Describing zombies: a dungeon master’s reference

With a little bit of effort, a DM can make far more disturbing zombies than this. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Author’s note: if you are having a meal or snacking at your keyboard or smart phone as you read this, you may want to finish eating before proceeding. This post describes the natural decay of human remains in a rather graphic manner, which could affect a reader’s appetite.

Zombies are a staple of most fantasy and horror role-playing games, and have become so common in films and comic books that little effort is required on the part of a Dungeons & Dragons player to imagine what a zombie looks or acts like. It is so easy to imagine zombies, in fact, that many dungeon masters don’t devote much effort toward describing them, since players can mentally fill in the necessary level of detail for purposes of play.

Assuming that is true, why would a DM make a point of describing zombies more vividly? The answer is that doing so can make an ordinary zombie encounter more dramatic and memorable, even if the monsters used in every zombie encounter are mechanically identical.

Of course, providing more detail as a means of improving the play experience is nothing new. This blog has posted on the topic of improving read-aloud text for that express purpose. But, as few of us have extensive experience with human corpses, what details should a DM add?

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Four tips for writing effective D&D read-aloud text

Quill_and_PotOne of the most challenging aspects of designing a Dungeons & Dragons adventure is writing engaging read-aloud text that describes the setting for the players. Such text is the lens through which the players perceive your game world, so its utility, clarity and ability to convey information and emotion have direct impact on the quality of your players’ role-playing experience.

Fortunately, it isn’t necessary for dungeon masters (DMs) to be trained writers to produce effective read-aloud text, and avoiding a few common writing errors is often sufficient to turn dull, lifeless text into a powerful DM tool for creating memorable role-playing scenes. Continue reading