A Monster for Every Season: Summer 2
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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Barbarian in the Playground

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    Sep 2016
    United States

    Default GMs: What are your favorite descriptors?

    As a GM, it often comes down to your words to paint the scene and immerse players in their characters' situations. A piece of advice I often give to new GMs is to cultivate a large stable of phrases and descriptors that can help lushly set the scene.

    Share some of your favorite words, phrases, or sentence structures for describing things in games. My selection below is mostly going to revolve around fantasy gaming. Note that many of the phrases under Characters and Combat get used as a player as well.

    Spoiler: Environments
    "high-vaulted ceilings"
    "rich with wood-smoke"
    "once-polished stone"
    "pillars of (x material), and (x material) the gates."
    "gently sloping passage"
    "a frowning fortress"
    "the walls painted with blasphemous scenes"
    "etched with evil-looking symbols"
    "scents fair and foul mix upon the market air"
    "noises of love, violence, and mirth echo through litter-strewn alleys"
    "a wood, green with life and musty with death"
    "many old and wise trees"
    "a swampy labyrinth of waters"
    "the distant cry of some strange bird"
    "the hungry gnawing of the sea"
    "the vasty indifference of the sea"
    "bare and mist-shrouded hills"
    "red-cast in the firelight"
    "savage peaks"
    "a fearsome-swift river"
    "sheltered in the snow"

    Spoiler: Characters
    "a questing nose"
    "as if ever anticipating attack from one quarter or another"
    "a resting sneer"
    "a hungry look"
    "an impressive beard"
    "handsome" (applied to women, somewhat unusual in modern usage)
    "x of hair, and of eye y"
    "flash of sudden mirth"
    "scars both ancient and new"
    "a calculating look"

    Spoiler: Monsters
    "limbs jutting at unnatural angles"
    "antediluvian horror"
    "eyes glisten with malign intelligence"
    "a maw reeking of death"
    "long, raking claws"
    "in form a cruel mockery of x"
    "man-shaped, but for x"
    "tendrils, each one seeming to move of its own mind"
    "hissing curses in some dark antique tongue"
    "slime-slick scales"
    "shambling gait"
    "blood-freezing screech/howl/bellow"

    Spoiler: Combat

    Note that in accordance with forum rules, I'm omitting any phrases that describe gory wounds, but just know that I have a lot of those.

    "the clangor of blades"
    "steel answers steel"
    "feet shuffling in a deadly dance"
    "desperately guards one strike, then two, three"
    "the air crackles with spell-fire"
    "sparks fly as the blades catch in the bind"
    "heedless of his wounds"
    "the shock of the blow travels up your arm"
    "with upraised arm he belts forth an incantation"
    "he lunges, with death in his right hand"
    "with a fearsome stroke, you hurl him down to death"
    "an arrow suddenly sprouts from the tree/wall/door beside you"
    "like some sweet liquor, the charm floods your thoughts"
    Last edited by Catullus64; 2021-11-29 at 10:33 AM.
    The desire to appear clever often impedes actually being so.

    What makes the vanity of others offensive is the fact that it wounds our own.

    Quarrels don't last long if the fault is only on one side.

    Nothing is given so generously as advice.

    We hardly ever find anyone of good sense, except those who agree with us.

    -Francois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Orc in the Playground

    Join Date
    Apr 2020
    United States

    Default Re: GMs: What are your favorite descriptors?

    My DM uses the word "very" a lot.
    "Sure, Philosophers can say 'But how do we know the sun will rise tomorrow?' to which the correct response is 'Shut up nerd! Stop playing 3D chess against your own brain and find something real to worry about'."


  3. - Top - End - #3
    Dwarf in the Playground

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    Feb 2016

    Default Re: GMs: What are your favorite descriptors?

    This could become a very good reference for DMs.

    Spoiler: Environments

    "rolling hills covered in verdant foliage, as far as the eye can see"
    "ancient oaks compassed by green saplings, like pupils at the feet of a master"
    "fetid stench arising from the swamps sable ichor"
    "grey and dour mists obscuring vision beyond [distance]"
    "the road winding around the base of the brown mount, its sleek sides broken by stoney outcroppings"
    "the smell of brine filling your nostrils from the sea breeze"
    "acrid smoke rising languidly from vents and chimneys"

    I've also found this helpful: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_colors_by_shade

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Troll in the Playground
    Lord Torath's Avatar

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    Aug 2011
    Sharangar's Revenge

    Default Re: GMs: What are your favorite descriptors?

    Catullus64, those are some very nice lists.

    "antediluvian", however, means "before the flood", which might not make sense in many settings. I'd probably replace it with "primordial" (first created) or "primeval" (of or relating to the earliest ages).

    Unless, of course, your setting includes an iconic flood of some sort, that the word can reference.
    Warhammer 40,000 Campaign Skirmish Game: Warpstrike
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    Thri-Kreen Ranger/Psionicist by me, based off of Rich's A Monster for Every Season

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Bugbear in the Playground

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    Aug 2014

    Default Re: GMs: What are your favorite descriptors?

    I will certainly tell you the funniest one I've ever accidentally said.

    The scenario was dealing with a chupacabra-like creature, and I was trying to describe the aftermath of it having drained dry a flock of sheep.

    The word I was trying to say was 'dessicated', which is a good word.

    The word I ACTUALLY said was 'deflated', which is less so, and is something my players will never let me live down. My beautiful flock of deflated sheep.
    Last edited by Milodiah; 2021-11-30 at 11:27 PM.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Orc in the Playground

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    Jun 2018

    Default Re: GMs: What are your favorite descriptors?

    As a primarily Cthulhu-running GM, any descriptions I use will inevitably include “cyclopean” or “squamous”.

    Or the old favourite- “your eyes refuse to accept the indescribable horror that arises before you…”

    Actually, on more serious note, what I often find useful is advice that a lot of Cthulhu source books include- horror works best when it emerges from a familiar place. So focus in a scene on elements the players will connect with- happy faces, comforting smells; things that will make them feel attached and immersed in the world. Then bring out the horror. Investment comes when the kindly shopkeeper’s eyes roll back in his head and he starts chanting, not when “Orthok the bloody casts Polymorph; roll to save”.
    Last edited by SpanielBear; 2021-12-01 at 07:49 AM.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Barbarian in the Playground
    Phhase's Avatar

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    Sep 2010
    X/Z 12,550,821

    Default Re: GMs: What are your favorite descriptors?

    Ooh, I like your rhetoric, and will gladly throw in a few words.

    Sonic damage: "The air screams as it is torn asunder, its bladed wail shredding its target into an impossibly fine particulate."

    Falling in battle: "In a final indignity, the ground itself leaps up to join <enemy> in pummeling you, and its blow is mighty indeed."

    "<enemy> makes a good-faith effort to grind you into thin gruel."

    "The horizon, gilt with the flames of the evening..."

    "a light ever flickering 'twixt black, grey and white, and a sound like the whisper of a distant waterfall"

    "a brassy screech, like tearing metal"

    "baleful gaze"

    "At last relinquishing your hold upon the concerns of this day, the waking world bids you soft farewell as you depart for dreaming."

    "You've seen a broken bone healed wrong before. But this one must've been broken in at least three...no, five...seven...(Your head spins and you stop counting)."

    "The wind whips up in a rising howl as a column of air bears him aloft."

    "Uncountable multitudes of arms branch outwards from his shadow."



    "Manifest madness."

    "Entering the office, you feel an aura of iron law hanging in the air around the entity at the desk. A certainty that all that exists shall follow a defined pattern. It is reassuring, but not comforting."

    "Incandescent yellow flame, filling the bowl of the crater-valley, bathing it in harsh light not unlike the sun."
    Sometimes, I have strong opinions on seemingly inconsequential matters.
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  8. - Top - End - #8
    Ogre in the Playground

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    Jul 2008

    Default Re: GMs: What are your favorite descriptors?

    I try to describe scenes by all the relevant senses, what does it look like, what does it smell like, is it hot or cold, is it dry or moist, is it windy, can you taste it. I prefer not to use flowery descriptions, but I do try to describe what things are made of. You're not just on a road, you're on a hot black asphalt road, you're not facing just a house but a red painted wooden house, two stories. I'm not good at evoking and I don't get it when others do, even when they do it successfully.
    I stick to what I do best.

    For characters I describe them in a similar fashion, what is the color of their eyes, hairstyle, complexion, clothes, any items they have or are holding. It also says a lot about a character what they smell like (this is also true IRL), if someone is drunk it's better to say he smells like alcohol and urine.

    The more senses you use, the more immersive it is. But using more senses takes more time, so cut to the chase. GMing is not prose, creating a campaign is also not prose. Creating a campaign is more like writing a program, and GMing is more like being a referee. I firmly believe it's the player's jobs to be the storytellers, they tell the story of their characters. The GM gives them the context to exist within and the antagonists for them to struggle against.
    Black text is for sarcasm, also sincerity. You'll just have to read between the lines and infer from context like an animal

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Pixie in the Playground

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    Jan 2021

    Default Re: GMs: What are your favorite descriptors?

    I tended to use pale, opalescent, and descriptors about colors and shapes more often than others. Acrid, sharp smells occasionally fill the air. One of my players is playing a blind character, so I've been challenged to include more descriptions of sounds and noises, especially whenever they do anything.

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Dwarf in the Playground

    Join Date
    Dec 2015

    Default Re: GMs: What are your favorite descriptors?

    Warning: Crazy ideas ahead......

    I use to be very flowery, but have stripped most of that out and leave it as more short, declarative statements. I try to include 2 senses beyond sight, and that is about it. I am aiming for a more practical and stripped down approach. The idea was then

    So, I say something like:

    "You arrive at the wharf. You hear sea birds call in the distance. You can hear the surf hitting the shore nearby. You can smell the sea in the air. At the end of the wharf is an old, sea worn building. The surface is pitted and stained from years by the ocean."

    Simple and straight forward but using a few senses. However, I will often ask the players, "Is there anything else you notice?"

    I then let them narrate a bit if they want to set-up the type of scene they want to play next. I might add some detail or limit it afterwards though. I know, very unorthodox. This let's the players control the story a bit and try to set-up the scenarios they want to play as well. This leads to immersion/investment in the story/game.
    Last edited by Easy e; 2021-12-30 at 12:05 PM.
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  11. - Top - End - #11
    Bugbear in the Playground

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    Jul 2015
    San Antonio TX

    Default Re: GMs: What are your favorite descriptors?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mastikator View Post
    I try to describe scenes by all the relevant senses, what does it look like, what does it smell like, is it hot or cold, is it dry or moist, is it windy, can you taste it.
    This is what I do as well. The DM is the source for all senses. Many DMs get hung up on sight and never get anywhere else.

    "You arrive at the graveyard after nightfall. A quarter moon dimly lights rows of shabby monuments and an ancient leafless tree whose limbs tremble in a strong chilling breeze. That breeze carries the earthy smell of freshly turned dirt."

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