This is the beginning of the Table Cadence series, a collection of posts aimed at both Dungeon Masters and players with tips for running flowing, organic sessions founded on the principles of establishing a cadence between DM and players.
There’s an elegant flow to Dungeons and Dragons 5e (D&D 5e) when the table is in sync and everyone is engaged. The Dungeon Master (DM) is on top of their game and the players are asking questions, interacting with the environment, and building off of each other. This is what I have dubbed “table cadence” and it hinges on an open line of communication between DM and party. This back and forth, this cadence, facilitates a smooth and interactive session.
In practice, the overarching structure of table cadence looks roughly like this:
- The DM describes a scene or a scenario
- [Optional] The players inquire further
- [Optional] DM supplies more information
- Players describe how they act in this scene, given what they know
- [Optional] DM prompts players for an Ability Check or Saving Throw, if applicable
- DM narrates the results, adjudicating as needed
Coincidentally, this lines up with the “How to Play” overview of Dungeons and Dragons 5e! Fancy that!
It goes deeper, though. The above outline is the foundation to build upon on our way to fully realizing table cadence.
This core structure gives the DM’s brain a pattern to work within, which will free up some of that precious mental processing power. Meanwhile, players have an open dialogue with their Dungeon Master. Together, we can use this pattern to enrich play.
There is much work left to be done to achieve flow at the table, and that effort is not the DM’s alone. Players and Dungeon Master alike carry a portion of responsibility to ensure table cadence is established session to session. This series isn’t just for DMs, nor is it exclusively applicable to D&D.
Throughout the series I’ll be covering both DM and player advice, applicable to numerous TTRPG systems, and sharing how my experiences brought me to “table cadence.” Topics will include:
- Presenting opportunities to players
- Giving players the freedom to choose and the breathing room to do so
- The power of asking questions
- How players can invent their own opportunities
- Passive and Active players
- Controlling the dice
- When to call for a roll
- The importance of getting to know the system
- Identifying player intention
- Describing your intention in-game
- It’s okay to clarify
- …and more!
Woven together, these concepts will build toward a dynamic — yet predicable — framework for gameplay. Dungeon Masters will learn how to parse player intentions, in turn players will learn to trust their DMs to call for rolls. DMs will be able to present opportunities more naturally throughout the session, giving players subtle ways to engage on their own terms. Mastery over the system, and understanding the purpose behind the rules, will streamline play. With established cadence the dialogue will be wide open, allowing for a variety of possibilities and surprises to unfold in every session!
a : a regular and repeated pattern of activity
b : the beat, time, or measure of rhythmical motion or activityMerriam-Webster Dictionary