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Everything is Something

A setting that feels alive encourages enjoyment and even immersion. It aids in the suspension of disbelief that allows us to explore fantastic realms and go on imaginary adventures. But building or running a setting that feels alive is no small task. Let’s look at a simple tool for helping us in this journey.

Fantasy Worlds IX Fantasy Worlds IX by Hue Teo

A “living world” is one that feels alive beyond the characters and their story. Does the world move forward without them? Can they see the consequences of their choices in the world? Or does the quantum ogre appear regardless of choice?1 Can they explore beyond the bounds of what you have prepared as a game master? Can they carve their own path? Or do all roads lead back to the story at hand?

Depending on the social contract of the game, some of that might be ok. But some of it also drives us further from a living world. If you’re like me, you don’t have time to build an entire world and flesh out every living detail. So I use a simple tool to help me: the mental model that everything is something.

Finding nothing is no fun. Even worse is the feeling that there’s an expected path and the GM is waiting for you to find it. If the players take the time to explore something, reward them for it. If the characters search a random desk, it’s not just filled with papers—it’s filled with receipts for some kind of exchange. Searching the wardrobe doesn’t just reveal clothes—it reveals fine clothes made of vibrant colors uncommon to the area. Do these findings relate to the story at hand? Probably not but they make the world feel more real. The desk and wardrobe belong to someone. They’re not just props. But how do we prepare for everything is something?

Embrace atomic worldbuilding. Prepare secrets and clues.2 Use random tables. Keep a list of things that stand out for you in books, movies, and TV. All of these will fill your toolbox with interesting somethings to drop in your game when you need them. They can relate to the main narrative, introduce new hooks, or just deepen the lore of the world. What if the characters pursue something unexpected? Then you’ve discovered something new that interests them. Follow that inspiration.

We don’t have to go to great lengths to make our world feel alive. But we do have to make moments matter for the characters. Reward their exploration with secrets, hooks, and lore. Make sure that everything is something.

Game on.


  1. From “On How an Illusion Can Rob Your Game of Fun” on Hack & Slash, 2011 September 11

  2. From “The Lazy GM’s Resource Document” by SlyFlourish, 2023 September 10