I love looking at shiny new rulebooks, or at least shiny new PDFs of rulebooks, and seeing all the new wonders contained therein. Every so often, however, I like to find something in the RPG space that isn’t the usual set of rules, adventures, or supplements. That leads me to the website I’m looking at today, dScryb.
dScryb is a site that is dedicated to presenting boxed text for a variety of situations. Some of these items are available for free to users who register for the site, but several subscription levels grant access to more descriptions.
Memberships for the site include both monthly and yearly membership costs. Members can subscribe to places, monsters, spells, items, or the hero subscription, which includes all the descriptions from the site.
Places are usually accompanied by maps. Monsters, spells, and items include descriptions of items included in the 5e SRD for that game with two “Ds” and an ampersand. With the hero-level membership, you also gain access to the scene and character request features, where you can submit your own requests for people and places in your campaign to have their descriptions written.
In addition to all of this, there is also a feature called The Way of the Word, where users can submit their own descriptions which may be selected to be used on the site. More on that later.
Exploring the Text Boxes
To write this first impression article, I paid for the hero level membership to evaluate. Individual descriptions have a title, icons for bookmarks, and for requesting a new description at the upper right hand of the text box. At the bottom left hand of the text box, there are boxes for “nearby,” as well as a box for the author.
“Nearby” provides options of similar descriptions. For example, the description for Rod of Alertness has “nearby” option boxes for Equipment and Magic Items. Clicking on the author’s name takes you to all the descriptions written by that author on the site.
On the bottom right hand of the description box is a “share” button. This has over 180 different sharing options. The top options available are for Facebook, Twitter, Print, Email, Pinterest, Gmail, Linked In, Tumblr, and Messenger. I must admit, I think it might be kind of amusing to share links to dramatic text boxes on LinkedIn.
“What kind of work do you do?”
“The half-orc strikes a regal figure in gleaming plate armor . . . “
The title page of the site has collections grouped by places, monsters, spells, and characters. The search function allows you to type in a keyword, and choose from places, monsters, spells, items, “other,” and characters. There are also some links to some of the newer descriptions, these being planes (as in planes of existence) and dialogue.
Describing the Describers
The contributing writers include Matt Sernett, Matt Click, Dan Helmick, Chris Sims, Kip Robisch, Megan Garner, Blue Bigwood-Mallin, Finch Neves, and Puja Vaarta. Editors include Nicola Aquino, Davy Kent, David Shulman, and Dwayne Strange. If you recognize some of the names on that list, you have probably seen them in various RPG rulebooks before.
Describing the Descriptions
One of the pages on the site provides a list of best practices for writing concise descriptions and provides a list of suggested reading. The descriptions themselves are very punchy and to the point.
If I had to rank the utility of the text boxes, I would say that the item descriptions are the most useful. These give you specific descriptions with individual quirks of the items to make them feel distinct from other, similar items. The location descriptions are evocative, but by the nature of locations, these will be more useful if you tailor a scene you are building for a session rather than trying to find a perfect description that fits a location you have already envisioned. The monster descriptions that I have read are great, however, they often convey emotional information, motivations, or default assumptions about the creature.
For example, the red dragon description goes into detail about the menace around the creature from years of horrific actions, and that works fine if you are describing an ancient red dragon that has, indeed, been the scourge of the land in its youth, and is still malevolent. However, if you want to flip the script, that description does a lot to imply “adversary,” so, for a benevolent hermit of a red dragon, most of the description is about menace and impression, rather than what the dragon looks like.
One of the options that I couldn’t do much to research is site integration with the Foundry virtual tabletop. If you have followed my articles in the past, I’m just not the person to look into virtual tabletop functionality. If you have used dScryb in conjunction with Foundry, I would love to hear about the experience.
On the other hand, I am good at clicking on locations on a map. I’ve been practicing with computer RPGs for years. One of the newer options on the site includes interactive maps. While all the locations have some kind of map, the interactive maps include multiple descriptions keyed to specific aspects of the map.
The interactive maps have areas that will display descriptions when the cursor hovers over the item. In addition to these highlighted sections of the map, there is a list of descriptions to the right of the image. Clicking on those titles will zoom in on the section of the map to which the section is keyed.
Some of the maps have more interactive functions than others. For example, the Roadside Campsite not only has multiple locations on the map, but there are also daytime and night time versions of the map with slightly different elements.
First Impressions and Final ThoughtsÂ I’m still thinking of how I would use this toolset to its maximum effect, but seeing this tool makes me want to explore those possibilities in greater detail.Â
Between the increased popularity of roleplaying games, and the upswing in the accessibility of technology and online resources, I’m fascinated by the tools available to RPG enthusiasts. I’m still thinking of how I would use this toolset to its maximum effect, but seeing this tool makes me want to explore those possibilities in greater detail.
There are still some disconnects. Some descriptions are slanted towards “selling” the creature or location being described to trigger an emotional effect for an encounter, rather than conveying more neutral details. This isn’t a bad thing, but it means that this is a tool that is doing multiple things, without the granularity to communicate not only the existence of a description but also the purpose of the description. I would love to see a division between “impressions” and “observations.”
The Way of Words is a strange feature for me. This is a paid site that makes money from its descriptions, but there doesn’t appear to be anything in the process where someone writing a description would get paid for that description. Essentially it feels a bit like getting paid in exposure. To be completely fair, all accepted text through this program remains on the free side of the site.
The aspect of this site that feels like it has a lot of potential is the ability to request descriptions. I can imagine that someone building up to a major encounter, with time to wait for quality work to be done, could have some slick accompanying text to bolster their big set pieces.
Describing the Ending
I haven’t touched on the entire discourse around text boxes in RPGs, which has flared up multiple times. In fact, I think this style of description is somewhat different than the descriptions that often get cited in those discussions. These aren’t text boxes trying to set up an encounter and also drop important clues that might be spread out across the next two chapters of an adventure. These are descriptions closely related to what is about to come next in the game.
What kind of descriptions do you wish you had in the past? When you prep your games, do you include text boxes for you to read, or do you ad-lib your scene framing? We want to hear about your experiences with text boxes and descriptions in the comments below!