Whether it’s monsters, money or magic items everything needs rationalising. Where did those elementals come from, who made those glowing rings and why is there thousands of gold? Today I’m looking at another simple way to make your world or setting feel grounded, like it’s real.
The main two aspects i always try to justify are my bad guys and their items; from their weapons, to clothes and most importantly loot! Even if it’s details my players won’t or don’t pick up i always like to have reason for those bad guys to be in that location with the equipment they have.
Normally i select my baddies depending on the area type my adventure will take place, you’ll encounter different foes in an underdark cave to a feywild forest. Though sometimes my plot chooses my baddies for me, if the lich king is invading the feywild then sure there would be some undead there. But it has to make sense and not just to you, to your players aswell. Otherwise they’ll be confused as to why a fire elemental is just rampaging through the rainforest.
You don’t always have to hit them in the face with the reason but hints at the reasoning behind this peculiar occurrence can really engage your players; finding smouldering humanoid footprints or primordial runes show there is a mystery to uncover as to how the fire elemental got into the rainforest and what the hell is going on!
Similar to how your location may dictate your monsters, the types of monsters may also dictate their items. Drow raiders won’t be carrying the same weapons or gear as a colony of mindflayers… Items can show insight into your baddies and key antagonist just as much as the monsters themselves. Occult symbols, noble house colours and tribal tattoos are all a simple addition but can really spice up your bad guys showing their is a larger game afoot.
Additional supplies like poisoned weapons, spell scrolls or healing unguents can add another level of difficulty to your encounter but they need to be rationalised. That poison had to come from somewhere and as long as you show your players where then feel free to let the poison damage flow. It’s frustrating as a player seeing generic enemies having plethora of poison and magically enhanced equipment without reasoning, it shows the lack of thought gone into the session and just shows you want it to be harder. Which is fine, but explain how the bandits all have magic weapons!