“Who are you?” he whispered. The sword, like death by pain, was lifted. Her reply rang out and yet was muted by the howl of the wind. “I am the Lady of Battles.” (p. 28 SFBC hardcover)
A good description goes a long way. Ask each player to not only describe themselves, but make sure they have a description written down so that they can refer to it for future reference. Do the characters dress in a certain fashion? Do they wear certain styles of cloth? Are their clothes new or old? Do they have fine silks or worn through materials? Are their weapons nicked from long use and battle or well oiled?
Having a good description for an NPC goes a long way too. Make sure that when doing so, you have the description ready if you plan on using the character again. Insure that things that are unique about the NPC are bolded so that the players can recognize these characters when meeting them in the future. When introducing them, give them a unique persona not only through what they wear and what they are, but by your own actions as a GM. Hand gestures and voice are some of the greatest tools you have at your disposal in such a case and making the same hand gestures in association with a certain NPC, will ingrain that habit into the minds of the players.
“It is necessary that we act. We must find another to consecrate at the altar. One who will not be missed.” (p. 170 SFBC hardcover).
This falls under the rule of no good deed goes unpunished. When attempting to push their own views of right and wrong on the setting, the GM has many options, especially when trying to showcase that the players cannot be everywhere and do everything at the same time. In this example, Alain has saved a savage humanoid from a gruesome death. In response, another is taken in place for sacrifice.
If the players are known defenders of one place, can they be at another? If the players champion one cause, do they directly or indirectly, oppose another and cause people who follow that cause hardship?
When trying to follow the old adage of no good deed goes unpunished, it’s not necessarily that you as the GM are trying to showcase that the world is a harsh and cruel place, but rather, that actions has consequences both intended and unintended. In some games, one of the standard methods here is the players freeing something long dormant from an ancient crypt in their running around and digging up the dead.
“But the blessed Daisan fasted and prayed for seven days! He didn’t suffer!”… “So the church taught falsely for years. So this truth was proclaimed as a heresy at the Great Council of Addai over three hundred years ago.” (p. 175 SFBC hardcover).
“Which fort?” she asked, then knew what he meant: This fort, the old Dariyan fort built by order of Arki-kai Tangashuan seven hundred years ago, reckoning by the calendars she knew. Now of course it was known as Steleshame, a small estate under the authority of the freeholder Gisela that was also an official posting stop for the King’s Eagles and thus under the king’s protection rather than that of the local count.” (P. 250 SFBC hardcover)
Depending on what campaign setting you’re using, either home brewed or store bought, the history may be so vast and grand that things players tend to take as everyday events and elements may be prone to change. One way to introduce these changes is to simply note that some time in the campaign’s past “THIS” is what had actually happened.
But then why doesn’t the campaign reflect it? Take the Forgotten Realms and it’s new incarnation for 4th edition. It incorporated many elements of the 4e default setting by taking a massive hammer to the setting and instead of allowing that unknown history to be discovered by the players, its thrust upon them. Have the characters be the ones who discover these ancient things. Have the players be the ones to discover that Lathandar is actually a different deity. Have the players discover that in prewritten history there was another land. Have the players discover these hidden facets of the setting so that they may be the new authorities and can be part of the change as opposed to just being battered about the head with it.
And as the second quote shows, sometimes the campaign will reflect it. People change. Monsters migrate. Fortress rise and fall. Things have multiple names and multiple purposes depending on who you ask and whose living there now. When dealing with something of great age, have multiple names for the old forts that stretch back into history. Have multiple names for the elves who have seen hundreds of years. Have variety when the players discover a long lost weapon that once served on the front line of battle against shadow and shade.