What’s the Crock Pot? Just a simmering bowl of lentils and herbs, with a dash of DMing observations. Don’t be afraid to dip in your ladle and stir, or throw in something from your own spice rack.
One way to help players feel like they are taking part in a dynamic setting is to always have things happening in the background.
(While mentioning that there’s a two lovebirds snuggling in the corner of the tavern is good color for description of a specific encounter, that’s not the kind of background I’m going to be talking about.)
I’m actually referring to news – events that transpire while the players are delving in a dungeon or away on a mission or even enjoying their downtime. Regardless of the players’ home base – be it a walled city, a frontier barony, or even a small village – other peoples’ lives are going on irrespective of the player character’s adventures.
So what’s the trick to giving the PCs a sense of their community?Â Sure, the players are making gather information checks, but who are their sources?
Consider informing the players through these avenues:
> Visiting merchants, wandering minstrels and pilgrims. If you need to convey a sense of the wider world, you can’t have better sources than people who are passing through. Small units of soldiers – infantry or calvary can also do – on official business for the crown are also great “informal” sources.
> Town crier and official pronouncements. The crier, of course, is for folk who can’t read.Â The crown’s declarations of new laws, judgments and such will certainly be posted in a central location, such as a town hall or a central square, but most folk depend on someone reading the proclamation aloud, such as a herald or crier. Remember, these are “official” declarations, and may not reflect the “real” story.
> Gossips. Player characters have been peppering bartenders with questions since D&D was invented. But are you going to trust your actions on a guy or gal who spends all day behind the bar – or someone whoÂ is out and about in the community?Â For my money, visit community gathering places – the laundry, the schoolyard, the backalley layabouts or at the baker’s, butcher’s or barber’s shops.
The absolute best place to find folks who are clued in, though, is church. The party’s cleric needs to attend worship service more often, really. No one gossips like church-goers. The local priest or acolyte might be more circumspect, but you can bet the folks in the pews are ready spread the juiciest news around.
> Broadsheets. If your fantasy community is large enough and the technology level is analogous to the Renaissance, then this forerunner of the weekly newspaper might circulate among the literate population. Broadsheets were a mish-mash of political essays, advertisements and reports of incidents of crime, but clever PCs with good gather info checks should be able to read between the lines, as it were.
Here’s a related article about using backdrop plots to breathe life into the foreground plot:
Backdrop Plots: May You Live In Interesting Times
I love the idea of the broadsheets, or newspapers in general. It is one of the big things I love about modern settings. I used to start every session of a Vampire chronicle with a newspaper clipping about something that might be related to the current storyline.For a shadowrun game I had an RSS feed off of a website that constantly updated during down time in game.
RSS feed for updated news in Shadowrun. Very cool.
A little spice goes a long way, so don’t kill yourself adding some depth to the campaign.
On the other hand, a stew without spice is just wet meat and vegetables…
I’ve had success with quickly mentioning top headlines in modern day games; the players often surprised me with the conspiracies revealed by the articles. Often I had no such conspiracy in mind when I present the article, but I know how to borrow good ideas when I hear them. 😉
In a D&D 3.5 campaign I had a kind of broadsheet thing going on. There was a local gnome who invented a magical printing press and would publish the “Misty Bay Gazzette” This one page publication would be posted all over town and even delivered to the PCs house outside of town. I created the things in publisher and would write up a blurb about the PCs latest exploits as percieved by the gnome and community at large, as well as tidbits of local news and gossip. These news items then gave the players ideas of what they wanted their characters to do. Basically, as I came up with adventure ideas I would write up something to hook the players’ and put it in the next gazzette that I would give them every couple of game sessions.
Going to have to pick up on doing this again for my 4e campaigns
Superhero settings are great for this. Not only have I used newspapers for these events, I’ve also had local TV reporters and radio news clippings to distribute. Of course, trying to do this too often makes me focus more on the bits of unrelated news in the world than the players exploits. But if you want to generate oddball stories, Fark.com is a good resource.
White-wolf’s Old World of Darkness had a much dreaded ‘meta-plot’ that permeated all the books. Since I like the adlib challenge I didn’t mind it so much and tried to use it without limiting what my players could do.
Since my group had our own storyline anyway (& none of the players owned any of the books) I would let the meta-plot paint the background by dropping in passing (usually news, but not always) references to the various bits going on in the meta-plot. I took what many oWoD gamers felt was an annoyance and made it work for the setting instead of detracting from it.
Using the meta-plot as background usually led to plenty of cool player interaction as they sought to “Find the Truth” x-files style on more than one occasion. Entire games happened organically all due to a few sentences of background here and there. Very useful tip for adding flavor.
SMallbluegod: Glad to hear you made use of a published setting’s background information. It’s great when things like that work out. And I like it you turned something that others might consider sours their game into a positive, making lemonade out of lemons, as it were.
In the main, though, I think background works best when the DM “controls” the background — if anything — to keep it straight and so the players themselves don’t have access to it through other sources.
The Stray7: Thanks for the link to the oddball newssite.
There is an amazing amount of information that can be disbursed by a bunch of people having drinks at a bar. Alcohol tends to loosen up a few words that are better left unsaid in an open room.
Getting a few drinks into a fellow “smuggler” is likely to lead to hearing him complain about the stuck up senatorial that he had to babysit on a passenger charter. Given a few drinks and a cheerful drinking companion, a PC might be able to get a few “hidden between the lines” kinds of information that will impart enough of a motive to lead to something more important later on.
Sometimes one can just hang out in a tavern, bar, gambling den, or other entertainment venue and just soak it all in. Conversations can be overheard, especially when the PC is being carefull and non-intrusive acting. Acting drunk is a good way to get information sometimes and it can often lead to a hillarious roleplaying opportunity. 😀