Commentary: Ks. Jim Ogle, Winston-in-a-Box
.pdf of this article.
Roleplaying, much like radio or books, involves described settings
and events rather than depicted settings and events, like in movies.
The more vivid and interesting the descriptions the GM can provide,
the more the players will be drawn into the game. Conversely, players
can also describe their actions more vividly, increasing their
own immersion and the immersion of everyone else at the table.
Doing so makes the game more involving and more fun.
The following is a list of ideas and rules to encourage players
(and gamemasters) to create vivid descriptions of their character’s
Even within the current rules, certain types of game mechanical
effects require some description of the character’s actions: trading
cards, playing a Supporter card, and Player’s Call results for
Non-Combat Interaction skills. This article extrapolates those
situations to a more general rule, and adds additional bonuses.
Before rolling dice or spending cards, a player declares their
action, what the character is going to do in game mechanical
terms, then describes it. Some actions require a basic description,
while more colorful or evocative descriptions can grant bonuses
to nearly any significant action.
Advice for Gamemasters
your descriptions engaging. The point
of these rules is to encourage the players to become
more involved in imagining and visualizing their
character’s actions. This applies to the gamemaster
as well. Make each setting subtly different. “A
maze of twisty passages, all alike” may be traditional,
but it’s hardly evocative.
to describe scenes better yourself. If
you want to increase the immersion factor of the
scenes, describe them more fully. Give the players
plenty of environmental hooks to act off of: tapestries,
tables, umbrella racks, paintings, chandeliers,
banks of computers. Whatever scenery or props would
be appropriate for the setting, provide. Stuff
to throw, break, burn, blast, or hide behind is
all else fails, let players make stuff up. If
there’s a prop or piece of scenery which could
be there, but which you’ve failed to describe,
let them “create” it. Feel free to override scenery
or props which aren’t appropriate to the locale
or reality, or which are extremely potent or powerful,
but otherwise let it go.
example: A Storm Knight is fighting
in an Ayslish castle, and the villain has just
disarmed him: “I back away, looking around desperately.
Spying a sword upon the mantle, I race to grab
such a blade was never described, but it could
have been there, let the player create it.
describing the scene, don’t forget the innocent
bystanders. Ords are great motivators.
Decent Storm Knights will go out of their way to
save endangered Ords. Think of new and interesting
ways for them to be threatened by the bad guys.
This ups the ante of the scene, and draws players
the reality. When describing the scenery
and the actions of the villains, get into the character
of the reality. In the Nile, strike bold poses
and declare every line.
the players. If a character’s action is
apt, because it’s in character, appropriate
for the local reality, or appropriate for their
reality, be generous with the bonus.
the rules yourself. By describing the
actions of villains (or heroic NPC’s) you can both
inspire player’s descriptions as well as gain some
small bonuses for your villains. In general, do
so only for significant villains, and avoid showing
up the players.
Declaring the action: I attack. I defend. I trick.
I test. This is the statement, in game mechanical terms, of what
the character is doing. It allows skill use, but not “Player’s
Call” results or interactive card use. In addition to any description
the player may chose to include, he has to clearly state what the
action is so the gamemaster can adjudicate the situation (this
declaration can happen before or after the description.)
For most skill checks, a simple action declaration will suffice.
For a few, a little more is required. In addition to declaring
the action, players can choose to describe what their character
is going to do, and how they are going to do it.
Not all descriptions are equally interesting, and not all situations
require the player to put special effort into describing the action.
Many common game mechanical effects require nothing more than a
Basic description: I strike for his heart. I
kick him in the head. I shout “You killed my father, prepare to
die!” This is a short, and not necessarily involved statement.
It is the minimum description necessary to allow Player’s Call
results, Critical Moments, interactive card play (Leadership, Supporter,
Rally, trading cards, etc.), and Trick Shots.
Optionally, GM’s can also require a basic description for the
Blow (or Called Shot) and Single-fire as Multi combat options
(this makes those options into more than just number crunching).
If the player chooses to go beyond this basic description, when
taking a significant action to advance the scene, the gamemaster
can choose to grant the player a bonus to the action, based on
how evocative and interesting the description is.
Evocative description: An evocative description
is something more involving than the basic description, essentially
a basic description done with flair and color. It isn’t required
for any game mechanics, but is entirely optional, granting a bonus
if done well. Depending on how well done the description is, the
GM should feel free to hand out a Bonus Modifier of +1 to +3 (boring
descriptions gain no such bonus).
In order to gain a bonus, the action itself must advance the scene
or be meaningful or significant. Routine skill checks, no matter
how well described, don’t qualify.
It should go without saying that well-done descriptions can happen
out-of-combat as often (or more often) than in combat. Any significant
diced action is a good time to add color to the game.
Remember though that it is the description that determines the
bonus, not the action. Other games use similar rules, in which
itself determines the bonus. This is not the case here. A subtle
and quiet test of wills can be described just as vividly as a
wildly over the top attack, and both can receive equal bonuses.
Descriptions should be short, no more than a couple of sentences,
and should describe the action visually, so that other players
and the gamemaster can see (in their “mind’s eye”) what the character
is doing or how he looks doing it, what he is doing it to, where
he is doing it, and so forth. If it also hints
at the character’s emotions or mood, so much the better. The description
should draw the other players and the gamemaster into
Example: “I spin around, the moonlight
glinting off my katana, and strike at the guard, my blade
whispering in the night.”
Example: “My character steels his nerve,
his jaw clenched tightly. A single bead of sweat trails down
his face as he takes aim.”
Example: “With a grin and a yell my character
plows into the goons, fists flailing wildly.”
Whenever possible, a description should involve specific details-
what the character is doing, how they are doing it, with what,
or to what. Referring to other characters, scenery, props, facial
expressions, gestures, and so forth can be extremely effective.
The description must enhance the mood and immersion of the game.
If the description is too long, or if the game has come to a crashing
halt while a player composes a description, the gamemaster can
decline the bonus. Similarly, breaking character, metagaming, and
other such problems negate any bonuses an evocative description
Descriptions of any kind ought not be boring and should never
be repetitive. Repeating the same action- “I shoot”- is perfectly
acceptable, repeating the same description isn’t. In order to gain
a bonus, every time the character repeats the same action, the
player should describe it differently.
Example: “I shoot” can be described in
many ways. Here are just a few.
“I look down at my fallen comrade, step over him, and raise
my gun. My eyes are cold and dead.”
“I spin around, my coat flaring out behind me. Their eyes
widen in surprise as I bring up my pistols.”
“I throw myself into the room, firing all the way. I land,
roll, and dive for cover behind the couch.”
“I eject my spent clips and, before they can hit the ground,
Even if the character is shooting his guns, like he has done many
times before, when, where, how, at who, and other details of the
situation have changed, so the description can vary (and must vary,
to be worth any bonus).
Evocative descriptions can include more than one action, if the
player can describe all of them concisely enough. If the player
includes several actions within the description, all actions gain
Example: “I clench my hands tight, and
swing across the burning ravine. The smoke billows about
me as I land, sword out. The two guards gasp in fear as I
strike.” This description involves an acrobatics check
and two unarmed combat checks, all of which would
gain the appropriate Bonus Modifier (probably +2).
Advice for Players
the character. Colorful descriptions should
enhance the characterization of a PC. By striving
to make the described actions match your character’s
style, these can add even more color. Uncharacteristic
actions are still possible, but are noticeable
because they are uncharacteristic.
the character’s reality. Swashbuckling
moves (like swinging on chandeliers) are inappropriate
for Orroshan characters, unless they are in another
reality. (See the next tip.)
the local reality. When disconnected or
in a Pure Zone, try to describe actions that are
appropriate for the feel of the reality your character
is in. In Aysle, bold swashbuckling moves are great;
in Orrorsh they’ll get you killed. In Nippon, think
stealth and try to arrange an unexpected attack,
or an attack from an unexpected direction. By working
with the local reality you can enhance the flavor
of that genre.
overdo it. Simple declarations are fine
for many things (like a group find check).
Save the colorful action descriptions for when
it matters, when the character has center stage,
or when the action is of critical importance. Remember,
a jaded gamemaster is less likely to hand out color
hog the limelight. Give other players
a chance to shine. And don’t interrupt when they’re
describing their actions.
When adjudicating multi-actions, the gamemaster should ignore
extraneous actions. No matter how many “actions”, if the character
is only attacking once, ignore them. “I insult his heritage, spit
in his face, and strike for the heart.” This is one action, not
three. Similarly, “I wipe the blood from my chin and launch a fusillade
of blows.” If this is just one attack, treat it as such.
Players should be rewarded for working with the gamemaster to
enhance the action and description of a scene. Don’t punish players
for attempting in-character moves that are colorful.
For example, if a character describes the following as a taunt action: “With
a casual air and a slight yawn, I slap him across the face with
my glove,” don’t make the player roll for an attack to slap the
Similarly, if a player describes an intricate forward flip and
roundhouse kick, don’t increase the difficulty of the attack or
make him roll an acrobatics check in addition to the attack.
Neo jumped up a wall to kick Agent Smith in the face. The flip-and-kick
is just an unarmed combat attack, so don’t penalize the
player for describing actions in an involving and interesting way.
The more powerful the opponent, the more lenient the gamemaster
should be. Facing off against big bad guys in dramatic scenes are
the payoff in Torg modules. If the module’s been at all
interesting, the players and their characters alike are angry and
spoiling for a good rumble. Let them get away with wilder and more
outrageous actions than otherwise.
This isn’t an injunction to allow them to metagame or break the
scene, but rather to let them shine. Give them a tough, wily bad
guy and let them duke it out, mano a mano. The more they get into
the scene, the better the game will be.
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