Most adventuring parties only see an innkeeper as the provider of ale and food with the possibility of lodging and rumors if things go well, but the innkeeper can become the gateway to the whole town when the players look deeper. In a quick pass through town, or as a single adventure without a twist that the innkeeper is involved in, nefarious things are all that’s needed, but, when it won’t be just a single adventure, it becomes more important to know why the innkeeper is doing things. Having the innkeeper be knowledgeable about the shady things in town is a common trope and makes sense if they’re the classic bartender like Shotglass, but it can take on a sinister tone if the information they feed the party leads to cleaning out a potential competitor or if they use the party as the heavy hand of the thieves’ guild. The innkeeper in a small town is a huge source of wealth that wouldn’t normally be available and this wealth filters down to the artisans of the town such as the inn’s chef, the town brewer, tailor, farrier, miller, and surrounding farmers; allowing the innkeeper to behave as town leader as far as the party is concerned. How the innkeeper, or other NPCs, are connected to the world, matters.
When you come across a GM character once, most people pay them no mind, but when they start to become part of the world, it brings a much better connection to the narrative. One of the tricks is to find points of connection you as a GM already have that the characters can fill. The junk dealer that the party uses as a fence turns into an agent for the local governor to keep tabs on the underworld. The captain of the guard that gives the party quests is underpaying the party and pocketing the extra money that would pay for the squads of soldiers that the party is replacing.
On to the Council
The Lepskin Rebel Council presents an interesting challenge; it’s easy to see the council as a separate section, but it overlaps with the sector in general. They have jobs and motivations, creating simple characters, which continue on beyond what the players will see. This is one of the ways that Obsidian Portal shows its worth as a framing device. I find it easy to deal with the council as a single entity of people and the sector as a single entity of planets, the two together is much hazier. These two seemingly separate sets have common points and should allow for ideas to grow as different aspects are worked on. Working on The Council gets me thinking about the planets these people are associated with and then how that shapes them.
My best example of this is a five link chain that is linked through a set of coincidental ideas. The links go from Catiwhinn, an up and coming maintenance yard on the fringe is the seat of The Council, to Icor Brimarch, a member of The Council and the vice president of business expansion for Bantha Express Transportation, and finally to Axel the headquarters for Bantha Express.
Normally my thought process would connect two of these things, because it’s in Icor Brimarch’s character description that he is part of the Bantha Express, but not the rest of them. Thanks to the linking of the rebel council to Catiwhinn and Icor Brimarch’s position on that council I now have another link for the character, and a reason for him and his company to be so far from their home system.
I find that these unexpected links are what make a setting seem more real. Having them in mind, or at least easily available, is great for when players want to do things that you’d never normally think of. The ways this knowledge can impact and be used for plot purposes is delightful but even moreso if the players link these things themselves without huge glowing signs saying “Shreb is tied to Rooksense” or something similar.
A wonderful part of Obsidian portal is that some of this linking can be visible to only to the GM and select others which allows for the rabbit hole to go much deeper than in a single sheet that the players have unfettered access to. Creating these links ahead of time allows for less work when a player tries to do something almost unthought of. It can be looked up while having a quick planning break.
Thin Skin of Reality
This can be a level deeper than most players want to go, but it can be rewarded with making difficulties just a little bit easier if the players are looking for how it’s interconnected and want to play off of it.
This depth of thinking about a relatively throw away concept I find useful. It brings me deeper into knowing what I’m helping to create and helps me to think beyond swinging the group from trope to trope. I know if I start to put in a few not so hidden gems for characters I can allow the players to start seeking it out on their own. A rescued tech in one adventure gets hired onto a repair shop at the end of another and finally takes it over at the end of the next campaign. Growing the world around the players allows for a reality to form, instead of just being able to cause relentless devastation while being an evil raiding party.