Words written on parchment describing the scene of a ruin

As a writer, I often draw parallels between Writing and GMing. And while there are limitations to that, there are also some instances where the writing skills directly translate to your games. One of the main instances of this is narrations.

So, one of the main ways to improve your narration is to plan them. I’ve noticed a lot of GMs, myself included when starting out, don’t plan them at all. You might have notes for the session to guide your progress, but the exact words that come out of your mouth are made up on the fly. While this does work, you’ll often tend to find yourself describing things in a fairly uniform manner based on whatever your brain decides to fall back on. By preparing a written narration ahead of time, you get the luxury of choosing your words carefully to convey the exact feeling you wish.

A lot of GMs don’t prepare narration because they’re afraid of not using it due to the players skirting around it. This is a fair worry. But this is why you should choose consciously to prepare things that the players will likely encounter, and to prepare them in such a way that the narrations will be as close to permanent as possible so that you can reuse them later if the PCs ever happen to get back to a point where it becomes relevant again. The best things to describe are locations, since they’ll likely remain unchanged. You can use your narration to set the scene. You can also describe the appearance items or NPCs, since these won’t change either unless something serious happens.

Avoid prepared speeches. Narrations are reserved for descriptions about the world, not descriptions in the world. If you find yourself preparing a monologue for an NPC, it’s probably a good time to stop writing. The PCs are going to change your game world. The things the NPC says might not be 100% relevant in light of PC actions. If your villain is monologuing about how weak the PCs are, and they absolutely steamrolled his minions, that’s going to feel disingenuous, especially if the NPC themselves doesn’t have the power to back that claim up, or the arrogance to make it falsely. Plus, the PCs might choose to interrupt such a speech by attacking prematurely, or leaving the area, or doing any number of things. They can avoid hearing the speech. They can’t avoid the scene being set though.

Lastly, sync up your narration with appropriate accompaniments. Maybe choose which music track you want to play ahead of time while you speak it, or have that battle map ready and put aside for just the moment when you describe the dragon’s swooping entrance. Having your props and accessories ready for these dramatic moments makes the impact all the more forceful. You can really impress your players when you do stuff like this. A little bit of planning really does go a long way.

How do you handle narration in your games?

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