How can I entice my tactical players to embrace cinematic combat?

I have a group of players that come from a hack and slash background playing a Dark Ages Vampire game for the first time.

They've come quite a way over the last several sessions, but I still get a decent amount of "I hit it with my axe" when I would prefer, "I sidestep the ghoul's attack and try an overhand chop to sever its head".

• Are you accepting answers from outside of oWoD ruleset? e.g. something from nWoD? – Doctor Kill Feb 28 '17 at 15:59
• Yeah, for sure. Is there a tag I could put on there to make that clear? – Gavin42 Feb 28 '17 at 16:06
• Is there anything system-specific to this question? Anything in the rules that demands/rewards detailed descriptions or something? Without any knowledge of WoD, it seems to me like a system-agnostic "how can I make my players show certain behaviours?" type of question. – TheNickOfTime Feb 28 '17 at 16:06
• I guess if the answer is all advice and not rules that could work, too. – Gavin42 Feb 28 '17 at 16:09
• Are you looking for simply more detail in their narration, or more of a flashy style of combat from their characters? (It might be much easier to get the former out of them than the latter) – Shalvenay Feb 28 '17 at 23:28

Stunt Dice

This comes from Exalted. Give them a bonus of +1 to +3 dice when they're:

• Trying things that they haven't done before
• Describing their actions with flair and flavor

Do not give the bonus for actions that they repeat over and over, or that are conventional approaches to the problem. Feel out how many dice to give by how impressive the description is. +1 is "yeah that's pretty cool". +3 is "OMG that's amazing, I never thought of that before"

This has worked at my table in a hybrid ruleset WoD game.

Avoid Punishing Creative Descriptions

When using this system, avoid punishing creative descriptions. For example, you may be tempted, when receiving the narration "I sidestep the ghoul's attack" to enforce a Dodge roll to see if the character can pull it off. Don't. Make the full paradigm shift to cinematic if you're gonna go cinematic, and avoid excessive simulationism. If their actions are going to be punished with additional rolls that A) could fail and B) slow down the game, players will tend not to describe anything you could latch onto as getting them in trouble.

This necessitates a distinction between what is flavor and what is mechanical. In the aforementioned case, if a player's main intent is to Dodge, yes, do the Dodge roll. If a player's main intent is to whack the ghoul, the Dodge isn't necessary. The flavor enters the fiction, but does not engage the mechanic. Intent is key.

• I can't claim familiarity with WoD's rules, but I've used similar systems to encourage this sort of thing in D&D 3.5e, and it tends to work rather well! – Conduit Feb 28 '17 at 16:11
• Do not give the bonus for actions that they repeat over and over <- This, and make sure your players understand this as well. If they expect a consistent bonus from describing a double-backwards-kick-jump-twist, then "I do a double-backwards-kick-jump-twist" becomes the new "I hit it with my axe". This was a source of major tedium when my DnD group first experimented with White Wolf games. – Joe Feb 28 '17 at 22:58
• @Joe I could see giving somewhat more frequent bonuses for "signature moves". This might give some sense of fun anticipation waiting for a player to use "the move". Players may even have fun playing off the expectation (e.g., "I nod respect to my worth opponent, raise Ghoulsbane, and chop with all the strength of my honor" might become "I nod respect to my worthy opponent, raise Ghoulsbane, and chop with that better part of valor at the ghoul at his left."). – Paul A. Clayton Mar 1 '17 at 4:04
• Over The Edge had that rule way before Exalted… – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Mar 1 '17 at 11:33

Talk to Your Players

First of all, you have to make sure that they're even in on WANTING it to feature long cinematic descriptions. Some players are more interested in the tactical aspects of combat, or not interested in combat at all and want to just get to the story parts quickly. A popular paper on (video) game design defines a series of different aesthetics/sources of fun, each of which will be more or less important to any individual player (Extra Credits did an episode on that, too, if you prefer watching to reading). Maybe those descriptions just aren't fun to some of your players.

Once you've agreed that detailed descriptions of actions should be part of your game, lead by example. Consistently describe your actions in the desired detail. Eventually your players will likely follow suit. Partly, because they'll be reminded of your agreement, partly because humans tend to mirror other humans, partly because if they like it from you they'll probably aspire to do their best, too.

Remind Them (at Appropriate Times!)

If you notice that they're falling back to old habits, remind them of going into a bit more detail. But do so at the right time. Do not interrupt play to enforce it. This would be more effective for the learning progress, but it will hinder the game and getting lectured detracts from everyone's fun. I doubt that's worth it. Therefore, do so in a break. Or before the next session. Or in between sessions if you have some form of "debriefing".

Do NOT Introduce In-Game Punishments or Rewards

This is part of the "acting" part of RPGs, not the mechanical game side. Just as I'd advice against punishing or rewarding excellent acting in social interactions, I'd advice against it here. Doing such, gives player skills an influence on character skills where it shouldn't. You're roleplaying after all. There's no reason why the shy guy playing the diplomatically skilled orator should have any disadvantages from not being as good a speaker as his character. Nor should the fighter hit any worse because his player is not all that creative when it comes to visceral descriptions. The Angry GM touches on this here and explains the difference between role-playing and acting here.

And last but not least: Be Patient. They'll get there, eventually.

• White Wolf games have several mechanics that reward characters for player skill, the most obvious of which being XP, which is explicitly awarded based on how well they role-played and what they accomplished. Stunt Dice are another, which are featured in Adventure! and Exalted. Other advice seems on point, but I'd need some clarification on the last paragraph or so. Specifically, why shouldn't player skill have influence on character skill? – Doctor Kill Feb 28 '17 at 19:12
• @DoctorKill The argumentation is centred around the idea of differentiating "role-playing" and "acting" as in the article mentioned above. Rewarding skillful acting defeats the purpose of role-playing. The best diplomat will be someone who is a skilled orator IRL. The best strategist the army officer. The best fighter, well, probably the one watching the most movies. With boni for player skill or acting, the most efficient way is to play something as close as possible to your RL skills, while role-playing should, imo, be about taking on new, unfamiliar roles or at the very least not punish it. – TheNickOfTime Feb 28 '17 at 21:15
• Additionally, you break the balance of character creation and development. You're supposed to make meaningful decisions and use the limited resources to form the character you envision. But if player skill translates to boni, practically you undeservedly get more resources than another player with no foundation whatsoever in the rules and the character stats created with these rules. Why should the bard played by an entertainer fare any better than the one played by a construction worker? – TheNickOfTime Feb 28 '17 at 21:25
• I understand those points. I'll only object by saying that White Wolf games were not built with that particular design philosophy in mind as indicated in my initial comment about how those games reward characters for player behavior. In the interest of keeping my comments from evolving into a chat, I'll leave it there. Thanks for clarifying. – Doctor Kill Feb 28 '17 at 21:40
• @DoctorKill You're right. But if you want such a philosophy, it has to consistently be embedded in the ruleset, not latched onto a specific part of the game to promote a desirable player behaviour. If my answer feels too absolute, it could be edited to better reflect that. – TheNickOfTime Feb 28 '17 at 22:02

In-game rewards

I happen to disagree that in-game rewards do not work -- they do. Players see someone getting the reward and ask why did they not get it. Games by White Wolf have at least two very useful mechanics meant to enchance RP.

1. Check the part about rewarding XP points. They get 1 point per session for Roleplaying, which also means rewarding players for well-narrated combat. You may even reward one XP point for roleplaying in combat and one for social RP.
2. Some Natures may (but some may not) dictate how should your character behave in combat. Anyway, give additional Willpower points to spend when you find it appropriate. Willpower is a very strong reward, so be careful.

Talking to your players

Plan a small talk after each session about what did each of you like and dislike. As a Storyteller, ask your players explicitly if they liked or disliked something in particular -- a given NPC, an encounter. If your players participate actively in such talks, you may bring up a problem of combat not being narrated.

Don't just approach the group and tell them "I dislike that you don't narrate combat". Most likely, it won't work.