Written by Jack Whyte
Published by Tor
$17.99 paperback ($12.93 Amazon)
560 pages (mass market paperback version)
When looking at things to take as inspiration from a novel, sometimes there are things we already know. Thing's we've already used. But things we haven't used in a long time. Game 'tricks' and 'tips' are like a muscle, when a specific technique isn't used in a while, it fades.
With that in mind:
Letters: Caius Britannicus son is a military son whose off fighting in various parts of the world. He writers his father several times. This allows the reader to get a taste of who leaders are in different parts of the world, what actions of importance are happening, and acts as potential foreshadowing to things that may happens in Caius' part of the world.
When looking at your own game, do the characters know people from other parts of the world that would think enough of them to send them letters? Many games, like Call of Cthulhu, make extensive use of the written word to relay vital information to the players. The author K. J. Parker makes good use of letters as communication in his novel, The Folding Knife.
But how can you use it in a game like Dungeons and Dragons say?
Look at it from a traditional class perspective:
Warriors: Those who are in a guild, might tell the players of new enemies that they have fought. They might send word of new weapons they have discovered. They might talk of new fortresses being built.
Clerics: Might make mention old religious icons or texts found. Might mention the rise of an opposing religion. Might mention a prophet of their own religion that has been seen all about the world and tell the players to keep an eye out for him.
Wizards: Might speak of planar disruptions. Might talk about new spells that have been discovered. If the players are very friendly, might even include new spells. Not every spell needs to be torn from a crypt and if the players have invested the time and energy to cultivate good relations with others, those relations should also have a pay out.
Rogues: Might relate if a guild war has broken out. Might speak of a new "sheriff" in town. Might speak of a wagon full of riches that are moving into the player's area and the rogues will share this information... for a price!
Historians: Not all "classes" need to of an adventuring type. The players are often looking for lost legends and lore and historians can provide that. Try to give each historian it's own feel and flavor to insure that the characters can tell them apart in letters. Maybe one always sends missives that are stained with mustard and foodstuffs while another sends only immaculately clean and pressed letters with perfect writing.
Military: I've mentioned the military before because as an organization, it has a lot of utility. But one theme I failed to mention, is stuck behind enemy lines.
Being stuck behind enemy lines is a trope It's such a trope, that there are actually movies with it as the title.
But there are all manner of scenarios to think about. There's the short term stuck behind enemy lines where the players have to fight their way out.
There's the short term where they have to sneak their way out.
But what about the long term? What if the players are part of a military group on an island where the natives destroy the military encampments and burn the boats and it's going to take at least a year for the player's reinforcements to get there?
What happens when the player's "friendly" alliance shows up? With they think the players have gotten too chummy with the natives? Will the players have to fight former friends and allies?
The Singing Sword is filled with great ideas ranging from "The Lady of the Lack" being an ingot of Skystone metal that "gives" the sword Excalibur to the forging of bloodlines to save the ideas of civilization itself.