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GM DESCRIPTION: NARRATION OR CONVERSATION?

I use boxed text, like this one from the recent Saltmarsh module:



That, coupled with the fact that I run over virtual tabletop meaning they have an actual map to look at as they explore, gets all the pertinent information into the player's hands and nicely evokes the tone of a scary, haunted house. Would we agree that the boxed text I quoted is narrative style, rather than conversational?
Its narrative style in my view. I'd focus on phrases like "rubbish is scattered around what was once a fine guest bedroom" rather than, say, it's a run-down bedroom with rubbish scattered about; there is evidence of rodent infestation ratjher than, say, you can see rats or you can see mouse-droppings everywhere; "its woodwork is worm-ridden" rather than, say, there seem to be termites in the timber; the curtains that once screened the bed are torn and stained rather than, say, the bed has torn, dirty curtains.

Also, how by mere visual inspection can one tell that it was once a guest bedroom?
 

Hussar

Legend
I can walk into your house and tell you which bedroom is a guest bedroom just by looking (assuming you have one). That's not really a stumbling block to me.

But, effectively, [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION], we're back to vocabulary differences. You're simply using simpler language. So, is it fair to say that the division, for you, between conversational and prose is vocabulary choice? After all, you didn't change any word order. So, is it down to vocabulary, yes or no?
 
I can walk into your house and tell you which bedroom is a guest bedroom just by looking (assuming you have one). That's not really a stumbling block to me.
But isn't that because the guest bedroom will look different from a currently occupied one. How can you tell that it was once a guest bedroom - rather than, say, an abandoned main bedroom? (I'm putting to one side the anachronism of projecting relatively modern architectural conceptions back into a house in the Greyhawk setting.)

you didn't change any word order
Its narrative style in my view. I'd focus on phrases like "rubbish is scattered around what was once a fine guest bedroom" rather than, say, it's a run-down bedroom with rubbish scattered about; there is evidence of rodent infestation ratjher than, say, you can see rats or you can see mouse-droppings everywhere; "its woodwork is worm-ridden" rather than, say, there seem to be termites in the timber; the curtains that once screened the bed are torn and stained rather than, say, the bed has torn, dirty curtains.
My first example changes word order and verb constructions and substitutes an adjective ("run down") for an adverb ("once"). My second example replaces an impersonal, nominalised construction with an active voice sentence. My third example replaces an adjective ("worm-ridden") with a syntactically more complex phrase ("seem to be termites in the timber"). My fourth example substitutes active for passive voice.

I don't think it's accurate to say that I didn't change any word order and only changed vocabulary.

Just look at the first example. Rubbish is scattered around what was once a fine guest bedroom leads with a main clause ("rubbish is scattered about") that is, as far as information is concerned, of secondary interest. The clause what was once a fine guest bedroom is the main information-bearing clause from the point of view of describing what's there. The mismatch between syntactic structure and informational structure is a stylistic device. My contrasting formulation - it's a run-down bedroom with rubbish scattered about - aligns the syntax with the information: the syntactically main clause is also the main information-bearing clause, while the bit about rubbish is reduced to an adjectival phrase. It's that, not the extremely modest vocabulary change (ie my example replaces was once fine with is run down and drops the "guest" because I don't see how the past use of a bedroom as a guest bedroom is knowable by mere visual inspection), that makes my reworking less "narrative" and more conversational.

The analysis I've just offered might also be relevant to the ongoing exchange between [MENTION=48965]Imaro[/MENTION] and [MENTION=5142]Aldarc[/MENTION] (? I think, haven't gone back to check) about what a conversational style might actually look like.
 

Hussar

Legend
Sorry, Pemerton, but, I'm really having trouble tracking the changes you are making here. Can you actually write out the paragraph that you think is more conversational? Trying to move back and forth between three different posts and two different pages means I am losing track of what you're trying to say. And, please, tone down the level of grammatical analysis. It's extremely difficult to parse.
 

Aldarc

Adventurer
I can walk into your house and tell you which bedroom is a guest bedroom just by looking (assuming you have one). That's not really a stumbling block to me.

But, effectively, [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION], we're back to vocabulary differences. You're simply using simpler language. So, is it fair to say that the division, for you, between conversational and prose is vocabulary choice? After all, you didn't change any word order. So, is it down to vocabulary, yes or no?
He's using simpler language, but I don't think he is necessarily using simpler vocabulary. There is not much difference of vocabulary between "rubbish is scattered around what was once a fine guest bedroom" and "it's a run-down bedroom with rubbish scattered about." And we could hardly say that those differences amount to any notions of higher vocabulary: e.g., fine, guest, once, what, was. Stylistically, however, the former does appear more elevated than the latter.

The analysis I've just offered might also be relevant to the ongoing exchange between [MENTION=48965]Imaro[/MENTION] and [MENTION=5142]Aldarc[/MENTION] (? I think, haven't gone back to check) about what a conversational style might actually look like.
I'll freely admit that Imaro's task if a bit of a tall order for me. It's essentially asking for pre-scripting out an imaginary conversation, which is an artificial scenario devoid of context. That's what makes [MENTION=85555]Bedrockgames[/MENTION]'s contribution so valuable, because he was able to link to the audio from one or more actual play sessions.
 
So... To me, when the DM is describing things, setting the scene, relaying the results of actions, he is doing narration. Doing it in a conversational style doesn't make it not narration.

In addition, the choice of using a conversational style still seems pretty deliberate. So, like in [MENTION=85555]Bedrockgames[/MENTION] 's case, he uses this style for a more authentic, easily accessible feel, and because he and his players prefer it. Similarly [MENTION=6775031]Saelorn[/MENTION] uses a neutral, "just the facts" style of narration in an effort not to unduly influence his players. So... Word choice and phrasing are important, even if they are sometimes important for different things.

Personally, I tend to move back and forth pretty fluidly between more fancy-pants talk and colloquialism depending on a number of factors, including things like, 'I thought of a cool thing ans want to try to express that to my players.' or, 'Steve is looking hangry, perhaps I can annoy him by using a lot of food words.' or, 'this combat is getting pretty intense, I'd better keep my descriptions punchy and on point.'
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
In addition, the choice of using a conversational style still seems pretty deliberate. So, like in @Bedrockgames 's case, he uses this style for a more authentic, easily accessible feel, and because he and his players prefer it. Similarly @Saelorn uses a neutral, "just the facts" style of narration in an effort not to unduly influence his players. So... Word choice and phrasing are important, even if they are sometimes important for different things.
I don't think speaking in natural conversational style is deliberate in the way speaking in a narrator voice is deliberate. This just seems like we are blurring distinctions in order to make them ultimately the same (back to 'everything is literature').
 

Hussar

Legend
I don't think speaking in natural conversational style is deliberate in the way speaking in a narrator voice is deliberate. This just seems like we are blurring distinctions in order to make them ultimately the same (back to 'everything is literature').
Well, kinda sorta.

Look at that description of the Dursley's above. That's adopting a very specific "voice". It's a sing songy story telling voice because the story is written for 10 year olds. It is a very deliberate choice.

Your choice of a conversational tone is deliberate since you don't like a more prose style pattern. But, make no mistake, you are still narrating the scene. There's no way to play an RPG without someone narrating the scene. Whether it's "rubbish is scattered around what was once a fine guest bedroom" or "it's a run-down bedroom with rubbish scattered about.", those are deliberate choices and both of those choices are setting the scene for the players.

The range isn't narrative vs conversational, it's prose vs conversational. An important distinction I think.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
The range isn't narrative vs conversational, it's prose vs conversational. An important distinction I think.
Maybe - but I'd be tempted to describe it in terms of formal vs informal style. Ultimately, that's really a cosmetic difference, not one in essence. Whether formal or informal, it's narration if you're laying it out for your players. Conversation, as far as I'm concerned, would be defining it through back-and-forth discussion with players contributing elements - and even that would be started by GM narration.
 
I'll freely admit that Imaro's task if a bit of a tall order for me. It's essentially asking for pre-scripting out an imaginary conversation, which is an artificial scenario devoid of context.
Agreed, but I think my post identifies some features of the Saltmarsh text that mark the contrast with conversational language. For instance, I think that conversatinal language - to the extent that, under some sort of regimentation, it has a main clause - is more likely to have the main clause correspond with the main body of information (eg It's a run-down bedroom with rubbish everywhere rather than There's rubbish scattered everywhere, in what was once a fine bedroom).

I also think that conversational language is probably more likely to use verbs in active voice - eg You see a room. There are mouse droppings on the floor. rather than A room comes into view. There is evidence of rodent infestation.

And of course, when we take conversation as it occurs without that sort of regimentation, it has a spontaneous non-grammaticality that is very different from written and edited prose.

I should add - I'm not any sort of empirical linguist. I'm just going on a mix of common sense intuitions and experience working with witness transcripts.
 
And of course, when we take conversation as it occurs without that sort of regimentation, it has a spontaneous non-grammaticality that is very different from written and edited prose.
Except where that written and edited prose is presented in a conversational style, or is simply badly written.

There is also, of course the fact that prose is typically used to mean plain or natural writing, as opposed to poetic writing. Except here, of course, where it is being used to mean something along the lines of, "of literary worth" and "something that non-nerds would not use."
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
I don't think speaking in natural conversational style is deliberate in the way speaking in a narrator voice is deliberate. This just seems like we are blurring distinctions in order to make them ultimately the same (back to 'everything is literature').
Well, maybe.

But notice how you and others describe the "not your style."

Previously, it was described as funny voices.

Now, it's-
I guess my concern with this approach, at a fundamental level, is it leads to setting a bar where only people who talk like 'nerds' can sit in the GM chair, or even play. It is actually one of the big hurdles to getting people interested in the game that I encounter when talking to people outside of gaming. We tend to interpret intellect by how 'well spoken' a GM is and by their vocabulary.

By conversational I don't mean blue collar level speech. It can include the of course. To me part of conversational speaking is talking in your natural voice and without trying to put on airs or trying to emulate written text. But I keep telling you it isn't strictly about vocabulary as well. It is also about style, structure, mood, etc.
I'd like to stress one aspect, the whole "put on airs[.]"

Fundamentally, you asked a simple question with the OP. Narration or Conversation, and you have received various answers from different people. (I gave my answer on the first page).

To the extent you want to devolve into t a rehash of the Thread That Shall Not Be Named, I will only observe that people who enjoy exploring the Role Playing aspects of Role Playing games probably do not appreciate your belief that they are "put[ting] on airs" when they are playing, any more than people previously thought that the description of their style of playing as "funny voices" was appropriate.

To the extent your playing style, replete with reference to videogame characters, works for you- Great! But it's probably best, given the history of many who play this hobby, to refer to the way they play as some sort of highfalutin' putting on airs. Jus' sayin'- it's the kind of anti-intellectual attitude that so many of us already put up with.

(I want to stress that I don't think you mean that, but the reason that these threads get so heated is that, like any playstyle conversations, they can quickly veer from describing how a person likes to play to prescribing how others ought to play, and that statements of preferences can easily become statements of disdain for other styles)

Also?
@Manbearcat ? Remember the whole aptitude bias thing?

Just look at the first example. Rubbish is scattered around what was once a fine guest bedroom leads with a main clause ("rubbish is scattered about") that is, as far as information is concerned, of secondary interest. The clause what was once a fine guest bedroom is the main information-bearing clause from the point of view of describing what's there. The mismatch between syntactic structure and informational structure is a stylistic device. My contrasting formulation - it's a run-down bedroom with rubbish scattered about - aligns the syntax with the information: the syntactically main clause is also the main information-bearing clause, while the bit about rubbish is reduced to an adjectival phrase. It's that, not the extremely modest vocabulary change (ie my example replaces was once fine with is run down and drops the "guest" because I don't see how the past use of a bedroom as a guest bedroom is knowable by mere visual inspection), that makes my reworking less "narrative" and more conversational.
So, about that .... ;)
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
Well, kinda sorta.

Look at that description of the Dursley's above. That's adopting a very specific "voice". It's a sing songy story telling voice because the story is written for 10 year olds. It is a very deliberate choice.

Your choice of a conversational tone is deliberate since you don't like a more prose style pattern. But, make no mistake, you are still narrating the scene. There's no way to play an RPG without someone narrating the scene. Whether it's "rubbish is scattered around what was once a fine guest bedroom" or "it's a run-down bedroom with rubbish scattered about.", those are deliberate choices and both of those choices are setting the scene for the players.

The range isn't narrative vs conversational, it's prose vs conversational. An important distinction I think.
I am reacting to a situation, not narrating a scene. There is a HUGE difference
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
To the extent your playing style, replete with reference to videogame characters, works for you- Great! But it's probably best, given the history of many who play this hobby, to refer to the way they play as some sort of highfalutin' putting on airs. Jus' sayin'- it's the kind of anti-intellectual attitude that so many of us already put up with.

(I want to stress that I don't think you mean that, but the reason that these threads get so heated is that, like any playstyle conversations, they can quickly veer from describing how a person likes to play to prescribing how others ought to play, and that statements of preferences can easily become statements of disdain for other styles)
It is about one style predominating. I am not anti-intellectual but I am anti-elitism, especially when gamers who don't talk like they came from the suburbs end up feeling out of place in the hobby (which I've seen many times firsthand). And while yes, you are right, we should all be entitled to our preferences, and there is nothing wrong with the GM narrating or talking more in a prose style....everything has downsides and excesses worth bringing up. Intellectual snobbery is a thing. And it does creep into the hobby a lot.
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
It is about one style predominating. I am not anti-intellectual but I am anti-elitism, especially when gamers who don't talk like they came from the suburbs end up feeling out of place in the hobby (which I've seen many times firsthand). And while yes, you are right, we should all be entitled to our preferences, and there is nothing wrong with the GM narrating or talking more in a prose style....everything has downsides and excesses worth bringing up. Intellectual snobbery is a thing. And it does creep into the hobby a lot.
I hear what you're saying, and I understand your point; that said, you should consider the following two issues in tandem:

1. When you say you are "anti-elitism" (as opposed to anti-intellectual?), this is similar to a battle that many of us fought when we were young. Quite frankly, I am perfectly happy to have read my books and been all nerdy; there is something distinctly disturbing, to me, to see that the very thing that attracted me to the hobby to begin with (a haven for intellectual pursuit) is now being attacked for ... intellectual snobbery? Because that's the kind of thing I've seen before by people less versed in nerd culture, and it's a little odd to see people now say that the real problem with TTRPGs are that they exclude the marginalized; I happen to think that to the extent that TTRPGs are not diverse and welcoming, that can certainly be a problem- but I have unfortunately seen that the real issue isn't narrative prose, it's a concerted effort by (almost always) white, male, straight individuals to make the game less welcoming. Not intellectual snobbery.

And, frankly, attaching values of "elitism" for a desire to enjoy things that are good ... well, I got tired of being attacked for that in middle school, TYVM.

2. In addition, there is no intellectual snobbery when it comes to performance and imagination. Instead, there seems to be a current of disdain accorded to those who value those aspects of TTRPG; I have mentioned, for example, that I don't enjoy LARPing, saying that it was a bridge too far ... FOR ME. But I envy those people who can throw themselves into that performance, who can truly let their imaginations run wild and inhabit their characters fully, instead of looking meanly upon them as putting on airs.

It truly takes self-confidence to be able to perform, to be able to invoke the dread nemesis of Cthulhu and cosmic horror with purple prose, to get into the spirit of Friend Computer (to quote my Introduction- "Citizen! You are not outnumbered. You are just in a target-rich environment."). I find it best to encourage and nurture that self-confidence in those who are inclined, not to consign it to the realm of "funny voices" or "airs" or other phrases that indicate that performance, theater, and oratory is something people shouldn't aspire to, or want, for themselves.

EDIT- Regardless, I understand why people would use a conversational style; I often do myself. If you want to understand why these threads are heated and long, with people talking past each other, this is why.
 
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Hussar

Legend
Maybe - but I'd be tempted to describe it in terms of formal vs informal style. Ultimately, that's really a cosmetic difference, not one in essence. Whether formal or informal, it's narration if you're laying it out for your players. Conversation, as far as I'm concerned, would be defining it through back-and-forth discussion with players contributing elements - and even that would be started by GM narration.
Yeah, that's a better way of phrasing it. Sure, I'll agree with that.
 

Hussar

Legend
I am reacting to a situation, not narrating a scene. There is a HUGE difference
Umm, where did the situation come from? Who initiated the situation? Who set the location, the opponents (or allies or whatever is being reacted to)?

Now, there are games where the answer to that might be "anyone at the table", but, outside of those games, by and large, it's the GM/DM who is setting the stage so to speak. Sure, the PC's open the door, but, it's the DM who describes what's in the room. And, at that point, what are you reacting to? The opening of a door? That's a pretty fine line distinction.

PC's are camping for the night in a D&D game. You roll a random encounter. At that point, you have to narrate the set up, it's unavoidable.

Like [MENTION=3400]billd91[/MENTION] said, the distinction is formal vs informal style. But, you're still narrating no matter what you do.
 
The range isn't narrative vs conversational, it's prose vs conversational. An important distinction I think.
I'd be tempted to describe it in terms of formal vs informal style. Ultimately, that's really a cosmetic difference, not one in essence. Whether formal or informal, it's narration if you're laying it out for your players.
Like [MENTION=3400]billd91[/MENTION] said, the distinction is formal vs informal style. But, you're still narrating no matter what you do.
There is also, of course the fact that prose is typically used to mean plain or natural writing, as opposed to poetic writing. Except here, of course, where it is being used to mean something along the lines of, "of literary worth" and "something that non-nerds would not use."
I'm not too fussed what terms are used to draw the distinction that's at issue in this thread. I've been trying to follow the usage that seems to have been established. Hussar told me to use prose vs conversational, so I did. If I'm now meant to use formal vs informal, that's fine.

Whatever terminology is used, I think there is a reasonably clear contrast between (i) the Saltmarsh text, which describes a room by leading with a main clause that refers to rubbish and uses the phrase "there is evidence of rodent infestation", and (ii) a less formal/more conversational description, which uses the main clause to present the main information, and talks directly about seeing rats or mouse droppings.
 

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