For a very long time now, I have been the Dungeon Master whenever I play Tabletop Role-Playing Games. Just like every other Dungeon Master alive, I’ve got my own style, and that style informs the way players see the world.
For instance, I like to give my Non Player Characters fun little flaws and passions that make them feel more complex and real, like a demi-god with a tendency to ramble but a love of birds. This lets the players find more memorable things to focus on in the character, and can be endearing or annoying. A big part of the Dungeon Master’s job is to use subtlety to communicate things to players by showing them, not telling them. Having the NPC ramble and apologize profusely is an easy way to explain who he is, and the players can take that as adorable or annoying, depending on the player. Telling the players that he is annoying, however, cuts to the chase in an unmemorable and uninteresting way. It also removes any agency from the players to make that decision without disagreeing.
A big part of showing, not telling, is using the five senses to communicate the feeling something gives. The five senses are Taste, Touch, Smell, Sound, and Sight.
For instance, simply explaining that the Giant they’ve come across is a disgusting creature doesn’t quite fit the bill. It leaves something to be desired, and is ultimately a boring as hell way to describe this massive creature from myth. Using the size, smell and sound of it however, that will give them something memorable and satisfying.
“The Giant is as tall as a bus is long, with flaky gray skin. It looks like a human but its face is stretched and morphed like clay, with a jutting forehead and thin wispy hair. Almost as soon as you can react to its size, the smell hits you. Rotting garbage mixed with seawater and rotting corpse. It seems the hides it wears aren’t even dry yet, freshly peeled from its victims and haphazardly sewn together. A slow growl builds in its throat, and it screams at you like an angry child filtered through the baritone of a tuba.”
*Insert your best Giants roar*
Now that certainly isn’t my best work, but it gets the idea across! Most of the time, you need only one or two senses to properly deliver the image, but in this case, I felt a Giant deserved three. It is after all a big creature, and will be a proper boss fight for the group.
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This series will be bi-weekly, and will serve as a fun resource for Dungeon Masters to reference when they have a certain locale, creature, or environment to describe, and they want to punch up the narration a bit.
The other bi-weekly articles will be whatever I decide to write about that week, from world-building and breakdowns of my Play-By-Post games, to ideas and recommendations when it comes to creating your own monsters or items.
The first article will be up later today, discussing Rain.