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Inspired by this question and the fact that I keep saying 'washing machine' when my brain goes blank (Seriously, I forgot the word stone the other day when describing cave walls) I figured I would ask for some tips.

So: How do I get better at describing the environment and the creatures within?

Instead of

You turn the corner and a demon is standing there

I would rather say

Just as you turn the corner, you nearly stop in mid-stride as wave of hot, dry air wafts over you, reeking of sulphur and burning flesh. Blinking your burning eyes, you see a beast born from the stuff of nightmares, its hateful eyes glowing with malice. It opens its fanged mouth and emits a hiss, sounding like a drop of water striking a heated branding iron

I had to google the above, and this was my second example because originally I wanted to describe a dragon, but literally couldn't think of any description other than 'a dragon'. To make it worse my googling for dragon descriptions brought up sites to teach kids adjectives... the shame :(

For reference: my current technique is to picture the scene and mention 3 useful things and one fluff thing. I have no problem figuring the things I want to talk about, but just getting the correct adjectives in my head is often incredibly time consuming and impossible on the fly.

Also: my current group have no issues with how I am doing this now, it is purely a self-improvement exercise and to try and cut down on my prep time.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Self-improvement is always a worth goal! My advice would be (a) read a lot and (b) watch the Critical Role episodes on DndBeyond! Other than this advice, this question is a bit broad for any definitive answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – PJRZ
    Jul 18, 2018 at 14:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Three useful things and one fluff thing ... sounds like you are doing it right already. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 18, 2018 at 14:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is "I have no problem figuring the things I want to talk about, but just getting the correct adjectives in my head is often incredibly time consuming and impossible on the fly." the main problem you have at the moment? If so, rewording your question around this core problem could lead to reopening and some pretty useful answers. If you'd like I can reword the question if you'd prefer - I have an answer in the works as I had a very similar problem myself. \$\endgroup\$
    – eimyr
    Jul 18, 2018 at 14:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Some people actually argue for more concise style, so maybe try to first evaluate where do you really want to get with your narration. Interesting reading: theangrygm.com/how-to-talk-to-players-the-art-of-narration \$\endgroup\$
    – J.E
    Jul 18, 2018 at 15:33

1 Answer 1

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There are no easy answers, you learn from the masters: Joseph Conrad, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Ian McDonald to name but a few selections. It is a matter of reading and remembering what you find evocative, rich, and fertile ground for your imagination.

Adding to your vocabulary will happen as you read. You could get a big list of words but that is unlikely to help. You could use a thesaurus to find similar words to the ones you know. For example, if you have a cave system look up darkness. Jot a few notes and use those words in descriptions.

You should try to include all five common senses in your descriptions: How does it smell and feel? What do you hear, or even not hear? Note that your example includes just that. Again, a thesaurus is a good place to look for better/different words.

Finally, remember that sometimes less is more. You do not have to describe each scene is a long monologue full of adjectives. Not every corner of every room needs filling. Leave the rest of screen building to the imagination of your players.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It isn't so much a vocabulary issue, more of a technique issue, love the 'what do you NOT hear' thing though! \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Jul 18, 2018 at 14:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would also add that you should be consistent in your descriptions. As in, throw some flavor into the mundane while toning down the important stuff. I had a beginner DM over explain the parts that were important. If he said, "There is a chest in the corner," it was a normal chest. But if he said, "There is a chest pushed into the corner with brass bindings and a heavy lock on the front," that meant it was locked and usually trapped. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Jul 26, 2018 at 22:12

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