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DontEatRawHagis
2014-02-08, 01:06 AM
Recently I've noticed my players really get engrossed in an enemy when I describe it as opposed to give it a name. In most cases that is very hard to do. Every character knows what a dragon.

I tell my players that they are going up against a dragon they feel a bit underwhelmed.

I tell them that in the tomb they just opened is a creature of flames, its skin made of lava. They get engrossed into the story.

My advice before you tell your players "You are going up against X", try giving them a description and have them fill in the blanks.

Knaight
2014-02-08, 01:16 AM
Recently I've noticed my players really get engrossed in an enemy when I describe it as opposed to give it a name. In most cases that is very hard to do.

They aren't mutually exclusive options. Take real world animals - wolves are familiar to basically everyone. Describing a wolf and leaving out the detail of it being a wolf is just silly under most circumstances. Nonetheless, there's a difference between "You encounter a pack of wolves. Roll initiative." and actually describing the wolves in question. A snarling alpha wolf coming out of a blizzard with the visible silhouettes of a pack around the party concealed by the snow is a very different scenario than a bunch of well fed wolves lazily sleeping in a den. "You encounter a pack of wolves. Roll initiative" covers both of these, and as such is far less engaging.

In short: It's not the absence of a name that has the effect. It's the presence of enough details to contextualize what's going on.

Felhammer
2014-02-08, 01:25 AM
All it takes is a flavorful sentence to make an encounter go from bog standard to interesting.

ChaoticDitz
2014-02-08, 02:17 AM
All it takes is a flavorful sentence to make an encounter go from bog standard to interesting.

Wait, you mean annoyingly (and more importantly, pointlessly) overdescriptive encounters aren't even supposed to be the standard?

... I need a new DM, apparently.

On-topic, it's actually a pretty good rule to follow that description and name should both be included, but name after description. Maybe it's because I spend more time with selfish metagaming players than the non-selfish variety and the non-metagamers, but usually if you start with "it's a dragon" and then go onto the description, they will zone out during the parts after the word "dragon."

THEChanger
2014-02-08, 02:44 AM
That's why I do it in the opposite order. I describe the scene -

"As you open the door, your torchlight glints off of the beast before you. Its black scales shimmer as it steps forward, acid dripping from the massive jaws. Bat-like wings unfurl from its back, and a low, rumbling laughter fills the room as it rears onto its hind legs."

- And then tell them what it is, if they know.

"This is clearly a Black Dragon. An old one. And it is hungry."

Felhammer
2014-02-08, 03:19 AM
Wait, you mean annoyingly (and more importantly, pointlessly) overdescriptive encounters aren't even supposed to be the standard?


You can drone on for half a page of text and nothing stated could be interesting or evocative. Drilling down and finding one really good sentence is very challenging and rewarding (in the way writing a very tight one page paper as compared to a 5 page paper is).

I am not advocating one sentence descriptions but merely that one finely crafted sentence can make an encounter really zing.

Rhynn
2014-02-08, 06:50 AM
I generally avoid names that the players haven't figured out. In B4, they've been encountering "brutish, primitive humanoids" and "scrawny, pale humanoids with enormous eyes" and so on. They have not given any names to these things, and have no idea what they are (IC or OOC), so I just keep describing them. The main benefit, really, is forcing my (way too experienced and cunning) players to wonder what the heck they are up against. (Creating 20-30 new types of monster helps, too.)

However, there are situations where there's no point dancing around it: if I'm running a game in Middle-Earth, orcs are orcs (or goblins, or yrch), and there's no sense going on about "sallow, bent, ugly humanoids in armor, with crooked swords" and so on.

Knaight has the right of it, though; even if there's no doubt what the creature is, you can still describe things enough to make it interesting.

Jay R
2014-02-08, 07:40 AM
If it's the first time they encounter a monster, I don't name it, I describe it. But after a couple of encounters with gnolls, I just call then gnolls.

I've also told them that I have re-written a few of the monsters, so they can't get complacent.

AntiTrust
2014-02-09, 05:42 AM
Wait, you mean annoyingly (and more importantly, pointlessly) overdescriptive encounters aren't even supposed to be the standard?"

I have honestly never had a dm over describe anything in almost all cases the exact opposite. I'm very curious what it looks like. Do you or anyone have an example of this?

Altair_the_Vexed
2014-02-09, 08:04 AM
All it takes is a flavorful sentence to make an encounter go from bog standard to interesting.

That's why lots of bestiaries give you a one-sentence description at the top of the monster these days.

Brookshw
2014-02-09, 12:33 PM
A good description is worth its weight in gold, applied to the encounter or creature. Even if the players have the appropriate knowledge to know what it is, that doesn't stop you from using those checks to help build description, "you once heard a harrowing tale of such beasts from the survivors of an adventuring party, those that made it back spoke of their blades barely scratching the thing save for their sole magic weapon. Their party wizard shrieked in agony after the thing passed through a wall of fire to get to him without a single scorched mark, and the frenzied volley of acid did nothing to slow it as it snuffed the wizards life". (etc.)

Maybe not something for every encounter, or routine encounters, but still valuable tools.

BWR
2014-02-09, 01:47 PM
We usually get/give descriptions the first time the party meets a certain type of creature, then stick to names for subsequent encounters.

Slipperychicken
2014-02-09, 07:53 PM
I think it's reasonable to withhold names if the PCs fail the relevant knowledge check to identify the creature, or even to give them the wrong name if they fail the knowledge check badly enough.

nyjastul69
2014-02-09, 10:21 PM
I never name a creature until the party has successfully identified one. Even with something as apparently obvious as a wolf I'll still say it 'looks' like a wolf, but I won't state it as a fact.

Jay R
2014-02-09, 10:40 PM
I never name a creature until the party has successfully identified one. Even with something as apparently obvious as a wolf I'll still say it 'looks' like a wolf, but I won't state it as a fact.

"It looks like a wolf from this direction."

I once actually made use of the fact that some species are not equally obvious from every direction.

The party included a ten-year-old boy as one character. When he left the party for a few minutes in the woods, I said, "He sees a cute little bear with his back to him. His fur is soft looking light brown, like hes very young."

He was interested, and watched. (I was hoping he would approach.) I said, "When the bear turns, you see his face. The fur fades slowly into slightly darker feathers, and his yellow beak is a stark contrast. He looks at you through red-rimmed eyes, seemingly caught between interest and fear. He opens his beak and utters a sound between a roar and a squawk."

The mother owlbear appeared almost immediately.

ChaoticDitz
2014-02-10, 01:18 AM
"It looks like a wolf from this direction."

I once actually made use of the fact that some species are not equally obvious from every direction.

The party included a ten-year-old boy as one character. When he left the party for a few minutes in the woods, I said, "He sees a cute little bear with his back to him. His fur is soft looking light brown, like hes very young."

He was interested, and watched. (I was hoping he would approach.) I said, "When the bear turns, you see his face. The fur fades slowly into slightly darker feathers, and his yellow beak is a stark contrast. He looks at you through red-rimmed eyes, seemingly caught between interest and fear. He opens his beak and utters a sound between a roar and a squawk."

The mother owlbear appeared almost immediately.

Great story. +1 internets to you, sir. It's why games are better without metagamers.

Incorrect
2014-02-10, 08:18 AM
I sometimes create new monsters, without naming them. The characters will then have the "joy" of discovering a new type of horrible monster, and get to name it themselves. The discovery, fighting and naming has been a great success.
By taking notes of the strengths and weaknesses, they began to have their own ingame monster manual.

DigoDragon
2014-02-10, 08:25 AM
All it takes is a flavorful sentence to make an encounter go from bog standard to interesting.

DMing is a lot like cooking in that respect. :smallbiggrin:

Which I suppose makes my more difficult players Gordon Ramsey. And the dungeon becomes Hell's Kitchen. And now I have my next adventure...

Brookshw
2014-02-10, 10:40 AM
DMing is a lot like cooking in that respect. :smallbiggrin:

Which I suppose makes my more difficult players Gordon Ramsey. And the dungeon becomes Hell's Kitchen. And now I have my next adventure...

Your party has been kidnapped by a pit fiend who demands you prepare a feast for 50 horned devils. You must collect the ingredients from various levels of hell. Those that make exquisite dishes will be rewarded with wishes, those that fail will be ingredients in the next feast.

Go!

CarpeGuitarrem
2014-02-10, 11:00 AM
Something I like doing is dropping description into the actions, in little bite-sized chunks. (Because a great big long description just loses players*.) Quick and efficient. Figure out a speedy way to relate the monster's appearance to something that the players know, and then reinforce various monster traits through action, not description.

For instance, I set a trio of ghouls against the players. I foreshadowed them with weirdly-shaped tracks, and then said that the players were going up against three "twisted humanoid creatures". As the fight went on, I talked about how their jaws distended, or how their claws slashed into armor. I had one moment where a ghoul took a couple bites out of the elf's shoulder. It was all colorful and memorable. The other interesting thing I did was to give each ghoul a distinct trait (such as stiffness, or I gave one an unholy symbol around its neck). That also served as an easy way to differentiate them.

In fact, that's what I would advocate for, over not using monster names. Focus on the individuality of the monster, and on the particular things that make this instance of the species distinct from other ones.


*as an example, here's something I ripped from elsewhere...

You happen upon some type of four-legged animal. It seems stretched to impossible dimensions. It stands somewhere between 5 and 6 meters (16 to 20 feet) off the ground. The beast is mostly neck with it's thin, almost spindly legs ending in hooves. It has furry horns on top of it's comically small head. Its fur is covered in irregular blotches of dark grey and black over what appears to be dirty yellow or off-white fur. The long, black tongue is ripping the leaves off a nearby tree and it seems to be chewing. As far as you can tell, it hasn't noticed you.
It's a giraffe. But all that description? My eyes were glazing over pretty quickly.

Rhynn
2014-02-10, 11:24 AM
I sometimes create new monsters, without naming them. The characters will then have the "joy" of discovering a new type of horrible monster, and get to name it themselves. The discovery, fighting and naming has been a great success.
By taking notes of the strengths and weaknesses, they began to have their own ingame monster manual.

I generally just give my monsters descriptions for my own use, unless they'd actually have a word for themselves (or someone else in the setting has an established name for them). And thus I have beak-dogs, burrowers beneath, crawlers, flying fungi, freaks, fungal husks, green giants, headless, man-apes, man-things, swine-things, tentacled worms, and vulture lions...

Malimar
2014-02-10, 12:03 PM
I generally only give players the name of a creature if they successfully identify it, and then only after describing it.

Of course, when knowledge rolls fail the party, this leads to things like referring to vampire spawn as "fangly exsanguinators" and grell as "balloon-tentacle-beak-monsters".

Yora
2014-02-10, 12:09 PM
"If it has stats, we can kill it."

And if it has a name, it is well known and researched, and there are people who know the perfect way to deal with them.

And in both movies and RPGs, the sensation of being in danger comes from not being in control of the situation. And to be in control, you have to know what you're dealing with. If you don't know what a creature can do and how it behaves, you have no control at all, and that's scary.
If it's a fairly well known creature that is somewhat familiar to most people, there's of course not much sense in not calling a wolf a wolf or a goblin a goblin. But if it's not basic common knowledge that every character would be expected to have, just describe what they see and what it does. Figuring out what it is, and what it might be capable of, is left to the players.

Knaight
2014-02-10, 12:35 PM
I have honestly never had a dm over describe anything in almost all cases the exact opposite. I'm very curious what it looks like. Do you or anyone have an example of this?

I've seen this. There was a three paragraph description of a completely ordinary wall at one point that stood out, partly because it was a really tedious three paragraphs. Paraphrasing, it was along these lines, except three times as long and four times as tedious:

"As your characters roughly descend the stairs step by step, moss loudly crunching every time they lower their toe to the stair and again lower their heel, the soft orange light of the lantern shines over the walls. The multitude of individual red-grey stones that comprise them are rough hewn and oddly textured, and sound like the clack of a tiny pebble thrown on a great boulder when bumped into. The grey-black mortar holds a similar texture, but has an inky aspect where the soft orange light of the lantern touches it, reflecting less light back in a less scattered way. The wall comes to a height of approximately one man tall, and the individual stones protrude anywhere from a finger's to a hand's breadth, with the deep gaps between where the mortar is forming inky pools when at even the slightest shallow angle from the lantern. The matching grey-red stone floor and grey-red stone ceiling are both roughly perpendicular to these textured walls, and mimic them in every respect, though the textured ceiling is at a smooth diagonal barring the texturing of the stones and the floor is hewn closer with less texturing and cut into the shape of a winding staircase."

As I said, it was actually much longer than this - for an empty hallway. Moreover, even the short descriptions of every single object were at least as long as the paragraph above. Every single noun had at least one attached adjective, every single verb had at least one attached adverb. It also employed repetition less as a rhetorical device to draw attention and more as the standard description that was rarely altered.

Slipperychicken
2014-02-10, 01:26 PM
a three paragraph description of a completely ordinary wall

I've lived through narrations like this. You can generally tell a description is too long when people start fading out midway through. Or if they start groaning when you begin to describe things.


I recall a famous example being a laboriously-described gold room full of valuables. Every curtain, bauble, carpet, piece of furniture, artwork, and other item was described ad-nauseum. After the lengthy description, when the players declared their actions to loot the items, the GM realized he forgot to mention the black dragon standing in the middle of it.

Rhynn
2014-02-10, 02:08 PM
As I said, it was actually much longer than this - for an empty hallway. Moreover, even the short descriptions of every single object were at least as long as the paragraph above. Every single noun had at least one attached adjective, every single verb had at least one attached adverb. It also employed repetition less as a rhetorical device to draw attention and more as the standard description that was rarely altered.

That is classic bad/inexperienced writer with no editor, process, or feedback. :smallbiggrin:

Knaight
2014-02-10, 03:01 PM
That is classic bad/inexperienced writer with no editor, process, or feedback. :smallbiggrin:

It pretty much is. They were a good GM in basically every other way too, but that was a problem. Fortunately, it was a problem that went away once they got it through their head that more and better are not synonymous when it comes to description.

CarpeGuitarrem
2014-02-10, 03:14 PM
It occurs to me that, despite the fact that it's all made-up words, Jabberwocky is a wonderful example of several monster descriptions done right. In my opinion, anyhow.