So I started watching the WoTc staffers play through the Temple of Elemental Evil, the videos well done, they look like their having fun so all round good effort. I think its important to record yourself and watch other Referee's at work, if you can remain impartial to tone and content you can learn a lot of things. Skip to about 9 minutes in.
Mearl's starts asking his players to narrate something they did during a small road trip, and you can feel the energy slump in the room, players staring blanking thinking "Shit, what do I say?" they don't know the parameters they can operate inside of. They don't yet feel at home in the world, so how do they impose themselves on it for maximum-fun-time-effect?
And i'm sure this is a trick most of us have tried at one stage or another, I know i've done it before and its met with limited success. There's always moment were peoples mouth goldfish as they have no fucking clue what to say. And I've always found that a little uncomfortable, disturbing the vibe around the table - 'tis better to keep things flowing I think. How do we do that? Grains of sand is how.
I've talked about the idea of grains of sand before, small story seeds being much more useful than a blank slate or constraining campaign background. Give someone a grain of sand and they can turn it into an oyster.
So when Mearl's ask his players to narrate something that happened, really he should be telling them what happened, but asking how they handled it. Your'e allowing the player the power to create fiction and hand wave all the action, tell their story - but giving them a framework to build on. Here's some examples of things he should have asked :
- Someone in a position of authority is rude to you.
- Someone in dire need asks for charity.
- Someone offers you something stolen.
- You beat someone at a game and they get angry.
- People are gossiping but they don't know you overheard.
- An unexpected terrain feature impede's your progress.
- A travelling companion falls gravely ill.
- The weather threatens to spoil your rations and possessions.
- You become separated from the group.
- What do you say to the pompous man being horrible to his staff?
- What do you do when you find someone lost possessions?
Also asking 'what do you do?', 'what do you say?' etc, can spark an initial burst of creative propulsion. They have to think of something, but your giving them a very definite yet broad starting point. Then just hand-wave the rest. If they beat someone up, don't roll dice, just accept it and move on. I'd also argue that its important to frame the conversation in the past tense. These are things that have happened, decisions already made. Not things happening right now, they are by default already part of the fiction not current events.
I'd be grateful for any other things to challenge players with during hand waving moments, so drop them in the comments - 'Till next time dorks.