Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Re-thinking the caller

I don't know about you, but even though I learned D&D via the old Moldvay Basic rules, I never, ever used the Caller Rule.  According to Moldvay:
One player should be chosen to tell the DM about the plans and actions of the party.  This player is the caller.  The players may tell the DM what their characters are doing, but the game runs more smoothly when the caller relays the information.  The caller should be sure to check with each member of the party before announcing any actions (such as "We'll turn right" or "The thief will check for traps").  The caller is usually a character with a high Charisma score, and shoul be near the front of the party, where the character would be able to see what the DM describes.
Back in the day, this struck me as raising a superfluous barrier between DM and players, and then positing a mechanism to work around it, adding a needless intermediate step to the proceedings, something like the old sitcom trope of having two people who are ostensibly on non-speaking terms relay their words to each other through a third, despite the fact that they're standing within arm's reach of each other.  

Now, bighara over at Echoes from the Geekcave had been posting some thoughts on several aspects of the old Moldvay set, and one of them brought the long-forgotten Caller Rule back to my mind, and suddenly something just clicked.  This rule could potentially solve a long-standing problem in my games. 

Specifically, I've always been terrible at time management.  The concept of marking off turns on a time sheet isn't difficult to grasp; it's when to mark off a turn that posed the quandary.  When my players say, "I listen at the door," and "I want to search for traps," and "I want to climb up and look at that ledge," each expects a resolution right now, and by the time I finish one, someone else has thought of something he or she wants to do, sometimes something that really should have taken place before the last action.  It's never quite clear which activities are happening simultaneously, and which in sequence, and thus also unclear when one turn should end and the next begin.  A related issue was if and when I should hold a player to something blurted out on the spur of the moment or let it slide as merely "thinking out loud."

Using a caller in the game would really help clear up that muddled mess.  The players have a chance to hash out their characters' actions in a non-binding conversation amongst themselves.  Then the caller relays their actions to me in a nice, neat, concise, and legally binding package.  I know exactly what each character is doing and when, and that they are, in fact, actually doing so.  I can choose the order in which to resolve their actions that makes the most sense to me.  When it's all done, I check off a turn, and ask the players, "What now?" and the cycle repeats.

Having the caller isn't so much an artificial barrier between players and DM as a valve to regulate the flow of information.  I'll still be interacting one-on-one with each player to resolve the actions they take as declared by the caller.  They can still ask questions of me during their inter-party conversation phase, so long as it's about things they can see or know from their current position, i.e. without taking action other than looking around. 

I think a re-reading of the entire rule book (which I haven't read in total in nigh on twenty years) might be a profitable exercise, now that I have the perspective to recognize the genius in some of those overlooked rules.


  1. Thanks for the link!

    I always got messed up with keeping track of time too. Not to shill, but if you need help with time management, check out FMG's Turntracker. :-)

    1. Shill away! It's a nifty idea. Much more useful to me, of course, now that I've figured out when to tick off a turn.