This is a mistake I see even experienced Game Masters make all too often, and it is one of my biggest pet peeves. You know those little boxes you find in published scenarios that are filled with description text or narration for the Game Master to read to the players? DON’T READ IT!
I don’t mean not to read it to yourself, so that you know what it says, I mean do not read it to the players. Under no circumstances should you ever read boxed text to the players. This is one of the worst thing you could possibly do. Let me explain why. Set aside the fact that it is a clear indication to the players that you are unfamiliar with the material; As soon as your eyes drop down to that page and your voice changes to that “narration” style tone, you have lost the players’ attention. And I do mean right now. Nothing will lull a player into a glassy-eyed daze faster than the GM reading boxed text. Within seconds, they stop listening to you, they stop paying attention to the game, they are already thinking about looking up the movie schedule on their cell phone. You have little to no chance that they will even hear, let alone absorb, the information you are reading to them, so why bother. You may as well just skip that box and move on as if you had read it. Actually you are better off to just skip it. Even tough they will miss the information in the box, at least they won’t unplug from the game.
Of course, I’m not actually advocating that you skip the box, or its contents, but for gods’ sakes don’t read it to them. Paraphrase. Tell them what it says, but don’t read from the page. You should keep eye contact with the players, and deliver the information with an engaging conversational tone of voice.
I loath seeing published scenarios that over use this feature. The more boxes they print, the more tempting it is for the GM to read them aloud to the players. Try to think of those boxes as highlighting the description of the scene for you to relate to the players, making it easier for you to find on the page. Try not to think of them as a script for you to read.
OK, so now let me offer some alternatives. As I just said, start by paraphrasing the boxed text. Use your own words. Stay engages with the players. A quick glance down at the page every few seconds to keep on point should be alright, just don’t let yourself start reading from the page. If it is a pre-published scenario, try highlighting the salient points that need to be included, so you don’t miss anything while paraphrasing. You can also highlight things that must be stated verbatim. If you are writing your own scenario, avoid making those text boxes altogether. Try using bullet points instead of boxed text to help you make sure all the relevant information is disseminated to your players.
Pre-published scenarios include a lot of boxed “flavor text” in order to paint a mood for that particular scene or encounter. Maybe they are trying to convey that mood to the GM so he can in turn impart it to the players, or maybe they are including it because they don’t trust that the GM is capable of evoking the correct mood with his own words. If it’s there, and it fits well with the game, use it as a guide to help you with your own delivery. You can use it to help you paint a similar mood for your players, but you don’t have to read it aloud to your players to do that. If you are writing the scenario for yourself, you don’t need to feed yourself flavor text to convey mood. You already know what the mood for the scene should be, so why include it in boxed text?
I really can’t over stress how important this simple rule is to the enjoyment of your players and your success as a Game Master. Loosing the attention of the players is the single most common problem I have come across with bad Game Masters, and reading boxed text aloud to the players is the fastest most sure fire way of losing their attention. So, even if you do nothing else to improve your Game Mastering skills, please remember this one rule…
NO BOXED TEXT !