Thursday, August 13, 2009
The Skill of Improvisational Narration
While most Gamesmasters know to give descriptive narratives, it is nevertheless a particular skill that has a number of components worth thinking about.
1) Descriptiveness. It's really great if the players can get a full view of the scene being described and at the same time get a feel for the mood and features of the scene as they encounter it. For example, if they come upon a scene in which there is action, describing it in the blur of motion is great. Whatever the elements that the GM gives in the narrative should provide information that the PCs would normally focus on - ie those things that might cause them to decide to do one thing over another.
2) Brevity. It is good to pack as much information into as few sentences as possible for the introduction of the scene. Notice that in the example cases we get a sense of the weather, the lighting, sounds, smells, and the terrain.
3) Suspense. It is good if you can convey at the same time enough implied or actual tension in the scene to cause the players to be concerned, either for their safety, or perhaps some moral hazard.
4) Speed. Usually during a game the GM does not really have a lot of time to think about how to phrase what the Players are encountering, especially if the GM is running his or her World in "Sandbox" mode and the PCs wander off into not very well defined terrain.
5) Accuracy. It's important for the GM to keep their facts straight, and if there are particulars such as names of things, often the GM will not have time to look them up. So the next best thing is to use more generic common terms. However, it is important to keep the scene cohesive by not introducing wrong-facts (unless it's an illusion or some such, of course). Probably the most important impression to give the Players is an accurate depiction of where they are in relation to the environment (are they far away or close by? Is the door near them open or closed? etc) so they can make well informed decisions as to where they go and what they do.
6) Interest. Of course perhaps it goes without saying, but each scene should present something interesting in some way. Even a mundane situation such as wolves stealing birds from the hen house can be made interesting by good GMing. And that's important to remember.
Good narrative is what brings your World alive to the Players. Don't short the process, I say! And be willing to stop the action and take a minute or two to think about how you want to introduce a new scene to the players if you need to. That's my advice.