The shopkeeper’s green tunic clashes oddly with his blue alien skin. The 6 strange nostrils on the top of his head are flaring wildly, a gesture of greeting for his people. As you eye over his wares, he moves his large bulky body over to you, causing some of the racks to slide out of the way. “Hello. My name is baaan paaar. I am double pleased to greet you. Welcome to my shop. I see you are looking at the vestrum power converters. Good choice! I too enjoy the stability of that model……………….”
The impressively long and detailed description of the shop and the interaction with the alien went on for about 6 minutes. The GM had gestures, a voice, and had really well detailed out this alien race with a personality and uniqueness. It was impressive, the only problem is that it was the fourth such encounter the group had in response to one player saying “I buy a few things before we embark on our ship.”. In a longer campaign, the interaction would have set the tone and oddity of our dealing with alien species for the game. One hour into our 3 hour convention game, the descriptions were getting tedious. We were trying to push forward and were biting eagerly at the plot hooks to get things moving, but the GM was interested in showing off the world.
[pullquoteleft] One hour into our 3 hour convention game, the descriptions were getting tedious. [social_warfare] [/pullquoteleft]Impressive as it was, and as interesting as we found it, we were missing out on the other things that drew us there – the game and the action. Detail and description create a dynamic, living feel for games and can make a setting feel unique and interesting, but sometimes the descriptions bog down what is going on.
There is one thing the Game Master could have done to improve his game. He could have weighed his scenes against a simple question:
For this element should I be brief or eloquent?
A simple assessment of the importance of each scene or element is something every Game Master should do. While it all wraps into that one question, there are many factors that have to be considered.
Does describing this in detail build up to a payoff in relatively short time? (Players will forget details the more time goes on.)
What elements of the game do the players derive enjoyment out of?
Does this description provide information the players may need? (I.e. the beast is armored up front.)
Have I already expounded on something like this before? (Is this going to sound repetitive?)
Are the players’ faces telling me they are interested in this interaction or not?
Each game and session is going to have unique factors that help gauge the level of detail you give to your descriptions, but it is important to analyze them during the game. Mentally asking yourself “Brief or eloquent?” as you start into each new scene or interaction will kick a part of your brain into analysis mode and help you decide how much importance and time to take with the encounter. You may find yourself putting more effort into describing and elaborating on things that would otherwise be bland or common. You may find yourself pulling back the details and getting to more in every session. You may find yourself changing nothing about your style at all, but the asking is important and helps you look at your game in a new way.
Do you analyze your games for pacing? What criteria do you use to do so? When a game has unique elements and style, like aliens or oddities, how do you bring it to life without getting long winded?