Days of High Adventure
How to Roleplay Engaging Conversations

CJ Miozzi | 28 May 2014 20:00
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Here's an Example

Let's put everything we've learned to use. In this scenario, the players are visiting a sage in order to acquire information about the villain. The resulting exchange could have gone as follows:

DM: "How can I help you?"

Paladin: "We're looking for information about the Demon Prince Barunor."

DM: "Ah, yes. Barunor resides within the third layer of the Nine Hells, where he presides over..." [Continues to speak, uninterrupted, for two full minutes, giving players all the information they need -- and a great deal that they don't. Within 10 minutes, the players have forgotten half of what was said.]

Paladin: "Uh, ok. We leave."

Nothing there prompted roleplaying or asked for a conversation. We can do better.

DM: You find yourselves in the sage's study, an impressive room that is half library, half museum. "Please, make yourselves comfortable." Smiling, he gestures toward the numerous sofas and armchairs scattered around the room.

Paladin: "We prefer to stand."

DM: For a moment, he remains frozen mid-gesture. "As you will." He rises from the chair behind his desk and makes for a liquor cabinet, grabbing four chalices. "A fine elven wine from the highlands?"

Paladin: "We're--"

Rogue: [Interrupting Paladin] "I'll take some!"

Paladin: [Sighs lightly] "We're here to learn about the Demon Prince Barunor."

DM: His back to you as he fills the chalices, the sage noticeably flinches at the name, spilling some wine. "Barunor, you say? I'm afraid I haven't heard of him..."

[The players exchange knowing glances.]

Paladin: "Please, there are lives at stake."

DM: Carrying two of the chalices, the sage offers them to you. "Try the wine."

Paladin: I don't take the chalice.

Rogue: I grab it and take a big gulp!

Sorcerer: I take the chalice, smell the wine, and pretend to drink.

Paladin: "We were told you know about Barunor."

DM: Chalice in hand, the sage paces around the room, stopping to run his hand lightly across the surface of a vase here, a creature's skull there... "Were you, now? And I trust, of course, that you happened upon this information from a reputable source, rather than from, say, some dullard barkeep at a seedy tavern?"

Sorcerer: [After a pause] I hurl the chalice, pin him against the wall, and press my dagger against his throat. "Tell us everything you know about Barunor."

[An Intimidate check is resolved; the player succeeds.]

DM: The chalice explodes into shards as it strikes the bookshelf, inches away from the sage's face. He jumps in fright, the chalice falling from his hand and clattering to the floor, and then you're upon him, sending the bookshelf rocking. Dust, scrolls, and tomes rain from the shelf. He stares at you, wide-eyed and quivering, "Pl-pl-please, I'll tell you everything!"

Sorcerer: "Talk." I press my dagger more firmly.

DM: He starts blubbering details about Barunor, his whereabouts, and the ritual needed to summon him. You learn that Barunor is vain, a master of deceit, and can be summoned by speaking his name while staring into a mirror soaked in calf's blood. Are there any other details you'd like me to go over?

Paladin: [After a pause] That's it for now.

DM: Okay. We can always go over more of the details later. The sage holds up his shaking hands in suppliance. "Pl-pl-please, that's all I know!"

Sorcerer: I drop him to the floor.

Rogue: "Your wine sucks." I splash the rest of it in his face and steal the chalice.

Paladin: "If you're lying to us, we'll be back." We leave.

DM: Holding onto a pedestal for support, the sage gingerly rises to his feet as you leave and accidentally knocks over a vase. You hear him whimpering as you close the door behind you.

In this scenario, we gave the sage a secret objective: to serve Barunor, and thus withhold any information about him. But the players prevailed. Rather than just serve as an encyclopedia, the sage played a part in the story, has a personality, and hopefully contributed to the fun of the session. By adding a few minutes of improvised dialog to the game, we made a boring information dump into a memorable character who could reappear in a later adventure.

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