Noisms of Monsters and Manuals posted some interesting roleplaying related questions that are relevant to our hobby but that role playing bloggers tend not to write about. Check out his post for the original questions, plus lots of responses in the comments (some people did it right there, some people linked to blog posts, like this). Following are my answers to these questions, as the GM of my group that include my wife and three long term friends.
EDIT: After writing this post stream-of-conciousness-style I realise that my Nanowrimo brain is still on. Sorry for the word count.
When my copy of Savage Worlds fell apart as soon as I opened it, I got it ring bound to make it usable. I found that it became even more usable than my other books. I love ring binding (especially on small books like Savage Worlds) because you can flip it open to a page and leave it there. You can also make the book take up less room on the game table, because you don’t need to have it open at a two page spread all the time. I tend to use PDFs a lot these days though, so that avoids the whole pages falling apart issue.
“Doing a voice”. How many people “do voices”? Should they? How do you get better at “doing a voice” if that’s your thing?
I sometimes do voices, and some of my players occasionally have. Mostly it’s not accents though, it’s more like a deeper gruffer voice for a stereotypical barkeep, a quieter awed voice for children amazed by the adventurers, that sort of thing.
This week I did the voice of an elderly angel woman in our game where angels live among humans. She has seen a lot, even for an angel, and so she’s a little nuts. Her voice ranged a lot and was totally Yoda at some point, but it was more about how she talked, the words and grammar and so on, than the exact voice always matching.
I think voices can be fun, especially for NPCs that are supposed to be memorable but you aren’t going to need to speak as all the time. It’s hard to keep it up though, especially difficult to come back to that voice after long breaks between sessions. I try to keep track of it by making a few mental or written notes about the voice:
Drawlin’ voice, drops a letter or two at the endin’ o’ some words, adds unnecessary cowboy-like words in between but otherwise chooses words real careful in heated situations and is mighty respectful to folk, even bandits.
That’s my cowboy-inspired sheriff in the fantasy game I’m running for my wife. I’ve never written it down, but mentally I do what I just did there: try to remember the voice prompts in the voice, as if the character’s telling it to me. Still pretty stereotypical, but I drop in and out of it if I don’t remember those things.
Anyway, mostly the ‘voices’ I do are more the words, grammar and pronunciation than an accent or anything like that. I do use stereotypical accents sometimes, like with the old angel lady, but the other things are more important, I think.
Breaks. How often do youhave breaks within sessions?
Within sessions, hardly at all. At the moment we’re starting around 7 or 7:30 and ending around 10:30. So we don’t have much time. We muck around at the start and people throw pop culture references and quotes back and forth during the game. It takes us out of the fiction and really slows the game down, which can be annoying. I think we do that, though, because we don’t have much time together so this is our social time too. We’re playing this Saturday and we’ll have plenty of time so we’ve put forward the idea of getting that chatter out of the way first, then playing solidly for a few hours, then having a break where appropriate in the story and getting social again.
Normally in our games, because of the short time frame, people get up for bathroom breaks and drinks and stuff whenever. We keep going if we can and just fill them in briefly when they get back a few minutes later. Works for us.
Oh, also, in our longer campaigns where characters may have secrets and so on, we don’t have breaks really, but often someone will want to talk to me in private in the other room so we go do that and everyone else does whatever they want in the meantime, which is sort of a break for them too.
Description. Exactly how florid are your descriptions?
I was tempted to leave this one there, but I won’t. I describe things more like “It’s sort of purple, like that table cloth, but all meaty” rather than “The creature’s skin was a brooding purple bruise”.
I do try to use cool words (like brooding) when I think of them, but only if it makes sense. Mostly I just say it like it is, and try to relate it to the character asking. If it’s a happy-go-lucky character who’s all bubbly I’ll sometimes try to say that “it this really nice bright sunny yellow colour” in a happy voice. If it’s a dour character who is known as a sad sack I’ll say something like “It’s bright yellow like the damn sun or that stupid parrot that won’t shut up” if I know those other things have been annoying him.
I try to give a few roleplaying cues or ideas with descriptions. If a character has a medical background I’ll try to describe things in those terms, if they are a no-nonsense down-to-earth fighter I’ll be blunt about how things look. I realise as I type that I don’t do this stuff I’m saying as much as I’d like. I want to focus more on description. I’ve got an index card that has ‘sound’, ‘smell’ ‘sixth sense’ and so on written on it to prompt me. Sound and smell are things I need to describe more.
I think describing these things, even mentioning texture, scent, etc. at all goes a long way, even without florid descriptions.
Where do you strike the balance between “doing what your character would do” and “acting like a dickhead”?
This rarely comes up. If it does I ask the player if they are “sure you want to smash the only wagon you have, leaving you and your party stranded in the wilderness”. Just putting it back to them with the consequences attached, so they are sure of what could happen if they do that. It often prompts the other players to step in and try to help think of an alternative to the character’s action, too. I also try to get the players to come up with reasons the characters are together, so that if the lone wolf or sullen type characters want to leave or be jerks about something, a character they have ties to can often stop them, even just by me reminding them of these ties.
PC-on-PC violence. Do your players tend to avoid it, or do you ban it? Or does anything go?
I personally think we haven’t had enough of this in our games. I’d love to see some more in a game where we’ve told each other up front that it is likely to happen. We all love our characters so we don’t like risking their lives against each other. The ties mentioned above also often lead to a situation where PC-on-PC violence just isn’t likely to ever happen. When we play Apocalypse World I’m pretty sure (and hoping) some of this violence will arise. I think this can lead to good roleplaying opportunities, and PC-on-PC arguments almost always do.
How do you explain what a role playing game is to a stranger who is also a non-player?
I don’t do this often. One of our players still always calls our roleplaying “D&D”, no matter the game, setting or system. If it comes up I usually either ask strangers if they know of Dungeons & Dragons and start saying how it’s like that but different, OR what I’ve done more recently is describe the setting of our game to hook them in, then they ask how it works, and I tell them a few simple rules about whatever the system is. Describing our Primetime Adventures game to a non-roleplaying friend, I went into the setting we’d made, then told him about how it was like a TV show and there were acts and scenes etc.
Alchohol at the table?
I’m not a big drinker at all and this has never come up. I wouldn’t mind people having a drink or two, I don’t think, especially in longer sessions. It could loosen people up a bit and get the ones who don’t talk as much talking. Maybe we’ll try it this weekend.
What’s acceptable to do to a PC whose player is absent from the session? Is whatever happens their fault for not being there, or are there some limits?
We often skip or delay the session or sometimes we play Munchkin or a one shot like Fiasco instead. If they aren’t here for a long time we try to write them out of the story for a bit (one player was away for a month so we played flashbacks). If they are away and we play anyway that day they – hey! super rhyme combo! – just fade into the background and are assumed to do well enough at any required checks. I try to keep them out of danger and situations where I don’t know how the player would react.