NPC Dialogue: Verbatim or just the gist?

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I was running a solo game for my brother the other day, and it dawned on me that I was saying exactly what the NPCs were saying. He seemed to like it just fine, but I wanted to get your opinions on how to convey an NPC's message. What do your players like?
I would say it depends mostly on the playstyle of the campaign which should be determined completely by the preference of the players. So if your player(s) like it then you're doing quite well. 
I would say it depends mostly on the playstyle of the campaign which should be determined completely by the preference of the players. So if your player(s) like it then you're doing quite well. 



This.  Both techniques have their pros and cons, as well as the simple subjectivity of liking one or the other.  Neither is inherently better or worse, just different.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
I sort of assumed as much. Thanks for the quick responses! I guess it can also be situational, such as during combat vs. during a conversation with an important NPC.
I like doing voices, but I'm not that much for long exposition or argument, and I dislike playing a character that is trying to conceal something. So, I tend to speak rather neutral sentences in character and go into third person if I'm trying to convey information to the characters, or otherwise get something across about the NPC.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

My experience is that if you do all conversations in character, they will generally take a lot longer since most NPCs need to be told about the context of the situation. You know what's going on, but if the NPC doesn't this can take a lot of time. Also, repeating your question over and over can get pretty boring pretty quickly. 

In a single player game it isn't that bad, but when dealing with 3-5 other players who are waiting for something to happen you'll be looking at a lot of bored faces while the party leader keeps hogging the spotlights.
Sounds like your table is running just fine. In my experience the style of delivery is much less important than avoiding the standard narrative pitfalls like exposition dump (the infamous "As you know..." conversations). So long as your NPCs have dynamic goals that involve the interests of the players I think you'll be ok.
It's fine to switch between "he says this to you *insert information*" and talking in character directly to the PCs.

Sometimes, it just comes down to what's right for the moment. If you need to convey quickly or if you have a heavy investment in RPing at the moment. I like speaking direct dialog from the NPC when they're important/recurring. Otherwise, it's "this, that, and the other" 
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
I tend to switch around between the two methods, sometimes even within a single conversation. It all depends on what I want to achieve and what the mood is of the people sitting at the table.
My experience is that if you do all conversations in character, they will generally take a lot longer since most NPCs need to be told about the context of the situation. You know what's going on, but if the NPC doesn't this can take a lot of time. Also, repeating your question over and over can get pretty boring pretty quickly. 

In a single player game it isn't that bad, but when dealing with 3-5 other players who are waiting for something to happen you'll be looking at a lot of bored faces while the party leader keeps hogging the spotlights.

Yep. Mix it up as best fits the situation.

If the players pass a common farmer in the field and the farmer asks about "news from the big city", I don't begrudge them if one of the players says "I tell him about the joust we won and ask him if he saw the guy we're looking for go this way."

Or, if two players are being questioned one at a time and being asked the same question... I'll go into some detail about how he words the questions as the first player is being asked, but I'll simply say to the second player "He asks you the same thing" and then paraphrase.

Use whichever suits best to speed things up or to detail important points.
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
I usually switch to the gist for all but special conversations.  I mean which do you want to sit through?

"Oh my honored customers, I have this amazing collection of new carpets in that have just the most incredible knotwork..."


"The shopkeeper tells you about the new wares coming in from the south, like carpets - he seems particularly impressed with the knotwork, which displays talent that local tradesmen don't have.  He also has fine selection of the best luxuries, which he offers to you most generously, assuring you that they are special and not offered to just anyone."  

I mean seriously, this is one of the ways that trips into town can end up taking 1-2 sessions and accomplish nothing.  Just have long, pointless dialogues.  Books don't.  Movies cut away.  Don't put them into your campaign.  Remember, you can always "slow down to realtime" if its needed. 
I tend to switch around between the two methods, sometimes even within a single conversation. It all depends on what I want to achieve and what the mood is of the people sitting at the table.



I also do this. Speaking in character does wonders to set the tone of the scene and of the NPC, maybe for an important line, or shorter dialogue. But doing another characters voice and mannerisms sometimes feels taxing and distracting for me, I don't want to do it all the time. It can also be annoying to the players to hear you do long expositions in a weird, forced voice, unless you are a master impersonator!

Even in a professionally dubbed PC game such as Skyrim I find myself skipping through less meaningful voice dialogue once I read the subtitles, to get faster to the important stuff.

So I go something like "The oracle scratches his white beard and says, [change voice] 'you must always remember the ancient prophecy', [back to normal voice] then he goes on to tell you how it's dangerous to go alone and there's a magic sword whose wielder would... ", etc.
I usually switch to the gist for all but special conversations.  I mean which do you want to sit through?

"Oh my honored customers, I have this amazing collection of new carpets in that have just the most incredible knotwork..."


"The shopkeeper tells you about the new wares coming in from the south, like carpets - he seems particularly impressed with the knotwork, which displays talent that local tradesmen don't have.  He also has fine selection of the best luxuries, which he offers to you most generously, assuring you that they are special and not offered to just anyone."  

I mean seriously, this is one of the ways that trips into town can end up taking 1-2 sessions and accomplish nothing.  Just have long, pointless dialogues.  Books don't.  Movies cut away.  Don't put them into your campaign.  Remember, you can always "slow down to realtime" if its needed. 



I would enjoy that.

But I'm pretty sure most of you have written me off as crazy. 
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
I would enjoy that.

But I'm pretty sure most of you have written me off as crazy. 


Once or twice?  Perhaps.  

But when the players are going through the marketplace looking for evidence on who is smuggling in magic contraband for the local Orcus cult?  

Gets old.  Gets real old.

There's a place and a time.
 
Unless the character is written with a very memorable role / motivation / quirk, I try to sum up (and when it comes to standard purchases I just do a bench-audit post-session to save time). Unless you are a professional voice actor all those roles can be pretty energy-intensive to maintain.
I'm bad at voice, but good at tics and inflection.  When the PCs first meet an NPC who may be important, I'll try to start off talking as the NPC.  Then I switch between long bits of exposition out of character and saying in-character things that may have relevance.  
I usually switch to the gist for all but special conversations.

As a DM: usually try to start out most conversions in-person, then move to summarizing at the soonest opportunity that seems right.

As a player, I often immediately try to try to skip to summarizing.

I would enjoy that.

But I'm pretty sure most of you have written me off as crazy. 


Once or twice?  Perhaps.  

But when the players are going through the marketplace looking for evidence on who is smuggling in magic contraband for the local Orcus cult?  

Gets old.  Gets real old.

There's a place and a time.
 



...if only you knew how many times I've sat and listened to the same dialog results in games like Fallout, then you might understand when I say, "I'd enjoy that" would you understand it doesn't get old for me.
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
Okay, well, I admit I do have one person like you in my group.

But I DM for 4 other people besides, and I know for a fact at least 3 of them would hate it.

And thus we summarize very frequently. 
I generally do stuff "in character" when I am speaking to the players. Occasionally I sum up if that part of the conversation is mostly expository but otherwise I do what I can to speak as the NPC.

I find it also gives the players more opportunity to give their characters a "voice".

Hey, Lunar, I think you'd like my table quite a bit.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

Similar to GreyICE I use both approaches.  Relegating unimportant situations and insignificant npcs to merely description.  Important npcs will often but not all of the time warrant a back and fort conversation.  Mostly it just depends on its level of importance to the game
If the NPC is important enough to have a special voice, and not just some passing merchant, I'll do both.   I'll say a few sentences in the NPC's voice, mostly to help convey character not information.   If the NPC has a lot ot say, I'll sum up the gist of it after those few sentences.    Same with further conversation; if it's a sentence or two then in voice, otherwise the summation.

My games always have some characters with voices.   Usually by week 10 or 15 of a campaign, there's about 25 of them, and I have to be careful to make notes on what they sound like.
Much like most of the people who have replied to this thread, I tend to alternate between actual conversation and third-person quick summation depending upon the situation and the importance of the NPC.  If the conversation has a point, be it a clue or simply involving an important NPC who will have a greater role to play in events to come, then the NPC is more likely to have an actual voice and personality.  If it's just a quick stop in the marketplace to grab a few things, or they don't have any useful information, then the conversation will be quick, to the point, and might not be more than "the NPC says X in regards to what you're asking after."  I learned very early on that while acting these scenes out is fun some of the time, it's not always a good idea to do so every single time.  It can, depending on which direction the conversation flows, simply devolve into a time-sink if the players don't catch on quickly that it's not an important interaction.

I've also found that it's something that depends very much upon the game system I'm running.  If I'm DMing or playing D&D, I'm more likely to want to keep the pace up and the events moving, because it feels very easy to bog down the game in mundane things if you treat every conversation with the same level of importance and roleplay.  By contrast, I might have far fewer NPCs in a game of Shadowrun, Legend of the Five Rings, or most White Wolf games, so there might be far more vital interaction, and thus more development of the NPCs' personalities and mannerisms.  Most particularly, I put a lot of work into making NPC contacts in Shadowrun (a vital PC resource, just as much as weapons and the like), because they're a character interaction that will be constant throughout the game.  These are NPCs that the players will be going back to repeatedly, and thus should be both consistent in their characterization and in their voice.  If I have similarly important, oft-seen NPCs in D&D, they likewise get strong development and characterization.

I've also found that it's something that depends very much upon the game system I'm running.  If I'm DMing or playing D&D, I'm more likely to want to keep the pace up and the events moving, because it feels very easy to bog down the game in mundane things if you treat every conversation with the same level of importance and roleplay.  By contrast, I might have far fewer NPCs in a game of Shadowrun, Legend of the Five Rings, or most White Wolf games, so there might be far more vital interaction, and thus more development of the NPCs' personalities and mannerisms.  Most particularly, I put a lot of work into making NPC contacts in Shadowrun (a vital PC resource, just as much as weapons and the like), because they're a character interaction that will be constant throughout the game.  These are NPCs that the players will be going back to repeatedly, and thus should be both consistent in their characterization and in their voice.  If I have similarly important, oft-seen NPCs in D&D, they likewise get strong development and characterization.



I will definitely second that. While running Mutants & Masterminds I don't think I ever summed stuff up because of how vital character interaction was with the whole focus on superheroics and such. It also gave me A LOT of practice at portraying and staying "in voice" for different NPCs.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.

Looking at it from a writer's perspective, this boils down to exposition vs. dialog. I come down on the side of those who mix it up. Some conversations are worth exploring. Some are "small talk," and don't really need to occur in all their mundanity.

That being said, I can also appreciate that gaming is collaborative in nature. By the DM guiding things by only "opening' certain conversations, he may be prematurely shutting down interesting possibilities for improvisation that come when people get together and run with something. 
For me it depends on the situation. An important meeting with a king is much more likely to get specific dialogue than bartering for a room at an inn.

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"Can't say enough how much I agree with Krusk"        "Wow, thank you very much"

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