Run With The Impressions Technique
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0998
Here’s the thing with read-aloud scripts and boxed text you find in published modules….
And it kills the mood.
Imagine an actor stopping mid-scene to grab the script and read it aloud to you. A terrible experience for both actor and audience.
Likewise, stopping your natural way of describing the action, answering player questions, and talking as a GM to pick up an adventure and read aloud from boxed text is a gaffe.
However, you need to set the scene of each encounter.
Players need to know several important things from you:
- The setting. Where are we? What is this place?
- What’s dangerous or urgent?
- What’s there to do here? Initial points of interest and options.
Provide the urgent and the basics, then let players get curious so they do something or ask you questions to reveal deeper things.
In most published adventures, I find boxed text was written by writers trying to write well. They rarely read aloud their text over-flowing with adjectives and packed tight with detail. They never test for natural voice and success in players picking up on the important details.
In The Demonplague campaign book I use boxed text but tried to keep the lingo natural to read. I also kept boxed text as short a possible — one, maybe two breaths long. Reviewers seem to be ok with this approach so far.
When I started using published adventures in 19[cough] I instantly disliked the long boxed text entries. Blah blah blah was all my impatient brain saw.
So I got into the habit of paraphrasing. I started making notes in my GM binder. Quick bullets of key points from the boxed text.
Then I got lazy and used a highlighter. That worked very well. I could quickly focus on the yellow sections and repeat and embellish in my own words.
These days I skim boxed text without the highlighter (I didn’t like marking up my books). I look for nouns, pronouns, and subjects. I callout what I spot.
When building our own adventures, which is the most fun, don’t do the read-aloud script thing.
Here’s a trick. Put yourself in your players’ shoes.
What stuff do they want to hear most?
Who’s the action junkie and wants to know the conflict.
Who’s the roleplayer who wants to know the situation.
Who’s the puzzler who wants to know relevant details.
Who’s the meta-gamer who wants to know meanings?
Roleplay your players and imagine what details they want to hear. Give each player a thing or two to process.
Go around the table, making eye contact as you go.
This format creates natural hooks for you because you’re giving players exactly what they want to act on.
And each player hears what you tell the others so all get a nice, full, robust description by the end.
The Impressions Technique
First, make a bullet list of Impressions. Key features of the encounter, scene, or location.
Second, during the session, make your add-hoc descriptions, tailored to each player.
Last, call out one specific player and ask what they do now to get the game moving forward fast.
Perform these steps for more engaging encounter set-ups that drive action without taking a lot of prep time.
Our natural tone and voice is better than the Charlie Brown teacher voice any day.
Summarize boxed text so it’s you speaking, not your read-aloud zombie persona. Figure out what type of information your players like best. Deliver that to each of them on-the-fly based on skimming the boxed text or from your short bullet notes.