Tiny Details

edited June 2009 in Actual Play
I GMed Storn through a solo campaign for a month and now he is GMing me through a campaign set in the same world. It has been really great.

There are these bits that I am enjoying, little details that Storn adds in that make the setting come alive for me. I don't think we need to have an element from each of the five senses...maybe...two. Sight and sound are the easy ones that everyone falls back on.

When my character, Sammesh, was in an ancient barrow, talking to the summoned restless dead spirit of the woman who was buried there with her husband, he described the art and ancient weapons in the barrow and then mentioned that along the walls and the roof there were roots from a nearby tree. For some reason, those roots stood out to me, those are what made the place feel alive and real. I have no idea why that little detail did that.

Sammesh visited his mom and she was talking to two engineers about restoring a fountain and he gave just enough information for me to get some hand-holds onto about the restoration of the statues and allowing water to flow through them again, allowing me to ask for a History roll (FoRKing in Ancient Languages) in order to contribute and start the scene on an interesting note.

Sammesh has a relationship with Papis, the Sorcerer-King's head librarian and also a monk who likes his beer. Sometimes Storn will just come out with neat setting details through beers with Sammesh and Papis (usually while me and Storn are actually sitting at the table, drinking Woodchuck) such as, "Sammesh, did you know that outside of the 13 Cities there are no gods? There are power spirits but no gods as we know them. Isn't that fascinating?"

In games of Shock:, we have minutae about the world, writing them down on slips of paper that little the table and would eventually go into a setting bible if/when we commit to a campaign. But these little details have a place in Shock:, which is nice.

Anyway, I'm just thinking about little details, short, punchy descriptions.

Examples of these are welcome.


  • That reminds me that IAWA has a rule that you're supposed to "say one conrete detail" anytime you're describing something. I don't think we've been doing that consistently. It seems that it's a habit that needs to be developed and you guys have got it down in your game. I agree that it's usually the little details that make things real for me in RPGs. I don't think I actually see a picture in my head of a scene or an encounter unless there is some detail provided beyond the descriptions of the characters/monsters present. A small, run-down farmhouse on the side of the road the army was marching down; two griffon statues on either side of the steps up into the college of wizardry; the footsteps of the Daiymo as he walked the long hall of the temple to the spot of the missing banner of the 43rd regiment; all of those were recent descriptions that made game moments come alive for me.
  • I remember one detail in a IAWA game where a woman had red hair. It was more of a throw away line, but it later turned into something big. It seemed that red hair was so rare to the point that no one had ever seen it before. It also turned out that she had red hair because she was the daughter of a Krom-like bloodgod. And of course a wicked sparrow wanted to make it's nest of her hair. I mean this one detail spawned myth after myth about this world it was really cool.

    There was also a d6 Star Wars game years ago where the GM described to the player that the Stormtrooper armor that he had just stolen and put on had some serial numbers embedded into the right wrist. Later, he was disguised as this Stormtrooper at the front gates of an Imperial outpost on Tatooine or some damned place and the guard behind the gate asked him for his ID number. Naturally, the player just rattled off the numbers on the armor. Well, there was nothing special about those numbers, simply a set of numbers that gets put on every set of armor of that run. The door opened and the character thought it worked until he saw the entire armed battalion behind the doors ready to blow him away. (Yes, this was a failed roll.) It was very funny and very Star Wars.

    I guess these are descriptive details that turned into situational ones, but as for pure mood...

    There was a Call of Cthulhu d20 game I was playing and there was a weird goat-god thing with backwards-turned knees that my policeman character encountered. That was creepy, but what really unnerved me was when the GM said: "And it's walking sideways in a way that physics doesn't normally allow."
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