Fake it like Chatty.

No matter how many years of experience you accumulate as a Dungeon Master, there are things you’re better at than others.  For instance, I’m excellent with pacing and I bring stories from zero to epic in mere minutes.

(I once ran a game from character creation to driving A moon-sized dragon into a planet core to save civilization from a gnome zombie apocalypse… in about 90 minutes).

I’m not as good as I’d like in other areas though. I dislike keeping notes, I often need help with rules, and I sometimes struggle to provide rich, vibrant descriptions.

Luckily, I’ve found cheats to cover for my Dming blemishes. For instance, I use Index Cards stacks to prep for my sessions and document their outcome. I also delegate rules-checking (trust has long been established in our group), which lets me focus on running the game, making calls when rulings can’t be found in a timely manner.

I lately stumbled on a fun and practical trick to shore up my description skills. It’s a variation of “players are allowed to describe PC’s actions in the third person”. As gamer geeks, we often consume the same kinds of stories, games and media. So when I describe a scene, I shamelessly steal visuals left and right.

Chatty: Yeah, the town is a hot and sandy, pretty much like Mos Eisley in Star Wars. A flying fortress looms over it, raining dead bodies. It’s got giant skulls carved on all sides, like the Lich-King’s fortresses in World of Warcraft.

It works wonders. It’s the narrative equivalent of a shortcut, letting all players picture something with minimal effort on my part…

Hey, that’s exactly what a trope is!

What about you? What are your weaker spots and how do you go about trying to deal with them?

Comments

  1. I can’t maintain a voice to same my life to provide distinctions between NPCs. So I overuse everything else – cadence, posture, word selection, even how my long hair lays to provide visual distinction in addition to whatever small audio clues I provide.

  2. Those are great trick. My plkayer tease me that I have only one voice, that of a Lebanese Merchant.

  3. Descriptions are definitely one of my weakest areas. I can envision scenes and locations perfectly in my mind, and sometimes it will be amazing… then I describe it. I think to myself, “That’s not what it looked like. That’s disappointing.”

  4. I’ve recently started doing the same thing, especially for AL games, where I’m trying to be conscious of the time limits. I’ll describe a book-ish acolyte as, “quiet and mousy, like Willow from Buffy TVS”

  5. I think I could use that approach more. Many are the times that I have spent time describing a dark abomination from the pit etc etc to have players go “oh so the Lovecraftian abomination that shall not be named, cool.”

  6. I used to not be great about notes, so I made a 1 page session log with the actual date of the game, what happened, where we left off, that kind of thing.

  7. @Prime: Using Bullet point lists in your notes could help hit the important points of your descriptions.

    @dmfumbl: I’m glad to see it works for you too!

    @Jarrod: Letting players fill the blanks is not a DMing sin, it can actually relieve a lot of the pressure we put on ourselves. 🙂

    @Lum: This is great. Like a game journal.