I talk too much

June 1, 2015 at 9:00 am
filed under Roleplaying
Tagged , ,

My least favorite part of DMing is the part where I’m explaining. If I am explaining, it means we’re in Exposition Mode. And unless I’m careful it can become a recitation of facts, or an otherwise weak setup. To avoid this I try to come up with descriptions ahead of time. But that’s treating a symptom.

The remedy is counterintuitive: talk less.

By “talk less,” I don’t mean that I want to withhold information. I think the players should be aware that information they get from NPCs, rumors, et al, is potentially misleading or sketchy. Otherwise most people in the world are not pathological liars. And if NPCs mostly lie, you risk destroying a valuable tool.

Right. So what does this leave us?

The pieces of OSR that’s really stuck with me is the idea of creating a scenario without a preordained beginning or end. The players aren’t led there as such. Perhaps they even have some idea of where they’re going, and can formulate a plan.

A scenario may still have relevant pieces of information. A good example might be random encounters. As the DMG suggests, you can use random encounters as a form of exposition on their own. If you’ve traveled to an area inflicted with a blight, you might have encounters with blighted creatures as well as elves, druids, or others who have information. Perhaps one encounter involves elves who’ve just come from a battle with some blighted creatures, and among them are one or more wounded.

You planned this out by creating this encounter in the first place, of course. You didn’t choose the timing.

How is this relevant to talking less? When I’m talking, PCs aren’t talking. The less I talk, the more the PCs talk. The less I enter Expository Mode, less complete the picture is. The world becomes a collection of observations and testimony rather than well-known facts. Instead of telling the PCs that information is unreliable, you can show them by letting them compare rumor with the experiences you offer them.

Some amount of skepticism about the credibility of NPCs is healthy, mostly because no one has perfect information. So when I talk less and stick to what’s immediately observable, the players can fill in the blanks with their impressions, thoughts, and choices.

I have one last note.

I’ve begun to speculate about how to apply limited amounts of “authoritative” information.

If the PCs are convinced that the DM might send them on a quest with no reward, it hurts players’ ability to make decisions about how to spend their time.

As the DM I’m the sole source of information. Because we’re all adults with busy lives, I think expectation-setting is all the more important, and that means operating in good faith even if it means giving the players information their characters wouldn’t have. I want players to know that when the old sage promises them the tome they seek if they go and rescue his lost apprentice, they will receive the tome as promised.

Movies and books rely on similar mechanics. Think of Elrond. The Hobbit, for instance, isn’t meant to be a story of intrigue and lies. Elrond’s characterization comes through so that the audience can focus less on speculating about what his motives are, and more about what he says.

As I said, it does break the wall between player and PC knowledge. Yet we’re all the audience of our own game, players and DM alike. The players are there to participate in the world and/or story. The DM is there to prepare it and see what kind of oddball shit the players come up with. Unless intrigue is the point, it’s better for everyone when the game is tight and focused in this way.

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