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GM as Multi-Character

Started by SumDood, October 20, 2003, 07:36:54 PM

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I'm bringing up this topic because it occurs in games, and I'd like to see how other GMs address this issue.

The problem is having the GM play two different characters (NPCs) in a game that for some reason need to address each other. The GM ends up talking to themself (often to everyone's amusement).

Here are a few ways I know of to solve this problem.

The GM simply tells the characters in narrative format what the two characters say to each other.

The GM plays it out using different accents.

The GM plays it out, telling the players who is speaking with each switch.

The GM describes the characters and the issues, then selects two players to play it out.

The GM creates a script ahead of time and gives it to two players to read (although this obviously doesn't work well dynamically, but does work if the players are "overhearing" a conversation and cannot interfere).

Does anyone else have any suggestions on how to solve this problem?
I do think it's important for the GM to maintain narrative control over the game. There are things going on that the players might know about, and hearing the two NPCs have dialog is an easy way to introduce those topics. Unfortunately, having the GM talk to themself is just plain weird a lot of times.
- SumDood (Rob)
Entalis, Reality Prime

Mike Holmes

I talk to myself all the time. And when I GM, too. ;-)

I just don't see it as particularly weird. I use the simplest techniques that you mention. Sometimes its just not important to act out the dialog, and I just describe it.

If I'm going to speak for both characters, I usually introduce each character as they speak (#3). In addition to using slightly different voices to distinguish between characters, I look to my left leaning to the right when speaking as one character, and then lean left looking right when speaking for the other character, sometimes, as though they're talking to each other, leaving my "normal" seated position to indicate that I'm narrator. So it looks like:

<Mike sits straight looking at the players and says>Bob says, <Mike leans to the left looking right and says>"Hey, let's go to the park," <Mike looks back at the players sitting straight and says>to which Jane replies, <Mike leans to the right looking left and says>"Sure, sounds like fun." <Mike comes back to sitting straight and looking at the players>

If I'm standing, which happens, I'll take those two little steps with a turn instead of leaning, and act out each part.

I'll admit that it's sorta comical. So I only use it when its really neccessary to describe things that way, and the comic nature will be ignored (or I'm trying to be comical; try that with a couple of dumb orcs sometime). Quite often it's better to just say, "Bob and Jane discuss it for a moment, and decide to go to the park." After all, if it doesn't involve the PCs, then it's probably not that important to act out. And the GM can still get his jollies playing in first person to the PCs. If it's uncomfortable, just narrate through. Done right, it's as, or more, effective.

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Ron Edwards

Hi there,

I do it like Mike does it.



I do the narrative thing --with a segue into speaking each part if something needs to be emphasized.  But the default is narrative.

M. J. Young

I'm with Mike; but let me offer another. Lynette R. F. Cowper (author, GURPS Rogues) uses physical quirks to identify her NPCs. One taps his fingers; one plays with his drink; another stares out the window while he talks. Some have catch phrases that identify them ("Y'know? Y'know? Y'know?"), or always look around before they say anything. By creating these visual cues regarding who is speaking, she both characterizes the characters and identifies them.

I've started to add that to my repertoire.

--M. J. Young


These days, most of my gaming is online, in environments where I can switch my "username" to indicate who's speaking.  Or can do "X says, '...'".

However, back when I was doing more face-to-face gaming, as GM, I'd usually get up from my chair to do that sort of thing, and act out both parts --  stepping to different positions and changing the direction I was facing to indicate who was whom.  I'd also do different voices for different characters (people tell me I do voices well.  :-)

Of course, whether I'd go that far depended on the importance of what was happening, and how long it'd take.  If the PCs overheard all of an extremely long conversation, I'd probably just give them the gist of it in third-person.