D&D General Inspiring Improv

bloodtide

Legend
Make the monsters and NPCs improv.
I do this often. It is my way of role playing.

But it just does not seem to click with players. When the DM has an NPC throw a dagger and cut a rope...players just see that as "oh the DM just makes whatever they want to happen happen". They never seem to think "humm, my character can throw things too".

But again, if the player is given a list of useful spells.....it will just 'click' and they will be like "I cast force dagger and throw it at the rope and cut it".

It just how to inspire more general...more mundane inspiration to improv.
 

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payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
I do this often. It is my way of role playing.

But it just does not seem to click with players. When the DM has an NPC throw a dagger and cut a rope...players just see that as "oh the DM just makes whatever they want to happen happen". They never seem to think "humm, my character can throw things too".

But again, if the player is given a list of useful spells.....it will just 'click' and they will be like "I cast force dagger and throw it at the rope and cut it".

It just how to inspire more general...more mundane inspiration to improv.
Does the dagger just cut the rope because you say it does? Or is there some mechanical aspect that resolves this?

The difference in answer matters. Some folks will not bother if they feel like the GM wont go for their ideas or give them mechanically dont bother odds. At any rate, seeing the mechanics in action is a good example for the players.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
The game has been designed so that more often than not, a thing a player wants to do is going to succeed. That's based on DCs starting at 10, and ACs being low enough that probably 2 out of every 3 attacks will hit on average. So the DM and all the players are used to the idea that usually what they want to do will work. This is especially true with the whole "If there's no chance of failure, do not bother to roll" paradigm that skill checks have as well.

So to me... one of the ways I have taught my players to try things is to just have things work. Most of the time. Whether there's no roll necessary, or the roll can be very easy... most of the time if the action they want to take is cool, and exciting, and different, and will make the PC look bad-ass... then I just them them do it. Why F them over by taking their grand ideas and gate them behind too many dice rolls that are just asking for failure because "It's a game! And a game has rules!" Bah! Who needs them? The game is the game and of course there will be more than enough times that the players will be needing to roll dice and not roll successfully... so why compound that by asking them to roll more and more and more times? Just let them do what they want and let's see where it takes us!

This is as much a part of 'Yes, And...' as anything else. "Yes, you can jump to that chandelier, And you can ride it down to the floor. No roll needed." It gives players license to try things that aren't going to blow up in their face for no other reason than we just all wanted their character to look like an idiot.

Now that being said... I oftentimes will couple this 'Say Yes' attitude with additional benefit if they choose to add in a die roll to see if they can do something really well. So rather than a die roll being Pass/Fail, it's instead Pass/Pass Impressively. Riding the chandelier from the upper level to the ground can get them to the floor easily and without issue... add in an Acrobatics check with a DC 15 and if successful they can choose a target below them and land on them attacking with Advantage. Something like that. (With perhaps rolling a Nat '1' being the one thing that does cause the action to fail spectacularly-- but usually at least my players are quite accepting that Nat '1's should be laughable failures so they're good with it.)

As far as what I've seen... this kind of thing is what gets players motivated to try stuff beyond what the simple rules of the game allow. Their cool action movie stunts almost always working because it's cool and it lets them reach similar types of heights that their spellcaster counterpoints get via their spells.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
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.
This is the way.

@bloodtide
The preoccupation with "realism" and "grittiness" and "hard encounters" etc., etc. teaches players three things:

1. If it doesn't work precisely the way the DM thinks the real world works, it will either always fail, or be nearly guaranteed to fail.
2. Failure is extremely bad and will almost always result in severe, often fatal, consequences.
3. Magic, because it can't be compared to real life, is MUCH easier to use, and much safer.

Between those three, it teaches all but the most aggressively risk-seeking players to never, ever try. Trying is for people who want to die. Meekly avoiding is the successful survival strategy. It will never be particularly enjoyable or engaging. It will lead to empty, boring play experiences. But it is what these games reward doing (because survival is such a rare and precious prize in these games), and thus most players will follow the rewards.

If you want players who embrace creativity and consider the things on their sheets, you have to:

1. Show them that failure doesn't have to be horrible. That failure can even be fun, in the right contexts, leading to more game and better game, not less game and worse game.
2. Prove to them that creativity actually works. That it's worth the risk, and not "suicide with more steps." This means making the rewards good, and making the punishments tolerable.
3. Give actual examples to follow. Tell them that they have tools they can use, and show them what they can achieve. With time, they'll learn to use that thinking themselves.
4. If possible, work with an experienced player, who can act as a model for the others. Support that player's efforts to show what a clever character can achieve even without magic.

Ultimately, though, you reap what you sow. If you sow a world where everything is deadly, you will reap players will choose to do the things that keep their characters alive, or rather, the boring inaction that keeps their characters alive. If you sow a world where creativity often fails or pays paltry benefit, you will reap players who think creativity is pointless. If you sow a world where mundane methods have a high bar to clear just to attempt them, let alone to succeed at them, you will reap players who look at mundane tools and think, "None of this has any use here."

Give good, desirable rewards for the deeds you want to see from your players. Avoid making desirable actions unlikely to succeed, unless you have an extremely good reason, which should be rare. Let players fail without having their characters pay horrible (perhaps ultimate) prices for such failure.

You will find that players respond. If you have already taught them that failure is very very bad and death lurks behind every dice roll etc. etc., then it will take time (possibly a very long time) for their behavior to change. But it can change, if and only if you show that it's worthwhile to take the risk.

Until then? Your players won't trust you not to screw over their characters when they try something creative.

Edit: Unless, of course, your goal is to make players who are eager risk-seekers. I'll save you a lot of time if that's your goal. It won't work. You will not make the risk-averse into risk-seekers. All you will do is frustrate both yourself and your players. There is nothing you can do, within the context of your "Hard Fun," that will make every player eager to take often-lethal in-character risks. You will merely have to settle for getting only a small percentage (perhaps a quarter) of all prospective players, because those are the people who were already, inherently risk-tolerant or even risk-seeking.
 
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Quickleaf

Legend
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.
Pardon my trimming down your quote - I needed to focus on the key parts.

1. There are multiple shortcuts that have worked for me and players I run for – not perfectly, but they've definitely accelerated the process of inspiring improvisation and wild ideas:
  • Showcasing NPCs and monsters taking creative actions (e.g. "The goblin appears to be holding a soldier's helmet upside down and stirring a wooden spoon like it's making soup... there is a strange smell of saltpeter in the air.")
  • Asking "How do you want to do XYZ? (e.g. How are you convincing the duke to let you cross through his lands without a duchy escort?)"
  • Be leading with descriptions – it should feel to you like you're leading the players a bit by the nose at first, but for newer players / players newer to improv play, IT WILL NOT feel like being led by the nose TO THEM. (e.g. "Everything is away in flickering light from the elk horn candelabra hanging above the court. Though you notice" -pausing to look explicitly toward the dagger-throwing rogue player- "it is held aloft by a single black braided rope wrapped around a wall-mounted cleat by the fireplace.")
2. Yes, there are alternative ways of implementing skills & equipment. IMO some of the alternative skill approaches are worth a look for what I think you're aiming for. However, alternative equipment approaches tend to be reductionist and mechanistic – e.g. a card for 'Basinet Helm: sacrifice when critically hit by a weapon to reduce it to a regular hit' or a 'Brass Key (quest item): opens the door to Pendligor's Study.'
  • AD&D's non-weapon proficiencies are much more in-depth skills and not as abstracted. "Fire-making" instead of "Survival", for example. Sometimes the concrete-ness and focus of non-weapon proficiencies can help a player with visualizing the narrative and with creative improvisation. However, IF you have players - like you say - who can't dream of what they might do with a hammer besides whack a nail? I think that might be a deeper issue that this won't solve.
  • Similarly 4e has a skill power system which is a promising idea... you get explicit special abilities tied to your proficient skills. Of course, the problem with these is that they're incredibly mechanistic, focused on combat, and often fall into the abstraction trap like much of 4e's design.
 

bloodtide

Legend
Does the dagger just cut the rope because you say it does? Or is there some mechanical aspect that resolves this?
For such things I will always use the rules. 5E has a sprinkle of object rules. The rope is ac 10 and 2 hp.
The difference in answer matters. Some folks will not bother if they feel like the GM wont go for their ideas or give them mechanically dont bother odds. At any rate, seeing the mechanics in action is a good example for the players.
It is not really common in 5E. They bury the object rules, and then mostly just say 'eh, make it up".

The game has been designed so that more often than not, a thing a player wants to do is going to succeed. That's based on DCs starting at 10, and ACs being low enough that probably 2 out of every 3 attacks will hit on average. So the DM and all the players are used to the idea that usually what they want to do will work. This is especially true with the whole "If there's no chance of failure, do not bother to roll" paradigm that skill checks have as well.
Interesting. I wonder how common this idea is?

I don't think this way....but I also don't think failing to do something is the end of the game. If your character makes a d20 roll and fails, you don't just stop playing.

Just let them do what they want and let's see where it takes us!
I like this idea, but only if the player puts in some effort. I don't like when a player "just says" something random and expects me to roll out the red carpet just because the spoke. Like when a pc walks up to a guard and says "look over there" and they expect the guard to be frozen in time for like 10 minutes "looking"so they can get past. But if you walk up to a guard and drop a gold piece, they will "forget" you are there.

1. If it doesn't work precisely the way the DM thinks the real world works, it will either always fail, or be nearly guaranteed to fail.
2. Failure is extremely bad and will almost always result in severe, often fatal, consequences.
3. Magic, because it can't be compared to real life, is MUCH easier to use, and much safer.
Wow...this does seem to fit what most players seem to think. Just not in these words.

1. Show them that failure doesn't have to be horrible. That failure can even be fun, in the right contexts, leading to more game and better game, not less game and worse game.
2. Prove to them that creativity actually works. That it's worth the risk, and not "suicide with more steps." This means making the rewards good, and making the punishments tolerable.
3. Give actual examples to follow. Tell them that they have tools they can use, and show them what they can achieve. With time, they'll learn to use that thinking themselves.
4. If possible, work with an experienced player, who can act as a model for the others. Support that player's efforts to show what a clever character can achieve even without magic.
I do all this....this is the 'hard way' I mentioned back in my first post. Taking 50-100 game sessions showing the player(s) new things. My 5E spelljammer groups that I started last years was very 'all combat', and today they are inspired to improv.

The vast majority of things are non combat and non lethal. I'm not talking about leaping over the Abyss.....just grabbing a bucket of water to put out a fire on a scroll.
Edit: Unless, of course, your goal is to make players who are eager risk-seekers. I'll save you a lot of time if that's your goal. It won't work. You will not make the risk-averse into risk-seekers. All you will do is frustrate both yourself and your players. There is nothing you can do, within the context of your "Hard Fun," that will make every player eager to take often-lethal in-character risks. You will merely have to settle for getting only a small percentage (perhaps a quarter) of all prospective players, because those are the people who were already, inherently risk-tolerant or even risk-seeking.
I know not to bother with this.
 


payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
For such things I will always use the rules. 5E has a sprinkle of object rules. The rope is ac 10 and 2 hp.

It is not really common in 5E. They bury the object rules, and then mostly just say 'eh, make it up".
Yeah and I dont usually have a problem with it in most RPGs. Though, D&D is a little different than most. In Pathfinder, Paizo has taken to calling exploration a "mode". I think you can take that idea and apply it to combat in D&D. As the editions have changed, combat has become more of a mode. So, if combat is on, as a player one feels that they are supposed to engage the game part and fight their enemy. Dropping an anvil on their head seems out of bounds with the mode expectation.

For example, in Traveller I just take 2D6 + stat + skill and meet or beat a target of 8. Any mod above or below 8 gives me an effect score. So, missing by 4 is real bad, going 4 over is real good. If the intent is to cut the rope, its getting cut, but the outcome might not be in favor after all. D&D doesnt have a universal check. Combat is very nuanced so it gets confusing. There is no set up like Traveller has where I as a player have an idea of how my plan is going to play out. On the flip side, GMs have little idea how to break from combat mode and apply a fair and consistent check. Rulings over rules, but no confidence in application unless you establish one.

I like this idea, but only if the player puts in some effort. I don't like when a player "just says" something random and expects me to roll out the red carpet just because the spoke. Like when a pc walks up to a guard and says "look over there" and they expect the guard to be frozen in time for like 10 minutes "looking"so they can get past. But if you walk up to a guard and drop a gold piece, they will "forget" you are there.
Why does the guard forget you were there? Are they being bribed, or is the dropped coin more distracting than a verbal feint? Its this arbitrary notion of ruling that makes folks reluctant to try and be creative. It doesn't sound like the player needs to put in effort, it sounds like they need to find the right combination of GM approval like typing in a text command on an old Sierra adventure PC game.
 

bloodtide

Legend
Why does the guard forget you were there? Are they being bribed, or is the dropped coin more distracting than a verbal feint? Its this arbitrary notion of ruling that makes folks reluctant to try and be creative. It doesn't sound like the player needs to put in effort, it sounds like they need to find the right combination of GM approval like typing in a text command on an old Sierra adventure PC game.
This is the problem with the "reality" part. Most players have no idea how to get past a guard...and worse they can't even imagine a way to do it. The few players tht are left fall into the type your talking about...they just get angry and say something "if my character clicks their heels together will that meet your demand DM?" (and won't be in my game for long....)

But this role playing can only be shown through game play. After 50-100 game sessions the player has a chance of understanding "my reality". There really is no shortcut here.

Have you considered hosting a Critical Role watch party with your group? You all can learn improv by watching them do it!
Hummm....this is a great idea.
 

payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
This is the problem with the "reality" part. Most players have no idea how to get past a guard...and worse they can't even imagine a way to do it. The few players tht are left fall into the type your talking about...they just get angry and say something "if my character clicks their heels together will that meet your demand DM?" (and won't be in my game for long....)

But this role playing can only be shown through game play. After 50-100 game sessions the player has a chance of understanding "my reality". There really is no shortcut here.
How many times have you gotten past guards?
 

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