Player Tips: Adding stuff to a scene

Player tips articles offer a short series of tips to help you brush up your skills in certain areas, the lists aren’t exhaustive but keeping them in mind should help you develop your playing style.

In this player tips article we give some advice on how you can add stuff to a scene to make the game more fun for yourself, your fellow players and the GM, it can also help you succeed on your rolls by tying them into the story.

1. Check with your GM first

First things first, check with your GM that you are okay to make additions to the scene, it may not always be appropriate. If you phrase your addition as a question then you are more likely to get a positive response.

Okay so we’re in the stable out the back of the tavern, are their any water troughs and tack for the animals around here?

2. Make sure that your additions don’t contradict established facts

If the GM has already established a number of facts in the scene, don’t try to contradict them or work around them, try building them into your additions, the GM is more likely to reward you for working with the narrative rather than struggling against it.

Okay so the four guards are approaching the stable, perhaps they’ve been on patrol all night? They’re cold and tired meaning that they don’t spot us straight away in the darkness of the stables.

3. Ensure that your additions are consistent with the current environment/situation

If you are in a stable in a fantasy game, don’t ask whether or not their is a weapon lying around or a convenient firearm, think of things that might be found in your environment that can serve the purpose you want them for.

If there’s hay in the stables to feed the animals is there maybe a pitchfork or something that they use to move the hay around propped up against a wall?

4. Use your additions in your actions

Once you’ve gone to the trouble of adding to a scene and enhancing the description, don’t simply let it remain in the background, use those elements when you are engaged in combat or when you take action in the scene.

As the guards move towards the stables I grab hold of the pitchfork and hunker down behind the water trough, hiding myself from view.

5. Ask the GM whether you can get a bonus for doing so

Okay, so you’ve used your scene elements, don’t be afraid to ask the GM whether or not you can receive a bonus for doing so, at worst the GM will say no and you’ve still added a cool descriptive element to the game, however, if you’re enhancing their game then the GM is more likely to give you a bonus of some sort.

As the guard move around the water trough I stand up, kicking the trough over, spilling water on the ground at their feet and attack with the pitchfork, would I get a bonus since I’m attacking from surprise and they might be slipping about on the damp cobbles?

 

Ship picture is a free vector graphic designated CC0 Public Domain, the original image can be found here.

GM Tips: 5 Tips to Help Describe a Scene

GM Tips articles offer advice and ideas for gamesmasters to help hone their techniques and run their games, these lists are not exhaustive but provide some tips to point a GM in the right direction.

In this article we offer five tips to help with that most important of all GM skills: describing a scene.

1. Make liberal use of adjectives

Adjectives are words that describe a noun or object (for example: ancient, bleak and deserted), using a slightly different term to the usual can help to reinforce your description of a scene.

For example: Rather than saying

You approach the old house.

Try saying

You walk towards the decrepit, abandoned mansion.

The second example has far more impact and builds more of a picture in the player’s minds, if you need some samples to get you going you can click here for a handy list of adjectives.

2. Don’t neglect the other senses

Although vision is a keep sense for most of us and features greatly in our descriptions, do not neglect the other senses, how does a place feel? What is the temperature like? Are there any sounds? Is there a taste in the air? All of these sense can help to boost your description, to use our abandoned mansion example

You walk towards the decrepit, abandoned mansion, the air feels cold and there is a coppery tang to the air.

3. Show, don’t tell

If it’s possible, rather than telling someone that a building is old or that a pathway is much used, show this using the environment; perhaps if the town is abandoned then buildings are literally falling down or plants have overgrow much of the architecture, or perhaps the cobbles of the path are worn smooth by the passage of many feet.

You walk towards the abandoned manion, it’s cold and there’s a coppery tang in the air, the windows of the building are broken and cobwebs cover the building.

4. Encourage your players to fill in some of the details

When you’re describing a scene, if possible ask the players some questions to have them fill in some of the finer details, this can take a bit of getting used to if you are accustomed to a more GM-heavy style of game, but it not only saves you some work, it also gets the players more invested in the scene. That said, if the player seems to be struggling for an idea, don’t hold up the game waiting for them, tell them not to worry about it and move on, either throwing it open to the group or making up a detail for yourself.

You walk towards the abandoned manion, it’s cold and there’s a coppery tang in the air, the windows of the building are broken and cobwebs cover the building. There is a peeling sign on the lawn, Micheal what does the sign say?

5. Have your NPCs and events reinforce the theme of the description

If NPCs are really at odds with their surroundings this can be quite jarring, for example if a bouncy young estate agent came skipping out of our abandoned mansion; if that’s the effect you want then great (perhaps the building is due for renovation and the estate agent represents progress or the gentrification of the area), however, if you want to reinforce your description then the NPCs and encounter should reflect it.

You walk towards the abandoned manion, it’s cold and there’s a coppery tang in the air, the windows of the building are broken and cobwebs cover the building. There is a peeling for sale sign on the lawn, sitting in a rocking chair on the veranda is an ancient man with a wrinkled face and a white beard running down past his knees.

 

Picture is part of a Doré wood engraving illustration from The Divine Comedy labeled for reuse on Google Image Search, the original image can be found here.