I’m kind of bad at it.
I don’t mean thinking out loud, I do that way more than I should and do it just fine. I mean when PCs are in a room with more than one NPC at once, I have difficulty carrying on a conversation on my own.
To some extent, this is a good thing, or at least not a bad one. No matter how good of a performance you can put on, your players likely didn’t show up to see your one man show, and so conversations should include plenty of breaks for the PCs to get their say in and even steer the conversation in a new direction.
That said, I feel like it is a skill I need to work on. When the NPCs are in general agreement and mostly have shared information, you can get away with just one NPC taking the lead and addressing the PCs while the rest fade into the background. But when the NPCs are in DISAGREEMENT (which coincidentally can be a good way to present multiple options to the players, which they can run with or use as a jumping off point), or each have limited information that needs to be shared, or you just want to show these NPCs relationships with each other, or the tone of the gathering, can all be good reasons to speak a FEW lines on your own before giving it back to the player characters.
As it is, my current issues seems to be, that it feels wrong and awkward to do, and I feel like it is also hard for the players to tell the NPCs apart. It’s much easier to just switch into summery mode, (for example, just saying “Duke Vern advocates for the King to raise an army and meet the Lizard men in combat, while Commander Migel instead argues that they should try and make peace”). Doing this does the job okay, and in fact, I will probably always keep it as a fallback if what I am trying isn’t working, but, ultimately, switching to that higher level mode for what we hope should be a roleplay heavy scene is kind of getting away from the point.
The issue of telling NPCs apart is a tricky one, particularly because I often play online, often voice only, sometimes on a spotty connection. In person, you can just place one person to the left, and one person to the right in the mental space, and just turn your body based on who is talking. This is on top of all the other body language you can use over a visual connection (such as one smoking a pipe, one tapping their chin, one checking themselves out in a mirror constantly, whatever). Since all I have is audio, I might need to try stronger voices. Voices are not something I’ve really put special effort into, but perhaps I should focus on that more. Ideally, in a given scene (if not the whole game), if the players can hear enough to understand me, they should be able to differentiate who’s talking without me interjecting “And then Migel responds with…” after the first few times.
The awkwardness of it I think is from a variety of sources, the first I think is that I can tell when it isn’t working, and I think the issue of telling the NPCs apart is a big part of that. In addition, I think I worry about saying too much. As I mentioned above, I think there are valid reasons to have NPCs talk to and respond to each other, but finding that right balance is not something I’ve really figured out just yet. This relates to the final issue of I just haven’t done it very much, so it naturally feels a bit weird as with anything new. I think just practicing it and doing it a bit more often will help with both of those issues.
Hopefully sometime in the future, I’ll have figured this out and have useful advice for you all, in the meantime, anyone who HAS mastered this skill, any advice would be much appreciated!
Current PaDC score: 24/31