An Anecdoche is a conversation where everyone is talking, but no one is listening. If you’re like me you have been unfortunate enough to have experienced at least one of these, if not several in your lifetime. In contrast, a tabletop role-playing game is much different. In fact, I believe a hallmark of a good RPG session is that the players listen to one another intently.
An RPG session is a collaborative experience. It’s pretty hard to collaborate when you’re not paying attention to one another isn’t it? It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking so much about what you were going to say or do on “your turn”, what your plans are, what you think might be cool, or what ability might be the best suited for accomplishing your immediate goal, that you forget to listen to the other participants at the table. To a certain extent this is unavoidable. Intention precedes action. I recall talking to my friend Sameoldji some time ago and he mentioned that he wanted to play with no prior intention at all, completely spontaneous, no preplanning of what he was going to do. I retarded that there was always a interval of time between intention and action. Once you think of what you’re going to do or say you have already planned it even if that is only for a fraction of a second. He gave me the “mind blown” look and laughed. It was a fun conversation.
Despite this normal preoccupation with our own great ideas, because we are good role players we listen to one another and this is part of where the magic happens. This goes far beyond “where are we again?” that the kids in my library game often have trouble with, and making plans out of character. Depending upon our responsibility, we describe our intentions, what we are doing, what the nonplayer characters are doing, what the scenario is. What things look like. Sounds, smells, and other sensory input. Everyone else listens. Depending upon the procedures of the game, we describe and interpret the results of the rolls of the dice. The dice speak, and we listen to what they tell us. We pay attention, and we can see and hear the emotions of the other characters and nonplayer characters. We can picture the environment, sometimes in minute detail.
When we listen closely we know what is happening and what it is like to be there. What it is like to be that character, and then, we respond. Then the next person responds to the new state, and so on and so forth. The game world and the play state are vibrant, dynamic and alive. Our intentions and plans and impressions change moment by moment as we watch and listen to what is happening. Too many cooks may spoil the pot, but they create life itself in an RPG. They just need to listen to one another.