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Further Thoughts on GM Description

My reaction to the Enhancing Your Descriptions article was fairly negative. But, if I’m going to be critical, then I ought to come up with some better ideas of my own:

There was one point of really good advice in the article. Keying in on essential details when providing information to the characters can be vital. But there are different circumstances when different information should be conveyed to the PCs.

The GM should be aware of being the avatar of the PCs, and should relay to them the information as their characters would interpret it, and not in a neutral fashion. A character who is a military officer will look at a field and see defensive locations and terrain to avoid and the best place to stage an ambush. Another character who is a hunter will see game trails and plants that certain animals like to eat. Telling them the field is “sunlit” or “breezy” or “blue” doesn’t convey much to these characters (and thereby their players). This kind of description needs to be addressed by each individual GM for each individual set of characters.

This information needs to be conveyed by the GM, addressing what the characters know. The GM is not just a set dresser who needs to read off the description. The GM needs to present the most important information to the PCs. General descriptions are fine for setting the tone for the players. But there are some points where a long general description can be useful.

All description from the GM is not necessarily presentation of clues. The GM may be introducing the campaign setting, or the setting for the particular adventure, or otherwise trying to provide flavor description for the players. In those cases, extensive description is more useful. An extensive description, as “the curtain parts” and the scene is introduced, serves to provide an opening description that should be evocative. Everyone will gravitate to different elements, so a more thorough description can only help. The more detailed the description is at this point, the more there is to catch each individual player’s interest.

One player will be captured by the description of gargoyles along the battlements; another may be taken by the dark-cloaked figure holding a torch, standing at the highest point of the castle; and another may be concerned by the heavy, metal clad gate that sits before them at the end of the road. All of these elements are presented, but each player constructs the scene in their own mind.

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