I know that as a GM you have to have some skill with your words to make the descriptions really come to life. However, as I think more and more about my next sessions, which are probably going to be steampunkish space fantasy-like with them travelling on aethercraft around the cosmos, I'm thinking of giving a lot more of the responsibility for creative and descriptive power to the players. For example:

GM: "You're approaching [Planet with some significance to John]... You've been here before, John... what do you remember about it?"

John: [Describes planet as an improvisation, ending up effectively creating the planet and its elements, probably giving me something to work with too, like a good NPC or a temple or faction or problem]


GM: "The jungle gradually thins out, and Jessica, scouting ahead, emerges first to see the old temple. Jessica, what does it look like?"

GM: "A signal fades in and out on your communications array.. you see an old, ruined ship just floating a decent distance away.. what's he saying? What happened?"

I have given increasingly "weighty" examples to illustrate roughly what I mean.

I've play tested Fate Accelerated a few times one on one, but this will be our first full experience with the system. The players are all decent and comfortable roleplayers, and I imagine Fate will give me a lot of room to adapt and improvise. That said, I have a couple of questions.

  • Will this technique work for sandboxy, improvisation heavy games?
  • How can I ensure this approach will engage and entertain the players rather than making them feel overly pressured?
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your question may be considered too broad and out of scope of this site. Narrowing your question down to something clear and discrete may help you attract more answers and would avoid close votes. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 23, 2015 at 12:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, I agree with the above, but because this question will, in my estimation, elicit responses that are only opinions. Like @Wibbs suggests, can you define for us what you mean by "good". Many things can be good for a game. I'm intrigued by this question though, and think it can be a productive one. =) \$\endgroup\$
    – sillyputty
    Apr 23, 2015 at 13:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AlexMitan But a well running game is different depending on the observer. For example, if the party starts to infight and a conflict breaks out between the players (in game). Some might consider this really good character experiences, while others would find this disruptive and damaging to the game. What is a "good" experience to your party? How can you phrase your question to promote answers that produce constructive responses around that experience? \$\endgroup\$ Apr 23, 2015 at 13:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this question is going to end up with nothing but subjective opinion-based answers. One player might think it is downright awesome that they get to describe the temple of doom©, while another player will think that this is entirely your job as DM and think you're being lazy. \$\endgroup\$
    – Theik
    Apr 23, 2015 at 13:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is still very subjective. Since there are obviously games and groups like this and ones not like this, some people like it and others don't. That's unsurprising and not worth answers. Think about how to ask what you really want to know. Is it if YOU did that with YOUR players, who have specific inclinations and backgrounds and prefer certain games and disdain others? Probably, and that might be answerable with Good Subjective, Bad Subjective. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Apr 24, 2015 at 3:35

3 Answers 3


The biggest and most important part of this advice is the following:

Talk to your players!

If nothing else about this answer helps, remember that. Before you begin springing improvisation on your players, sit them down- all at the table before you begin your next session- and pose the question.

"Hey guys, I think we're all pretty good roleplayers, and part of what makes these games exciting and fun is the collaborative story-telling elements. With that in mind, I think it would be really cool if you all have a hand in crafting the world. I'll still be running the skeleton, but I might prompt you from time to time to fill in the details. Would you guys be okay with something like that? If so, how often is too often?"

Workshop it with your group. It sounds to me like they will enjoy at least testing the idea, much more than having it sprung on them.

Help Out When You Can

Remember that this is your world, too, and you have every right to improv some descriptions that you want to see in the world. You, more than any of the other players, know where several important scenes are "heading" (at least in a general sense) so if you feel as though a certain scene needs something, add it. You are in collaboration with your players, not subordinate to them. Also, if players are burning out, or don't have much of an idea on what to do next, that is when it becomes your responsibility to help them out with some (pre-planned or improvised) scenes and hooks to get them going again.

A Soft Touch

The rest of this answer is designed to help you effectively manage this technique once it has been developed. Remember that this is collaborative, so if your player is having a touch time describing something, or is stumped on ideas, don't pressure them too much on it. Let someone with an idea jump in, or let the group collectively decide on a description of things. If you're going for a bit more "improvvy" then there is nothing wrong with letting several players all make a scene together that they all want.

Writing and remembering

This sounds like an obvious thing, but make sure to write down the descriptions your players give you. You never know when you might want to return to the Temple of Oft-Forged Lies again, and having the consistency of what Jane described will be a memorable touch, and make it feel like you all are crafting a world together- not that you're just dumping preparation duties on to them when you don't feel like doing something.

To Sum Up

This is a great idea to implement if it is the type of thing your players tell you they will enjoy, just make sure to not completely unload the burden of world-crafting onto your players. You are there to help guide them through this world, too.


Communication is your best weapon

I think the obvious answer here is, as the divine godlike GM that you'll be to them; your best weapon is communication. TALK to them; your players. Their input is your best resource.

Get them all together and provide them with a choice. Explain to them your ideas for a cooperative narration of planets, history, important events, things that are important to the characters and the world around them. Let them know that you will guiding them through a main narrative, but you are allowing them creative freedom with certain things.

Then explain to them what the alternative would involve. That YOU would control everything in so far as the setting and important events are concerned. Find out what the consensus is between them and make a decision based on majority.

The Complication

As others would agree, and as with any game; not every player is going to enjoy the chosen GM style; but they WILL adhere to it if they get along and have an understanding that this was decided among their peers. Some may be worse at it than others, and in that case you can help them along with a bit of elaboration.
My personal play style involves heavily detailed maps on a virtual table top grid. I pre plan my encounters, traps, settings, potential random encounters and missions/quests along the way. It is a heavily story/narrative driven Adventure that may seem linear, but leaves a lot of room for decision making. Not everyone likes it, but they see it for what it is; unique, and I made sure they knew what they were getting into before they started.

There's no reason why you can't sit down with your players and ask their opinion; they wont glean anything they shouldn't know or otherwise ruin the game as a result of having this pre game conversation.

My suggestion here is to avoid letting them describe adventure settings too thoroughly, otherwise your players miss out on some of the exploratory aspects of the game. If you keep some things hidden from them, then they get to discover bits of the plot as they go on, which is another type of engagement. When I say to let them describe 'certain things', I generally mean character specific things. Beyond the normal; what happened in their past and who their character is. Allow them the power to describe the planet, city, home they came from. Allow them to describe important events that happened that ties them to your narrative. Do NOT allow them to, often, tell YOU what the environment is they are adventuring through. That's only always your job. If the temple is important to a character, let them describe it, but you ultimately tell them what the inside is like.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hm, now I have to respectfully disagree. If the playstyle they want to advocate is "everyone helps in coming up with the world" I see no problem in allowing the players to help craft the environment they are adventuring through. \$\endgroup\$
    – sillyputty
    Apr 23, 2015 at 14:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps I need to rephrase but I meant only in so far as the encounter settings are concerned. Environments in and of themselves are fine. A jungle, a temple, a desert...WHAT it is, what it's called, why it's there, and what it looks like. The players can't plan the immediate adventuring space however, or else they'd know where all the important pieces are. They need to find those...the GM tells them those things, not the other way around. Or else nothing is a surprise, is it? \$\endgroup\$
    – Airatome
    Apr 23, 2015 at 14:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ahhhhh. Yes, that makes much more sense. \$\endgroup\$
    – sillyputty
    Apr 23, 2015 at 14:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @sillyputty how should I rephrase that as not to give the wrong impression you got? \$\endgroup\$
    – Airatome
    Apr 23, 2015 at 14:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ I still disagree with that assumption that you have to have something in your back pocket in order to still have the wonder of exploration. As stated, players, including the GM, have the right to introduce things- even in relation to encounters. The GM still has right of refusal and editing, but when you play to see what happens instead of playing to get through the story, a different dynamic comes out of that minor distinction. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuck Dee
    Apr 23, 2015 at 15:04

As the others have said, talking to your players about what they enjoy and consider "too much" is practically essential. But be prepared for the possibility that some may say they're not interested in playing this way.

"Collaborative" play is broadly popular right now, but there are some of us who, when in the (non-GM) "player" role, want to interact with the game world solely through our characters. I've played in a Dungeon World game which was run in this manner and, whenever the GM asked me a question such as "A signal fades in and out on your communications array.. you see an old, ruined ship just floating a decent distance away.. what's he saying? What happened?", it took me completely out of the game and my immediate reaction was an impulse to respond with something like, "It's not my character talking. How would I know what they're saying? My character wasn't there, so how would he know what happened?"


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