Fundamentally all table top games are about interacting with other people. It doesn’t matter if you are playing Monopoly, Magic The Gathering or Dungeons and Dragons. Being able to understand what other people at the table are thinking is an invaluable skill in any game but can be especially useful in Dungeons and Dragons where player interaction has far fewer restrictions than most other games.
If you are running the game, being able to pull of a lie at a table full of savvy players can be really difficult but at the same time very important in order to maintain suspense. When you know all the secrets it can be difficult to keep them hidden until just the right moment (or to encourage the players in just the right way to find them).
Here are some basics to keeping abreast of what is really going on at the table.
First, watch for moods. If you have been playing with the same group for a while, then you will know that when Eddy is in a grumpy mood he will be thinking about smashing face a lot more than usual. When Cindy is happy she gets creative and devious and may try to mess with the other players. A general rule of thumb is that happier people do more while those who are feeling glum will do less.
Keep an eye on the time and the amount of caffeine consumed. As players get tired their style of play generally changes. If you have just found what you think is going to be a very tough fight but all of your party members are out of Mountain Dew and half asleep you may want to consider suggesting they tackle it another time. A tactical error because someone is too tired to hold up their dice may not be a good idea, unless of course you are looking to sabotage the party, in which case this would be a good time to make your move.
Pay attention to sudden changes in behavior as well. A player who is whispering to the guy next to him is up to something, but so is the guy who suddenly starts dancing on the tavern tables. This could be a signal of a surprise attack or just that the player is bored. Either way keep your eyes open and adjust your plans accordingly.
Learning to pass off a lie is extremely difficult, but perhaps the best tool is distraction. Whether you are playing a devious NPC or just trying to keep a portion of the loot for yourself, getting the players to focus on something else is a good start. Using out of game stuff like food, drink, their dice or what happened last week can all be useful. Most of us can’t think about more than a few things at once and when we’re tired focusing on one thing can be a challenge.
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