JP On Gaming

Saturday, March 25, 2023

[Old Pro Tricks] NPC-on-NPC Dialogue

I responded to a post on Murfreesboro D&D Facebook Group earlier when another member, Stephanie-M said that she tried GMing and it wasn't for her.

What prompted this post was her comment about NPCs talking between them and have extended conversations...

So my first (and quick) response was: "Don't have complete conversations between NPCs." There is no point in having any of the details of such conversation. Yes, it showcases how you can have a chat with yourself but it rarely brings much to the story as players' eyes glaze over. Then they ask you "so what did he say that was important."

I've been guilty of this. A lot. I don't ever recall doing this for the purpose of showing off my prose skills (I still think they suck), no. Thinking back on some such discussions, I usually wanted the PCs to understand some element of the NPC's personality or motivations.

But all I succeeded was to glaze eyes over.

And burn through GM voices during weekends.

So how can a GM accomplish this without boring everyone else? Here are a few tricks and ideas I've used I believe make the encounters more dynamic.

First off, a few predicates.

- The players are the main characters of the campaign. They are to be involved in the most significant parts of the action. The focus is on them.

- Not every word spoken by the NPC deserved to be immortalized on stone tablets. Do not be attached to EVERYTHING they say. A few sentences at most...

- The intent is usually sufficient.

- Know what the scene should convey. What do you want the players to learn?

How to do it?

Instead of talking about a hypothetical, let's say you want the PCs to learn that the king's advisor is really a crooked guy. The players returned from their quest and are telling the king about the dragon they killed.

- Describe the situation, the king sits on his throne as the players describe what they saw. Every revelation, they give, the advisor whispers into the king's ear.

- PCs wanting to listen in may make checks to overhear words like "tavern," "mercenaries," or "exaggeration."

- They may try to read the King and discover that the longer the story goes, the less does he pay attention.

- The advisor only interacts with the players to highlight the most comical or fantastic part of the story.

- So there is no need for the advisor and the king to have a prolongued exchange.

- If the PCs are not there, have someone TELL them what the NPCs said and interact with THEM about the conversation.


The best trick I can give you is: Try it.

Try it. Fail. Try again. Fail better.

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