Increasing Immersion 1: How Do They?

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We have the DM’s Toolbox, now let’s get some tools.

“As you raise your shield the frost giant collects it with his hammer, the force of which puts him on his back foot. He looks to be readying a second strike almost as if retribution for making missing the first.”  This simple technique paints a picture for the players and increases the verisimilitude. Whereas an easy habit to form whilst DMing is:

DM: Uhh 17 to hit?    Player: Nah, misses.

And that can be the end of it. Every action in the game should have weight and so it should feel it, adding flavor to actions also increases variance and creativity on the players part. Giving them simple hooks at the end of an enemy turn like “He raises his hammer a menacing glint in his eyes.” allows the players to be creative in how what they wish to do “I raise my shield to block the blow.” or “I 5ft step away, look him in the eyes and use command to make him drop the hammer.” This rule is getting your players to role-play simply and easily, whether describing their actions in 1st or 3rd person they have decided how to react to stimulus in character.

The Rule

This is very easy to add to your DMing Toolbox, all you have to do is whenever an action happens ask yourself “How Do They?” This will generally give you some basis for the answer. For example, a Rock Troll could attempt to ground the lightning bolt that was cast upon him and rolling will determine if he takes half damage BUT it might look something different to the normal dodge or quick reflexes that a lot of DM’s envision for reflex saves. “As you summon your arcane energy, blue energy courses along your body as the cyan energy forms into a ball in your palms you release it and it races through the night at the lumbering rock troll, as it is about to strike however he raises his palm and seems to be grounding the energy straight through him into the earth below.”  Which is an alternative to “He succeeds his save, what’s half damage?”

The “How Do They” rule is a great tool that doesn’t need much moderation, it’s like cheese on pasta, you can never really have too much (bar lactose intolerance). However, a simple line or two usually suffices for the minions of the boss and for low threat jabronis. It still gives players immersion and allows a subtle tool where the players feel that the BBEG is a lot more threatening because the descriptions paint him as a more threatening and attention deserving individual.

Of course, after time you will learn how much is good for not only your players but your DMing style and can work with that and add as much or little as you desire.

The Easiest Application

By far the easiest application (one of the most powerful too) application of this is to player characters significant (or signature) abilities or “moves.” A simple question to the players will get them thinking in character. For example, “How does your barbarian rage?” Can lead to a creative response from “His eyes fall dead cold and he shows little emotion, he walks in swinging his blade at anything unfortunate enough to be in his path.” You can also use this not only for abilities and effects like a radiant glow on a smite evil, or a supernatural glow before a stunning fist. If a player keeps using the same spell or ability and it could increase their immersion hit them with the question “How Do They.”  For example, the sorcerer in the game I run “How does your magic missiles look?” lead to the response of “3 red hot arrows flying and swerving through the air, sticking in before vanishing.” Not only does this add flavor to the game and immersion it gets them to think in character.

The Downside

The good thing with this rule is there isn’t really a downside for using it even a lot, it’s like flipping a coin for Pizza or a Kebab, either way you’re a winner! However, the downside comes from not using descriptions often to your players this runs the risk of making the game:

  • Impersonal
  • Numbers
  • Decreased opportunities for Roleplay

These things won’t be instantaneous, but at high-level play (or when the PC’s decide that Hit-Hit-Hit is their best strategy or most effective one.) without the use of prompts it might lead to “I hit for… 48 damage.” “You get hit… for 56 damage.” and so on and so forth. Whereas because the rule can insert prompts like “After knocking down Avik the Barbarian, Gromush leader of the Tribe of the Eternal Winter stands above your unconscious ally, he raises the perfect blade which reflects unnerving light above his head and seems to be preparing to end it all.” Will add more flavor and intensity to the combat than just, “You take 59 damage, you’re now unconscious. Your turn Keetari.”

Fun Uses

Here is a short list of things that you could describe (you can describe any action) for the curious or newer DM’s out there. If you really want to exercise your DM muscles, comment below how you would describe them to your players!

  • A halfling rogue successfully rolling a reflex save against a fireball
  • A heavy armored paladin also succeeding save against the same fireball
  • The noises or somatic components the evil caster has when casting disintegrate
  • A failed attack by a dragon against a knight
  • A successful attack by a black pudding against a monk
  • Skill challenges like climbing, acrobatics, use rope etc.
  • Any Actions whatsoever!

Notice however that description will change depending on class/character and while you may have the rogue jump out the way of said fireball the paladin may just raise his shield to protect from most the blast.

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