Sometimes the everyday motions of daily life blend together into a forgettable day. But, if you pay close enough attention, sometimes you might notice something that’s a bit…off. Here are d6 things that aren’t as they first appear.
1 – Shadows
The sun is bright after a long day in the town square. Someone walks by you as you look down to get your face out of the sun. You’re startled, as the form of two shadows fighting one another stumble into your view. You look back up, but there’s just one figure – and she continues to stroll down an avenue!
Shadows can be an excellent way to break the news to your characters that something isn’t quite right. Maybe an NPC doesn’t have a shadow. Maybe a monster’s shadow acts independently. Maybe a PC is cursed, and their shadow is murdering other shadows. Whatever the case, shadows can be a great way to get the point across to your PCs – hey, something is…different.
2 – Smiles
A butcher is furiously working on slabs of meat behind the counter. She doesn’t hear you as you approach – and your greeting startles her. She aggressively turns, surprised. But within a moment, she’s smiling. You can’t help but notice the fangs pushing down past her lower lip…
Smiles, and teeth in general can introduce a hint of “something isn’t right” to any game. Fangs are the most obvious example, but any small change in a smile will get your PCs thinking. A town where each person is missing their canines? A family whose teeth have all turned black? An NPC who, when angered, shows the teeth of a wolf – but just for a moment. Teeth can be the first clue to a rabbit hole down the supernatural.
3 – Abnormal Behavior
The local magistrate stomps her large white horse through the middle of the street, with a small party trailing behind. Commonfolk hurry to get out of the way – but Casper, the local cobbler, seems frozen in fright. At the last second he’s pulled away by someone nearby. You didn’t realize it at the time, but Casper wasn’t frightened by the magistrate – rather, by the new cleric following closely behind.
Extreme changes in behavior, especially for less-than-interesting common folk, can easily pique your character’s interest. The local smith never delivers an order (especially one the PCs asked for)? The baker has a violent reaction to a child entering their shop? The pious priest savagely flees from silver? Each of these are odd and extreme behaviors, hinting to something a little more sinister beneath the surface.
4 – Clues
Your mind spins as the pieces slowly begin fitting together. Tattered clothing found in the woods? Dog’s hair found around town? Bite marks on the door of the church? And a full moon approaching? You can’t believe you didn’t see it before – werewolf!
Your PCs probably know a lot about fantasy and horror tropes – use that to your advantage! Pick a well-defined monster*, and begin dropping clues around town*! It may seem cliche, or even obvious, but sometimes your PCs deserve an easy mystery – especially if it leads to a tough fight!
*Like a sparkly vampire
5 – Small Detailed Changes
The market is bustling despite the overcast skies above. Merchants are shouting their sales, and children are scurrying about. You check your purse for the fifth time, making sure none of the sticky-fingered youth have received a free meal. Suddenly, the wind picks up, and gusts of wind begin creating dust devils around the market. The loud market quiets momentarily, but within minutes the wind dies down and things resume as normal. It’s odd – it rained earlier, but everything is dry. What’s even more odd, is the same thing happened yesterday at the same time…
Using changes in the environment of your game can make mundane, errand-style trips into something a bit more intriguing for the PCs. Maybe the bread the PCs are eating as rations is more salty than usual. Maybe the soup has live maggots in it. Maybe all the milk in the tavern has curdled. Maybe weird vines are spotted growing on buildings around town. Small, odd, and repeated details can alert the PCs that things aren’t as they first appear.
6 – Sense Descriptors
The sound of tavern music and jovial conversation fills your ears – but something is off. It’s a smell. You’ve been in taverns before, and you know what they smell like. This one is different. It smells earthy, like something you would smell outside. It’s musty, almost sickly sweet. It takes just a moment more, but you recognize it – manure. Why does the tavern smell like manure?
Role playing games are so focused on the sense of sight, that often times the other senses are only described when there is a reason to. Try to make a short list of each sense (sight, touch, smell, hearing, taste, etc.) and give at least one descriptor every time the PCs change environment. Then, use a different sense to describe something out of place. Maybe you are hearing a flute as you paddle in the middle of a lake. Maybe you smell manure while in a church. Maybe you feel breath on your neck while in line for a sale, but you turn and no one is there. Using the odd, unexplained, and unexpected with another sense can help your PCs realize that something isn’t just right.