Writing a Description:
Let’s discuss what should be included in a description. The most important point to remember is that everything included in a description should be something that is visible and comprehensible just by seeing your character. It should not contain anything that is not readily discernable to the naked eye. (That stuff should come out later, as your character interacts with others...)
Santa Claus is a round-bellied, jolly old man with a long, bushy white beard. He wears a red wool coat with white fur trim, a matching cap with a long tassel, a wide leather belt with a brass buckle, and tall black boots. He usually has bulging sack slung over his shoulder.
The description should easily trigger a mental image of the character when someone reads it. When making your description remember to make it as concise as possible. People tend to skip over a description that's more than a short paragraph or two.
Here is a list of what probably belongs in a character’s description (Note: There are millions of reasons to make exceptions):
Body build (slim, muscular, obese, etc.)
Carried items (backpacks, pouches, walking sticks, etc)
Missing (or extra) appendages
Here is my personal list of what should NOT by any means show up in a description:
Family history of the character
Character's personal history
The history of some item the character carries
Personality traits (other than nervous habits that are performed constantly, perhaps...)
Personality descriptions (other than typical attitude or general moods, perhaps: sullen, perky, etc.)
Pleas for attention
Character's spouse's, relative's, friend's, or significant other's name
Magical, psionic, or other special abilities that the character has
Both lists could probably be expanded greatly, but I think we get the idea. Of course, discretion should be used on everything listed. If your character is fully hidden by a cloak or robe, armor or clothing and such wouldn't normally be visible, so there is no need to go into painstaking detail about every little feature or item. (Though perhaps there will be the telltale bulge of a sword's hilt hidden beneath a cloak. A sword would certainly be visible if strapped across a character's back.) There are also some anomolies that should quickly be addressed.
Shapechangers (were-creatures and others) can be seen through by use of True Seeing and similar magic, which would reveal their natural form (the grey skin and featureless face of a doppleganger, for example.) While True Seeing isn't an extremely common ability, it would be nice to those people who do have such an ability to add a blurb at the very end of a description in OOC tags either a message for people with True Seeing to PM you, or what is seen with True Seeing. For example: ((OOC – “My Character” is not what s/he appears to be. PM me for details.))
Illusions can also be seen through, though it is somewhat easier. Using OOC tags would be appropriate in this case, with a note that it is an illusion perhaps, and some indication of how hard it is to see past. Actual stats are not recommended in a description, though it is best to keep them ready in case someone wishes to know the DC so they can let the fates (i.e., the dicebots) decide if they pierce it or not rather than automatically defeating it.
Character descriptions should read as though they were taken from a novel, not look like a written summary of a character sheet. The less obvious qualities of a character should become apparent later, through revelations that come about during roleplaying. Why give away the life story of your character immediately, before any roleplayed storyline can begin? Give other players a chance to observe your character over time, rather than spilling the beans right out of the gate. – Andion Isurand’s player
You may also want to include clues to the class of the character other than armor and weapons, for instance saying that so-and-so's character wears plate mail and carries a long sword is great, but it suggests two different classes, the fighter and the paladin. Now saying that so-and-so's character wears plate mail and carries a Holy Avenger suggests that the character is a paladin. If your clues aren't enough for the class to be noticed, you might want to include it in the description, in an OOC tag. – Shen's player
How would the average onlooker be able to tell a Holy Avenger longsword from a non-magical masterwork longsword at a glance? They couldn't. Maybe if said character was dressed in full-plate armor, armed with an ornate longsword, AND wore the holy symbol of a goodly god, that would give the observer a clue that he was looking at a paladin. On the other hand, he might be a cleric who learned how to use a sword, or a fighter who just happens to be deeply religious... A character's appearance doesn't always indicate his/her profession. General tendecies, yes, but stereotypes often lead to meta-game thinking. – Loremistress