My players aren't narrating their actions as much as I want them to. Oftentimes, the narration is left solely up to me, the DM, and it's exhausting to come up with every successful (and failed) Ability Check, Attack Roll, and Saving Throw's narration. All (I was going to write "A majority" but this is more accurate, actually) my players' creative input right now is to roll the dice, see the number, look at me to say if they passed or failed, then silence as the game moves on.

To address this problem, what I want to do is give the players the Difficulty Class and Armor Class ahead of rolling. This way, they will know whether they succeeded or failed and can narrate accordingly.

What I'm asking is: What are the repercussions of this? Is this exploitable?


6 Answers 6


To answer your second question first, Yes. AC/DC (not the band) is exploitable.

Here is how. If they know the target AC they can try to game the system by knowing the target score and playing the fine line. Technically it will still be up to the dice (those can be fudged) but they might know whether or not something is a threat to them and it takes the mystery out of an encounter.


Party comes across a 4 legged dragon-lizard looking enemy, it looks pretty intimidating and you as the DM can play up its "scary" factor. If they don't know the numbers behind the scenes they approach it more critically as it might be something tough. If they know the numbers behind it and they are pretty confident with their averages they will just charge it and smash it into oblivion, if they are confident, or try to bypass it if they know they can't probably win. (I don't know your groups dynamic, so their reactions may vary). If they know the AC is low they might not burn all of their daily spells or items. The players will likely already be trying to hit harder and more often, so knowing the an AC is really high isn't going to kill your game, but knowing that an enemy AC is pretty low, might.

As far as the repercussions, it dissolves suspension of disbelief and makes for less "mystery/discovery".

With DC its fundamentally the same. Try to describe the AC/DC of the object/monster with visual descriptions. A rusty lock is probably easier to pick than a pristine fancy one. An enemy covered in thick metal plating is probably harder to hit than one wearing leather. Describe their physique too, agile is just as hard to hit as tanky heavy armor.

The simplest solution, that I have implemented in my game, is to just say "how do you strike your enemy" allowing them to describe how they do their action, and then I dictate how the enemy reacts (regardless of success or failure). To add clarification here:

Ex (Miss):

(Player rolls a 15 and AC for the bad guy is lets say 17) Before you narrate what happens ask HOW he attacks. The player will say I lift my sword high above my head and swing it down towards his shoulder, trying to cut off his sword arm. You would reply, because the attack missed, the Knight saw you raise your sword and he lifted his shield to block to attack, causing the weapon to bounce of the strong steel.

Ex (Hit):

(Player rolls a 15 and AC for the bad guy is lets say 14) Before you narrate what happens ask HOW he attacks. The player will say I lift my sword high above my head and swing it down towards his shoulder, trying to cut off his sword arm. You would reply with, The knight (if you don't want him to lose his arm, or you can just let it happen its up to you) sees you raise your weapon high above your head and goes to block with his shield, your mighty swing smashes into the shield but carries its momentum into his shoulder causing a grievous wound, but his arm is still attached.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, if the players are any good at all, it will figure even more into their battle tactics than that. In a battle against multiple opponents, which PC's attack which NPC's will definitely be affected. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kevin
    Sep 4, 2015 at 16:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Exactly, and at that point you've essentially invited meta-gaming to your table, which in my experience is not good. Plus I don't want to play a numbers game, (Yeah I know its D&D numbers are EVERYWHERE) I want to play a role playing game, where the game and encounters are surprising and refreshing. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 4, 2015 at 16:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Other ways players exploit knowing AC -- choice to use a feat where they can take less of a bonus to their attack roll in exchange for more of a bonus to damage -- choice to use a spell with an attack roll versus a save DC. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 4, 2015 at 17:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ "I lift my sword" is what a person who has never fenced does. Don't force nuclear reactor control roleplay on people who don't at least know a guy who does. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vorac
    Jul 7, 2020 at 6:53

It can improve narration, but not in and of itself.

I am a big one for playing sim games with narrative elements and letting/encouraging people to describe their action, the environment, etc. (I credit the game Feng Shui with pulling me out of the D&D DM-control-freak ghetto on that).

Letting players know target numbers has minor gamist effects - for example, they know if they need to spend that hero point/mythic surge/whatever to make a roll, get an assist, etc. This gives them a little bit of an advantage, though frankly they and their characters should have a pretty good idea of that already if you're narrating well to them (e.g. "your strike hits him and digs into his armor but doesn't find flesh" vs "you whiff aimlessly in front of him" would indicate to me that a 1d6 surge might help the former...) But in the end - who cares? I certainly don't mind my characters doing (very) slightly better.

I will note narrating hits is hard without also knowing hit points. ("I slice off his arm and he bleeds out!" "No he doesn't, that 40 points of damage is just a scratch...) You will also want an explicit understanding that since D&D works off specific conditions, "I spin kick and knock them tumbling on their asses!" doesn't make someone prone or push them back unless the ability they're using does that - it's legit narration but your next sentence is "they leap to their feet and rush you," and no it doesn't take an action to stand up...

Too much worrying about "metagaming" here because you know hat you're rolling against is overblown. There's a lot of other games (and proficiency checks were like this in D&D 2e, and stat checks still are) where you're not rolling vs a DC you're just rolling vs your own stat or skill so always know whether you succeeded or failed per your roll by game design. Like GURPS and a huge number of other trad games, the "vs Difficulty" thing is less common really.

In fact, the main drawback of this stat exposure isn't just loss of the ability to fudge once stats are know, but for you to do fun add-ons. I know this will give the 3e/4e crowd the heebie jeebies but back in Basic/1e/2e if the monk spun kick the hell out of some guys you as the DM could declare they got knocked down or whatever to add interesting stuff to the combat beyond what the direct "application of hp damage by the rules" indicates.

You need to lead with narration yourself.

But just saying "He is AC 16 go" is contributing to the problem, not helping with it. Why would a player describe his hit with flair if that's the level of description you're putting in? It's way, way more effective to practice extensive description yourself, to where giving them the specific target number should usually be an exercise in validation ("Yeah, he sounded like he was encased in iron, AC 18 sounds fair.")

Numbers breed numbers, description breeds description.

Then encourage description explicitly. "Tell me how..." You can start with kill shots, it's pretty easy to get people into the Mortal Kombat type spirit by asking "OK, tell me how you take him out." "Oh I leap into the air and drive my spear through his rib cage and into the ground, leaving him impaled!"

Another trick I learned from FS was about environmental narration. Empowering the players to make up small stuff. If you're in a pizza parlor, sure you can pick up a pizza cutter and cut someone with it, you don't need to ask the GM if you can. In fact, I found that the usual RPG "say yes" advice wasn't as effective as "say no" - I told my players "If you ask me if there is a pizza cutter I'm going to say 'No, because you asked me instead of just doing it.'" That breaks them of their mother-may-I habit real quick.

Because in the end using description purely as a veneer over rules, especially a big rules system like D&D, has its issues; IMO you want to get to a place where the rules are secondary and are not a straitjacket. Players and GM should have some flexibility. The more you let the players have flexibility, you also get it. "Heck, you rolled a natural 20, if you want to knock 'em down or back or cut their face so they're not pretty no more, fine." And then when you want a badass villain to do something not "covered by the rules" you can too, without it being "unfair" or jarring.


If I might indulge in a frame challenge. You say:

My players aren't narrating ... as much as I want them to. ... it's exhausting to come up with ... narration.

Who are you seeking to benefit from this narration? You or the players?

I suggest that you talk to your players and find out what they want from their combats. Perhaps they care about your griping descriptions and hang on your every word and perhaps they ... don't and would prefer to treat combat as a tactical war (sub)game within their role-playing game. There is no right or wrong way to do this.

In the group I play with there is one who likes a bit of description with their actions, two (including me) who treat combat as a tactical war game to be won (both of us also play war games) and another who would be quite happy to have the whole combat resolved with a single die roll.

Everyone takes their fun out of the game in different ways.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Good answer, talk to the players. Only thing missing is if giving AC/DC to players will be exploitable. \$\endgroup\$
    – Simanos
    Sep 27, 2015 at 11:56

This can be done, and does not have a long-term effect. This is because people can fairly quickly work the targets out anyway. For example if you hit AC18 and hit but your friend missed with a 14 then you know the target is AC15<->18.

The way I would handle this is make sure the player has said exactly what they are doing and what modifiers they are applying. Only at that point do you give them the target number. This preserves the mystery and the unknown at the very start of an encounter, but gives you what you want later on which is people being able to describe their own success and failure.

The main thing you lose here is flexibility. It becomes harder to modify the difficulty dynamically once you have revealed it. For example if the monster is proving unexpectedly tough you can't quietly drop it's AC since you have already told them what that AC is (to continue the example above you could drop the AC from 18 to 14 without anyone being any the wiser). You can work around this by modifying other statistics though such as reducing the HP remaining or moving the monster into an exposed situation so it can be more easily surrounded, etc.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I do the same thing and it works fine. Actually, one can still modify the monster, it's just more obvious that the guard gets a lower ac "being exhausted", or that the orcs get a bonus to hit by "screaming up in rage as they attack". \$\endgroup\$
    – Neuneck
    Oct 13, 2015 at 12:00

There is is a third option. Besides revealing the target numbers before hand and having the players "(meta-)game" the system, or the GM having to provide vivid descriptions of the effects of the dice rolls. You can go in the other direction:

  1. The player states the action he performs in game mechanic terms (e.g "I make an X attack using Y and Z as bonus")
  2. The player rolls the appropriate dice
  3. You, the GM, indicate the resut of the action (e.g. success/failure/extreme success/extreme failure/…) very briefly perhaps only via a hand gesture.
  4. The player now describes his character's action vividly to the other players.

In this way, you can still:

  • keep DCs hidden to the players (or decide to inform the players about potential dangers for reasons besides getting vivid descriptions);
  • apply secret GM modifiers; and,
  • have vivid descriptions by the players.
  • \$\begingroup\$ The querent is not looking for alternative methods to improve narration but is asking what potential (negative) effects giving the players the "stats" of monsters can have. You're answer doesn't address this problem. If you wish to challenge the frame of a question please see this meta post. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 5, 2015 at 8:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PurpleMonkey Please be careful to not give the impression that those are rules, when pointing users to the guidelines for frame challenging. They're advice for voluntary best practices, and it's most helpful to present them as help to improve a downvoted answer rather than an admonishment. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 5, 2015 at 15:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PurpleMonkey This answer addresses the root cause of the question being asked and prevents an alternative so I don't have a problem with it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim B
    Sep 5, 2015 at 16:53

Your players seem to lack some practice in narrating their actions. As a system with great emphasis on game mechanics, DnD can encourage players to see the game in pure game-mechanics terms and forget about how fun actual role-playing can be. As an exercise you might consider to run a one-shot in a different game system which encourages players to narrate more.

An example is the game system Wushu where the effectiveness of player-characters depends on how detailed the players describe their actions.

Another game system which encourages player narration is Fate which rewards players for narrating how the personality-traits of their characters work against them.

You might consider to take some of the aspects of these game-systems which successfully get your players to narrate and see if you can house-rule them into DnD.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The querent is not looking for alternative narration methods but is asking what the potential (negative) effects of giving the players the "stats" of monsters can have. You're answer does not address this problem. If you wish to challenge the frame of a question please see this meta post. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 5, 2015 at 9:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ For clarity, those aren't rules to follow when challenging the frame of the question, just advice on how to do it well. They might help you improve this answer, but don't take it to mean that you've done anything wrong. Cheers! \$\endgroup\$ Sep 5, 2015 at 15:19

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