Keeping it Real August 26, 2011
Hello all, I am by no means an expert, but in the years I have been a Dungeon Master (or Games Master depending on your system) I have had a few ideas and tricks that have worked out well. I thought I would share a few of them with you, they may help out in your game, or you might think I am talking rubbish. I going to do it anyway damn it! (If your are new to Role-playing games and want to know what I am wibbling on about, I explain it as best I can here)
One thing I want to achieve in my games is to create a living breathing world for the players to exist in. That will probably be a theme running through most of these blogs as its something I focus on a lot. I know other people focus on a particular style of play, but I love the feeling of immersion. The feeling that all the characters you meet in the game have their own lives and go about their business when not talking to the players, the feeling that the players actions have consequences in the world.
There are a few ways I try to go about it, but I think once you can achieve it there are a lot of things that start to happen.
Ways to make it happen
There are a few ways I try to do this. We go into the things the characters did between adventures, not just buying new gear, but any interactions they had. Do they have family they have to visit, maybe a sick Mother or Father. That doesn’t have to then fire into a quest for a holy flower to heal them, but its something they can pull from and you can also use for character background.
The day to day of the characters life can be brought into the story. Not the mundane, you don’t want to be role-playing the characters doing laundry, but there will be aspects of the characters life that can bleed into the story. Maybe there is a merchant that the character passes everyday when leaving his lodgings, they bought something from him and he makes a point of saying hello every day. Not a big thing, but a detail that the character comes to expect and grow comfortable with, like routines in life. Maybe one day the merchant isn’t there, there could be a side quest behind this, or it could just be more flavour to the story. Things change, that’s life, reflect that in the story.
Rumours and news are essential to creating a living world. The feeling of immersion comes from events happening the world regardless of the characters actions. The world keeps turning no matter what the characters do, so let them know that. It could be big news, distant wars, plagues, natural disasters, or it could be smaller, the local tavern has been shut down due to rats in the stew, the mad wizard is trying to charge 10gp toll on the street outside his house. In fact mixing the big and the small up makes for a good combination. How you get this news to players depends on your setting, but whispers in the taverns, town criers, newspapers, all work.
Firstly, no matter how fantastical the plot, if its full of real characters with real motivations, you pull the player in. Players are able to buy in more if there is a foundation of reality in the characters. Its like all good films and books, if you buy into the story and characters it will pull you in regardless of the setting.
Trying to build an immersive world to live in will mean the players will invest in their characters a lot more. A character that has a feeling of being grounded in a real world will make it easier for the players to relate to. This will create more Role-play opportunity’s as the character is fleshed out, it will give them the chance to think about who they are in the world and how everything else relate to them.
NPCs in this immersive world will be generally be more believable also, characters become emotionally attached to them, allowing you to play on that. It packs more of a punch if they are betrayed by an NPC who they had a background with, rather than a 2d character that they have no connection with.
Not everything in life results in Epic Quests
All of these extra bits of information do not have to result in quests, sure the characters can investigate them if you like, and if your running a sandbox kind of game you may like where its going and make a quest out of it. If you pepper your campaign with this kind of info you can then pull the info back at a later date and expand on it for a quest, if they players do remember it will feel like a natural progression of the story and the world evolving. All the other elements that you don’t use just give more flesh to the world the characters live in.
This could be a lot of extra information in your campaign and you don’t want to get bogged down in more book keeping. The way I handle it usually is to have a document and just list any extra news or rumours that I inject into the game. Just a one line description will usually do. Another sheet per character for any extra in-between quest news or routines per character is usually handy. At that point if nothing else after a few sessions of doing this you have a few lists of quest ideas to draw from that already in the players subconscious.
That’s it for now, I have a few other articles revolving around the same subject of immersion. Until then, happy gaming!