Samus Aran
 member, 377 posts
 Author, game designer
 Part-time Metroid fighter
Thu 15 Feb 2018
at 20:31
Why do so many GMs insist on third-person past tense?
For writing stories, I much prefer third-person past tense, of course. But for RPGs, especially PBPs, why do so many GMs insist on it? Third-person present tense works the best for me for RPGs, considering the fluid nature of the scene you're describing. Past tense makes it sound like these events have already happened as described, only for you to have to adjust said description based on rolls and the actions of other characters.

Having this as a preference is one thing, but I've seen a bunch of potential games lately where the GM makes it a rule. It's just a bit frustrating, I guess, because for this one form of writing only I have present tense pretty hardwired into my brain.
Ekorren
 member, 106 posts
Thu 15 Feb 2018
at 20:35
Why do so many GMs insist on third-person past tense?
I like to read it as a story, so third-person past tense feels better to me.
DreamQuestin
 member, 205 posts
Thu 15 Feb 2018
at 20:36
Why do so many GMs insist on third-person past tense?
I am lucky enough to be playing Third person present tense games here.

I am 200% in agreement with you Samus.  Perhaps some of the GMs who prefer past tense will give us insight to their eccentricities ;)
orynnfireheart
 member, 107 posts
 Evil will always triumph
 Because good is dumb
Thu 15 Feb 2018
at 20:43
Why do so many GMs insist on third-person past tense?
I also don't understand why you would need to change your posts based on rolls or the actions of others. If you post in a reasonable order and don't make assumptions with your post (you attempt to hit instead of you hit), you should never have to change anything.
Shannara
 moderator, 3776 posts
 Keep calm, drink more
 COFFEE!!!!
Thu 15 Feb 2018
at 20:53
Why do so many GMs insist on third-person past tense?
For me, third person present tense is written by a narrator describing the scene as it happens.

Third person past tense is storytelling.

First person, present tense is roleplaying, telling a story through your character's eyes and immersing yourself in that one viewpoint.

They all have their own feel, and I happen to prefer the storytelling aspect, so third person past tense works best for me.  As for why I insist on it when I run a game, to let people pick and choose  and have different tenses does not flow as smoothly.  If I'm the GM, I get to choose, so I choose what I like.

Pretty simple really.  :-)  Those who like something else can either run their own game or find a GM that will let them go with their preference.  It doesn't mean they're wrong and I'm right, or that they're right and I'm wrong -- just that we have different preferences.
phoenix9lives
 member, 962 posts
 GENE POLICE!  YOU!
 GET OUTTA THE POOL!
Thu 15 Feb 2018
at 20:56
Why do so many GMs insist on third-person past tense?
Sometimes people post out of initiative order.  Sometimes someone else's actions will negate the need for yours.  Sometimes people post at the same time.
I like third person present.  Makes all the action seem urgent and feel more like I am a part of the story.

This message was last edited by the user at 20:57, Thu 15 Feb.

Samus Aran
 member, 378 posts
 Author, game designer
 Part-time Metroid fighter
Thu 15 Feb 2018
at 21:03
Why do so many GMs insist on third-person past tense?
You know, thinking about it, this could have easily gone in the vent thread. D'oh!

But trying to write "attempts" reads all wrong for me when it's in third person.

"Samus dodged the incoming fire and leaped high into the air. Training her cannon on the approaching pirates she launched an explosive blast at their feet."

To me, that sounds pretty definitive, but I also have to avoid too much detail because I don't know if the action even succeeded yet.

"Samus dodges the incoming fire and leaps high into the air. Training her cannon on the approaching pirates she launches an explosive blast at their feet."

That one feels a lot better to me. It's better suited to the collaborative and uncertain nature of the storytelling, where success and the resulting narrative is sometimes determined by dice rolls, and is better suited to being a bit more vague about results.

An admittedly minor thing, just sometimes irritates me, is all. :P Again, should have put in vent thread.
Dgorjones
 member, 55 posts
Thu 15 Feb 2018
at 22:50
Why do so many GMs insist on third-person past tense?
I require third person present tense in my game.  It's just weird looking at other games using past tense.  To each their own, I guess.
Dgorjones
 member, 56 posts
Thu 15 Feb 2018
at 22:54
Why do so many GMs insist on third-person past tense?
What really drives me nuts are games that are inconsistent.  Mixing third person present tense and third person past tense is jarring as bleep.
Nintaku
 member, 580 posts
Fri 16 Feb 2018
at 00:23
Why do so many GMs insist on third-person past tense?
In my games, we tend toward third person past tense in forums, where passage of time for players is so much faster than that of characters. By the time anyone sees what you did, you did it yesterday, and so the past tense format works best. In games like MUSHes and chat room games, we often use third person present tense, because everyone's there and things are happening right now, and it would be weird to have that in third person (except for such things as submitting logs, where people then read the roleplay in story format but it's all in present tense and jarring). Around a tabletop or in a game call, we more often switch between third and first person, but it's always present tense.

For my groups, different situations call for different narrative perspective. But I do agree with most people here that jumping tenses in a single page is eye-burningly bad. It's gotten extra bad for me lately because it's been me almost every time. Within a post. If I'm in a game that's predominantly past tense, I find myself switching to present after a few sentences. If it's supposed to be present, I'll often have a single past tense in a sentence where other references are present. It's terrible, and I feel terrible for it. @_@
SunRuanEr
 member, 65 posts
Fri 16 Feb 2018
at 02:00
Why do so many GMs insist on third-person past tense?
I personally prefer third-person past tense because once a player has posted the action, it has happened. It's not in the process of happening, and capable of being interrupted by another player (with exceptions for on-going actions, of course). It's done.

Ergo, past tense.
Carakav
 member, 634 posts
 Sure-footed paragon
 of forthright dude.
Fri 16 Feb 2018
at 02:21
Why do so many GMs insist on third-person past tense?
I insist on third-person past-tense for the same reasons Shannara outlined. My games are stories, and my players are storytellers, so I prefer they describes scenes the way a traditional novel would, and remain consistent about it.
drewalt
 member, 87 posts
Fri 16 Feb 2018
at 02:45
Why do so many GMs insist on third-person past tense?
Most are really a mix.  The character's  dialog (internal or spoken) is present, the narration is past.  Usually.

I slip sometimes.  Some games have a looser sense of continuity than others and I lose track of what tense I'm in.

I find the past tense works well in this medium because it establishes what you the player intended to happen more intuitively, at least imho.

Playing a game written entirely in the future tense would be so weird.
icosahedron152
 member, 847 posts
Fri 16 Feb 2018
at 04:59
Why do so many GMs insist on third-person past tense?
I'm with Shannara and Carakav. I much prefer third person past tense.

The reason? Perhaps it's a selfish thing. I'm the GM. As such, I'm not taking part in the action, I'm reading the players' actions as events in a story, and stories flow better for me in past tense.

Reading the story is much of what I get out of the game, and the GM needs to get something out of the game too, right?

However, I recognize that some players feel more comfortable and immersed using present tense, so I don't insist on it, I just lead by example with my NPCs and my narrative passages and hope that everyone follows suit. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't, so sometimes the games have a mix on the page.

So there you go, that explains the preference for past tense and the mixtures.
facemaker329
 member, 6993 posts
 Gaming for over 30
 years, and counting!
Fri 16 Feb 2018
at 07:12
Why do so many GMs insist on third-person past tense?
I'm not a GM, much (I inherited a game that I'm keeping limping along largely because I promised I wouldn't let it die, and five years later, I'm still keeping that promise...but I don't much enjoy wearing the GM hat.)  I prefer third person past tense, as a player, because it's a written format and that's just how I habitually write.  I could probably adapt to present tense and still be fine...shifting to first-person would screw me up (I've tried writing stories in first person and I hate it...it just doesn't flow for me.  I have, however, read some brilliantly-written first-person stories...but they were trying to spoof the old pulp detective novels, so it was a natural fit.)

I think that's largely the reason...it's habit.  It's what their brain is used to processing in text.  It makes the game material easier to digest, mentally, for them, so updating the game and staying on top of the action isn't as much of a chore.  I know I'm in a game where about half of us use past tense and half use present tense, and it jars me every time, not just because of the shift in tense, but more because I'm not used to reading actions as they happen and my brain sometimes loses track of whether that's something the character SAID versus something they DID (because unless characters are relating past events, people don't generally write their dialogue in past tense...)
aguy777
 member, 260 posts
 Join Date:
 Fri, 29 Nov, 2013
Fri 16 Feb 2018
at 07:29
Why do so many GMs insist on third-person past tense?
I, personally, use third-person present tense. I just prefer to type in that fashion. I allow my players to use whichever method they like, as it doesn't bother me too much. I can still read and understand it all easily enough.

Just don't be that one guy I had who used second person for everything. That annoyed everyone.
engine
 member, 562 posts
Fri 16 Feb 2018
at 14:44
Why do so many GMs insist on third-person past tense?
I prefer present tense because, as others have alluded to above, I'm generally not completing an action, I'm initiating an action. I like to play around a little with timing sometimes, or I might complete an action ("Having reloaded my crossbow, I take aim at his head."), and of course I make mistakes, but I think I default to present tense.

More than a few stories are written in present tense: https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/present-tense

That list doesn't even mention Neal Stephenson, who has authored some of my favorite examples of present tense writing.

I've recently gotten a kick out of writing in first person. I like the additional time I get to spend writing in my character's voice. I challenge myself to do it without actually revealing my character's internal thoughts which I greatly dislike sharing, mainly because I greatly dislike reading those of other characters. Please show, don't tell, and please do more than "give an odd look."

I started doing while playing Dungeon World games, because I feel like that game explicitly encourages that. When I've done it in other games I've weirded people out and been urged to stop.
Faceplant
 member, 29 posts
Fri 16 Feb 2018
at 15:35
Why do so many GMs insist on third-person past tense?
As long as everyone is writing in the same tense every post, I really don't care either way. Consistency is what's important to me.
GammaBear
 member, 813 posts
 Gaymer
Fri 16 Feb 2018
at 21:52
Why do so many GMs insist on third-person past tense?
I mean, isn't that how virutally every novel is written?