I’ve often found myself faced with players that go to great lengths trying to explain what they want their to do during their turn. They’ll invoke powers, rules, mix it with what their characters say and think, often, creating a somewhat confusing mess. I’ve seen this in convention games and among some of my players, often hardcore storytellers. Such players often start elaborating about the context of the situation and what motivates the character and then get lost somewhere in personal narrative.
When that happens, I lean toward the player, apologize for the interruption and ask “What is your character’s intent here? What are you trying to accomplish.” This very often gives me the expected result: the player refocuses on telling me what he wants the character to do. I got that technique from the Burning Wheel fantasy RPG where it describes that each player action should be made of an intent and a task. From that point forward, I have asked that questions in nearly all my roleplaying sessions.
Whenever I feel a player struggles with deciding what to do during a turn I’d say:
“First tell me what is your character’s intent here, then we’ll work together to see how it can be done.”
I also noticed that some players are loath to share their intent, fearing that I’ll counter it. I don’t believe in that GMing ethos, my job is to make sure you are properly challenged, not properly screwed. I already put all the obstacles in the scene/encounter the players find themselves in. From that point forward, when players decide what to do I become, for the space of a few turns, their greatest fan. I encourage them to find clever solutions, play out devilish power combos and blow my well-crafted plans out of the water.
I highly suggest you strive to do something similar. Challenge your players BEFORE you know how they’ll react to your threats, then react to their decision in a way that makes sense in the story you’re weaving, not in the way that specifically thwarts their plans.
(With the possible exception when facing obviously more intelligent foes, then go to Metagame city, you at least have a story argument to stand on.)
That being said, I’ve also seen the opposite occur in some players. Given a problem or a combat scene, the player will go through his entire character sheet looking for a solution, usually the most efficient mix of movement and powers, and then try to build an intent behind the chosen task. I don’t mind that too much when the player manages to choose rapidly enough and manages an intent that makes sense in the context of the game. But when the player falters into analysis paralysis territory, I pull the same trick and attempt to pull back the player back into the story instead of the game’s mechanics. It doesn’t always work, but it’s worth the effort to remind players that solutions don’t always lie on character sheets.
When that trick became a common habit in my playing group, we all collectively started focusing more on describing what characters did, and how success or failure affected the encounters we were playing. I believe it contributed to bring us closer to that fabled “roleplaying” that so many DMs aspire to.
Keep that trick in mind for those times a player gets stuck in a mental loop, bring them back to the most basic element of what RPGs are: Tell the GM what your character wants to do, the GM will help you determine what happens next.
So what’s your intent in your next game?