I remember that there are three types of speech. I will quote Wikipedia on this one:

Direct speech:

He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. "And just what pleasure have I found, since I came into this world?" he asked.

Reported speech:

He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. He asked himself what pleasure he had found since he came into the world.

Free indirect speech:

He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. And just what pleasure had he found, since he came into this world?

I am new GM and have trouble figuring it out. I don't know how to do this - if I speak for the NPCs (so, direct speech), it feels more immersive to me, but at the same time I have a problem - should I try to "play" the character? I feel a bit stupid then (but maybe I shouldn't) - if I shout "YARR" as the pirate, and then change my voice to some old lady who asks for help; moreover, this feels somehow wrong. Not playing with voice may introduce ambiguity.

Reported speech on the other hand feels redundant. "He something", "she something". More than that, it also feels less immersive; reported speech puts distance between character and reality, or so I feel.

Free indirect speech shares same points as Reported speech, but applies to monologues.

How should I do this?

  • \$\begingroup\$ The second sentence of d7's answer swung my vote to close.... \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Jan 5, 2016 at 19:57
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 Sometimes the problem is that an asker just thinks a subjective question has an objective answer, which is an underlying problem that can usually be solved without opinions. I find those have objective answers of the form "your assumption is flawed: it's actually just subjective, but let me teach you how to fish in this pond." I won't super-reopen it, but if I had a normal-reopen vote I'd cast it. :) \$\endgroup\$ Jan 5, 2016 at 22:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie and I think I'm sort of perseverating these days on the "what's too broad?" question.... Particularly as the last few days have seen so many of the "how do I play..." and "how do I GM..." questions that (a) seem super-broad/opinion-based and (b) often lead to some of my favorite reading on this site--experienced players' well-written thoughts on how to play! \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Jan 5, 2016 at 22:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think that I will just rephrase the question. d7 just answered the question that I am yet to ask. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 5, 2016 at 22:32
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I also think it is useful to allow answers when there is a misapprehension on the part of the asker as to the solidity or objectivity of an answer. In this case, both answers point toward general strategies for the querant to figure out his personal style. That said, re-phrasing won't hurt. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Jan 5, 2016 at 22:47

2 Answers 2


All of them work and have different effects. Just like when choosing between these modes of speech in real life or in fiction writing, there is no "right" answer—the choice is a matter of taste and art.

They do have different feels to them, and affect the game differently, as you've already noticed. Use that to your advantage!

  • When you want an interaction to seem less important and happen faster so you can move on to the next event in the game, reported speech is quite useful. (It's also a great way to have two or more NPCs interact, since it avoids the awkward situation where the GM is just talking to themself.)
  • When you want to focus the players' attention on the personality they're interacting with, direct speech is useful. It might feel awkward, but that's normal when you're learning a new activity like improvisational acting. It will feel less silly with experience.
  • Free indirect speech is more poetic sounding. I personally rarely have use for it in a game and it doesn't naturally occur to me to use it, so I don't—but that doesn't mean you couldn't choose to use it for the stylistic effects if brings, if you like it!

Again, there is no "right" about this, and the uses I mention here are only a sample of what effects you can evoke with your mode of speech. Use whatever feels appropriate at the moment, and it will do the basic job just fine. As you gain more experience and comfort in the role of GM you'll naturally learn which you prefer and which you will save for special effect. (And mostly your players won't even notice the different consciously.)


The ultimate cop-out: Do what feels most natural, takes the least effort, and gets your point across best.

Some explanation: This depends on your natural tendencies and the preferences of your players and the situation at hand. As a new GM it will take you some time to find your voice, or more accurately, your voices. Having a new group, it will take some time before you can assess what works best for them-- and when you run another game, you'll have to do it again. (But it will take less time.) And most importantly, you will be dealing with different situations through the course of a game. If you read a long novel, you may see that writers are fairly disciplined about sticking to one or a few approaches, but even the most disciplined writer will switch things up as required. (Or conversely, will force the situation to match the voice-- you have less control over that as a GM than you would as a writer.)

As an example, if we are in the middle of a major confrontation between PCs and villain, then yeah, I'm going to use direct speech, and I'm going to role-play it. For the right villain, I may even be chewing a little scenery myself.

On the other hand, I am personally allergic to haggling market-place scenes (as a player or a GM!) and when I GM, I will indulge my desire to get it over with, and I can almost never be nudged out of reported speech. Sometimes I will go even further into what I think of as "summary mode": in the same sense I might condense three days boring travel through the plains into a few scenic sentences, I might condense three hours of god-forsaken market haggling into a die roll and a few sentences of flavor text encompassing not just the NPCs but even the PCs! "You spend three hours mightily with your fence over how much he'll give you for the stolen diamonds-- at the end, you can't press him past X. Take it, or leave it?"

There is a spectrum in there, and it is an art of the GM to decide which communications need to be word for word (tricksy clues, first meetings of important people, etc), which can be reported (directions from the farmer), and which can be summarized (bargaining sessions for me, puppet-shows with multiple NPCs in general, etc.) Your players will often help you without even realizing it, by moving from mode to mode as they play based on their own preferences and instincts.

Do be aware, though, that players are not stupid, and will pick up on this in turn. If you summarize every merchant except one, they will notice.


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