3 Alternatives to PC Drinking Contests

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1217

3 Alternatives to PC Drinking Contests

Last weekend we played session #04 of my Basilica campaign. We’re using Old School Essentials and my homebrew world of Duskfall. And this session we did a new thing called Stars & Wishes.

I got this technique from Jonathan, who wrote today’s ideas for fun in-game contests. At the end of a session, I asked each player for something they thought was great or that they enjoyed a lot during the game. Then I asked them for something they want improved or to appear in the future.

Players gave out stars to each other for great roleplaying in an encounter, handling of certain NPC events, and a combat stunt that nearly garnered a powerful magic treasure.

Wishes were on the light side. Players weren’t wanting to offend anyone. Requests included more gold, more laughs, and more NPC hijinks. I think Wishes will get more concrete once players see their Wishes come true. So that’s my quest next session: gold, entertaining encounters, and NPCs.

Overall, it was a good experience, and I’ll try this a few more times to see if Stars & Wishes will stay permanently in my GM Toolbox.

Have a great weekend!


In This issue

  • 3 Alternatives to PC Drinking Contests
  • Reader Tips of the Week
    • Short Encounter Checklist from Prismatic Wasteland
    • The Only Fantasy World Map…
    • Tips to Get Into Flow
    • What’s More Important, the Player or the Character?

What’s More Important, the Player or the Character?

Wizard of Adventure Updates

What’s new for Silver+ members?

Escape Room Template and Video Tutorial

Need to run a horror session but stuck for a plot? Or want to make a horrific 5 Room Dungeon for your campaign? Check out GM Cheat Sheet #03: Escape Room 5 Room Dungeon Generator.

Here’s a public video walkthrough of it, as well.

Basilica Design Diary Updates

Prep for my sandbox campaign goes well. Here are the latest design diary videos in the series:

05 Sharpening My Razor

06 Treasure Crawl

07 Villains, Factions & Geopolitics

08 Deity Stat Block

09 Minor Treasures Generator

View the table of contents here.

November Zoom Q&A Recording & Transcript

We crowdsourced tips on many topics last call, including favorite adventures, Open Table campaigns, session atmosphere, managing NPC stat blocks, how to improvise better, and more.

Watch the replay and get the transcript here.

Not a Wizard of Adventure member yet? See the current list of loot here. And sign up here.

3 Alternatives to PC Drinking Contests

From Jonathan Hardin, sojournersawake.com

Think Outside the Bottle

You meet in a tavern. This is a simple enough way to start up an adventure since you have established the setting. To get the dice rolling, you might start up a drinking challenge between a memorable NPC and the player characters. But some groups might have a problem with characters drinking alcohol and some might just be tired of the same old trope. So, if you are looking for a few in-game drinking contest alternatives, then follow along.

Spice It Up

Many cultures pride themselves on their peppers. A hot pepper-eating contest is sure to spice up any tavern encounter. Only the very strong will survive the burning sensation, from start to finish.

Each contestant must eat a pepper. Make rolls to withstand the heat. Affect health of the loser for the next day, and reward the winner with gold or other prizes. Perhaps it even earns an audience with an NPC who needs someone to go to hell for a quest. “Seems like you can handle your heat.”

Characters might also learn about medicinal or other special properties of local peppers from farmer NPCs. Contestants could also switch super hot peppers for a milder version to gain an unfair advantage as a fun twist.

Allow betting as the peppers and dice-test increase with the heat. Maybe it will even bring about a fight as a suffering NPC loses their temper and throws the first punch.

Creepy Crawly Catering

Bugs are not only good for squishing and developing eerie environments. They can also provide a staple in harsh environments. Maybe the locals require the player characters to prove their good will by enjoying local fare.

Set up the challenge with a random list of creepy crawlies and roll dice to see which characters stomach their lunch and which lose it along with their pride. Raise the difficulty of the test while promising bonus points if they choose to eat them raw.

  • Grubs packed with protein
  • Locusts with crunch that has a kick
  • Termites by the handful
  • Fried or raw ants
  • Scorpion: hold it here, not there
  • Earthworms that are wiggly yet nutritious

Failing the test earns disadvantage with the locals by losing lunch in front of the town and a temporary health problem.

For reward, grant out extra health for the “delicious” meal, the goodwill of NPCs, and perhaps a rank in knowledge on healthy local alternatives to rations.

That Wasn’t Chicken

Given the vast array of potential species, cultures, and creatures, the player characters could find themselves a display of food items they would not normally consume.

Vampires, goblins, and hags may not drink rotgut, but something much worse. A colony of kobolds might have harvested a large creature and challenge the player characters to a troll-eating contest. (Spoiler: it regenerates in your stomach after a day, causing terrible gas.) Have the players throw some dice to ward off poisoning while trying to blend in with the townsfolk.

Failure results in difficulty traveling for a while, or maybe the unexpected ability to regain health because this condition is much worse than eating spoiled milk or sour ale.

Success earns an ally impressed with the PCs’ vigor and tenacity.

Make sure to invite the party back for dessert!

On the House!

Adding cuisine and drink in your games is a fun way to build up the setting and give your players a chance to engage in a fictional world.

By researching various drinks and cuisines around the world and then adding a fantasy flair, we can generate memorable challenges in the local tavern to get the dice rolling.

I hope you enjoyed this list and the ideas inspire you to come up with your own recipes.

May your story continue!

Reader Tips of the Week

Tips, ideas, and inspiration from your fellow RPT GMs.

Short Encounter Checklist from Prismatic Wasteland

From Johnn

Similar to the adventure checklist from Goblin Punch in the last Roleplaying Tips Newsletter, I thought you might find this checklist for encounter building inspiring:

  1. Is the encounter something that happens to the player characters?
  2. Can the player characters ‘play’ with the encounter (i.e., is the encounter ‘toyetic’)?
  3. Are there multiple possible solutions or no solution at all?
  4. Do the player characters want something from the encounter?
  5. Does the encounter have a motive?
  6. Does the encounter have a means to accomplish its motive?
  7. Is there a consequence to ignoring the encounter?

Get explanations for each question at Prismatic Wasteland.

The Only Fantasy World Map…

If you haven’t seen this before, it’s a funny tropes map for fantasy games that went viral awhile ago. Created by EotBeholder, it has such scintillating places as the Tiny Bickering Fiefdoms, Tiger-Headed Opium Nightmare, and Poncy Knights.

Tips to Get Into Flow

RPT GM Iannis asks:

I live in France. I’ve been DMing for about 6-7 years now. I’m currently running Lost Mines of Phandelver for a new group. I’m in the middle of a big campaign called “Invincible” in a French system called Chroniques Oubliées (d20), and I just started a homebrew campaign in DnD with another group. I’m also a player in an ICRPG game by a friend of mine, and in a Call of Cthulhu Adventure.

My biggest struggle is inspiration and paralysis analysis. I also tend to be afraid of tweaking the rules and the stat blocks. I have to constantly remind myself to “let go”.

I found recently that having people next to me just minding their own business helps in that regard.

Do you have any other advice on how to get “in the flow”? Thanks a lot for your help!

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I used to be a perfectionist. This stopped me from being creative and productive.

Some things that helped me a lot:

1. Read the War of Art by Steven Pressfield. He talks about creative blocks in a variety of ways. He focuses on just getting started, but there’s also good stuff about quieting one’s inner critic, which helps flow.

2. Start with a specific outcome in mind. Many smart folks begin with a goal. But I like to go one step further and get clarity on what the goal gets me.

For example, I was delayed on campaign prep due to too many spinning plates. My goal was to finish my sandbox campaign prep. But the outcome I was really pursuing was to start gaming with my friends again. That provided additional motivation to get my butt in gear. And it helped me focus better because I was on a bigger mission.

Looking one step beyond outcomes to figure out your deepest motivation will help you focus and stick with it when it doesn’t flow immediately.

3. Tie outcomes and goals to positive emotions. This hacks our “reticular activating system“. Look around and count how many things are yellow. I’m in a coffee shop right now and see a line of gold cups, four yellow tea boxes, and a yellow coffee mug. About 15 things all told. How many did you count?

Now, without looking away from your screen, how many blue things are there?

You have no idea because your brain was focused on yellow, not blue. That’s the reticular activating system at work focusing, filtering, and deciding what sensory signals to process.

When we switch our focus to outcomes and how achieving those will make us feel, our brains will go to work for us and help us focus and overcome resistance in our specific goal. Use this power on purpose to get more of what you want.

4. Create time blocks. First, put working sessions in your calendar to carve out and protect that time. This also gives you permission to yourself to do this activity. Then prep in a room or environment conducive to focus and flow. For example, I’m in the aforementioned café right now, earbuds in, robot music with a beat driving me onward. Like you, I find such places easier to attain focus and flow.

5. Set time boxes around specific tasks. It’s an effective productivity hack to put a time limit on something. If you take that time limit seriously, your brain will push you to keep going and get the thing done, often faster because you never have enough time.

Hack this approach by chunking big work into smaller, time-limited tasks.

For example, I’m way behind on emails these days. So I have time in my calendar each morning to reply to emails for 30 minutes. I go to the cafe, sip a tasty coffee, and dig into my inbox. Once the timer dings, I stop the current email and move to my next task, which is preparing my sandbox campaign.

6. Start with something you enjoy. Just beginning a task or work will likely get you continuing and accomplishing more. But if that doesn’t work some days, at least you’ve got one thing done and you keep the momentum building. Search online for Jerry Seinfeld’s “don’t break the chain” method.

Let me know if this helps. If not, please let me know more details so I can try to provide better tips!

– Johnn

What’s More Important, the Player or the Character?

I asked this question in RPT#1208 How to Welcome the New Player.

RPT GM Lance responds:

Tough question Johnn. There are a couple mitigating factors that need to be addressed. First is the players’ ability to get into character. If the best tactician at the table plays a citified cleric who is lost in the woods, how can we explain why they always seem to choose the right action? How does the drunken burly tank remember the details of every conversation held over the last week?

So, a plot line does NOT engage the characters. They are an extension of the player and their abilities to roll play.

Engage the player and the character must follow.

Engage the character and the player just rolls the dice.

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RPT GM Mark replies:

100% the player. If the character is freaked out by spiders, but the player is not, you can all have fun freaking the character out with spiders.

If the player is freaked out by spiders, but the character is not, you should be very careful with introducing spiders into the game.

Also, killing a character is part of the game, killing a player is…murder.

More seriously, the character story is only a tiny part of the player’s life. Even in the context of the game, the player is 100% more important than the character.

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RPT GM Thomas replies:

You asked What’s more important, the player or the character?

My thoughts are a little bit of both. I think a player has to learn a character, learn their level abilities, learn their items, etc.

It’s a good reason to start a character at 0 and grow. Or having a group of players with the same level of game mechanics understanding starting together.

If a GM sees a player’s character get some skill or item, and sees the player doesn’t fully understand, it opens the door for a training opportunity.

As an example, a player finds some item in a dungeon and doesn’t fully understand. Then perhaps some usage failure and it gets pocketed.

Upon end of the dungeon, set up a learning event.

Maybe the group goes to town to lessen their load of loot. They head to the merchant to sell some stuff. They head to market, see a gypsy selling herbs, etc. and the gypsy spies a ring or some rune on the player character that needs a learning event. The gypsy calls over an older person and discusses the item. They call the character over to marvel at it. They find out it’s not understood and character refuses to sell. The elder then says, “Well, I can’t let you leave here with out fully understanding what you have. Meet us here tomorrow and I will have elder teach you.”

This sets up a one on one with player and GM to do a mini module on item training.

Of course this could be a guild visit instead of a gypsy. Or perhaps a cleric type goes to a church and the priest offers a similar item or skill training and a one on one is scheduled. It’s an open book.