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Sandwich Mechanics with Story

by Mike on 2 January 2023

Sometimes, when we're elbow-deep in the mechanics of our game, it's easy to forget that we're sharing a story. The more complicated the mechanics, the more tools or systems we use, the more we forget to stop for a second and imagine what's happening in the world.

When running your game, try sandwiching your mechanics with in-world descriptions. Begin by describing the situation going on in the world, then the mechanical situation or effect, and then the result back in the fiction of the world again.

You can often do this in one sentence. Here's a damage description for example.

"The ogre slams his club into you for 12 points of damage as your arm buckles under the blow."

Other more complicated situations might look like this.

"Bitter End hurls out a blast of lighting tearing through Aury, Intimidating Cake, and Tarch. Each of you need to make DC 15 dexterity saving throws taking 28 damage on a failure or 14 on a miss as the lighting blast hammers through you and into the back wall, racing along conduits of metal embedded in the wall."

Some DMs feel like such descriptions waste time. Combat can already take a long time, let's not bog it down with flowery narrative, they argue.

But this narrative is the point of the story. It's the result of the mechanics, not something to be tossed aside.

You might extend these descriptions to the beginning and end of each turn as well, narrating what's going on for each character from their point of view before their turn begins. This gives you a chance to reinforce things the player may have forgotten but the character surely hasn't.

The next time you're running your game, sandwich your mechanical descriptions with the narrative of the story happening in the world. It's a great way to remind everyone, yourself included, that our game is more than just dice rolls and math — we're creating worlds together.

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