Telling and retelling

Speech bubble sticky notesMy ongoing Blade & Crown campaign is in the process of integrating a new player or two. This is a game that has a pretty extensive history; as I’ve mentioned before, my campaign notes run something like a hundred single-spaced, tersely-worded pages at this point. As a result, bringing new players up to speed can take a while. Heck, even keeping the long-time players (and, *ahem*, the GM) up to speed can be a bit of a task. As a result, we’ve evolved a bunch of different ways of reminding each other what’s gone on before.

  • Various handouts and maps and whatnot. These aren’t really telling or retelling, but maybe they’re the written equivalent? And they are what many of the oral retellings are based on.
  • Recaps at the beginning of every session. I try to keep pretty detailed notes as play continues, but I feel like having the GM tell everyone what happened last time lacks something in flavor. And more importantly, it’s fun to have a specific player do it, because it often has more of a personal flair. Plus, I think this makes the other players more willing to put in their own perspective on events, which inevitably adds something that everyone else had forgotten. So at the beginning of every session, someone (or sometimes more than one person) recaps what happened last time. I always give this player an extra XP; it’s definitely an activity that contributes to the quality of play, and worthy of reward.
  • Occasional in-character recaps. Every so often, when it makes narrative sense, I’ll have an NPC ask a PC to explain an event in the group’s history. That gives everyone an excuse to retell tales, from their PCs’ perspective, which can be pretty fun. It’s interesting to hear what details they remember (again, almost always including great details I’d forgotten), and how they spin it.
  • Occasional GM-prompted out-of-character recaps. Every so often, some person or event from the past will come back into the story, and inevitably, the players and I won’t remember all the salient details. It can sometimes be useful to just ask the players, outright, “So, what do you remember about Faenwitha?” or whatever. This again helps to de-center the GM (a nice pedagogical trick — don’t always make the players listen to the GM), and jogs the players’ memory more actively.
  • Also occasional player-prompted out-of-character recaps. Pretty often, this will happen when the group is making a big decision: Do we go east, toward the marauding bandits, or do we go south, to possible direct confrontation with the Big Bad? Someone will say “Don’t forget, if we go south, I can finally pick up that armor I paid for weeks ago”, or “If we go east, remember to steer clear of that haunted lighthouse — remember what happened there?” In some ways, this is the best kind of reminder, because it’s fully player-prompted.
  • The PCs in this campaign are a group of performers & actors, so that also creates wonderful opportunities for retelling stories within the broader story. The players have occasionally put on stage plays within the game, sometimes subtly retelling events in the game, sometimes reworking classic myths, always helping immersion for themselves. (And occasionally even a play to catch the conscience of the king, which I should post about sometime.)

If this list doesn’t make it obvious, I try to avoid straight-up infodumps when I can. I tend to find the GM lecturing the players dulls play pretty quickly. From my experience as both a player and a GM, the longer a GM lecture goes on, the lower player interest goes. I guess I have a pretty strong natural aversion to GM-centricness and railroadiness, so I tend to want the players to be the focus. Ideally, the players should be the ones moving the plot forward and, when necessary, hitting rewind to remind themselves where the plot has already been. Sharing narrative power (whether in creating new stories, or sharing old ones) is a good way to keep everyone equally invested.

What kinds of retelling do you use to remind each other of what’s gone on before? How do you keep it from turning into boring lectures?

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