I think we’ve all seen the random tables here and there, lists of a hundred useless bits of junk that just slain foes might have in their pockets. Pure flavor text, of course, so often disregarded by players who learn that there isn’t anything of importance except the coins and magic on a fallen foe. I think we can do better than that.
The things PCs find in the pockets of their enemies can be useful to the campaign in several ways. How much weight you give the items is up to you, though somewhere more important than random junk and less than the Key to the World would be best.
- Who is this? One or more items in their belongings describe what kind of person they were. Did they carry a small hand-crafted holy symbol to an outlawed gawd hidden in their belts or was it a flashy though cheap holy symbol of the prevailing deity of the day? Does that pouch contain a set of tools for a drafted soldiers true profession, perhaps carving knives or lockpicking tools? Do they carry a touchstone of their home such as a rare dried plant or a very unusual stone, identifying them as natives of a far-off region? Some of these things may still be trivia as far as your campaign plots are concerned, but they provide details about your campaign world. Perhaps the PCs didn’t know that outlawed gawds were still worshipped or why soldiers from far-off Bezika were fighting for the Dread Duke. Some things might just be useful, like those lockpicks.
- Where have they been? People tend to pick up souvenirs of where they’ve been, out of curiosity or to show off to others. A well-traveled mercenary might have scraps and bits from a variety of lands, attesting to their longevity and why they were so tough to defeat. There might be stories behind some of the items, like the lover who gave him her silk scarf or the token of favor of a local noble. More gruesome souvenirs might include small body parts of their kills, such as elven ears when elves live far away from here.
- How did they pass the time? Often, the enemies of our PCs have been stationed in a place for some time, either garrisoned in the Dread Duke’s fortress or assigned to guarding the entrance to the dungeon. Vigilance only goes so far in terms of passing the time. Did they play dice with the other guards? Did they carve intricate animal totems? Perhaps a well-worn pipe and pouch of pipeweed was enough to make the hours pass. They might even have a small book, perhaps religious verses or a well-worn collection of lewd bard’s tales. A person’s hobbies says something about their own intellectual level, giving our heroes an idea of what sort of enemies they are up against. If they find all sorts of intricate machines made out of bird bones, grasses, stones, and wood, they might decide that watching for traps ahead would be prudent.
- Not Your Average… Why did this enemy not fit the PCs expectations? Was the orc particularly young, a teenager perhaps without the bulk of muscle his elders had? Why was one this young fighting here? Trying to prove himself or are the orc numbers getting depleted? Perhaps that tough fighter was actually a woman, hiding her gender to serve the Dread Duke and get those awesome dental benefits. Drawing off their helm might reveal the all-too-familiar face of a simpleton, directed to fight by his family or tribe without knowing why. Close examination might reveal a half-breed, weaker or stronger than the average tribe member.
- They were what??? It’s always good to throw in a twist every once in awhile to show that not every orc or every guard is from the same stereotype. Did the killing stroke tear open their tunic, revealing the tattoo of the Knights of White Piety? Was this man a fallen knight or was he “undercover”? Did he have the signet ring of a wealthy noble family hidden on his person? Was he a member of that family or just in their good graces? Should the PCs return him to that family for burial or run from their guilt in his death? Why does he have Letters of Credit from an elite banker in Port City? Are they his or did he steal them from someone?
There are many ways to make the enemies less ‘faceless’ and more ‘human’, ways to paint in a bit more of your world for the players, or ways to add clues to the mysteries at the heart of your campaign.