Posted on : 02-19-2011 | By : Brian | In : Advice, D&D, Indie Games
I was reading through the Dresden Files RPG, and came across the above phrase. It really made me sit up and think for a second because it’s an idea that I believe a lot of people forget about when they play many RPGs, most notably D&D and its ilk.
Here’s what I mean. Say you’re at the table, playing D&D. You’re fighting a frothing band of orcs, and you’re rearing to go. You take up your sword, and you say, “I activate Cleaving Stance, then I use my move to get over here. Then I’m going to charge this orc.” Notice anything? You’re describing your character’s actions in terms of the game mechanics. This is a clear example of mechanics preceding story, and while it might not be a terrible thing (it does have the advantage of making your actions mechanically clear and precise, and eliminating confusion), it’s not all that exciting.
Now, what if you instead said, “I draw my sword as a run over here to get into position. Then I barrel headlong into this orc, and my blade cleaves through his flesh to lodge into his ally over here.” That’s a little more exciting, a little punchier, and it says the exact same thing. The main difference here is that you’re leading with story rather than mechanics; you’re describing things from your character’s point of view instead of your own. Intent is preceding mechanics.
This is easy enough to do when you know exactly how you want to handle your actions mechanically; you just figure out how to describe what you’re doing narratively and you’re golden. But here’s the awesome thing about leading with story: you can do it even when you don’t know what powers or abilities you want to bring to bear on a given action.
This is a great tool to use when you’re unfamiliar with a character’s specific abilities, or even the game in general, but you have a decent amount of familiarity with the concept of your character (which you should, if you made him). When it comes to your turn, don’t worry about what’s on your character sheet. Think about what your character would do, how he would react, given the situation. Would he move to intercept an orc charging at one of his companions? Try to fry the chieftain with arcane fire? Cry out in defiance and lash out at everyone around? Think about what your character would do, and describe it in terms of narrative. Then, work with your DM to come up with a way to model it mechanically.
As a DM, try to encourage this kind of play. In general, I’m willing to bet you’ll see your players doing interesting things more often, like using the environment and taking improvised actions. Powers are great, but they can be a crutch, too. Most importantly, your characters don’t know what powers they have, or what they’re called. They only know what they would do, or try to do.