Mar 5, 2019

Summarising Key Elements

One of the skills I have that makes me a good referee is a particular style in my games whereby I summarise and restate the most salient and relevant aspects of a problem or situation immediately before asking players to figure out a solution, and then I do this again several times throughout the problem-solving process that they engage in.

It's not particularly difficult or challenging or insightful to do so - as the referee I can reference, remember, generate, and / or adjudicate which elements or aspects of the problem are the ones that must be overcome in order for a solution to be acceptable. But it's also surprisingly uncommon for referees to do this. I don't think there's any good reason not to, so I assume it's mainly due to referees either forgetting about doing this or never having learnt this for some reason. Therefore, this post is a simple exhortation to remember to do this.

There are three additional techniques of restatement that I think can improve one's practice of doing this even if one already is. The first is simply to pair proposed solutions with the aspect of the problem they purport to resolve during the restatement. This demonstrates progression and prevents constant relitigation of things which the players have already developed a successful solution for. It also highlights when a purported solution is inadequate to the task.

I often grade these slightly, mentioning whether a proposed solution completely trivialises the aspect such that no roll or expenditure is required, or if it merely allows a roll or expenditure that would otherwise be impossible, or if it represents an opportunity for an ordinary roll or resource use.

The second is to prefer to present the aspects in a flat and clear way. Sometimes referees want to keep some aspects of the problem hidden until the player characters are part-way through the task. This can be done, but it has to be done accepting that it will cause the player characters to pause and deliberate mid-task, and it must be done in a way where there is one cannot simply stop the solution, return to the initial state, and then start over from scratch. If the latter is possible, then the referee has simply wasted everyone's time through their lack of foresight.

By contrast, presenting all obvious and even some inobvious elements of the problem during the initial framing of the problem, and then including them in restatements and summaries of the problem allows the players to accommodate them meaningfully in their planning. It also encourages avoiding wasting time where the players ask questions the referee knows are meaningless and irrelevant. These aren't always bad, but en masse across the course of a session, they represent lots of wasted time, indecision, and inaction.

The basis of the game is making decisions, and while being tricked and fooled can be interesting for players, a referee should employ them sparingly in ways that emphasise the quality of surprise instead of merely keeping them as a tedious valence of ordinary moments of play.

The third technique is to use the question answer-question pattern with summaries and restatements. Once again, this helps deliberation progress, by providing a way of refocusing consideration on remaining elements of the problem. Using questions like "What information do you need to make the decision here?" helps avoid players getting bogged down in irrelevant side-issues.

Anyhow, if you already do all of this regularly, know that as a player I appreciate it greatly when referees do it, and if you don't, I would suggest experimenting with these techniques and adopting them if you find them successful.

1 comment:

  1. Good call! An impartial DM is neither for nor against the players, and doesn’t stand in the way any more than helping.