Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #501
The Final 50 - Top 100 City Encounters and Plots
This Week's Tips Summarized
The Final 50 - Top 100 City Encounters and Plots
- In the Company of Gargoyles
- The Genius Guide to Air Magic
A Brief Word From Johnn
My Summer Vacation
Dear Mrs. Rice,
My summer vacation was great this year. I went to Horse
Lake, British Columbia for two weeks of camping, fishing and
visiting with family. The fishing was not so great as I only
caught four fish, and those were all caught on the last day
before my fishing license expired.
B.C. was on fire this year. So it was always smoky, at
least in the mornings till it blew away as the sun warmed
things up. That meant we could not have camp fires, which
was a bummer.
As I spent hours in the boat rocking gently on the water
with a fishing line just an afterthought, I contemplated
roleplaying games. As my holidays had their relaxing effect
on me as each day passed, and life's stresses began to seem
like another world, I realized there is more to my purpose
of publishing Roleplaying Tips than helping game masters
have fun every game.
You see, that original vision was to keep GMs excited about
their games because they were having so much fun running
them. And the best way to have fun as a GM is to game with
confidence and to always be learning. So, sending tips out
by email to those who asked to receive them seemed like a
natural way to give us all more GMing confidence and to
teach us new tricks and techniques to try each session.
Real life crashes in when you get old(er). Games are harder
to schedule. Players are more difficult to find. Work,
family, errands and chores, friends, email, TV and internet
and movies, sports and a million other things all eat away
at our schedules until there's hardly any time left to game.
For me, it means many gamers have hardly any time left to
live a balanced life. Life is pretty short and it tends to
go by faster with each year behind the screen. Life without
play is out of balance. It's broken.
Play crushes stress. It adds more energy back into our
lives. Unlike many activities, play is regenerative. It
gives back more to you than it takes. Sure a game session is
four hours and game prep is four hours, so play takes up
time. But it gives back so much more. Game sessions give you
laughs, challenges, relaxation and memories. Sessions and
planning time stretches your brain in ways you probably
never get to use otherwise. Imagining, roleplaying,
Biggest of all is creation. As a GM you create. You craft
NPCs, villages, plots, traps, treasure, encounters. Opposing
all the things that seem to suck energy out of you, gaming
replenishes the well because it's all about creating stuff.
How many of us spend time replenishing ourselves through
creativity? Gaming gives us that opportunity. Play gives us
a way to add a bit of balance back into our hectic,
attention-deprived lives. It's important. Critical.
So Mrs. Rice, on my summer vacation I came away with a new
mission for Roleplaying Tips: play more often. Who can
afford to let life slip by without having fun? And RPGs are
so enriching that we gamers must make an effort to fit this
amazing activity into our crazy schedules. We will live
longer and be happier because of it.
Have more fun at every game, and play more often.
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The House of Blue Men
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The Final 50 - Top 100 City Encounters and Plots
The final batch of my top 100 contest entries. View the
first batch at the website.
To inspire you ongoing, check out these files and tools:
Here are the final 50 entries:
- Access to the market area is blocked by a number of
burly trade apprentices and a barricade of wagons. They
advise PCs the area is off limits - they should move along.
Sounds of combat and cheering can be faintly heard coming
from behind the blockade.
- A harried man approaches the PCs. He looks as if he
hasn't slept in days. He states he has been framed for his
lover's murder by her husband, and fears he will not get a
fair trial as her husband is well connected in the
community. He begs the characters for assistance. He can
offer them nothing. Will they help him escape, or at least
represent him before the city tribunal to ensure justice is
- A character attempts to buy food from a vendor in the
market, but the merchant gets angry and refuses because the
character does not have any local currency, only foreign
- During a magical performance by a gnome mage something
goes wrong. A simple trick summons a beast from another
dimension and it attacks the audience and PCs. After a long
battle the PCs must decide what to do with the gnome. Is he
the one responsible for all that pain or is there more going
on than meets the eye?
- Reports come in about a ghost haunting a dark alley in a
city, and anyone investigating the ghost ends up dead in
that alley. Most people who live near the alley avoid it and
stay in after dark when the ghost is said to come out. The
PCs investigate, leading them to an elaborate operation in
the sewers where crooks are attempting to break into a vault
of a nearby building. They created the ghost story to keep
people away. The crooks are behind the deaths of those who
investigate the alley.
- A young girl wants the party to find her doll. The girl
is the daughter of a mage, and the doll is a miniature
- A small insect continuously buzzes the PCs' ears. The
insect, if listened to closely, can be heard giving
warnings, secrets or other vital information to the PCs'
quest. The insect can be an NPC transformed or simply an
intelligent being in disguise.
- A landlord is convinced one of his tenants is actually a
dragon disguised as a human. He wants the tenant out but is
afraid to evict them himself. He asks the PCs to evict the
tenant without causing damage to the building.
- A half-orc sells kittens by the roadside. Do the PCs
- One of the PCs is able to outperform a local performer.
This shames the celebrity, who now hates the PC and tries to
save their own reputation while bringing down the PC.
- A famous adventurer was found dead outside the main gate
and his body laid to rest in one of the temples. What's he
doing walking into the tavern? And why is he coming toward
- Goods are going missing from stores in broad daylight.
Owners have gaps in their memories, and if pressed, can be
made to vaguely remember a kindly soul offering to help hide
their more valuable items from thieves.
- The Scaly Schooner on the Fisherman's Wharf explodes as
the PCs pass by. Amongst the screams and fire, a badly
burnt, wild-eyed man in scorched pirate's garb stumbles over
to the PCs and hands them an enormous red ruby. "It's not
the last one, but don't seek the treasure!" he hisses at the
PCs before collapsing at their feet.
- A child is crying in a dark alley. If PCs decide to help
the child, it attacks them, blood covering its face and
black eyes. Will the PCs kill a young and innocent child?
- A merchant is whipping a talking mule who is desperately
trying to explain that the load the merchant wants it to
carry is too heavy. The merchant is too furious with the
mule to listen, and the mule is stubbornly refusing to obey,
which only makes the merchant angrier. The load may or may
not be too heavy, but the beating is severe and getting
worse. The mule appeals to the gathered crowd, watching and
mostly silent, for help.
- A young man, who is obviously not an adventurer, claims
he has a map showing the location of the cache of an
adventuring group that went missing. He offers to sell the
map to the PCs.
- A chatty bard walks alongside the party repeating random
bits of conversation.
- The characters pass a storyteller who seems to be
describing the party's current adventure. The names have
been changed, and the storyteller claims it is just a story,
but is it? Does the story contain a clue that the party
needs, but perhaps overlooked, or is the clue a red herring?
- A rival's henchman who was defeated by the PCs is now
being made to fight every night in the pits as a punishment
for failing his master. Do the characters rescue him from
certain death, or enjoy a night at the games betting on how
long he lasts?
- The Overlord challenges everyone to recover decorative
tiles that bear parts of a message. It concerns a future
quest to a neighbouring town's temple. The party runs afoul
of a competing party of searchers.
- A group of young nobles are racing horses through the
streets and nearly ride down the characters. The nobles are
arrogant, rude and more than slightly drunk. How the party
handles this situation will determine how well they are
received by the various factions in that city.
- A bride and groom ride down the street in a horse drawn
carriage. The horses suddenly rear up and the cart threatens
to topple. A terrified goblin tries to dodge flailing
hooves. Do the PCs go to the cart, horses or goblin?
- A drought wreaks havoc in town. The PCs are asked by a
medicine man to help locate water using his tools. Once the
water is found bad guys show up to break the water supply or
steal the tools.
- An apocalyptic street preacher has been predicting the
weather and minor events with unerring accuracy. As the PCs
pass by one day, they hear him predict an important person's
- A flock of chickens peck at the street. Upon
investigation, it seems they are eating small gems.
- A round-faced boy is looking for his pet frog, Trevor.
The PCs hear a croaking noise coming from a building where
several thugs lounge out front.
- A plague of rats has befallen the best bakery in town. A
fat and greedy wererat can't resist nightly visits in rat
form to gorge himself on the delicious treats. He has so far
killed every cat and dog used to try and stop the monster
- A troupe of well-armed adventurers pass by chatting
about returning to the secret location for the rest of the
- A guard officer has lost his badge of office and must
find it before the end of his shift. One of the PCs spots an
orphan beggar handing it discreetly to another beggar
through a window of a nearby building.
- A small child asks one of the party if that is a real
[weapon/item] they have hidden on them.
- A shady character approaches the party and offers a
deal: he will trade news for news. If the party agrees, they
will tell a piece of information for a piece of information
in return. If the party tells the complete truth, the
information they receive in return will be the complete
truth, but if they lie, so does the info merchant. The more
the party shares, the more they stand to gain.
- A random party member is stung by a bee. They spot a
strange man sitting on a step nearby, tracing the air with
his finger, muttering to himself. Suddenly, he jabs a finger
in the air, and then another PC gets stung.
- A sewer worker is found after being lost for several
days and claims he saw a lizard man leading a monster on a
leash through the sewers. The monster touched his lantern
and it crumbled to dust. The lizard man left him to find his
way out of the sewers, blind.
- Dogs chasing each other run by. One of them gets vicious
and a wounded dog turns on the next weakest thing it spots,
be it a PC, a homeless man, a wife bringing home baking,
- A dead author haunts a secondhand bookstore, vigorously
defending the last remaining copy of his only published work
- "Sentimental Songs for a Soporific Summer" from Vanity
Press. The bookstore owner would like his store back. He'd
also like to know how the book got into his store, as he
doesn't remember acquiring the infamously bad poetry book.
- A disheveled beggar follows the PCs through the streets
of the city. He hounds the PCs until he gets a coin or a
boot to the backside. How the PCs react will affect a later
mission, as the beggar is royalty in disguise.
- A druid is speeding up the growth of several trees,
seeking to use their roots to subtly destroy certain
buildings. Unfortunately for him, the PCs notice what he's
doing, and he has no choice but to attempt to silence them.
- A foreign diplomat has been kidnapped, polymorphed into
an goblin, and dumped in a rough part of town, outside the
inn where the PCs are staying.
- A furious hill giant materialises in the town square.
Can the heroes calm it or get it out of town with a minimum
damage to life and property, or must they fight it? How did
it get here in the first place?
- The PCs are contracted by the neighbourhood leader to
get rid of a werewolf and her minions who are terrorizing
the locals. During the battle, the werewolf makes the group
an offer: the gift of lycanthropy and the knowledge to use
it, as well as the spoils from the town if they will join
her. Leave the decision for the group to make as individuals
and a group, as some may join and some may not. Do the
members who join kill those that don't? Ah, the
- A group of town guards confronts the party demanding
they present their belongings for search. The guards are
responding to the claims of a poor peasant that the PCs have
robbed him of his mother's silver comb. In truth, the
peasant is part of the thieves' guild and is hoping when the
guards search these travelers belongings he will spot riches
for him and his friends to steal later that day.
- A minstrel wanders, singing a ribald song about one of
the PCs and the wife of the Sheriff. Innocent fun, or is
someone trying to get the PC?
- A jail breakout disrupts the PCs' downtime in town. As
the newly freed prisoners riot through the streets, the PCs
come face to face with the villain they helped lock up some
time ago. He's got himself quite a following since being
- A pretty herald tries to get the party to join them in
an inn tonight. When the party arrives, the inn is packed
with patrons that, in the end, don't turn out to be patrons,
but some shape-changing monsters preying on the party.
- A well-behaved dog starts following the PCs around town.
It can execute all sorts of complex tricks, and will follow
the party even if they try to get it to leave (if only at a
distance). Before long, the PCs are confronted by the dog's
owner and the town guard and accused of dog-napping.
- A young girl struggles to carry two heavy buckets of
water through the marketplace, despite being tormented by a
pair of small monkeys who seem to be flinging pebbles at
her. Off to the side, a pair of drunk gentlemen are placing
wagers on whether or not she will drop the buckets before
getting them back to her market stall.
- A young noble asks the PCs to take him on adventures.
Even if the PCs refuse, he will try and follow. He is
incompetent and a danger to himself and others, but his
family is powerful, so it might not be a bad idea to let him
- The group stumbles across a halfling running a 3 Card
Gnoll game in front of a tavern. PCs notice he is cheating
and has racked up quite a sum against unsuspecting town
folk. They also notice another suspicious character eying
the halfling's ill-gotten gains.
- The gambler PC hears of a racket with a race, where all
the participants are being drugged slightly to give the edge
to a low-placed racer. The bets are paid 1 to 20. It is,
however, a false story spread by a bad bookmaker to cover
bets against a star racer.
- To become a full-fledged member of the thieves' guild,
a novice thief must steal something noteworthy from someone
dangerous to earn the respect of the other members. What if
she targets the PCs for this task, not out of greed but out
of admiration for their skills?
Ok, I lied. Here are six more I wanna squeeze into my top
- 101. In the midst of a city, trees and plants have begun to
sprout spontaneously, taking over streets, plazas, and even
whole buildings. A radical druid group is attempting to
reclaim the urban environment for their nature religion.
- The PCs hear about heroes well known and loved in the
area. The next day, the heroes happen to show up. Young
women go crazy, older ones ask the heroes to bless their
babies, the sick and weak reach out to touch them for
blessings. When people ask the heroes their most recent
achievement, they pretend to be responsible for the latest
heroic act the PCs did.
- The adventurers are hired by a noble house to rid the
Orc Quarter of a magical weapons smuggling ring. Another
party has the same goal, but different masters: intelligent
ghoul thieves who want a bigger piece of the action.
- The characters recognize the mayor's daughter climbing
out of a disreputable two-story building.
- A group of goblins, fresh from their foray from the
sewers beneath an alchemist's shop, climb out of the sewer
grate and then begin throwing alchemist fire on many of the
surrounding buildings and then commence breaking into store-
fronts and stealing. Do the PCs fight the fires or stop the
goblin looting problem?
- A group of kids plays on a gallows. One has put a rope
around his neck, pantomiming being strangled, and it looks
like another is sneaking up to kick him into the hole.
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Treat Combat As Skill Challenges, And Challenges As Combats
By Da' Vane www.dvoidsystems.com
Especially in D&D, combat is often treated as special and
different from the rest of game systems. Sure, combat is
exciting, and most of the final conflicts and climactic
battles involve a good bout of combat. It's a gaming staple,
but too much of a good thing can render it bland and
There are numerous articles on how to shake up your combats
with new themes, special effects, and so forth, but after
all that, it is still combat. So why not take a change of
pace and step back from that for a bit?
Just because it's narratively defined as combat, doesn't
mean you can't treat it as something more appropriate to the
pace of the adventure.
Skill challenges are often simpler than combat, designed to
provide a break from the intense simulation and number
crunching required by combat in most systems. If the combat
is a minor or random encounter, which is designed more to
add flavour to the setting and story than pose a real kick-
ass challenge to the PCs, you could always set it up as a
skill challenge instead.
This is useful if the PCs are in a situation where they come
across a lot of lower level enemies, such as trying to reach
the commander of an opposing army besieging the city. You
could even combine skill checks with the start of combat,
using the results of the skill check to determine how many
minions remain when the PCs finally confront the boss in
You could even have PCs make such minion skill checks during
an encounter to give them an opportunity to spend their turn
fighting a new wave of minions to see who actually makes it
through as reinforcements for the boss. Give them a choice
in this case: a turn of normal combat to deal with existing
combatants or a skill check to take out incoming
reinforcements in a cinematic way. This has the added
benefit of reducing the setup needed to record them.
We can also do the opposite, particularly if we want to
focus on another area of the system. It might take a bit of
preparation on the GM's part, but entire areas neglected by
existing systems can be tweaked to get the same focus as
A major part of this stems from the importance that such
actions have in the story, and your entire group should be
working together on this. Maybe defeating a villain isn't
the climax of the adventure, but extracting information from
This would normally be a simple skill challenge, but could
be expanded to become as complex and climactic as combat
itself - but this time, it's not a contest of might and
magic, but one of will and trickery.
The Spycraft system from Crafty Games has a number of
sophisticated systems for scenes like chases, hacking,
interrogation, infiltration, and seduction, as befits the
espionage theme of the game. Their Fantasycraft line brings
the system into the fantasy world, so you can incorporate
elements for your own games. Using divination magic isn't
all that different from Hacking, for example, and their
chase scene mechanics works for horses and dragons as well
as cars and helicopters.
But there's no need to stop there. The above systems involve
some form of direct conflict used to develop the detailed
system. But indirect conflict also works to be climactic if
given enough narrative and system impetus.
You could turn a trap-laden room into a virtual gauntlet,
with each trap as a semi-mobile creature with its own
special abilities and effects. Obstacles and features work
for these situations like any other combat, to add an extra
twist if desired.
External events and forces could also be treated like
creatures in the same way. A fire or rock slide might slowly
consume the area like a huge gigantic ooze; bolts of
lighting could randomly strike squares like tiny sprites,
charging the area and causing damage to those nearby for a
short time; swamp gas could float about like air elementals.
I'll finish this article with another possibility that works
for both creature and non-creature combat encounters - why
not give the PCs some additional objectives in there?
Most traditional combat simply has the goal of either defeat
the enemies or survive. These objectives still work with
non-creature combat encounters, except that defeating the
non-creatures typically means destroying or bypassing them
But why not be a tad more specific, especially for climactic
encounters, and provide the PCs with more options in such
situations? Maybe they need to deactivate the security grid
for the base, steal copies of the villain's next plans, or
get a prisoner to safety as part of the combat as well.
You could even make some of these optional or hidden
objectives - if the PCs get the chance to check the
warlord's desk during the combat, they could discover what
his next target is, or look to see what other places have
been struck. Some of this information could be gleaned after
such an encounter, but you could always throw the PCs a
curve ball now and then by booby trapping the location or
otherwise setting a time limit for success.
Diffusing a nuclear bomb on the side of a dormant volcano
above a village of the island governor where the world's
supply of a recently discovered important resource becomes
all the more important when it's set to a time limit, and
the PCs need to deal with inclement weather and harsh
You still need to throw some native tribal warriors to
harass the PCs too? Didn't think so - if they fail,
surviving the blast, outrunning the lava, and evacuating the
civilians should keep them more than busy!
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Review by Ian Gray
In the Company of Gargoyles introduces for the Pathfinder
RPG a 20-level racial class for Gargoyles. You too can be a
winged reptilian being made of stone.
When all is said and done I can sum up this supplement in
one word: niche.
If you loved the D&D 3.5 Savage Species supplement and are
in a campaign that allows players to be a creature you would
normally be slaying at early- to mid-levels then this is for
you; otherwise, you would be best served to move along.
The class itself suffers all the mechanical, balance and
roleplay issues that are found in racial classes - an idea I
am, admittedly, not a proponent of.
Having said that, the racial background fluff is interesting
and good enough for a GM to steal. Forget the mechanics and
drop the ideas into your fantasy campaign to make an
interesting monster race to encounter or be involved with.
Maybe use the fluff for a modern day Gargoyles cartoon
series great for younger players!
The feats supplied are generic flying beasty feats, which is
good, because they can sometimes be hard to find. These can
be borrowed and attached to any other flying critter. The
spells are generic stone-related spells useable for druids,
wizards and sorcerers; nothing to write home about but still
Each level starts to lose its ability keep up with other
classes in terms of power from about 12th level, and this
problem continues to worsen as you climb to higher levels.
The good news is that this is somewhat offset by a good
array of sensory and non-combat abilities, some of which are
unfortunately tied to a specific location.
Like all niche supplements, it's a great and highly useful
tool for the specific group of players it's aimed at, and
for the rest of the player community at large it is of no
use whatsoever. Its greatest value outside that small niche
is to GMs, who will just about find enough meat within to
justify the purchase.
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Review by Ian Gray
The Genius Guide to Air Magic is a supplement for the
Pathfinder RPG that - as the name suggests - attempts to
focus on air magic.
Unfortunately, it falls far short of its potential. The
spells within this volume are all cliched, barely scratching
the surface in terms of the subject, and presenting nothing
that comes close to pushing the envelope of what has been
presented previously with similar magics.
Probably the single most disappointing part of this
supplement are the feats. I refuse to call it a feat section
as only two feats are presented. Though there is nothing
wrong with the two feats presented (which are fairly
average), so much more could have been done with even a
moderately greater effort.
Completely missing are any air based magic items. Again,
ideas in this category would have been fairly simple to come
up with. At least with this so called guide to air magic, a
DM does not have to worry about anything adversely affecting
game balance as there is nothing approaching overpowered or
Fair being fair, this volume is not a complete loss; the
class section has some good ideas, though unfortunately
these are not quite enough to stop this volume from being a
failure. The class section has simple ideas that fit in
well: an air bloodline for Sorcerers, Air specialist for
Wizards, an air focused Druid, as well as the idea I liked
most in this book: an air-oriented monk. Visually, that
combination offers some great possibilities ("Avatar, The
Last Airbender" anyone?)
Overall, the Genius Guide to Air Magic is completely
overshadowed by what it does not contain, and is sadly a
half hearted and uncreative effort in something that might
have been comprehensive and inspiring.
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New GM Advice @ CampaignMastery.com
Read the blog of Johnn Four and Mike Bourke that discusses
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