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GM DESCRIPTION: NARRATION OR CONVERSATION?

Bedrockgames

Villager
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)?
.
Even if it is all me, which it usually isn't, there is a very big difference in my mind between a scene and a situation. A scene to me suggests I have something I want to present to the group, as well as a strong sense of where it should go. A situation is something where I the GM can be just as surprised as the players by where things go. Generally the starting point of the campaign, obviously I as the GM have a strong hand in establishing (this is the system, this is the setting, etc). But the players make their characters and connect them to the setting. And once their feet hit the ground, they do what they want, which helps develop and prompt new situations.

It isn't just about opening doors. It is about what the players are trying to do. I can introduce a local bully if i want, but the situation develops very differently if the players try to work with the local bully and take over the region, versus if they try to put the local bully out of business or ignore the local bully entirely. The player characters have their own agenda and that adds a huge element to the situations that arise.

I may roll for a random encounter, but I am going to describe it very differently depending on what the players do, it will play out very differently depending on what they do, and they can always interrupt me for clarifications as well. I am not saying there is no description, but I definitely don't see it as narrating a scene. I remember modules that used to be structured with scenes and I didn't like them. Not something I find helpful when I think of adventure and campaign structure.
 

Hussar

Legend
Meh, semantics. Scene, situation, it's the same thing. You have the characters, you have the NPC's and you have some sort of action going on. Nothing about narration has anything to do with how things resolve. The point is, you have to introduce that NPC bully. Which means you have to narrate the scene where that bully appears. The point is, you still have to narrate. It's kinda like metagaming. It's impossible to play an RPG without it.
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
The point is, you have to introduce that NPC bully. Which means you have to narrate the scene where that bully appears. The point is, you still have to narrate. It's kinda like metagaming. It's impossible to play an RPG without it.
Again these are different things. Narrating a scene and introducing a character, are not the same. Narrating a scene implies the players are passive listeners to an event. That isn't what I am doing. This is a case where how talk about what we are doing, and how we think of the game (in terms of analogies like 'scenes') really does matter.
 

Hussar

Legend
Again these are different things. Narrating a scene and introducing a character, are not the same. Narrating a scene implies the players are passive listeners to an event. That isn't what I am doing. This is a case where how talk about what we are doing, and how we think of the game (in terms of analogies like 'scenes') really does matter.
Ok, umm, how does this work? You have an NPC that the players have never seen before in a place that they have never been before. Now, how do you explain the scene (ie narrate) to the players without actually describing the scene, describing the NPC or anything like that?

But, to be fair, if that's the definition of narration that you're working from - that players are passive listeners to an event - then, sure, fair enough, I don't do that either.

Just realize that the definition of narrating a scene in no way actually implies or explicitly says that there is any passive listening going on at all. That probably the reason that so many people are pushing back against you is that you are working from a definition that no one else is.
 

Aldarc

Adventurer
Just realize that the definition of narrating a scene in no way actually implies or explicitly says that there is any passive listening going on at all. That probably the reason that so many people are pushing back against you is that you are working from a definition that no one else is.
I don't think [MENTION=85555]Bedrockgames[/MENTION] is mistaken here. This sense of literary prose narration happening at you, with the players in more passive roles as an audience to GM performance, was present as far back as the OP of [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]'s thread that spawned this one. He is working from a definition or understanding that others had been using.
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
Ok, umm, how does this work? You have an NPC that the players have never seen before in a place that they have never been before. Now, how do you explain the scene (ie narrate) to the players without actually describing the scene, describing the NPC or anything like that?

But, to be fair, if that's the definition of narration that you're working from - that players are passive listeners to an event - then, sure, fair enough, I don't do that either.

Just realize that the definition of narrating a scene in no way actually implies or explicitly says that there is any passive listening going on at all. That probably the reason that so many people are pushing back against you is that you are working from a definition that no one else is.
First, Description does not Equal Narrating Scene. A scene is a specific concept from other types of media. I think in this instance it is best thought of as an analogy. If you want to analogize to scenes, go ahead. But I find it very much gets in the way of play at the table when I think of things in terms of scenes. Scenes have all kinds of implications, everything from this is something I planned before it happened, I have a sense of how it should go, I have a sense of the drama that should be involved, etc. That isn't how I think of play at all. Yes the players may encounter an NPC they never met before, or they could be there specifically to see him because they heard about him. All kinds of things could prompt this character's emergence. But I don't have a pre-planned idea of how the NPC is going to be introduced. Again, I treat these things as living adventures and campaigns. The NPC has his own agenda and motives. So the situation that arises is going to depend on many factors (what the NPC is trying to do, what is going on at the moment among various sects in town, and why and how the PCs approach this location). In terms of what I do when they see him, I simply describe him I suppose. Though they could easily wander into town and never bump into the guy. Usually these kinds of characters show up because A) the players seek them out, B) I roll them on a local encounter table, or C) the players go some where this character is very likely to be.

Also I don't think my definition of narrating a scene is that unusual. One of the main reasons I push back against that kind of language, or at least don't embrace it myself, is precisely because of the equivocation I mentioned in other threads. I've encountered this all the time where someone uses scene like you are using (I think to essentially mean anything that occurs in a given situation or event in play). Then they shift to what a good scene should include, and they start layering in requirements that come from other media like plays or movies. So its this tendency among gamers to start with a broad defintion to establish terms, then shift to a more specific definition to advance a playstyle argument that makes me very wary of this kind of terminology in threads. However I am also wary of this analogy personally because whenever I've tried to conceive of play in terms of scenes, I find I don't like the table results. Thinking in terms of situations serves my purposes much better. Plus whenever I have encountered modules structured around scenes, I find it leads to adventure structures I dislike.
 
While I wish you had framed it differently, using different words (see what I did there), I will try to just state my position:

First, this isn't about RPGs in general; this is about TTRPGs.*

Second, this isn't about all TTRPGs, I am referring to "mainstream" TTRPGS (for lack of a better phrase) that have a GM and multiple players, and the game exists in the interaction between the players and the GM within the specified diegetic framework; moreover, the GM has final content control of the gameworld (the diegetic framework).**

Okay, so with those disclaimers out of the way-

The type and nature of the interaction between the players and the DM will be system-dependent, and while some systems will allow multiple modes of interaction, other systems will exhibit strong preferences to one, or another, mode of interaction.

Clear? :)

Let me give three examples that I hope are fairly easy to understand:

A. Narration Strong

Paranoia (I am thinking of the early, 80s, editions, that I still play). So, in order to properly play Paranoia, IMO, you absolutely have to use word choice and build a sense of atmosphere. The game is, fundamentally, a darkly humorous game, and in order for the game to "work" you need to have the GM and the players build within the specified diegetic framework using appropriate narrative language for any given situation. In other words, if the phrase, "Friend Computer" isn't used, or you don't understand what "Please refrain from smoking when terminated" means, you aren't maximizing the value of the system.

Or, put another way, if you play Paranoia in a normal, "plain language" conversational manner, it will easily be the WORST rpg experience of your life. "And then I died again. Unfairly. For the sixth time. Due to a weapon mishap. And the game was over. Man, that sucked."

B. Plain Language

So, if you've ever played a game like FASA Battletech, you know that the game doesn't require any kind of special narration; in fact, such narration will just slow down the good bits (awesome Mechas battling Mechas!). There's not much else to say, really ... woah. That's meta.

C. Mixed


Take 5e ... please (h/t Henny Youngman). There is no requirement that narration be particularly good, or long, or ornate; or that characters be done in-voice; or that the DM and the players attempt to enhance the RP part of the RPG by building an evocative atmosphere. Now, there might be occasions when a more narrative style is preferred (for example, if you want to lean heavily into the Gothic Horror of Ravenloft). There might be times when it is not preferred (for example, when you are running a combat-heavy old-school dungeon crawl). But it really depends on how the group wants to play.


TLDR; what is best will depend on the system and the table.





*Obviously, when considering other RPGs, such as LARPs, performance matters a great deal.

**The final is necessary, as I am including games that allow substantial player content creation, but assuming that the GM has final authority to, at a minimum, resolve disputes.
This. D&D lends itself almost exclusively to mixed. Even strong humor or suspense D&D games need a mix: dialogue, setting/action/character descriptors, and key language (for example, a repeated phrase for a clue) are all narrative. But there are times, most literally dealing with "time," where the bar is crowded the dungeon is wet, or the player moves across the field.

I find that is one of the last skills good DM's learn - how and when to navigate between the two texts.
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
It's kinda like metagaming. It's impossible to play an RPG without it.
A certain amount of meta gaming is inevitable but there is a big difference between that minimal level where people keep it in check and a game filled with meta gaming. Again this brings us back to the very bad argument of ‘X is inevitable/all encompassing/etc so you can’t escape my playstyle.’
 
Jumping into this late, but why not "Both"?

I strongly prefer a short boxed text to frame a scene, and being an advocate for the idea that gaming is an art, I prefer that the short boxed text be literary in quality and suitably evocative of the setting. In a fantasy that likely means a certain amount of archaic language and words and a certain floridness whenever something is especially ugly or beautiful. In a detective story, that might mean that stark staccato language of a Noir mystery. Or, if you are really a genius with words, you could create your own style.

The reason I prefer to have a short boxed text is that if you have a less organized description, then it's very easy to forget something important in the scene or else accidentally blurt out something about the scene that the player characters could not yet have perceived.

One possibility that I find works pretty well is an outline style layout with bullet points. You can have a short introductory text and then as the PC's attention wanders to other features of the room you have a one or two line description of other things. If there is something immediately important about the room, you can preface the boxed text with an ALL CAPS note so that you don't forget. And then the hidden dangers of the room can be just following the text description, followed by any stat blocks you need, followed by any secrets that can be discovered. But however you are comfortable organizing things that it plays out smoothly, I'm good with. One thing that annoys me is how badly organized encounter descriptions still tend to be in published modules, something that the novice GM that is currently running a game for me keeps pulling his hair out over. You'd think a publisher with as much experience as Paizo could edit their crap better.

None of that however is to say that you can't also and at the same time have a casual conversational tone, and in particular as the PC's start asking questions ("What's a brazier?", "Which side of the room is the armoire on again?", "How high is the ceiling?", "Err.. what's an armoire?") - as they should no matter how good your description was - then you can begin replying in language appropriate to the questioner and the tone of the game.
 

Hussar

Legend
[MENTION=85555]Bedrockgames[/MENTION] - you didn't answer my question.

The PC's encounter an NPC that they have never met before. The reason isn't all that important, although that will obviously come up a bit later when resolving the situation. But, how do you convey information about the NPC to the players without any narration? What does that even look like?

You even admit that you "describe him". What do you think narration is? That's all it is.

Since when does boxed text have anything to do with event resolution? Every single example that's been put forward is about setting up the event, but, nothing about what happens next.

I presume that your players don't talk over you while you describe the NPC? Would you not also describe the surroundings? Where are the doors, what's the furniture, that sort of thing? Again, that's all narration is.

Heck, in the Ghosts of Saltmarsh example I posted above, it had ZERO to do with resolving anything. It was just setting the stage. That's all narration ever should be. If narration includes the resolution of an event, then it is railroading and that's generally bad.

But, yeah, if you're including event resolution under the umbrella of narration, then I totally get why you react so strongly against it. You just have to realize that no one else actually does this and certainly no one has ever advocated including resolution in narration.
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
@Bedrockgames - you didn't answer my question.

The PC's encounter an NPC that they have never met before. The reason isn't all that important, although that will obviously come up a bit later when resolving the situation. But, how do you convey information about the NPC to the players without any narration? What does that even look like?
.
I did answer your question. I said I describe the NPC, and emphasized that your question is misleading because it equates description with narrating a scene. I don't know where you are getting this idea that I don't describe things. I've stated over and over that descriptions happen. I've linked to my own sessions as examples. The information is there if you want to know what one of my games sounds like.
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
You even admit that you "describe him". What do you think narration is? That's all it is.
Narration, as we have been discussing in this and the other thread, isn't mere description. No one has made the claim that they don't describe things. If you want to understand where I am coming from, I am happy to tell you. But so many of your questions feel like rhetorical traps intended to prove I play the game a way and think of playing in a way, that I simply don't.

Since when does boxed text have anything to do with event resolution? Every single example that's been put forward is about setting up the event, but, nothing about what happens next.

I presume that your players don't talk over you while you describe the NPC? Would you not also describe the surroundings? Where are the doors, what's the furniture, that sort of thing? Again, that's all narration is.

Heck, in the Ghosts of Saltmarsh example I posted above, it had ZERO to do with resolving anything. It was just setting the stage. That's all narration ever should be. If narration includes the resolution of an event, then it is railroading and that's generally bad.

But, yeah, if you're including event resolution under the umbrella of narration, then I totally get why you react so strongly against it. You just have to realize that no one else actually does this and certainly no one has ever advocated including resolution in narration.
The problem I have with boxed text is it presumes stage setting as you say. This isn't what I want in a game. I keep mentioning I view things as a living campaign. This means I don't want my rooms, my NPCs, or the situations that arise, to feel like pre-packaged or canned things I had waiting. Boxed text and prepared narration feel like this to me. Thinking of the situation as a scene, also feels like this to me. If you want to know where I am coming from, look more toward examples like Feast of Goblyns or 1000 Bushels of Rye (sans evocative literary-like descriptions in the case of FOG). I don't want artificiality in my games. I don't want my games modeled after stuff like Pathfinder or 5E modules. I really can't stand that stuff. Nor do I want to sound like Matt Mercer. I just want a casual play experience where the players feel like they are not beholden to stuff I've pre-ordained or prepped in advance. I like active and reactive NPCs who pursue their own goals and respond organically to the players. That isn't easy to do if you are pre-occupied with set-pieces, key scenes, or describing things like you are writing a novel. At least not for me.

One thing I find very frustrating about this conversation Hussar, is I totally believe in the experience you say you have at the table, thinking of the game in terms of scenic narration. I don't understand why you find it so difficult to understand that I think of the games in different terms and why you find it so hard to accept a person might not think of the game in terms of scenes and narration. Again, these are analogies for understanding. And they are terms with broad and specific meanings very open to equivocation.
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
Jumping into this late, but why not "Both"?

None of that however is to say that you can't also and at the same time have a casual conversational tone, and in particular as the PC's start asking questions ("What's a brazier?", "Which side of the room is the armoire on again?", "How high is the ceiling?", "Err.. what's an armoire?") - as they should no matter how good your description was - then you can begin replying in language appropriate to the questioner and the tone of the game.
If that is what you want, I say go for it. Some of us are simply saying we don't want that. For me, I really don't care if I blurt out something important, or if I stumble in some other way. Hopefully it doesn't happen all the time. But this is a game. And I very much come into the session with that in the forefront of my mind. I think when you think in terms of scenes, when you think in terms of boxed text, or you think in terms of structuring things like a published module (especially ones like Paizo or WOTCs material), you develop an idealized expectation of what should happen in play. I want a much more relaxed experience because I am there to have fun. I am not there to put on a performance for my players. To me this is a very casual experience and by keeping it casual, I find the actual end result tends to be much higher.
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
Since when does boxed text have anything to do with event resolution? Every single example that's been put forward is about setting up the event, but, nothing about what happens next.

I presume that your players don't talk over you while you describe the NPC? Would you not also describe the surroundings? Where are the doors, what's the furniture, that sort of thing? Again, that's all narration is.
Like I said, I think you should listen to my session if you want to see how I do things. Me providing an artificial example is, like Aldarc points out, not likely to be a good reflection of real play. But let me give an example of how a session might play out a bit:

ME: You get inside the city of Tung-On and the street you are on is filled with merchants and shop stalls
PLAYER A: Can we see the Lucky Mountain Gambling Hall nearby?

ME: Yes, it is just down the street, across from a bunch of inns
PLAYER B: I lead the way to the gambling hall

ME: When you get to the door there are men in blue robes at the entrance.
PLAYER B: I step inside and look around for this Iron God Meng guy.

ME: You see the hall has three tiers and people are playing all sorts of games. You don't see anyone who fits his description.
PLAYER: Do I see any areas that look guarded or like they have large retinues serving an important person?

ME: Yes on the stairs leading up to a section on the third level balcony you see a bunch more of the guys in blue robes and it seems well guarded.
PLAYER B: Okay I walk up to them and shout "Hey Pig Iron Meng, step outside. I have a score to settle."

ME: A large bare chested man with a beard steps out....
PLAYER B: ...Does he have any weapons or important looking items on him

ME: No weapons and no items
PLAYER B: Can I size up his martial arts

[ask player to make relevant skill roll]

ME: You can see that his hands are balled into fists, his knuckles weathered and his flesh (particularly around his belly) is quite weathered and conditioned.
PLAYER B: Okay.

ME: Iron God Meng says "What score do you have to settle with me"

-----------

This is just off the the top of my head. I describe things. Sometimes with flashes of color and flavor. But I let players interrupt. I try to keep it conversational. Again I think if you listen to the things I linked you will have a much better idea of what I mean exactly.
 
Like I said, I think you should listen to my session if you want to see how I do things. Me providing an artificial example is, like Aldarc points out, not likely to be a good reflection of real play. But let me give an example of how a session might play out a bit:

ME: You get inside the city of Tung-On and the street you are on is filled with merchants and shop stalls
PLAYER A: Can we see the Lucky Mountain Gambling Hall nearby?

ME: Yes, it is just down the street, across from a bunch of inns
PLAYER B: I lead the way to the gambling hall

ME: When you get to the door there are men in blue robes at the entrance.
PLAYER B: I step inside and look around for this Iron God Meng guy.

ME: You see the hall has three tiers and people are playing all sorts of games. You don't see anyone who fits his description.
PLAYER: Do I see any areas that look guarded or like they have large retinues serving an important person?

ME: Yes on the stairs leading up to a section on the third level balcony you see a bunch more of the guys in blue robes and it seems well guarded.
PLAYER B: Okay I walk up to them and shout "Hey Pig Iron Meng, step outside. I have a score to settle."

ME: A large bare chested man with a beard steps out....
PLAYER B: ...Does he have any weapons or important looking items on him

ME: No weapons and no items
PLAYER B: Can I size up his martial arts

[ask player to make relevant skill roll]

ME: You can see that his hands are balled into fists, his knuckles weathered and his flesh (particularly around his belly) is quite weathered and conditioned.
PLAYER B: Okay.

ME: Iron God Meng says "What score do you have to settle with me"

-----------

This is just off the the top of my head. I describe things. Sometimes with flashes of color and flavor. But I let players interrupt. I try to keep it conversational. Again I think if you listen to the things I linked you will have a much better idea of what I mean exactly.

That seems pretty typical of the type of narration that I do during games.
 
Yes, with the GM as narrator.
There is also some player narration in there...

ME: Yes, it is just down the street, across from a bunch of inns
PLAYER B: I lead the way to the gambling hall

ME: When you get to the door there are men in blue robes at the entrance.
PLAYER B: I step inside and look around for this Iron God Meng guy.
Player B's statements there are classic first person narration. Since there is no conflict or uncertainty to resolve in them, they require no further input from the DM, who simply continues narration descriptive dialogue assuming the new state of the fiction narrated by Player B.
 

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