This post has been updated twice. Unfortunately, there were some people that didn’t seem to understand my point. My hope is the update helps to clarify my position.
I have been focusing on other things as of late, so I haven’t been posting often enough.
Here are some thoughts from a FB post where the DM was complaining. One of the characters had learned to speak with animals. Consequently, the player was wanting to speak to every animal they came across. The DM was frustrated with role-playing these scenes out again and again. The following is what I told him.
Update: The GM was happy the player wanted to speak with animals. However, the amount of time it was consuming was an issue. The other players were being excluded and the content of the conversation had no impact on the story in general. It amounted to using a lot of play time to talk about the weather.
As a GM, you do not need to role play out the boring parts of your story. The end.
D&D does not need to be a minute-by-minute account of every time the players scratch their butts. After all, we don’t role play out sleeping or using the bathroom. Or at least I hope not! There are a lot of events that are assumed to happen. As GM, I broaden those assumptions.
In this case of talking to animals, I would start saying something like the following: “Yeah you do that and have a nice conversation about the taste of buttercups.” And be done with it. No interchange is role played. I call this a summary of the event.
Update: There seems to be some misunderstanding about the different between role playing out an event and summarizing it. Just because something isn’t role played out doesn’t mean the DM is denying it. There are a lot of events and encounter a DM will summarize. Not everything needs to be role played or perhaps better stated acted out as a scene.
I would give replies like: “Yes, you have another meaningless but enjoyable conversation with another small animal”. Perhaps the player asks: What did the field mouse say? But you have to ask yourself does it matter?
At some point, I would even get to just saying, “Yes I always assume you talk to the animals.” Later, start saying, “Okay,” and leave it at that.
Update: This has been accused of being passive-aggressive. My wording here might be a little. Perhaps another GM would phrase it better. The point is the summary of the event and not to role play it out.
As DM, I am not ignoring these events are happening. I am just choosing not to give time to it.
But here is the trick!
Once in a great while, have it pay off. And have it pay off when they don’t ask!
The player stops asking so much about the animals and what they have to say. Again, you are assuming they are talking to animals. So one time on an adventure tell them the following:
“You are talking to the chipmunk about the recent weather when it mentions there have been lots of outsiders about. You get more into it, and you now have discovered clues to the bad guys’ hideout.”
Notice that even when I describe what the results of talking to the animal, I am not role-playing. At the end of the day, it is up to the GM what gets role played. Which brings me to the point of this post.
As DM/GM you must take control of your game. You are not the victim here but the gatekeeper. You have a choice on what to role play out.
As GM, you have a choice on what you include to expand on in your game. Realize you have that choice. The power is in your hands.
Update: I feel this is the point where I lose them. The DM doesn’t get to decide what the players do. No. Nor do they get to decide what is important to the players. What they get to decide is if they are going to role play out the event or summarize it.
A player wants to eat a dead body. Perhaps the DM doesn’t like that in their game. It doesn’t mean the DM says, “no that is bad”. But as DM they do not need to role play it out. They do not need to go into details about it.
And they don’t have to reject it. In summarizing they can play it up.
“You eat the dead centaur and believe it is the best dead centaur you have ever eaten! It was the best meal you had in a long time!
That is a summery of the event without role playing. It happen. The game moves on.
A player might want to talk to an NPC, but you know it is a pointless talk that leads to a dead-end. So don’t role play it out. Summarize it and move on. In reality, sometimes I will role play out the first minutes to see if the player is going to take it someplace I didn’t expect. But once I see there is no there-there, I go to summery mode.
In my game, I have taken control and stopped role playing out what characters eat for lunch. I have stopped role playing the shopping for shoes and other minor common items. Basically, I have stop role playing out the mundane.
Update: Some people have assumed that all I want to do is combat. That is not what I am talking about here.
I would rather role play encounters with kings, bosses, potential allies, about war and peace, death and taxes, plans of battle, plans of peace. I have played in a game now that has combat once ever few session where we are plotting the overthrow of a religion. These are the events I role play out, not grab-ass in a bar.
In recent years, I think I don’t role play enough. I summarize and give results often. For the most part, I only role play out scenes and moments that had dramatic tension or turning points in the story. I think it is better to be spartan than to do too much.
I have two reasons for doing this:
- First off, role-playing can exclude others from playing. If I am a player and want to buy a horse and the GM makes me role play it. Well, anyone who doesn’t want to buy a horse is naturally excluded. If I start to haggle out the price, well that is not exciting for anyone in the game than perhaps me.
- Secondly, role-playing rewards only one type of player. Not everyone is interested in acting out every moment. When they are forced to do so, they tend to “role play” encounters towards crisis and combat. Why? Because that is where they enjoy the game.
If the game already has a lot of combat in it, then some summary can get important story points out. They might even want to role play a little. If they trust you as GM to get the dice rolling, they might be willing to explore role playing more.
Update: The point of all of this is that as DM you have a choice to make on what you want to role play out and what you want to summarize. Many new DM will not realize they have this choice and will role play everything.
These poor souls end up role playing out many uninteresting and boring events. Then they wonder why everyone is bored on their phones. They need to step up and take some control of their game. Start summarizing the mundane and get to the good stuff.
However, it is important to realize that just because the DM chooses to do something doesn’t make it good. They can make mistakes. They can end up summarizing events that are important to the player. This would be an example of a mistake.
In the end, what DMs decide to summarize and role play defined a lot of their personal style. Find a DM that has similar views and interest as yourself. If the idea of role playing out conversations with field mice about the weather sounds like a ton of fun for you, then you better find a DM (and group of players) who will enjoy that too.
Because I personal am not interested and would go to summary mode. I would rather role play out your audience with the local lord as you advocates the sparing the life of a poacher found in his forest.