Disclaimer: There's probably something wrong with me because even though my English is pretty good, I consistently failed at Reading & Comprehension exercises in high school, in any language, and excelled at everything else.
I'm prepping Death House from Curse of Strahd for Halloween and this description is one of many examples of what I'm talking about:
A wide hall (area 2A) runs the width of the house, with a black marble fireplace at one end and a sweeping, red marble staircase at the other. <...> The decorative paneling follows the staircase as it circles upward to the second floor.
I feel like this adventure would actually be hindered by a map, so I'm planning it all theatre-of-mind. This applies to all boxed text I've encountered.
However if I read the text, I don't think I'd have the same mental picture as I would by looking at the actual picture.
For example: "runs the width of the house" is, firstly, an oddly-phrased description (at least where I come from, so maybe that's on me).
Second, the characters don't know which dimension of the house is its width. Using some common-sense geometry, they could work out the width of the house (and therefore also this room) must be parallel to the doorway that they just walked through. Really takes you out of the story I think.
Also, there is the issue of direction. Here is the description of the first room that the PCs enter:
Hanging on the south wall…
How do they know which wall is South? Was I supposed to tell them that they're entering through the East wall beforehand? And if I did, are they expected to keep track of where they're facing at all times? And even more glaringly, why is this whole map rotated 90° anticlockwise?
…of the foyer is a shield emblazoned with a coat-of-arms (a stylized golden windmill on a red field), flanked by framed portraits of stony-faced aristocrats (long-dead members of the Durst family). Mahogany-framed double doors leading from the foyer to the main hall (area 2A) are set with panes of stained glass.
Maybe it's just me but I have no idea how big this room is, where the doors are, where I am, etc.
"But your players don't need to know everything, orientation isn't really relevant unless you're doing a tactical game which this isn't – and the disorientation adds to the feeling of dread because fear of the unknown."
Okay, yes. But then why add little details like "the South wall"? I think if I was at player, I'd be feeling like the DM isn't describing the thing well just because they're not good at describing things. I'd be annoyed IRL, not fearful in character.
"Well how would you do it then if you're so dissatisfied?"
"You open the heavy glass-stained doors, revealing a dead, black marble fireplace to your left. 5 paces across this narrow hall is another wooden door, while at the far end to your right looms a red velvet spiral staircase climbing upward."
Orientation is irrelevant, I'm describing things in the other that I imagine the PCs would notice them. First the stuff close by, then far (unless something far away is especially conspicuous).
Am I being too pedantic? Is my description better or worse? What do you guys think?
PS. I got a Death House companion module which I think does a much better job than WotC.
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