break every 60-90 minutes, even at con games (because I'm usually wired on tea, and need to take pee breaks anyway). As said above, try to never go beyond 10 minutes, it can break the flow.

    I wouldn't set the "number of breaks" or anything beforehand. Just announce that you're going to add breaks/intermissions throughout the game, and just do it: Again, every 60-90 minutes, or before/after a critical rise in action (before a big battle/conflict, after a big battle/conflict, etc).

  • Great idea. If you were playing a TV-themed game you could maybe call them commercial breaks.

  • Intermission should be about 2 minutes and 38 seconds...
  • So, I just ran that game. After pre-game (including character creation) it was 21:20. Since we had to stop before 01:00 we agreed on a break from 22:50 to 23:10 -- so there would be approximately an hour of game time on both sides of the divide.

    The break was golden. Despite the my performance being under par everyone remained focused. People got to do table-talk during the break, and there was none of it otherwise. Nothing. Zip. Unfortunately I got too tied up with the chatter myself during the break, and missed the opportunity to think about the rest of the game.

    I will definitely make intermissions a regular feature from now on. 20 minutes seemed about right in this case -- 6 people and a single restroom sets a certain limit...
  • Posted By: nikodemus6 people and a single restroom sets a certain limit...
    Ahhh, indeed. Yeah, 6 people can make a game pretty unfocused. Good to know it worked!

  • It helps if there are opposing sides. Espeically if the players need to form into teams. When teh game moderator steps away from the table the game play doesn't end it just switches into socializing.

    I used to step away from the table when running murder mystery Engle Matrix Games so the players could work in teams. (I encouraged them to do so.)

    Chris Engle
  • Breaks are good. When I run at conventions I let the players know at the start of the session that we will have a break in the middle to stock up on candy & tea and do other break-related things.
    It works out pretty well.

    When I play with the usual crowd at home the rule is, "if anyone needs a break, we all take a break". The game stops whenever anyone leaves the table and it will not start again until everyone is back in their seats and ready to continue.
  • Something that seems to work well along with intermissions: make players swap their seats. Whoever is next or opposite each other always affects social dynamics, even if only subtly.

    Breaking up a pattern can't hurt.
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