I don’t know how true this really is, but I have heard that a stationary freight train can be held in place with a relatively small block of wood placed on the tracks. It certainly isn’t going to push down a brick wall. However, once a freight train gets up to speed it is a nearly unstoppable force. It would certainly have enough momentum to smash through a brick wall, probably a brick house, maybe even a few of them. I’d actually like to try this, but I don’t think I’m gonna get the opportunity. It’s a pity really.
An RPG session or campaign that has gained momentum is a truly wonderful thing. I really don’t want to have to work hard at an RPG session pushing it along. It’s no fun either to sit around in a session where things just aren’t going anywhere and everything feels forced and uncertain. Fortunately, as we become experienced gamers we learn how to achieve critical mass faster.
I have found that being on the same page with the genre and knowing what we are going for really helps a great deal. Bringing characters that are appropriate to what we are going for is essential. A sense of “buy-in” and engagement by everyone involved helps remove barriers to the game picking up speed.
The first session or a one shot can be a little bit tough so very often it helps to start things off with a bang. Giving the train a good solid push helps to get it rolling, and once the rest of the group jumps on board & starts shoveling coal we can start the acceleration process.
A lot of digital and actual ink has been spilled writing about how to create and maintain momentum so I’m not going to talk about that too much here. I will say that it has been my experience that it is everybody’s responsibility to contribute to that momentum and make sure that it is picking up speed and not getting derailed. It can be somewhat difficult at first but once we know who the characters are and their personalities have kind of emerged it can be much easier to achieve that state where play seems to become effortless.
Momentum is a word that implies direction, and very often people can confuse that with just going along with what the game master wants you to do or following a prepared story or something of that nature. I like to think of it more like achieving critical mass. In the beginning parts of an RPG session or campaign play takes a bit of effort to sustain. Sometimes a lot of effort. We need to keep consciously and intentionally interjecting Energy into the game. We don’t really have any relationships set so we need to try to establish some. We’re not really sure what is important to our characters, at least not in a specific manner. The characters & the environment haven’t interacted enough yet. Hopefully all of us are contributing those kicks and it’s not just the game master or a few people. Sometimes we pull in some different directions until the game takes shape.
We keep pouring fuel into the game, and it starts to get easier as things begin to crystallize and relationships get established. Goals and directions become more apparent. It doesn’t matter if we’re going anywhere at all, even a conversation in game could be the action. The game has started to take on its own personality. At some point it reaches that critical mass and it seems to really have a life of its own. In reality we’re still giving it pushes and direction but it seems effortless and natural. Hesitation and uncertainty are removed and we remove any barriers to the momentum that has built up.
We have created life, and it’s 900,000 pounds of steel, out of control.