Read Aloud Woes

A couple weeks ago I finished our text for The Monster” Kickstarter, which included me writing 52 unique room descriptions. At this very moment in time, if I never have to write about a haunted mansion again, it will be too soon *waits for the eventual urge in three weeks to write about another haunted mansion*. Reflecting on all the descriptions I wrote it made me think a lot about descriptive text and the form it takes in a game. Namely, it made me think about read-aloud text–part of an adventure specifically written for a GM to read to players at a certain time.

From early in my career I’ve hated a read-aloud text, so in the Monster, and other gaming texts for AHP, I don’t use it. Like I said above, I do use fluffy bits of descriptive text, but they are as much for the GM as they are for the players. They are created to add content to the story, rather than tell the GM what to say. They are pretty, descriptive, and (hopefully) fun to read. A far cry from the type of re-aloud text of my past.

When I started professionally writing for rpgs it was with Wizard of the Coast’s Living Forgotten Realm’s (LFR) RPGA and read-aloud text was my jam. This was in the era 4th Edition D&D and writing LFR RPGA adventures was rather formulaic – they needed to have x number of combats, x number of skill challenges, and the adventure couldn’t include x number of things.

…Scratching at an open wound on his chest, he gives you a toothless smile, “I’d love to wear your skin as a hat, want to trade?” He begins to laugh slamming his head against the bars and shrieking…

When writing for LFR the only place I felt I could really do some creative writing was with read-aloud text. I could basically write anything I wanted there as long as it made sense. As a writer I lived for that.

As a DM and as a player… it made me miserable.

Right in the middle of an adventure the DM would stop, read a excerpt which rarely fit perfectly into what just happened, and as players we’d have to sit there and listen. This would happen over, and over, and over again. Of course DMs didn’t have to use the re-aloud text, but when you’re preparing things on the fly, a new DM, or maybe just got into the habit of it – it is super useful.

Slowly, those writing pieces I loved so much became my bane – when playing a game and in writing. They felt stale, boring, and stupid. I promised myself I would never write re-aloud text again!

…Until I did over, and over, and over again. Granted, as I started writing for indie companies, the developers who asked me to write re-aloud text gave me a lot of creative freedom, which meant I could weave it into the narrative of my story, making it more exciting, etc. However, I never quite got over that self-imposed stigma I created for myself.

The jury’s still out on whether or not read-aloud text is a good thing for an adventure. Like most things, I am sure this just comes down to personal preference. But! If you are going to write read-aloud text learn from my mistakes in the past and please:

  • Avoid pointless dialog – If you’re writing something that a GM is going to tell players as a NPC any way or something that would be more fun in a role play situation rather than a sitting and listening situation – don’t do it.
  • Don’t position players, objects, or land marks – Don’t spend useful words describing what can be shown on a map or with a few simple words for the GM.
  • Keep your descriptions short and meaningful – Three fantastic, sexy sentences are worth more than two paragraphs of bloated prose.

Most of all – keep the joy in what you are doing! If writing read-aloud text is the only fun part of your writing assignment take a good look at what you are doing and reflect on it. Chances are there is something else wrong.

Well, I hope you all enjoyed my reflection on read-aloud text! Speak to you soon!

Greetings, Liz


1 thought on “Read Aloud Woes

  1. Interesting reflections! I recently noticed in my own DM behaviour that I try to avoid reading the read-aloud text as much as possible 🙂 It’s more fun to just tell my players what’s in my head and go from there, even if it differs slightly from the scene as imagined by the writer. So in my case, writers can scratch read-aloud text altogether and I don’t even think I’d notice.

    The use as a crutch for DMs short on prep time or imagination is obvious though, and probably appreciated. Perhaps it should be seen by writers as an optional thing for those DMs, like guidelines for (an introduction to) a scene, just a very explicit one. And let it be up to the DM to pick and choose how they use it. The main thing is that a scene shouldn’t fall apart just because you read a line of read-aloud text wrong.

    As an aside, have you read the 5E D&D Expedition adventures yet? They’re pretty well structured IMO, with very little read-aloud text. I like them better than the 4E ones, but that’s also because of the shift away from overly complicated combat encounters.

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