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How do you make the description of a room...
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How do you make the description of a room compelling?
Talk about what's interesting about the room
You make interesting rooms.
Use all five senses.

Use Appendix A (dungeon dressing) from Stonehell Dungeon.

Rely on your player's imaginations rather than details. You can just say, "You enter a smelly, damp room," and that's enough.

Smell is quite a compelling sense to be descriptive with. It's arguably one of the strongest senses and invokes more memories.

The room in the pic has a carpet, hard wood and a lantern, it's night outside. The scent of candle-wax and varnish on a cool summer breeze instantly invokes an idea of a place and time.
Details that pertain to the senses other then sight
>You could smell the sweet, heavy scent of opium in the air
>The warm summer air blew through the intricately designed open windows
>The rug beneath your feet is firm, untarnished. Very few are allowed in this room.

But like >>44687482 said as I typed this, sometimes a small sentence is enough. I dont go into great detail about every fucking room they enter, but the important places, the ones you want to instill a little bit of urgency or awe, thats where you go into great detail.

Because I'm a lazy cunt, I worked out a trick to make the players do my work for me and to make them engage with the world on some level.
I give them the basic low-down of the room, what it is, its importance. Inevitably someone rolls perception and asks "what do I see?"
I reply by asking "what DO you see? what would you imagine is there?"
Go play Dungeon World, you lazy git.

Although this is a good trick with monster descriptions and other locations too.

"I go for the monster on the left."
"Okay, now that you have a good view of him, what does he look like?"

"I go to a tavern."
"Well you've been to this city before. What tavern do you go to? What's it like?"
>The frog at the right corner has three legs, all of them hind legs.
I can't see a frog
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Go through all the senses, ending with the visuals.
>As you enter the room you hear a bard singing in one of the back corners of the room, he is missing a few of the tones, but the merry cheering of the drunk crowd shows that they don't really care anymore
>The smell of ale, smoke and fat lays heavy in the air, you can almost taste the baked chicken with fried carrots and the bitter taste of strong ale
>You sit down at one of the tables near the entrance, the wood of the table has a few scars and some rather perverted scenes scratched into the top.
>The lights of a small flickering candle illuminate the faces of the party from below, sending shadows across the faces of the people you know best, a fire on the other side of the room occasionally sends a ray of red light across the room, allowing you to barely read the signs on the walls: ale 5 gold, wine 20 gold, hot chicken 30 gold, bread 5 gold.
>A busty barmaid approaches you and says with a smokey voice:...

You get the idea, if it is not 100% important how the tables are arranges leave that detail out. All you really need is to go into detail on what the adventurers notice, and what may seem out of the ordinary.
Combining senses can also be useful, feeling the scratches in the table before actually seeing them.
Only when it comes to combat, or when combat is about to happen and the party has to decide what to do, you begin to describe the room in more detail, you can keep it short this time around.

>The tables are all parallel to the bar, with only one rather wide walkway between them. Behind the bar there appears to be a door, leading to a backroom.
>The entrance is on the other side of the bar, the walkway forms a straight line between the entrance and the bar
>There are 5 rows of tables in the inn, each row is divided into a left of the walkway, and right of the walkway, each side appears to be roughly the same length, more people have gathered on the left side, in front of the bard, who is glancing your way.
I think that was their attempt at an interesting room description
Also seconding the use of all senses. The wine cellar has a sharp chill that cuts through you, it smells of musty earth and petrichor after the recent rain you can hear the scratching of rat claws on the woodwork as they scurry for warmth.

Also, I've noticed a trend in room description that makes mention of the very obvious shit at the end of it. Like a I've always preferred to hear of things in he logical order you'd notice them. You'd see the dragon right away before the gold behind it but you might not notice the ghoul sitting in one of the front pews of the abandoned cathedral before noticing the giant glass windows or the pews themselves.

It fucking sucked.

Five senses, of course.

But also try to tie emotion into it. Scenery can evoke feelings in people. The interior of a towering cathedral can and will make the players' characters feel small and overawed at the massive presence of god (this is regardless of whether or not their characters are religious - you're describing the intent of the building, why it was designed as it was). The inner sanctum of an obscenely wealthy, well-traveled merchant might have a thick atmosphere, not just from the several varieties of exotic incense being lit, but from the hodgepodge of decor from different faraway lands.
The reason you put the really obvious stuff at the end is the same reason you don't put the focus of a painting in the direct center. With the painting, people will naturally want to look at the center, so you have to put the focus off a bit so the rest of the painting will be observed. Likewise, when you give a description of the room, the listeners will automatically pick out the most obvious things. If you put the focus in the beginning, they won't pay as much attention to anything that comes after.
I asked the same thing once. A good answer i got was look at well written smut. See all the details they put into describing actions and bodies? Use that. Not in the sexual manner of course but in how they describe everything using all the senses and serious detail.
Arguably the best approach, and the one i like the most, is keep things bland actually. Use short, curt descriptions and throw in a descriptor using one of the senses. This lets them fill in the rest using their own imagination.
"Upon entering the COLD room you SEE"
"You can FEEL a WARM breeze"
"You enter a DAMP and UGLY room"
The trick is to under describe a room in a way they can't complain about that forces then to use their imagination.
You only use the former method for the unimaginative.
I have to kind of read the mood of my players a bit. For some of them, we know each other very well, so it only takes a few words, and most importantly my tone, to get across exactly what I'm trying to convey.

My template is normally like this.

>Size of room, type of room, atmosphere, and what the walls are made of (if this hasn't been established elsewhere, or differs from previous rooms). For size, it's helpful to be able to not use a measurement.

You enter a cozy stone feasting hall, an easy arrows shot to the opposite end.

>Talk about furniture and decoration, anything that may be important during combat

The solid oak tables placed end-to-end line the middle of the hall. The candle sconces are unpolished and worn, and the one near the bookcase has nearly fallen completely off. The various rugs, furs and carpets on the walls and floors show even more wear. At the furthest end from you sits an ornate chair on a dais.

>NPCs are always the most important thing in the room, and if you wait any longer than this, the players will assume there are none. Make sure to separate any important NPCs.

Less than a dozen people, mostly peasantry, sit along the table benches spread out from each other. You see two armored knights sitting near the throne across from each other.

And then off you go. The players now get a feel for what the room is used for (communal eating), what condition it's in (disused), who might be found there (commoners and rabble), who the players should go talk to (the knights), and points of interest (the throne, the bookcase). There is even a hint as to how to open the secret passage behind the bookcase.

The decoration is the part you should spend the most time on. It's a good place to hide secrets. Just wrap that part up quickly once the players get the point and are looking for the strictly useful information.

More detail can be given as needed (the room is 100ft long), or to explain especially confusing concepts (the room is shaped like a U)
Addendum because I ran out of characters:

Extra detail should include important, useful information, rather than more fluff.

I personally never really get into smell and hearing, unless it's important because I know my players are invested enough to fill that in for themselves with just the visual cues (like if I added a roaring fireplace with a cauldron full of stew boiling inside along a wall).

But if there's something they MUST hear or smell to be used as a clue or to advance the plot, that's when I give it. The only time I use smells for fluff is when I want to make the room extra disgusting.

Of course, you can add as much fluff as you need for the purposes of hiding important clues in it

>you smell the hot stew from every bowl, mingling with the dust and must of the room. Sometimes an odd peppery smell can be detected that you dont think is coming from any bowl.

The players will either see the peppery smell as a fun detail, or if they paid attention to when the Master of Spies told them that the Assassin was from Greldine, where they put their infamously pungent Greldine peppers in almost all their food, then they might start following their nose.
Of course different people prefer different things but if I'm playing a character I'd prefer he'd see stuff in a more natural order. Room descriptions are typically what you notice at first brush, before you take the time to inspect/survey/interact with the smaller stuff so yes, priorities should be a thing. Besides, I've noticed a lot of people asking to be reminded of all the other parts of the description after the fight, since it was mostly irrelevant until then.

So I tend to describe basic room (tavern), enemies (thugs in front of you), and items likely to be interacted with during the fight (brazier of hot coals, hanging chandelier above them). Less immediately apparent details come after, when they'd have the time and inclination to look closer (unless a character asks if something is present, like a nearby mug to smash a thug with).

It's a lot easier than just frontloading everything and then likely having to repeat myself anyway. If there's no combat encounter then yeah, full description all at once is fine.
Note: unless I'm playing a Rain Man/Sherlocke Holmes type character, I'd rather see the obvious stuff first since that's what people actually do.

I understand that game designers don't want to bury the lead with room descriptions but that's not what happens when a real person enters a room. Just personal preference since that's what OP was asking for.

I agree with >>44687686
I often follow the Chekhov's Gun principle. Best not to add a bunch of fiddly details if they aren't going to be important soon.
Put whores in it, put traps in it, put treasure in it, play with interior designers.
Show, don't tell.

Instead of saying "The room is cold," for example, say "Your breath fogs the air and you start to shiver."
Come to think of it, this might be a good time to use E-Prime:


tl;dr is you never use any form of the verb "to be" (be, is, are, was, were, been, etc.).

It forces you to use more active or descriptive verbs, rather than just throwing an equivalence or saying that something is the case.

e.g. instead of "the room is cold", you'd have "the room feels cold to you". A simple example, but it's already a lot more personal.
In one campaign, I initially used the "describe something for all five senses" method of area descriptions.

Within just several sessions, my players quickly tired of it and told me that I overused the method, and that by *always* describing sounds, scents, tastes, and feels, I cheapened them and made them unimportant. Supposedly, I should save them only when a sound, scent, taste, or feel is especially, "in your face" noticeable.

Were my players correct?

Keep it relatively snappy; probably your players aren't interested in the scuff marks on the armoire unless they specifically ask.

Start broad, with only surface details and the most obvious and important things, then add detail as needed/requested. For instance "the room is an old-fashioned bedroom, but well-lit and spacious. There's a body on the double-bed."
Don't use all five senses every time, use the two or three that are most important. And mix it up.
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