Player: I want to Investigate…
DM: What do you do?
Player: I investigate. Should I roll?
DM: Not just yet. Tell me what the investigation looks like. What is your character doing? If it is a montage scene, what are we seeing?
Player: Oh! Well, I go to the locals on this street near where the arch-mage was murdered and ask questions, see if they heard anything strange that night.
DM: So, to be clear, you are a Tiefling in a Dragonborn neighborhood, just after the Tiefling and Dragonborn armies have been at war for nearly a decade, asking questions about a murder. How do you think that is going to go?
Player: Good point, I forget about how they might feel about me showing up. I use my illusion magic to seem like…what were the people whose mercenaries helped the Dragonborn armies during the war?
DM: That was the elven mercenaries.
Player: Awesome, I illusion myself to look like an elf and I’ll even add that cool tattoo all of the elf mercs had over one eye.
DM: Nice detail! Roll with advantage.
Player: 18 with Intelligence added in!
DM: Cool, you hear over and over that one of the locals dragon-hawks was screeching all night but stopped for about an hour and then started again, this time even louder.
Player: Did I talk to the dragon-hawk’s owner?
DM: Yeah, and the beautiful dragon-hawk, covered in red and black scales with blue wings was still screeching, something about mating season.
Player: Oh shit, someone used a silence spell!
The first source of inspiration I look to is the characters:
What actions have they taken that could make the world react in interesting ways?
What pieces of their background and backstory could I bring out?
If that doesn’t work, something is likely very wrong.
Would a brainstorming cheat sheet help? I use one called Context, Cool Shit and Consequences.
If so, here’s one:
Hope that is helpful! Good luck!
Here’s what I said to a friend when he was playing a character that wasn’t participating:
“I really like gaming with you but the way you play this character makes that very difficult. It is as if they don’t want to participate in the game. Can you change the way you play the character or should we make a new one so I can play fun games with my friend?”
I really like how Blades in the Dark does it.
3 NPC names with 3 descriptive words after them – short and I can glance at it during play and it’ll all come back.
Clocks, showing what the faction is working on and hoping for. I love it when factions are IN MOTION. It gives them motivation when the players deal with them and makes it easier for me to make the world feel alive.
Allies and Rivals – in case I need a fast mission idea. Maybe the players fought the faction’s rival last game and so this faction will now be really friendly to them because the enemy of my enemy is my friend or maybe they will get a cold reception because they messed up an ally.
tl;dr short, evocative bits that help the world feel alive and dense
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