Making the world alive

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Hello all. I've read some articles recently (thanks to Yagamifire linking to it) that describe the most important use of time to let the party know that they are not the center of the universe.  How can this practically be acomplished without keeping juge logs of schedules of monsters and town guards and the like.  Thanks for any assistance.
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1) Have them see stuff way out of their league.

2) Have them encounter people who won't speak to them because they aren't important enough to be worth paying attention to.

3) Have them go up to an office looking for a job and find that in order to even get the contract for a powerful job they need to be better known / They can see other groups of people doing jobs that are out of their league.

4) Show that the world events don't require them to be there to happen.  Have stuff happen outside the player's realm of influence and they hear about it from someone on the road / in an inn / etc.

5) Have the players witness something that may be in their league, but on a massive scale (A small disaster, a minor miracle, a battle or skirmish). 
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Depending on how long you intend the campaign to last, weather and seasons can be a great way to lay that out.

Say you're looking at 20 sessions. The first five could be cool and rainy, flowers begin to bloom, etc. The next five the weather turns muggy and unbearably hot, then cool and rainy, then blistering cold and snow, etc.

If you're looking for small scale, time of day can have a lot to do with this. When they go into a dungeon it may be daylight, when they come out it's the dead of night.

When they travel, talk about the number of times they've had to break camp, or how many times the moon(s) have passed overhead.

You could also show elements of decay. We do this often and don't even realize when the players begin exploring vast sets of ruins and the like. Really talk those up, and maybe talk about the shanty town that has recently built up around the remains of an old city, using some of their bldgs as structure.

Giving your world history also infers it has a future.

Generally when I run a campaign I pick one big event. That event happens no matter what, and generally needs high level PCs to stop it. If the PCs choose that as the plot of their game that is fine, but if not, no high level NPCs exist to stop it. The even happens. If the event is "Mind flayers are turning off the sun" you can have things happen like nights getting longer, undead getting stronger, or the sun actually getting turned off depending on how long it is left un-stopped.


A second way to make the world seem "alive" is to create conflicts where the PCs aren't involved or even aware until they stumble onto them. They meet up with a duke and a much younger woman they take to be his wife and not daughter due to how "friendly" he is with her. He asks the PCs to go get something for him (a magic sword or something). The PCs find it and bring it to his house where they meet the Duchess, a much older woman. How do the PCs deal with this. 


A final way is to tell the PCs about events that the PCs aren't involved in. A war between two nations the PCs haven't been to, prevents them from using the fastest route to a third place that is actually plot important. 

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There's an interesting dynamic to this problem. On one hand, reminding the PCs that there's a massive world around them does a great job at getting them more invested in the setting and contributing to a more fleshed-out world. On the other hand, if PCs feel like their actions don't have any sort of notable bearing on the world around them, they can become disheartened or disinterested. 

I would suggest trying something that both directly involves the PCs, but also takes place beyond the scope of their capabilites. If the PCs are inside a town that is getting firebombed (or some other means of utterly wiped out), the goal of the encounter would be more to survive than fight off attackers. 

You can also have some catestrophic natural event happen, or a monster such as the Terrasque wreck havoc upon a region. While the players won't be able to stop this event (or a Terrasque. Who can stop a Terrasque?), they can perhaps help in the rebuilding, or help survivors. Doing this gives them an idea of the scope of the world, but also ensures they have some (although probably small) part in it. 
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People tend to remember and be more interested in things that have actually been involved with. To this end, collaborate with your players when it comes to creating the world, or really any other details about your game. The details they come up with will typically be things that have some bearing on their own characters, but these can often be very large, far reaching aspects of the rest of the world, such as mention of a battle they fought in, an academy they learned at, a prison they were held in, a ruler they serve, a disaster they witnessed, etc. Ask them questions, and accept the offers they make.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Hello all. I've read some articles recently (thanks to Yagamifire linking to it) that describe the most important use of time to let the party know that they are not the center of the universe.  How can this practically be acomplished without keeping juge logs of schedules of monsters and town guards and the like.  Thanks for any assistance.



I am really glad to hear you've been reading articles to improve your DMing. Reading is a DM's most powerful resource. Nothing helps a DM more than reading a lot.

There are some simple ways to approach this...

About the most powerful I've found is to be aloof as a DM. Do not fight in favor nor against your PCs. Be the interface for them but do not be clearly biased. If an NPC is excited, be excited...if they are low-key then be low-key. However, when in your role as a DM (in DM voice) be moderate and maintain a poker face. Your excitement for the game world has to be reserved for when you are working on it and creating it...at the game table, the excitement comes from the PCs as they discover things.

Now, this may seem contrary to your goal of expanding the world...but you have to think about the psychological effect this has on your players. When the world is presented all at the same tone, players will not know what they are "supposed" to interact with because there will be no "supposed". That realization will come slowly to some and they might even disbelief it...because it will open the world to them.

That's really step one. Letting the players know "Hey...this is the world like the world around you every day is a world...do as you will"

The second part is making that world breathe. The poker-face ALSO comes in handy for this. Things need to happen around your PCs. I have lists of little interactions and events for various areas. Here I'll roll one and grab a random result...

ookay and I'm back.

Rolled on a city chart I cribbed from somewhere and got that a group of cultists are burning books in a part of the street the players walk past.

Now, the IMPORTANT thing with this is that the PCs can react however they want and you, as DM, need to never let them know more than is reasonable. You would not tell them, for instance, that they are cultists...you would describe them as figures dressed in some manner. Let's go with dark robes and highly visible religious symbols.

"As you're heading to the church to check in, you pass by a group of men in dark robes with large religious icons hanging around their necks. They're throwing books gathered in a wagon onto a bonfire"

That's it. Done. Let them react.

A common response will be "Why are they doing that?" ... DM: "They want to burn the books. Clearly. Probably not for warmth" (you can feel free to be less sarcastic, but I like to mess with my players from time to time ^_~)...the important thing is that you're begging questions. If they are curious they will pursue. If they aren't curious they won't. Either way, STUFF is going on around them. The world is existing.

The important thing is that you don't just vomit a bunch of exposition at the players. That is when something goes from an "event in a world" to a "hook for the players".

Let your players ignore things. Or let them explore things. But do not put stuff in the world with the intent that they will do either...just put the stuff in. Does this mean there are things that the players will NEVER explore? Absolutely. Does it mean they'll ignore a lot? Sure. That's okay. Just like in REAL LIFE in the REAL WORLD, people only have so much time and attention to invest. When players feel that way about their characters they will feel more like the world is moving as much as they are.

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Lots of great advice everyone! Thanks for your help!
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I see the view on here is to small/simple-minded(just an opinion), the way the world and society ect work is from the DMs point of view. If starting characters have a high, medium or low status in society that is up to the DM.


You think EVERYONE'S viewpoint but yours is small/simple-minded.
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Example - A DM runs player characters in a group that is part of a world-wide guild, they may have higher status in some of the societies due to their connection with the guild.

So many "what if" things you will run into, one set way to deal with this will not work in my opinion.
Which can make for an interesting game, of course.  But archetypical D&D adventurers do not usually fall into that category.  You are correct that in that instance, a great deal of the advice proffered here is rendered moot, but don't discount it just because you can think of a few examples that makes it less relevant.

I find the issues is players are put on a throne that is not deserved in the wotc pen and paper gaming world, they play the characters in the same vein. That I find is the most common problem, the other is player/dms who allow this kinda stuff to go on, lowering standards of the game and leaving players with unrealistic expectations.

And by what objective scale, exactly, can we determine if the "standards of the game" are being lowered?
Oh, wait?  There isn't one?  It's a subjective value judgement?  Okay.


Another poster mentions you should let the players get their word in on everything, DMs I recommend you don't do this. It is not the players job to understand how things balance into your!(the DMs) game as you do. Doesn't hurt to ask them(players) their thoughts after your finished up(be willing to adjust as a DM regardless where the source of inspiration comes from).


You completely discount the idea of Cooperative World-Building, which is a valid DM style, and one that some groups enjoy.  Some groups (especially ones that rotate DM-duty) find it to be invaluable, and leads to an enjoyable gameplay experience as the game world becomes something that belongs to ALL of them. 
Not me, my personal preference is for my specific campaign setting, which I have developed and mapped out over the course of several years, which has grown with play, and has it's own history.  I know what the geopolitical landscape of my world is, and can readily provide that information on a consistent basis to my players.
But my preference does not mean that Cooperative World-Building is somehow inferior, like you claim.  You think that everything different that the way you do it is inferior, and you are vocal about such.  Your posts to this effect demonstrate that you have a big ego and a small worldview; a closed mind, and an open mouth.
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