Sunday, August 17, 2014

Monster design tips: #2 Focus on what makes the monster exceptional

In the second part of the monster design tips series, I discuss techniques for making the descriptive line concise but effective.

So, you're designing a monster. You know how cool it looks like because it's your creation, but you want to be sure that everyone who reads the entry also learns all the interesting details about the monster. However, if your descriptive line ends up being three or more sentences long, it's very probable you have overestimated the importance of some of the details. Below are tips on how you can and why you should make your descriptive line shorter.
  • The descriptive line can be used as read-aloud text when the PCs encounter the monster. For this reason, it's important to consider how much information the players can remember when they're not reading it themselves. The recommended length is two sentences, but I think sometimes even just one is enough (my RPGSS monster had a descriptive line of just 17 words). At any rate, don't use more than 50 words.
  • I think the best way to shorten the description is to only focus on what is exceptional about the monster's appearance or behavior. For example, if the monster is human-like, there's no point in describing its human-like attributes in great detail or at all, just focus on the unusual/inhuman ones. After all, everyone knows what a human looks like.
  • It's useful to pick two or three interesting details about the monster and focus on those. What would the PCs be likely to see, hear or smell when they first encounter the monster? What are they likely to find shocking, surprising, disgusting, delightful, suspicious or intriguing?
  • Less is more. If the players only have to remember a few details, it's easier for them to let those details sink in. Too much of everything will only water it all down.
  • To make every word count, focus on details that you can describe in a dynamic way. If possible, introduce each detail through actions like breathing, movement, vocalizations, or mannerisms.
  • However, remember that the descriptive line should not assume PC action or location. The same line should be usable wherever the monster can be encountered.
  • It's good to remember that you can also give details about the monster's appearance and physiology in its write-up. Trust the GM, allow them to give the players additional details if necessary.

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