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I am someone with no formal writing background, who has come to love writing for the fantasy adventure role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons (fifth edition) during my free time.

I am currently running the adventure that accompanies the Starter Set for 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, titled Lost Mine of Phandelver, and my players are about to reach a location in the adventure that has very little written for it, narratively.

They are about to reach Conyberry, not far from the residency of a powerful and knowledgable banshee

I felt like this would be a good place to try my hand at writing content. For those not in the know, Dungeons and Dragons can lean very heavily on the second-person point-of-view narration technique. Sometimes it leans so far into it, that it can feel like each sentence is poured of the same mold, so to speak.

You have a feeling of immense dread as you take in the macabre sight

You are reminded of your own mortaility as you witness the gruesome murder of Sir Important from Storyston

You feel delerious as the maddening desert sun beats down on you

The "you do x" format is pervasive, and for moments when a certain tone or theme is desired, such as when setting the scene for the first time, it removes a player's agency in at least a couple ways.

  • By declaritively stating "you feel x" the character is being given to action before the player knows why (think "you enter the haunted house and immediately feel a dreaded and ominous presence")

  • the player isn't given time to react, because if the GM is just setting up the scene, they don't know how to react yet

That said, my question is:

What sentence formats can replace second-person POV for the purposes of rpg / choose-your-own-adventure style narration?

I initially had my question on rpg.stackexchange.com here, but was directed to the writing stack exchange because my question has much to do with sentence structure.

I don't know what the formal names of these are, but I know that there are drop in replacements such as passive voice (replace "you see" with "there is") as well as third person narration ("Ambros is launched skywards 70ft before ultimately landing with a crunch"), but I'm sure that there are more formats and examples that could fit in just as well.

My reasoning for not simply using declarative "there is" or strictly third person narration is that I would like to establish tone specifically, and sometimes tone can be visceral, personal, and emotional. The format of strictly third person or declaration feels sterile and impersonal in a situation where I am trying to telegraph to the role players what kind of place this is, tonally. Having "there is" as a layer of abstraction between the players and the pretend world makes it difficult for myself and them to invest in and enjoy the scene.

Moreover, I am trying to grow as a writer, and replacing one writing formula for a singular other writing formula won't help me grow in any meaningful way. I will be more inclined to accept an answer that has more than one reccomendation, and effective examples.

Here are some samples of dialog that I have made in preparation for this adventure, so you can see what I'm trying to do:

Continuing further along the trail, past the willow vines and into the quickly darkening forest, barely visible are the flickering forms of pale blue fire. They dance around the trees as if chasing one another, living out mischievous and playful past lives. The air here feels freezing and seems to clutch desperately onto warm skin. The trees seem oblivious of the harsh chill, and the branches in direct sunlight have begun to bud. Toads stare apathetically as the trail winds deeper into the darker parts of the woods.


Slightly obscuring the view into this primitive abode are thin strands of black filament that hang like a beaded curtain. The strands are still in the air, and each exhale comes out in lush plumes of fog. An intense feeling of dread muffles every sense. After all, anyone with any sense would have avoided this place. It is a place where no living being belongs.


Plain to see is a modestly furnished living quarters. Thinly coating the room and its furnishings is a veil of dust that leaves the room looking like it hasn’t been lived in for several centuries. Strangely, a pearl necklace with gold fastenings gleam in the dim blue-green light of the abode as though meticulously polished. A deathly silence hangs in the air.

My hope is that I can find more sentence formats to flesh out scene setting moments, ie, the moments right when characters collide with a different setting and a tone needs to be established immediately, and therefore I can find more enjoyment in narrating those moment-to-moment, because I will have more variety.

Please let me know how this question can be improved upon.

  • Welcome to Writing.SE Tyler. Please check out our tour and help center. That's an interesting question. I will say it's not necessary to put your examples into a spoiler format. In fact, it's distracting. You can save that format for actual spoilers of recent works or any material that might not be family-friendly. – Cyn says make Monica whole Jun 26 at 18:22
  • Welcome! Nice question. Have fun on the site! – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Jun 26 at 18:23
  • Do you typically have NPC accompanying your players in their quests? – NofP Jun 26 at 18:32
  • @NofP not typically. I generally don't like having NPC accompany players unless my players are seeking out help and expressly say "I want this person to join us". Otherwise the NPC runs the risk of taking up limited stage time. My players, in the general case, seem to agree that is the more enjoyable method. – user39970 Jun 26 at 18:34
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I'm not a RPG player, but it sounds to me like you are engaged in standard fiction writing with a 3rd person neutral narrator; perhaps unlimited (knows what all characters think and feel). The player are the "characters".

The only thing I see out of place in that regard is the opinion phrase:

After all, anyone with any sense would have avoided this place ...

That non-neutral claim suddenly (to me anyway) makes the speaker another person in the book (or group). You would get the same effect, deleting it:

An intense feeling of dread muffles every sense, it seems a place where no living being belongs.

If different characters see different things:

The group sees a being materialize before them in the road. Bob sees an old witch. Gretchen sees a dragon. Frank sees a troll, and Larry sees a ghostly, half-transparent frog the size of a goat. The being speaks.

I would write your narrative like most commercial fiction is written, with a disembodied narrator that does not feel like another character in the book with their own feelings or opinions, they just describe the settings and describe what the characters sense and feel. A neutral observer that has access to character emotions. (And in fiction often access to character thoughts, but it might be more effective to let your players think whatever they want).

Set yourself some rules for what this narrator can do, and stay consistent.

  • 1
    Wow what a great answer. I feel silly for not thinking of "setting myself some guidelines". It would probably improve my writing style somewhat! However, in rpg, I feel that there isn't necessarily a need to write consistently...(I'm having trouble finding accurate words for this)? In that, as orators who are only trying to describe a scene and impart information, we may use multiple styles as necessary to get a point across. I really like the advice in general, however. – user39970 Jun 26 at 23:37
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If the scene allows for it you should portray feelings other characters or creatures might have when entering a scene. A bar man that is obviously not concerned in the least bit by a brewing fight between patrons, city guards shaking in fear at the sight of the old man slowly walking down the street, mice squirming away as fast as they can the moment the evil mage pulls out what looks like a pretty red necklace, ...

In the same way you can use the absence of lifeforms to make sure your players understand what is happening. No birds are chirping in the trees, there are no insects close by as would be normal deepn in an average forest, the only thing left that reminds you of life is the carcass of a deer, ...

Basically you need to turn your attention away from the player characters to give your players the room they need to interpret the scene and decide for themselves how their characters would feel in such a situation. The player characters are the only thing your players control, the rest of the world is controlled by you. So focus on all the other things that are under your control such as the weather, the lighting, the smell and other creatures. Especially with creatures this is powerful because you, as the Dungeon Master, can try to put yourself in their shoes and show your players how you feel in that situation and from your creatures point of view. And, as the examples above showed, "creature" is not simply an NPC, but every living thing that could possibly exist in your scene.

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It seems to me that you, and in fact all RPG content writers, should be able to use a purely third person perspective with "there is" statements rather than the second person "you see". This overcomes certain issues that crop up all too commonly with the second person perspective as well.

  • Unusually unobservant/willfully stupid parties, I have played and GMd many parties who go out of their way to avoid noticing things for one reason or another and the minute you say "you see" to such groups they start to deny all knowledge, loudly.

  • The feeling that the GM is taking over the character to some degree.

  • Peculiar to systems where criticals (success or failure effect perception checks) is the problem of what do you describe to the players when their characters notice vastly different things about the situation and then how do you communicate that to them without causing friction between player and character knowledge.

  • My players have all be fairly good sports about what information that I give them. One thing that I feel could improve this answer, and something I will add into my question; the reason that I don't already use "there is" judiciously is because I want to be able to establish tone and sometimes tone is visceral and personal, or at least I would like it to be, the the extent that is in my control and "there is" tends to feel sterile and impersonal. I otherwise like the "there is" format but I am also not trying to swap one formulaic writing style for another. I want to improve, through breadth – user39970 Jul 22 at 18:31
  • @TylerGubala Fair enough, let me get back to you on that when I've got some time to think and type more. – Ash Jul 22 at 18:33

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