Writing Read-Aloud Text That Your Players Want to Hear

Posted by Andy Lawrence on

Read-aloud text. why is it important, why should you as a GM worry about it? Well, let’s think this through, what helps your players immerse themselves in the word for whatever game system your running, how do they imagine they are in that deep dank dark dungeon, or running through that sewer system, or flying that spaceship?

Every roleplaying game is like a stage or TV show. They are a mix of story, production, characters, both player and non-player, humour with a large pinch of drama. This however leaves a lot of GM's in a bit of a quandary, you have a great story some awesome encounters all written up, and a wicked plot line, but none of that matters if your players just breeze over the details and miss the point because your putting down maps and miniatures, and saying "That's what you see."

The thing that connects everything together, is Read-aloud text. If you have ever used a pre-written adventure, it’s the stuff that’s normally in a grey box in italics with speech marks around them.

Here is an example of some Read-aloud text I wrote a few years ago for the Map a Day feature that I ran on this very blog a couple of years ago.

As you descend the spiral staircase, you notice that the air is heavier down here, and rank smelling. The exact smell eludes you, but whatever it is not pleasant.

The room at the bottom of the stairs is of average size and in the south east corner of the room you can see a dank corridor through an open arch way. The walls of this room are stacked with crates and barrels.

A few of them have toppled over revealing the rotten foodstuffs stored within.

Now I'm not saying that that’s a great bit of text, or even actually follows the tips I have found recently, but it at least gives you an idea about what Read-aloud text is if you didn't know. Recently I have been doing some researching, in to writing, and how to construct stories.

Most of these tips work for whatever type of prose you are writing; some have been modified specifically for what i think makes good read-aloud text. Think of each bit of read-aloud text that you write like a mini story, a story within a story if you like, and you have a small amount of words to tell that bit of the story with.

What do you want to say?

I know this sounds pretty obvious but is surprising how easily you can forget to actually make your point, especially when you only have a few words to deal with. The first thing you should do is write down the main thing you want the bit of text you are writing to tell your players.

Is it the contents of the room, is it a clue to the dungeon’s environment, is it that they are going to get very hurt if they enter the space? Good read-aloud text should be more than just bullet pointed facts, but you should stick to the point, without babbling.

Don't use words for the sake of words!

As a guide you should be looking at writing no more than 200-250 words for each bit of read aloud text, obviously some will require more, some will require a lot less. If you need to write more, try breaking the text in to smaller chunks, and have actions, or chances for the players to interact before reading the rest out. Some writers swear that you need to edit your writing and remove 25% of what you have put, or you just have not looked hard enough.

I don't agree with this, but you do need to keep it short. Don't describe every blade of grass, or how many rivets there are in the bridges support beams. Keep it short, keep it interesting, keep it entertaining.

Who are you writing for?

Again, this is a bit self-explanatory but who are you writing for, is it for your regular gaming group, you know the boozy ones who enjoy laughing as much as they do rolling dice? Is it for something you want to try to get published?

If the group you are writing for looks for tactical advantages in every situation, it’s worth noting that he rope bridge is frayed and looks like its been there for a while, if you don't intend to let them collapse the bridge don't let them know about it!

If at first, you don't succeed…

Practice makes perfect… its true for absolutely everything, and your read aloud text writing is no different. Also a good thing I have learnt from writing for this blog and in my previous life in IT, when you read things, you read what you expect to be there, when you read out load you actually read what on the page. Before you use it, read your read-aloud text out loud… you'll be surprised what a difference it makes!

Make it amazing, make it fantastic, make it interesting enough to listen to!

Don't forget the games we write this stuff for is all about escapism, for fantastic locations and for a bit of a change. Don't write text that sounds like its in a school textbook. Describe the locations, people, monsters and magical effects, the thunderous noise of the Orc Horde, the click click click of the empty submachine gun the swirling colours of the magical portal…

Remind your players they are seeing things that they wouldn't see in their normal lives!

Tell 'em before you show 'em!

Whatever you do describe the location before you show it to your players, don't put all the interesting things on the table before the players get to hear about the thundering falls beneath the rope bridge or the dark dank sewer tunnel.

If you put the maps, or terrain features out before you describe, the players will be more focused on the visual representation and miss the clues you have included in the description. This will enable you to build a picture in our players’ minds, and have them be more invested in the encounter, and game!

Well that’s all I have to say about that, just remember have fun and write appropriately for your group, and you will be fine!

As always feel free to ask questions or leave comments in the section for that sort of stuff below, and I’ll answer as best I can!

Till next time

- Andy @ DMB

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