Kill Boxed Text – Dynamic Descriptions Made Easy
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0844
This framework does two things for you.
First, it guides what you should include in your descriptions. What details are best for gameplay right now, and what can be left until later? It’s a recipe you can follow again and again without getting repetitive. And it’s a very effective recipe.
Second, it guides you on your description sequence. Start with PC perceptions and end with PC options. Follow this order to help players understand what’s happening better.
Here’s how to tackle each phase:
What do they perceive? What do they see, hear, smell, taste, touch?
The first thing we do is try to frame and picture the scene and situation in our mind’s eye. Once we are clear, we relate the basic perceptions to our players.
Imagine the PCs have three seconds to get an impression or snapshot of the area. What do they perceive first?
Go with those major details. Then reveal more when players ask questions and PCs explore.
What would players and characters think is most important? Give them those details next.
Typically, in rough order:
- Monsters and NPCs
- Treasure, quest objectives, rewards
- Objects, containers, items, and obstacles that could be worth investigating
- Something interactive or moving
We tend to fall into the trap of what we think is important.
Instead, put yourself in the shoes of your players and their characters. Roleplay them in your head. What details would jump out at them.
How does the current situation make your players and characters feel?
What does their intuition or gut tell them?
How does their experience colour the scene?
What triggers their wisdom or empathy?
In addition to what you described in the Think phase, what else might the party care about and feel is important here?
Last, we end our description with a couple of possible character options to help get players focused and taking action.
What can the characters do right now based on this new information you’ve just given them?
I do not provide an all-inclusive list to players here. Instead, I offer some ideas they might consider amongst other options they’re already weighing.
I’m not saying, “Do you look under the rug, translate the inscription, or search for secret doors?”
Nothing so direct and limiting.
Instead, I’ll offer up something like this. “Krug, the rug looks a bit askew, as if it’s been moved recently. Templeton, the inscriptions look to be related to the Kaslan language, but it’s hard to tell from here. Phingers, the incense seems to be wafting from your right, but you don’t see any kind of possible source.”
I’m not telling the players. I’m more like the Director. I’m offering up interesting choices like they’re hooks.
A Quick Hack
This is a lot of tackle all at once. Fortunately, you’ll get several opportunities every session. It’ll soon become a habit.
A quick trick is to count with your hand. Touch index finger to thumb as you go through the See phase. Then switch middle finger to thumb for Think. Ring finger touching thumb for Care. Pinky finger finishes your description with Do.
As you cycle through, your fingers keep track of where you’re at and what’s left to describe.
Once you get into the rhythm, you’ll no longer have to spend a lot of prep time writing out descriptions for every encounter. You’ll get more concise with practice. Your descriptions will become more engaging and relevant to your players. And you’ll be able to describe things well on-the-fly in any situation!