On Presentation, Performance, and Style- Players and DMs

Draegn

Explorer
I prefer to give my players the opportunity to use their imaginations. When describing a person or place my goal is to use a single paragraph for important persons, less for a minion.

Music, I let my players play what they like, though I prefer symphonic music over songs. Several times the lyrics have caused hilariousness. I ask a player to respond to a npc and as they begin to speak the stereo blares "You're going to burn in hell". These times signal break time.
 

DM Dave1

Adventurer
I prefer to give my players the opportunity to use their imaginations. When describing a person or place my goal is to use a single paragraph for important persons, less for a minion.

Music, I let my players play what they like, though I prefer symphonic music over songs. Several times the lyrics have caused hilariousness. I ask a player to respond to a npc and as they begin to speak the stereo blares "You're going to burn in hell". These times signal break time.
Judas Priest? Or Twisted Sister???
 

Satyrn

Villager
To start: I most definitely do not use funny voices for the NPCs. My players mock me mercilessly for my terrible voice work. The only accent I can do passingly well with is "pirate" . . . and I'm running a megadungeon so there's really no call for (more than a handful of) pirates. Oh wait, I can do a gnomish voice okay, too, but you don't want to hear about that.

So my presentation is more matter-of-fact 3rd person narration.

I'm also generally a quiet person in everyday life, more interested in listening to other people than talking. By the end of a night DMing, then, my voice is cracking, my throat is sore from overuse.

So my narration stays short and to the point.

And I'm always looking for ways to give players more information without opening my mouth. So I've "rigorously" analyzed which of my DMing notes really ought to remain secret and which, in the hands of the players, won't wreck the game. Those latter notes then get scattered on the game table in open view. Monster combat tracking is the prime example of this. I record the damage taken in plain view with a Sharpie, counting down to 0. Never having to describe just how hurt that bugbear is, or answering "hey how do those orcs look, which one is most beaten up?" it's a fantastic voice saver. And really, the players can get a better idea of what their characters see by looking directly at the numbers than they would listening to me translate that exact same numbers into narration.

So I give my players lots of info directly via game mechanics rather than narrating it. (Though there's still tons of narration, my poor voice begs for your sympathy.)
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
As a DM and a player, I tend to focus a lot on voices. To me, how a character speaks is the key to cracking their personality.

At my home games, I always have music going. Generally it’s some sort of dark ambient, symphonic metal, or soundtrack (videogame and movie).

I’ve really been keying into improvisation more and more of late. My two biggest tools are a fantasy-themed card deck (either Pathfinder’s Harrow or D&D’s Tarokka Decks) and a d20 campaign coin. When I need to come up with something on the fly, pulling a card really helps inspire me. And when a player has an idea, like “hey, is there a wine merchant on this street?” I like to then flip the coin – 1, there is not, 20, there is!

One of the players at my table is an amazing doodler while we play. After a session is done, his character sheet has miraculously sprouted all sorts of awesome drawings of his character or stuff from the session. Me, I can’t draw to save my life! I do paint minis for use when I’m a player and that DM uses minis. When I DM, I do not.

I’ve never done any sort of cosplay at a session, but have occasionally thought of having a dress-up session, with extra rewards for people that do so.
 

lowkey13

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

It's the comments in this thread that remind my why I love this place so much. :)

I've already got a bunch of ideas to try!
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
As a DM and a player, I tend to focus a lot on voices. To me, how a character speaks is the key to cracking their personality.
Also note - a change in voice can also be key in allowing yoru players to know without having to ask whether it is the NPC speaking, or the GM speaking. So you can have:

Evil Wizard: "And now, I shall disintegrate you all!"
GM: Roll for initiative.

and not

Evil Wizard: "And now, I shall disintegrate you all! Roll for initiative!"

The difference is between a combat starting smoothly, and the gnome PC trying to strike up a dice game with the villain in the middle of a tense scene. :p

Also note that there's much you can do with voice other than an accent. You can change pitch. You can change speed. You can change word choice. You can be harsh or smooth, and so on.

I’ve never done any sort of cosplay at a session, but have occasionally thought of having a dress-up session, with extra rewards for people that do so.
Costuming for a tabletop game usually doesn't add a lot of value. You are primarily sitting, so much of your costume is out of sight anyway. And the GM can't do *that many* costume changes and not be called "Barberella" forever after. Costumes are also usually more awkward and uncomfortable than street clothes, which gets to be a distraction. They are more an addition to live-action play, imho.

A variation on the music theme is the party mixtape. We had a tradition that ran this way: Each player suggests one song that reminds them of or otherwise signifies each of the other characters in the party. Then, from the list of nominations, the player picks one or two that they think matches their character best. These become the mixtape. You may include the GM and the BBEG in this, if you want. You can then have this running in the background during sessions.

And let me tell you, when your character's battle tune comes up when you're in a major combat scene, it is awesome :)
 

MonkeezOnFire

Explorer
I now play almost exclusively online on Roll20 so I don't know if this will help anyone's game, but I figured I'll share my experiences anyway on the off chance that they're interesting. In the game I'm in as a player there are two DMs that each do a lot of work to draw out detailed maps and tokens. There is very little theater of the mind, only occurring when we venture somewhere that doesn't have a prepared map. Even out of combat most of the action takes place on the maps and through descriptions of things as we view them from a top down angle. Music also plays a big part with the DM's curating a library in the Roll20 game.

In the game I play I don't prep nearly as much. Anything out of combat takes place in theater of the mind. In towns or during travel I will display some art that I grabbed from Google or a hex map of the surrounding area that I have made. For combat maps I grab as much as I can from the web though will sometimes produce my own battle maps using assets freely available (background textures + tokens). There are plenty of free dungeon maps online and I am starting to find I get more creative in dungeon design when I have a solid starting point. The threads by @Turgenev and @Dyson Logos here on the boards have saved me at the last minute a couple of times in this regard (you both do great work :)). I also also have a small collection of music that I've uploaded to Roll20 to have in the background for mood. In general though I run a much lighter game than the one I play in. Jokes and references are common (a lot of them come from me).
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
I think it was one of the Critical Role folks that said their trick to NPCs was the Seven Dwarves method. Pick one of the seven dwarves (dopey, sneezy, grumpy, etc…) and then decide whether your voice is pitched low, neutral, or high. Boom, instant NPC with a distinctive voice.

I dig the idea of letting each PC pick their theme song. That could get quite fun!

Also note that there's much you can do with voice other than an accent. You can change pitch. You can change speed. You can change word choice. You can be harsh or smooth, and so on.

A variation on the music theme is the party mixtape. We had a tradition that ran this way: Each player suggests one song that reminds them of or otherwise signifies each of the other characters in the party. Then, from the list of nominations, the player picks one or two that they think matches their character best. These become the mixtape. You may include the GM and the BBEG in this, if you want. You can then have this running in the background during sessions.
 

pogre

Adventurer
As a DM and a player, I tend to focus a lot on voices. To me, how a character speaks is the key to cracking their personality.

At my home games, I always have music going. Generally it’s some sort of dark ambient, symphonic metal, or soundtrack (videogame and movie).

I’ve really been keying into improvisation more and more of late. My two biggest tools are a fantasy-themed card deck (either Pathfinder’s Harrow or D&D’s Tarokka Decks) and a d20 campaign coin. When I need to come up with something on the fly, pulling a card really helps inspire me. And when a player has an idea, like “hey, is there a wine merchant on this street?” I like to then flip the coin – 1, there is not, 20, there is!

One of the players at my table is an amazing doodler while we play. After a session is done, his character sheet has miraculously sprouted all sorts of awesome drawings of his character or stuff from the session. Me, I can’t draw to save my life! I do paint minis for use when I’m a player and that DM uses minis. When I DM, I do not.

I’ve never done any sort of cosplay at a session, but have occasionally thought of having a dress-up session, with extra rewards for people that do so.
Your game style is so different from mine, but sounds really cool and a lot of fun.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Pretty sure that was [MENTION=177]Umbran[/MENTION] but it does sound cool.
Ach! I thought I was quoting him!

Sorry- [MENTION=177]Umbran[/MENTION] care to expand on the battle tunes? It makes me think of-

1. Batters in Baseball (and/or relievers).

2. Wrestlers entering an arena.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I dig the idea of letting each PC pick their theme song. That could get quite fun!
There's also an aspect of this where you get your portrayal of your character validated.

For example, for a Mage: The Ascension game back in the day, I had actually chosen some music in my own mind - the character was very much the kind of person to put himself between danger and anyone vulnerable, and not leaving until the danger was handled. So, one of my character's theme songs, in my own head, was Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down". I didn't discuss this with anyone else.

We played several sessions, and then someone suggested we do the mixtape thing. And, what song gets suggested for my character by two different people? Petty's, "I Won't Back Down." I figure I was getting the point across :)
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Sorry- @<i><b><u><a href="http://www.enworld.org/forum/member.php?u=177" target="_blank">Umbran</a></u></b></i> care to expand on the battle tunes? It makes me think of-
Sure. I'll do by way of example....

Some time back, I was playing a LN half-orc cleric/fighter, a follower of a god we called the King of Stones - a god who was the guardian of the border between life and death. The character felt he had two jobs in the world: To put undead back in the ground where they belonged, and to deal with anyone who, "just needs killin'" - typically those who were so violent or cruel in life that the pain they left in their wake gave rise to unquiet spirits.

Imagine the half orc, in a matte grey suit of half-plate armor, with a bighonkin' battle axe. The GM says, "roll initiative" and this starts to play:

[video=youtube_share;a3Jv-d80H1g]https://youtu.be/a3Jv-d80H1g[/video]
 

Satyrn

Villager
2. Wrestlers entering an arena.
My favorite wrestling (entry) moment was Kurt Angle returning after an injury, with a giant smile played to his face while the crowd sang "You Suck!" . . . and then asking for his song to be played again so they could keep singing "You Suck!"
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
We've recently been thinking of theme songs for our characters - sure a vast array of options out there.

I once had a player roll up a character based on a metal song ("Knock Them Down" by Thor - character was a hell-bent fighter).

As for presentation, I try to use different voices (and facial expressions when I'm not too busy laughing) for different characters and usually seem to get it right. Sometimes a motion or gesture can also become a memorable character schtick - one character in my game right now is a part-orc with a bit of elf in it that gives it high cheekbones, and the player points out the high cheekbones at every opportunity via a gesture at the table. Ditto the legendary hair-flip for a long-past cavalier, or the mug-to-mouth gesture that accompanied every sentence spoken by a particular dwarf fro long ago.

For background music, I either use a synthwave mix or stream turned up loud enough to hear but nowhere near loud enough to disrupt conversation.

Some time back, I was playing a LN half-orc cleric/fighter, a follower of a god we called the King of Stones - a god who was the guardian of the border between life and death. The character felt he had two jobs in the world: To put undead back in the ground where they belonged, and to deal with anyone who, "just needs killin'" - typically those who were so violent or cruel in life that the pain they left in their wake gave rise to unquiet spirits.

Imagine the half orc, in a matte grey suit of half-plate armor, with a bighonkin' battle axe. The GM says, "roll initiative" and this starts to play:

[video=youtube_share;a3Jv-d80H1g]https://youtu.be/a3Jv-d80H1g[/video]
Nice song, but if any of our crew used this for a character's theme the boos would rain down. I mean, come on - bagpipes? :)
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Characters have battle tunes?

Hmmm..... tell me more!
Grease the musical cast.
Dungeon lovin' had me a blast
Dungeon lovin' happened so fast
I met a magel crazy for me
Met a zombie cute as can be
Adventuring days driftin' away
To ah, oh, those adventuring nights
 

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