Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dungeon Master Tips: Better Narration

  As much as we may dislike it at time, the fact is one of the most critical tasks/skills of the GM is narration.
nar·ra·tion nəˈrāSH(ə)n/ noun
noun: narration; plural noun: narrations
  the action or process of narrating a story.
      "the style of narration in the novel"   a commentary delivered to accompany a movie, broadcast, etc.
      "Moore's narration is often sarcastic"
  Narration sets up not just the parameters for things like combat and to assist the map maker, it sets the tone of the game. For example:
"The ten foot wide corridor goes 90' to another door. What do you do?"
  versus
"The passage here seems to be carved from the living rock of the mountain. Three of you can stand abreast and Jerczy's spear can only touch the arched ceiling with effort. There is a damp chill in the air, accompanied with the smells of wet stone and meat that rotted to slime years ago. You hear your own breathing, the faint drip of water into water from someplace... distant, and the occasional click or scrape as someone in the party shifts their weight.
  "Your torches struggle to light the passage, ultimately failing ahead of you. There is a faint gleam from beyond the torchlight, perhaps of more wet granite."
  Juuuuuust a little different.
  Now, just like sometimes its more fun to say 'you arrive at the dungeon' rather than role play 6 weeks of travel horseback, sometime when the mood is high on its own description #1 is the way to go. Heck, when the party is fleeing from a hoary terror unleashed from its ancient slumber description #1, delivered breathlessly, my be the best choice!
  But especially early one description #2 is 'better' and a great tool for creating an emotional tenor inside the party.
  "Gee, Rick,: I hear you say, "Tell us something we don't know! Its not like you're the first guy to bring this up!"
  Bear with me!

  Years ago when I was in my early teens my Dad got a present from one of my aunts - several of the old radio serials of The Shadow on cassette. My dad (who is older and a WWII vet) had loved those shows when he was a kid and they were new and pretty soon the whole family was listening to them after dinner every Sunday night. My Seaward campaign was already 6 years old and soon my players were mentioning that my descriptions were better.
  I realized - of course!
  The old radio shows relied solely upon narrative description to set the scene and some of the best writers in the world were working to make these descriptions clear, powerful, evocative - and brief! The thrillers and supernatural shows are essentially training courses in better DM narration.

  I listen to Old Time Radio on Sirius/XM satellite radio 5+ days a week. Many of these shows can be found on the Internet Archive, too. Here are a few:

  Some episodes of The Shadow

  The science fiction show X Minus One

  The horror/thriller/sometime supernatural show Suspense

  And don't think this is just for the DM! I think players can learn a great deal from
  Sherlock Holmes
  If you want a real treat you can find an episode of Sherlock Holmes where Holmes is portrayed by Sir John Gielgud, Watson by Sir Ralph Richardson, and Moriarty by Orson Welles here!

  I hope you enjoy!