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Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #74

7 More Ways You Can Make Travel Interesting Or Important



Contents:
This Week's Tips Summarized

7 More Ways You Can Make Travel Interesting Or Important

  1. Provide Great Descriptions
  2. Bring Back Loose Ends
  3. Create Interesting Maps As Player Hand-Outs
  4. Use Travel To Relieve Tension
  5. Use Travel Time For Roleplaying
  6. Use Travel For Character Development
  7. Chat With Your Group Before Using Random Encounters
Readers' Tips Summarized

  1. Use A Character Questionnaire To Develop NPCs
  2. Ask Why and How
  3. Character Development Task Examples
  4. Choose Default Spells To Speed Play & Prevent Arguments

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A Brief Word From Johnn

You're Right, Playing Is Great For A Fresh Perspective
Several of you have written in and agreed with a past Reader's Tip of handing over the GM's chair and playing for a change. I had the fortunate opportunity to do that last night and it was a lot of fun.

The change of perspective was quite refreshing and inspirational too. My head is now full of ideas and ways that I can improve my own GMing by watching what the other GM did well.

I recommend switching roles if you ever get the chance.

Gamefully yours,

Johnn Four johnn@roleplayingtips.com

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7 More Ways You Can Make Travel Interesting Or Important

[See Issue #71 for more Travel Tips]

  1. Provide Great Descriptions

    The easiest way to make travel interesting is to provide the players with vivid, colourful mental images of what their characters see and experience on their journey. Even if you want to make the trip brief so you can move on with the story, a couple of minutes spent on description prevents it from becoming just another boring walk, ride or drive.

    The best description I ever gave during travel was of a swamp in the D&D module, Village of Homlet. The party was traveling at night, so I dimmed the lights, lit a couple of candles and put on some ambient background music. I had the players sit back in their seats and asked them to close their eyes and relax. Then, I tried to picture a swamp in my mind as best I could and described what I envisioned. I used sight, hearing and smell during the description and tried to tell things from the PCs' point of view rather than from an aerial or god viewpoint.

    The description took a few minutes and set the scene very well for the giant killer frogs that surprised the characters because they were too busy noticing the swamp, LOL.

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  2. Bring Back Loose Ends

    Do you have any loose ends in your campaign or story? Unsolved mysteries, bad guys that got away, NPCs that disappeared, explanations for things not yet understood?

    If so, spice up your travel by bringing back these loose ends in some way, shape or form. You can choose to tie up the loose end, provide another clue about it, or just remind the PCs that the loose end is still out there, waiting to be resolved.

    For example, while traveling, the characters enter a village where a minor enemy of the PCs is hiding out and gathering strength after a disastrous encounter with them many months ago. The enemy sees the PCs before they spot him and he flees into the wilderness until they leave. However, the enemy has left signs of his presence throughout the village and the PCs learn that he has been staying there.

    This turn of events will definitely intrigue them, and it will make the whole trip memorable for the players and their characters.

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  3. Create Interesting Maps As Player Hand-Outs

    If the area the PCs are traveling in is unfamiliar to them, they might try to get a map to help them navigate through it. You can use this as an opportunity to make travel more interesting by having an interesting map ready as a player handout.

    Players love hand-outs and props, and you can do a lot of neat things with maps. Bill C. gives us a few great examples:
    "I used to have people traveling all over the map and wanted to spice it up in between. What I started doing was handing out maps with interesting sounding names, pictures, obscure runes and other built-in adventure leads. I even hid the name of an ancient important historical figure written in black runes inside of a dark green colored forest on the map. Players would start finding these things and detouring.

    Once or twice I even gave out false maps designed to lead the PCs to the wrong places where trouble was waiting to find them. After the direction was chosen, I would write up what was at the end, if I didn't already know. This meant that they were much more likely to go looking around in detail every time they traveled."

    Some mapping tips can be found here: http://www.roleplayingtips.com/issue60.asp

    What do you think of the idea of a Tips issue about the different types of clues you can put into maps? Bill gave us a great start, and I bet there's more clue ideas out there. If you have any tips, ideas or suggestions on the kinds of clues you can put in wilderness, city, space or other kinds of maps (or how you can add them in, disguise them, etc.) please write in: johnn@roleplayingtips.com

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  4. Use Travel To Relieve Tension

    Many travel trips take place after the climax of the story, "the journey back". There's usually a lot of built up tension at this point in the game, having been only somewhat relieved by the climax resolution. In these cases, travel might be a good way to relieve all tension, renew the players' energy and get ready for the next adventure.

    You could have:
    • The PCs meet some comical NPC travellers
    • A funny event occur
    • A warm and friendly village stop-over
    • An easy and fun victory by way of a minor encounter
    • A beautiful, natural wonder along with a relaxing description

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  5. Use Travel Time For Roleplaying

    Travel might be an excellent opportunity for your players to roleplay in-character. Encourage them to start chatting and let them go until a natural pause in the conversation occurs, at which point you can introduce your next planned encounter, or announce that the journey is over. If the discussion is taking a long time (which is perfectly ok, though dependant on the meta-game situation, such as time remaining in the session) then you can interject every once in awhile with a status report to help the players feel like they are on a journey:

    "The road narrows to a well-worn path."

    <5 minutes real-time pass, PCs are deep in discussion>

    "You pass many farms and then the path eventually ends. You're in the open country now."

    <5 minutes real-time pass, PCs are deep in discussion>

    "You make camp and wake up to a cloudless, beautiful day."

    <5 minutes real-time pass, PCs are deep in discussion>

    "The Black Forest is up ahead and you find a game trail that takes you safely through the edge of it."

    <5 minutes real-time pass, PCs are deep in discussion>

    "The sun will be setting in a hour. You have left the dark forest and make camp"

    And so on. Though the characters wouldn't actually be deep in discussion the whole time, your brief updates help create the illusion of travel and a more satisfying experience for your players. Also, some conscientious players worry about getting on with the game rather than spending a long time in in-character conversations, and your updates will help them feel the game is progressing while they talk.

    Another aspect of this tip is to use travel to work out party differences. Use an NPC, if possible, to start a conversation about a sensitive issue between the characters. Perhaps some PCs are upset about one of their fellow party members torturing a prisoner for information. Let the players and their characters work things out through roleplaying. And travel is a great time to do this because there's no pressure on the PCs to react or do anything-- they're traveling, that's it.

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  6. Use Travel For Character Development

    While character development will certainly take place in tip #4, you can use travel in other ways to help the players change and grow their PCs.

    For example, Amir P. sent in this snippet:
    "...you can deal with a character's aquaphobia by presenting them a lake to cross..."

    Another example would be asking a thought provoking question, GM to players, for the players to answer (preferably in-character). For example, "what do you want your life to be like in five years?" You can explain that this conversation sprang up during the journey to kill the time.

    I use a version of this technique called "Campfire Chats". We make a game out of it by me asking a question and having the players try to guess each others' answers. It's fun, takes about 15 minutes, develops the characters and gives me a few minutes' break to plan or whatever while the players chat in-character about the question and their responses.

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  7. Chat With Your Group Before Using Random Encounters

    You might be tempted to throw in some random encounters during travel. For example, I often try to impress on my players the fact that the game world is a dangerous place. But, if the PCs travel to and fro without incident again and again, they will definitely not feel that the wilderness is perilous to the unwary. So, I throw in lots of beasts and monster encounters whenever the party wanders off the beaten track.

    However, I know that my players enjoy these kinds of encounters in my current D&D campaign, so there are no problems--but your players may strongly dislike this type of play. Have a discussion by email, or before the session, and ask them how they feel about random encounters.

    During my random encounters, I try to throw in some clues, or a world development, PC development or NPC development type of thing and then chalk it up to good fortune and coincidence on the heroes' part. This might ruin the mood of your game though, or wreck certain players' sense of disbelief, so please do discuss this meta-gaming issue with your group beforehand.

    Random encounters often go hand-in-hand with travel, but they might not be everyone's cup of tea.

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Tips Request For Issue #75: "Plot Twists" & "Travel Encounter Ideas"

What are some examples of how you've twisted a plot or story, either in a planned way or on the spur of the moment? Send your campaign stories in and I'll try to post them as examples of twists for other GMs to use in their own games.

Travel Encounter Examples Needed
Would a list of travel encounter examples be useful to you? You could print it out for idea generation when planning, or you could perhaps stick the list in your GM binder for inspiration during play.

If you have any travel encounter ideas, please send them on in!

Examples:
  1. Bandits
  2. Wild animal(s)
  3. Gypsies
  4. ...

Also, genre-specific encounters are welcome too. Space, modern day, etc. I'll post the lists separately so GMs of different games can easily grab the encounter list they need.

Thanks!

Send your plot twist stories and travel encounters to: johnn@roleplayingtips.com

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Readers' Tips Of The Week:

  1. Use A Character Questionnaire To Develop NPCs
    From: Jens

    [Johnn: Issues #67 & #68 were all about character questionnaires, and there was a free 300+ question character questionnaire available for download (it still is). In response, Jens sent in this follow-up tip.]

    Hi Johnn,

    I just finished setting up a questionnaire for my upcoming campaign and ran one of the main villains through it. That proved to be a very good idea. Just as the questionnaire can provide new depth to PCs it can be used to polish up NPCs as well!

    Furthermore it's an excellent test to see if you've got a well-defined personality for the NPC.



  2. Ask Why and How
    From: Alex J.

    First off, I want to say how much I enjoy this mailing list. I read your tips every week, and never once have they failed to help my game (my players constantly wonder how I make so many improvements to my GM style). Considering that I have been GMing less than two months, and roleplaying less than six, you have been very helpful.

    Now on to my own advice. I got into GMing through my other favorite fantasy activity: writing. In writing, the two most important words are "why?" and "how?" Always ask these words when writing an adventure.

    Don't just have the barkeep send two thugs to ambush the PCs in the alley, ask why he only sends two, or why those two, and so on.

    Don't just have the prince assemble an army to intercept the goblin invasion, ask why and how. Why doesn't he have a standing army? Because the taxes won't support it. Why don't the taxes support the army? Because he needs the approval of the assembly or lords to levy such taxes. How is he able to pay for this army, then? And so forth.

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  3. Character Development Task Examples
    From: Dan H.

    [Johnn: Dan has a great system for getting his players involved in his campaign and then rewarding them for it. Do other GMs do anything similar?]

    Johnn,

    I sent you some tasks before, but now they've grown somewhat, so I thought I'd send them your way again.

    Shamelessly cut and pasted from my website....

    Character background
    Create a convincing character background and email it to me. You will receive 1 experience point for every two words written (that's every two words which make sense and are not judged by me to be padding - so no typing "haddock" 700 times) up to a maximum of 350 points.

    Character Picture
    Draw a picture of your character using whatever medium you want.

    There will be an experience points bonus of 250 points, plus and additional 100 points for extra effort (maybe a written description too, or a number of pictures from different angles, or whatever)

    Create an NPC
    Create a detailed description of somebody your character has very strong feelings about. Perhaps an enemy, a long lost love, a family member, etc. NPC's already encountered in the game are not allowed. Come on, do my job for me!

    As usual there will be a reward of 1 experience point for every two words written., but this time there will be a bonus of 50 experience points just for bothering to submit something. So a base of 50 exp, plus 1 for each two words you write. Bargain!

    Map
    Create a map of your home country. Include details like names of towns, major rivers and mountains. Landmarks of interest, any local history. Outline how the country is run - is it a democracy, monarchy? Do as much detail as you want but be aware that a future challenge is likely to be to plan the country's capital.

    There will be a base exp reward of 150 points, and another bonus up to an additional 250 points for added detail.

    Party Relationships
    Write a paragraph or two on what your character feels about each of the other individuals in the group. So for example Brother Arlon should talk about Daro, Ralin, and William: what he likes and dislikes about them, what events coloured his perception of them, does he trust them? and any other relevant issues you wish to disclose.

    The reward for this challenge will be an experience bonus of 1 point for every two words written, you lucky people you.

    Questionnaire
    Complete a questionnaire on behalf of your character. Give as short/long answers as you wish. The base experience point award will be 150pts, there will also be bonuses available to the value of 200pts for imaginative, amusing, and particularly insightful answers.
    1. Who is the most important person in your life?
    2. Where do you want to be in 20 years time?
    3. What are you most scared of?
    4. What makes you happy?
    5. What is your idea of a good evening's entertainment?
    6. If you were not an adventurer, what would you be?
    7. What item could you not live without?
    8. When was the last time you cried?
    9. Do you want to have children?
    10. If you were an animal, what would you be?
    11. What is your favourite bard song?
    12. Do you prefer the town or the country? Why?
    13. What was the last thing that made you laugh?
    14. If made to decide, would you rather be deaf or blind? Why?
    15. What is the worst thing you've ever done?
    16. If you had to describe yourself in five adjectives, what would they be?
    17. How do you want to die?
    18. What is the worst thing someone has done to you?
    19. Who do you admire?
    20. How much is a pint of mead?

    Recent History
    Each player is to write about their character's thoughts about the last two months. You should describe their feelings of the current situation and what positive and negative things they feel have happened to them. Maybe you would like to comment on how your character feels about being whisked off to a far off land?

    Players who haven't attended many of the sessions can write about whatever they think has happened in recent history - i.e. Ralins trip to Dragons Gape and Alius' time in Dos Delnock.

    There will be an exp bonus of 50 points just for attempting it, and 1 point per two words written to a maximum of 400 points.

    Write a Journal entry
    It can be as descriptive and lengthy or as short and to the point as you wish, just make it in character. You can write it for any session you wish, it doesn't have to be the most recent. In fact it would perhaps be better if we could co- ordinate it so that we don't have three entries saying virtually the same thing (four if you count Randolf Fine!)

    There is an initial 250 point bonus, plus 100 points for extra effort available for this challenge. Plus, if you wish to continue with your journal there will be a 150 point bonus for each reasonably length entry.

    As usual, all challenges are purely optional.

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  4. Choose Default Spells To Speed Play & Prevent Arguments
    From: Matthew G.

    I've found that, as a player with absolutely no memory whatsoever, I always seem to remember to choose spells for an adventure about five minutes from the end of the session. You could say it's the DM's responsibility to remind me before the session, but in our particular game the DM is often more busy trying to locate the players. So, after messing around with a Sorcerer character the other day, I came up with the rather simple idea of choosing default spells for all of my characters.

    This actually has a couple of nice side benefits. First off, from a character standpoint, it makes sense for a person to have a set of spells they use on a regular basis, kind of like a specialization. Second, it prevents a forgetful player from saying 'I want this plot critical spell' if they end up choosing spells in the middle of a session. And third, it prevents other players from having to sit around in the middle of a fight while you look through the rulebook to pick spells.

    [Johnn: this is a great tip for D&Ders and gamers of spell or powers-based rules systems. I make default lists for my characters when I play for different situations: dungeon, wilderness, urban.

    I have also started creating default lists for NPC mages, especially for town and city NPCs. I feel that most people with magic powers would choose spells to make day-to-day living easier, with perhaps, a couple of offensive or defensive spells just in case, rather than loading up on fireballs and lightning bolts.

    I don't know about you, but if I had a choice of magically keeping myself pleasantly warm no matter the actual temperature, being able to conjure a sumptuous feast, and summoning a magical servant to do my bidding, I'd choose those powers over death and destruction any day. :) ]

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