We talked way back here about the perils of allowing roleplaying feels to bleed over into real life. So instead of rehashing the topic, what do you say we talk about the other thing going on in today’s comic? I’m referring to that fourth-wall-breaking NPC dialogue. It may not look like much, but I think it represents an underutilized GM technique.

So often we spend our time at the gaming table trying to descend into the fiction. We plug in sound cues, work on voices or accents, take pains to paint our minis, and hand carefully-stained homemade scrolls around to the other players. All of this in an effort to create the illusion of a living world. We quest for the promised fantasy of the genre, looking to immerse ourselves in an alternate reality where we can almost feel the sword hilt in our hands. Think cheesy Saturday morning announcer voices promising, “A game where you become the hero of your own adventure!” We all chase that dragon, but I’m not sure we want to catch it. At least not 100% of the time.

It is all manner of fun to experience a game world, but it’s occasionally necessary to swim out of the depths of the simulation and actually create that world. The technique I’m talking about is a simple one, and I’ve noticed it most recently on The Glass Cannon Podcast. GM Troy Lavallee will occasionally pause to ask his players, “What is your character feeling right now? What do you think is going on with the plot? How does your character’s backstory apply to this situation?” Players are forced to blink, step out of their characters for a moment, and respond like authors. They’ve got to consciously consider what a PC’s internal monologue might look like. Even more importantly, they’ve got to communicate that otherwise-invisible information to the rest of the table. They no longer get to experience. They have to stop and think.

With all the effort we put into cultivating immersion, it’s counterintuitive to think that this technique can yield positive results. You’re breaking the flow of play when you use it. But consider that a private world of motivation exists within the head of every single person at that table, GM included. If you don’t take a minute to explain your thoughts to your co-creators (dare I say co-authors?) how can you hope to appreciate one another’s points of view? None of us are psychic, and worlds don’t just create themselves. That takes collaboration. It takes talking to one another. I think it’s worth breaking a few fourth walls to make it happen.

Question of the day then. Have you ever paused the game to explain what your PC is thinking? Have you ever asked another player to do the same? Did it yield good results, or did you feel like it took you out of the moment? Let’s hear it in the comments!


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