Making players describe their actions in DnD improves the game in many ways. This technique may seem lazy at first, but it actually makes your games turn into amazing personalized campaigns.
If you have players describe their actions in DnD, they will feel connected, be forced to be creative, and feel emboldened.
This is an amazing technique that takes a lot to master. You cannot just ask your players to describe their actions out of the blue. Let’s get into what you can expect and how to get there.
Expectations vs. Reality
“You dash in and hit it with your mace square in the chest as it let’s out a gurgle of pain!”
This sounds good and is something that every DM should be able to do. We talk about this in our descriptors article and how to make it happen. This should be natural to you as a DM, but wouldn’t it be great if your player did that? The player says that they want to dash in and hit the orc in the chest with their mace instead of you.
This way you can play off of each other and don’t have to try to engage your players into the scene. They are already engaged if they are giving these descriptions, trying to be creative, and are thinking ahead on how they want things to go. This is something amazing that many DMs try to achieve, so how do we get here?
If you start out right away asking a new player to describe how they hit the enemy, they might give you a blank stare and just say “I….try to it with my sword.” No description, nothing worthy of note, just deadpan videogame auto attacking. That isn’t going to inspire anything like we described above in our example.
What if the player is experienced, but doesn’t seem to know what to do half the time? They might know the rules, but they lack creativity or willpower to progress the game in a manner that they dictate.
For example, if a path is laid before them and they look to the DM to figure out if path A or path B is the better path, how can you expect them to go beyond the basics? They are still looking towards you for guidance even when they have complete agency.
So, how can you make this work? More importantly, what groups should this not be used for?
Groups that can’t use this technique
I want to start out right away by saying these groups can’t use this technique…. yet.
Yet is the key word in this scenario since you can condition or make most players describe their actions in DnD. It may take some effort, but there are limitations to the techinque.
We went over our first limitation in an example. If new players come into your group they won’t know how to describe things. Furthermore, if you have never done this yourself, how can you expect your players to give descriptions?
Every DM should be able to give descriptions, and you need to first train your players. Give descriptions on how the attacks, magic, and more work. Naturally, the players will eventually pick up on this.
Once the players know how to use descriptors, start slowly prompting them to describe the small things. Maybe not a lot, but little bits here and there. Train them to be able to describe things, and they will naturally want to describe their actions. They are the player’s actions after all, so why not describe what you want?
This applies to other trained groups as well. If you have players that chose linear games they might be conditioned to be told where to go. This has the same issue that new players have. They are not expressing what they want enough and will need a little bit of prodding to get this technique to work.
You can still keep a linear game, just make them get used to describing the smaller things. The little things like how they look, how they do their actions, etc. The world will adapt to the player anyways, so linear games are not at threat here. It just gives your players an extra way to express themselves and get engaged.
But how can it enhance your players?
Enhancing your players
We went over how players describe their actions in DnD enhances your game, but how does it affect your players? We have given ways on how to change your players and shown what it will do a little bit to the story, but your players will change as well.
If you are able to accommodate this technique and apply it to your game, your players will change. They will feel connected, be forced to be creative, and feel emboldened.
On the first point, they are more connected to their characters than ever before. We talked about getting rid of the auto-attack mentality to combat, but there is more to it. Your players have a connection to these attacks. They make up how they are formed, and they are the ones who are attacking.
It is no longer just random dice (even though mechanically it is). The players are determining how they connect, how the impact happens, and their immersion is increased as they are more attached to that character. They are that character
Players will naturally become more creative since they have to be in order to describe things. Actions, items, spells, and more will need descriptions. This creativity will carry over to other aspects of the game.
Players won’t just become creative in these areas. They will start to be creative with how they use items, spells, and come up with plans. All the good DnD stories involve unorthodox ideas. This will help your players start to come up with these ideas.
Lastly, your players are being emboldened to try new things. They don’t have to feel beholden to whatever machinations you, the DM desire. This is the player’s story. They shape the world. They are the ones in control. This just makes them act with more authority.
Soon, you will have to worry about dealing with creative players. We have an article to help you deal with creative players in DnD when that time comes. This isn’t something to be feared, but rather something to rejoice over as your game has just become something that most groups yearn for.
But isn’t this lazy for the DM? And what does it even do for the DM if it isn’t lazy?
Having players describe their actions in DnD seems lazy. After all, you are the supposed to be the one to describe the world. Having the players do it seems lazy, but that is where the perception of a DM is incorrect.
What is your job as a DM?
Is it to lead the party on a grand adventure? Set the world for them to do as they please? Just be a narrator?
Every DM has a different idea on what a DM should be. The good DMs end up coming to a variation of this realization. Your job is to make the world alive for the players so that they can make their story.
You are not the story. You are not the focal point. The players are and the best groups are usually ones with good DMs and great players. A good DM can be many things, but usually a good DM is looked over. They don’t have many faults, arguments, or the need to constantly re-explain.
The players know their options, what is around them, and don’t need to fight with the DM. The DM isn’t forcing the party to do anything. It is their choice and their story. Good DMs are generally silent and not thought of too much.
So no, it isn’t lazy to give your players more of a spotlight. It is exactly what most games want and need. Letting your players describe their actions also clears misunderstandings, which helps you be a better DM.
Have you ever needed to redact something since a player didn’t know something or want to do said action? Having your players clarify their intentions makes them give their full understanding of the situation. It clears up misunderstandings, and helps you be a better DM.
So, in short. In no way is letting players describe their actions in DnD lazy. In fact, it is exactly what you want. It even clears up miscommunications that could have happened, so there is rarely a downside.
Just, be willing to say no if you need to.
When to say no!
We go over when to say no as a DM in this article. If you read it, you probably know that the majority of the time to say no is in character creation. Very rarely should you say no in-game, but sometimes you have to.
The main caution of this technique is having players change the mechanics. If players describe their actions in DnD as hitting the bugbear in the eye, it isn’t going to work. You can try to home rule things like ‘called shots’ by making a -4 to hit, but that doesn’t even really work.
If your players are trying to change the mechanics of the game, you should say no unless you are running a game where limb damage occurs. Very rarely should limb damage occur. If the players can blind an enemy, an enemy can also gouge out a player’s eye.
This is something that players don’t think of, so make it clear. What they do can also be done to them. If you and the players are fine with that, then you might have a short campaign. It will also make the game far more complicated, so I would heavily suggest saying no to changing mechanics.
Say no if something is impossible as well, but otherwise follow the article on when to say no. This is the most common pit trap of letting players describe their actions in DnD.
It is the only real downside, and just something to be cautious of.
Having players describe their actions in DnD is a great technique. It will make your game and players better in many different ways.
Using this technique requires skill as a DM to first show the players how to describe actions. It then is a slow process, but your players will start to pick up on it if you work with them. The players will enhance themselves this way, and thus your game will be enhanced.
You still need to be cautious as a DM since this technique can get out of hand. You are ceding control over to the players. It is a good thing, but also dangerous if you don’t know how to say no. Just be warry of this technique being abused and you should have an even better game.
I hope that I helped give you an awesome tool that will make your games, players, and worlds even better in the future!
This has been Wizo and until next time keep rolling!