Dungeon Mastering: How To Talk Little - Yet Say Everything!

February 7, 2023

Players need the 'Facts to Act '. Get your players to invest, choose - and create their story that matters.

A DM or GM must give players facts for any room-space: monstrous-NPCs, place-event-settings & thingy-McGuffins. Yet, a 'good' Dungeon Masters keep many factors up whilst describing these adventuring-nouns to players? How can the DM keep stuff like: pacing, choice & investment to a maximum whilst keeping their own talk-time / spotlight-theft to a minimum? Or how does one keep choice-paralysis to a minimum whilst making choices maximal?

Things To Juggle - balls, pins & chainsaws like these!

  1. Verisimilitude: The DM should aim to create a believable and immersive world, consistent in its rules and descriptions, to help players invest in the game. When this 'unreal reality' falls apart it should be more a clue that something is amiss and not a sign the Truth-Threads are coming undone.
  2. Mood & Atmosphere: The DM should use language and description to set the tone and mood of the scene, creating a sense of danger, mystery, or excitement. The DM must assume that they are lucky to get even ONE tone-feeling out above the relay of factual information.
  3. Monstrous Motivations: Sharing motivations of NPCs, giving them believable actions &/or reactions to the players' actions.
  4. Player-Character Play-Choice: The DM should give players meaningful agency and opportunities to impact the world, while still maintaining the overall story and structure of the game.
  5. Challenge & Non-Challenge: Conflict makes most stories & games made. Yet, sub-par challenges provide conflict and the sense of heroism. Defeating those Over-Challenges
  6. Pacing - Keeping The Beat: The DM should vary the pace of the game, alternating between moments of high tension and quiet exploration, to keep players engaged and interested.
  7. World-building: The DM should use description and detail to build a rich and detailed world, filled with interesting places, creatures, and lore.
  8. Co-Team Players / Dynamic Tension Characters:

How To Keep This All In The Air? Tricks:

Narration-minimal, exposition of items of worth (be they magical, monstrous &/or treasury), maximize voices of questioning.

  • Set up 'Campfire-Connections': this need not be by a campfire, any situation where player's characters are prompted to discuss-plan where they have been and where they are going. This can be at any food-drink spot (campfire, tavern, mess hall) or work-location (swabbing the deck, fixing gear) or anywhere that an NPC has open-ended questions ('the king's vizier questioning player motives before an audience').
  • Relate specific senses / target one player (minor rewards for each): Each player class &/or race can notice: rogue finds possible tricks, traps and clues, paladin 'feels' honourable-holy places, wizard / sorcerer smell-feel magic etc. Races too, such as that 'dwarven feel for stone' or 'elven nature sense'. This draws in specific players and prompts them to ask more questions.
  • Reward weird and arbitrary rolls with in-game trivia & trivial items: Asking what players specifically look for, having them roll and rewarding even with trivia ('you find six silver pieces in the sock' or 'a skull of a fairie is behind the book') adds easy fun and connection without throwing the playing field out.
  • Seed lore &/or hooks into ANY given treasure, monsters &/or allies: Each time you give out significant treasure, money, magic or otherwise, you can ramp up lore. This is the only time your players will be hooked & listening! They want to hear EVERYTHiNG about treasure.
  • Reward any research-perception with one 'lore-bite': Players asking NPCs information on things, reading books, researching a magic item or spell and investigating things. Drop one or two lines of lore, hooks & stuff!
  • Un/reliable Narrators: Allied, neutral and enemy sentients can all do this. Attempts to throw characters off the thread are excellent for focus on both 'what the thread is' and also 'where NOT to go'. Even sentient magic items, talking pools, *Speak with Animals / Dead / Stone* - add more than the spell suggests by 'accident'. Have divination spells random but a 1 means 'it rambles' and a 20 means 'extra questions &/or sentience'. Either way, bonus lore tossed in.

the DM can set clear goals for the players, limit choices when necessary, and make decisions quickly when the players are unsure. Additionally, the DM can keep the pacing fast and engaging by encouraging players to take action and by having events unfold in real-time. By focusing on these elements, the DM can help keep the players invested, engaged, and motivated to continue exploring the world they have created.

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