There is an interesting GMing principle that more or less states that a GM should only ever describe monsters, and let the players name them. There may also have been mention of creating a sense of wonder.

I read a lot of systems, GM books, RPG.SO posts and blogs, and I can't for the life of me find the source. I'd like to go back and read this in context to see if there are any other related principles I should also be trying.

It feels like an old-schooly or dungeon-crawly kind of thing to say, but after a brief search, I can't find reference to this in Dungeon World (though it mentions "portray a fantastical world" on the agenda), A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming, AD&D 2E Dungeon Master's Guide, or Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

I'm looking for an original source for the above mentioned advice.

EDIT: I'm starting to think the phrase was actually "Don't name monsters, describe them" instead of "only describe monsters, let players name them". I'm finding more relevant google hits, especially for "Don't name monsters".

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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for answering the question, even partially -- they're for suggesting improvements or requesting clarification. Answer in answers, please. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 17:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ AFAIK this is general advice with respect to characters that is often given to authors. When writing your Gulf War thriller, don't just say that one day, Suzie walks into the War Room. Tell the reader about her curly blonde hair that never seems to be quite neat, tell about her penchant for dressing up like a 1940's schoolmistress, and mention her habit of twirling a pen nervously when she sees her secret love interest, General Helmut. Which would you rather read about? Which is more interesting? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 11:59

2 Answers 2


Perhaps this exists in earlier games, but Dungeon Crawl Classics, first published in 2012, makes this explicit.

Dungeon Crawl Classics, page 378 (4th printing)

Never describe a monster using a specific noun (e.g., “goblin” or “orc”). Always describe a monster using physical characteristics (e.g., “a four-foot-tall man-like creature with green skin and pointed ears”). Let players learn the capabilities and characteristics of monsters through experience. They can name these creatures as they see fit—but they should name them, not you.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This advice pre-dates Dungeon Crawl Classics by at least 20 years. I remember it from roleplaying in my early teen years although I cannot recall an exact source off hand. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 14:05

After a lot of googling, I think a combination of these two links were where I encountered the phrase:

First time DM : DnD

Also, don't name monsters, describe them. The players shouldn't know that they're up against goblins, but that they're up against short, green humanoids with pointy ears, shortbows and short, curved swords. Sure, one of them might know from a knowledge roll that it's a goblin, at which point tell them, but always start with descriptions.

A Guide for the Lazy DM

Don't name monsters


Remember it's your world: thus, skeletons can have 80 hitpoints if they need them. your monsters don't have to be exact matches for the monster manual, they just need to be monsters.

Don't tell them the answers: my guys fought 'creatures' that i described. they invented their own names for them, and never knew that it was really a ghoul, or a goblin, or a gnoll. Don't say “you see 10 orcs on a hill”, tell them "you see ten creatures, loud, arguing, boorish. They have a pigs face on a stout body…. etc.". If you never admit to it being an Orc, then they can't holler how many hitpoints it had, etc. and that it should have fallen, or can't be immune to sleep, etc.

The latter is from a copy of an archived thread on the old Wizards forums from 2007.

There may be a more primary source than this, or than Dungeon Crawl Classics as per the other answer, but until someone posts that, I'm going to accept the DCC answer since it gives much more context.


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