Do This To Drastically Improve Communication With Players

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1168

When there’s good communication, it’s invisible.

When there’s bad communication, everyone feels it.

As an anti-social, only child introvert, I’ve always considered myself as having a low emotional quotient.

I’m much more polite in writing. ๐Ÿ™‚

At work I’ve been called direct due to my questions.

Being direct is effective, in my experience. It helps you get to the core of a matter.

Plus, I get a boost when I learn something new. So I try to stay curious, which involves asking a lot of questions. ๐Ÿ™‚

But I learned that I need to take the burr off my directness to keep conversations natural and flowing.

I mention this because it pays to have a decent emotional quotient at the game table.

So I’ve actually studied hard on this topic of emotional intelligence. From making small talk to understanding other points of view.

And today I’d like to share with you how we can improve our communication with players, using the same technique I learned that takes the burr off directness, so we improve our chances of players having more fun at every game.

Great Questions to Ask

During sessions, I get a ton of value out of questions like these:

  • Why are you taking that action? (What’s their thinking behind making that choice.)
  • What do you look like right now? (I use this to prime social/roleplay encounters.)
  • How is your character involved with XYZ? (Crowdsource setting details and create new character relationships with campaign elements.)

For example:

Johnn: Hey Roghan, you burst through the door, blowing it off its hinges.

<Surprise & Morale roll>

Johnn: The beastmen fling down their cards and start flipping over the table while reaching for their weapons.

Sandy: I run in and chop the biggest one’s head off!

Johnn: Why?

Sandy: Ummmm…because I’m a fighter?

It’s off-putting for a player to get hit with a direct question like that in the middle of game-flow.

I just want to understand why Sandy’s taking the Murder Hobo approach. Armed with this intel, I can decide how to frame my description and think a couple steps ahead.

I might be thinking this:

Ok, I was hoping for parley here. What are my beasties going to do if they win init? And what’ll they do if they lose?

The PCs are leading with combat. I want parley.

So if I win initiative I’ll have the biggest beastie attempt negotiation. If I lose, I’ll have them hurl threats and insults in common.

Ok, ready.

It’s the same at work.

Co-Worker: This project is all about getting more sprockets for Spacely Sprockets.

Johnn: Why will this project work?

I ask that question so I can unearth more of their thinking behind the tactics or initial premise. I want to understand the strategy so I can support it to the best of my ability.

Likewise, I want to support my players to the best of my ability so we all have more fun at every game.

So here’s what I do.


I think of it as meeting them halfway.

I don’t abandon my quest.

I still ask the question.

But I start out with a different first sentence.

I acknowledge them.

This offers two awesome wins.

First, they feel listened to.

Whatever their point is, they want feedback from you that they’re being heard.

This is really important.

Do you like it when someone talks over you?

Or how about if it seems like the other person didn’t even hear what you were saying and they go off in a different direction?

Very frustrating!

But if you acknowledge them you signal they’ve been heard.

This cannot be a fake acknowledgement.

You’ve really got to listen.

And when they’re done, you say something like:

I can see how this project will get us more sprockets, very nice, I like it.


Cool beans, Sandy, before we roll initiative let me describe the situation because it’s a gnarly one.

It’s a single sentence.

And the person feels acknowledged.

They’re thinking, I’ve got more to say on this, but Johnn is following along and hearing at least some of my stuff. This interruption is no big deal. I’m safe.

The second big win for acknowledging first, before our direct question, is we even out our voice.

I’d normally open with a direct question.

But my tone would be off.

I’d sound more harsh, abrupt, or forceful than intended.

So by acknowledging first, you modulate a bit.

I can see how this project will get us more sprockets, very nice, I like it.

What are the main reasons you think this plan will be effective?


Cool beans, Sandy, before we roll initiative let me describe the situation because it’s a gnarly one.

But first, let me ask what Roghan’s hoping to accomplish here. What’s his goal?

And this works all the time.

Not as a trick or gimmick.

It’s a test of whether you’re listening.

Whether you’re present.

Because you need to be present to improvise best.

For some people this stuff comes naturally.

For me, I need to learn it.

Same result though.

Genuine GMing with players feeling like they’re being heard and responded to.

So we have more fun at every game.