I can’t remember if I picked this idea up from someone or somewhere, but thought I’d share something cool I’ve used a bit.
Rumors are a very dynamic and powerful tool. How I used them:
At the end of sessions (or during), if players are in places they could reasonably overhear or interact with others (towns, taverns, inns, jails, whatever), pick a player (or roll for it), and ask them what rumors or news tidbits have they overheard. Then sit back.
The player will come up with something. It doesn’t matter what it is. Take notes. You just got free lore and ideas. You can use these as seeds for future adventures. And the fact they are rumors means it may or may not be true. You can twist it any which way, or do the complete opposite. It doesn’t matter. If/when you introduce some aspect of it, the players will notice immediately. “Oh, hey, I heard something about this!”
Example: Players were in town, one was chilling in a cafe while on a stakeout. I asked him what rumors he overheard while in the cafe. He thought for a second and said, “Heard there is a Spriggan waylaying travelers on the road.”
Boom. That’s it, super simple. But it is pure gold.
A couple sessions later after they are doing a pretty big cross-country journey trying to steer clear of invading goblin hordes, and enter a forest. They come across ravaged caravans on the road. They encounter a couple tree sprites, and learn there is a rogue Spriggan causing trouble on the road. The players were instantly invested. “I knew it!” several of them said.
Now they have a choice. Carry on their way, or figure out WTF is going on?
Of course they chose to figure out what was going on, they had skin in the game with just that rumor a player made up on the spot. This lead to communing with a rhubarb plant, encountering a xenophobic old man, curb stomping an evil druid (literally), using tree sprite battle magic, and a player sacrificing their eye for a magic implant with the accompanying surgery performed by the party’s Barbarian.
All of this stemmed from one question: “What rumors do you overhear while in this cafe?”
Give it a shot. Offload some of the creative goodies to the players. They’ll dig it, and your life just got easier. And once they catch on, they’ll be even more invested in the collaboration.