Have your players used Improvised Actions?

It is hard to break my players out of actions for which they know the results: attack, cast a spell, maneuvers, skill tricks, etc. When Next first came out I was really hopeful that improvising would be more thoroughly embraced and encouraged. I was also hoping that improvising wasn't simply pushed into the department of role playing, or only the exploration or interaction tiers of the game.

But with more options come more predictable results in actions, particularly in combat. Predictable actions aren't bad, but they begin to reduce D&D to a card-like game with adjustable results in the form of dice. (By adjustable I mean one can improve their odds of said predictable actions through tactics, experience or features gained from levels).

I feel like the love for improvising is quickly dying again, and I'd like to know if other groups have seen players using actions that aren't listed on their sheets. If they have, was it during instances of combat? What is particularly dangerous situaitons in combat, or when they have a handle on things? What were the results?

Thanks for feedback.
It really depends on the players.  I have not tried in Next yet, but 4e was built really well to improvise actions.  I ran an adventure were we threw out written powers and improvised all the actions.  The way 4e is set up it was easy for me (the DM) to adjudicate whether an action would be considered an at-will, encounter or daily power and how much damage it would do (all this is based on level so I could make a basic chart before the adventure).  The adventure went well and some players loved itowever, some players felt paralyzed and didn't really do much of anything - essentially spamed basic attacks - they preferred having set predefined powers.

So basically it depends on the player(s) I think.


Try taking away all spells, maneuvers, etc. and see whay your players come up with!  
Eesh, I think they would despise that. They love their powers, they are the bread and butter for their tactics. I think, and not to sound elitist, but stripping all those powers/spells/maneuvers out of the game and you aren't really playing D&D anymore. That is not to say that couldn't be an interesting game, I'm just not sure it's D&D.

I suppose I'm looking for something inbetween.
Basically they need a guarantee that the improvised act will cause as much damage as an at will, preferably somewhere between an at will and encounter powers damage. Or if it wont, rules wise they can retract from that move and use a regular move.

Alot of GM's estimate of damage (if any damage at all) could vary wildly per improvised act, many dropping below what an at will does AND the player has to sacrifice their attack to do so/before finding out.

I don't think most players just love improvised actions for their own sake and don't care if they are doing half the damage of a regular attack.

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Eesh, I think they would despise that. They love their powers, they are the bread and butter for their tactics. I think, and not to sound elitist, but stripping all those powers/spells/maneuvers out of the game and you aren't really playing D&D anymore. That is not to say that couldn't be an interesting game, I'm just not sure it's D&D.

I suppose I'm looking for something inbetween.



I think the point was to have the players improvise their own spells/manuevers/tricks, not eliminate them.
It would be nice if the PHB/DMG provided a chart of sample improvised action results, such as:

Spill slippery fluids on ground (action)
Base effect: All creatures in area roll Dexterity saves (DC 12) or fall prone.
Bonus effect: The spilled area is considered difficult terrain.
Bonus effect: If a creature falls, it must spend an action to roll a Strength check (DC 10) to stand up.

If a player wants to improvise something, it would be handy to have a table to get ideas from, so everything isn't reduced to damage results. But also the DM shouldn't feel constrained by the table. Rather, it should help expand the possibilities while guiding the balance of the options.

Improvised actions need to be more interesting (and possibly stronger) than standard actions, but the drawback is that they are highly situational and unpredictable.
My players used to, until the packet where they introduced maneuvers and the standard combat options

It seems that telling players what they can do in a list makes them think that those are the only "real" options.
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Ive generally let players make improvised actions as an equivelant to "word of power". A failed check and they are punished, a success they are rewarded. I wont let them improvise an effect that is already in the game as an action.
 That means that players can by descriptice action and adding to the scene gain an advantage.
EG. A player storms in to a room full of bad guys and gives a cool spiel waving a guardbadge telling the bad guys to lay down their weapons as the place is surrounded by 1000 coppers. He added a cool scene to the game so I let him roll cha as a free action so he could attack as well. I dont think he would have found it cool to spend an action doing that.

So make imp action a thing you can do with a basic attack (no manouvers etc) and I think more players would pick it. 
I think the lower HP/faster combat nature of Next is far more conducive to improvised actions.  Players are more receptive to spending a turn doing something creative rather than hitting the damage button as hard as possible.  When your next turn is in 5 minutes as opposed to 15, its easier to sell.

As for adjudicating these actions, I don't think much has changed.  4E was much better about listing expected damage but I found players were very gunshy about risking their turn since it takes so long.  In general, you never want to punish someone for trying to be awesome, but make the stakes of failure clear.

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I prefer Next because 4E players and CharOpers can't find their ass without a grid and a power called "Find Ass."

@Veggie-sama My problem with those solutions is that those are simply more powers, whether in the players' or DM's hands. I've made tons of environmental power effects, especially in 4e, and although it was fun, it was way too much work for the payout, could have just been improvised on the fly, and ultimately they weren't used 3/4 of the time. Even when the players know exactly what the outcomes are, with the multitude of tricks up their own sleeves, they don't necessarily need a vial of slippery liquid. On the other hand, I do think having examples of how they have worked in the past is a good thing, hence this post.

@chuck80 Yeah, that's sums up some of my concerns. I still want the players to know what they have in their pocket cause their the best at those spells/maneuvers, but I also want a game where they feel free enough to try something that reacts to the story, the environment, or becuase it's in character.

@Keendk Now that's an interesting idea. I feel like, at first blush, allowing an improvised action every round might be overdoing it, since the outcomes would need to be toned down, and therefore less heroic anyway, but delivering them for free in some sense is a really cool idea. I also like the idea of them attached only to basic attacks or spells to ensure they're somewhere on par with all PCs' "specials". Thanks for the feedback.

@Bly2729 I have to disagree. I do agree that combats are faster, and less emphasis is going on all the tactics of a single turn, but because the hps of the monsters are so low (or if the damage of the PCs is currently too high), it's making less sense to do anything other than damage with their turn, and maxing that is the focus. That's another topic, but I see the faster combat means less reason to do something cool when they can solve the problem fastest by killing. If the monsters didn't drop so fast, there might be more reason to find creative solutions to thwarting them or forcing their surrender.
It is hard to break my players out of actions for which they know the results: attack, cast a spell, maneuvers, skill tricks, etc. When Next first came out I was really hopeful that improvising would be more thoroughly embraced and encouraged. I was also hoping that improvising wasn't simply pushed into the department of role playing, or only the exploration or interaction tiers of the game.

But with more options come more predictable results in actions, particularly in combat. Predictable actions aren't bad, but they begin to reduce D&D to a card-like game with adjustable results in the form of dice. (By adjustable I mean one can improve their odds of said predictable actions through tactics, experience or features gained from levels).

I feel like the love for improvising is quickly dying again, and I'd like to know if other groups have seen players using actions that aren't listed on their sheets. If they have, was it during instances of combat? What is particularly dangerous situaitons in combat, or when they have a handle on things? What were the results?

Thanks for feedback.

I know this feeling. The fact that the term "Improvised Actions" even EXIST is testimony to the decline of role-playing into statistical banality.
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Well, some people like to believe that the system sanctifies their decisions. If "improvised actions" aren't even mentioned in the rules, then there's a perception that you can't do it. It needs to be allowed but also conditioned by boundaries and expectations.

For example, if I want to swing on a chandelier (there's always a chandelier in improvised actions), then I might expect it to carry me a certain distance or to provide some panache to my regular attack. This can be reflected in the rules: +20 temporary fly speed for the round, advantage on the attack roll, or whatever seems appropriate. These bonuses must be tempered by boundaries. Not all scenes have chandeliers, so here it's a situational opportunity. Or perhaps I need to succeed on a skill check or fall flat on my ass, so there is some constant risk/reward that needs to be weighed. Or maybe it can tap into some other resource, such as spending hit dice, hit points, spell slots, voluntary assumption of bad conditions (like prone or disadvantage), etc.

However, as circumnavigate rightly mentions, an improvised action system with an endless list of "powers" is a bad idea. Too specific and too narrow. Instead, I'd rather just see a page or two full of improvised triggers and effects. Something that could fit on the inside of a DM screen.

A trigger might be "Environmental swing (ex. chandelier, grapelling hook, etc.)." Or simply "Ability check (DC 10)." An effect might look like "temporary fly speed" or "advantage on next attack." Perhaps there could be different tiers of triggers/effects that represent greater risk/reward. Better effects could require higher DCs, while weaker effects might be allowed in addition to a regular action, word of power style.

A player might ask, "Can I swing on the chandelier and kick the bad guy in the face?" DM says, "Sure" and adjudicates appropriately. If he needs an idea for how to simulate that, he can check out the improvised action table and find appropriate results.
I think that's exactly right Veggie-sama.

I keep struggling with whether I would want to bring in rules to help inspire improvised actions in my game, such as the "word of power" idea. One of the things that isn't sitting well for me though is that I'd be making up rules…to help break the rules. I could easily establish benchmarks for the success of such actions (extra damage, damage reduction, controlling an opponent, hitting multiple opponents, extra mobility, gain advantage or impose disadvantage, etc) — but for one, those rewards could get swingy or over-expected, and for two, those are the sorts of things that are built in to spells, maneuvers, skill tricks, etc.

What it comes down to is that I miss some of the theatrics to the game. I miss some of the cleverness that comes from reacting to the scene the DM is painting, as opposed to the strategy of when or how to use their prescribed powers. I feel kind of dirty developing rules to bait the players into being more creative, into engaging with the environment or NPCs.
Eesh, I think they would despise that. They love their powers, they are the bread and butter for their tactics. I think, and not to sound elitist, but stripping all those powers/spells/maneuvers out of the game and you aren't really playing D&D anymore. That is not to say that couldn't be an interesting game, I'm just not sure it's D&D.

I suppose I'm looking for something inbetween.



If they would despise improvising, why do you want them to improvise?  If they like powers, great, you are just asking them to describe there powers.  Also, you could try it just for one combat, to teach them how to improvise.  Let them see the possibilities and decide if they like it or not.  Here is an example:

You have a 15th level fighter.  Instead of him or her using the "Dragon's Fangs"  daily attack power, he or she says:  "I want to hit those two Hydrodemons as hard as I can."  Translate "as hard as I can"  into a daily power.  Go to the chart for lvl 15 daily power and it says 6(W) damage, half damage on a miss (I also had condition modifiers for damage on my chart).  It is two targets, so you break that up into 3(W) damage each.  Easy peasy you've got "Dragon's Fangs."  Now this isn't easy for the more complex 4e powers, but you get the idea I hope. 

Alternatively, you can reward improvised actions as a bonus to their powers or maneuvers.  Suggest that if they use the wall behind them to push off (str or athletics check) you will give them a bonus to hit/damage (if the check is successful).  In this case, the improve does not penalize their attack if the check fails, it only adds a bonus if the check succeeds.  You only reward the creativity.  Eventually this might expand into full on improvised actions.
   
It still felt like D&D to us.  Something that might help is if you give the players the chart, so they no you are not just making it up on the fly.  It might give them the feel of powers, but not the restriction.
As both a DM and a player who loves to improvise, if you want players to improvise, give them things that are so cool the players can help but improvise with. An ancient arcane cannon, a monster beneath a portculis, an iron maidan, these things will get players improvising, and once they start having fun with it, they'll start looking for opportunities. 
@dave2008 Yeah, I wasn't saying they despise improvising, I was simply suggesting that throwing out the core built maneuvers/spells/tricks etc. IN LIEU of improvising everything wouldn't sit well with them. What I'm looking for is improvising in addition to all of the options they currently have, not a means to replace them. I do respect that your group was capable of doing that, and I wouldn't be against a different game than that, I was just looking for a means to fold more improvising into the game as currently written.

@bengilmer This has worked for me in the past as well. The problem can be that the DM is inclined to design what the action is before the game. There's a fine line here I think, as placing an iron maiden in a torture room is begging to have a goblin shoved in it—and it's a good idea to have the damage for such an action mapped out a bit before going in. My true hope is for the players (and the DM) to react to the environment and NPCs in ways that are unexpected. Some of the goodies mapped out already are fun, and I'll always continue to place those in dungeons etc. It's more the "improvisation" to it that I'm looking for.

I think many of these responses have helped me see ways to get players involved. I'm not sure I'm ready to jump into codification of such tech, but it's definitely got me thinking. 
@dave2008 Yeah, I wasn't saying they despise improvising, I was simply suggesting that throwing out the core built maneuvers/spells/tricks etc. IN LIEU of improvising everything wouldn't sit well with them. What I'm looking for is improvising in addition to all of the options they currently have, not a means to replace them. I do respect that your group was capable of doing that, and I wouldn't be against a different game than that, I was just looking for a means to fold more improvising into the game as currently written. 



That is why I suggested trying it for one combat (or adventure - whatever you think), just to get the ideas rolling in thier head.  Or make improvised actions provide bonus to typical actions, as I also suggested.  Both of these ideas could get your players into the improvise groove without really chaning anything (except for one combat maybe). 
One thing that players have done often enough is grab and try to throw kobolds or goblins or other small/medium monsters into pits.   This is always fun.

The rogue in our group once made a trip wire stretched across a tunnel that successfully tripped a charging Ogre.

Often, even when players just do attacks or use their abilities, if they narrate the event it makes it seem more interesting too.   One time a rogue who was wearing a ring of leaping, jumped throught he air did a flip over a creature and stabbed down on it with his short sword delivering a first strike that was epic.

Off the top of my head, I can't really remember any others.        

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Using a ‘mage’ hand spell to dump a bucket of oil; on the torch carrying guards.


Using a thunderwave spell in an avalanche zone and causing one to hit the Orc encampment below.


Using a levitate spell and rope to make the now petrified Monk into a balloon so they can cross the rope bridge and get him back to town.

Players are not going to use an action in combat that is less effecting than their weapon or spell, so make certain their efforts will reward them. As the DM you can place things in their encounters to get them used to the "interaction" way of thinking. ex. Baddies cut the rope that ties a lot of whiskey barrels. The barrels force a dex save trap effect.  Then slip in things like great chandeliers chain hooked by the door the PC come through long curtains and braziers of fire, and so on.  They have to get it into them from what you describe before they can interact with the enviroment. Hope this helps a little. 
Players are not going to use an action in combat that is less effecting than their weapon or spell, so make certain their efforts will reward them.


This I am in agreement with. The problem is it's a new system I don't necessarily have a "feel" for yet. It's difficult to establish a baseline for what's good vs. what's not good. What's a good DC for an improvised action? What should happen if they fail? If it's too good, will they try to keep doing it?
@efiend71 and @Veggie-sama Yes, one of the things I've been pondering as an adjustment to my descriptions and dungeon development is providing more set-up in the exploration scenes of an adventure. If you want to encourage interaction with the environment, the players need more information before even entering the room. Placing clues and dressings between your rooms (or scenes) offers the PCs an opportunity to begin brewing ideas for how to use those dressings to have fun with, or to gain an advantage. If the PCs encounter strange spores which they discover explode in a distracting puff of gas (and feel the mechanical effects of), and then later see the spores again outside the prison where gnolls guard the princess, they may be inclined to use them to their advantage. They had previous knowledge about how the environment works, and apply it to a later encounter.

Some scenarios might be intuitive (it's obvious that cloth curtains are flammable, it's obvious that ladders can be knocked over, etc), but other things might be concealed or unclear to the PCs. ex. "All the barrels in this room full of bugbears appear to have the same markings as the ones you saw in the hallway that are filled with oil." This is the "set" to their "spike" and may encourage more outside-of-the-box actions. However, I might not say that's fully improvisation per se. Regardless, it would be theatrics, and as I posted earlier, I think that's the real root of what I'm looking for more of in my games. That and some less dependence on the players baked-in powers.

I think it's worth mentioning though that if a PC wanted to gain something out of their interaction with the environment, that could be something they thread into their words as well. ex. "Can I use the chandelier to break my fall since it's between me and floor?" I know for myself a player of mine needn't even make that a request, but some things aren't as acceptable, and players can get disturbed with DM-may-I play styles. It could spiral into "Can I kick the chandelier so it starts swinging and then cut the rope so it lands 20 ft from where it hangs?" By encouraging your players to engage with the environment more, you could be asking for more shenanigans than you bargained for. I know I would likely say yes to an action like that, but it may not be for all players or all DMs, hence the gray area and reluctance. Questions would come to the PCs like "will it land where I want it to?" and "if not, and it's an ability check, what are the chances of that check?" or "how much damage will it do compared to my other prescribed powers?" Though I can understand those would be reasonable questions for a PC, I find that by following up with quantifiable answers you've stripped the fun out of the action in the first place.

Here we come to the impasse of improvised actions: advantage vs. theatrics. As a PC, I know I would be hard-wired to only consider "other" actions if they provided something more than what I already have. As a DM, I would be reminded that everyone at the table fondly remembers moments of unexpected theatrics, and that they breathe life into the game. Players want to ensure survivability and "win." DMs want to ensure everyone has fun, and "make memories."
I have encouraged my players to play in the eviroment for more than 28 years. I never have had a single problem with it.  most difficulties toggle between moderate and hard and damage and or effects are common since based for what they do. You really dont need a rule for every single thing. Your game breaths but you have to let it. Dont be afraid to let your monsters just get crushed to death by a falling massive chandelier (that can not be kicked unless you can fly up to do it, and even then need a str check to make it swing.) Once thoughs monster get crushed move forward and hold on to the memory you just made. There are always more monsters to challenge you pcs.  Even in the encouraged throws of chaotic movie making pcs will always need to use there main stay weapons and abilities. There just wont become a "to much" iprov action threat. If I put my players in a dinning area with orcs. I know one of them will fling a chair at one. They know it is an attack roll that does no damage but if it hits it could push an initiative back, cause the orc a negative (disadvantage in Next) to the targets next attack. Basicly it would do some thing that fit the situation. If they do something that does not even make since in the real world then it will be their disadvantage to try it.  The rules are just guide lines not gates. Use the mechanics in the way you, the DM, sees fit. Make them handle things the players throw at you. In time your players will just trust you and will use their weapons or their "out the box" action and love the feel it gives.
Strongly concur with efied71. "Yes! Roll!", or even better, "Yes!"

Running Encounters it can be hard to get n00bs to that style out of their routine. A few monsters doing it to the players or insta-success for other players can work wonders on encouraging a freewheeling style.

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I agree with previous poster saying players improvise less when more maneuvers are presented. We have been using the same character through 3 playtests now. The Rogue has used CHA checks for disguises in each version. We thought it was cool when the Mimic trick was introduced, but was disappointed in its execution and that resources had to be spent to do what he has done in previous encounters.

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Interesting @strider13x, this is similar to how I feel. I'm conflicted however since on the one hand there is satisfaction in using a mechanic in the game and seeing it succeed. This is predetermined creativity however, as the mechanic is prebuilt there are few ways of using it creatively in the moment. Not all mechanics are like this, but most are.

Base point: the more mechanics there are for resolving challenges the fewer imaginative checks you'll see at the table.

My father might say "if your toolbox is too heavy to carry then you've got too many tools." As circulatory as that might sound, it's always made sense. You don't need lots of tools to be prepared for every possible job, you need fewer tools designed for multiple tasks that are strong enough to last.