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D&D General Describing Actions

bloodtide

Legend
As a DM, I have always asked players to describe their actions in the game. No free form, but describing the action when making the roll. For encouragement I will offer adjustments, experience, or other points. I find this a good way to keep the players focused and immersed and most of all pay attention. And I do like the story telling side where we can say what happened and not just "the character rolled a d20". I never expect a player to be an expert on a topic, but you don't need to be an expert for most things.

Right from the start I have always gotten the push back from the anti social players. The players that have below average social skills. They could not role play nearly any social interaction at all, but also would refuse to describe even an outline of doing so. I would not be asking for a ten minute role play of social interaction, just the description. How does your character want to get past the guard? You don't need to be a social expert an role play it out, you can just say "I try talking to him man to man and get him to agree to let me pass". Still few of this type of player would be willing to take such an action. Over the years and years, I have helped many people both in and out of the game with this...

A couple years ago, I started to get the video gamers. Players that play a lot of video games. And they brought with them an odd video game quirk. The quirk is to ignore the back ground world. Where the weaponless character runs into a room with swords hanging on all the walls, and they turn to fight the guards with their fists. Why? The player is so stuck on the video game idea that they can't grab stuff in the background. They can't use a nearby tree for firewood because they think they "can't" cut down the tree: because they are stuck in the idea that <whatever> video game they had recently played would not let them do it. This one is not so hard to 'de-program'.

Now, I can add another quirk...a generational one. A lot of younger people are coming to the game with a lot less real world experience. And I'm talking about things like not being able to build a fire. I ask a player Your character is in some woods, you need to make a fire, what do you do? I will just get a blank stare or worse a defensive attatue saying I should not be asking a player to describe that just to play a game. The real shock here, is a lot of players don't know a lot of this real world stuff. I come from another generation then this type of player. I was a scout, went camping, and for a lot of my early life we did have to do things the "hard way". By the time I was even ten, I had a huge amount of real life skills, not the least of was making a fire. Back in the day, when my mom would lock us kids out of the house(normal for the 80s), we had to cook our own food(because we would not be allowed back in the house until dark). My mom would make the uncooked breaded chicken strips(this is before chicken nuggets were invented), but leave them for us to cook. And that was as a young kid. Growing up you learn and do much more. Any player older then thirty or so, would have little problem describing doing things for real.

Anyone born in the last two decades or so though, has had a vastly different upbringing. They grew up in a very 'modern' setting, and that is before you add the Internet and Social Media. They have never had a reason to start a fire, for example, even just for 'fun'. So they are at a complete loss on how to even start doing most things.


So, how much description of actions do you ask for in your games? Do you encounter any of the above problems? Any ideas or solutions?
 

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Right from the start I have always gotten the push back from the anti social players. The players that have below average social skills. They could not role play nearly any social interaction at all, but also would refuse to describe even an outline of doing so. I would not be asking for a ten minute role play of social interaction, just the description. How does your character want to get past the guard? You don't need to be a social expert an role play it out, you can just say "I try talking to him man to man and get him to agree to let me pass". Still few of this type of player would be willing to take such an action. Over the years and years, I have helped many people both in and out of the game with this...
I found long ago that if you don't require an explanation, but allow one... over time most will start to ad lib stuff... especially once they realize if they say something dumb or not sinical you wont penalize or insult them
A couple years ago, I started to get the video gamers. Players that play a lot of video games. And they brought with them an odd video game quirk. The quirk is to ignore the back ground world. Where the weaponless character runs into a room with swords hanging on all the walls, and they turn to fight the guards with their fists. Why? The player is so stuck on the video game idea that they can't grab stuff in the background. They can't use a nearby tree for firewood because they think they "can't" cut down the tree: because they are stuck in the idea that <whatever> video game they had recently played would not let them do it. This one is not so hard to 'de-program'.
I have had a lot of young players and never seen this
Now, I can add another quirk...a generational one. A lot of younger people are coming to the game with a lot less real world experience. And I'm talking about things like not being able to build a fire. I ask a player Your character is in some woods, you need to make a fire, what do you do? I will just get a blank stare or worse a defensive attatue saying I should not be asking a player to describe that just to play a game. The real shock here, is a lot of players don't know a lot of this real world stuff. I come from another generation then this type of player. I was a scout, went camping, and for a lot of my early life we did have to do things the "hard way". By the time I was even ten, I had a huge amount of real life skills, not the least of was making a fire. Back in the day, when my mom would lock us kids out of the house(normal for the 80s), we had to cook our own food(because we would not be allowed back in the house until dark). My mom would make the uncooked breaded chicken strips(this is before chicken nuggets were invented), but leave them for us to cook. And that was as a young kid. Growing up you learn and do much more. Any player older then thirty or so, would have little problem describing doing things for real.
I would have a problem if you asked me how my ranger starts a fire... "with the life time of training expense he has and I don't"
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
At a minimum, I need to hear a goal and approach from the player. What they are hoping to achieve and what they set about doing to achieve it with reasonable specificity. "Reasonable specificity" here means that I don't have to make any guesses about their character's actions. They are free to describe it in first or third person. They can be as flowery and dramatic or succinct - none of those approaches will inform what level of uncertainty I decide on or the ability check or the DC, only the goal and approach will. If they can't or won't muster even that much, I am not able to perform my role as DM to adjudicate into success or failure or call for an appropriate ability check and we're effectively at an impasse.

At the end of the day, the game is basically a conversation. What I say above is the player's role in that conversation. If they don't try to perform their role, that conversation tends not to be as good as one in which everyone is doing their best to hold up their end of it.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
My players tend to give brief descriptions more because they're shy/hesitant, than because they don't want to give one.

It's taken time, and gentle encouragement, to get them to be more comfortable doing so. We're still working on it, but they have gotten better. One player has gone from "very shy" to reasonably open and active, and another has gone from "locks up completely" to "somewhat shy." Progress is progress.
 

Stormonu

Legend
Now, I can add another quirk...a generational one. A lot of younger people are coming to the game with a lot less real world experience. And I'm talking about things like not being able to build a fire. I ask a player Your character is in some woods, you need to make a fire, what do you do? I will just get a blank stare or worse a defensive attatue saying I should not be asking a player to describe that just to play a game. The real shock here, is a lot of players don't know a lot of this real world stuff. I come from another generation then this type of player. I was a scout, went camping, and for a lot of my early life we did have to do things the "hard way". By the time I was even ten, I had a huge amount of real life skills, not the least of was making a fire. Back in the day, when my mom would lock us kids out of the house(normal for the 80s), we had to cook our own food(because we would not be allowed back in the house until dark). My mom would make the uncooked breaded chicken strips(this is before chicken nuggets were invented), but leave them for us to cook. And that was as a young kid. Growing up you learn and do much more. Any player older then thirty or so, would have little problem describing doing things for real.
I have to say I'm a little confused by this one here. I'm 50+ and didn't ever have this experience of either being locked out of the house or know parents who made their kids cook their own food (though because of the situation in my household, I certainly had to do a lot of the cooking for the family) , even with being in the scouts for a year or so. We did ride bikes everywhere and went "hiking" in the local woods all the time though - but I spent plenty of days in bedroom on the floor with Star Wars/GI Joe/Transformers or playing the 2600.

There is definitely a difference in experience between age groups, and I see it a lot as most of the folks I game with now are now in their 20's. Back in the 80's & 90's, I used to play a lot of D&D with "your character knows what you know" and would reward players when they would display real-world skills that'd help them in the game. I've much backed off from that, and more rely on the skills on the character's sheet than in their head. The question "how would you build a fire" has become a Survival skill check at worst, or just assumed that an adventurer in the game world knows how to do those sort of things as it would be ordinary to them.

In some rare cases, when I'm feeling a bit chuffed at the generational divide and I get blank stares, I'll tell them to pull out their phones (or point them to one of my books in my personal library) and look it up. "How would you build a fire?" and give XP to the person who finds the information first and shares it with the group. We then move on, and maybe they've learned a little something or it at least got them thinking.

It's a situation I think you just have to decide for yourself (and your group) how in-depth do you want to go. A lot of the older generation, I feel, approaches D&D as a sort of fantasy simulator. Younger generations seem to approach it more from the angle as a game first, with freeform elements. There's plenty of in-between and you'll have to find the level of compromise that works for both sides of the screen.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Now, I can add another quirk...a generational one. A lot of younger people are coming to the game with a lot less real world experience. And I'm talking about things like not being able to build a fire. I ask a player Your character is in some woods, you need to make a fire, what do you do? I will just get a blank stare or worse a defensive attatue saying I should not be asking a player to describe that just to play a game.
Thinking back to a previous post of yours regarding a player who was offended at being reminded his character wore glasses... you can start a fire with a pair of glasses.
 

In some rare cases, when I'm feeling a bit chuffed at the generational divide and I get blank stares, I'll tell them to pull out their phones (or point them to one of my books in my personal library) and look it up. "How would you build a fire?" and give XP to the person who finds the information first and shares it with the group. We then move on, and maybe they've learned a little something or it at least got them thinking.
wow homework assignments from the DM most make you popular with high school and college kids
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
As a DM, I have always asked players to describe their actions in the game. No free form, but describing the action when making the roll.
Shouldn't describing the action come before the roll? Or is there some ubiquitous assumption of the possibility of failure (whatever I do, I'll need to roll)?

but you don't need to be an expert for most things.
Agreed. That's what skill points are for.

Right from the start I have always gotten the push back from the anti social players. The players that have below average social skills. They could not role play nearly any social interaction at all, but also would refuse to describe even an outline of doing so.
So, not role-players. Why are they playing an RPG?

A couple years ago, I started to get the video gamers. Players that play a lot of video games. And they brought with them an odd video game quirk. The quirk is to ignore the back ground world.
On the one hand, this is surmountable with NPC examples. On the other hand, there's an axe on the wall? Ew! I don't use axes. I'd rather use my magical fists!

They can't use a nearby tree for firewood because they think they "can't" cut down the tree: because they are stuck in the idea that <whatever> video game they had recently played would not let them do it.
I get it. But really, turning a living tree into so much firewood is a HUGE pain in the A$$#.

Now, I can add another quirk...a generational one . . . I ask a player Your character is in some woods, you need to make a fire, what do you do? I will just get a blank stare or worse a defensive attatue saying I should not be asking a player to describe that just to play a game. The real shock here, is a lot of players don't know a lot of this real world stuff.
That...doesn't shock me. After all, "friends" are a number on your FCIAbook. That being said, beyond "I get an axe and look for dead trees," please don't ask me how I start a fire. Not fun. Or better yet, "I threaten the party mage to use her fire spell." Unless there's a quest or plot item brewing, that part shouldn't need much detail.

So, how much description of actions do you ask for in your games? Do you encounter any of the above problems? Any ideas or solutions?
I tend to ignore rolls. Player says "I search. I rolled an 18." My response: "that's great. How do you search? For what are you looking?" A roll doesn't mean anything unless I ask for it. Otherwise, they'd be called Dice-Playing Games, wouldn't they?
 

Clint_L

Legend
I think being encouraging to players, as you describe, is a great way to go. I don't recommend expecting them to know what you know, though, so if the way they describe making a fire or whatever doesn't make sense to you, that's okay, isn't it? It's a fantasy game, and we assume that our characters know things that we don't. My IRL spell casting is terrible! All we can ask is that players are making an effort, respecting that they all have different experiences and comfort levels, and it seems like you are doing that.

I don't think it's useful to make generalizations based on people's ages or their generation, though. After all, the iconic film about my generation was called Slackers.
 

I tend to ignore rolls. Player says "I search. I rolled an 18." My response: "that's great. How do you search? For what are you looking?" A roll doesn't mean anything unless I ask for it. Otherwise, they'd be called Dice-Playing Games, wouldn't they?
maybe I am spoiled playing with more D&D expert/vets with system mastery but I rarely have to ask for a roll anymore with my main group... they know "Right so perception or investigation?" is normally the closest.


I will never understand why "My character has X skill, I don't, I want to have my character do an action that is related to X skill, but I don't know how to in real life so can I roll X skill to attempt this" isn't enough... and with that it can be shortened to "I use X skill"
 

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