Friday, 20 November 2015

Paraphrase Third-Party Conversations

It's always an awkward moment in any role-playing game when the game master has to represent two, or worse more, non-player characters talking to each other. The exercise resembles nothing so much as young Danny's conversations with his own wagging finger in "The Shining." Using funny voices, the GM ekes out an extended scene while the players sit and watch.

But this is as destructive of the social nature of RPG as any paragraphs-long set-piece room description or boxed text would be. The point of the game is to construct a shared reality through interaction. Awareness that you, the GM or player, are entering into a monologue-as -dialogue should be a sharp signal to shift gears.

To what, exactly?

While some advise to skip such scenes entirely, I don't think it's possible or desirable. Instead, what I do now when I feel a sock-puppet play scene coming on is to paraphrase. That is, switch from this:

COURT WIZARD (bad Peter Lorre impression): Eeeuhh, my lady, what these adventurers propose is verrry reckless.
QUEEN (bad Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones impression): But the bones of my forefathers are endangered if the rumors are true!
COURT WIZARD: They were placed there to watch over an ancient evil! Who knows what these bumbling louts will awaken?

To this:

YOU: The Queen supports your mission to rescue the bones in the tomb, but the wizard is agitated and warns her that you may disturb an ancient evil.

This leaves it open for the players to intervene and address either party, at which point a player-GM conversation can take place in character again.

Come to think of it, the goal of maximum interaction also suggests a light touch when describing scenes, but that'a topic for next time ...


  1. I very much agree with you. When I used to play the West End Games version of Star Wars, we tried using "scripts" (which, for those not familiar with the technique, were literally scripts the GM wrote, generally used to start an adventure, that put words into the players' mouths) for these sorts of things but it ended up feeling unsatisfying.

  2. Thank you. My players hate it when "I play by myself" so I'll try and use your trick!

  3. "bad Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones impression"
    Sorry, you lost me there. I spend the five next minutes imagining Eowyn scenes in Lord of the Rings played by Bridget Jones .

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  5. Here you could play old school in style where role play does not mean improv drama but the control of a character. Just use reported speech and keep it third person. Allow players to get back to being the focus ASAP

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  7. Good point. Been a while since I've DMed but I will certainly remember this if I'm ever in that position. Though that picture makes me want to also use the "The Shining finger puppet technique."

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  9. Sure, paraphrasing is always a complicated task, even thou our language has a bunch of instrument to say the same things in multiple ways. However, I also admitted that after paraphrasing you usually have to proofread writing carefully to avoid mixing old pieces of text and new ones. Therefore, I use punctuation check. It allows me to notice mistakes easily and correct them.

  10. Nice tricks! I'm looking forward to try one of these. Also, I wonder if we can use some paraphrasing tools, for example if I want my script to sound like the one that I found on the Internet but with just a few updates?