Signs of Silence: How House Rules Can Lead to Highlights

Back in the old days, our weekly gaming group was blessed with an abundance of players. Like, ten to twelve at a time. This created logistical problems – players were crowded into a room, people were jockeying for the DM’s attention, I had to share my 12-pack of Mountain Dew (noooo!), and even one round of combat took an especially long time. Despite our best efforts, there was a long wait between turns, so out-of-character side conversations would often erupt.



We tried several solutions to curb the chatter but the noise continued. Eventually, it was Doombinger’s turn to run a campaign (he used Doombinger online because Doombringer was always taken). After a few games of dealing with the non-essential talking, he instituted a house rule that anything you said out loud at the game table was in-character unless you were asking about the rules. After a few awkward encounters where NPC’s would question our sanity whenever we accidentally mentioned something from the modern world, the group started to adapt and adhere.


It helped for a while, but the urge to shoot the breeze between sword-swings was too great, and we just started having conversations in-character. As players, it was fun to roleplay, but it didn’t solve the problem of too much noise during the game. We even started to lapse back into our out-of-character habit. Then, Doom had a stroke of genius.


The next dungeon we explored was incredibly hard.

The monsters inside were hitting us with ambush after ambush, thwarting every tactic we tried with a perfect counterstroke, and side-stepping any new strategy we invented. They would have exactly the right spells pre-cast to cancel our offensive magic and never fell for any trap we set. It was nearly a massacre and we had to retreat.

Frustrated, we asked Doombinger what was going on. He said, “You were talking. In-character, as per the rule. You guys have been talking to each other about your plans out loud the entire time you were inside the dungeon. I was listening to everything, so the enemies heard everything you said to each other and set themselves up to beat you. If you go back inside and keep talking, they’ll do it again.”

Yes, we were morons. Turns out, orcs have ears.

It ended up being a perfect solution! I won’t lie – some of the players were really ticked off, especially the one’s who had never run a game before and didn’t know how annoying the chatter was. But we respected the ruling and spent the next hour coming up with a means to communicate without speaking out loud.


We took the basic premise of silent hand signals used by modern soldiers and altered them to account for some common fantasy-game scenarios. Creating them was fun! Using them during that campaign (and many afterward) was even more fun! And misinterpretations were a constant source of geeky cackling that disturbed the neighbors on a weekly basis. Chit-chat diminished and the campaign continued for almost two years (our group’s longest).

This is the actual page from my old notes (20 years ago). The key is to make most of your sign language one-handed, because your character will presumably have a weapon or item in the other hand during a mission.

I took away two lessons from that session. The first is that the DM sometimes has to step in to correct bad behavior which is both necessary and difficult, especially when those misbehaving are friends. The second was that a simple house rule can sometimes lead to a roleplaying highlight if the gamers involved have the right mindset about it.

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