DnD 4e- Describing Character Actions

Note: I have a new blog that focuses just on DnD 4e and role playing games:  http://dndbycrom.wordpress.com/


(NOTE: If you are not familiar with role playing games (RPG’s) like Dungeons and Dragons (DnD), then this post will be meaningless to you.)

Most of the time on this blog, I write about education, science, policy. Today’s post is about the role playing game Dungeons and Dragons, which has been one of my hobbies for 25 years. This post is about describing the actions of a character in a role playing game, with specific examples from 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons.

DnD Roleplay and Action
Describing Actions in Combat and Skill Challenges

The manner in which actions are described in a game make all the deference between a game that is fun and exciting, and one which is just so-so. These guidelines can help you think about ways to breathe life into your character and their actions to make the game run more smoothly, and to create a greater sense of uniqueness to situations and characters. Not every action is going to earn an Academy Award, but players should make some effort to both tell the story, and to help everyone visualize the action.
The guidelines:

  • Describe your character’s action in 3rd person, using the character’s name.
  • Include descriptive details that make the action unique, and tell the story
  • Include any items, implements, or weapons used
  • Include your character’s emotion or motivation
  • Include your character’s condition, especially any ongoing effects
  • Avoid “game speak”
  • Include the effects of the action, and any effects or conditions that may result.
  • Even a miss can be exciting
  • Keep it brief- make it cool, but don’t write a novel.

A regular attack:

Weak : I hit a 24 AC for 16 points of damage.

Strong : Hagar slashes wildly with his ancestor’s longsword, his veins pulse with the hatred for the orc slayers that endanger his homeland. He hits a 24. His blade hacks orc flesh, dealing 16 points of damage.

Weak : I use magic missile on the troll. I roll a 7 vs. reflex. I’m sure I missed.

Strong : Zygstorm’s hands erupt with crackling energy. Having used up most of his arcane energy, in desperation, he lets loose a tiny bolt of energy that dissipates when it strikes the troll’s regenerative skin.
Attacks with conditions:
Weak : Hagar moves 5. He’s dazed, so he only gets one action.
Strong : Hagar, barely able to see straight after being clubbed in the head, limps toward the door with his arms outstretched. He’s bloodied and beaten, and just hopes to get out of this room alive (moves mini 5).
Weak : Zygstorm takes his 5 ongoing damage. He feysteps here (moves mini), and then uses thunderwave, rolling 12, 19, and 14 on the zombies. (DM- you hit two) I push them here, and here (moves minis). Do they fall into the pit? I make my save.
Strong : (This is a little long- but might be OK, for an occasional move) With the necrotic fire still burning the flesh of his face and arm, Zygstorm sees the chance to take down those abominations. He vanishes in a cloud of faerie dust, that streams past his allies to where he reappears near the zombies. Clapping his staff to the ground, a shockwave of thunder shakes the room, forcing… dice rolls… sending 2 of the zombies to the edge. (DM- one plummets into the pit, the other is hanging on by one hand.) With his sleeve, he wipes the last of the acid from his face.

Skill Challenges and Using Skills:

In skill challenges, you get to come up with creative reasons for using your skills to contribute to solving problems. They are a great opportunity to highlight the uniqueness of your character. Find a way to do it his or her way. The DM may provide a little guidance about the skills that are obvious for the situation (the primary skills), but clever players can find ways to involve any skill.
Weak : I persuade the guard to let the halfling go, using intimidation. No wait, bluff.
Strong : Hagar grabs the guard by the throat, “Do you think a charge of shoplifting is reason to detain a KING!” “Look man, you are detaining Lord Golmire Falswing of the Halfling Kingdom of Briarbun! If your superiors discovered you started an international incident because of accusations of shoplifting, they’ll have your head!” I roll a 16 for Hagar’s Bluff. He’s trained in intimidation too- if that might help.
Weak : I use perception to look for tracks of the hobgoblins along the trail.
Strong : Gallack, the Dragonborn Ranger, sniffs the air with his keen senses. He knows that finding these hobgoblins before nightfall is vital. He keeps his eyes open for patches of mud and soft earth that may show signs of tracks. He’ll stop at campsites along the way and look for tufts of hobgoblin hair.
Weak : I search the room.
Strong : Zygstorm shuffles around the room, paying particular attention to the documents on the table. He giggles with excitement as his long fingers page through the old books.
Conditions, ongoing damage, and hit points represent the harsh realities faced by adventurers and creatures in the world of DnD. What good is being on fire, if no one knows about it. If there isn’t any role playing to indicate damage, a character might suddenly die, even though no one noticed they’d been injured. So, here are a few examples of slipping conditions into your descriptions.
Immobilized : Unable to move because of the gripping tentacles, Hagar slashes at the tentacles all around him.
Difficult Terrain, Bloodied : Hagar stumbles on the slippery rocks, his head dripping with blood. In a sudden burst, he hurls his lightning javelin into the swarm of rats. The javelin explodes in an orb of electricity, frying dozens.
Ongoing Fire Damage : Hagar’s eyes open wide. In shock that he’s still alive, he ignores the flames that engulf his hair and beard, and charges the leg of the ruthless red dragon.
Fine Condition : Zygstorm stands confidently, newly restored by the healing of the angels of Pelor. He waves his hands about, moving the cloud of poisonous gas over the throne of the Lizard King.
Low Hit Points, Dazed : Zygstorm pleads to the cleric, “please Folrim, save me!,” he cries. Barely able to move his injured leg, he slumps behind the column for cover, still weakened from the wyvern’s poison.
Mad Libs Style:
(Character Name), (statement of condition), (adverb of emotion or intent)(Verb) with his (weapon or implement)  at the (target). (Description of Result).
Lorgan, dazed and bloodied, violently lunges with his Thunderstrike Halberd at the Pit Fiend, missing horribly and striking the stony ground.
Jargack, fearful and shaken, clenches his holy symbol and pathetically cries to the gods to repel the wights (turn undead), forcing them back with waves of radiance.
Fyrellin, spry and full of life, quickly launches arrows from his Battlebow at the White Dragon, piercing it’s icy scales.
Tolger, stubborn and dejected, rebelliously hacks at the door with his Waraxe, splintering the aged wood.
Deria, confused, weak, and uncertain, blindly blasts an orb of electricity into the crowd of goblins, shocking them with blue sparks.

3 Responses

  1. Not that I’m not equally a nerd in my own way but WOW Luke 🙂 haha.

    Ever feel the desire to go out in the woods and try a DnD session IRL? I don’t know if I told you, but I out-geeked a bunch of sci-fi/fantasy programmer boys in Seattle by confessing my prolonged involvement with the WOT message boards.

    Keep up the good work! If I ever get into DnD I’ll keep your tips in mind…

  2. Great suggestions. I just started my kids and their friends on a DND game. We did the first encounter in Kobold Hall, but they were just grasping the mechanics. Hopefully, I can introduce them to this style of description.

  3. Very good suggestions. Indeed, all these detailed descriptions really help the player become more involved with the game. Well done.

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