A Mad Lib For Your Devil’s Bargains

This is Part III of a series on How to Make Encounters Fun. Read Part I, Part II, and Part IV here.

On Tuesday I shared a favourite GM tool that gives us a few boons:

  • Dishes out diabolical choices that never fail to engage players
  • Creates clever hooks players can’t resist
  • Advances character arcs, side plots, and personal quests

This tool is The Devil’s Bargain, and you can read Tuesday’s article about it here.

Now, there are a couple of approaches we can take with this tool. I’ll demonstrate by sharing a great email I received yesterday from Platinum Wizard of Adventure Gustavo:

I’m not sure if I told you this story before.

In one adventure they were letting a big devil return to his plane, so he offered the guards on the other side as part of the deal, “if the party thought they could handle them”. The big devil entered and then started throwing smaller devils out of the portal before destroying the portal (part of the deal).

We started the combat and the players were against a small main devil and 4 flying imp-like devils as support that were behind the characters.

So, my devil bargain was simple. “I’ll allow you to hit the main devil even with that dice throw, if you accept an attack from the imps behind you.” And they accepted it.

They were soooo close to dying, it was an awesome battle. And it taught me a lesson. You don’t always have to offer something material, only what players need or want. And you don’t always have to require something bad, if you can induce resource depletion.

They defeated the main devil, and then had some tense moments as they fought the 4 smaller and less harmful devils with almost no HP left on their PCs….

Excellent! Gain a hit against a tougher foe in exchange for suffering an attack from behind by minor foes. This is a great example of a Devil’s Bargain making things spicy for the party.

And it demonstrates the first approach: encounter-level bargains. These have an immediate payoff and cost. They offer a boon that players must weigh against suffering a drawback.

We can use Encounter Bargains in many ways, such as:

  • Spruce up boring situations
  • Taunt the party and goad them into taking a risk
  • Offer a way to get out of a tough situation

The second approach looks longer term, and I think of it as Plot Bargains. While Encounter Bargains finish in a single round or by end of encounter, Plot Bargains have far-reaching effects for a PC or even the whole party.

I just created a Devil’s Bargain generator for Campaign Logger today. It gives you five different kinds of Devil’s Bargains:

  1. Encounter Bargain
  2. Plot Bargain
  3. Encounter Social Dilemma
  4. Plot Social Dilemma
  5. Moral Quandary

To build this generator, I created a Mad Lib for each. Here is the Mad Lib for Encounter Bargains that you can use in your game right away:

If [Character] chooses [Encounter Action], they will get [Encounter Benefit], but it will come with the cost of [Encounter Consequence], affecting [Group/NPC/Thing].

And here’s an example Encounter Bargain generated from Campaign Logger, tweaked to my campaign:

If Roghan chooses to dive for the potion the dogman just fumbled and dropped, he can easily grab it, but he will become prone, giving his foes a bonus to hit him on their next turn.

When you want to spruce up an encounter, quicken the pace, or otherwise enhance gameplay, this generator can offer you some fun ideas.

This Mad Lib also works for Plot Bargains. Use these during prep to help you for things like:

  • Advancing a plotline
  • Dropping a plot point into an encounter
  • Triggering a new encounter
  • Triggering a 5 Room Dungeon
  • Hooking the party to a plot of your choosing

Here’s a Plot Bargain example from the generator:

If the party chooses to poison a city’s water supply, they will earn the loyalty of a mythical beast, but it will come with the cost of attracting the attention of a malevolent ghost, affecting [Group/NPC/Thing].

Wow, that’s evil! But players tend to rationalize such actions. “The cleric will cure everyone,” or “We’ll only pretend to do it and trick the beast.” Let the interesting gameplay ensue.

So, if you get stuck trying to think up Devil’s Bargains, try out the Mad Lib above and let me know how it goes.

Gold and Platinum Wizards of Adventure, we’ll be adding the Devil’s Bargain Generator to your Campaign Logger account in the next week or so.

And, dear reader, if you are not a Gold or Platinum Wizard of Adventure yet, and would like the Devil’s Bargain Generator to use in all your campaigns and games, here’s the link to sign up.

It’s less than a cup of coffee every month, you get some awesome GMing loot, and you’ll be supporting Roleplaying Tips. Thank you!

Have more fun at every game!

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