Achieving Verisimilitude

ver∑i∑si∑mil∑i∑tude (vr-s-ml-td, -tyd) n.

The quality of appearing to be true or real. See synonyms at truth.

Something that has the appearance of being true or real.

 

Itís not just a cool word in the Dungeon Masterís Guide, itís a DM technique that, thankfully, I accidentally discovered I had been doing for years. But itís not easy to do. How do you really go about creating a life-like environment for you players that they care about and respect? It takes a bit of work, notes, and a good memory.

 

> Recurring NPCís. Campaigns that have an ongoing exploration theme or are primarily dungeon-based may have a problem simulating this, but for other games itís old advice. Keep up with the NPCís the characters seem to keep an interest in. Itís easy to see. You say a barkeepís name and they sit there. You say the son of the local baronís name, and you watch the note-takers jotting on their papers. Thatís a name to remember. Next time when the characters come through they may learn that the local baronís son has recently completed training to become a knight and his coronation is tomorrow. Youíve built in a world around the characters, not just for them.

 

> Varied NPCís. Do your damndest to vary your NPCís from region to region, and quickly think for a moment about their reaction, needs, and wants. Speech, outward appearance, even body language should be noted. A weaponsmith in a city rampant with rumors of an impending invasion from the nearby empire will have a whole different attitude, pricing, and workforce than the weaponsmith in the peaceful outlander village surrounded by high mountains. When they deal with the characters, have their personalities reflect their environments. That simple mercenary captain may just be gruff and covered with scars, but what if last night his betrothed left him for another...suddenly puts a huge spin on his presentation to your players and gives him life. Player characters are less likely to take advantage, or make light of, their interactions with NPCís so played.

 

> Foreshadowing. This canít be stressed enough, but it goes a long way. Itís also more work, but worth it. The best way is to keep one step ahead of the characters and know where they are going, and what their interests are. For example, in my current campaign I knew the party would come to a city where I need them to follow leads on a particular villain. When they were lamenting their shortage of cash in their home city, I had them come across a wanted poster with a sizeable reward posted for the fellow in question. Another way to do this is to mention areas in your campaign world almost nonchalantly in your descriptions and NPC conversations. A fletcher may make an off-remark about the amazing wood found in the Rokk woods, and later when an elf is found slain with a mark of a tribe from that wood, thereís at least one player who will remember what the fletcher said about the elfís home, creating a small but worthy tie to the characters. This technique can only work best if you read ahead of the group...plant seeds, drop hints, etc. Only discovering things as the party comes to them makes them feel like they are walking from encounter to encounter.

 

> Details. In your villages, dungeons, and roleplaying, HAM. Ham it up. You already know to describe a dungeon room with smells, lighting, and texture, but it can go further. Ham up your NPCís and you will discover, how I did, that those not too disposed to roleplaying themselves slowly come around, playing off your impromptu acting. Combats desperately have a need for colorful descriptions: sword blows, near misses, etc. If you use miniatures, always track full movement with the miniature, donít pick it up and drop it elsewhere. Describe its flailing claws as it charges past the torchlight. The best way to perfect this technique is to read fantasy books and keep combat descriptions in your head to mix and match and develop as your own. Donít have foes walk up and attack, have them dodge, try tactics, flank, jump and tumble into combat! Suddenly the opponents arenít like drones waiting to be mowed down, but adversaries with personality.

 

> Consequences. If the party has impact on an area, if they know about it or not ;-), remember to keep that in mind the next time they are around or in your NPC gossip. For example, suppose the group gets hired to explore a fallen meteor. They do, and discover a fell mind flayer that laired nearby and they return to the town with a trophy. When they return to the town in the future some folks are sure to remember them and comment on their past deed. Or they find themselves in a nearby town asking for adventuring help, and their employer mentions how he hopes they ďarenít crazy like the fools who tackled the mind flayer in the town over.Ē If someone gives money to a beggar, beggars suddenly become their best friends. If a character makes mention of his favorite outfitter back in his home town, he may return to learn that the outfitterís business is booming from out of town orders. Best of all, set up things the party is meant to change so they feel they are interacting with the world, not that itís a static background set!

 

Keep in mind that more often that not, to get the best out of your players, you have to put that much more in. More than other hobbies you get out what you put into it! Have fun!

 

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