Getting an Earful

One of the major problems of conversations is when they are composed of speakers who use the moments where the other person is talking to compose what they will say next instead of actually listening to what has been said. While this is a common, annoying, and somewhat insulting aspect of daily life, it is a thousand times worse when it happens in an RPG.

It happens all the time.

In most cases, the GM and each player have a decent-enough communication process, but between players there are significant opportunities for signal loss, or outright attempts to tune other players out and pass them by. Clearly, in an activity so heavily dependent on verbal communication, this diminishes what is being undertaken to a ridiculous level. If one is just showing up at the game to focus on their own character, staying at home alone is a better way to approach it.

The Internal Game versus the External Game

Not all games are all out in the open and exposed. Some are. In most of the games of my youth the character’s internal life was something for the player to create and consider, then share later – if they felt like it. We considered good roleplay to focus on physical, facial, and verbal cues to build atmosphere and a sense of the world. We considered good play being able to catch and use those cues to assess what was going on with each character and interact with them in a believable fashion. Nights where the characters sat around their campfire discussing the past and present events of their lives and trying to make sense out of the confusing crap that was confounding them at the moment were damn fine nights. Predicting what each other would do in combat and how to capitalize on it was damn fine, too.

Even when I began running Call of Cthulhu a lot, this did not really change. While the sanity mechanics outed an internal element and required that it be communicated verbally, it was not really much more than a signal to the group that ‘something was wrong’ in a significant way. It was still up to the player to pull that off in their own fashion via established patterns of roleplay, leaving that internal experience pretty much to be divined rather than shared. What really changed our play from primarily internal to external were the humanity mechanics in the World of Darkness games. While eventually other games came along and the style of play from our youth reasserted itself whenever appropriate, that experience of externalizing the internal life of the character left its mark. Not only does it manifest itself in play, but out of game discussions about that internal life have been far more common ever since. Of course, it is anyone’s guess if the other players are likely to want to listen. Even in a piece on listening, the person whose turn it is to speak still has an obligation to be interesting. Let’s not get too crazy~

Action and Interaction

Like in a conversation where each person awaits their chance to speak, a combat round or socially interactive scene can often be each player waiting for their chance to ‘go.’ Not all games are set up to mechanically take advantage of player interaction during each others’ turns, but any game session can benefit from this sort of play. Stunts, coordination of effort beyond the purely tactical, and simple enjoyment of and immersion in the evolving scene are all enhanced by listening with intention to what is going on especially when it is not expressly one’s own turn. In the end, you are either playing the game together, or you are getting in each other’s way.

Which sounds better?

A Brief Listening Checklist:

  1. Do you usually know the character names and basic background of the other players’ characters? Do you know them in your current group?
  2. Do you have a clear sense of when a player is speaking IC and OoC even when it is not stated? Have you picked up on the ways, if any, that each player uses to distinguish the voice of their character?
  3. Do you usually know the names and basic backgrounds of the NPCs you encounter in play? Do you know then in your current game?
  4. Do recaps of events, clues, rumors, meetings, prophecies, etc seem familiar or new when the GM or another player goes over them?
  5. Do you need to be prompted when it is your turn? How often are you able to smoothly interject to help another player by using synergistic actions  which aid their action as it is happening?


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