Beginner tips for effective narration

Posted on July 26, 2009 by

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For a newbie DM, the scene can be a daunting one:  you’ve got your binder open in front of you, minis or counters ready to go, your players are sitting at the table, the battle map is laying there, and all eyes are focused on you.  All that’s left is for you to begin narrating. Go!

Yes, for a first timer it can be a little intimidating, specially if you have a hard time with public speaking (as do I), but in no time you’ll get into a comfortable rhythm and be narrating like the best of them.  The trick is to find your personal comfort level in doing so, while keeping in mind that your job for the next few hours is to be an effective communicator.

The first thing to remember is that you are playing a game, so check your ego at the door.  You aren’t giving a lecture on aids and famine in Africa, so don’t take yourself too seriously.  If you are playing with friends, expect verbal jabs and take ‘em like a champ.  Half the fun of d&d is the table chatter.

Remember that your descriptions represent the 5 senses of the pc’s, so use them all.  They need to know the details of the game world through your voice.  Imagine yourself walking through a field of flowers, but your sense of smell doesn’t work.  How much would you be missing out on?  More than half the experience probably.  The same goes for the  pc’s.  Dungeons smell too, so fill them in on all the essential details.

Be thorough, but not to the point of boring.  Every professional  writer has an editor. The editor serves a very important purpose:  keeping the writer in check.  You need to keep yourself in check as well by being your own editor.  That awesome flavor text you wrote about the dragon’s lair could probably be edited down a few sentences.  Nobody wants to sit and listen to a DM read a wall of text. While it may seem epic in scope as you write it, maybe its too much unnecessary information.  Striking a good balance between engaging flavor text and its length is a fine art that you’ll  learn as you DM over time.

Be the center of attention.  When you’re DM’ing, you need to have the attention of everyone at that table.  If someone is busy texting or playing on their phone you are doing something wrong (and have extremely rude players).  When playing the role of an enemy, be loud, be expressive, be memorable.  Slam the table to make a bad guys’ point.  Use your hands as you speak and exaggerate the npc’s tone of voice.  Remember the Orcs in LOTR?  One-up them.  Snarl, grunt, rub your hands together and be campy.

When a rules discussion comes up, avoid at all costs an open debate.  It’ll grind the game to a halt and break the immersion.  It’s better to deal with it later, and assign one guy ahead of time to be the rules guy and page flipper.  Get back to the scene, and don’t let a rules lawyer interrupt a great gaming moment.  Good narration shouldn’t be interrupted.

Decide whether  you’re speaking and treating your game in first person or third, and stick to it.  Be consistent in your narration style. Consistency helps you build a comfort level. If it’s always “I’ll get you meddling kids” rather than “he snarls and says he’s going to get you meddling kids” then keep it that way for the long haul.

Finally, don’t be Ferris Beuller’s teacher.  A monotonous DM, no matter how great his encounters are, is hard to sit through.  You don’t want sleepy players, you want energetic and involved players, so lead by example.

Want to play in my game?  Anyone...?  Anyone...?

Want to play in my game? Anyone...? Anyone...?

Good luck in your gaming, and I hope some of these tips are useful to you as you begin your career as a DM.

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Posted in: Advice/Tools, Gaming