Our attention is finite and thousands people are trying to take it from us. So why do we constantly seek out new ways to apply our attention to things that don't matter? Something in us makes us constantly seek out information even though there is far more than we can ever digest. We accept every friend invite. We load up our feed reader with every RSS feed we can find. We can't stand an unanswered ringing phone.
Accept the fact that you can't know it all. Step away from the ocean of information and pick out only the few little streams that actually make a positive difference in your life. Let the phone go to voice mail. Step away from Twitter and Facebook to go make something instead.
My phone rang the other day. It was late and even if it wasn't, I have a personal policy not to answer the phone unless I know who it is. But it rang and I stared at it anyway. Even now I wonder what that call was about. Was someone in need? Was an opportunity missed? I'll never know. And you know what? That's ok.
Why do corporate executives stand staring at a Fox news monitor that pushes nothing but the same tired political agendas it has for the past ten years? Is it really important that a bus overturned in Topeka? What are we looking for?
Why do we spend so much time surfing for news about gadgets that let us surf? Why do we spend so much time watching what the weather is like two countries away? What answer are we really seeking?
I'm a big-time Twitter addict. Worse, I'm a Twitter addict that has Getting Things Done now completely wired into my brain. That means I can't just dip into a stream, I have to process it. I have to take in every Tweet that flows by and examine it for anything actionable. I'm the worst sort of dysfunctional Twitter user. While many Twitter users can follow 300 people and just dip into the well once in a while, I have to keep the number of people I follow small enough that I can read every tweet that rolls by. This is a terrible way to use it but one from which I can't seem to break away.
What do I think I'll miss? Why not just dip in and see what's going on once a day, maybe take a look at mentions and move on?
Instead of selectively reading tweets that go by, I'm selective of the people I follow. I follow and unfollow people all the time. If someone posts too many tweets or any number of tweets that aren't relevant to my interests, out they go. They could be the nicest kindest person walking on the planet but I don't care unless their tweets are useful and careful.
Even with these draconian selfish rules in place, I still have to spend about an hour to two hours a day surfing through tweets. Would I be writing the great American novel in that time were I off of it? Probably not, but that doesn't mean it's where my attention should stay.
Maybe one day I will be strong like Neal Stephenson, but it is not this day.
Following the sage-like teachings of the Heath brothers, what can we do to help us break our addiction to useless information? First, we accept that we know and understand the problem. If you don't, consider actually calculating how much time you spend surfing instead of making things.
Next we can take some small steps. Start by removing three feeds from your RSS reader. Unfollow five people you see regularly pop up on Twitter. Hide the status updates from three people who post updates that you don't really care about or are leeching off of your emotions. Let your phone go to voice mail. Shut off the CNN monitor near your desk. Close your browser for two hours each day. Disconnect from the net. Walk the dog without your stupid iPhone pumping podcasts into your brain. Any of these get you in the right direction.
Now we can alter our environment to avoid the constant influx of useless information. Delete your Twitter client. Delete bookmarks to general news sites. Make it hard to open your browser or connect your computer to the net. Avoid any source of information that doesn't make you happy or teach you something you actually value in your life.
In case you haven't figured it out, this isn't preaching from a pulpit, no matter how it sounds. This is self scouring. I suck at all of the things above. I'm a twitter addict. I seek out vacation spots with high-speed internet access. I live on Gmail and Google Reader and podcasts. Yes, I've done a good job eliminating sources of negativity from my incoming news. Yes, I deleted my Facebook account. I still have a long way to go, though, and this long rant is my attempt to get there.
Not all of us can improv like Robin Williams. We can’t spout off Tolkeinesque descriptions of fantastic locations while our friends stare at us with a half a slice of pizza in their hands. We may understand that a good D&D game is like a broadway show; equal parts story, production, characters, humor, and drama; but that doesn’t make it any easier for us to say just the right thing at the right time.
That, my friend, is why we need read-aloud text. In short, read-aloud text is a script for you to read at specific times in your game. Some may scoff at the idea and maybe it doesn’t have a place in their game, but it sure has a place in mine. Read-aloud text ensures I get the right points into the heads of my players at the right time without umming and ahhing my way through some half-assed description of what was supposed to be a monumental discovery. If our D&D game is a broadway show, our read-aloud text is part of our script.
Today we’re going to look at a few tips for writing awesome read-aloud text.
You’ll notice some of the tips below work equally well for adventure writing and writing in general. That’s because writing good read-aloud text is like writing micro-fiction. You have a tiny story to tell and less than 250 words to tell it. Good read-aloud text is like all good fiction and thus the rules for writing good fiction work just as well for read-aloud text.
What is your point?
Start up front by writing down the one main thing you want your players to get from your little bit of read-aloud text. Are you just giving a description of a room or are you exposing a particularly interesting plot point? Know the purpose of your read-aloud text up front. Jot it down in a few bullets if it helps you stay focused. While good read-aloud text should be more than “just the facts, ma’am”, it is the facts that should drive the rest of your prose.
Keep it short
Like all good writing, say only what you have to and cut the rest. If you didn’t edit your read-aloud text and remove 25% of what was there, you didn’t try hard enough. Don’t describe every stupid tree, just describe the elements most important to the players. Ensure every word has a place in it.
Most of the time your players are there to get into the action. They didn’t come over to your house to listen to you prattle on about horse lineage. Remember your Strunk and White: brevity is a bi-product of vigor. Keep it short and keep it powerful.
Know your audience
Know what sort of elements interest your group. Do they like a little bit of humor in your read-aloud text? Add some! Does your group prefer hearing only about tactically important features? Don’t go on and on about the fine dwarven craftsmanship of the archway unless your fighter can collapse it down on some orcs. Knowing what sorts of things interest your group can tell you how you should focus your read-aloud text.
Here’s a great tip for any sort of presentation. You might spend a long time sitting in front of a computer editing and tweaking your read-aloud text, but until you’ve actually read it aloud, you have no idea how good it will or won’t be. Practice reading your read-aloud text out loud. Listen for weird repeated words or phrases that just don’t make sense. Nothing helps you refine your words like reading them aloud.
Keep it fantastic
We’re playing a fantasy roleplaying game, quit writing read-aloud text that sounds like it came from Ikea instructions. Though you want to stick to your main points, add in the bits that make it fantastic. Discuss the maelstrom of violet clouds swirling overhead. Describe the crash of the mile-high waterfall. Never forget to remind your players that their PCs are in someplace wonderful.
Tell before you show
You might feel the temptation to reveal the encounter location before you start reading your read-aloud text. Instead, hold back that temptation. Read the text first, building the image of the location into the minds of your players BEFORE they see the actual tactical battle map. Otherwise while you’re describing the roaring crash of the mile-high waterfall, your players are busy looking for cover and figuring out how to avoid difficult terrain.
Like all good writing, good read-aloud text is nothing short of telepathy. You have images in you head that you wish to transfer into the head of others. Take a little time, edit it down, and keep it focused and you’ll breathe new life into the imagination of your players. Or at least they’ll know when to get up and go get the pizza.
If you liked this article please consider buying Sly Flourish’s Dungeon Master Tips. You might also consider using these links to buy the D&D Essentials Dungeon Master’s Kit, Heroes of the Fallen Lands, Dungeon Tiles Master Set or bookmark and use this link to purchase anything from Amazon. Want some minis? Check out Troll and Toad’s Lords of Madness miniature singles!
This is a guest article from Yacine Yax Merzouk and Kyle Ferrin. Yax runs a storytelling project called Minstrel and co-founded Gamer Lifestyle, a site for gamer-entrepreneurs. Kyle is an illustrator who loves role playing games. He likes drawing commissions for people, and running his webcomic XP You can follow/contact Kyle on Twitter: @d20plusmodifier.
Did you ever meet someone whose stories always fizzle without much of a punch? Me too. The issue with their stories isnt necessarily the content; some other guy or gal might tell the same stories with everyone around them hanging on their every word.
For game masters, the how of storytelling is at least as important as the what of the story. In other words, how you behave and react at the gaming table leverages the time and effort you invested in preparing your campaign.
One way to monitor the intensity of the game and the enjoyment of your players is to pay attention to body language yours and theirs. There are so many things going on during a typical social interaction. Theres even more happening on game night. Thankfully, we all pick up on some body language cues subconsciously. The objective here is to bring this information to a conscious level and be aware of most ebbs and flows of energy during a game session. Engage tired players before they check out mentally and you can turn a good game into a great one. Notice that player leaning back after leaning forward for the whole game? You just hit a dip in the story or your storytelling; take a break or crank up the action. These are examples of how you can improve storytelling by being aware of whats going on at the game table.
A player with his head down is possibly disconnected from the game. Involve that players character as soon as possible let them find the next clue, notice something unusual, be the recipient of an unexpected or mysterious buff effect, anything.
A cocked head probably means you are not making sense or that your plot just got so complex that some neurons went harakiri. If its the former, take a moment to make sure everyones on the same page. If its the latter, well, good for you!
Crossed arms are the worst its almost always a sign that youre being blocked off and that the player is dissatisfied or disengaged. This is another situation in which you want to throw that players character in the thick of things and try to establish a connection with the player.It could also mean that its cold, in which case, crank up the thermostat, you cheap bastard!
Are your players facing you or are they at least slightly tilted in your direction? Yes? Good! It means they are into the game and are likely to be receptive to what you have to say. The knights of the round table got this one right.
The sound of dice being thrown, spun, or shaken repeatedly for no good reason chills my blood. It would be easy to blame the players for their ADD but there are more productive ways to make it stop. Take a break or throw a wrench in the current scene. Let the villain make an appearance. Start a fight. Anything. And remember: when in doubt, kill someone; if theres no expendable character around, maul someone and let the cleric clean up the mess.
Crossed legs, just like crossed arms, could mean youre being shut out. However, be aware that women and Mediterranean men often cross their legs just for the heck of it.
Feet tapping on the floor are often a sign that a player is getting impatient. Time to focus on what the players and their characters are after and go straight for the jugular. Enough foreplay, its time for action. And make sure youre tightening up the combat turns too. Force the characters to either defend or make a basic/boring attack if they dont know what theyre doing in combat are are taking too much time. Enough hesitation and flip-flopping; we have a world to save!
Its cool when Fat Joe sings it. Its less cool when your players do it. Ideally, you want all your players leaning forward, on the edge of their seat. If they are leaning back, it could mean that they are only mildly engaged in the game.
Slouching is the ugly cousin of leaning back. It has no place at the gaming table. You have to seriously consider taking a break and asking the culprit to shotgun a couple of Red Bulls.
Body language isnt an exact science so keep these 2 things in mind:
Now that you pick up more cues from your players, time to send cues their way.
As a GM and storyteller, it is your duty to make eye contact with everyone regularly. Its easy and it keeps all players involved. Im sure youve had a GM in your life who kept looking at a single player even when he addressed everyone. Not fun. Its a basic public speaking skill and it makes a hug difference.
When giving information, end your sentences on a low tone it shows authority and makes the information you just handed out weightier. When speculating and asking question, end your sentences on a higher tone.
Mirroring is the behaviour in which one person copies another person usually while in social interaction with them. It may include miming gestures, movements, body language, muscle tensions, expressions, tones, eye movements, breathing, tempo, accent, attitude, choice of words/metaphors and other aspects of communication. It is often observed among couples or close friends. -Wikipedia
Use mirroring to your advantage by doing three things:
Do these simple things and you can run a gaming session at a high energy level easily and consistently. I guarantee that 80% of your players will match your behaviour and perk up, participate, and enjoy the game session more than usual.
Congratulations! You now speak a new language. Now its time to use it. So if you see a single player becoming disengaged, react! Give them information that only their character knows, make them roll dice (and let the result affect the game). If none or the players are involved its overhaul hour: take a break, start a fight, introduce new characters, improvise, just do something. And finally, when all players are involved, mind your own body language and stay engaged, keep things moving and postpone that snack break.
Storytelling is about people at least as much as it is about story. Being aware of your players needs and energy level will make you a better storyteller and a better GM.
Have fun gaming!