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I have a party of new players, who are enjoying a sporadic session of Fate Accelerated. I'm learning a significant amount from the experience, and I hope they are too.

In addition to some problems I'm trying to correct in my GM techniques, I've also identified a systemic problem in many of the players' approach to roleplaying: they are not always descriptive enough of what they're doing to accurately paint a picture for both me and the other players.

I don't mean to dismiss my GMing problems as theirs, but I feel I can help them grow as players by helping them describe their actions more thoroughly. I understand that part of this is simply experience with what works and what doesn't, but as the facilitator of gameplay I feel it is both within my power and is my responsibility to encourage good roleplaying.

Except there's one little problem: I have no clue how to go about this.


As an example of what I'm seeing, I'll take a few lines from a recent session:

I run away and hide.

I steal the wrench from him.

These result in miscommunication issues. Someone says "I tie him down," but since they think 'he' is someone else, metagame confusion results.

What I am really looking for is something like:

I run back out of the alley and hide behind the nearby pillars.

I wait until the worker has his back turned, then I slip behind him and remove his wrench from his belt.

The benefits are obvious: everyone knows exactly what's going on.


If I I just keep asking players to be more descriptive, I'm going to sound like a broken record.

How do I encourage descriptive speech in-game? Are there any training campaigns or scenarios that I could, perhaps, run to get them in this mindset? And if it's merely a function of experience, what in-game opportunities should I provide to allow and encourage descriptive actions?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Normally I don't answer questions after the answered sign has been given, but I do believe that there is still much to say. So without much farther ado, let's dive in.

Questions

Yeah, it has been written before, but it still worth mentioning. If your players didn't give you a clear description, ask them for more input. While some of the answerers did suggest that you should not ask leading questions, many a time you actually should. From my experience, many of the shortest descriptions for actions come from players who didn't get the full picture in the first place. As such, leading them a little bit (or even more than a little bit) will help them to see the picture more fully for their next descriptions.

Furthermore, you stated that your players are new. New players don't always know what is expected from them and what is not. By leading them a little bit with your questions you actually help them to better grasp what should be described and what not, and to what extent.

Lead from example

You are their GM. They look at you, with their big eyes like you're some kind of a teacher figure and they try to understand from what you do what they should do. This means one simple thing: If you'll describe your actions, they will describe their actions. They will probably start slowly, but sooner or later it will come. Let them see in your descriptions what is expected from them.

Reward for great descriptions

You're using FATE, so use your fate points for your advantage. fate points are supposed to move all the time, to be given and spent very very quickly. This thing enables you to give extra ones without fearing for your adventure/story. One of the players gave a great description? Give her a fate point while explaining for what this is given. "See what Lisa did there? Describe your actions like that and the next Chip is yours…"

The spending mechanics are geared toward describing too. In order to spend a fate point you have to either describe or to be in a situation where one of the aspects comes into play. Build on that, make them add those nifty extra details in order to use those fate points of them. Remind them that by describing they'll be able to unlock those special abilities and possibilities.

Make them swim in details

Although you shouldn't take this literally, do your best to build a picture in their heads of what's happening. As I've mentioned before, many short descriptions from the players come from not understanding and not seeing the big picture of the scene. When they don't know that there's a barrel in the left they won't use it. Make them see the barrel and they'll use it. You're their senses, so what you don't describe doesn't exist.

Let them add small details

The last paragraph is true with one exception: If your players suggest adding a small detail here or there, let them. Sometimes they'll need to spend a fate point, but only when it really is important. If, for example, they're in a combat and one of them asks if there's a barrel at the end of the market, ask yourself if it is logical to find one in there. If so, give it to them. Many a time, with these questions they try to ask you if their idea is good. If you'll give it to them many a time they will come with one of those legendary acts. As a rule of thumb, if it is useful to this particular scene only say yes.

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You have a very powerful tool in your arsenal to help this problem self-correct. It's the ability to ask questions.

Basically, what you want to do is test for comprehension. Repeat what they're saying to iterate the muddiness of the statement. You might need to iterate that they're dictating outcomes, rather than phrasing them as actions also.

Then phrase a non leading question. Don't let them roll until you totally understand what they're doing in a story fashion and without making assumptions. Don't let them apply aspects until you understand without assumptions the picture of what they're doing. As you make this change, it will in most cases become more second nature.

To go directly from your examples:

I run away and hide.

Ok, you plan to attempt to run away and hide. Where? How?

I steal the wrench from him.

Ok, you plan to try to steal the wrench from him. How?

This will be an iterative process, especially in the beginning.

To take the first example:

I run away and hide.

Ok, you plan to attempt to run away and hide. How?

I'll run back down the alley.

Ok, you plan to attempt to run back down the alley and hide. Hide where?

Just keep refining until you get to a place where you have a statement. At this point, you might have to point out what you've done with them, to reinforce the process. Some people will just pick up on it- others, not so much.

But help, and encourage, and fill in the gaps. Make the picture of what is happening come to life in the minds of your players, and to yourself.

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I'm not familiar to Fate, so my suggestions may probably not suit your needs. Anyway, here they are:

Reward

I think this one is quite standard: Give rewards for better descriptions (say experience points or whatever your suits the game).

Pull their leg

Fill what they don't tell in such a way they will regret. Perhaps there is no need to be too harsh, but just enough to make them notice that they need to be more descriptive in the future. Something like:

-I steal the wrench from him.

-All right. You jump over the guy trying to grab the wench desperately, but he notices you and hits your head with the tool.

If they argue that they wanted to do it more carefully, tell them to state so more clearly next time.

Edit: If you find this too harsh, you may allow them to re-elaborate before making a final decision. This is somehow close to what DampeS8N suggested, about asking how but showing them that there are many ways of performing such actions, and make them feel the need of being more descriptive.

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2  
I'm not completely sure that negative reinforcement is the best approach in this case. It has the alternate side effect of creating a GM vs. Players mentality, as well as establishes me as a stricter/harsher GM; in essence, the table becomes less open. Additionally, as with the other answer, plot-based rewards may break the system of Fate points as expressed in Fate Accelerated. Thank you for the advice, though! –  Emrakul Mar 14 at 19:51
    
Not necessarily, but you know your group, and you should be able to tell how they will react. I think that subtly ridiculing a character in order to push the players to better role-playing may be fun (indeed, I experienced it), but must be done with caution. If your players are too sensitive, I agree you shouldn't try. –  Marshall Mar 14 at 19:58
    
+1 for making them feel why it matters how they choose to do something. However, you should edit it so it doesn't look like the default is to interpret their words in unfavorable way and make them stick with it for this time. The default should be to let them elaborate on how they're doing it. –  Julix Mar 15 at 21:45

The old solution to this problem is to reward players for creative role-playing directly. I.E., Bonus Experience.

As has been pointed out though, FATE is not the best system for an XP-based reward.

Of course, it doesn't have to just be XP. Any reward will do. You could suggest that you might reward them with better fortune as they describe their actions more throughly, or give them some combat advantage for going into detail about what they do. Or, if you dont' mind real-world rewards, bring candy and hand it out for good role-playing.

And to get them to properly understand what 'more descriptive' means, make sure you practice it yourself. Describe your own NPCs actions in great detail, and the world around them as throughly as possible (though not to the point of boring them, or else it will have quite the opposite effect that you desire!).

Reward for good behavior, plus demonstrating what behavior you expect. That is the simplest solution I can think of.

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While I do, in principle, agree with your answer, my question is specifically about how to apply a reward in-game for Fate Accelerated, which does not have an experience system. As a result, I am fairly certain the idea of actual rewards for descriptiveness breaks the Fate point aspect of the game. I appreciate the answer, but I'm skeptical this advice applies. –  Emrakul Mar 14 at 19:48
    
@Emracool In that case, I encourage you to focus on the second half of my advice rather than the first. I'm sorry I can't help you with a more FATE-specific answer, but hopefully my suggestions for out-of-Fate rewards and encouragement will help. –  Zibbobz Mar 14 at 20:01

I run away and hide.

"Where do you run away to? How do you hide?"

I steal the wrench from him.

"Just run up and snatch it?"

If the above seems like too much effort, you probably shouldn't be GMing. Players often blurt out the gist of their actions and need a little prodding or time to get them to fully describe what they want to do. Give them a chance.

There are also two different expectations for players in games. There are those that assume that they define the specifics of what they do, and there are those that assume the gm defines the specifics of what they do.

The first expects this interaction:

Player: I flip over the guard, slashing into his face with my sword as I come down in front of him. * roll * And I miss, rotating the tip of the blade in front of his surprised eyes.

While the second will expect this:

Player: I jump over the guard and slash at him. * roll *

GM: You flip over the guard and land in front of him, your blade rotating right in front of him but missing his face completely.

Get on the same page as to what your players are really expecting. They might be thinking you are really bad at describing what happens.

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It is also worth noting, @Emracool , that both types of players can exist in the same game. You just switch up your style depending on the player. Sometimes players will switch types, too. New players are often of the second type until they really grok the rules. –  DampeS8N Mar 14 at 20:14
    
It's also worth noting that you should ask them if this is the case - if they are expecting more description from you, and whether you or they want it one way or the other. The idea is to get on the same page and figure out what works best for you and your players. –  Zibbobz Mar 14 at 20:30
    
You say these are new players. If you can invite a more experienced player to join the group, even just temporarily, it might help the newer ones get a better understanding of how collaborative a really good scene can be. Once they taste it, they'll want to do it themselves. –  As If Mar 14 at 20:37
    
@DampeS8N Yes they're both fine, which is why I upvoted you. When I say "collaborative" I'm not arguing Narrativism vs Simulationism here. This is about descriptiveness. I'm just saying it helps to watch someone who's more experienced, and it can be contagious. The hypothetical guest player should be someone who plays the way the GM feels most comfortable with. –  As If Mar 14 at 20:49

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