If you ever find your players looking blankly at you after a long description, take it as a subtle note to try to improve your storytelling. While there’s a million skills you can hone for DnD, storytelling is one of the most important skills of the Dungeon Master. Like any skill, it’s hard to get better if you don’t know what you need to improve. Today we’re going to focus on two simple ideas that will instantly improve your storytelling and liven up your game: pacing, and relevance.
Good Descriptions Come in Small Packages
You’ve likely spent a long time preparing for your game. Whether you’re running a module you picked up or you’ve created your own content, you’re no doubt excited to share it with the players. While there’s a ton you’d like to tell your players, you can’t do it all at once.
If you want a better game, keep descriptions short and to the point.
No matter how detailed a scene is in your head, brevity matters in DnD. Don’t keep describing when your players are ready to take action. A long description essentially acts as a barrier to your players and stops them in their tracks. Rather than monologue about a scene, give your players only a small chunk of a description and let them ask for more information about what’s important to their characters.
If your player asks you about the stonework in a dungeon, that’s when you tell them; it matters to that player and their character.
If your players don’t ask about things, you don’t need to throw out your descriptions. Instead, just drip feed them to your players. When describing a player’s actions you can sprinkle in a bit of description along the way. This keeps the game moving forward and improves the overall flow of game play.
Stay on Target
Chekhov’s Gun states that in a story every element must be necessary to the plot. It’s a fantastic dramatic principle for making your writing better and helps you produce content that doesn’t waste your audience’s time. Despite an urge to describe everything in your DnD world, sticking to relevant descriptions is important in game.
When I was starting out as a DM, I had an intense urge to describe everything in the world. I’m a world builder and love making dungeons, so just telling people about things in the world was enough for me. The flaw here is that DnD, like any story, is plot based. Players expect items presented to be relevant to that plot.
To make your game better, pair down descriptions on things in the world that aren’t relevant to the unfolding scenario your players are in. Just like with pacing, you can sprinkle description when players ask for it.
My own DMing improved dramatically by doing this, and yours can too.
I used to fill my world with interesting do-dads and baubles, but I found players trying things that made no sense. They held onto worthless items just because I had described them. They tried so hard to interact with every decorative set piece. At first I thought it was my players, but in truth the problem was my love of over-describing and a failure to remove non-relevant set pieces from my game.
Simplify Your Storytelling
Not every improvement to your game is a colossal undertaking. By breaking your descriptions down into digestible chunks and cleaning out irrelevant story elements you’ll immediately see the pace and engagement of your game pick up. No matter where you are in your game, these principles can be applied immediately and you can start seeing results in your very next session.