Monday, November 22, 2010

Eye Contact Is Important

This is the "other" reason why eye contact is important: the players in your Dungeons and Dragons game are relying on you to deliver the critical parts of the adventure environment. The visual (non-verbal) feedback you gather from the players is crucial in ensuring you are communicating your adventure environment clearly.

If you are looking at something other than their eyes (i'm referring here to the boxed text, folks) you're probably missing some important information.

Boxed text has always been a bugaboo of mine: I don't like when it is read to me. First, I can read it faster that you can say it, so just hand me the text and i'll read the damn thing myself. Second, the delivery is often mediocre, so I tend to tune out while it's being read. Third, boxed text sometimes delivers information that is superfluous to the encounter, so you just wasted my time and yours. Fourth, the reading of prepared text seems artificial and therefore interferes with player immersion.

I disagree with those who think that information about the environment must be pried from the DM. The DM acts as your eyes, ears, and rest of your senses. Therefore, when the players first enter an important area, any information that is easily noted (particularly if it is relevant to the area or encounter) should be immediately and clearly revealed. Again, eye contact is important here: the players will give you non-verbal feedback as to which parts of your delivery were processed and which parts were not. I'm never shy to repeat something, if I don't think the players processed that information, the first time around.

It is trite to say that people only hear 20% of what they are told. This axiom applies when a great deal of (or very complicated) information is supplied. That is, the more information you communicate, in a continuous stream, the more difficult it is for the receiver to keep all of that information in the forefront of their mind, and sort out the extraneous from the important. That's another reason why I dislike boxed text. The players sit there, passively, while the DM reads, and reads, and reads, and reads. Without eye contact, you can't tell when the players are beginning to tune you out.

When drawing dungeons, outdoor environments and other adventure locations, my preference is to include little bits of one or two-word reference text, and small icons representing certain features, on the map. This allows me to quickly confirm critical details, so as to spend as little time as possible looking down at my papers, and as much time as possible looking at the players. That way, I can easily assess whether I have successfully communicated the environment, and anticipate what additional information is needed to help the players navigate the adventure.


Andrew said...

I agree totally on "boxed-text". when I first started writing adventures for players I'd always include a hefty block of description written in a (what I thought at the time) gloriously descriptive faux-pulp style.

It was boring for my players, it was boring for me, I stumbled trying to read it out with dramatic flow, and most importantly it gave a video game-esque "cut scene" feel to the session, which drained any feeling of urgency and halted the pace.

Being able to draw helps me a lot as I often draw features and furniture directly onto my dungeon maps- not only does it aid description and cut down on written notes, it's handy for when a fight takes place, as I can just draw a scaled up version straight on the battle mat.

I also annotate sound effects and sensory information or even metagame "tone" notes by the sides of corridors (eg OMINOUS FEELINGS)

I don't think I'd even be able to make use of something like the one page dungeon format at all if it wasn't for using these methods in conjunction. I suppose a downside is that even though I am quite neat, my maps would be near incomprehensible to anyone else using them!

I also agree, though, that most obvious information shouldn't have to be pried out of the DM. The PC's aren't walking around wearing goggles of smoked glass and earplugs!

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Some really great insights. Sounds like you came to the same solution as me, with regards the one-page dungeon format.

Kiltedyaksman said...

I don't object to boxed text unless the following take place:

1. The text is poorly written such that the delivery for the average joe leads to a disaster.

2. There's reading and then there's delivering. Monotone reading I can do without, exciting delivery - all good.

steelcaress said...

If there's something to be fought immediately, I give a terse description of the room (with workman's prose) and draw their attention to the monsters.

Then, afterward, if someone wants a more detailed description (or if there's something immediately interesting that would draw their attention), I'll give it to them.

Usually, boxed text doesn't bother me overmuch (or my players). I am actually able to read the text out loud and keep their attention well enough. I read in a dramatic tone, anyway, so that plus eye contact and dramatic pauses are enough to make it work.

I just don't read huge sections without paraphrasing. If a scene can't be described in 30 seconds or less, then it's probably too long to be read out loud. I'm not reading them a bedtime story or anything. ;)

LoneIslander said...

I tried drawing situations rather then the boxed texted method, but it didn't work so well.