On Presentation, Performance, and Style- Players and DMs

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Hola!

So a recent thread has gotten me thinking, "Self, how do DMs and players ... do it today? You know, it?" Because here, in my stately pleasure palace, I am far removed from the daily hubbub of mainstream TTRPG activity. So I was wondering how different DMs and different players express themselves in TTRPGs, and thought I'd create a thread where people might be able to share the way that they play, and perhaps provide some tips and/or insight.

So, given that there will be natural questions and the inherent black hole of gravitational attraction of argumentative lemon curry on enworld (I DISAGREE WITH YOUR PREMISE, YOUR DEFINITIONS, AND YOUR FACE!), I thought I'd start by offering up some expansive ideas by what I mean-

I am looking for examples of play (DMing, playing as a player) in D&D (hence, the D&D thread- please restrict this to D&D so we have a common frame of reference) that you think are enhanced by presentation, performance, or style.

This can be anything- whether it's in the verbal component (using voices, diction, expressive language, facial expressions), the written component (pre-writing descriptions for certain things, using illustrations or drawing characters or rooms or your favorite sword), or other things (wearing period clothes, making real terrain battles, painting miniatures, collecting and rolling certain dice, and other stuff that I'm too dumb and old to think of).

So I'm throwing it out there- what do y'all do for presentation, performance, and/or style that works for you as a player and/or DM? Do you have any tips that have worked for you?
 

pogre

Adventurer
Visual elements of the game are important to me. I use painted miniatures and terrain and 'wowing' players with my layout. My players tease me if I do not have just the right miniature or terrain prepared.

In terms of game presentation style - I push the pace. I bring the game to the players - whether it is roleplaying social interactions, exploration, or combat. I throw action at the players with lots of encounters.

I ask for lots of input from players on what they would like to do next or things they would like to experience in the campaign. However, my style is far from sandbox and more multi-choice style.

I am definitely a high prep DM. I can handle improvisation pretty well, but designing encounters is a big part of my enjoyment of the game.

My players love my game, but it certainly would not be for everyone. If you or your players brag about having entire sessions without rolling a die - you probably would be a poor fit at my table.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Visual elements of the game are important to me. I use painted miniatures and terrain and 'wowing' players with my layout. My players tease me if I do not have just the right miniature or terrain prepared.

In terms of game presentation style - I push the pace. I bring the game to the players - whether it is roleplaying social interactions, exploration, or combat. I throw action at the players with lots of encounters.

I ask for lots of input from players on what they would like to do next or things they would like to experience in the campaign. However, my style is far from sandbox and more multi-choice style.

I am definitely a high prep DM. I can handle improvisation pretty well, but designing encounters is a big part of my enjoyment of the game.

My players love my game, but it certainly would not be for everyone. If you or your players brag about having entire sessions without rolling a die - you probably would be a poor fit at my table.
That's awesome! See, that's what I love to hear; your style is completely different than mine (I'm ToTM, lower prep) but when I read about how you do it, and how enthusiastic you are .... man, that sounds fun!

(PS- you know, if you ever feel like sharing pics of the terrain and minis ... I won't complain!)
 

pogre

Adventurer
That's awesome! See, that's what I love to hear; your style is completely different than mine (I'm ToTM, lower prep) but when I read about how you do it, and how enthusiastic you are .... man, that sounds fun!

(PS- you know, if you ever feel like sharing pics of the terrain and minis ... I won't complain!)
So, you did ask ;)
http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?608358-2018-Pogre-s-Miniatures-and-Models-A-BIG-finish-to-the-year-with-The-Wizard-s-Tower!

http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?656158-2019-Pogre-s-Miniatures-and-Models-Custom-Monster-for-DoMM-and-a-Pair-of-Knights
 

Mort

Community Supporter
I also have a very "bring it to the players" style. Most campaigns start in medias res. Many involve a serious time line of events that are put into motion and require the players to not delay.

I tend to steal shamelessly from published modules, movies, and books, but put it into a campaign all my own. I've found running modules actually harder than running self prepared stuff - Making sure the module flows and gives a fun experience to the players tends to be just that much more work on my part than doing my own thing! As such, I'll steal from modules gladly, but rarely run any actual cover to cover ones.

There is fairly high amount of dice getting rolled at the table: my group (a bunch of working professionals, most with school age families) is, as a whole, much more interested in putting ax to orc than trying to wade into a political jungle or morally ambiguous mess.

We use miniatures and used to use "edible enemies," though that's been frowned on lately as everyone seems to be on a diet (the perils of hitting 40+).

I've been using more ambient sounds and other mood music - seems to set the tone quite well and players enjoy it.
 
Last edited:

not-so-newguy

Explorer
One simple thing that I have done is remove The DM’s Screen (Pee chee Folder, binder, etc.) between me and the players. It’s easier to communicate when the players can see body language.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I've been using more ambient sounds and other mood music - seems to set the tone quite well and players enjoy it.
I've heard about this; honestly, I haven't really used "mood music" since, um, Pyromania in 1983 (shut up! times were different).

How do you choose the music? What kind?

One simple thing that I have done is remove The DM’s Screen (Pee chee Folder, binder, etc.) between me and the players. It’s easier to communicate when the players can see body language.
Okay- I've hear of people getting rid of the DM screen for transparency (so everyone sees the die rolls, etc.), but I've never heard of this before. Can you paint me a word picture of why body language helps?
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Paladins. Lots and lots of paladins. Preferably gnomes dual-wielding rapiers. If the game ever drags, all I have to do is "could I have more gnomes? More paladins?" The answer of course is always YES!
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I have a penchant for silly names in my games, both as a player and DM, because I find them funny and, because others find them funny, they are more memorable. Presenting NPC names this way is good for retention. I struggle to remember NPCs with the usual fantasy RPG names, but you don't forget even minor NPCs like the Marguul bugbear gladiator, Dikpik the Unsolicited, who showed up without notice to harass the PCs or one of the players remarking "You're smaller than I expected."
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Paladins. Lots and lots of paladins. Preferably gnomes dual-wielding rapiers. If the game ever drags, all I have to do is "could I have more gnomes? More paladins?" The answer of course is always YES!
(•_•)

( •_•)>⌐■-■

(⌐■_■)

YEAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!


I have a penchant for silly names in my games, both as a player and DM, because I find them funny and, because others find them funny, they are more memorable. Presenting NPC names this way is good for retention. I struggle to remember NPCs with the usual fantasy RPG names, but you don't forget even minor NPCs like the Marguul bugbear gladiator, Dikpik the Unsolicited, who showed up without notice to harass the PCs or one of the players remarking "You're smaller than I expected."
I .... hmmm..... you know, I have to admit, I didn't expect you would be a fan of the punny names.

Then again, the pun is the highest form of humor. I learned that in 6th grade. Or from a Cheech and Chong movie.

But I repeat myself.


*Seriously- Dikpik the Unsolicited? That's so good, I'm stealing it.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
On a more serious note...

I improvise a lot. I have a general idea of who's who and what the conflicting goals and perspectives are of the different individuals and groups but that's about it. A list of who's who, roughly what they're up to, the general theme for the game.

I use painted minis as well as clay blocks that I've shaped into squares to give a 3-dimensional aspect to my game. So for example, I have a set of 1 inch square blocks, some 2X2, some 3X3 and 1X4.

I also have lists of random details. People names (broken down by race and gender) so if they talk to the bartender I have a name I can check off. Tavern names, shop names, etc.

I also have a wiki site with all sorts of miscellaneous background and details. Stuff like background of deities, how the planes fit together in my campaign, what ArchFey and Sidhe are like, brief overview of regions and world history. I also do quick write-ups of adventures so I can go back six months later and tie back to previous games, even previous campaigns.
 

not-so-newguy

Explorer
Okay- I've hear of people getting rid of the DM screen for transparency (so everyone sees the die rolls, etc.), but I've never heard of this before. Can you paint me a word picture of why body language helps?
For the record, I don’t share all my dice rolls. For example, random encounters are rolled discreetly.

Anyway, word picture.... I speak with my hands and facial expressions to reinforce important details as much as I do with my words and how I phrase things. It’s been a few years since I’ve played, so I can’t recall a specific example at the moment. When I DMed, I found myself getting frustrated with having to maneuver my body around the barrier in order to make my point. I finally just decided to move the barrier to the side which made DMing easier.
 

DM Dave1

Adventurer
We use a mix of TotM and gridded combat. Players bring their minis and I primarily use chess pieces to represent the enemies. For large creatures, I've used blocks and Skylanders (a good re-use, since we can't seem to get rid of those anymore). For huge creatures, beer cans work really well! I will show the picture of the enemies from the MM or Tome of Beasts or whatever source I'm pulling from - with a conveniently cut thick paper shield that hides the name and statblock from prying eyes.

I also like keeping things moving while getting everyone involved in all pillars. Players are expected to detail quickly what their character is doing by mastering their characters' abilities (with adequate help and patience, of course, for new players). I find a paper character sheet along with a printed, custom spell list (from www.dnd-spells.com for example) works extremely well and minimizes delay and distraction. Likewise, we keep rule lookups at the table to a minimum.

As DM, I try my best to present multiple "choices" for the players - but sometimes prep-time is at a premium and I only really have one quest for them to pursue at a given session. I'm lucky to have players that are cool with that - and I've been trying to get better at a little DM illusionism to make it seem like they were in charge of the choice (even though the ambush was waiting for them regardless of which direction they headed, for example).

I'll intentionally leave some details out of my prep and have the players help create some of the world, from the characteristics of certain places to the names of certain NPCs (although sometimes this is wonderfully regrettable like the guards named "Ben" & "Jerry").

We follow a Goal and Approach style of play, rewarding clever tactics (not flowery speech!) based on PC characteristics with lower DCs, advantage, auto-successes, and/or inspiration. The dice, however, feature prominently and ominously - before I ask for rolls, the players know the odds and the consequences for failure.

Finally, and most importantly, we aim for fun. For our group, that means attempting bold actions, working as a team, celebrating victories, and embracing failures. Voices are encouraged, allusions to pop-culture are lauded, and puns are mandatory, "immersion" be damned! Examples include my terrible attempt at a Christopher Walken voice for the Pact Lich baddy, a bastardization of Hamilton's "I know him" to have a Kobold scribe introduce the players to the Queen of the Bullywugs (really a polymorphed Death Slaad) - "that poor gnome, the Froghemoth's gonna eat him alive!", and a new twist on Lando's Cloud City scene: "I've just made a deal that'll keep the Black Hand out of here forever..."
 

S'mon

Legend
I find the biggest thing is getting into the minds of the npcs, as many as possible, and playing them from the internal aspect - so they have real motivations goals and personalities. I probably spend more time thinking about the world from the POV of the npcs than any other prep element.

Of course a lot of npcs will inevitably share aspects of my irl personality, but hopefully the noble queen is distinct from the snivelling goblin.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Up to Season 8 in Adventure League, I gave out a $1 prop with the magic item. It could be a pocket knife for a magic sword, pool noodle for a staff, etc. Now I working giving out the horde of items I have back logged.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I .... hmmm..... you know, I have to admit, I didn't expect you would be a fan of the punny names.

Then again, the pun is the highest form of humor. I learned that in 6th grade. Or from a Cheech and Chong movie.

But I repeat myself.


*Seriously- Dikpik the Unsolicited? That's so good, I'm stealing it.
Man, I thought my preference for stupid names was well-known at this point. I'm firing my publicist.

But just check out my short-form scenarios for examples of this (plus presentation in general).
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
I'm 70-30 TotM and scratch maps. I lean heavily on good description and regular action and environment recaps to maintain pace of play and immersion. From a feel standpoint I usually aim for swashbuckling action and DM to encourage that kind of play. I try to make most combats as 3D as possible to facilitate creative and heroic combat role playing. I don't have a preference for in or out of character for me or the players, and switch back and forth as seems appropriate and to match what my players are comfortable with.

On the adventure design side I like to try and balance combat with lots of mystery and intrigue for a couple of reasons. First, mystery and intrigue are awesome, but also to allow players to play more socially based characters without those characters constantly feeling like a liability because they are low rent in combat.

I do use a small DM screen and I never share any of my roles. If the heavy hand of fate is going to swat a player, I want there to be a good reason and the right dramatic moment. I like to fudge roles to keep things flowing when I feel it necessary.

I also use a lot of humour in my games. Partialy because it's just the way I interact with other meat suits and that's hard to turn off, but also because a little humour goes a long way to making for an enjoyable RPG session. I guess my game could be described as Avengers rather than Unforgiven.
 

Mort

Community Supporter
I've heard about this; honestly, I haven't really used "mood music" since, um, Pyromania in 1983 (shut up! times were different).

How do you choose the music? What kind?
I use ambient mixer for background- that's become a regular thing.

Music. I used to use youtube as a goto for classical music (usually quiet and as the mood suits) and travel music, usually stolen from movies like Conan. Less so lately, because nothing wrecks the mood of a game than having to sort through ads! So instead, i've been using Amazon music for the same purpose. though honestly - it's been less lately, and just ambient mixer for background (I need to work up a proper playlist!)
 

Advertisement

Top