Information Scenes: "Any Questions?"


So you’re giving an information scene.  The colonel is explaining the details of the enemy stronghold, the old professor is explaining the curse of the mummy, etc.  If you’ve been GMing long, you know these scenes can be difficult.  Your monologue doesn’t sound as cool as you’d thought.  The players don’t really know when it’s their turn to talk, so they either interrupt or get bored.

Well, my technique for avoiding this awkwardness is to cover “briefing details” conversationally – between me and the players rather than between my NPC and their PCs.  I go down the list of bullet points I had written down, we pause to talk throughout, then I signal the beginning of in-character conversation by saying something like, “any questions?”  in the NPC’s voice.



It might sound like you’re missing an opportunity for roleplay.  But having a clear transition between out of character talk and in-character talk takes stress off of you and your players.  Here’s why.




Why This Works (some RPG theory)
  1. If the briefing comes at the beginning of a session, outlining the adventure for the evening, it lets everyone ease into the game instead of jumping into character right away.
  2. Dropping details and playing an NPC are two separate tasks.  When you have a lot of details to cover, the added burden of trying to sound like a character is likely to make you stumble through your details and descriptions.
  3. Listening to details and playing a PC are two separate tasks.  Players have a natural urge to talk – that’s the way they contribute to the game.  But if you’re info-dropping in character, they’ll think they have to respond in character – so they’ll spend more time thinking of something to say and less time listening.  In addition, their contributions will probably come across as disruptive to you.  And anything that makes player contributions feel like disruptions is a bad practice.
  4. Briefings encourage out-of-game conversations.  When you tell them about the enemy defenses, the players are bound to ask whether it works like in this movie or that movie.  Speaking conversationally allows us to have fun talking about these details – it makes it part of the game and avoids that “ok, let’s get back to the game” feeling. 
  5. Talking conversationally sets your players free to suggest details.  You’re of course free to accept or reject them – but remember, players are basically here to twist up your story with the things they do as characters; if you let them throw you a twist or two out of character, the game can be that much more fun.

Conclusion

An in-character monologue sends players a mixed signal: you’re talking in character, but it’s not important for them to respond as characters.  So they’re either going to feel like they don’t have a chance to talk, or they’re going to talk unnecessarily and bother you. 

Conversely, If they’re listening to the details, they’re not in character anyway.  And if they to save up their questions, and ask them in character, makes the dialogue more focused once it does begin.

Use the “Any Questions” method to clearly divide out-of-game detail talk from in-game character talk.

Don’t worry, though – villain monologues (which mostly tend to express the character rather than to explain details) are still okay.