What Do You Do? – Keywords

“What do you do?” I am often caught off-guard when I get asked this question, mostly because I play in games that are heavier in action than role playing. When I have to quickly answer, I come up with something like “I smack the goblin upside the head with my staff for 14 damage,” or “peering into the wisp’s soul, I send it visions of its worst nightmares for 14 damage.” After this action is resolved, I spend the next few moments thinking that my response was good enough for the level of role-play, it was not satisfying to my inner thespian. If only I had some more time to come up with something better…

I’m going to use this out of game time to come up with some ideas of what I can describe in the moment, or at least how to modify my attack description to make it more colorful. For the sake of applicability, these suggestions are going to be pretty general, and may be obvious, but it’ll be good for me (and hopefully you) to have it all in one place.

The first way I am going to tackle this problem is coming up with some quick description for damage keywords. Many of my attacks have some kind of keyword associated with the damage. Here are some of the iconic things about the damage types that come to my mind, and how it might be used in combat description:

  • Acid. When I think of an acid attack, I think of those spitting dinosaurs from Jurrasic Park. Acid attacks evoke some kind of sizzling, hissing ooze. When an acid attack hits, I’d describe it as “[attack] sizzles through the [target]’s armor, staining the hole brown, and causing his skin to blister and bubble.” Pretty gruesome to be sure, but it’s a freakin’ acid attack! When the attack misses, I could imagine describing the acid landing on the stones, causing it to hiss and give off an acrid smoke.
  • Cold. I imagine cold attacks to cover the delivery device and the target in frost, freezing liquids, and turning appendages blue or white. For descriptive purposes, the area around the target could become slippery (non-game effect) with ice.
  • Fire. Fire attacks are among the most iconic and most frequent in previous editions. These are your flaming swords and fireballs. I describe ranged fire attacks as jets of flame, and targets that can combust, blacken, and smoke. Nearby objects might turn to cinders. In addition to the heat, there’s likely to be light given off as well. For example, when using a wand of fireballs: “The tip of the wand turns bright white, looking at it is like staring into a forge, with the air around it shimmering with heat. Once it reaches critical temperature, flames shoot forth and land 5 squares away in an explosion of rolling heat and smoke for fifty points of fire damage.”
  • Force. I like to visualize force attacks as invisible walls or giant hammers knocking into things. Although forced movement can be described as a linear push, I sometimes mix it up with some Magneto-like flinging people through the air. Force attacks not only push and throw, but can also crush, grind, or rip enemies and objects.
  • Lighting. Lighting/electrical is my second favorite damage keyword. These attacks focus the power of storms. In fact when visualize a lightning attack, I think of Storm from X-Men: “the air grows cold and dark, the wind picks up from nowhere, and lighting gathers from the suddenly formed clouds and streaks down….”
  • Necrotic. Necrotic attacks are attacks of death and decay. These cause flesh to blacken and puss, and other living things to wither and melt. I like to visualize necrotic attacks as black wispy tendrils that leave destruction in their wake.
  • Poison. Poison is generally heaped on top of a physical attack and its hard to describe. For a poison indicator, you can describe a wound as one that doesn’t clot, or that the target’s veins become large and green, like the old dude on last week’s Dr. Who.
  • Psychic. There’s not likely to be any physical sign of this attack, other than the expression on the target’s face. When describing psychic attacks I like to describe a physical attack occurring either in or to the target’s mind. As described in my opening, sometimes I describe psychic attacks, especially fear ones, as creating a horrific image or scary scenario in the target’s mind.
  • Radiant. Radiant are your holy light attacks. I like think of giant sunbursts or big ropey strings of light, like a proton pack from The Ghostbusters.
  • Thunder. Thunder seems a little extraneous with both lightning and force, but I understand that it’s its own thing. I want to imagine a bright yellow Guile-style Sonic Boom attack, but my guess is that these attacks come with a loud clap and perhaps rolling waves of air. I would think nearby objects, especially if glass or crystal, might shatter, and cracks could appear in armor or walls. A particularly powerful thunder attack would likely cause the target’s ears to bleed.

Did I miss any damage types? How do you describe the keywords used by your attacks? Have you had any memorable experiences with these keywords?

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