Possibly the single most important lesson I’ve learned about running games — one of the big ones anyhow:
When the game starts stalling, get things moving. Immediately.
Just be careful in what you define as stalling:
- Everyone is talking to each other, but not actually doing much: probably not stalling.
- Everyone rolling dice to see if they survive is the wilderness: might be stalling.
- Conversation petering out because everyone is out of ideas: almost certainly stalling.
How do you get things moving? There’s a brilliant Raymond Chandler quote that sums it up:
“When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.”
As a less drastic option the phone can ring or a message may arrive: both are excellent ways to nudge the characters, or inject new energy to inter-PC conversations.
Don’t try for subtle unless you have a superb idea. I think it’s better to have almost anything happen than allow the stall to continue: the longer it lasts, the harder it is to recover. Drop a piano. Burn the building. Have a man enter with a gun. Anything.