How a Blind Player Improved Our Game

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on March 19, 2012

I’ve heard a lot of people say that 4e is really just a video game turned into a table-top role-playing game. The game is too tactical and relies too much on the visual aid of a battle mat and minis. These criticisms always talk about the limitations and restrictions of 4e. I admit that the visual component is certainly important, but the game is certainly not limiting. D&D is so much more than what’s on the table.

When I recently ran an adventure at my FLGS a new player sat down next to me, introduced himself and told me he was blind. I wasn’t sure how to handle this news. I was concerned that I’d have to make significant adjustments to my game in order to meet the needs of the blind player. He was really good about it and just told me to do what I’d normally do but to be sure to describe things (like the map) so that he could accurately picture it in his mind.

This seemed like a reasonable request. After all, everything in the game is described in the adventure, right? Nope.

Think about how much of the game is not described. We just take for granted that because I can see the map and see the minis that I don’t necessarily have to describe the scene in as much detail. But when one of the players cannot see the map or the minis, you realize just how much of the game relies on visual input.

As the game progressed I realized that just because I wasn’t used to describing things to the extent that a blind person required didn’t mean that the details weren’t there. To be honest, I realized that I’d become a lazy DM. But as I was forced to describe those little details I quickly remembered how much more we can get out of a typical D&D adventure by being descriptive.

By adding the intangible details and really describing the scene, the players started to realize that they could get more out of D&D then just moving their minis around the map and killing monsters. Having the blind player at the table really brough the role-playing back to D&D.

Characters

Usually when I ask players to describe their characters they give me an answer like, “I’m playing a Human Fighter,” and often the player has a mini that looks like a Fighter. It may not be exactly what they imagine their character looks like, but it gets the job done. After that, we know that the mini with the big sword and green cape is Joe’s Fighter. But when someone at the table cannot see the mini it forces the player to actually describe more than the character’s race and class.

During the game with the blind player the previously sufficient description “I’m a Fighter” became “My character is an average-looking Human male well over 6 feet tall and easily 250 lbs. He’s wearing chain mail, a dark crimson tabard with a gold emblem, and a black cloak. Although his main weapon is a great sword, he’s also got a couple of daggers tucked into his belt, another one jammed into his left boot, and a crossbow slung over his back.”

Suddenly we realize that the lame mini Joe was using to depict his placement on the map looks nothing like the character he’s actually playing. But until he was asked to describe his character for the blind player he didn’t feel it necessary to add these details. More importantly none of the other players felt the need to ask for them. We were content to play on knowing he was simply a Fighter.

And of course, as soon as the first player described his character with this level of detail the rest of the players felt the need to follow suit. What really impressed me was that everyone knew exactly what their character looked like. In their mind they had all of these details worked out, but until this game they’d never felt the need to share these details.

Map and Monsters

Maps make DMs lazy. Why describe a room or the terrain when I can draw it or use dungeon tiles to depict it? I’ll admit that I often just say something like, “This is what the room looks like,” and point at the map. But when the blind player was at my table I had to remember that he needed the non-visual description. I began describing the room with its shape and dimensions, followed by the terrain features and obstacles. I made note of things like the smells and sounds because I realized that a blind person would know to use his other senses to gather information. I had each player describe their placement on the map relative to the blind player’s mini as well as to each other. When monsters entered the room I made sure to describe their placement and their appearance.

Normally when I place monsters on the map I say “These guys with yellow cloaks are actually.” This works well since I don’t have a lot of different minis. It also helps the players quickly identify the bad guys. They know that regardless of what the monster actually is, guys with yellow cloaks are the enemy. However that doesn’t cut it when there’s a blind player.

I had to make a point of actually describing the monsters. In reality the blind player had solid D&D monster knowledge so when I said Gnolls he knew what I was talking about, but I still felt it was my job as the DM to take a minute to describe them. What would usually have been “You face six Gnolls,” became “Six tall, dog-men standing almost 7 feet tall enter the room through the door on the far side. They smell of wet fur, wield clubs and yip like dogs as they move about. Three hug the east wall as they look for cover behind the crates while the other three growl and bark as they charge in a straight line towards the PCs.”

Details Bring About Better Role-Playing

By adding these little details to the description it really changed the dynamic of the game. Knowing that the blind player relied on description to better take in the scene, all the players got right into describing their actions. It wasn’t just moving the minis and rolling a d20. It was describing how they moved, what weapon they used, how they used it, what power they use and then depending on if they hit or miss the creatures, what happened.

In all of the time I’ve played 4e D&D the game with the blind player was one of the most entertaining because the group realized how much fun it was to get into the game and describe the details. They no longer assumed that any action was obvious. When they moved their mini they described it “I rush up, I sneak, I slide on my knees, I cart-wheel, I flip and roll.” Likewise with attacks “I slash at his midsection, a smash his kneecap, I shoot an arrow in his arm, I fire a Magic Missile in his butt.” Taking a few extra seconds to describe things made the game more interesting and everyone actually paid attention even when it wasn’t their turn. Believe it or not the descriptive flare even helped clarify actions in terms of standard, move, and minor, while painting the scene.

Where many players see the tactical map as rigid confinement, these players realized it was merely a guide. So many of the rules rely on precise distances, shapes, and placement that people forget how much fun D&D really is. By taking a few seconds to add some description and some flavour to your actions you become more invested in the encounter and in the greater story.

The next time you’re playing D&D pay attention to how much is described and how much is just assumed based on what you can see. Ask yourself if your descriptions would be adequate if there were a blind persona at the table? I think you’ll find that the added details will improve your game and encourage a lot more role-playing.

Related reading:

Looking for instant updates? Subscribe to the Dungeon’s Master feed!

 

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Philo Pharynx March 19, 2012 at 10:56 am

In one of my groups we have a legally blind person as well. It’s challenged me as a DM as my mind will often skip from A to B without remembering that I have to explain to the group the steps between.

2 Alton (Marc Talbot) March 19, 2012 at 11:09 am

I am glad that you were the one to get him at your table. Some people may have panicked and ran. You stood up to the challenge and had this great post to write from this experience. Thanks for the insight, and I will think hard about using these tips at my next encounters session.

How was the players’ experience in the end?

3 Joe Lastowski March 19, 2012 at 11:20 am

What a fantastic article. Thanks so much for posting this, and for taking the time necessary to make this game accessible to anyone who sits at a table. I’m inspired to step-up my own DMing descriptions as a result. Awesome!

4 Alphastream March 19, 2012 at 1:25 pm

DMing for a deaf person is interesting as well, because looking at a player (so they can read your lips) is important. It really reminds you to have eye contact, and to be clear when you speak.

I’ve had several opportunities to play with, DM and be DMed by blind gamers. We have a gamer in the area who DMs at all the big cons, and he is fantastic. It is truly incredible how well he runs the game – it blows everyone’s mind that seeing isn’t a requirement for the game, even with 4Es emphasis on tactics and the battlemat.

5 Norcross March 19, 2012 at 1:28 pm

This sounds like… well.. almost every role-playing game I’ve ever been in. But then, I don’t play 4e.

6 david schwarm March 19, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Awesome write up! This has a ton of inspiring information, not least of which who you turned a DM Challenge into a DM WIN! Great work.

I would love to see posts/comments by blind players around anything specifically other players can be doing to make the experience more enjoyable to them…

7 Al March 19, 2012 at 3:21 pm

I really wish that all the 4e bashers (because 4e has no or too little narrative) would read this article.

8 donalbain March 19, 2012 at 4:17 pm

i actually thought this was about using a blind pc cause i did that once but this does give me some idea of how it would be

9 Sunyaku March 19, 2012 at 6:30 pm

We’ve had blind players at our FLGS as well. The better the descriptive elements are in DnD, but better the game is… regardless of whether or not you can see.

10 -C March 20, 2012 at 3:29 am

Welcome to the OSR?

Seriously, can you imagine my weekly game (which has no map/minis, lasts 4 hours and usually has 3-6 combats that take maybe 40 minutes) which is grounded in description and motivation contrasted with my experience of playing 4e at a FLGS?

I come in and everyone is sitting quietly staring at computer screens.
“What’s everyone doing?”
“Making characters”
An hour later (takes 5 minutes in the home game) everyone is ready.
DM puts down the battle mat.
He says “Pick one of these five squares to start in”. We then spend the next two hours in a single combat. During this time I spend more time waiting for my turn then the whole of four combats take in my home game.

I’m just saying – imagine if the whole game were focused around just the descriptive parts. How cool were those parts?

The most cool.

Some of your readers might be wondering how such a thing works and how it’s fair. My blog has a lot of information on it, but basically, it works great.

11 Kiel Chenier March 20, 2012 at 8:19 am

Great post. I’m glad that something came up that tested you as a DM.

I’ve had a couple similar experiences, both with blind players and mentally challenged players. It really does make you re-examine your preconceived ideas about how a game should be run. It forces you to adapt and accomodate for parts of the game many people take for granted.

Thank you for this post. It gives exposure to an aspect of RPGs that often goes unconsidered.

12 Jake March 20, 2012 at 10:35 am

-C – I’m interested. This was a great article and I’d love to read more about mapless 4e – but where is your blog? Your name goes to a blogspot that doesn’t exist.

13 Alton (Marc Talbot) March 20, 2012 at 10:57 am

Jake,

I think the name was typed wrong. Here it is.

http://hackslashmaster.blogspot.ca/

14 -C March 20, 2012 at 11:23 am

Yes. Apologies.

It’s not 4e. I’m playing 1e.

15 -C March 20, 2012 at 12:02 pm

I can’t win for losing.

The correct website is now linked on my avatar. My comment was contrasting my usual experience of play with play of 4e.

http://hackslashmaster.blogspot.com/

I think very little would have to change at my table, but I can’t even imagine how you’d begin to explain the grid to someone sightless. It would seem an almost insurmountable problem.

16 Gormal March 22, 2012 at 5:38 pm

Not being the individual that Ameron is talking about in this article but having sat at Ameron’s table as low vision person. I am not sure him and Al ever knew. To answer the question regarding visualizing, in my opinion descriptions help.
-C imagining agrid in your mind can be very easy. People who are visually impared or blind do it all the time when they are walking around. Some individuals can map out a whole house and get around with out bumping into anything, so why can’t they not imaginae and mapping out a battle grid in their head. In spacial relations i am in the 91 percentail. Seeing or not seeing has nothing to do with you understanding spacial relations.

17 -C March 22, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Yeah. I agree. I can play chess with my eyes closed.

However, sitting around a table with other human beings playing a fantasy game makes me think I could be imagining something more interesting and fantastic than a grid.

18 Chris April 13, 2013 at 10:15 am

My wife is blind and I’ve been running games with her since before we were even dating. You definitely have to remember to be much more descriptive. I think she’s helped me step up my narrative skill. You have to remember not to say things like “OK, so this guy moves over here.” The last section here is dead-on. It’s definitely an experience to be grateful for, because more description keeps the game fresh and immersive for everyone.

Leave a Comment

{ 8 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: