Table Chatter

I’ve run Burning Empires six times in the past few months, all with groups who weren’t involved with the playtesting and who are not a part of my extended circle.

I noticed an odd phenomenon, there’s very little table chatter in these groups. This is something that should be in the book as a rule, but isn’t. This I most heartily regret.

What I see happening is once the scene framing mechanics get laid out for the players, most of them clam up and wait their turn. There’s no inter-player banter and few asides or reactions as characters.

When we built the scene framing mechanics, this was not the case. The scene framing was designed to give structure to the table chatter and focus it into a story.

But I have a gut suspicion that since I was not explicit about table chatter, the idea that you have to “wait your turn” is going to prevail.

Well, this isn’t how you’re supposed to play Burning Empires. Comments, asides, proclamations, hisses, boos and, most importantly, suggestions and strategizing[/i] are welcome and necessary. Table chatter in Burning Empires keeps the game moving, keeps everyone involved. It’s not a distraction, it’s an asset!

So as you play through the scenes, talk to the other players. Explicitly offer helping dice. Explain why your character wants to help. Suggest FoRKs appropriate to rolls being made in the building scenes. Offer to make linked tests that will dovetail with other building scenes. Solicit help from other players. Bring them into your scenes and let them roleplay that help. Talk about how you’re going to kick the Vaylen scums’ collective ass. Talk about what’s going on with the Infection maneuver, in the big picture.

Talk, damn you, talk!

It’s the only way to play!

That’s actually a gripe I’ve had about games I’ve played with other GMs… they don’t allow table chatter. No strategizing, no confering, nothing. Because ‘our characters wouldn’t know what we know’. Well, yes, but we don’t know what our CHARACTERS would know either, and it’s nice to be able to play a military genious even if you really aren’t one IRL.

Thank you for explicitly allowing tabletalk. Thank you.

In the Iron Heroes game I’m playing in now there was a brilliant example of how table talk can help.

We knew a new NPC had wicked powerful mind influencing power. The characters didn’t. One of the PCs went to ask her something, she demanded that he go away using the mind influencing powers, and he had to obey like her bitch. The player decided that his character mistook this for true and absolute love.

Pure hilarity. You don’t get that with “If you say it, your character says it.”

A clarification question…

I assume you mean “[partially in character, partially out of character] talk!”

Which I see as somewhat like the writing style of the books… there are four voices… Author, and the three npcs.

The balance will probably be different during play… perhaps half IC chatter (booing, hissing, bemoaning how f-ed we are in the infection stage and how hard we’re going to kick the worm butts in the Invasion stage) and half OOC chatter (suggestions on tactics/naration/color which one’s character would never come up with)

Both IC and OOC (but play-related) talking are hereby mandated.

If this isn’t your intent, please correct me.

You got it, Dirk.


Interesting, I would agree for the most part especially when comparing it to something like PTA. However, I think this may also be a hidden positive.

Let me explain. A very common issue people have with games like PTA and With Great Power where story authority is shared is the amount of metagame banter needed to coordinate the scene. This banter also interrupts play and can reduce the immersion of the RPGing. In games like PTA, you often set up a scene, start to play through it and then stop to discuss the conflict and then proceed with RPGing again. A lot of people find this style hurts the immersion of play.

In comparison, BE has more specific moments to deal with this kind of banter at times outside of the RPGing. I find that players tend to organise and coordinate things in the maneuver stage to the point where they need very little input into another’s scene once we start to play. This means by the time the scenes are being introduce the need for such banter is lessened but so is the interruption. When we play, we still have such banter in the scenes but it is sometimes not even noticed as much of it has already been done at times where such is less disruptive.

Overall, I like BE’s balance. Players tend to be much clearer as to what scenes they want to the point of often not needing to be too specific as to what the intent is or the conflict (which I find PTA struggles with). BE’s structure is such that by the time you get to the scene, a player has all they need to just RPG the situation out. So BE balances immersion with story authority. This is a positive thing IMO.

A more coherent discussion by me can be found here: