D&D General Inspiring Improv

bloodtide

Legend
The first thing many RPG players are told about playing most RPGs is that is it a game where you can do "anything". Or a bit more wordy, but to the point "that your fictional character can attempt to do nearly anything within the fiction." Unlike nearly any other type of game, you can try to do anything.

However this is a very hard thing for nearly all players to understand. It just does not sink in. The idea of "anything" is just too overwhelming, it would seem. While some few can dive right in and improv, the vast majority of players are stuck either doing something Off Their Character Sheet or Nothing. It is common to have a foe say, climb away on a rope, and the player to look at their character sheet, then just hang their head and say "I do nothing".

And I only know one way to 'fix' this: the hard way. The player has to play roughly 50-100 game sessions, with the DM and other players often doing improv. Then, after all that time...it might 'click' for the player. Though, of course, this takes a Long time....and it's a Long time with the player not having "fun" as they don't improv any actions or really take any actions in the game. It's all on the player, except it's not their fault. Creativity, being smart, being clever, thinking out side the box and imrpov are all life skills someone may or may not have.

There is a bit of an odd Shortcut though: Magic. For some reason "magic" sparks that improv in people. The exact same player that has a character with 11 daggers, two hand axes and a bow with arrows who just sit at the table saying "nothing my character can do to stop the foe from getting away", will leap up with joy when they have a spellcaster and say "I shoot my cantrip tiny ball of flame at the rope, cutting it and dropping the foe back to the ground!" But when they are playing the martial, they never think that any of the sharp weapons their character has could ever cut a rope.

And, as a magic lover, I add thousands of spells to the game. And a lot of them are "useful" spells. A player favorite is Animate Dirt, a little pile of dirt that can carry a small item, knock on a door, or do many other little things. And the right player will be casting the spell often to do all sorts of things.

So the Question is: Is there a shortcut for Mundane Characters?

Abilities, skills and equipment do not really click with players of mundane characters. This is a bit editionless of a question...I play 2/3/5E. Though most of my younger players are in 5E games.

D&D skills, don't really inspire improv. They seem to be too vague. When a player need to cut a rope from a distance...no D&D skill really stands out as a "use me". While the cantrip ball of flame immediately makes them think "oh I can cut the rope with this".

So, second Question: Is there another skill or equipment system?

Is there a skill system, that can be plunged into D&D easy enough, that has "skill abilities" something like they way spells are in D&D? Maybe something that can give more inspiration? Something to jump start the mundane characters? When a player sees a spell like mage hand they can think of lots of potential uses, but when they see a hammer...their mind just goes blank.

So?
 

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DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
My route for getting people into the swing of things when they are playing fighters or rogues is to just tell them to treat the game like a movie. If they have experience seeing what people like Jackie Chan, John Wick, the Ocean's 11 crew, the Fellowship of the Ring and so forth can do... when I describe the area and situation around them, I ask them that if this was a movie, what kind of cool or interesting action do they want their character to do. Then when they tell me what their hoped-for action is... I will go through the process of explaining how their action is going to be done via the rules of the game. What parts use their Movement, what parts might involve a skill check, what parts will involve their combat abilities etc. That way they begin to associate what they are envisioning in their mind's eye to the rules of the game, and over time those associations begin to become more second nature.

While many people's natural inclination is to start at the character sheet and see what that says the character can do and then translated that into the in-world fiction... I always think going fiction-first into rules makes for a more exciting and interesting game. Sure, occasionally a player might have to be notified that the action they want to take might be outside the scope of reason and the rules/checks to succeed become exceedingly unlikely... but if they fully embrace the idea of "normal human" movie action, they should always keep within the bounds of play.
 

I think if you are fortunate enough to have players who have read/watched/whatever a lot of fiction and who therefore understand how fiction works and can plausibly understand that their characters can do just about anything reasonable for characters in fiction you maybe don't need any shortcuts. I've had people at my tables relatively new to the hobby with such histories and they've been able to engage with the game appropriately from the moment they first sat down. If they understand there's a game and that there are rules as well it seems as though things will work even better.
 

Why not bring a 60ft rope to your next session and spend an hour before it starts having your players learn rope tricks so they have a better idea how to use it during a session??
 

Voadam

Legend
One big factor is DM style for resolving player actions.

If they say they jump onto a table and attack from the high ground do you in 5e give them advantage for being action movie swashbucklery or do you make them roll acrobatics to successfully jump on the table with them falling prone if they fail?

Either sets a tone, but the former rewards action and the latter penalizes doing stuff.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Either sets a tone, but the former rewards action and the latter penalizes doing stuff.
This. Sure, you can tell players, "you can attempt to do nearly anything." But if you tell them later, "when you do something, you have a base 50% chance, and if you roll too low, your effort FAILS!" And, "by the way, unless it's your highest ability score, you're not going to do very well," or possibly, "you really want a result of 15 or higher just to be safe," the players might not try things (given their acceptable risk preferences).

Is there another skill system?
Well, yeah. But skill systems don't encourage hesitant players. Saying something like, "just roll and we'll see what happens," is probably more encouraging. That's why I like the Modos RPG system; there's no "fail" involved. There are, instead, Pro, Tie, and Con outcomes that can each involve asking the player, "what do you think happened?"
 

dave2008

Legend
This. Sure, you can tell players, "you can attempt to do nearly anything." But if you tell them later, "when you do something, you have a base 50% chance, and if you roll too low, your effort FAILS!" And, "by the way, unless it's your highest ability score, you're not going to do very well," or possibly, "you really want a result of 15 or higher just to be safe," the players might not try things (given their acceptable risk preferences).

Is there another skill system?
Well, yeah. But skill systems don't encourage hesitant players. Saying something like, "just roll and we'll see what happens," is probably more encouraging. That's why I like the Modos RPG system; there's no "fail" involved. There are, instead, Pro, Tie, and Con outcomes that can each involve asking the player, "what do you think happened?"
This is the type of information I wish they would put in a DMG. Guidance to DMs on how to handle these tasks. It is easy to encourage improv play with the tools provide, you just need to know how to use them. You can learn through experience; or they could make it easy and put this information / explanation / examples in the DMG.

We need more advice on when to ask for a roll / check, advice on how to reward / encourage creative play. The tools are there, give us advice on how to use them!
 

mellored

Legend
Make the monsters and NPCs improv.

Your quest starts at the orphanage, kids running around playing. One of then jumps on the table in the middle of the room with a stick in his hand and (rolls dice) and makes it. Another untied a chandelier cord and drop it on the kid in the center (roll dice) smashing into him. You notice the chandelier, while glowing, is made from paper. The boy on the table put on a death performance (rolls dice) that is way too dramatic.

The door on the side of the room opens and an elderly man walks out clapping his hand.
"Time for dinner"
The boys start picking up their toys, with 2 of them sword fighting their way out of the room. One of the little girls still sits at the table ignoring the instructions and still coloring.
"Mary, time for dinner" the old guy repeats (rolls dice), convincing the girl to move on.
He then turns to the party.
"Now about that quest".
 

Voadam

Legend
The best technique I've got is to describe a situation with some specificity about details they can interact with and ask specific individuals "what do you do?"

"The ground shakes and a fissure opens up almost directly in front of you and is growing wider, Zebbediah you are closest what do you do?"

"He snarls and seems to be picking a fight with you, jabbing his finger into your chest and raising his voice, Grimlock what do you do?"

"There is definitely groaning and thumping sounds on the other side of the trap door, Elias you are closest what do you do?"
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Another (recent?) obstacle to PCs trying things: action lists. On your turn, you can Attack, Dodge, Move, Aid, Dash, or Cast a Spell. Then, Cast a Spell becomes a list of cool things to do in its own chapter. Where's the list of cool things that non-casters can do?

It's just one of the brain blocks that D&D has.

"There is definitely groaning and thumping sounds on the other side of the trap door, Elias you are closest what do you do?"
I apologize to my party; sometimes my parents don't know or care that I have company 😭
 

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