Hippoi Athanatoi

On Descing

One pretty good way to get a group of MU*ers to argue is to start a discussion on ‘the art of descing’. Another, of course, is to start one on role-playing in general (in particular, length and style of poses), but that’s a topic for another day. What I plan to deal with in this little write up is only descing. But before I dive into presenting my thoughts on the matter, here’s a few things to bear in mind ...


  • Descs and descing are to a very high degree a matter of taste. Although one can certainly identify a few universal do’s and don’t's, most disagreements about descs do in fact tend to revolve around things that are highly subjective. So, obviously, the thoughts presented here have their roots in my personal tastes.
  • Styles of descing vary quite a bit from genre to genre, and even from game to game. I am familiar only with fantasy MU*s, so this too reflects the kind of descing favoured.

Universal (?) Do’s and Don’t's

As I noted above, although what one considers a good or a bad desc is highly subjective, there are a few things most everyone agrees are necessary for a good desc. They are not listed in order of importance (although spell-checking is one of the most crucial things to remember), but rather sorted after the type of potential problem they might be, to provide a kind of check-list for going over a desc.

  • Spell-Check: Not surprisingly, good spelling is at the top of the list of things that are necessary for a good desc. And considering that it is pretty easy to use a spell-checker—especially since some MU* clients come with them built in—there’s really no excuse for not doing so. Of course, mistakes can still happen. You might edit the desc and forget to re-run the spell-checker, or you might misspell a word so that it ends up being another. But if you run your desc through a spell-checker you will at the very least end up avoiding having a desc that simply isn’t legible because of all the spelling mistakes.
  • Use Appropriate Punctuation: A desc can also be made illegible if it isn’t properly punctuated. By that, I don’t mean that every comma has to be in the right place (though that doesn’t hurt, of course), but a desc consisting of a single long sentence would be a bad idea. Similarly, short sentences fragments strung together like a shopping list of physical features or accessories doesn’t work very well either. Oh, and don’t forget to make sure that uppercase letters are found where they are needed and only where they are needed.
  • Format: This is a little more subjective than the spelling issue, but what can safely be said is that no one likes a long desc that is one whole paragraph. So if you have a penchant for being spammy, do use the occasional %R. Also use a %T (or some other method) to indent each paragraph, to make them more distinct. Personally, I tend to write quite long descs that I break up into two paragraphs, the first one dealing with the physical description and the second with the clothing. Others who like long descs prefer to break them up into many more sections. In my experience, this is usually a habit formed by using the various types of wardrobe code available, since they often let you divide up your description into numerous categories (hair, eyes, body, clothing, jewellery, etc) which it then pieces together. It is generally a good idea to not go too wild with the number of paragraphs.
  • Be Careful With ANSI: Using a simple [ansi(h,hilite)] to indicate, for example, +viewable items in your desc is a good idea. But ‘[ansi(b,blue)] eyes’ or a [ansi(r,red)] dress is a very, very bad idea. Few things are so tacky as a desc where each colour word is indicated with the corresponding ANSI colour.
  • Avoid Actions & Power Poses in Descs: Your desc should be valid at all times and in all IC situations. Hence, avoid phrases like ‘A young girl stands before you.’. Mentioning that your character often smiles, or fiddles with her hair, is acceptable, as these indicate likely recurring actions and as such give an idea about the character’s personality. It is particularly important not to include actions that are reactions to being looked at, such as ‘Noticing your glance, she winks at you.’, or actions that force a reaction from the viewer, such as ‘You see before you the most beautiful young woman you have ever seen.’.
  • Adhere to Theme: Although just what this is obviously varies from game to game, descs should always be appropriate to the setting that the character belongs do. Avoid using references to things not known in the setting, such as calling a hairstyle a ‘French braid’ if you’re playing on a game where France doesn’t exist and never did exist. And while it is most important to avoid things which do not exist in the setting, it is almost as important to include things that give flavour appropriate to the setting. Otherwise, you have a generic desc which simply doesn’t evoke the right things.
  • Use Appropriate Adescs: There’s really only two kinds of @adescs that are appropriate: those that quietly notify the character being looked at of who is looking and those that quietly convey important OOC information which cannot be put into the desc itself to the character looking. Like the desc itself, they should never contain reactions (@emitted or @pemitted), such as ‘N sees X looking at her and turns to smile at him/her.’.

Linda’s Do’s and Don’t's

As suggested by the title, the following thoughts about descing reflect my own, personal taste. If you agree with it, fine. If you don’t, fine.

  • Be Reasonably Wordy: While ‘more is better’ obviously isn’t always true, I do prefer a lengthier desc to a short one. This has to do with how I see descs. I don’t think of them as simply a text-based photo of a character, but rather as a mini-presentation which includes physical characteristics as well as hints to the character’s persona. This should not be taken to mean that I think it is a good idea to include things like ‘her eyes convey a deep sadness, stemming from the loss of her mother at a tender age’. I am fine with the first half of that snippet, but the second really doesn’t have any place in a desc. So, for a desc to capture my interest, it needs to have a bit of meat on its bones, and it needs to paint a vivid picture of the character that intrigues me, the player. In fact, using the painting analogy isn’t a bad idea: you don’t want a photograph of your character, you want a painting, something created to bring out your character’s most important qualities. I don’t think a desc should convey only what can be seen at a glance, or even after a few moments of study. I think it should encompass some of the character’s general qualities, even though all of these may not be ICly apparent at all times. However, don’t break the ‘Adesc’ rule listed above.
  • Be Evocative: Although personally I tend towards rather flowery (I guess I just happen to really like adjectives), that isn’t necessarily required for a desc to be evocative. However, I do think one should strive to go beyond a clinical, completely objective detailing of physical features and clothing. Simply using nouns and a bare minimum of adjectives tends to make for a rather lifeless desc that doesn’t convey anything about the character’s personality. To do so, try to use words and phrases whose sound and feel fit with how you imagine the character. Using a thesaurus to look up alternative words to express something can be a good way to find words conveying just right nuances for your character, but yes, it is possible to go a little too wild with the word replacement approach. Making sure that a word actually means what you think it means is always a good idea. I’d also suggest steering away from replacing common nouns (such as eyes) with more ‘exotic’ words (like ... oh, optics or orbs).
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