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#69: Character Descriptions

Writing NPC descriptions is bread and butter for Traveller referees. It’s where many start out and the web is festooned with such things. That’s as it should be. Traveller character creation is such a fun creative act in its own right.

I do my best to write descriptions that are interesting and useful for actual role playing, which try to avoid cliches and attempt to provide personality. Once or twice I feel I’ve had some standout successes. Most, I fear, are just ‘average’ at best.

I’ve been reading Huckleberry Finn lately as my ‘chapter a day’ classic and came to this which totally blew me away and made me think ‘I really must try harder’. It is of course, the brilliant Mark Twain in action, so perhaps I shouldn’t feel too bad. But hats off to him and I’ll simply present this with no further comment.

“Colonel Grangerford was a gentleman, you see. He was a gentleman all over; and so was his family. He was well born, as the saying is, and that’s worth as much in a man as it is in a horse, so the Widow Douglas said, and nobody ever denied that she was of the first aristocracy in our town; and pap he always said it, too, though he warn’t no more quality than a mudcat himself. Col Grangerford was very tall and very slim, and had a darkish-paly complexion, not a sign of red in it anywheres; he was clean-shaved every morning all over his thin face, and he had the thinnest kind of lips, and the thinnest kind of nostrils, and a high nose, and heavy eyebrows, and the blackest kind of eyes, sunk so deep back that they seemed like they was looking out of caverns at you, as you may say. His forehead was high, and his hair was black and straight and hung to his shoulders. His hands was long and thin, and every day of his life he put on a clean shirt and a full suit from head to foot made out of linen so white it hurt your eyes to look at it; and on Sundays he wore a blue tail-coat with brass buttons on it. He carried a mahogany cane with a silver head to it. There warn’t no frivolishness about him, not a bit, and he warn’t ever loud. He was as kind as he could be – you could feel that, you know, and so you had confidence. Sometimes he smiled, and it was good to see; but when he straightened himself up like a liberty-pole, and the lightning begun to flicker out from under his eyebrows, you wanted to climb a tree first, and find out what the matter was afterwards. He didn’t ever have to tell anybody to mind their manners – everybody was always good-mannered where he was. Everybody loved to have him around, too; he was sunshine most always – I mean he made it seem like good weather. When he turned into a cloud-bank it was awful dark for half a minute and that was enough; there wouldn’t nothing go wrong again for a week.”

[Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.  London: Pan, 1979.]