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


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Laurefindel

Legend
I'd be curious to see what proportion of the game I'm speaking vs players. I bet it's at least 50% and more.

And to echo many posters above, I'm sure that many games would benefit from less "DM speak time", but I disagree with a DM-speak-30% as a general policy in regards to RPG. That's only my humble uneducated gut feeling, I'd be happy to change my mind when properly demonstrated.
 

I'd be curious to see what proportion of the game I'm speaking vs players. I bet it's at least 50% and more.

And to echo many posters above, I'm sure that many games would benefit from less "DM speak time", but I disagree with a DM-speak-30% as a general policy in regards to RPG. That's only my humble uneducated gut feeling, I'd be happy to change my mind when properly demonstrated.
In a city, say the group is going on a shopping trip, or investigating leads to some mystery. There is no way the DM is talking anything less than 50/50, as they are the NPC's. Of course, players/chars can argue about plans, and I have seen that consume all kinds of time.

In combat, the DM is definitely talking more than 50% of the time, with the percentage increasing with more bad guys/terrain effects/Legendary Actions increase.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I think the better point to make is to pay attention to how long it takes when it is the GM's turn to speak. How quickly do you get players playing again basically. From my perspective it's my job to facilitate play so I should be as punchy and concise as possible when it's my turn to speak.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I think the better point to make is to pay attention to how long it takes when it is the GM's turn to speak. How quickly do you get players playing again basically. From my perspective it's my job to facilitate play so I should be as punchy and concise as possible when it's my turn to speak.

It can be an objective from your side, but players can also have different expectations, some might want you to be more verbose with evocative descriptions, others might want you to be more precise so that they can polish their tactics, etc.

Just keep in mind that the DM is not only a facilitator, he can also be the lead storyteller, a referee, etc. Depending on which roles he assumes (and this varies depending on the style and phase of play), his objectives might be completely different.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
Thinking on it, I have noticed that how often the DM has to talk to move the game along seems to be a function of DM skill. We've got a friend who is a pretty domineering personality who ran a game a few years ago and spent a lot of time in the early game low key dictating how our characters should be reacting to his world and groaning about the weirdos (who are always being weird in all our games) being weird. He wants things to be just right and to go his way because it's 'his' game.

So naturally, two things happened:

The more 'behaved' players stopped talking as much because they didn't want another correction or reprimand.

Meanwhile, the weirdos just straight up rebelled, going AWOL and doing their own thing and ignoring his attempts to bill hook them into doing what he wants.

So what happened was he'd lead us to where he wanted and ask 'what are you going to do?'. There's a beat of silence as the people who normally steer the game forward sort of eyed each other to see who would DARE venture an idea outside of the Plan, the DM starts talkign to fill the silence and try to hint at what we're supposed to do, then the outliers, armed with exactly what they don't want to do now, speak up and now the session is about horse fights while the DM is constantly interjecting and trying to push the game back into his unwritten novel.

So basically, the amount of time DMs should talk is variable, but some DMs dig themselves into much longer times.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
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 think it's interesting to talk about how much we all enjoy the narrative aspects of the game, whether we are players or the DM. And it's also interesting to discuss how much of the game should be narration, and how much of it should be other things. But that 30% number is going to vary just as much from game table to game table, as it does from classroom to classroom in the original context.

Is there a benefit to examining how much I talk, as a player and as a DM? Yes, I think so.
Is there a benefit to limiting the narrative to X% of the time, for the DM or the player? No, I don't think so.
 
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Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
Supporter
I think the better point to make is to pay attention to how long it takes when it is the GM's turn to speak. How quickly do you get players playing again basically. From my perspective it's my job to facilitate play so I should be as punchy and concise as possible when it's my turn to speak.
This is a great way to put it.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Thinking on it, I have noticed that how often the DM has to talk to move the game along seems to be a function of DM skill. We've got a friend who is a pretty domineering personality who ran a game a few years ago and spent a lot of time in the early game low key dictating how our characters should be reacting to his world and groaning about the weirdos (who are always being weird in all our games) being weird. He wants things to be just right and to go his way because it's 'his' game.

So naturally, two things happened:

The more 'behaved' players stopped talking as much because they didn't want another correction or reprimand.

Meanwhile, the weirdos just straight up rebelled, going AWOL and doing their own thing and ignoring his attempts to bill hook them into doing what he wants.

So what happened was he'd lead us to where he wanted and ask 'what are you going to do?'. There's a beat of silence as the people who normally steer the game forward sort of eyed each other to see who would DARE venture an idea outside of the Plan, the DM starts talkign to fill the silence and try to hint at what we're supposed to do, then the outliers, armed with exactly what they don't want to do now, speak up and now the session is about horse fights while the DM is constantly interjecting and trying to push the game back into his unwritten novel.

So basically, the amount of time DMs should talk is variable, but some DMs dig themselves into much longer times.
That sounds like a DM that needs improvement but seems to have very little to do with the percentage of time they spent talking.

Telling people what they think, how they should act and "correcting" them is just bad form.
 



Hussar

Legend
In a city, say the group is going on a shopping trip, or investigating leads to some mystery. There is no way the DM is talking anything less than 50/50, as they are the NPC's. Of course, players/chars can argue about plans, and I have seen that consume all kinds of time.

In combat, the DM is definitely talking more than 50% of the time, with the percentage increasing with more bad guys/terrain effects/Legendary Actions increase.
That presumes that the DM is speaking after every player speaks. What happens when you have two PC's talking to one NPC? Do none of your players talk to each other in that conversation?

People keep getting hung up on the number. That's not the point. The point is, DM's should try to talk less so that the players talk more. Heaven knows I've had more than a few players who are virtually catatonic at the table and only react when directly spoken to. Having players be a bit more willing to initiate things rather than passively waiting for me to roll up the plot wagon isn't a bad thing.

The problem, for me, is I see so many DM's who want to roll up the plot wagon, and in the words of this thread, MASTER the game.

A light touch on the reins often gains better results.
 

damiller

Explorer
NPCs in scenes their characters aren't present in ("Kathy, why don't you play as the blacksmith...")

I have done this one to great effect. It is my go to for "extending" the adventure. I makes sure that when I recruit players that they know this is an expectation of the table, but I dont' force anyone to be an Not My PC for a scene. Before the scene I talk with the players about how comfortable they are with a potentially dangerous scene. I don't want players killing other players, but in most cases I try to make the scenes we troupe play low states. And I have used it for a lot of different genres:

  1. In a Call of Cthulhu game the players were playing a cat and mouse game with each other, as private cops and crooked cops.
  2. In that same game one set of players was playing cultists attacking a PC in a library, the player thought it was cool, and his character nearly died if it were for some really good rolls.
  3. In a superhero game we had couples therapy
  4. In a star wars game the scene was of a master teaching students about the force
  5. In our last session of Star Trek Adventures we are playing through the first adventure in the Shackleton Campaign from the Campaign Guide, and it starts off with an emergency. I broke that emergency into 3 scenes, the players each created supporting crew as necessary, and we played out each scene. It took us the entire session.
This is now my go to, and in some cases its baked into the system (ie Star Trek Adventures Support Crew mechanic). For some of the scenes I have just sat back and offered direction to the other players who are playing support characters. Since we play online its really easy to send a DM. I try not to over load them, but sometimes they may need info they as players don't have, and in almost all cases I pose it, like I do in regular scenes, as a question. That way they can answer it a create the character in the moment based of their own choices.

I have toyed with the idea of taking method acting concepts and amping up the "supporting character" concept for the other players in a scene not playing their own character. Mainly because I have found that some of those scenes started to flounder because their wasn't really any direction to the scene. Its hard to get somewhere when you don't know where you're going.

The basic concept I read about was objective and actions. Its made me start thinking about how to quickly build that with players when talking about the scene, then maybe finding ways for them to quickly make a series of choices about actions, then just play, encouraging them to forget about both after they have had a few moments to think about them. Anyway, while working on this concept and how I might introduce it to my players in as quick a fashion as possible I found a really cool scene breakdown sheet.

So I will end my post with that:

Scene Breakdown Sheet
 

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?
I think there are two separate but overlapping issues here.

1) Should the DM speak less and does it help? Should the goal be 30%? I don't think 30% is unreachable because I can think of plenty of sessions where that was true. I can think of a few where it was more like 10%, though I'd say 40 to 50% is most common (70% is crazy high, I'd get bored with players that unresponsive).

So I'm not sure a specific percentage helps or indeed that I'd have to do much to reach 30%. I mean jeez if I just made players always look up their own rules or rules for each other that alone would likely do it in many sessions. I already try to have players narrate their own actions note.

2) Are the suggestions given helpful to this goal?

This is where I'm more skeptical.

Most of the suggestions given are stuff that's normal in other RPGs, especially modern ones, and I suspect most players who want to be doing that are playing those games. Out of my six "main" players I think two would actively enjoy the suggestions, two would grudgingly be okay with it in D&D but not enjoy it the way they would in an RPG designed for it, and two would be stressed the hell out by it and not want to engage with it.

In short, I don't think people playing D&D are typically wanting to do that sort of stuff. I think they're generally wanting a more DM-driven experience. I can understand that. There are times when I'm brimming with ideas and excitement and love that kind of thing, but there are also times when as a player, I just want to play my character, not to have to basically act as a substitute DM/game designer.
 

In a city, say the group is going on a shopping trip, or investigating leads to some mystery. There is no way the DM is talking anything less than 50/50, as they are the NPC's. Of course, players/chars can argue about plans, and I have seen that consume all kinds of time.

In combat, the DM is definitely talking more than 50% of the time, with the percentage increasing with more bad guys/terrain effects/Legendary Actions increase.
Hard disagree on both. I've got a couple of recorded sessions to back me up too. Investigations often lead to extensive discussions between players. Hell, I've dropped some info and sat back to watch extremely extensive discussions many times in many RPGs.

I don't even know how the DM would consistently talk more than 50% of the time in combat in 5E. Or take up more than 50%. You'd have to have the most efficient and silent players in history or real windbag of a DM, or, I guess, be using a really clumsy VTT - I've seen that take a lot more than 50% of the time.

Try recording some sessions and timing stuff I'd say, unless you like the sound of your own voice or have very quiet players the numbers are likely lower than you think.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
That presumes that the DM is speaking after every player speaks. What happens when you have two PC's talking to one NPC? Do none of your players talk to each other in that conversation?

People keep getting hung up on the number. That's not the point. The point is, DM's should try to talk less so that the players talk more. Heaven knows I've had more than a few players who are virtually catatonic at the table and only react when directly spoken to. Having players be a bit more willing to initiate things rather than passively waiting for me to roll up the plot wagon isn't a bad thing.

The problem, for me, is I see so many DM's who want to roll up the plot wagon, and in the words of this thread, MASTER the game.

A light touch on the reins often gains better results.
The question posed by the OP was whether people agreed or not. Some people do, some people don't.

It really seems like this is just a back-hand way of saying that players should have more control over the narrative. Players, not the DM should fill in details of an area, play NPCs and so on. Which, cool if that's what you want.

However, I don't want that. When I play I want the DM to control the world and NPCs. I want to focus on running my PC, not the world. I've been in situations where the DM handed me the reigns for an NPC and I kind of hated it. Not that I have a problem running NPCs, I DM all the time. It's because when I play D&D I want to be a character in the story, I drive the story by what I say and do, not by creating the world or controlling the NPCs*.

So if you want to have a player controlled narrative (or whatever the proper phrase is), good for you. I don't. I also wish people would just come out and say what they want, there's nothing wrong with it. Just like there's nothing wrong with wanting a DM to set, and control, the stage the PCs are actors upon.

For me? I have no idea what my percentage is. I try to encourage people to contribute, but some people just want to be there for the story to unfold and just aren't into exposition. Others would ramble on forever, boring the rest of the players. I try to balance the game to maximize enjoyment for the players and myself.

*Exceptions exist like info on my PC's personal backstory and history.
 
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Doesn't it depend on the number of players?
One might think so but my experience is that it's uneven. It is worth considering though. Numbers below are all for D&D, other RPGs vary widely.

With say two players and a DM I often see the DM talking more than 50% of the time. The players only have a limited amount to discuss and the DM has to describe everything.

With say seven players I also see the DM talking a lot, maybe still over 50%, as the players have more questions for the DM and there's so many players that they tend to be more brief in descriptions and have more time to prep turns so take less time.

With 3-5 players is where I usually see the most intra-player discussion, most RP and description, and best questions (which you can usually answer once without anyone missing it or having to ask again or misunderstanding. It's easy for me.to hit 30% or less with this number.

Different editions were different too. In 2E I had to speak a lot more because so much was DM-driven. In 4E I spoke less out of combat but maybe more in it.
 

The question posed by the OP was whether people agreed or not. Some people do, some people don't.

It really seems like this is just a back-hand way of saying that players should have more control over the initiative. Players, not the DM should fill in details of an area, play NPCs and so on. Which, cool if that's what you want.

However, I don't want that. When I play I want the DM to control the world and NPCs. I want to focus on running my PC, not the world. I've been in situations where the DM handed me the reigns for an NPC and I kind of hated it. Not that I have a problem running NPCs, I DM all the time. It's because when I play D&D I want to be a character in the story, I drive the story by what I say and do, not by creating the world or controlling the NPCs*.

So if you want to have a player controlled narrative (or whatever the proper phrase is), good for you. I don't. I also wish people would just come out and say what they want, there's nothing wrong with it. Just like there's nothing wrong with wanting a DM to set, and control, the stage the PCs are actors upon.

For me? I have no idea what my percentage is. I try to encourage people to contribute, but some people just want to be there for the story to unfold and just aren't into exposition. Others would ramble on forever, boring the rest of the players. I try to balance the game to maximize enjoyment for the players and myself.

*Exceptions exist like info on my PC's personal backstory and history.
Yeah at least two of my players are like you. Two totally aren't but forcing everyone to describe stuff etc in D&D which isn't well-adapted for it (unlike, say, Dungeon World) would likely not be fun at all for them, and everyone should be having fun.

I think 30% talking is probably close to where I normally am but I have a bunch of experienced players who actively like describing and planning and Rping and so on, and I've had plenty of fun as a player in groups where the DM took up much more time. I mean there are awful windbag DMs out there who need to learn to shut up but I don't think this advice is going to help them, sadly.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Yeah at least two of my players are like you. Two totally aren't but forcing everyone to describe stuff etc in D&D which isn't well-adapted for it (unlike, say, Dungeon World) would likely not be fun at all for them, and everyone should be having fun.

I think 30% talking is probably close to where I normally am but I have a bunch of experienced players who actively like describing and planning and Rping and so on, and I've had plenty of fun as a player in groups where the DM took up much more time. I mean there are awful windbag DMs out there who need to learn to shut up but I don't think this advice is going to help them, sadly.
Yeah, I have no idea how much I talk during the game and it varies significantly from session to session and group to group. Some people really hate having to do the descriptive dialog thing and it's not fun for them. I don't try to force my preferences on the players, I try to work with them to figure out what works best for their enjoyment. Saying the DM "should" only talk 30% of the time sounds too much like one-true-wayism to me.
 

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