Roleplaying adventures sometimes contain portions of descriptive text the gamemaster can share with players. These sections are known as “boxed text”, “flavor text”, and perhaps other names of which I am unaware. I’ve read various opinions on the utility of boxed text. Some people hate the idea of reading prepared text; some people appreciate the assistance in devising a description. I like boxed text, and I’d like to explain why.
We include a lot of boxed text in White Haired Man adventures. The GM is not obligated to read the boxed text verbatim to the players. Boxed text does have other uses. It can be paraphrased. It can also serve as a guide to illustrate some facet of the adventure in a way not easily achieved by other means. I want to focus on this latter point as the most important. This is where boxed text can shine.
For example, the characters meet Dorian Orsova in his office. He is haggard and under stress. Despite this, he still uses his trademark self-deprecating humor to set visitors at ease. While a GM could describe an encounter with Dorian based on that information, I would rather show the GM exactly what I mean with some boxed text.
He squeezes his eyes shut and rubs his temples. His eyes are bloodshot and ringed by dark smudges. Without looking, he grabs a mug from the desk and takes a deep swallow. A grimace twists his mouth. “Bah. Old, stale, and bitter. One day that will be my epitaph.”
The GM does not have to read this aloud. The GM can also paraphrase it, or treat it as insight into how Dorian Orsova might act. Regardless, showing Dorian Orsova in action drives home the point better than merely telling about him.
Here’s another example. The characters are exploring Tarass Shar Orn and encounter a large stone door. Lines of gray metal cover its surface in an intricate pattern. I can write that, but what does it mean? Wouldn’t it be better to show what it means with some creative boxed text?
A continuous design covers the entire door, weaving about itself while never crossing any line. The twists and turns are cunningly rendered, drawing the eye to one section or another, and then urging it to follow the gleaming metal as it meanders between and around other lines.
Again, the GM does not have to read that aloud to the players. But the boxed text gives the door a feel that cannot be achieved by merely stating it is covered in lines of metal.
Boxed text is not a straitjacket. It is a tool that shows the possibilities of an adventure to the GM rather than merely telling about the adventure. I use it liberally in the adventures I write, and also in the games that I run as a GM.