• Justin Handlin

10 D&D Player Storytelling Tips!

10 Dungeons and Dragons Player Storytelling Tips

"Storytelling is the DM's job!"

Although this is a commonly held belief, it could not be more wrong. Everyone at the table has a hand in storytelling, whether he or she is aware of it or not. As a player, you don't have the most obvious role in telling the story, but at the end of the day, the story is about you.

Sure, you can play D&D as a tabletop game of tactical combat, but that overlooks the singular opportunity that roleplaying games offer, to collaborate in the creation of a story that stars you and your friends. In the long run, the impact of these shared stories outweighs any memories you might have of rules, tactics, or treasure.

It's nearly impossible to play a game of D&D without a story creeping in somewhere even when you're not really trying all that hard. In fact, the very rules of the game nudge you towards those classic heroic stories.

Fortunately, you don't have to construct this narrative alone. The DM, your fellow players, and even the random fall of the dice all contribute to the story as a whole. But what is it you can do to help add to the story beyond what’s determined by the DM?

As a player, you should recognize the power at your disposal. In contrast to the all-mighty DM, the arbitrator, the narrator, etc of the game world, your power is often overlooked. The DM may decide what you see, but only you decide where you’re going, what you're doing and what has your attention. It may not sound like much, but it's a fantastic way to influence the world around you.

Example from the player tip in episode 78 Campaign Themes. If your party finds themselves in a city with hundreds of people, it's likely that the DM only has a few of them fleshed out in the context of the story. For instance, if you ask a random merchant about his family, the DMs response, either off the cuff or scripted forces a response. So if for example the merchant states he doesn't have a family, you can ask why? What happened to them? If they were killed, when and where? By whom? Your questions help make the world feel alive.

By showing the DM what parts of the world interest you, you also assist them in fleshing out details that are of interest to you specifically. Of course, don’t ask about things you don’t care about, otherwise, you’re just wasting everyone's time. But if you tie these to your character's priorities, you in a sense can directly create the world and self-tie in your character with the world. The more time you spend interacting with a part of the world, the more important that aspect of the world becomes the story.

Taking the Bait!

We often find that there are some players who go out of their way to ignore hooks tossed out by the DM, the “My character wouldn’t do that.” springs to mind. Others, just are oblivious. This can stop the fun, dead in its tracks.

You need adventure hooks to go on an adventure. This is why you are here after all. When a hook is presented, take action. This action leads to adventure, the adventure leads to experience, experience leads to treasure and that leads to great stories. Choosing to dodge a DM’s hook not only can lead to a less prepared module but waste the DM’s time and effort on what they’ve prepared.

Create your own Hooks!

Don’t like what the DM is offering? This happens often if the DM prefers a certain aspect of the game, such as combat, and cares less for things such as exploration. If you prefer to engage in more politicking for example, and your DM doesn’t toss that at you, come up for a reason for your group to visit a Duchess of the court. If you’re a rogue or maybe a noble, you could have easily heard about a spy ring infiltrating the city. Sharing this idea with the DM is a very direct method of what you would like to see.

These hooks don’t have to be complex, just enough to give the DM info on what you would like to see. Too much detail can leave little wiggle room for the DM. This can make them less interested in your idea. But a simple “Hey, I would love to chase some slave traders into the Icewind Dale.”

Other examples:

Hunt an exotic or legendary monster-Haven't you always wanted to fight a dragon or a beholder?

Locate someone who can train you in an unusual talent This can be an in-world excuse for learning a new feat or ritual, multiclassing.

Join an organization!

It stands to reason that powerful groups in the world of D&D would ask prospective members to prove their worth in fantastic ways.

Narrating Spells/Skills/Features/Actions!

When you narrate an action instead of naming the power and rolling a die, inject a bit of personality into the attack. A player can declare that his or her fighter is taking the attack action against an enemy, or the player could describe how the character shifts her grip on the axe and swings a wild haymaker toward the foe. Although the first gets the point across, the second is more compelling and is more likely to keep the attention of everyone at the table

Use Material and Spell Components in your Descriptions!

You can really spice up even your spells by including the material components, or arcane focus or a simple touch description in the casting. (Our GUN Mage does this)

“I cast Magic Weapon”, it's a touch spell. So not much room to work with right? Wrong. Tie your race or backstory into the effect.

Your Triton runs her webbed finger down the blade and a tiny spectral shark appears to circle the blade.

This will quickly become known to the group and you will never have to say “I cast magic weapon” again.

As long as the rules of the ability stay the same, it doesn't matter how you describe it. Be careful of including the outcome before it’s decided though.

Reflavor your Spells!

You can even go further, instead of something like magic missile, maybe it’s not bolts of arcane energy. Maybe it's laser vision, which is why you never miss. Or maybe your kenku summons a flock of ravens that slam into the enemy kamikaze style. As long as you don’t change the effects, for the visual portrayed, anything goes.

Reflavor Core Mechanics!

This applies to actions as well as spells. What does your character do when they take the dodge action?

Maybe you plant their tower shield into the dirt and hide behind it? Does the fighter take on the more evasive windstance battle formation, with their blade pointed out in front of them defensively? Maybe the wizard puts up a temporary magical barrier.

These descriptions are a great way to convey a character's personality as well as shape the story. This can even be done with mundane tasks such as drinking a potion. Does the noble sip it like a warm tea? While the barbarian swallows the entire vial, breaking the glass in its teeth?

Keep in mind, as with all things, it can be overdone. Don’t go into a five-minute-long narrative of drawing your blades.

Customize your gear!

Your gear isn’t just a collection of numbers. By taking a few minutes to describe the look of your item and imagining what story lies behind it, you turn a block of game statistics into a part of the world.

Sindori carries a dirk honed from obsidian that formed in the midst of two powerful mages slinging spells that impacted each other. Making the ground harder than any steel. It sits inside of a scabbard that bears her family’s elven crest passed down for generations.

When it comes to storytelling, just because your DM hasn't created a story for every item that appears in the campaign doesn't mean those stories don't exist. Writing up a few details for your newly found +1 pact dagger turns it from a collection of numbers into a part of the world. As players in the world of Dungeons and Dragons, it's your story too. Shout it from the mountain top!

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Character Concept:


Ugly as Sin!

Ruyermo Aporreado, paladin of Ilmater. Rough as sandpaper and ugly as sin, regularly mistaken for a beggar or thug -- and he's fine with that. In fact, he prefers it that way. He believes that the honor lies in the deed, not in the credit. His mission in life is to comfort the afflicted, and he doesn't care if he happens to afflict the comfortable while he does so.

Monster Variant:


Thunderhawks are creatures of storm and favored pets of storm giants. Left to their own devices, they prefer to make their lairs on stormy mountain tops or remote coastal cliffsides.

Origin: Wyvern

Lost Features: Stinger

Creature Type: Elemental

Immunities: Lightning

Discharge: A creature that touches the thunderhawk or hits it with a melee attack takes 6(2d6) lightning damage, and it can’t take reactions until the start of its next turn.

Windrush: The beat of this mighty creature's wings can knock even the sturdiest of foes to the ground. If the thunderhawk leaves a hostile creature’s reach during its move, that creature must succeed on a DC 15 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone.

Electroball (Recharge 6). The lightning shrouding the thunderhawk converges into a ball of lightning and releases it at a point it can see within 100 feet. Each creature within 20 feet of that point must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw, taking 45 ( 10d8) lightning damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.


Memory Lapse: (Fantastic Terrain)

On rare occasions, the creation of a homunculus can go awry. During the ritual, powerful magic is used to sculpt and form not only the bodies but also the memories and personality of the homunculus. When the ritual caster fails in its creation, the magic used to shift and modify the memory to fit the caster’s desire often lashes out and affects the terrain around the ritual location. The only indication of this hazardous area is clay, ash, mandrake root, and blood; the remnants of components that were used in the ritual. The hazardous area is a 50-foot sphere centered on the ritual area.

A creature that casts a spell of 1st level or higher while within the area must succeed on a DC 17 Intelligence saving throw. On a failed save, the creature no longer has that spell prepared.

Usage: Using an area such as this has an interesting twist on the game. PCs generally aren’t used to losing access to their resources. What happens when a spellcaster learns that if they use spells, they may lose the ability to cast them temporarily? It forces characters to put a lot more thought into the spells they choose to use. This is great for putting PCs in a situation where they need to think outside the box. This terrain is best used in combat with enemies that don’t use magic, as they will be unaffected. It is also a powerful tool to let the PCs without magic shine.

Magic Item:

Augmenting Whetstone

This rough sapphire sharpening stone contains potent magic that when released, temporarily imbues a weapon with a magical enhancement.

Wondrous item, common (+1), uncommon (+2), or rare (+3)

As a bonus action, you can touch this whetstone to a melee or ranged weapon. The weapon gains a bonus to attack and damage rolls for 10 minutes based on its rarity. The weapon also counts as magical for the purpose of overcoming resistance and immunity to nonmagical attacks and damage.

Dungeon Master Tip:

The Villain you Know!

“Not every villain is a mastermind who schemes in the shadows or a world-destroying horror. Sometimes the most significant villain is someone the characters see everyday-someone who moves around society in plain sight but keeps their evil deeds well hidden. The law enforcers and adventurers who are trying to bring the villain to justice are thwarted at every turn, unable to find proof of the villain's crimes. If the players come to loathe the villain, everything is going according to plan.”

Ebberon: Rising from the Last War

Player Tip: Don’t be a Dick


Few adventurers make it far in life without needing someone’s help, which means thereafter owing that benefactor some sort of debt...

If your character doesn’t have a mentor or some other clear leader in their life, maybe someone “discovered” you, determine why a benefactor has appeared in your life (My hero Academia’s League of Villains is a great example of this).

Perhaps you benefited from something your benefactor did for you without realizing they were responsible, and that person has now just become known to you. Who helped you in the past, whether or not you knew it at the time, and what do you owe that person as recompense?

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