Writing a description

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A description can be set using the describe command. A good character description gives people who look at you a vague idea of what you look like. That's it. Of course, you can put other stuff in there, but should you? No. Here's why.

Write for your audience

The too long didn't read principle might seem counter-intuitive to apply in a MUD environment, which is constructed from text after all. But enjoyment of a MUD does not necessarily require that all output that is sent to players be read, and once familiar with MUD mechanics, players will make their own choices about which output needs to be read and how closely.

Many people play with brief look turned on and many who use verbose look recognise rooms by the shape of the text or an ascii map output, not by what the long description actually says. When a player is standing in the same room as you, they might look at you, but if your description is too long there is a fair chance they will skim through it, or skip over it.

If your description is worth writing then presumably you want people to read it, and they simply won't do that if it's too much effort. However, anything over three lines could well represent too large a block of text for a player to want to spend the time to read. As a rule of thumb, under 240 characters is recommended for player long descriptions, or the equivalent of three lines of text when using an 80 column window (a setting used by many people).

Who's looking?

Keep in mind when writing your description that you don't know who's reading it. It makes sense to have "You feel quite intimidated by him." in your description if your audience is weaker than you, but what about when you go to learn from Lanfear? Is she really going to be frightened of some level 200 assassin? The same goes for things like "She is the most beautiful woman you've ever seen." How do you know? And what about when two people have that in their descriptions? Do they keep getting more attractive as you look back and forward between them?

Describe your character objectively and without reference to the viewer. You're not in control of their character and it's rude (and often wildly inaccurate) to presume you know what their reaction will be.

Are you a robot?

Do you smile every time anyone looks at you? Of course you don't. Sometimes you don't like them, sometimes you don't notice, sometimes you're in a bad mood, whatever. So why would your character do it?

Lines like "He sees you looking at him and winks." are a common mistake. If you want to wink at everyone who looks at you, you can do that. Just wait till you see "<Player> looks at you." and then respond. Not only does it allow you to modify the action based on context, but it cuts down the length of your description, making people more likely to read it.

Adding a backstory, or why you shouldn't

It is tempting to add a backstory in your description, but consider if it is really needed. A line such as "He was born in a public park and raised by wombles." might sound like a good idea but is it something that is immediately apparent when someone else looks at you?

It is best practice to keep your description to be about your physical features.

Commands and getting creative

You can set your description up in a variety of ways. From a simple description that never changes to one which automatically changes depending on what you are wearing.

The layout of your description will follow this order:

  • Main

Followed by zones:

  • Face
  • Hair
  • Head
  • Neck
  • Chest
  • Back
  • Abdomen
  • Arms
  • Hands
  • Legs
  • Feet
  • Eyes

Most players will be happy enough using just a main description, this will not change if you wear an item of clothing. This can be done with “describe main <description> “. By default your main description will begin with your characters pronoun (currently He/She/It) so it is beneficial to remember this when writing your main description. You can change this with the command “describe main pronoun {on|off}”.

For zones you have the ability to describe both the area when it is covered by an item and when it is uncovered. This is especially useful for your head and face, for example you can write a description for your hair that is only visible when your head is uncovered.

If you do not set a description for a zone, either covered or uncovered, then no text will be displayed for that zone. This is useful if you want to write a description for a scar.

More flexibility for descriptions is given with the use of $NEW_LINE$ and $OBJECTS$. $NEW_LINE$ will insert a new line into your description, whilst $OBJECTS$ will list the worn item that is covering that zone.

As an example:

“He has a $OBJECTS$ on his head.” will result in “He has a fur-lined elk skull helmet on his head.”

Changing this to “$OBJECTS$ adorns his head.” will result in “A fur-lined elk skull helmet adorns his head.”

Notice that the object is written exactly as it appears in your inventory and that the capitalisation of the first letter changes depending on if it is at the start of the sentence or not.

Spellcheck

The final thing you should do is check your description for spelling errors, typos, grammatical errors, etc. Of course, you should do this for any writing you intend others to read, but it's worth mentioning as it's so often overlooked.