Here’s something I hate to hear in a DnD game:
“You turn around the corner, and there’s a dragon there.”
“What kind of dragon?”
“A blue dragon.”
What the hell? That kind of conversation should never ever occur at the game table.
In my game a couple weekends ago, the players came upon what is essentially a small zoo of magical beasts. Among them: a rooster.
WTF: A rooster? Let’s me pull open my adventure document for that session and get the exact description I used: “A small rooster, surrounded by several stone statues of other small animals.”
Have a better idea now? Any veteran DnD player is going to instantly say “It’s a cockatrice!”, and yes. That’s what it was. One of the three players at the table thought it, but wasn’t sure. I knew that none of the characters had ever seen or heard of a cockatrice before. I made the mistake of reminding them of that and that any discussion about them is to be considered out of game. The age old problem of player knowledge vs. character knowledge, and the average player’s inabiltiy to separate them. What I should have done is just written it off as some obscure fact or myth they’d heard sometime in years past, since clearly the creatures do exist in the game world.
Up there, when the fictional dm said the players saw a blue dragon, what they really did was take away an opportunity for discussion. Think about this example:
“You turn the corner and see a large winged beast, its tail flapping around while it sleeps. It’s silhouetted by the setting sun behind it, and you can make out nothing but its shape.”
Ok so it’s a dragon… or a manticore… or a wyvern… or a chimera… or maybe even a griffon?
What if it is a dragon? What color is it? If the players weren’t hunting a specific dragon as part of the adventure, they certainly wouldn’t know. What if you wanted to give a clue? How about after the end of that original description you added “A slightly noxious odor feels the air, like sulfuric acid”
So we’ve got acid. Probably a black dragon, IF the players are able to put that together. Still though, maybe it’s the scent of a dead rotting animal that the beast was saving for dinner.
All this description makes things interesting, at least in my opinion. It makes the characters interact with each other. It leads to combat surprises. I know if I see a blue dragon that I’m going to be dodging a lightning bolt every 1d4 rounds. So before I go in I’ll pop a potion of resist electricity. If I *think* it’s a black dragon, I’ll go in there with a potion of resist acid. Then I wake up the beast, it makes a quick circle flight spouting off some dialogue, and as the sun hits it I see it’s a red. Oh shit. “SULFUR!”. I get it now. Things just got interesting.
The title of this post wasn’t only to tell you to show instead of tell. It was in a way telling you to not tell at all. Surprise your players. Put tricks up your sleeve. Otherwise your dragon encounter is going to be the same as everyone else’s. And that’s no fun.