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I am a new DM (although I have played D&D before), and I was very excited to play with my friends, but as we started playing I realized there would be a problem.

As I would describe either rooms, or situations, as soon as I mentioned an enemy was near, two of my players would start talking to each other across the table and start talking about battle strategies, loudly enough so my other two players couldn't hear the rest of the descriptions.

All of my four players are new so I tried to explain to them that the way this game works best is if you don't talk over each other, listen to my descriptions, and talk about things after I've finished. But the problem persisted and it began to anger me and my other players.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Possibly helpful: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/2542. This is more of an interpersonal communication problem than a game system problem. Maybe a question there would be worth the time? (Maybe not, I'm just trying to be helpful). \$\endgroup\$ – phyrfox Aug 31 '17 at 4:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Now that you have a nice mix of good answers, would you like to accept one of them? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 19 '17 at 2:06
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"Excuse me. Please be quiet. I haven't finished speaking, when I have you can talk as much as you want."

This isn't a game problem, its a manners problem.

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You've tried talking to them, but that didn't help. Try to improve how you describe the scene instead. You say they talk over you when you narrate how an enemy is close by? So narrate that last...

Theangrygm has an excellent article about how to narrate your surroundings (trigger warning: theangrygm link. May contain swearing and wishfully bashing players with DMGs). I'm going to summarize the most relevant points to your problem, but you should really read the whole article if you have the time.

According to him, you should describe a scene using roughly this structure:

  1. Describe the overall scene. Think big picture, and be as vague as possible. Angry uses trope-y words like "Mausoleum", "lavish bed chamber", "spooky graveyard", which I've used and found success with, myself. The purpose of this piece of narration is to give the players an instant picture of their surrounding. You can fill in the details later.
  2. Sprinkle details. Add character to your room/cavern by picking a detail and describing it. This shouldn't be anything major, major things go in the next parts...
  3. Exits. Describe ways the characters can leave.
  4. Goals. If any, you should put it near the end.
  5. Obstacles. Lastly, place the creature/trap/gate in the narration to block the characters.

I usually like the direct approach to talk with the player, as DaleM suggests, but in my opinion, this is a better approach (then again, why not both?) because not only does it address players talking over you, it also stops players from not listening anymore because they're starting to think of solutions, which the first approach doesn't prevent.

By following this structure and ensuring the obstacles are always mentioned last, there should be no problem with players talking over you. Theangrygm puts it nicely here:

You always want to END your description with the most pressing, scariest problem in the scene. Because once you identify something really deadly and dangerous, players stop listening and start formulating plans.


Here's a few demonstrations of how I did it, conveniently available in our Backroom: [1], [2]

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For very unruly groups it can make sense to establish some speaking rules. I once DMed for a group of very "enthusiastic" kids who just couldn't stop talking over me and over each other. This did not just cause the problems mentioned in the question but also marginalized the more shy kids in the group, which I found worrisome from a social-pedagogic point of view. In the end I resorted to having them raise their hands when they wanted to say something and wait until I allowed them to speak. That made the session bearable and made sure everyone got their fair share of contribution.

If your group is too old to accept this way of running a session but not mature enough to know by themselves when it is appropriate to talk, I recommend this three step approach:

  1. Appeal to their manners. Ask them to let you finish talking, because it's impolite to interrupt people.
  2. Appeal to their character's wellbeing. Remind them that when they interrupt your descriptions, they might miss out on something critical.
  3. Demonstrate point two:

DM: As you enter the cave you see two goblin warriors...

Player: I attack!

DM: ... four goblin archers, six ogres and a red dragon. They wouldn't have seen you if you hadn't attacked them immediately. Roll for initiative.

Player: but... but... we are level 2. There is no way we can win that...

DM: See? That's what can happen when you act before I finished my description. So how about we start this scene over from the beginning and this time you wait until I am finished before you make plans?

Player: Ok.

DM: Allright. So, as you enter the cave you see two goblin warriors. They are hauling a mysterious [...]

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    \$\begingroup\$ To paraphrase Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie: "Ask a man to be quiet, and he'll be silent for a moment. Feed a man to a red dragon and he'll be silent for a lifetime." \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Jacobs Aug 28 '17 at 13:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - Justice for Monica Aug 30 '17 at 1:31
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Describe from least to most meaningful

This is a trick I learned when describing a room: Go from the most mundane to whatever the PCs will want to interact with the most last

Five heavily armed orcs stand and reach for their weapons as you enter. The floor is made of wood and the stone walls are covered with tapestries depicting King Ralph the Great who defeated the dragons 500 years ago. The large mahogany table in the center has food held in a silver dining set.

That's great but the players are rolling for initiative/ searching for spells/ readying for combat at the mention of orcs. The rest is lost.

The floor is made of wood and the stone walls are covered with tapestries depicting King Ralph the Great who defeated the dragons 500 years ago. The large mahogany table in the center has food held in a silver dining set. Five heavily armed orcs stand and reach for their weapons as you enter.

At the end of this description, the players know there is something they must act upon immediately. The next thing of import is the silver dining set (loot) and finally the flavor item (the tapestries).

I know there are many different theories, but doing this has made my description and story feel more dynamic to the players because if I have to repeat the description, I can simply remove the last sentence and it hold true. (try it)

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Power Word: Who's the GM?

I have just started a round with a player that suffers from ADHS. I know about the problem. He starts to talk into my descriptions, he talks over other players, sometimes he is hard to get into the reins. But as the GM I have established one small flat ruleset at the beginning of the campaign - some of you may know very similar rules under some term like player-GM/player/table contract. In this case I established two rules:

  1. There's only one person that may interrupt any player at any time for any given reason, and that is the GMfor the exception, see below.

  2. The only person at the table with the right to demand silence from somebody is the GM.

Those two are the main rules, they establish an imbalance in rights, but because of a necessity I learned in games: players will always try to act first or talk over each other or chat two things at the table while the game runs. Rule 1 is mainly meant as a means so any of the players may send a glare to the fellow member that breaks the usually unspoken communual contract of gaming: players take turns. Rule 2 is meant as a last resort, as a means for me as the GM to try to run a game. It's actually the first time that I had to state those rules so blatantly, but until now it has worked just fine.

What about squick?!

We have all had situations where the player of the barbarian pulled out notes to describe in every detail how his axe cuts through the enemy and how he splatters 20 gallons (~80 liters) of blood onto the landscape. Or the Rogue starts to grin and describe where he stabs the caught victim to induce them to spill the information with torture. Or the Ranger speaks about the 1001 uses of a leather strap besides hunting. Or the Bard seduces the dragon, the werewolf and whatever finds his fancy...

I think you get the idea: there are simply things that not everyone wants to have in the game, as such stuff might be too touchy or squicky for their liking.

That is why I give any present person the right to throw in a safeword when things become too touchy for them. Well, it is less a safeword but a gesture: the good old T to call for a Timeout.

Addendum: Table Contracts expanded

Other rules that I found in some table-contracts - even if unspoken - are:

Only one Player shall speak at any time at once.

If you have an urgent thing to say, raise the arm to signify so and you shall be heard as soon as posible.

Picking up the speaking stone signifies that you are to be the next to talk, and that the current player shall finish talking quickly.

Keep off topic to a minimum.

No Rules Lawyering.

It might be worth to look at What is a social contract? too.

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Somewhat of a mean approach, and it's definitely situation dependent, but if other solutions aren't working, you can do what my GM has done in the past. Any conversation that is happening that either talks over the GM or is taking too long, the GM will claim is now happening in-game, and thus others in the room/area are aware of it, and time progresses.

Example:

GM: "You open the door to a room, it's got a handful of tables with some enemy soldiers sitting and talking, they haven't noticed you yet and appear to be unarmed. Along the wall--"

Players: "I think we should sneak behind them and avoid combat." "No, they look weak and they don't have weapons, we should take them out now so we don't have to deal with them later" (and so on)

GM: "Your heated debate has attracted their attention and they now know you're here. Additionally, you were so caught up in your debate you failed to notice the rack of weapons along the wall, the soldiers have all grabbed one and are advancing on you."

While you'll probably get some complaints, in my experience this has taught players rather rapidly to listen to the whole description from the GM and preface any discussions with something like "We back out of the room and discuss strategy"

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As always, first call the two of them (again) and explain that this is being disruptive to the game. If they really want to talk off-game I'd suggest giving them some freedom at first and maybe let them adapt slowly to 0 off-game chat.

How deadly are your encounters? They are probably very attached to their characters and are scared to lose them if they only do that before an encounter.

If this doesn't help, give them no chance to talk off-game, have them surprised by a creature or a group of enemies that will attack them before you even narrate they are there. There's no time to talk when there's alredy an arrow in your chest.

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Whenever players do something I don't like, I usually punish them in-game. Demanding silence might not get you anywhere and in the end everyone is angry. That's no good.

Listening to your description is comparable to looking around in the room. If they only listen long enough to hear about the two tiny goblins in the room, they might not notice the nest of giant spiders overhead, that they might have noticed, had they listened for longer. So in that scene, when they engage the goblins, let some giant spiders drop from the ceiling and attack them. Then tell them, that they were actually clearly visible, but they did not listen long enough to notice them.

The same goes for other unruly behaviour. If someone behaves like a lunatic, people won't give them quests but might call the city guards instead. Just show them in-game that their actions matter.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Why the downvotes? And why so all of a sudden? \$\endgroup\$ – Dakkaron Oct 19 '17 at 15:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ The question was bumped by a revision I made. I can't speak for other voters but I downvoted this because it's proposing an in-game passive-aggressive solution to an out-of-game problem, which I don't support doing. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 19 '17 at 19:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thats not a passive aggressive solution, but one that is meant to show the players why it is important to listen. The OP already tried to tell the players that the game works best if they listen to him. So what do the players gain from listening to the GM? First, they don't make their GM angry and second, they gain information. I wouldn't necessarily invent stuff at the moment when they talk over me, but I would definitely keep important information for the end of my description, so they miss out if they don't listen for long enough. \$\endgroup\$ – Dakkaron Oct 21 '17 at 8:10

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