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As I try really hard to always be improving my in-game persona through better roleplaying, one area I find difficult is when my abilities cause the GM to roll a saving throw.

Are there any strategies either I can take, or try to talk to her about, to make it a bit more seamless?

For example, when casting Fear I may say something like

"Quickly plucking a white feather from my pouch, I wave it in the air. My eyes glaze to white. Suddenly within the minds of X, Y, and Z is the vision of their darkest fear reborn. Mocking them, tormenting them, slowly approaching from the deepest recess of their mind overtaking them with fear."

But then my GM stares at me blankly and I have to say, "... that was me casting fear, you need to make a Wisdom save or those 3 NPCs are all frightened."

This is just one example of course. Similar things happens with nearly all spells I try to act out, making it at times feel easier to just say, "I cast Vicious Mockery, make a wisdom save" or "I cast Calm emotions, make a charisma save", etc.

What can I either do as a player, or talk to my GM to try, to help these spell save instances flow more naturally?

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closed as too broad by SevenSidedDie Apr 13 '18 at 2:59

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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It's a two part process. Because this is a game, there are rules to it that the DM/GM needs to know.

First part: Give your flavor

Second part: State the save

These can be done in any order, but this is the order that I'd prefer as a DM. In your example:

"Quickly plucking a white feather from my pouch, I wave it in the air. My eyes glaze to white. Suddenly within the minds of X, Y, and Z is the vision of their darkest fear reborn. Mocking them, tormenting them, slowly approaching from the deepest recess of their mind overtaking them with fear."

becomes

"Quickly plucking a white feather from my pouch, I wave it in the air. My eyes glaze to white. Suddenly within the minds of X, Y, and Z is the vision of their darkest fear reborn. Mocking them, tormenting them, slowly approaching from the deepest recess of their mind overtaking them with fear. They need to make a wisdom saving throw or are frightened."

Now the DM can make the roll and instead of saying pass/fail/fail, they can add in their own flavor. If they do just say pass and fails, feel free to narrate it yourself.

"I grimace and focus and watch as X and Y seem to draw in resolve and steel themselves against my spell. I can see that I've gotten through to Z and that the fear is coursing through their veins. I smile a little bit and send another wave of fear at them."

As a DM, I will personally try and ask the players what something looks like, so as a player, if you don't want to narrate the passes and fails, you can ask the DM what it looks like as well. If they ask why, just say it helps with your immersion in the game.

Just to reiterate, you do need to give some information, at a game level, so that they know what is going on, that's just something inherent with a spell caster who has a number of spells. It's unfortunate but true but that's because we are playing a game with rules to it. But you can certainly do both game information and description at the same time without breaking the immersion much as the example above hopefully shows.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would kind of do it the other way, "I cast fear. [flowery description]." \$\endgroup\$ – sirjonsnow Apr 11 '18 at 19:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer. But I'd agree with sirjonsnow. If the action is known to the other players and has a clear name, like a spell, I would prefer if a player calls it first. That way the GM can prepare his reply as the player describes his action. \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Apr 12 '18 at 23:11
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Stating intent is important for both the DM and other players

Personally, I am under the belief that intent should be clearly stated. While role-playing flavor is wonderful, having intent stated so nothing is misunderstood or taken wrong is also important. I both as a DM or player, often have to do this from both sides of the table. When I flavor my attacks or spells or magic item use with layers of flavor, I add a quick - and I cast/use/attack X, Y or Z, and they need to do A or B happens.

Here is an example as to how your quote can be mistaken - I will be pulling from pathfinder system as that is my most familiar.

I have a sorcerer with the fear spell. He also has a feat called Soulless Gaze that lets him cause fear as a swift action. I say

"Quickly plucking a white feather from my pouch, I wave it in the air. My eyes glaze to white. Suddenly within the minds of X, Y, and Z is the vision of their darkest fear reborn. Mocking them, tormenting them, slowly approaching from the deepest recess of their mind overtaking them with fear."

Its incredibly unclear if Im using my feat, a spell, or even what fear-causing spell I am using, as there are multiple spells that cause fear.

Soulless gaze I roll against their DC.

With spells, they roll against my DC.

Without stating my intent, the GM has no way of knowing what Im trying to do, and thus, cannot make a ruling or even know how to save.

A good example of a way to reword your statement could be something like :

"Quickly plucking a white feather from my pouch, I wave it in the air. My eyes glaze to white as I cast my Fear spell. Suddenly within the minds of X, Y, and Z is the vision of their darkest fear reborn. Mocking them, tormenting them, slowly approaching from the deepest recess of their mind. X, Y and Z need to make Wisdom saves or be overtaken by fear."

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I understand that you want to avoid mixing out-of-character statements into your in-character narration. You want to just narrate IC and have that description smoothly recognised by your GM for the actions it translates into, so your GM can take care of the OOC stuff right away any get back to the IC stuff. Your goal is to stay IC and to have this go smoothly.

Right now you can't

You can't make this smoother the way you want to. You're hiding the information your GM needs to smoothly respond to your roleplaying contribution.

Your GM is responsible for translating your IC declared activity into game terms when necessary, but you're not helping translate and you haven't given her a "dictionary" so she can do it without your help.

Narrative exclusively IC is easy and natural for mundane activity and really, really hard for non-mundane activity.

When you roleplay magic or supernatural abilities, we as non-magic, non-supernatural humans have no familiar reference points to be able to recognise what you're describing.

You have to tell your fellow mundane humans what's happening along with the roleplay:

I'm casting a fear spell. Quickly plucking a white feather from my pouch, I wave it in the air. My eyes glaze to white. Suddenly within the minds of X, Y, and Z is the vision of their darkest fear reborn. Mocking them, tormenting them, slowly approaching from the deepest recess of their mind overtaking them with fear.

This is no different than any other ambiguous roleplaying description; whether it's missing information IC or OOC, the problem is the same to your GM. In a crowded tavern with a front door atop a short half-flight of stairs, a mezzanine at the top of a full flight of stairs, and three doors downstairs and five upstairs, if you said this…

I zigzag across the room, leaping up the stairs and disappearing through the door.

… that's simply not enough information for your co-players and GM to build on your contribution. Did you just leave through the front door? Did you just charge up onto the mezzanine and into one of the upper doors? Which one did you try to go through (some are locked)?

So if you want to cast a spell, say so.

Your avoidance of that is actively preventing what you want — your GM from smoothly picking up your roleplaying bid — because you're forcing her to stop, step out of the roleplaying, and quiz you as a player to better explain what you just did. Just explain better up-front and help your GM help you.

Later, maybe

Later, you might be able to keep everything IC and skip declaring spells, but there's a big "if" attached. Only if your spellcasting descriptions are consistent enough that your GM can learn to recognise them infallibly will you ever be able to skip saying "I cast [spell name]."

If your descriptions are custom each time? Then you'll always need to say that you're casting a spell and what spell it is.

If your descriptions are consistent, then you can ask your GM if she is happy with you skipping the name and only describing the character actions involved. (Not every GM would agree — GMs already have a lot of work to do during play, and this is asking her for more work. Not every GM has the same mental skillsets either, and what you're asking will be easy for some and hard for others.) If your GM agrees, this will still take time — you'll have to demonstrate during play and tell her what spell that description matches, possibly multiple times, to build a "dictionary" entry she can use to translate your IC narration into a concrete, known meaning. Then you can start skipping the out-of-character name of the spell.

Even then, you have to do this for each individual spell. Any time you get a new spell you'll have to build a "dictionary" entry for it like this, all over again.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hmm, I wonder if the choice to make this system agnostic was a mistake. If talking specifically about 5e then I don't know how concluding with "overtaking them with Fear" isn't specific enough. I don't know what all effects and spells cause Fear but all of them require the exact same Wisdom Save, no? \$\endgroup\$ – RyanFromGDSE Apr 11 '18 at 15:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ I do like the "partially scripted" idea and will start working on one and see if I can also get my GM on board by showing them to her. \$\endgroup\$ – RyanFromGDSE Apr 11 '18 at 15:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not all abilities that have the same general outcome work the same, especially not in a game like D&D 5e where everything has an exception. Basically, if your GM is responding as if they don't know what you just said, that's a solid sign that what you said isn't enough to understand. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 11 '18 at 15:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanFromGDSE I'm a bit confused: I don't see a conflict between The Scando's answer and anything I've said. What am I overlooking? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 11 '18 at 18:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanFromGDSE Yeah, I would disagree with that. The GM needs to know what spell is being used, because spells are individual. What happens if someone has defenses which depend on the spell's details, like the level of the spell? In a game where anything can happen, the GM's job is to manage everything that is happening, even if players don't know about it, and there are too many details that can impact a situation. The GMs need to know the rules you're using. Players are not GMs and can't keep secret from the GM what rules they're using. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 11 '18 at 18:28
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The most important thing is (as previously mentioned) to clearly state your intentions. However it is possible to do so without saying anything along the lines of "I am casting spell X or using ability Y" if you are willing to do a little prep outside the game.

The solution? Note cards.

Get a pack of note cards and write the name and save (if applicable) of 1 spell/ability on each, large enough that the GM can see if you hold it up. Then when using that spell/ability, hold up the card while doing the narration (or pass the card if you want to ensure the GM sees) to indicate that this is the spell/ability being used. The GM can then react appropriately without breaking the flow.

I haven't used this personally, but I have seen others at my table doing it, both while I was playing and GM'ing. It has worked very well as long as everyone was on top of things (i.e. Players knew what they wanted to do and had the card ready on their turn and GM knew what to roll and what the DC was).

One final note: I would not recommend this technique if you misplace things easily or are generally disorganized. I have seen cards fall and the player have to shuffle to retrieve the correct one. Usually a turn is enough time to get reorganized and prepare, but YMMV.

Also (as SevenSidedDie pointed out), you need to be playing in person or via video chat for this to work.

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State the feature and the save it requires.

In general, GM's have an awful lot to keep track of during a game without having to memorize how everyone's features work, especially if a player is only hinting at the feature they're using rather than naming it outright (as indicated by your example). Help the GM out: state the feature you're using and the save it requires. You can do so after describing it narratively, if you want.

This will help them to run things more smoothly and avoid the awkward silences and delays. As both a frequent GM and infrequent player in many campaigns across different game systems, I always see hiccups when players are ambiguous about the features they are using or what the GM is expected to do to respond to those features. Without exception, being explicit when using the feature resolves the hiccups without limiting the immersion of narrative descriptions.

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  • Start with "I'm casting X"
  • proceed with roleplay
  • End with Make a save ...

This compromise should help smooth out interaction.

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Apocalypse World has a principle - a rule - for MCs/GMs : "Make your move, but never speak its name". If I, as GM, want to make the move "Capture someone", I say "Keeler's thugs lasso Kribs as they drive past. Kribs is screaming and twisting as he's dragged him away. What do you do?". It's part of the mystery, the illusion, that I'm doing some concrete fictional thing - dragging Kribs away - rather than the mundane "making the move Capture Someone". The players don't even need to know that there is a list of GM moves, or what they are, because the GM controls the fiction.

On the other hand, there's no such rule for players. While it's encouraged that players describe their action - "I pull my sawn-off and unload both barrels at the Biker who's got Kribs", the first thing to do is to agree what move triggers "So, you're Going Aggro, yes?". The whole table has to agree that that is indeed the move that happens. And if the player thinks something else is happening, he's got a chance to say so, and/or change his fictional action to address that.

But that one's fairly obvious. If a player want to "Open Up His Mind to the Psychic Maelstrom", there's no way everyone around your table is going to know what you're getting at unless you tell them explicitly, for it's likely you're the only person at the table with that move. Naming your move, and saying what might happen as a result, is simply good communication. For you have to communicate to the GM what move you're making so he can apply the fictional consequences to the world.

So why is all this relevant to you? Merely as an example of a game that explicitly obfuscates GM Moves, doesn't do the same with Player Moves, and has a mechanism for recognising and confirming which Player Moves trigger when it's unclear. And you're trying to do fictional triggering in a game with no support for fictional triggering. It's thus quite likely to go wrong, to the frustration of all involved.

So what to do? I don't have a good answer, because this is not really a system-agnostic question. Add in systems to do what you want? Play some other game which already has rules which support what you want to do? Or stick with your games rules, as they're written, and give up fighting it.

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