Desribing actions as a player

Hi all!
Games I have played with the Gauntlet have been filled with very descriptive players and GMs.

In the games I run off Gauntlet I sometimes play with less experienced players. In fact, I am now gaming with someone who had never played a ttrpg before.

My “go-to” prompt is, “Cool! So what does that look like?” Most often, that spurs a description and improves the game for everyone. Sometimes though it seems players feel like they are put on the spot and would prefer to plainly and vaguely describe their actions. “I hit him with my sword.” “I hack the computer.”

Do you experience this? How do you make it easier for them?

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I explain how to play the game, instead of letting people learn via observation. I ask who has played which PbtA games and how many times to gauge experience and in session one I tend to be very very explicit about the mechanics. Then I prompt fiction first elements more and more. I also think some kind of CATS procedure is invaluable, both online and off.

I guess I’m lucky and haven’t gotten disruptive players. Generally, I’ve had players who are pretty careful about social cues and pretty giving. But I find the more uncomfortable the player is with the genre and mechanics they tend to express their discomfort with humour or reservation.

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I played a lot with descriptive challenges, over the last decade, where I challenge the participants’ creativity. Here are a few things I learned along the way.

  1. If you’re using a descriptive skill system, it’s kind of obvious what’s happening anyway. “Describe how you Lockpick”. “Well … I pick the lock”.

  2. Make them include stuff in their descriptions, like a banana. “I slip the banana under the troll’s feet, so it slips. When it lies on the ground, I jump up on it’s chest and stab it in the chest.”

  3. Use cuts to give them time to think. “One of the troll’s hellhounds breathes fire on the bridge to cover it in fire, but it misses you. Think about how it misses you while it’s Kelly’s turn to act, and incorporate that description into your next attack.”

  4. After about 5-7 descriptions in a scene, participants will start look more and more at the numbers. “OK, I guess I do another 3 damage.”

  5. To combat this, you need to inject more things into the scene that they need to take into account. “The burning bridge gets too weak and collapses, and you all fall down into raging river below.”

  6. Giving social rewards can be enough to encourage a certain behavior. “Cool! I can really see it in my mind.”

  7. An even better reward is to take what a participant have just said and give it a spin. “Guess who else is clinging to that log? One of the hellhounds!”

  8. Prepare yourself; use tables or a list of things to describe. Be a good participant yourself and fill the session with descriptions.

  9. Also, make sure everyone are on the board that it doesn’t have to be amazing descriptions all the time. It’s OK to be “boring”, because what might feel obvious for you wont be obvious for someone else. “I guess I stab the guy in the guts.”

  10. A good list should have ten points so … uhm, don’t use miniatures or maps? They will take the fantasies from their heads and put that focus on the table instead.

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@Lonnie_Spangler Did you mean to say “disruptive” or “descriptive?”

I usually try to explain to players who struggle with description that the details of their description matter, and that depending on how they describe an action, it might result in, say, a different move in PbtA (Protect vs. Kick some Ass in Monster of the week, for example). I also try to be encouraging when they do provide think descriptions of what they’re doing, building the scene with them proactively.

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I meant descriptive. Hoo boy. I will edit. Thanks!

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It might help to jot down questions concerning the five senses.

What do you HEAR while you’re doing x?
What do you SMELL?
What do you TASTE?
What does the x against your skin FEEL like?
What does that detail of x LOOK like?

Asking specific sense-based questions might prompt them to inhabit the fiction a little more?

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Sometimes I literally just ask them to “give us a little fiction around it” and they get the idea.

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Asking for sensory details is really good, like @royblumenthal mentioned. Usually I’ll embellish around what they give, so that the fictional space doesn’t collapse too much.

I also think that very specific, task-oriented actions (attacking, hacking, etc.) are pretty flat. There’s truly not much to describe in slashing with a sword, but there is a lot to describe around that. How is the approach? What is the character thinking/feeling? How do you position yourself afterward (if you have that narrative space to determine)? Even in films with engaging combat choreography, the attack itself isn’t ever really that interesting, but the movement around it and the larger scene at hand is what is engaging
In those instances, I’m fine with flat descriptions because we can move on to something more interesting, frankly. But also I’ll specifically ask about the interiority of a character — okay, you hit them with your sword, but how do you feel about it? That can be a good place to push the violence, too — have you ever done this? What does it feel like?

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Good point. Depending on the genre you are emulating what you are focusing on in an action scene would likely be different.

Lots of good advice above.

I’d add: lead by example. In a PbtA game in particular, when you make a GM move against a player, give at least as much description as you hope your players to give. Don’t say “the orc swings his sword at you, what do you?” Say “the orc rushes at you, snarling, no hesitation, his shield forward and his meat-cleaver blade swinging down at you like this, what do you do?”

If you don’t give them good, engaging details for them to build on and play off of, you can’t expect them give you much back.

When someone gives you a rather blase, boring answer to “what do you do?” prompt them for what that looks like, sure, but also prompt them what they hope to accomplish. Like, in response to that orc slash, if they say “I dodge,” then asking “what does that look like?” won’t help much. Asking them to clarify their intent (maybe with some suggestions) will help a lot. “Cool. Are you trying to like get away from this orc entirely? Or just like avoid the attack so you can counter? Or something else?”

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I have found, “if you were watching your character do this in a movie, what would it look like?”, works well. Most everyone can relate to watching a movie.

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One thing that I find works really well for newer or more shy players is to narrow the list and offer them what amount to multiple choice.

If I got “well, I just pick the lock, I guess”, I might ask “so, like, is this super-smooth and casual, or can we see you sweat with time pressure or more effort because it’s a well-made lock?”

“Oh, yeah, it’s a tough lock so you can definitely see, like, I’m really concentrating hard on it.”

Or… they might still clam up, and that’s OK! Not everyone wants the spotlight in every game. But definitely offer options where you can, and whenever they respond, do so as enthusiastically for that engagement with your options as any other player who extemporizes entire screenplays.

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