Ban the Man

I’m feeling more than a little mentally glazed today. Which puts me in mind of a pair of traits I’m looking to overcome in GMing role-playing games: brain farts in general and more specifically: the sudden inability for the GM — i.e., me — to be any more descriptive than “The man attacks you.”

It happens to me a fair bit, usually when a fight scene’s dragging on longer than I expected. When health conditions and attack modifiers start piling up, it takes my attention away from making the action descriptive and engaging. Furiously slashing broadswords give way to swords that do seven points of damage or miss. If my energy starts flagging mid-session, non-player characters often become “the guy” or “that woman.”

I consciously work against this most of the time. During the Labyrinth Lord game, during a melee with a clan of troglodytes, I found myself scouring memories of Labyrinth of all things for inspiration on how to inject some humor into a bunch of short little putzes taking on a party of adventurers. Two elements I used were physical comedy in how the troglodytes attacked — usually expressed by mimicking their over-enthusiastic axe-swinging and fooling with over-sized helmets; headgear of any kind can be a great physical prop for a character to fiddle with or struggle against — and voices. I decided to play these guys high and squeaky, like the goblin hordes of Labyrinth. I think I confused everyone who’s actually familiar with the source race, but it seemed to work for the moment and gave me another characteristic around which to build a lively presentation.

The other way to avoid falling back into vague, uninteresting descriptions is doing heavy lifting beforehand, creating the character to the point where one feels comfortable improvising, having a strong sense of “What would this person do?” in a given situation, which often goes back to “what does this person want?” and “how do they behave?” That’s what I did for Lurker in the Limelight; the character depth there came partly from spending time thinking and writing out ideas, but also the opportunity to run through it all in play gave me more material on which to build.

With practice and vigilance, this is something I plan to overcome. I will ban the man from my GMing vocabulary.


Off-hand, here are some fun substitutes for “the person who’s making your characters’ lives difficult” to insert in play when you can’t bring yourself to say “the man attacks you” one more time:

  • Blackguard
  • Cretin
  • Fop
  • Highwayman
  • Jackanapes
  • Mook
  • Mountebank
  • Palooka
  • Rapscallion
  • Rogue
  • Scoundrel
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2 thoughts on “Ban the Man

  1. That’s always a challenge.

    For myself I often rely on the “funny voice” and so rather than describe what is happening, I try and inject emotion into the NPC’s intent.

    It also helps to act a little manic!

    • Your voices not only help create the picture of the character, but they’re also kind of comforting in their familiarity. “Ah, here’s the Rapscallion. I know his sort. And there goes the Dowager!”

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