GM Advice: The Two Detail Rule

Look, I’m no masterclass GM. I try my best and I think I get by okay, but I’m not going to sit here and tell you that what I do is better than what you do. It probably isn’t. Still, I have heard many people lament that they have trouble getting enough detail into their worlds as they are running games. What I offer, then, is what I am referring to (pretentiously) as the Two Detail Rule. It’s a rule insofar as it is a rule of thumb. A way to keep your eye on having your games being sufficiently descriptive without spending a ton of time writing out scripts or worrying too much about it. I’m writing this in the hopes that it spurs someone’s imagination. By thinking about the small details that make up your world, you can go a long way towards making the whole thing feel much more alive.

Which brings me to my next reason for the Two Detail Rule: I really dislike flavor text. I have never heard any flavor text that made me more interested in the world I am supposed to be interacting with. I am sure that some of you love it dearly and perhaps you or someone you know reads it with such gusto and grandeur that it never fails to impress. I have found that what it does is slow games down to a grinding halt while creating something akin to the backgrounds in Myst: Beautiful, unliving landscapes.

So, you have probably already figured out what the Two Detail Rule is, but here you go: Any time you mention something that is important, be it a room, a person, a place, or whatever other category I forgot, think of two things that make it stand out, point them out and shut up. The rule is fractal, too. So, if you have a room with a table in it and pelts hanging on the wall (two details!) describe the table as made from wood rotting apart, smelling of strange fungus and the pelts as stained with blood and cut with a lack of care. The scene now feels much more alive and you haven’t worked yourself into a frenzy describing the fracture patterns of the stone.

Of course many scenes have more than two details. Obviously this is magnificent, especially when you are talking about the contents of a room. Just give each thing or category of things (describe all of the tables together unless one is special) two details and move on with your story telling. Obviously, this requires some discretion: Not every rock or stream blocking a path needs details, but you can probably think of at least two things in the room that do deserve them. However, if a room is largely empty, it can’t hurt to describe the stream as filthy and clogged with debris.

The rock is just a rock.

Want to discuss it more? Hit me up in the comments.

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About Michael

Michael is an enthusiast about a lot of things, including indie games, roleplaying games, board games, and comic books that wanted to help create a place where he could bring things to the attention of those with similar interests. Futile Position is a true labor of labor, which he hopes continues to grow through the support of the great readers who have come upon this page.

04. June 2013 by Michael
Categories: RPGs | Tags: , , | 2 comments

Comments (2)

  1. Fantastic idea, and it lends itself to aspect-based games (like FATE) naturally.

    • Thanks! Yeah, I do think it works particularly well when woven into games where the aspects are part of the system because you’re working that stuff out as you are describing the room instead of after-the-fact (as is often the case in my experience).

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