One of the things I tend to struggle with when GMing is setting the tone of the setting. Too often I feel like I let the background gets lost amongst the immediate issue, especially as a game progresses past the opening scenes. It’s easy to be descriptive during that initial setup but once the game progresses I have a tendency to describe only what is directly relevant and in the face of the players.
Part of this comes down to not wanting to hog the limelight, characters can’t shine if their GM never shuts up. I’m sure we’ve all had to sit there and endure the GM monologue that just won’t end. Sure the world may be fully fleshed and evocative but its lost if everybody else has zoned out.
One of the writers I’ve always admired for being able to set the right tone is Philip K. Dick. Even though I’ve only read a fraction of his total work I’ve always come away with a deep impression about the world. Even his short stories are infused with a depth many full length novels lack. The same can be said of some of the adaptions of his work, such as Electric Dreams, the new anthology series on Channel 4 (in the UK). The Hoodmaker is the first episode of ten and while the story may be on the predictable side the background to the world is just teeming with details, undercurrents and depth. In 45 minutes it creates a world I can believe in, that I want to explore and dissect. It screams tone and tension without the promise of explanation.
It’s a feeling that I wish I could emulate at the table so if you’ll excuse me I’m off to dig out my Voight-Kampff machine and empathy box.