How to Talk to Players: The Art of Narration

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There comes a certain time in every GM’s life when he starts to notice changes. Suddenly, he starts to take an interest in those strange creatures sitting across the table from him. Or her. Whatever. They are players. And their ways can be strange, mysterious, and vexing. And they can make a GM feel all sorts of strange emotions: nervousness, fear, frustration, and violent rage. But, no matter how strange and confusing, no GM can live without players. So, eventually, every GM has to figure out how to talk to players.

Usually about five seconds into the first game session.

Now, this article is a little digression from the other “How to be a GM” articles. We’ve been talking about the basics of adventure building. But we’re stepping backwards to cover a basic skill of RUNNING the game. I could have covered it before, but it will be a lot easier now that I’ve covered the basic scene structure of the game. If you haven’t read that yet, maybe you should. And if there’s anything else on my site you haven’t read yet, go f$&%ing read it. What’s wrong with you.

The GM’s Three Jobs

When it comes to running the game, GMing requires three basic skills. A GM can fake her way through a lot of stuff, but not these things. These three things are the things she has to be able to do to even call herself a GM.

First, there’s Adjudication. Adjudication is the skill of figuring out what happens when the characters in the story do things. Adjudication usually comes from following the rules of the game system, but the GM has to understand how those rules work and how to apply them, as well as when to ignore them or overrule them. I’ve written a lot about Adjudication, but the most important thing I’ve written about it is: Adjudicate Actions Like a Motherf$&%ing Boss.

Second, there’s Narration. Narration is the art of imparting information to the players. And that’s what this article is all about. So we’ll just leave it at that for a moment because there’s a several thousand word deluge coming shortly.

Thirdly, there’s Role-Playing. Now, Role-Playing IS NOT acting in character. It’s not portraying NPCs and monsters. Other people will tell you that’s what it is, but those people are wrong. And dumb. Don’t be dumb and wrong. Be like me. Be right. Be smart.

Role-Playing is the act of making choices. For the GM, Role-Playing is deciding what all the monsters and NPCs and deities and cosmic forces and all other things in the world that can act on their own volition actually do. When the PCs do a thing, the GM has to be able to decide how the king or the goblin or the god of goblin-kings reacts. When a villain’s plans get trounced, the GM has to decide what the villain does next. THAT’S Role-Playing.

It is a MYTH that you, the GM, must be a good actor. You don’t have to be a good actor at all. You have to be good at making choices based on hypothetical worlds and imaginary creatures and you have to be good at communicating what happens as a result of those choices. But you do not have to do silly voices or be an expert in the Stanislavski method or know anything about Uta Hagen. So, if you’ve been worried about that, calm down.

And that’s it. That’s what a GM has to be able to do. Narrate scenes, determine the outcomes of various actions, and make choices for monsters and NPCs. Everything else is extra. Gravy. Frankly, unimportant. If you can do those three things, you’ll be a good GM. If you can’t, nothing else you can do will save you.

Narration: Let’s Talk about Talking

So what is Narration? It’s kind of a funny question. Everyone is like “duh, I know what narration is.” But do you? Do you really? Because people have funny ideas about narration. They use words like “description” and phrases like “paint a word picture” and “engage all the senses.” And guess people who use those words and phrases are? That’s right. WRONG and DUMB! You’re getting it.

Narration is not about painting a scene. It is not about describing. It’s not about setting a mood. It’s not about engaging the senses. It is not about transporting the players to another world. Those things HAPPEN sometimes with good narration, but they happen sort of automatically. They don’t need any effort from the GM. People’s imaginations do all that heavy lifting.

Narration is about CLEAR and CONCISE verbal communication. It is about IMPARTING INFORMATION. Seriously. I s$&% you not.

Watch this. I am about to transport you into another world full of wonder and terror. I just need you to do one thing: imagine a spooky cemetery at twilight. Got it? Can you see it in your mind’s eye? Good. Now, for fun, pick out three things you can see in that cemetery. Come up with three things you can spot just by looking around the cemetery in your brain. Wait until you have them. And then read on.

Okay, so I see that sort of wispy fog that drifts like ribbons between the gravestones.. And I see strange, shadowy monuments. And I see creaky, skeletal trees. Maybe you had some of those too? Maybe you had different things?

Now, what does this exercise show?


Understanding Your Medium

Here’s the part where I start to talk about literary analysis and psychology and it all sounds like useless horse$&% but then it radically alters the way you look at GMing. I mean, that’s how this always plays out, right? Let’s talk about comic books.

I never really got into comic books or graphic novels or whatever they are called. But recently, someone pestered me into checking out some of the Deadpool s$&%. And, I gotta be honest, I kind of like it. I’m not going to turn into a comic book fan or anything like that. F&$% no. But I like metahumor and misantrhopes and anything that doesn’t take itself too seriously. And I like the sort of like the existential mystery about whether Wade (that’s Deadpool’s real name, just to prove I actually did read stuff) is REALLY a comic book character in the universe and he’s the only one who knows it or whether he just thinks he’s a comic book character because he’s insane and he just happens to also star in a comic book in our universe.

But, if you compare comic books to, say, amateur webcomics, you’ll notice something interesting. For example, I used to struggle to enjoy this comic called 8-Bit Theater. It was a sprite comic based on the original Final Fantasy game for the NES. And, for a while, I also enjoyed Order of the Stick. But, as time went on, I found myself enjoying them less and less. Because they got really, really verbose. There were whole episodes of 8-Bit Theater that were just long walls of text with some pictures around the edges. And Order of the Stick’s dialogue has gotten really, REALLY wordy lately.

Now, some people really LOVE those comics, but they also illustrate a very important point: understanding your medium.

I’m a wordy guy. I write long, complicated sentences and I like wordplay. That’s why I didn’t draw a webcomic. That’s why I only do podcasts and video stuff occasionally. And then it’s mostly tangential. I don’t dig into the meat of anything the way I do when I write. Because I understand that different mediums do different things.

For example: comics are a visual medium. They are about telling a story with still-images, about conveying action. So, if you bury your comic behind piles of words, you’re missing the point.

When a movie starts with too long a text crawl, we balk. “You have the ability to SHOW US what’s happening! Why aren’t you f$&%ing doing it?!” I don’t understand why movies ever, ever, EVER start with text crawls. It’s crazypants! Movies are visual. They can show action. And emotion. We can see and hear things. That’s why we like movies.

Take video games as another example. What’s the big draw of video games? They are interactive. We make things happen by playing them. We participate in them. And that’s why, with the possible exception of Hideo Kojima, you don’t make your video game just an endless string of non-interactive cut scenes. Right, Order: 1886?! DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I’M SAYING?!

RPGs are an interactive medium. They invite the players to imagine the world, imagine themselves as characters in the world, and make choices that change the world. They invite the players to take an active role in the game. Everything about role-playing is about a combination of imagination (imagine the world, imagine your character) and choice (and decide how your character reacts to that world).

Narration is pretty much the opposite of all of that. Yes, it is necessary. The game wouldn’t work if there wasn’t some narration. If it was just six people sitting around at a table imagining whatever they wanted, those six people couldn’t play the same game. But, narration is passive. “Sit back and listen while I tell you what’s going on, and imagine it exactly as I describe it.”

On top of that, narration is entirely verbal. It is spoken and heard. And that creates some peculiar limitations. First of all, you can’t verbally describe something to the same extent that you’d describe it in a novel. You have to be brief so people will listen to each word and put it in their heads. And you can’t use overly complex language. That includes both words people aren’t familiar with and complex sentence structures with multiples clauses. You can’t list more than about three details before people stop keeping track of them. Because people can’t go back and reread what you’ve said. They can’t look up words they don’t know.

But fortunately, RPGs aren’t sensory. There’s no video. No audio feed. Nothing like that. Its just the words and the imagination. And that’s actually a pretty good thing. Because there’s nothing to get in the way of anyone’s imagination. That’s why I can get away with “spooky cemetery at twilight” and people will call me an amazing GM. Because I’m letting their imaginations do all the hard work. Which is precisely what we want in RPGs. Imagination and freedom.

So, let’s call that rule number one: be clear, be concise, be economical. Use the fewest number of simplest words possible. And leave a lot to the imagination. I know it’s the opposite of what everyone else says and I know that flavor text in adventures does the exact opposite thing. And I know I ask you to take a lot of what I say on faith because a lot of what I say sounds like the ravings of a lunatic. But I’ve never steered you wrong. And if I have, shut up. You must have done it wrong.

How to Narration

Let’s get down to the meat and potatoes now. Enough wanking about mediums and imagination and s$&%. Let’s talk solid how-to.

First, there are three types of narration every GM has to be able to pull off. Actually, technically, there’s four. But I already told you how to do one of them.

The fourth one, the one I covered already, is about describing the outcome of actions the players have taken. And I gave a pretty simple formula for how to do that when I taught you how to Adjudicate Actions Like a Motherf$%&ing Boss. Go reread that. It’s a damned good article.

But that only leaves us with three types of Narration we have to cover: Scene Setting, Transition, and Exposition.

Scene setting and transition are structural elements and we’ve actually talked about them too, when we talked about the Lego Bricks of Adventure. Scene setting begins each scene. It tells the players where they are, what’s going on, and invites them to take action. Transitions explain how the PCs get from one scene to the next. They explain how scenes are all joined up. And finally, Exposition is how the GM imparts information to the PCs.

Setting the Scene

You know that box text in adventures? The stuff you are supposed to read when the PCs enter a room or arrive at a town or whatever? If you asked most GMs what the point of that s$&% was, they would say “well, to describe the room or town or whatever. Duh!” And that is how scene setting gets loaded up with long, prosey bulls$&% and accomplishes nothing. Deadpool would not put up with that s$&%. Remember, he has to read all of those yellow narrator boxes. He would slash it up and then kill the narrator. And you should react the same way.

The point of setting the scene is to give the players something to do. When they arrive in a room or otherwise start a scene, they need to know a few things: what’s the goal here, what’s the problem in the way, and what tools do I have on-hand to work with. If there isn’t a goal and an obstacle, then, all they need to know is how to get out of the scene and what interesting things there are to play with. Either way, scene setting is about inviting the players to act. NOT inviting the players to sit back and listen to your crappy prose.

When you set the scene, figure you’ve got about five short sentences. That’s it. That’s all you get. And at least two of those sentences, maybe three or four, are going to be wasted on the interesting things to do. So you’ve got to be brief. Fortunately, the players can ask questions or investigate anything that interests them. So you don’t have to cover everything right away.

First of all, visualize the scene in your mind. Overall, how would you describe it. Like, if you had to cram the location into one sentence, what would that sentence be. Because that’s what you’ve got to do. “You’re in a creepy, ancient cemetery at dusk.” “This is a plush, well-furnished, luxury bedroom.” “This is obviously a temple devoted to an evil god with a bloody altar and terrifying demon statues.” “This is a small farming village with two dozen thatched-roof cottages.” “A mighty, walled city with the turrets of a huge castle towering over it.” See how easy this is? I’m serious. Less is more here. Be brief and use all sorts of vague, emotional words. They stoke the imagination. You can always fill in more details later.

Now, you’ll notice that people will make a lot of assumptions based on what you say. That’s good. Once I call the bedroom plush and well-furnished, I don’t have to specify a bed, a dresser, a washstand, bed-curtains, windows, a wardrobe, a furry rug on the floor, whatever. People’s brains will fill those in. And that’s fine. Let them. And more importantly, if someone then refers to the bed-curtains, even if you didn’t picture bed-curtains, there are bed-curtains now. Players will assume the normal props they expect are there. And that’s good. That invites them to use the environment.

Now, with your next sentence, you can pick out an interesting but otherwise useless feature to add some extra mood to your scene. Sort a second layer of neat detail. “Ancient, crumbling monuments to the dead rise from the hills.” “A thick, lion-skin rug sits on the floor.” “Behind the altar is a statue of Vecmodeorcus, the three-headed demon-devil-god-king.” “A tiny wooden cart-bridge crosses a small stream in the middle of the village green.” “Banners hang prominently from every tower, depicting a red manticore rampant on a white background.”

The rest of the sentences are given over to the things you want the players to deal with or the options they have. Ways to leave the scene, goals, obstacles, and so on. Each thing gets just one good, loaded sentence. The trick is to first identify ways to leave, then goals, then obstacles from least urgent to most urgent. You always want to END your description with the most pressing, scariest problem in the scene. Because once you identify something really deadly and dangerous, players stop listening and start formulating plans.

Imagine, for example, the players are visiting a cemetery. They are here because one of the mausoleums contains a dead person with a valuable artifact the players need. But the cemetery is haunted.

“You step through the iron gates and enter the creepy, overgrown cemetery at dusk. Most of the fallen grave markers are obscured by thick underbrush. Monuments and ancient mausoleums rise up on the hills surrounding the cemetery grounds. Directly ahead, you see an obelisk-like monument with strange runes. Before you can go any further, there is a sudden explosion of dirt and rocks as six animate, rotting corpses burst from the ground.”

There we go. Set the scene (creepy cemetary at dusk). Add a detail (fallen graves and heavy underbrush). Add the goal (mausoleums to check out). Points of interest (what is that obelisk). And emergency or obstacle (six undead). It’s actually far more formulaic than you might think. Moreover, you can get very good at improvising on the fly.

Once you get good at it, you can expand your description a little. But you don’t want to load up your word count. Figure your players will ask questions about any details that intrigue them. The only thing you HAVE TO describe right away is the stuff they have to react to immediately. Like, an extra sentence describing the undead so the party knows what they are dealing with would be just fine.

Another example, the party enters the little farming village. There isn’t really a goal. Just some things to explore and investigate.

“By mid-afternoon, you reach a small farming village, really nothing more than a collection of two-dozen thatched-roof houses at the heart of farming country. It is an unbearably hot summer day. The villagers are gathered around the village green, murmuring to each other, looking grim and despondent. Strange, they should be working. The blacksmith’s forge is silent and empty.”

Again, set the scene (small village, mid-afternoon), add a detail (hot summer day), and then things to investigate. Why are the villagers grim? Why aren’t they working? Also, there’s a forge and it is silent. Why that?

The most important thing about scene setting is that it invites the players do things. Fight the zombies, talk to the villagers, check out the rune-covered statues, open the chest, whatever.

Scene-setting is a call to action.


When you hear the word “transition” (assuming you’ve read some of my prior articles), you probably think of those short bits of narration that tell the players how they move in time and space. For example, “you travel down the road for several hours and, by mid afternoon, see see a small village on the horizon.” Or, “the night passes without incident. As the sun rises, you’re ready to resume your travels.”

But a transition is more than just a magical pile of words that bring the PCs to a new place or time in a way that totally makes sense. A transition is actually a movement between scenes, even if no movement in time or space occurs. “The last orc falls dead and the room goes quiet. You’ve won the battle.” THAT is also a transition. A transition is the way PCs get out of scenes and encounters.

Every scene or encounter starts with Scene Setting Narration and ends with a Transition. And many, many GMs forget that. Many GMs forget that the end of a battle is the end of a scene, even if the next scene is just “looting the corpses” or “exploring the room.”

Once the goal of the scene is accomplished or the PCs exit the scene or the PCs run away or they fail or time passes or they move to a new location, you need a bit of text that says “okay, you leave that scene behind and move on to the next scene.” And if that movement from scene to scene also includes movement in time and space, you sure as hell have to describe that movement.

Transitioning is easy and it shouldn’t take more than two or three sentences. First, acknowledge the end of the scene. “You head out the north door,” “the orcs are all dead,” “you leave the village behind,” “the smoke from the fireball trap clears,” “your camp is secure,” and so on. You need to provide some closure that says “okay, we’re done with that bit now.”

Once you close out the scene, you have to describe any changes in time and space. “You walk down the north hallway,” “several miles down the road,” “the rest of the night passes without incident,” and so on. Often, these descriptions will be based on how the players ended the scene and what they set out to do next. You don’t transition the party out of the village and move them miles down the road unless they said something like “we’ll leave the village and head down the road.” But sometimes, the descriptions are just there to tell the players that one situation is resolved and it’s time to think about another.

It’s important to know, before you start narrating a transition, when the transition ends. That is to say: “when does the next scene begin?” Remember, transitions occur between scenes, they lead from one scene to another. So a transition has to cover everything right up until it’s time to introduce the next scene. And, rather than refer you back to my awesome article about scenes, I’m going to give you a hint: the next scene starts when you have to ask a player “what do you do now?” And that damned well better be an interesting decision.


Now, here’s the rule everyone forgets: transitions end scenes, scene setting starts scenes, so after every transition you must set the scene!

The Brilliance that is Resetting the Scene

Let’s talk about one little idea that is so f$&%ing brilliant, I can’t understand why I seem to be the only person in the world who thought of it. Let’s talk about Resetting the Scene.

So, you set the scene, right? Let’s use the zombie scene so I don’t have to write a whole new scene.

“You step through the iron gates and enter the creepy, overgrown cemetery at dusk. Most of the fallen grave markers are obscured by thick underbrush. Monuments and ancient mausoleums rise up on the hills surrounding the cemetery grounds. Directly ahead, you see an obelisk-like monument with strange runes. Before you can go any further, there is a sudden explosion of dirt and rocks as six animate, rotting corpses burst from the ground.”

Now, the heroes fight the zombies. And they win! Go team dumba$&! Yay them! And you, being a good little GM that actually listens to me, you transition out of the fight. You know, the last player rolls the last attack and the last zombie is dead at least. So, you seamlessly roll from adjudicating that last action…

“You bury your axe in the chest of the last zombie like it’s a side of beef hanging in a larder and the zombie’s legs buckle under it as half-congealed blood and maggots ooze from the wound. It collapses, unmoving, dead once more…”

… into the transition out of the fight.

“You wait for a moment, but the zombies don’t get back up. No new zombies claw their way out of the ground. It looks like you’ve won.”

And now what?

Well, if you were paying attention, you’d remember I said something about what you have to do after every transition. You must set the scene.

“But, Mr. The Angry GM,” I hear you saying, “I already set the scene. Remember?” And if Deadpool heard you say that, he would stab you with a katana and he would say something funny, because that’s how he handles whiners.

Yes, you set the scene. The scene of the zombie attack. But that scene is over. And even though you did describe the graveyard, you then distracted everyone by trying to kill them with a bunch of dessicated corpses.

Seriously… most GMs don’t do this, but every GM should. After the fight, encounter, obstacle, disaster, emergency, or whatever is over: RESET THE SCENE. Do it again. Seriously. Remind everyone where they are and what they are doing.

So, the whole thing might look like this…

“You bury your axe in the chest of the last zombie like it’s a side of beef hanging in a larder and the zombie’s legs buckle under it as half-congealed blood and maggots ooze from the wound. It collapses, unmoving, dead once more. You wait for a moment, but the zombies don’t get back up. No new zombies claw their way out of the ground. With the zombies dead, you can freely explore the creepy graveyard. In the gloomy twilight, you can see a large monument rising from the center of the fallen gravemarkers. On the hills all around you, you can see shadowy vaults and mausoleums. What do you do?”

Do that right away. Don’t wait for the party to decide whether they want to rest and recover or whatever. They can decide AFTER you transition and reset the scene. And if they do rest, remember, they are breaking the scene. Time is going to pass.

“You spend an hour resting amidst the crumbling tombstones. The sky is dark as night approaches, but you can still make out the mausoleums on the hills above you and the strange obelisk rising from the cemetery in front of you.”

Always, always, always reset the scene after you do any sort of transition. It pulls people right back into the action and reminds them immediately where they are, what’s going on, and what they came here to do.

Also, There’s Exposition…

Exposition is the last of the four types of narration (remember: adjudication, scene-setting, and transition). And it’s the dullest, most boring one to talk about. If it were a comic, it would be like f$&%ing Doonesbury. Boring. For nerds. And not the good kind of nerds. The boring nerds.

And, honestly, there’s not too much to say about it. Exposition is about delivering information to the players.

Exposition can come as a result of an action the PCs took (“I ask the priest to explain the worship of Vecmodeorcus”), a result of a question a player asked (“hey, do I know anything about Vecmodeorcus”) which might involve a die roll (“roll a Religious Lore check”), or it might be just a matter of the GM giving the players information the PCs should already have (“you recognize the icon as that of Vecmodeorcus and recall that he is a mysterious mashup of several deities originally called into existence to avoid copyright infringement”). It doesn’t matter. Exposition is exposition.

Now, exposition can be woven into the narrative, and that’s the best way to do it. That’s what you get when the priest tells the PCs about Vecmodeorcus or the villagers explain the history of the village and why it is vitally important that the heroes recover the mystical striped stone from the Temple of Doom. But exposition can also be delivered directly to the players in the form of the voice in their heads that tells them what they need to know.

Obviously, the MOST interesting way to deliver exposition is to deliver it through the narrative and to make it interactive. Allow the PCs to ask questions of the priest. And let the priest’s word choice and speech convey his fear or disgust with Vecmodeorcus. But that isn’t always practical and useful. And sometimes, it strains credulity when an NPC has to explain something to a PC that they already should know.

Don’t be afraid to just outright say “hey, idiots, I’m going to tell you what your PCs know right now and here it is.” Just be aware of the fact that that s$&% is boring and best used either at the beginning of the adventure or during a significant pause in the action. And however you do it, keep it brief.

Beyond that, there’s no real formula for it. Just tell the players flat out the information they need. Simple as that.

Eventually, You Won’t See the Seams

If you’re new to this GMing thing, but you’ve played at a few games, you’ve probably never noticed that the GM (assuming you had a good GM) was setting scenes, adjudicating, expositing, and transitioning. Most GMs don’t even break their narration down like that. They just think “well, I’m GMing, I say the things.” But they are still doing those things. If they’re good.

Eventually, you reach the point where you can’t see the seams. Where the final adjudication in a combat encounter flows into a transition that flows into setting a new scene that flows into asking the players what they do next. And that is, eventually, the goal.

BUT… you can’t just do that. You need practice. So, while YOU GM and while you practice narrating, be cognizant of what you are doing when. Use the formulas I outlined. They will start to come naturally. And then you will start to expand them. Build your own style. And everything will mush together. And future players will listen to what you’re saying and not realize how structured everything actually is. And then you can send them to this awesome article on my awesome site and they will know the secret too.

Because I seem to be the only f$&%ing GM in the world who actually tries to break this s$&% down so someone else can learn it. Because I’m awesome. Like Deadpool.

By the Way: Keep it Simple, Stupid!

One last thing. You might notice my examples are pretty thick with the prose, even though they are very simply structured. That’s another thing that happens with practice. And with writing thousands of words every week. I can’t help it. And yeah, at the table, I really do talk like that. On the fly.

But I don’t want you thinking that’s the lesson here. The lesson here is to talk the way you talk. Speak normally. Speak casually. Use whatever language comes naturally Don’t force yourself to sound like a goddamned Tolkien novel. Sound like YOU. And eventually, if you keep it at, you’ll find a voice and style that works for you.

“You’re in a spooky cemetery. It’s sunset. There’s bushes and grass everywhere. And broken tombstones. There’s a huge pointy stone monument in front of you and a bunch of mausoleums on the hills around you. And suddenly, the ground breaks open and zombies climb out of their graves to kill you!”

That is seriously better than a Tolkien novel if you stammer and stutter and mispronounce every second word and confuse your players while you’re trying to be Tolkien. And, hey, even if your players aren’t impressed, there’s f$&%ing zombies trying to kill them so they don’t have time to say anything.

Got a sec? I’m sure you do, you just blew, what, twenty minutes reading all that bulls$&% about narration? So, take one more minute and check out some of my S$&% for Sale on eBay to help support my site. 

18 thoughts on “How to Talk to Players: The Art of Narration

  1. I’ve been reading you for quite a while now as I develop an Adventure for a group of adults. I’m currently a player member of that group, but our DM wants to play, so I’ll be trying my hand at running the game. Most of what you’ve written has been a nice codification of what I kinda sorta already knew in the back of my mind. Great stuff, and I’m sure I’ll be a better DM for having read it (and re-read it and re-read it). Thanks so much for that!

    I’m DMing for a group of kids tomorrow night. I have the short adventure ready (it’s literally a ‘save the handsome dragon from the evil princess’ adventure, so thanks for that as well). The one thing that I’ve been stressing over is how to actually say what I want to say. I don’t want to monologue and bore them to death, and I don’t want to give so little information that they go completely off the paths and sandbox the game.

    This couldn’t have come at a better time. Thank you so much.

    I’d love to be a fly on the wall near your table. Have you ever thought about doing a taped gaming session?

  2. Best instructions for scene setting I’ve ever read. I think I shall write these down.

  3. This is such useful advice for a new DM. Breaking these types of narration out in to parts really helps get a handle on what to do during the game. I for one am weak at resetting the scene. I’ll be focusing on that one next session for certain. Thanks for the advice.

  4. I will definitely be working on re-setting the scene at my next game. My old DM never did that, so I never learned the importance, but it makes the time we spent dithering around after each fight make a lot more sense.

  5. Worst thing about this guy?

    I can’t bookmark the ‘useful articles’. I just have to bookmark the whole damn site, because virtually all of the advice here is gold.

    There’s very little I disagree with Angry on, and several bits I’ve picked up that have lifted my games even closer to the next level. I’m passing several of these lessons on to other GMs in my area, and generally helping with the next generation of good GMs.

    All told, fantastic advice, delivered well. Thanks for spreading the good word!

  6. Angry it’s just occurred to me there’s really nothing on the internet like what you do: Speaking from experience in a manner which transcends obsessive rulesmongering that seems to characterize every other forum and blog. Through teaching about narration and other disregarded facets of DMing I think a lot of us just want to see you in action.

    You could make some shiny coin DM’ing mini adventures for your readership. Even just lighthearted one-shot games via Skype or something would be a HIGHLY ATTRACTIVE Patreon offer.

    • Honestly, I would pay Angry double to do an Adventuring/GMing Workshop like what Johnn Four on roleplayingtips is doing right now.

  7. So I’m not the only one who would really like to sit down to one of Angry’s campaigns?

  8. Thank you for all of the articles you have written thus far. You and Alexis Smolensk have helped me grow immensely as a DM. Both of you break game structure down into very manageable pieces, which are easy to understand and act upon even though the whole is complex in nature.

  9. Hey there Angry. Many thanks for your advices. It’s funny that you mentioned J.R.R. Tolkien in this article, because I’m actually running a Tolkien-based D&D game. And no, my narrations haven’t been Tolkien-par, but I will say that this is certainly helpful! Thanks!

  10. I’ve got a bunch of exploration/transitions I’m flow-charting for the next leg of my campaign. I think I’m going to try to write out the transition texts just to practice this method — going through the motions so I can get a hang of the process. If I can internalize ‘less is more’ I think my GMing will jump up a couple levels in a single bound. Thanks Angry!

  11. Dear Angry: is there a transcription or actual-play recording of one of your games available to demonstrate your DM’ing?

    • A series of actual play videos is one of the Patreon goals – so it’s coming but there’s been some setbacks. Probably next year at some point.

  12. I am reading this essay and one thing that struck me that I wanted to comment on before I continue is the mention of text crawls in movies, you say why do that in a medium that is visual? I’m a big movie fan and I watch a lot of movies, I also read a lot and think about the craft of both mediums and what I would say is that a text crawl is a very visual experience. Star Wars is the classic example and the crawl there has a very intended effect, the music the slow scroll of text and even the font work together. In the first film, episode 4, the crawl also plays off the first scene after we pan down to see the planet and moon. You have the imperial star ship pass over in an incredibly cool scene. Both those ‘crawls’ were done to create a sense of how epic this story would be, I think they worked tremendously.

    I totally agree with your idea of know your own medium but I think it is easy to get bogged down in what a medium really is, if you look at a book while the meat of it is the ‘meaning’ of the text how that text is presented also plays a big role in our experience reading it. Font, paragraphs and even at what point to make the reader turn the page is part of creating a good book.

    • No rule is absolute. Star Wars did it well. But for every Star Wars that breaks a rule to good effect, there are many many other examples that break the rule and flop. Sure, you can try it. I’ve admitted numerous times that I often break my own rules. But if you’re doing it, have a specific reason to do it. Don’t treat it as a default.

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