This daily cycle provides delicious opportunities for detailed scene-setting and cinematic visuals, but it also tends to get ignored in a lot of games. The GM simply says “OK, you spend the day in the city researching the nobleman’s estate. It’s night out now — do you want to go to the tavern?”
Sometimes that’s a necessary step to keep the game going; other times, it’s a missed opportunity. Cities and wilderness locales can undergo pretty substantial changes in flavor as the day transitions to evening and night. I’ve put together a brief list of “actionable” details that can be easily inserted into fantasy campaigns to better describe the passing of the day.
- In the morning, streets might be empty save the vendors setting up shop in the market district. It’s often unnaturally quiet, so any disturbance would be magnified manyfold and would likely wake nearby sleepers.
- Noon is usually the hottest part of the day in non-polar climates — a town might shut down during the afternoon so its denizens can retreat to cooler refuges.
- In the evening, there’s often an influx of people, as farmers and laborers head into the village after a long day in the fields. Traveling merchants arrive after many days on the road, eager to rest and relax.
- At night, there’s often a changing of the city watch, as the daytime soldiers head home to the barracks and the nighttime detail moves in. This would be a time of relative disorganization for all but the most disciplined brigades.
- In temperate areas, dew accumulates overnight in grassy areas. Footprints from travelers passing in the night are easy to discern in the morning dew.
- In the evening, nocturnal predators come out to hunt, and prey animals hunker down to await dawn. Flowers often close up, too, and mist can develop in humid, lowlying areas as the ground cools.
- After nightfall, the temperature can drop dramatically, and travelers without proper shelter can left to the mercy of the elements. Trees creak and groan as they cool in the night air. In very cold regions, water can freeze, leather can crack and metal blades become brittle with frost.
- At night, a slight elevation can give travelers a sweeping, panoramic view of the countryside. From there, it would be easy to pick out the flicker of campfires that might indicate other wayfarers in the area.