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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    OldWizardGuy

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    May 2009
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    Default DMing Techniques: Presentation Economy

    The short version:
    I'm interested in how other GMs present information to their players. Time restraints, player interest, and our creativity, all limit how detailed we can become when describing elements of the world to the players. Basically, how do you decide to break things down?


    More detail:
    Besides creating plot and story background, the story teller almost continuously presents new pieces of information to the players. This information advances the plot, provides sense details for the surrounding, blow by blows to make fights exciting, and the like.

    Presentation economy (a term I made up), is a way to describe how to allot time for different pieces of information.

    Some players love immersion, and want the ST to paint a vivid picture of what's happening, where the characters are, etc. Other players prefer strategy and mechanics, and might think of details as speed bumps.

    Given the fact that we only have a certain amount of time to play the game, how do you break up detail presentation to players? This could be broken down into several categories, each competing for space.

    Description details - Do you tell your players their characters are entering 'the old castle' or do you describe the crumbling facade, and the mud infested moat?

    Plot details - How many events occur in your games? Are they all related to the overarching story? How many developments are just XP boosters, or breaks in the main narrative?

    Character details - Does every NPC have a name? Do your players know to largely ignore an NPC unless you provide more than one detail about them?

    Overall, what's most important to you? Immersion? Role play? Narrative?


    My style:
    I love immersion, but I don't provide many sense details to players. Instead, I focus on NPCs and how they interact with the world and the players.

    As far as plot detail, most of what I present is significant. Sometimes it's obvious, especially if players only witness the encounter, because they generally interact with events. Other times, I present a seemingly resolved event, and then play on their expectations by changing things up in the future.

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    AssassinGuy

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    Nov 2011
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    Provo, Utah
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    Default Re: DMing Techniques: Presentation Economy

    I fancy myself an artist and so if I have a particularly important setting I want to portray well, I'll sometimes draw it and present the drawing to get across instantly the information I want them to have about their environment. Admittedly this is a rare tool, because it takes so much of my personal time, and I will often rely mostly on NPCs, all of whom I name, in order to present the details needed.

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    May 2005
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    Somerville, MA
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    Default Re: DMing Techniques: Presentation Economy

    Most of my information comes from dialog. NPCs exist for disseminating information. I have no trouble whatsoever dropping tons of plot details. Sorting out the details and figuring out which ones apply to which plot is the players' job.

    But I'm flatout dreadful at description. I don't really say things unless prompted. Lately I've forced myself to write out descriptions in advance, just to make sure that the players aren't in a bunch of empty rooms.

    (As a sidenote, I've found that the right amount of pre-written description is 3 or fewer sentences. Any more and the players go into listen mode and lose interest in interacting.)

    Regarding setting and background knowledge information, one thing I've found helpful at the start of the game is to give the players cheat sheets. But, make the sheets different! Anything longer than a page is likely to get skimmed, unless your players are setting nerds. You might as well not even write more than a page. By giving the players different bits of information, you can push out 4 or 5 pages of setting info without asking them to read more than they like. Players who have different domains of knowledge that let them feel special when it's their job to pass that knowledge to the group. And if you want to encourage minor party strife, you can give them conflicting information.
    If you like what I have to say, please check out my GMing Blog where I discuss writing and roleplaying in greater depth.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Tyndmyr's Avatar

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    Aug 2009
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    Default Re: DMing Techniques: Presentation Economy

    If the players start comparing you to Dickens or War and Peace, you might want to tighten it up a bit.

    If they say things like "the room has a STATUE?", you need to elaborate more.
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  5. - Top - End - #5
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Aotrs Commander's Avatar

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    Jan 2007
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    Derby, UK and Bleak Despair battlestation. Species: Spirit-Bound Skeletal Lich (Lawful Evil)
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    Default Re: DMing Techniques: Presentation Economy

    I tend to be fairly long winded in describing the scene and the locale (as much as anything, writing the description helps me visualise the location for DMing), sometimes with a fair bit of known history and backstory if the PCs would know that (and sometimes with a few "you would guess that this is [x]" or "your surmise this is would be because of [y]". Rather less so on the descriptions of people, though (mostly because I think about that less naturally, being an engineer-y sort of mindset).

    My players, I think, are just used to it now after twenty years, so they either must be listening or just got very good at tuning me out...! (Price you pay for me being primary DM, you have to put up with my flavour text!)

    For combat, we have the ARCS (Aotrs ReConfigurable Combat System), which is basically a giant plastic document wallet with a cardboard grid in it, upon which I draw the map and any dohickeys we need, making it oh so much easier to do those complex dungeon designs. (Though I always take take to point out that the grid is there for reference, and more as a measuring stick, than an absolute.)
    Last edited by Aotrs Commander; 2012-01-12 at 03:42 PM.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Ettin in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Re: DMing Techniques: Presentation Economy

    Quote Originally Posted by Rorrik View Post
    I fancy myself an artist and so if I have a particularly important setting I want to portray well, I'll sometimes draw it and present the drawing to get across instantly the information I want them to have about their environment.
    I've done this too, but for different reasons. As I mentioned above, I'm not so great at description. What I do (on occasion, but hopefully more in the future) to make up for it is make a drawing and then withhold it from the players. I really want to give the players all the details that I put into the drawing, so I describe it to them in full. I have no idea if this would work for anyone else, but it definitely helps me trick myself into providing description. And it's a lot more fun to draw something than write about it.
    If you like what I have to say, please check out my GMing Blog where I discuss writing and roleplaying in greater depth.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Halfling in the Playground
     
    AssassinGuy

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    Dec 2011

    Default Re: DMing Techniques: Presentation Economy

    My personal preference is to be quick bgut consice in terms of describing scenery. Pack in all the details, but dont ramble on and go overboard. As long as i can get out enough information to et the picture across, im content.

    As for plot points, those i like to give through dialouge, and boy, do i love plot. Ill think up dramatic long winded conversations on part of the characters, partially because i always have so much plot to get across. I love making histories and legends in my campaign, its honestly my favorite part

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Titan in the Playground
     
    nedz's Avatar

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    Apr 2010
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    Default Re: DMing Techniques: Presentation Economy

    I use floorplans, figures and props to create the basic space and then add detail with words.
    I have a large collection of floor plans. I prefer these to mats because I can do movement based encounters by sliding the cardboard floor plans around the table and positioning new ones.
    The props I use are things like doors, walls and flying bases. The doors are from a floorplans set - i just cut them out and glued them onto card bases. The walls are made of clear perspex and get used for all manner of temporary area demarcations.
    These are all useful in providing spacial information in an intuative form.

    For the words - I will give only a brief description first. I then dribble out more decriptions as the PCs explore or spend time looking around. Asking for spot or search rolls etc. to give out further details. If it becomes apparent that something has been mis-understood; I will immediately stop and recap to make sure that the description I want to impress is right.
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  9. - Top - End - #9
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Oct 2005
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    NC

    Default Re: DMing Techniques: Presentation Economy

    Quote Originally Posted by DabblerWizard View Post
    Given the fact that we only have a certain amount of time to play the game, how do you break up detail presentation to players? This could be broken down into several categories, each competing for space.

    Description details - Do you tell your players their characters are entering 'the old castle' or do you describe the crumbling facade, and the mud infested moat?

    Plot details - How many events occur in your games? Are they all related to the overarching story? How many developments are just XP boosters, or breaks in the main narrative?

    Character details - Does every NPC have a name? Do your players know to largely ignore an NPC unless you provide more than one detail about them?

    Overall, what's most important to you? Immersion? Role play? Narrative?
    One thing I've realized over the years - in a game where the PCs are the central protagonists, anything the players don't know about or can't find out doesn't exist. Not for game purposes at least.

    So when it comes to descriptions I try to paint with broad strokes and then let the players fill in details by saying 'yes' a lot as they ask if this or that is there. Even if I may not have envisioned that detail initially.

    As for plots, I tend to run two to four simultaneously. I like at least two, sometimes related but not always. Additional plots tend to be initiated by player action or inaction. :) NPCs do get names, even if I make it up on the spot. There are no "unimportant" NPCs, just NPCs who may not be central to the story yet. That can change based on PC action.

    As for what's important, that easy - fun! It's not always the same thing. One day may involve tactical decisions while another is pure role play and the next is initiating some strategic plan. Some degree of immersion is preferred but how much changes from day to day. The narrative, or story, is the result of play.

    All that said, I'm not sure I'd relate most of this to "presentation". Descriptions certainly fit but plots seem to revolve around planning rather than presentation. Do you present your plots directly? I've done so out of character sometimes, but not always.
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  10. - Top - End - #10
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    AssassinGuy

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    Nov 2011
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    Provo, Utah
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    Default Re: DMing Techniques: Presentation Economy

    Quote Originally Posted by valadil View Post
    I've done this too, but for different reasons. As I mentioned above, I'm not so great at description. What I do (on occasion, but hopefully more in the future) to make up for it is make a drawing and then withhold it from the players. I really want to give the players all the details that I put into the drawing, so I describe it to them in full. I have no idea if this would work for anyone else, but it definitely helps me trick myself into providing description. And it's a lot more fun to draw something than write about it.
    There's an idea! I should try that from time to time, it may even help me draw upon the other senses to describe it from my own vision.

  11. - Top - End - #11
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: DMing Techniques: Presentation Economy

    I really like immersion. I really, really do. I want to live in this carefully constructed setting.

    Which is why making a level 1 adventure in a homebrew setting took 5 months of prep time for 5 sessions. (And I'm still writing GM aids so others can run it.)
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  12. - Top - End - #12
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: DMing Techniques: Presentation Economy

    Raum, I agree that plots have to be created with planning, but they are generally presented directly or indirectly to players, with things like plot hooks.

    For example: You hope to get players involved with a murder mystery. You present them with a scream in the distance. This event is the start of your plot, assuming the players go for it. Plot might be further developed when players run over to see what's wrong, and find guards shielding onlookers from the carnage. You certainly know what these events are about, and players will often assume such significant events are plot related as well.

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