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Actionable Roleplaying Tips: Narrating Combat

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So there it was: I had just been accepted to a campaign on Fantasy Grounds.

At that time, I had DMed many games here on Fantasy Grounds. However, it had been some time since I had played. And if you have done both, then you know there is a difference. As a DM, you try to plan the nominal path the players will follow and plan for contingencies. Well, at least, that is how I do it. As a player, however, things are a little different. The group I was joining wanted to roleplay. They wanted to take on the personalities of the character. They want to be immersed in the world of fantasy, suspending their belief for just a little while.

Now, you may be a bit different, but I wasn’t sure where to start. I am no voice actor. I am no stage actor. I felt I knew how to create some interesting characters to play, but manifesting that in a game felt really nebulous to me. So I sat down and started to think…

How do I take some actionable steps to prepare to roleplay?

Sharing the my answers to that question is the purpose of this four-part post series. I’m not suggesting this is the best course of action for everyone. All I know is that it worked for me. It gave me something actionable. It got me started. I’m having a blast playing these characters. So if that helps you or another reader, the purpose of these posts is fulfilled. With all that out of the way, here’s the four part series.

Makes sense? Awesome. Let’s get started.

What do I mean by Narrating Combat?

I think almost every single RPG involves some kind of combat. That means your character will be making attacks, some kind of move or casting a spell at some point in combat. That’s an opportunity to roleplay.

Narrating that action just means you describe it. Of course, you can describe it in game mechanics. I attack with my longsword. I cast magic missile. I use my disarm maneuver. However, there’s a chance to exhibit some of your character’s personality along the way.

Will narrating your combat action materially affect your chance of success or failure? Well, no. I don’t expect it would, unless your DM is explicitly trying to foster this kind of behavior. But that’s not the point. The purpose here is to add some flavor that exposes your character’s identity along the way. It is a pretty easy first actionable step to roleplaying.

Confusing? Yep. I totally understand. Let me offer a couple examples that might clarify things.

The Spell Trigger Words for Dimble

Dimble ‘Badger’ Nyx is a Forest Gnome Wizard from the High Forest. He’s upbeat. He’s insatiably curious. He’s a prankster. He lacks social awareness, saying the first thing he thinks of. Yet, he is a dedicated friend to his companions.

Dimble is a character I'm playing in a Princes of the Apocalypse game. I like the concept here. But how do I narrate his combat actions?

Well, Wizards often have verbal components to their spells. As I developed Dimble, I wanted him to still seem silly, even in the middle of combat. So I wanted to have a few casting narrations combined with funny sounding words.

For work, I often reference thesaurus.com for synonyms and antonyms. However, were you aware that there is a blog there as well? They often share really inane and unusual words. There’s a post on 12 Insults We Should Bring Back. Frankly, I just stumbled across it one day. And there it was. I had a solid source of funky terms.

How did I use it? I wrote out the following in preparation and used them as appropriate in the game.

  • I flourish my stick-wand, scream “Zooterkins!” and cast Magic Missile.
  • I gyrate my hands, murmur “Fopdoodle” and cast Levitate.
  • I flick my stick-wand, blurt “Snollygoster” and cast Mage Hand.

Alternatively, I could just use the spell attack button under actions instead of saying 'cast Magic Missile' out loud.

Preparing just three combat narrations have carried me through many sessions.

The Wise Words of Glaivemaster Ash

Glaivemaster Ash is a longstanding veteran of a mercenary company. He’s an follower of the Red Knight, an exarch of military strategy that preaches wisdom in battle over brute force. He’s serious but acts as a fatherly figure to his companions.

So what do we do here?

With this character, I wanted him to have a lot of hard earned wisdom from successes and failures from the battlefield. He’ll be a controller type in combat. While he fights, I wanted him to state insightful tenets of his battle-based faith, as much to himself as to anyone around him.

Where could I get war oriented wise words of wisdom? There are many famous generals in history. One of this is Sun Tzu, who wrote the Art of War many centuries ago. A quick internet search shows his quotes. Another is Carl von Clausewitz. Here's some of his quotes. Interestingly enough, there's no shortage of war generals saying interesting things.

Regardless, I wrote out a few attack narrations with a few of these sayings.

  • I twirl my glaive and slash in front of me, saying “in the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”
  • I leap up and bring my glaive down in an overhand chop, stating “pursue one great decisive goal with force and determination.”
  • I swing my glaive in a great circle, declaring “there is no greater weapon than a prepared mind.”

This is enough to get started with this character.

The Acrobatics of Elanelis

Elanelis is an elven wizard bladesinger. He can be chaotic at times, making decisions that are impulsive. He seems to be mostly concerned with his own well-being.

I have to be honest. This isn’t my character. Elanelis is played by one of the players in a campaign I run. And what he does in combat is pretty cool.

You see, on his turn, Elanelis often will incorporate acrobatics into his combat moves. He’ll wall-walk on his move. He’ll run up a stalagmite and do a flip onto an opponent’s back. He’ll leap onto the back of a chair, and as it tips over jump again into an attack.

Do any of these narrations offer an advantage in combat? Nope. In fact, I ask for an acrobatics check each time. Yet, there’s no denying one thing.

He’s. Got. Style.

And you know what? That's great. Everyone in the game has the feeling that this character isn't just a set of stats, but has a personality that comes out during combat. It lends credence to the fantastical nature of the campaign.

Actionable Takeaways

OK. So what’s the actionable advice? Hmmm. Well, here is what I do.

  • Identify what personality traits you want your character to exhibit during combat? Silly? Serious? Pious? Brooding? Hyperactive? I figure that out first.
  • Next, ask yourself how that personality trait would manifest in combat? Saying a funny word? Spouting ideology? Doing crazy acrobatics? I figure that out second.
  • Search for references? Look up other examples of this kind of personality trait. It might be a word mashup tool. It might be quotes from famous generals. It might narrations of your famous comic book hero.
  • Prepare 3-5 narrations. It should take maybe 10 minutes. Write it out. Now you can insert them as appropriate into your next game.

Those are the takeaways from this first post. Look for more posts in the future!

Got Advice?

I know you do.

Obviously, there is a broad range of roleplayers here at Fantasy Grounds. There are folks that have been playing campaigns together for years. So I know there is a wealth of knowledge about getting started with roleplaying, probably much more than I could contribute. So...

What advice do you have?

Do you have examples of how you narrate your character’s combat to illustrate some personality?

How do you make it unique? Or alternatively, what do you borrow from other sources?

Sound off. Let us know. Every little bit helps! Thanks!

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Updated May 19th, 2017 at 20:39 by bigbluepaw



  1. LordEntrails's Avatar
    Instilling character personalities into my games has been something I haven't been good at in many years. I think I just got lazy. But, have been thinking about it a lot lately and appreciate your well thought out blog.

    One comment I will make, is that with FG, we (both players and GMs) don't really have to add any mechanics into most of our stated actions. That is, if the players and GM all understand each other.

    For instance, take your statement from Dimble "I flourish my stick-wand, scream “Zooterkins!” and cast Magic Missile."

    You could simplify this a bit by removing the action statement and then just use the FG action to cast the appropriate spell. That way (if you are using voice) everyone here's what happens, the voice stays completely in character, and FG handles the game mechanics.
  2. bigbluepaw's Avatar
    Great point. I'll update the post to reflect that.

    I thought about doing something like this. However, I am not sure other players would notice what spell is being cast and miss out.
  3. GarthGiantbane's Avatar
    Nice write up! Dawnforgecast did a YouTube video about this method and I've tried to incorporate it. I think your layout and method if preparing clear and straight forward. Thanks for the article.
  4. mhorgunn's Avatar
    Great blog post ... hope you enjoyed the other side of the table.
  5. dulux-oz's Avatar
    As I said in one of my own Blog Posts on being a Master GM, a true Master GM will always be learning from others in an effort to make his or her own craft better. You, sir, have made this imperative for any Player serious about improving their craft - Bravo!

    One thing I like to do with my Players is have each of them come up with a Catchphrase - combined with the ideas in this Post, that should help out with role-playing even more.

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