On handling the narration of combat.

On handling the narration of combat.

On handling the narration of combat. I’m curious on how this goes in others games as far as who narrates the interpretation of the roles during combat. I always tell my players that I’ll narrate what happens but if they prefer to than just step up and do it. About 95% of the time it’s left up to me but honestly I wish they would take more swings at it. I have one player that often has really imaginative outcomes that keep me on my toes and often opens up whole new avenues of were the combat can flow. On the other end of the spectrum I have a player that still says “I use hack and slash”. The majority just say something along the lines of “I swing my sword at the goblin”.

Part of me feels that maybe some players are intimidated by the amount of control they have over the game. It could also be the level of creativity or to quickly improve things varies between people. I feel getting vivid and interesting descriptions really brings the game to life. For example I was playing at a convention game and the gamemaster always used 7-9 in combat as a straight exchange of damage. While she was a competent GM her technique towards combat made it feel rote and lifeless.

So what are your feelings and processes to the above? I want to stress there is no right or wrong I was stating my preference only. I’m curious about other’s preferrences.

19 thoughts on “On handling the narration of combat.”

  1. Instead of telling them “I’ll describe but if you want to do it go ahead” do this :

    PC: I swing my sword at the goblin

    GM: ok, roll hack n slash.

    PC: 9

    GM: alright the goblin manage to puncture you in the tight but you kill him. Go ahead and describe how you do this.

  2. I echo Addramyr Palinor’s approach and add this: hack and Slash presumes that you’re going toe-to-toe with your foe.

    It’s not often that melee is is so neatly set up that the combatants just stand and swing at each other. Consider the scene and describe it to the players – if the PC needs to cross the room to swing at the Orc, do they charge or approach cautiously? Expand the fiction and give them more than just sword play to consider.

  3. Addramyr Palinor that’s good advice and I have tried it. One player takes several minutes slowing down the excitement and the others generally say pretty much the same things such as “I swing my sword into ‘choose body part’. One thing I do to help the players is to tell them when they watch a movie think about how it would relate to the rules of DW. Specifically I mention the opening scene in India Jones as a great way to understand that moves snowball. One of my players is a huge Lord of the Rings fan and

    I used the example of Legolas sliding down stairs on a shield while firing arrows. I explain one example how this could work in DW is first a defy danger (+dex) followed by hack & slash. I think most of my players prefer that I narrate it which is fine as long as they enjoy the game.

  4. Matthew G. Belive me when I say I very much follow the “fiction first fiction last” approach. I’m a big fan of putting things in the environment that can affect combat. Sometimes they take advantage sometimes not. Occasionaly I get a gem like the player saying ” I pick up the large tree branch and charge the goblins trying to push them into the clockworks of their devilish machinery.

  5. I change up how much narration I prompt my players to give based on a lot of things, but a lot of it is based on the specific player.

    In my longest running game, I’ve got:

    * Two players who’s creativity, pacing, and sense of place/time/momentum I generally trust, and who are generally really on board with authoring their own calamities. I’ll often turn narration over to them.

    * Three players who aren’t very confident in their own creative contributions nor overly interested in the gory details of combat. I’ll clarify the fiction with them a lot before we agree on a roll, maybe ask for their input after, but generally I take the reins on narrating the outcomes.

    * One player who’s sense of the fictional situation and plausibility is often very at odds with mine, and who tends to always angle for success/avoid complication/etc. For this player, I do a lot of telling the requirements or consequences and clarifying the fiction, and then I’ll get the gist from him but otherwise take control of the narration.

    Biggest thing I’ve tried to train myself to do is: never just deal damage. When they get a 7-9 on Hack & Slash (or a 10+ and expose themselves to attack), make another GM move with their foe and deal damage incidentally. I talk about that a bit here:

    plus.google.com – Deal Damage is a Crap GM Move slightly heretical musings When I’ve played DW…

  6. Jeremy Strandberg agree 100% on the idea that a 7-9 result doesn’t have to be exchange damage. As GM this is probably the most challenging part of running DW. You need to think of alternative outcomes to damage but you don’t want to repeat moves such as “you slice into the ogre but not before it bites your shield in half.”. As I mentioned above with the convention game, the GM took alot out of combat by just doing a partial success as an exchange of damage but I also understand she ran countless games throughout the weekend and just might have been mental worn down. I know this is my biggest challenge in running the game.

  7. I’ve read the linked thread and Paul’s hack and this is VERY interesting. I’ve been toying around with alternatives for HP as I too feel it’s a bit lacking.

    I really like the idea of not just doing damage but doing damage incidentally to another move.

    I need to mediate on Paul’s hack as I think it has lot of potential. Do we have this hack cleanly written somewhere, not part of a thread? Paul Taliesin​

  8. One of the things I think we’ve all glossed over is the need lead by example by putting their characters in interesting situations mid combat. The reason they may be just using “I slash with my sword” is that you might not be giving them anything to work with.

    “Ok there’s six gonlins. Two of them have these rusty ass knives tied onto sticks and the other four have slings behind them. What do you do?”

    “Ok two of the guys with slings hop onto a boulder – they’re gonna be hard to get to now, and they keep pelting you with rocks. What do you do?”

    “The two with spears charge at you, fighter. The first one swings for the legs and the other stabs for your shoulder – you can avoid one, and either be knocked down or drop your sword; or you can Defy Danger to avoid both. What do you do?”

  9. Glad to see some interesting ideas brought up but I need to rehijack the thread. How do other people handle combat descriptions. Does the GM do the bulk of it or is it the players. Is it a mix or something else completely. Lastly what are your philosophies on combat descriptions. Really interested in seeing the broad spectrum of styles that no doubt are out there. Once again I’d like to stress there is no wrong or right if everyone is having fun.

  10. I’ve learned that some people ‘get it’ when it comes to narrating their own outcomes. Even when you tell them that they have free reign, they think they can’t say ‘I roll 7, so I lop off the goblins arm, but my spear is imbedded in his shoulder joint. I struggle to get it out as he claws at me with his other arm.’ They think that its not fair for them to do that. Many of players come from a video game background and just view the DW experience as an extension of that, not a collaboration.

    So, to get around that remind players that damage is caused by, is the result of, the outcome of what you are doing. Sure, we already know that its 5 DMG, but how it is dealt is more important. Try asking players to narrate what they are explicitly doing, how effect it is, and what the enemy does in response BEFORE their rolls. Then ‘ret con’ as needed.

    Player: ‘I attack with my spear’. (H&s)

    Gm: ‘The goblin stomps forward, raising her pot lid shield in defense, what happens next?’ (How do you attack explicitly?)

    Player: ‘I aim for the few inches of face she has poking out over the top of the pot lid’ (narration first)

    Gm: ‘She lunges forward at the same time dropping her shield just a smidge, but threatening to gut you with her crude dagger. Roll hack and Slash’

    10: Gm ‘Your attack hits her first, what does it look?’ or ‘Your spear crunches her right through the eye and pushes her back to safe distance, roll damage and you have free reign, what do you do?

    7-9: Gm ‘Your spear hits her and skids off her skull right as she slices into her blade into your gut. You two are locked in a face to face. Deal damage, but also take 3. She snaps her teeth, biting at you. (The next threat to deal with) what do you do?’

    6: you get it.

  11. I’ve been trying to formulate something about your original subject Erik Buchanan.

    I mostly handle the fiction after the roll, while players tell me what they do. I have this feeling that I’m handling too much of the combat narration as a GM. I think at least most of my players could comfortably narrate a lot more, and I believe we would all be richer for it.

    Some reasons I see for this:

    – Most of us played DnD for many years

    – I haven’t properly communicated that it’s OK, even encouraged, to handle larger chunks of action in one go. I too fall into the trap of doing one blow at a time

    – I’m too afraid to let go of the fiction as a GM

    – Differences in both how comfortable players are narrating and how much I trust them with the fiction.

    – Critical Role, while doing wonders for my descriptions of concequences and gore in combat, portrays a GM as the sole narrator of the fiction of combat. My younger sister is a huge fan, and also the least comfortable answering questions and narrating her actions, much less an opponents. I mostly see creating a safe enough space for her as both the youngest person (25 vs 33yo) and only girl as my failing, at the same time personality plays a factor. Maybe it will work itself out as we get more comfortable.

  12. Andrew Huffaker yeah, that’s really solid. I do a lot of the same, but hadn’t framed it my head that way. If you clarify the player’s intent (and the fiction around it) before going to the dice, then narrate the outcome with the dice as a guide, you get a lot of the benefits of player narration without having to give up control or force your players into a role they aren’t comfortable with.

  13. As for other techniques, the Gauntlet’s play culture largely embraces a “narrate your own success” approach. Listening to their actual plays, it tends to go something like this:

    GM “a 12, huh? Cool. Go ahead and describe that.”

    PC “so, like I said, I duck under the ogre’s swing and it smashes into the ground, spitting up dust and clouds of earth. I’m inside it’s guard, right? I stab it in the side, under its arm! Damage?”

    GM “no, it’s still dangerous this close, I think that’s a hack and slash.”

    PC “uh… 8! And… 4 damage, 2 piercing.”

    GM “okay, you definitely connect, but don’t take it out. And I think it swats you away into the wall of the ruins for d10 damage. Go ahead and narrate that for us.”

    PC “okay, so I like stab in the side, but it doesn’t go in very deep, it like scrapes off a rib or something. And it like flinches back and drops it’s club and just lashes out with a backhand, faster than I can react. It’s like getting smacked by a sack of grain on a rope, right, and next thing I know I’m lying a slump at the bottom of that wall. D10 damage, you said? Ugh, an 8. Ouch. I think I’m sitting their slack jawed for a second, not sure what happened.”

    So on the 10+ To defy danger, the GMs just like “cool, narrate it.”

    On the 7-9 hack and slash, the GM waits for the player’s damage roll, considers that vs the monster’s HP, and then announces the rough outcome of the monster’s attack (swatted away into that wall) but tells the player to actually narrate it. The player, then, gets decide and describe what specifically happens, including the sensory details and the reason he gets hit by the ogre and how his character responds to it.

    I’m not a huge fan of this approach, personally. I find it often results in re-narrating stuff that was established before the roll, and sometimes the player’s narration ignores or changes details that were already established. Sometimes it’s just flowery. It can be pretty cool when it works, but that requires that the player wanting to do this, and feeling confident about it, and playing within the established parameters of the tone, fiction, and circumstances.

  14. Jeremy Strandberg Asbjørn H Flø thanks for the kudos.

    I have 2 players who process very slowly. No exaggeration, I timed it last week, one of them takes 20+ seconds of silent thinking before just saying ‘I attack?’ most times.

    To combat this and get everyone into the narrative mode, I ask players what they want they ultimately want and what would the best case scenario look like BEFORE rolls. If they get 10+ they already described it, so than I move forward with the GMing.

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