Describing attacks

I had some sort of technique, back in the days, when it came to describing how an attack failed or succeeded.

I kind of fell short of creativity when describing attacks and blows with the kids last weekend.

Let’s try to reflect on why and if I can remember how I used to do it…

For starters, I was rusty. My lexicon of hits, misses, crits and fumbles was far away. I was also nervous.

I also put in there a dragon that had more HP that I was prepared to handle… this is where my narrative started to fall flat and sound repetitive.

Luckily, I had elements to save me: I was gaming with children who are blessed with a love for silliness. And they were vocal about their likes, anticipations and were ready to propose descriptions when I was falling short.

A bit of practice will bring the lexicon back… but I half-remember a technique I used to use.

« Rule » 1

I suspect a lot of DMs do it that way – the farther away you are from the target, the most spectacular the hit or miss. That’s an easy one.

« Rule » 2

What makes a die roll and a defense score is more complex than the silly number that represents it. For me, it feels especially rich in 4.0.

The die roll modifier (I almost wrote « thac0 » – my lexicon is resurfacing) is a combination of experience (half level), abilities (ex: strength), feats, characteristics. The die roll is luck.
Same with the defense score – experience, ablities and feats.

I try to layer them by importance.

For an attach score of 17, we can have a hit:

  • 10 from the dice, for luck – « you just got lucky ».
  • 3 for strengh bonus – « you hit so hard you pierced the armor »
  • due to training – « he blocked your hit, but anticipating his parry, you pivot on your left leg and score a hit »
  • due to experience with this or another opponent or situation – « kobolds always dodge on their left first. dumb farts »

Already a nice palette to narrate a hit. The narrower we hit the DC, the more the hit goes towards the « luck » end of the spectrum. The higher we beat the DC, the more I go towards the training and experience end of the spectrum.

Misses can use that same scale, but we can do the same thing with the defense score.
AC could be 18:

  • Basic 10 – « you stand still, but the attacker misses » … or just use the attack score scale 🙂
  • 3 for the armor – « his axe hits you straight in the chest. You step a few steps back, gasping for breath. You reach for your chest – your armor has taken the hit. And someone must pay. »
  • 5 for a dex bonus – « his flail is coming straight at you. but you’re not there anymore ».

« Rule » 3 – Preparing a bit in advance

It’s hard to use just like that without pausing and thinking about what constitutes the scores… but if you are prepared a bit in advance, you can have a general idea of how the various scores are composed – especially your players’ scores.

I suspect we could devise a little hit/miss table that could be filled for each character and that gives descriptions for hits or misses based on how far the attack score is from the target DC.

Hmm… I like this idea.

« Rule » 4 – Practice

I’m a total designer geek and like to build rules and structures around things. It makes them simpler for me… but it sometimes makes them feel more complex and difficult for others.

A few practice rounds with have you get the gist of it… and you probably don’t need anything more.

Except, of course, if that table idea from tip3 pans out…




3 thoughts on “Describing attacks

  1. I like that, but I’d tend to avoid the « and someone must pay » on the armor thing. Strikes me as being a bit too close to playing the player’s character, and they’ll fill it in themselves within the next swing or two anyway.

    The guidelines are definitely useful. I’d never realized just how randomly I’d handled describing my hits and misses.

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