Back in the Reagan era, it was considered a cardinal sin in my gaming circles to read boxed text in published modules (which was High Gygaxian for “adventures”). We didn’t want to listen to the Dungeon Master (yep, this was during Advanced Dungeons & Dragons’ Golden Age) drone on in a monotonous tone about the room description, when all we really cared about is that it was a 15ft x 20ft room with a door to the north and something short and nasty glaring at us.
It was the mark of a lesser DM (and later “GM”) that read boxed text. As players, we expected the GM to read the boxed text on her own and paraphrase it for us.
Of course, this had its downside. In our circles, GMs got used to paraphrasing the absolute minimum necessary, and this carried over to her homebrew adventures. The result was that, if a GM bothered to really describe a room in her homebrew adventure, then the AD&D session would suddenly turn into an episode of CSI: Greyhawk (“There’s a tapestry on the wall? Don’t touch it, Bobbin! You said that there is a hippogriff depicted…are its eyes looking at the ornate chair or the bugbear fur rug? It’s just staring blankly, like at the opposite wall? Break out the picks, guys! There must be a secret door there!”).
As I matured (which is High Waltese for “I’m old enough to remember watching Star Wars IV in the theater, when it was just called “Star Wars”), I found that I didn’t mind boxed text so much. It helped with immersion, and I found that a good description can really set the atmosphere and mood. When I began my D&D Freeport campaign a couple years ago, I found myself reading boxed text all the time. This has carried over into my Pathfinder Rise of the Runelords campaign.
So today’s hot button is this: Do you routinely read boxed text or do you tend to paraphrase or handwave it? Do your players listen when you’re reading boxed text, or do they mentally check out until you’ve finished?