Celebrate Your Encounter Locations This Way
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1069
Make your locations memorable. And incorporate the story.
Do those two things to make encounters even better.
Features => Twist => Secret
Let’s see what to do for each part:
Figure Out The Special Features
First, give your location a Purpose.
Sometimes the game role for the location differs from the Purpose. This is what we want!
For example, a building was created to manufacture clothing. That’s its Purpose. The encounter inside triggered by the PCs involves a demon summoning ritual and violent cult members.
The gap there between Purpose and game role or use makes such a place more entertaining….
…Because our next step is to think about what makes the Purpose give the location unique features.
What goes on inside the location? What kind of work, living, or other activity was it built for or modified to suit?
These special things I think of as Features.
What cool features can we add based on its origin and current apparent use?
Aim for 3-5 for a single location.
When thinking Features up, look for opportunities of danger, mystery, and reward. One of each is ideal.
We also want to morph Features for effect to the limit your campaign tone allows.
Morph by making a Feature bigger, smaller, faster, tougher, deadlier, slower, trapped, based on the Feature’s function.
Let’s do an example.
A Clothing Factory
(In a fantasy game with sword & sorcery vibe)
- Spindles of wool and cotton
- Assembly tables
- Sewing machines
- Cloth cutters
Five features. That alone helps make your location memorable. Players will better imagine the scenes in their minds. And clever players and GMs will leverage Features for advantage.
Then we morph. We change the Feature then add three qualities that could make our encounter more interactive, dangerous, or intriguing:
- Giant spindles of wool and cotton (heavy, flammable, entangling)
- Rickety assembly tables (throwable, flammable, weak)
- Strong sewing machines (hard piercing, pedal powered)
- Sharp cloth cutters (extra damage, throwable)
- Furnished office (desk, lockbox, cabinet, chair)
In just a few moments we’ve got an interesting location shaping up.
Let’s build it even further!
Give the Default a Twist
We deign Features to make the location stand out and provide several potential interactions.
Many players will not catch on that your environments have become more interactive. So have the NPCs show’em how it’s done.
Getting wrapped up in dry cloth scrolling fast off the spindle while being stabbed again and again with cloth cutters will create fond memories. Fonder still from the sweet scratching of flint and steel that follows.
So these Features are things that stand out, leaving the rest of the location on as the Default Environment. There can’t be discoveries in every foot of a place.
For the majority of the space, we assign standard, non-special small “f” features. If we don’t decide this in advance, we make it up on the spot.
The ground is a road, or dirt forest, or stair. The lighting is bright, dim, dark. There’s air, furniture or terrain, and so on.
To tick our location up a notch we take the Default Environment and give it a twist.
This will guarantee your location’s memorableness.
For example, make floor slippery. Increased danger afoot!
The Twist need not be a mechanic.
The floor is an amazing tile mosaic. You can’t tell what scene is depicted at encounter start because of all the small tables and chairs lining the main open area. Once fully revealed, the mosaic provides an unexpected clue.
Adding a Twist makes your location unique.
The Features build up what one might expect in such a location and add dimensions to gameplay. The Twist will surprise your players, locking this moment in their excited minds.
Give It A Deeper Secret
We hit the level-up stage now in our effort to Celebrate the Location and make it memorable in multiple ways.
Remember those cloth cutters? We want more of that reaction and excitement from the possibilities and meaning of the place.
Features give a place context and possibilities. We now give it special meaning with a Link to our story.
For example, the PCs are tracking down mysterious disappearances. Clues lead them to a clothing factory. Maybe it’s human smuggling? Slave trafficking. Forced labour in the factory?
Nope. It’s a cult making sacrifices to appease a dark god. That’s our story Link.
But we make this Link a secret the PCs can discover. Perhaps the mosaic is the ritual area. Perhaps the workers make sacrificial body bags or strange vestments. Maybe the office has parchments with the ritual’s words for participants to chat.
Avoid this mistake, though, when dishing out a secret: its gravitas must match the effort required to discover it.
I try not to put deadly obstacles in front of small secrets, for example.
Take any encounter you have planned and focus for a moment on its location.
Stack cool attributes to the location to make it mysterious, exciting, and memorable:
- Add Special Features (morphed + three gameplay qualities)
- Give the default area a Twist
- Add a story Link and make it a discoverable Deeper Secret
Our Deeper Secret means our amazing location will now be remembered as “That [Purpose] place with all the [Features] where that crazy [Link] happened!”
“That weird clothing factory where Krug became a pin cushion and where that crazy cult lived in the basement!” Now that’s a way to Celebrate a Location in fine fashion. Huzzah.