Beef Up Boring Descriptions: “Hey, What’s Happening Over There?”

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0913

Try this: The PCs enter a neighbourhood at dawn. Describe it.

Pause reading and describe it in your head, out loud, or on paper. Try to capture exactly how you’d describe it at the game table.

Done? I’ll wait.

Ok. Here’s the thing. What’s happening in the scene?

When I tried this exercise I did a great job describing the red brick buildings, the cobbled streets wet with last night’s rain, the sun rising orange over tall boat masts in the harbour.

A good description.

But boring!

I forgot the essential ingredient for our players: What’s happening? What’s there to do?

The best way to level up your descriptions is to start thinking Action.

It need not be adventure hooks and villain mooks descending from ropes.

But it should also not be boring details with little relevance that don’t open up gameplay.

Fine, the sun is rising. That means shops are opening up and shopkeepers are out sweeping and chatting. Perhaps one is fixing a roof leak. Then a dog grabs his tar brush and runs away with it. Urchins break out of the shadows and chase the dog, laughing. A messenger with bag full of letters hands an envelope to one shopkeeper whose face suddenly goes grey and his hands begin to shake. He enters his shop, puts up the closed sign, and draws the curtains.

The red bricks, wet cobblestones, and harbour masts? Those details paint a picture, sure.

But add what’s happening.

Dig into that stuff to beef up your descriptions and engage your players.