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RPGBOT.News – dScryb co-found David Shulman

Show Notes

In this episode of the RPGBOT.Podcast, we talk to David Shulman, co-founder of dScryb. We discuss dScryb’s growing library of boutique descriptive text, their new character descriptions service, and their upcoming addition of character portrait services.

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Materials Referenced in this Episode

Transcript

Randall 

Welcome to RPGBOT.news. I’m Randall James, your inarticulate author and with me is Tyler Kamstra.

Tyler 

Hi everybody.

Randall 

And Random Powell.

Random 

Howdy.

Randall 

And tonight we have a special guest with us. We have David Schulman, co founder of dScryb.

David Schulman 

Hi. Pleasure to be here.

Randall 

Awesome. Great to have you. Yeah, so let’s, let’s get into it. Let’s talk about dScryb.

David 

Let’s.

Tyler 

David do you want to give us a quick overview of the basics? What does dScryb do for people?

David 

Happy to. dScryb is a vast library of short, evocative descriptions that can be used by DMs and even players to help bring their worlds and characters to life. So in the tabletop gaming world, these descriptions are often called box text or flavor text, and they’re found in adventure books. They typically describe places and settings such as a lively tavern or Dragon’s Lair, but may describe other things like monsters and magic items. And unlike background information, box text is meant to be read aloud. It often helps quickly and efficiently set the stage for the improvisation and roleplay that follows, which is really like the heart of role playing, and what makes it so fun. What makes dScryb unique is that we publish generic box text. And by generic, I don’t mean boring. I mean, the descriptions are written from the ground up so that they can be dropped into any fantasy campaign. There are no recurring characters or story arcs, just amazing, succinct, and inspiring vignettes to create the theater of the mind experience for everyone at the table. Another thing that makes dScryb unique is the quality of the writing. Four of our writers are formerly from Wizards of the Coast, the publishers of Dungeons and Dragons. All of our writers are exceptional. I think that box text is the closest thing to poetry in this space, and these writers are truly poets. So that’s what we do, that’s sort of our mission statement. And over the months, we have sort of expanded the number of features and the types of content. But it all starts with that box text.

Randall 

Yeah, that’s, that was one of the first things that I noticed when I first went to dScryb is, as you start to, I’ll say surf, dScryb just a retext, you find yourself clicking and clicking and clicking. And it’s all high quality. Like, it’s hard to pick and say, this was my favorite description of a particular thing, because it is so consistent. You used the word evocative, it really is evocative. One other thing that I’ll say, which I thought was amazing, because I was really worried conceptually at first, your search feature is fantastic.

David 

I think when we launched, which was January 1st, 2021, there, there was something like 1200, we call them scenes, often, instead of box text, there was 1200 scenes. And even that was a lot, but we’re up to we’ve now published over 6500, which is hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of 1000s of words. If it wasn’t, you know, eminently searchable, and like browsable and you know, navigatable, like, it wouldn’t really have any utility. It wouldn’t be useful. We want to and this will sort of be a forever work in progress. We want to make it so efficient and good at getting you the scene that you need that it can be used on the fly. I mean, obviously, I think a lot of DMs, they use it during prep to prep their sessions and build their worlds. You know, we keyword the heck out of all the scenes, and every scene has tags as well, you know, so if the scene has a river as the subject or mentions a river, well, there’s like a little river tag that is underneath it, the user can click on that and then see just every single scene we’ve ever written that has a river in it. It makes building out settings really quick and efficient. So like there’s a farm tag, you click on that, and you’ve got everything that players might observe on a farm. And you can create that theater of the mind experience where, well they’re all on a farm and then the roleplay you know, begins. The fun begins.

Random 

One thing I did just want to mention, say if you are latching on to that word scenes, that may be a little bit of a turn off, because it’s not just places there’s a lot of places, which is what box text in adventures is typically used for describe what your character is experienced as you walk into insert a location. One of the things that actually really drew me to this is something that we talked about a bit in the components episode. They have equally good descriptions of spells, items, monsters, various characters. There’s a lot of stuff there. And even though yes, you know, scenes is a good generic term, it’s not just places and having these sorts of things to look through as, you know, if you really want to punch up a boss battle with a Wizard, describe how they’re casting this stuff and the stuff is right there ready made for you to just drop it like that it’s really good.

David 

We really have grown a lot in a short amount of time in terms of the things that we choose to describe. Or trying to describe. Spells is a good example of that. And they’re tricky right to to create. Well, I mean, because, you know, in the real world, we don’t have much of a frame of reference, like with magic. So it can be difficult to find the words to to bring a spell to life. There’s one of my favorite scenes, maybe you’ll help us come up with a better name for them, Random. But one of my favorites is a description of the spell bless being cast, which I’ll read, if you don’t mind.

Tyler 

Please.

David 

You flick holy water from your fingers and it scatters into sparkling light, that drifts against the wind toward those you protect. The blessing you grant settles about their shoulders, like golden cloaks before vanishing.

Tyler 

That’s so cool.

David 

Like, never come up with that, you know, especially on the fly. Another example of content that we didn’t, we hadn’t really conceived of when we started, but we have a lot of now are scenes that are written first and foremost for players. So rather than being written in the second or third person, they’re written in the first person. You know, I do this, I do that, and that includes, you know, casting spells and combat and maybe like mending equipment, all sorts of things. Oh, and dialogue, too. So we have all these amazing snippets of dialogue and like quips and like, insults, and you know, rallying the troops type stuff, and it’s wonderful.

Randall 

I hadn’t found, is there an insults tag? Because that would be amazing.

David 

There is a hundred percent an insults tag.

Randall 

Perfect, okay.

Random 

Sounds like you’ve just described a list of things that I need to use while casting vicious mockery.

Tyler 

Yes. So many people will go online saying what am I going to say when I use the spell? I’m going to run out of ideas.

Randall 

I said that to the last bad guy, I need another.

Tyler 

Well, problem solved. Amazing. David, let’s say I’m a DM and I am preparing for a game. Maybe I’m running homebrew. Maybe I’m running something published. And I’m preparing for a session. How am I going to bring dScryb into my game session?

David 

Even if you aren’t a subscriber, I should mention that that’s the business model, right? Because, you know, it’s not like we’re publishing one book, every six months or something like that. We’re constantly sort of throwing fuel into this fire. The writers are working all the time and we’re publishing about 400 new scenes every month, on average. And because we want this library to be vast and deep, and by vast, I mean, like, every subject you can think of, when you run a search for that you get a result. And by deep, I mean, you’re not just getting a single description of a river, but maybe like 10 or 15, or 20. You know, a wide lazy river, like a narrow river with rapids, you know, all the different rivers under the rainbow. Even for non subscribers, there are over 500 scenes that are totally for free, they’ll always be for free. So anyone can go and start checking out the writing and finding scenes that they can use in their sessions. But whether you’re a subscriber or you’re not you can go to the front page and it’s dScryb.com, so D-S-C-R-Y-B.com. There’s a search bar there, and away you go. You can type in the setting or the place that you know your players, or you anticipate your players are going to going to encounter maybe the monster you think that they’re going to encounter. So like Goblin, and you know, I’ve got a large goblin camp, so that’s a place. I’ve got a hobgoblin workcamp another place, but I’ve also got a goblin with a short sword, and a fast goblin with a cloak, and another Goblin and a Goblin patrolling the forest. So you start by thinking, what do I think my players might encounter? Or what do I want them to encounter? And you start running searches one or two words, and there’s a high probability you’ll get a result. Another great feature that we’ve introduced, and a lot of the like our best ideas, they’re not our ideas. They come from the community. So we have a super active Discord community and people, people write to me and stuff. And we have a feature called scene request. So let’s say you had a really strange setting in mind, and we haven’t covered it yet. You can sort of lay like describe it for us, not as our writers will eventually describe it, but just a couple bullet points. Like here’s this wacky place I have in mind. It’s kind of like the North Pole, but there’s palm trees, like I don’t know, our writers will take that and punch it up and the editors will polish it, and we’ll publish it eventually. And that’s a feature that is available to subscribers. So you can create like a, if you’re prepping for your session, you could create a list of sessions and we make it easy to create, like a custom list. And you could throw it into your, your notes, or leave it up on the dScryb collections page and start running your session.

David Schulman 

Yes, I think that’s an amazing feature, like being able to, you know, I need help bringing this world together. And I feel like I have most of it. But I know, there are people better equipped to write a better description of what I can to ultimately deliver the vision that I had to my players. And so the idea that dScryb’s there to help that’s really exciting to me.

David 

Yeah, I think it’s, it’s just important, like, what dScryb doesn’t do is just as important as what it does do. We want to be a support, and we want to help DMs bring their world to life, we want to do some of the heavy lifting for them, so that they’re free to do the executive level decisions about you know, what’s going to happen in this campaign. What’s the villain going to do next? And how are they going to, you know, get from A to B and those high level decisions like, that takes a lot of work and prep on its own. A lot of DMs, like they don’t have six hours to prep for the session. It can take 10, 15, 20 minutes to write a even two or three sentences, if they’re really evocative, of like a rowdy tavern. We can do that, we can offer that for you so that you can take that same 10 or 15 minutes and use it elsewhere in your prep.

Tyler 

If I’m an aspiring writer, I want to publish something for DMs Guild or I’m working on a book or something. Could I come to dScryb and use your pre-written scenes in a published work?

David 

Yes, you can. And we discussed this in our FAQ. And you know, all we ask is that you shoot me an email, explain what you have in mind. In like 99% of cases we say yes, we don’t ask for anything other than attribution. We consider it to be one of the, one of the benefits of being a subscriber. I guess one way to phrase it is like, it’s obviously you know, all the contents there for personal use. And in most cases, it’s there for some commercial use as well.

Randall 

That’s really fantastic.

Random 

As we have been running this RPGBOT.oneshot we have these characters that we have been basing them on. And it seems like there is something that you are starting out with dScryb that we’ve gotten to take advantage of. So can you describe that a bit?

David 

Heck, yes. So I talked about scene requests, we have a similar feature called character request. You know, we ask the user for, and this is available to like the hero subscribers, we ask them for their characters, you know, the build, and maybe their their hair color and their class and like, all the background, all that good stuff. And they fill it out this sort of biographical information that goes to the writers, and they turn it into box text, like a really like pithy, you know, awesome, evocative description of your character, which you can employ or maybe you give it to your DM and they can use. Maybe when the party is first introduced to the character or what have you. We have been working really hard on adding another layer to that. It’s going to be live very soon. I don’t have a date yet, but like soon, and it is character illustrations. So we’re working with three phenomenally talented illustrators. Tyler and Random you’ve, you’ve seen their work.

Tyler 

We have, it’s fantastic.

David 

Just the best. So what we do is we take that same sort of biographical information that goes to the writers, we also give it to these professional illustrators, and they turn your, well they illustrate your character. We’re offering it at sort of different price points because illustration, like really good illustration, it’s expensive. But by working with these same illustrators, and by offering sort of different price points, you know, black and white bust, or color full body or background, no background, all that we can offer exceptional value for like a really premium illustration. Not only do you get the illustration but we’ll publish that character illustration alongside the box text of your character. There you know, your character basically enters the multiverse and can appear in other, can be used by other players you know, in other campaigns and you can share that link with your friends.

Randall 

Yeah, I want to rave a little bit. So I was blown away when I saw the character art. The very first thing that caught my eye, so I was looking at Amiable Jack, and it’s cool like he’s, you know, he’s brooding and he’s sitting on this rock and he’s got his loot in his lap, like having a good time. And then all of a sudden, it struck me and I finally noticed the charm that Jack wears around his neck is hanging suspended in front of his shirt. So it’s like, clear to see. And it even has like it to me it looked like it had a little bit of some kind of symbol on it. Which if you’ve listened to the one shots we’ve talked about, yeah, he does have this charm, and it has the symbol on it, and it’s how he knew his name was Jack. And so the fact that like, that little detail is captured so beautifully without hitting you in the face, but it absolutely would jump out at you if you knew. If you didn’t know anything about the charm, it still just looked like a wonderful drawing. Like the background is amazing. The detail is amazing. Yeah, I was I was very impressed with what your artists have done.

David 

Yeah, I’m just so excited to see you know all their great work proliferate across the, you know, the website and for other people to to be able to see it and use it and it’s gonna really help bring dScryb further to life, I think.

Tyler 

I’m excited to share these with people. We’ll have links to our character descriptions and possibly to the art in the show notes so that people can look at these. They’re absolutely gorgeous. David also was kind enough to give us art for Gaylord, my Dragonborn Fighter and I’ve always wondered, what does a Dragonborn look like in full plate? Now I know, because we’ve got like the long, like noodle-y dragon neck like how do you armor that? It makes sense. You look at him like oh, well, obviously that’s how a Dragonborn would wear armor. That makes so much sense now.

David 

I absolutely loved how that one turned out. It’s terrific.

Tyler 

It’s so good.

Randall 

Yeah.

David 

We have other projects we’re working on this year, really big ones, and I can’t talk about them. Maybe I’ll return you know, some someday in the future. But, and I don’t want to hype too much. They’re amazing. I can’t wait to release them. dScryb is not lacking in ambition, I’ll just say that.

Randall 

I’ve been impressed with everything that we’ve seen so far. So impressed in fact, that I took a few descriptions from dScryb and I, uh, I created a little game. Do you want to play?

David 

Sure.

Randall 

Alright, here’s what we’re going to do. So sorry, Tyler. So sorry, Random. This is mainly going to be for David. I, I have taken three topics, and I have pulled a scene from dScryb. And I pulled a scene from another source. And I want to see if you could tell me what the dScryb scene is versus the scene from the other source. Ready?

David 

I’m ready.

Randall 

Okay. It was not called the old forest without reason. For it was indeed ancient, a survivor of vast forgotten woods and in there lived yet, aging no quicker than the hills, the fathers of the fathers of trees, remembering times when they were lords. Alright, so that’s first forest. Second forest. The forest fans out and up behind the shrine, hend in by a dirt road on either side, it almost seems like the shrine rose up to protect the forest, forcing the road to split. You shake off this silly notion. The road leading up to the fork continues along one edge of the forest nearly as straight as an arrow. Still, there seems to be something unusual about the shadow space beyond the bushes that crowd the forests fringe.

David 

I like them both, but I think it’s the second that is a dScryb scene.

Randall 

Nailed it. Alright, so this is trying forest, and in the shownotes we’ll have a link to dScryb, we’ll also have a link to trent forest. So if you liked it, go find it. You can read it. Maybe surf around from there. The first one, it’s actually from Fellowship of the Ring.

David 

Oh, that’s why I liked it.

Random 

I mean, I think that really does a great job of describing those two things seem very in place next to each other.

Randall 

And one of them’s Tolkien.

Random 

And one of them’s Tolkien, yes.

Randall 

Now, here’s the deal. The next two are not Tolkien. I wrote the next two. And this is really what I wanted to emphasize as we did this together. Okay, the next scene, we’re going to describe a swamp. There’s a fog. You look around, you realize you’re on a cot. But the cot is strange because the construction of it. There’s pegs hammered into the bog that you’re sitting on top of. You realize you’re in a swamp, I suppose. As you put your feet out, you sink three or four inches into the muck.

David 

Okay. Definately a swamp.

Randall 

Let’s see if I can get it out, okay. Number two. Little groves in this forsaken swamp. A few shriveled shrubs wind their way out of the mud, while skeletal trees line the perilous pads. But here stands a mighty ancient oak. It dwells in branches likely once shrouded in leaves, but the caustic water and stinking mud have taken their toll, and the tree now stands gaunt and decrepit, its trunk brittle. It creeks ominously in the wind, bone white branches rattling, threatening to topple sideways into the muck and the mire, to be consumed, like everything else in this wretched place.

David 

I’m gonna go with number two.

Randall 

You nailed it. You got it, right. So no kidding. We, we’re gonna have something come out really soon. I think this, this News episode will actually come out before this other thing does. I actually, as a DM ended with that, that description of a thing.

David 

Oh, yeah?

Randall 

Yeah.

Tyler 

It was still a really good game.

David 

I bet it was.

Randall 

Thanks buddy. Yeah, no, I feel it right here. But yeah, I sure could have used a better description of a swamp. I guess maybe that’s all I’m saying. Okay, the third one. This bastion of ice white scales effortlessly bears the burden of full plate armor, a steel shield on his arm and a mighty war hammer on his back. A flowing cloak draped from his broad shoulders adds a stateliness to his air. He has all the trappings of a magnificent and formidable Fighter of a tour de force on the battlefield. And yet, anxiety ripples out from his pale blue eyes befuddling his scaled brow. His toothy maw is furled into a frown, and the frill extending from the sides of his head droops, sodden with fret. He twiddles his claws, the clacking sound accompanied by a nervous click of his forked tongue.

Random 

I’m sorry, whoever wrote he twiddles his claws. Oh my god. I love that.

Randall 

We’re still on the game show. That could have been me. Okay, let’s see. Let’s see. Let’s let’s try the other one. We’ll see how it goes. Gyeorg is a Dragonborn, he wears plate mail and curious Warhammer on his back. Over his cape, he wears a cape too. Maybe not over the cape, I don’t know. He gets confused easily.

Tyler 

Did you pull that out of our first one shot because that feels like something I said.

Randall 

Oh, no, I didn’t. I should have I should have gone back and seen what you actually said.

David 

So yeah, the first one. But I had, that’s actually the first time I heard the Gyeorg description and I love all of my scenes. My scenes, dScryb’s scenes like, boy, I was gonna say, like, I’m thinking them like my children, right? I love them all. But like that was fire. Like that was so good.

Tyler 

Yes.

David 

And I’ll figure out which one of the writers wrote that after and, you know, give them sort of a virtual pat on the back. But it’s awesome.

Tyler 

Oh, that was fun.

Randall 

Megan Garner.

David 

Yeah. Megan. She’s so, so talented. Yeah. Good job, Megan.

Randall 

Yeah.

Tyler 

So I’m looking at the page on dScryb now, and when you look at the bottom of the cards with the scenes, there’s tags at the bottom, like, like David described. One of the tags is the author. So you can click on that and you can look at all of the other scenes from that author, like not that not that any of your authors are any better or worse than the others but like, that’s pretty neat. Like, look at all this stuff that Megan has written. It just keeps going.

David 

Yeah.

Tyler 

I want to read these now.

David 

I still get lost in all the scenes. Like they’re so inspiring. Even though if you just were to read them it’s like a, there’s nothing coherent it would be like a kaleidoscopic mess. So if you’re just jumping around from setting to setting right it’s, we leave it to the DM to take them like clay and mold them into, you know, an adventure story, but just qualitatively they’re, yeah, exceptional.

Randall 

Yeah, I can even imagine if you were trying to put together the story. I think just starting here and kind of surfing around and saying okay, what are the points that I want to hit? What excites me? I feel like this text is enough to put an adventure in your mind if you’re having a little bit of writer’s block for part of what you’re putting together.

David 

One of our users messaged me on Discord and he, what did he say? He said, he said one scene like you know three sentences or something resulted in like a two month, you know arc in the in his campaign. The players were so entranced by whatever they heard and like fixated on it that it led to all sorts of you know behavior on the part of the characters right. And that’s really what the it’s so much of the game is about.

Randall 

Awesome.

Random 

I’m having some of those just reading through various pieces included in the the free stuff. There are three whole shanties in conversations. Like literally they’re tagged, like such and such-dash-shanty

Randall 

Wait, shanty the song, or Shanty the Hut?

Random 

Yes. Shanty the song. I suppose technically you could print them and build a hut out of it if you wanted.

David 

Someone, someone tweeted at us and they’re like, hey, dScryb, no shanties like what gives? And I wrote back and I said, Oh, okay, you just wait. There will be shantiess.

Random 

Perfect. So there you have it. Your very slight hack for an unofficial scene request. The producer on Twitter.

Randall 

Don’t do that you’re gonna get us in trouble.

Random 

Looking at something like these shanties, why did this get written? And just, I mean, like something like that could very much turn into a whole beautiful section of fleshing out a setting. Because for a song like that to be shared, it’s going to be a big part of culture. So why? Why is this dragon important? Like realistically, if you are stuck, having something like that is gonna provide you just a huge wealth of oh okay, well, let’s pick apart each of the little pieces of this to figure out how that’s going to add depth because, yeah, I mean, really, I’m just blown away reading that like, oh, man, there’s so many things I could do with this.

Tyler 

One of the ones that that I think was inspired by something I said on Twitter, the Candle of Diligent Labor’s.

David 

Yes, I remember that.

Tyler 

Yeah, I was complaining about how much time I was spending on the website after Tasha’s came out. So that’s where that one came from. It’s a magical candle that you burn from both ends.

David 

Yeah.

Tyler 

So go check that one out. It’s on the website. It’s fantastic.

David 

It’s there, yeah.

Randall 

It is really cool. You can actually search for RPGBOT, and you will get a list of things that are there. So that’s really, really cool.

David 

Yeah. Well, I mean, RPGBOT has been, um? I’ve been on your website and following you, like, for well before dScryb you know, was an idea. And I’m a huge fan. The fact that we can now create art that is inspired by your musings is a, it’s like a fantasy for me. Come reality. Yeah.

Tyler 

Well, thank you. And if people haven’t seen them yet, our fifth edition class handbooks, the example builds all start with a description from dScryb, and a link to where you can find the scene on the website. It’s been on the website for over a year, they look fantastic, and they’re very descriptive. I’m very happy every time I scroll past one of them on the site.

David 

And it was a privilege for us to write them. Thank you.

Randall 

Thank you. Alright. Well, thanks so much, David, for being with us today.

David 

My pleasure. This was an honor to chat with you fellas about dScryb. I’m so happy that people are finding it and enjoying it and that this community is sort of building around roleplay and you know, great storytelling and all those good things that bring us all so much happiness. I’m going to remind your audience Tyler that I think you’ve got a dScryb coupon code, RPGBOT that they can use to save 10% off of a first payment.

Tyler 

I will make sure we list that in the show notes.

David 

Awesome.

Randall 

Absolutely. Thanks so much. All right. If you’ve enjoyed the show, please rate and review us on Apple podcast and rate us on Spotify or your favorite podcast app. It’s a quick free way to support the podcast, helps us reach new listeners. You can find links in the show notes. David has been wonderful. And everybody home have a good one. Craft Singles, they’re not cheese. Yeah, exactly.

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