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D&D General The DM Should Only Talk 30% of the Time... Agree or Disagree?

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Depends on the group, DM, players, situation. Sometimes I just sit back let the group plan and discuss plans. Other times there's a lot of exposition and presentation.

I don't really do the player driven description/story during the game. I'd rather have control of the world and have the world react accordingly to what the PCs say and do.

So while I don't know the ratio, I'm not going to try to push people to talk more if they don't want.
 

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overgeeked

B/X Known World
Quick Note: I tagged this as D&D General because I specifically want to talk about running D&D games. I know that other systems have really different ways of sharing the narrative burden. Feel free to bring those other games into this discussion, but let's overall focus on running D&D.

I'm an elementary school teacher, and I find a lot of my teaching practice bleeds into my DM'ing. One of the things I've tried to do in my classroom is reduce the amount of time that I, as a teacher, am talking. If I can have a student revoice something, I will. If I can have a student take attendance, pass out snacks, give appreciations, read the directions, etc etc etc, I will.

This is part of a larger trend of moving teaching (especially in elementary school) away from lecture-based lessons. The general idea is that teachers used to speak 70% of the time, and the goal now is that teachers speak 30% of the time, and students speak 70% of the time. Generally.

Anyways, I've started to think about this in my D&D games.

I've started to feel uncomfortable with how much my voice as a DM dominates the table during D&D. I'm often the one explaining the rules, describing scenes, and filling the session with talk, talk, talk. However, I feel like this is the base expectation of D&D: that the DM should speak 70% of the time. After all, it is my job to describe what the characters are seeing, then describe what happens when they try different things.

I do, however, want to try speaking less. I want to try to pass that burden over to the players. I want to try to speak 30% of the time.

Here are some ideas for ways I could pass the narrative burden over to players:
  • Have players describe the consequences of their actions in detail (for example, I say "you hit, describe the blow").
  • Ask players to describe inconsequential features of dungeons and towns ("Bob, tell us about this cultist statue...").
  • Allow players to play as NPCs in scenes their characters aren't present in ("Kathy, why don't you play as the blacksmith...")
Here are some more radical ideas:
  • Ask players to design important NPCs, and play as those NPCs.
  • Ask players to design towns, then run portions of the session when characters are in town.
  • Ask players to create interesting descriptions for dungeons, then run the mechanics while the player describes what the dungeon looks / sounds / smells like...
  • Have players design random encounters, then describe those encounters when they occur...
  • Ask players to contribute design ideas to settings during battles, and then have their descriptions be narrative truths...
So what do you think? Is this a strange, quixotic quest with no real benefit? Is this a molehill just I'm willing to die on?

Do you think there's any benefit to a DM speaking only 30% of the time?
The DM should speak as much as they need to. Considering that the DM is the whole world and every creature in it, unless the players only talk amongst themselves, they're talking to the DM. Hard for that to really come off.
 

Dausuul

Legend
I feel like there are generally three scenarios in the D&D games I play/run:

1. The DM is setting the scene, or having an NPC provide exposition. This is, obviously, 100% DM talking.
2. The players are interacting with NPCs or the world (including combat). I think this runs about 50-50, maybe a little more to the DM's side.
3. The players are strategizing among themselves. This is about 85% players; the DM talks only if the players fire a question at them, or if it turns out the players are operating on an egregiously wrong understanding of the game world (that their characters would know was wrong) and the DM needs to correct it.

I do try to minimize #1 as much as possible. I notice a lot of DMs like to give florid, lengthy descriptions to set the scene. Maybe it's my ADHD, but that stuff goes in one ear and out the other; I cannot for the life of me retain more than a detail or two. I wish the DM would just sum up the situation in a couple of sentences and get on with the game.

As for the balance of #2 and #3, I think I probably let it skew too far toward #3. It's easy to sit back and let the players debate, but I don't think that's what most folks show up for. I know that when I'm a player, if the session ends up being 75% strategizing, I come away feeling disappointed, even if I was participating.
 

Hussar

Legend
I don't see any value in setting a guideline that will have DMs second-guessing themselves as to whether they should hold off on speaking up at any given point. Whether a DM should be talking is determined far more by what is happening in the moment than by trying to maintain some kind of ideal ratio across an entire session.
I think the guideline is meant as more a rule of thumb, rather than a hard and fast rule here. "Should" is the operative term here. Getting the other players to talk rather than listen to me blather on for three hours is a very good idea.
 

Nope. DM is talking at least half the time. DM is playing the NPC's, DM is describing the setting. DM is dealing with all the combat. DM is asking for ability checks and savings throws. 60%, minimum.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Group size probably matters quite a bit here. My group with 3 players has some inter-party chatter, but it's much more of a "DM describes situation, players give quick responses, DM narrates change" situation. In my group with 7 players, inter-party chatter dominates play, which does slow down plot advancement quite a bit (but the players don't mind).

I do like to encourage more player interaction with the fiction, so I tend to seed my encounters with open-ended up complications that require player prompts to fill in.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
I'm in the "as much as necessary" camp. To be honest, I don't think it's ever been a huge issue that I can recall. When I GM, I'm pretty sure I end up talking quite a bit less than half the time anyway, since I'm fairly reserved while most people I've played with tend to be more gregarious. So it really depends on the players. I've had to rein in a chatty player on occasion, and tried to elicit more talk from a few quiet ones. But on balance, as long as everyone is content with the game, I think it's all good.

That said, if a GM ends up talking a lot, please at least make it interesting, and ideally somewhat interactive. For this, I recommend utilizing a variety of colorful sock-puppets.* After all, those bizarre gaming memories aren't going to make themselves.


* This strategy is also useful in the workplace and in romantic relationships.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
It depends on a lot of factors. My personal approach is pretty much what Apocalypse World says to do - GMs say stuff when players look to them to find out what happens next or if there's a lull. If players are going at it and having a good time no need to intervene. Our groups tend to have a good deal of scenes where player characters are interacting with each other. When that happens I'm mostly there as a rule resource and avid audience member.
 

Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
Supporter
I don't know what the percentage should be, but in general I do think most DMs in most groups should be talking a bit less than they are.

In my sessions, I try to make sure than within 30-40 seconds of the start of the session, the players, not me, are talking. The players came to play, not to listen to me perform a monologue.

In general I agree with @iserith that being succinct is very important. Also, don't be needlessly ambiguous (avoid using "seems to","sort of", "almost", etc.) Make your descriptions as specific and evocative as you can while being economical and practical. Not always easy.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
So what do you think? Is this a strange, quixotic quest with no real benefit? Is this a molehill just I'm willing to die on?

Do you think there's any benefit to a DM speaking only 30% of the time?

To start with, there's no point in creating a number if you can't, or won't, actually measure it.

That means the real question is whether one, as GM, should aim to speak more, or less, than they currently do, and the answer to that really depends on what the goals at the table are, and how well those goals are being met.

I also think there's a flaw in trying to set limits on how much one should talk, without also considering what is being said, and why and how it is being said.
 

payn

Legend
I'm an elementary school teacher, and I find a lot of my teaching practice bleeds into my DM'ing. One of the things I've tried to do in my classroom is reduce the amount of time that I, as a teacher, am talking. If I can have a student revoice something, I will. If I can have a student take attendance, pass out snacks, give appreciations, read the directions, etc etc etc, I will.

This is part of a larger trend of moving teaching (especially in elementary school) away from lecture-based lessons. The general idea is that teachers used to speak 70% of the time, and the goal now is that teachers speak 30% of the time, and students speak 70% of the time. Generally.
I love this, unfortunately, it wasn't until graduate level courses did I get that experience with any regularity during my education. You are a cool teacher!
So what do you think? Is this a strange, quixotic quest with no real benefit? Is this a molehill just I'm willing to die on?

Do you think there's any benefit to a DM speaking only 30% of the time?
I try to do this less with chores, and more with in-game opportunities. Some of these techniques I found while running/playing other games that focus more on skills, problem solving, and social opportunities. I'd expand your adventures to put more umph in the exploration and social pillars of the game. The other part is taking notice of what drives players at the table, and what shuts them down. Try to emphasize those parts. If a player likes making NPCs, ok let them do it. If the player wants nothing to do with making NPCs, scrap it post haste. Keep in mind, your players are there to have fun, not learn like your students.
 




The only sessions I've ever experienced where the DM talked less than half the time was planning sessions. My college 2E game was more player active than reactive, so we would periodically need to take a session to figure out what we were going to do next. In those sessions the DM might talk as much as 30%, answering our questions (or resolving spell effects like Divinations). While those sessions were really fun, I couldn't image enjoying a game where the DM is only a minor participant all the time.

Many of the suggestions I've seen here would just put individual players on the spot to improv. I have a hard enough time doing this as a DM, and I can imagine the "deer in the headlights" look most players would have. It's even worse since a player could easily overstep what the DM would find acceptable (e.g. "my sword cuts off his arm" for a normal hit).
 

payn

Legend
Many of the suggestions I've seen here would just put individual players on the spot to improv. I have a hard enough time doing this as a DM, and I can imagine the "deer in the headlights" look most players would have. It's even worse since a player could easily overstep what the DM would find acceptable (e.g. "my sword cuts off his arm" for a normal hit).
It can be a challenge for sure. I recall a near future cyberpunk like game that the GM kept trying to get players to add to the narrative.
GM; "You are in the lobby of a corporate HQ. What do you see?"
Player: "umm.....potted plants?"
Other players "ugh..."
Sometimes the GM just needs to lead to keep the pace and maintain immersion. This is the kind of thing players might need to step up to. Also, some players like to GM, and this kind of thing they will take to like a fish to water. Other players, want that firmly in the GMs hands.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
The only sessions I've ever experienced where the DM talked less than half the time was planning sessions. My college 2E game was more player active than reactive, so we would periodically need to take a session to figure out what we were going to do next. In those sessions the DM might talk as much as 30%, answering our questions (or resolving spell effects like Divinations). While those sessions were really fun, I couldn't image enjoying a game where the DM is only a minor participant all the time.

Many of the suggestions I've seen here would just put individual players on the spot to improv. I have a hard enough time doing this as a DM, and I can imagine the "deer in the headlights" look most players would have. It's even worse since a player could easily overstep what the DM would find acceptable (e.g. "my sword cuts off his arm" for a normal hit).
Yes, and as with anything, having the right group used to players establishing things outside their role can work fine; however, it can also make the flow of play sometimes rather clunky. The conversation is going in one direction with the DM doing their thing and the players doing theirs with everything moving along, only to have the DM suddenly change up the flow of play to ask a player to do a "DM-thing." It can be like a record skipping in the middle of a great song (remember record players?). Or worse, dead air. Best avoided in general unless the group is just very used to doing it and can switch back and forth between roles seamlessly.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Yeah, that seems roughly accurate to me. Love hearing about applying teaching principles to DMing!

I'd actually stretch that ratio even a little more, so if there are 5 people (4 players + DM) sitting around a table, that everyone should – on average – get about the same amount of speaking/spotlight time, so the DM can be expected to – on average – speak about 20% of the time. Maybe slightly tilted in the DM's favor, for exposition's sake.

I'd also be more flexible that it will naturally adjust from session to session, and that's perfectly ok and to be expected.

As for your radical ideas, I've done many of those things, and they were well received by my current group, albeit with certain boundaries. Basically, they enjoy contributing, but they don't want to explore their world, they want to explore mine, and if I'm including a random encounter or NPC they suggested/created, it's always with the understanding that I'm going to spin a twist on it to keep them on their toes or delight them in an unexpected way.

I don't treat that sort of player involvement as some kind of moral mandate for my roleplaying games, and it's all about reading the pulse of the group.
 

jsaving

Adventurer
In a solid gaming group where people are enjoying themselves and are role-playing their characters, they'll naturally do most of the speaking. If that's not happening in your group, then you might consider having an honest discussion with your players about whether they are as engaged as you'd like them to be, making clear that any suggestions for improvement are welcome. Perhaps they're simply so captivated by your storytelling ability that they find speech unnecessary, but my experience is that when players don't say much, it often stems from a feeling that they lack agency and hence aren't especially motivated to speak. Teaching is not a good analogy for DMing and in my judgment it would be a mistake to deputize your players as "student teachers" rather than making much more fundamental changes to your approach. Good luck!
 
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pming

Legend
Hiya!

First, get away from the hard-coded percentages. That's just going to annoy you and your group. Just say "Hey guys, I'm gonna do a bit less 'long speaking'. You guys fill in the details", or something like that. Some nights you may only speak 20% of the time...others, 80%. The amount spoken isn't the value...it's what's being said. Don't get pigeon holed into 'absolutes'.

Second...maybe not play D&D? Not to be flippant or anything, but D&D pretty much requires the DM do a lot of speaking and explaining, describing, questioning, etc. It's just how the game works. There are a lot of "behind the screen" stuff that a competent DM is doing all the time...for me, it's dice rolling, table consulting and note taking.

There are game systems out there that are "Player Driven". Like Dungeon World, for example. When I finally "got it" and the game clicked, I found myself just sitting back and enjoying the Players tell me a story...and describe stuff...and add stuff to the world...and even make up new rules on the spot!

BUT...if you want to keep doing the D&D thing, you need to explain the new expectations and limitations of the Players roles at the table. This relates to my first point, obviously. The "less speaking" is fine, but you need to give the Players some guidelines and responsibility. Not all Players may even WANT this. I mean, they aren't DM'ing, they are there to Play the role of a PC. That means they aren't there to hear you speak less...they are there to not have to do all that DM'ing stuff.

Think of it like showing up at a dinner party with 4 other friends, then your host says "Ok you guys, I got the pots and pans out, the knives and cutting boards, and some ingredients. You guys get in there and start cooking dinner. I'm gonna stand over here and drink some wine and offer general guidance if you want it". ;) They didn't show up to cook and create dishes...they cam to eat what they want of what you prepared. Some weird-o may even ask for ketchup for his well-done steak! (barbarians!).

Also, as a side note, I find it a bit disturbing that teachers are being told to "speak less"...but that's a different kettle of worms.

^_^

Paul L. ming
 

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