A good GM brings a scene to life by describing it in rich and relevant detail. If you’re playing without a GM, you lose this, right?
No! Here’s a rule that I’ve found can really help when playing without a GM:
When playing without a GM, any player can call for a detail round at any time.
During a detail round, everyone closes their eyes, and then each person around the table takes a turn adding a single rich, interesting detail to the scene, while everyone else tries to imagine it.
The group has the power to reject any of these details if they’re either out of keeping with the scene (“as we trek through the desert, a light snow begins to fall”) or openly self-serving (“… and on the rack is an awesome magic sword! I take it!”).
The goal here is to add color to everyday scenes, and spend some moments actively pursuing immersion.
An example: The PCs have entered the ruins of an ancient Elven temple. Jane wants to know what the temple is like, so she calls for a detail round.
Mel: “Ok, I’ll start. The temple is made of huge sandstone blocks, joined together without mortar”
Tim: “The sun is just setting as we arrive, and the the columns of the temple are casting long shadows.”
Chris: “It has columns? Ok, the temple is mostly in kind of a classical Greek style, and the base of the temple is huge and weighty, but the columns are thinner and airier, in more of an obviously elvish style.”
Jane: “Since it’s dusk, the sandstone is cool to the touch. There’s a slight breeze wafting by, and it’s a bit chilly out.”
And so on….
Play tip: if at any point you’re having trouble coming up with a good, minor detail to throw in, then ask yourself what the PCs are experienccing through their other senses. Mostly people start with what you can see – and that’s probably best. But it can add a bit of extra richness if you describe what the PCs can hear, feel, smell, or sometimes even taste, as long as you don’t overdo it.
Second play tip: for the record, I find that this technique also works really well in traditional games, with a GM – in fact, when I’m GMing, I often call for detail rounds of this kind. I find that the pause to imagine, and the fact that everyone is called upon to contribute something, can help to immerse everyone in the scene.