In the beginning of Episode 347 “Lessons Learned Running an RPG,” there was a Discord post (I believe) that mentioned how the person watches for bias in the terminology they use at the table… and it’s so right.
How we GMs use so many go-to terms like “monsters” that can sway the players into defaulting a specific approach can have a HUGE effect on their decisions. Even how we apply some of a game’s mechanics can affect the outcome. If I present my players with a situation where they enter a room to find a lone well-armed warrior holding a whip and a flaming sword and tell them to roll initiative, combat is damn near automatically triggered. Sure, someone could think to try a more social approach at first, but I think so many procedural games (particularly in the dungeon crawl genre) have conditioned us to react in such ways. Changing up that terminology can make a big difference.
For me, even the use of the word “encounter” implies the application of dice and mechanics. It indicates a mechanical event where you will pit your abilities to the test against this generated character. After thinking on this for a bit, I feel the word “scene” is a more open approach that doesn’t trigger an automated reaction. Perhaps not all the time at every table, but it feels like the term “encounter” implies opposition and the word “combat” is silently in front of it.
Knowing that, I’m curious if I’ll start mixing up terms and actively trying alternatives to help mix things up. I’m also curious if I’ve subconsciously used certain terms on purpose to invoke a particular reaction from my players, a form of subtle manipulation that’s either intentional or not. In other words, the Jedi Mind Trick of the GM’s toolkit.
Hmm… what a bunch of clever bastards we are.