Contest Results: Cool Conflict Scenes

From Scorpio

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0166

A Brief Word From Johnn

GM Library Autoresponder Ready

In Issue #160 I posted a request for non-fiction books that would be valuable to GMs. That file has now been assembled and is ready for download. More submissions are always welcome.

To receive the file, send a blank email to:
[email protected]

Contest Winners

Thanks to everyone who entered the Interesting Scenes contest! The winners have been contacted, and I’m happy to post a summary of all the entries in this week’s issue.

The winners are:

Max E.    fireball…
Patricia R.    patty@r…com
James B.    b…
Michael B.    cyber…
Samir    samir@c…net
Phil W.    ice_cold…
Dan O    do…@c…edu
Miguel V.    miguel…@f…com

Site Server Switch

Last week I switched my site to a new server and some of the web pages didn’t make it over. If you couldn’t find the content you were looking for, swing by again.


Johnn Four
[email protected]

Contest Results: Cool Conflict Scenes

Here is a summary of all the entries in the Interesting Scenes contest that ran in Issues #164 and #165. Use the categorized lists below to inspire encounter creation or to beef up encounters you have planned. These lists would also make a great GM Binder tool for enhancing off-the-cuff encounters during games. Enjoy!

Natural Obstacles

Combat In/During/Around:

  • A forest, prairie, structure fire
  • A wheat field, orchard, vineyard
  • Caves of natural and unnatural configurations
  • Caves, tunnels, canyons, crevices
  • Desert, soft sand, beach
  • Earthquake
  • Foul air, choking dust, intense odors
  • Heights, precipice, edge of cliff, pit, well, chasm, steep hill, mountainside
  • Heavy rain, thunderstorm, hailstorm, windstorm
  • Ice, snow, iceberg, frozen lake or river
  • In vegetation: brambles, branches, fungi, treetops, vines
  • Marshy ground, quicksand, swamp, geysers, sinkholes
  • Objects in water: logs, rocks, islands, sandbar
  • Pitch black darkness, fog, mist, sandstorm, loose ash, dust
  • Plains, fields, tundra, anywhere with no cover
  • Rockslide, boulders, stalactites, stalagmites
  • Volcano, lava, magma
  • Water: creek, river, lake, pond, ocean, tide, tsunami
  • Waterfall, flood, underwater

Man-Made Obstacles

Combat In/On/Around/Under/Over:

  • A balloon, blimp, airship, glider, airplane, while parachuting
  • A bridge of any sort
  • A building roof, ledge, balcony, bell tower, steeple, stairs
  • A building that is condemned, collapsing, on fire
  • A dam, pier, dock, breakwater, sluice
  • A doorway, gateway, etc.–opening or closing
  • A farm, corral, stockyard
  • A laboratory, factory, conveyor belts, assembly line, brewery, glass factory
  • A library, museum, hospital, tavern, shop, armory
  • A maze, labyrinth, mirrors
  • A mine shaft, tunnel
  • A moving wagon, cart, train, sled, subway car, mine cars
  • A ship, boat, raft, submarine, gang plank, spars, ratlines, sinking ship
  • A tavern, restaurant, dining room, kitchen
  • A wedding, funeral, coronation, legal proceeding, religious gathering, riot
  • An arena, theatre, tournament, fair, parade, festival
  • An elevator, crane, sky lift, wrecking ball
  • An obstacle course, torture chamber, moat, trench, greased surfaces, grated floor
  • Cemetery, mausoleum, memorial, statue
  • Chemicals, flammable materials
  • In sewers, pipes
  • On scaffolds, ropes, chains, anchor lines
  • Public baths, sauna, bordello
  • Under mind control, hypnosis, dreams, dizziness
  • While in prison, a keep, incarcerated, in presence of authorities

Magic Obstacles

Combat with/against/while under the influence of/ threatened by:

  • A curse
  • A spell
  • Altered physics: anti/low-gravity, portals, planar interference, Mobius strip surface, bottomless pit
  • Animated objects: doors, furniture, statues, weapons, plants, trees, structures
  • Deity interference
  • Experiment, tests, wizard’s tower
  • Geas
  • Giant or unusual plant life, mushrooms, fungi
  • Illusions of the PCs themselves, monsters, enemies
  • Suspended in air
  • Symbols: sigils, runes
  • Time: fractured, slowed, sped, backward, stopped
  • Transformations of: appearance, size, properties of weapons, rapid growth, polymorphing

Animal/Monster Obstacles

Combat with/around/involving:

  • Burrowing creatures-in/above tunnels
  • Communication-persuasion, negotiation
  • Dead or decomposing creature
  • Doppelgangers, mimics, as friend/enemy/distraction/
  • Endangered species
  • In creature: mouth, stomach
  • In creature’s lair, nest
  • In pursuit, while pursued
  • Interruption by third party creature
  • Mounted, riding
  • Stampede/swarm/infestation-locusts, cattle, wildebeest

Combination/Miscellaneous Obstacles

  • The PCs are chasing a villain through a dark, damp grotto when he dives into a pool of water and swims through a crevice in the far wall.
  • A mid-air chase-and-fight scene on flying carpets, or on dragonback. Maybe even flying down a narrow canyon lined with archers and ballistas in caves set in the cliff sides.
  • The PCs must lure the enemy force, or a significant part of it, into a booby-trapped bastion, hold them there long enough to be sure the charges are ready, *then* get away before the explosion.
  • A fight on horseback, racing neck and neck down a knife- edge road or bridge with yawning chasms on either side. To make it even more interesting, the villain has a captive hung across his saddlebow, so simply forcing the villain off will cause the death of the captive as well.
  • The villain is fleeing through a canyon with high walls. Snipers with heavy crossbows line the ridge while hill giants chuck boulders down from above.
  • The PCs are in a boat racing through a deep gorge. Avoiding the rocks in the river requires careful maneuvering. A family of flying creatures, like gargoyles, has decided that the “hero on a boat” would make a tasty dinner and the PCs have more than just rocks in the water to worry about.
  • Speaking with or fighting an incorporeal undead during a blizzard. Snow passing through its body comes out black.
  • PCs are on a ship being attacked by pirates. The ship is on fire in certain areas and the pirates need to be fended off.
  • PCs are forced into a gladiatorial type fight for a prize artifact that they need. The twist is that the fight is without armor on planks over a fiery pit where heat exhaustion sets in quick and high dexterity more than combat skills will win the “last man standing” contest.
  • The villain shows a new power of duplicating themselves to block the players escape from a flooding cavern. Even if they defeat the villain, would it just be a copy?
  • The party is edging their way along a path above an underground gorge. Below them a monstrous spider has woven a web across the gorge to catch its dinner as it falls from the ledge. Crevices in the wall on the opposite side serve as arrow slits for goblin archers guarding this entrance to their lair.
  • Running through a maze of buildings, the party has to avoid/fight three other groups of combatants that want to fight them and each other.
  • The party finds themselves in the middle of a full-blown battle with two armies of hundreds of warriors.
  • The party must fight in a room filled with the valuable art of a very powerful noble that they need to curry favor with.
  • A villain has possessed the PC’s best friend and the only way to destroy the villain is to kill their friend too.

Roleplaying Encounters

  • The Party enters a shop where the merchant is being robbed. The thief is watching the merchant from the back room with a hand crossbow. The merchant does not want any trouble but tries to sell everything he has on display so the thief will not get it.
  • The person the PCs are hired to assassinate is throwing a grand party for the other royalty in the kingdom. The assassination must happen before he can perform a dastardly deed later that evening.
  • The party must switch helmets of enemy troops with “Helms of Opposite Alignment”. The enemies who fail saving throws immediately change alignment and an internal war breaks out.
  • A group of NPCs arrive in town with a lawsuit filed against the player characters. They are accused of being responsible for all the new orphans they created from their adventures.
  • In their hometown, the party discovers that they have been nominated for public offices and the election is later that day.
  • After a fight in a town, the PCs are sued by the locals for excessive destruction.
  • An important NPC approaches the party and hires them to protect him. During the night he dies of natural(?) causes and the party is blamed for his murder.
  • The Party has hired a specially trained NPC for a job/adventure. However, the NPC doesn’t want to pull his weight. He whines, hides during combat, and demands more share of the treasure near the end of the adventure when it becomes obvious that he/she is the only one with the skill needed to achieve the goal.
  • The party hasn’t seen their arch-nemesis since their last battle some time ago, but run across the very down-on-his- luck enemy living as a sick beggar in the streets.
  • An evil nemesis shows up at a costume ball, but the party does not realize this at first because of the costumes.
  • The party must fight a jester. The jester is a skilled fighter, although quite unorthodox. He has many tricks and props up his sleeve and could inspire the party to find ways of more creative combat.
  • After chasing down a group of thieves, the party discovers that the leader of the gang is related to one of the players.
  • The party must gain information from a lunatic in a madhouse. Not only do they have to deal with his insanity, but that of the other lunatics.
  • A barmaid that the hero seduced a year ago seeks him out with an infant in tow. She wants him to marry her.
  • An enemy surrenders and announces that he is to become the victor’s personal servant for one year. If the character refuses, he will dishonor the enemy and the foe’s family comes after the character.
  • The characters travel to a land where only nobles are allowed to own weapons. Possession by one of lesser birth is subject to harsh penalties.
  • The party is in a foreign land, communicating only through an interpreter who must also convey what is socially acceptable there.
  • An assassin trying to kill a party member during a visit to the royal castle is the beloved and very popular son of the King.

Scorp’s Picks: The Best Entries

  • The adventure or encounter takes place inside one of the party member’s own bodies, a la the movie Fantastic Voyage. Viruses and red blood cells make great wandering monsters! What kind of environment would a monster’s body be?
    — from Robin S.
  • The loot the party found with a monster is counterfeit. The Party doesn’t find out until after they are arrested for passing some of it.
    — from Samir
  • The enemy can clearly be seen through a low doorway. The PCs cannot charge into the room without first lowering their weapons, giving the enemy an attack of opportunity.
    — from Gallant B.
  • The combat takes place on a large, magical Mobius strip, so there’s a single floor space, but opponents can be overhead, or hidden below your feet, or…
    — from John R.
  • The PCs are chasing the bad guys while riding huge flightless birds (like ostriches). The chase takes them all through a bustling desert tent city where they must deftly avoid caravans, piles of baskets and goods, crowded markets, and racks of scimitars on display for sale.
    — from Daniel D.
  • The player characters are tasked with getting a large, heavy, awkward statue through the mountains. A wagon or cart cannot be used because of the statue’s weight.
    — from Samir
  • The PCs face a powerful Lich who has marshaled a rather large army of undead. The PCs are faced with the knowledge that if they destroy the Lich the undead legions will no longer be under his control and will more than likely rampage across the countryside.
    — from Jay W.
  • The city the party enters requires a permit for everything from carrying a sword to pick pocketing, from selling their treasure to playing musical instruments. The permits are not cheap.
    — from Samir

Live Role Playing and Themed Treasure Hunts

Tons of tips and tricks for theming, clue and map designing and location scouting. Check out the Ports to Adventure page to get started!


Some new arrivals this week include the rare Q1-7 supermodule, Orcs of Thar, Throne of Bloodstone, and lots of rare MERP materials.

Save $$ — New in-print arrivals include Ultimate Feats, Ultimate Equipment, D20 Evil, and more!

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Awarding EXPs In A Different Way

From Mike P.

Thanks for an outstanding resource for GMs! I run an irregular campaign of Men in Black, among others. In MiB I struggled for a long time with how to distribute character points, the MiB equivalent to experience. An additional problem I had was getting the players to respond well in- character in manners that fit with the genre. My solution has worked wonders and helps players get in character and rewards good roleplaying.

When everyone has arrived I give them between 8 and 12 poker chips. I keep a huge stack of chips for myself, but in a different color than the players use. The stack can vary in size and there’s no specific count on it usually, but 6 to 12 per player is good.

As we play, if Player A finds something that Player B said was really great/funny/dramatic or thinks that Player C had a great idea or acted well, he can give B or C one or more chips. Players are allowed to reuse the chips that they receive from each other. The result is that players get motivated to think a little harder, speak in character using funny lines or try something that’s exciting or dramatic, even if they might fail.

I use my chips to reward players who act particularly well in-character, do or say something that is particularly well- fitted to the genre, or do something that otherwise impresses me. Players can’t give the chips I give them to anyone else, so it is always obvious to every player at the table which players should be emulated. I don’t need to spend all of my chips, either. If the players are having an off night I don’t have to reward poor playing. At the end of the session the chips are traded for character points which they use to improve their characters.

The effect of the chips is perfect. Players are motivated to think more cinematically, increasing everyone’s enjoyment. They also see the benefits of acting and playing in certain ways that allow me to shape the game a little easier. In more traditional dungeon-based games with different experience point economies each chip could easily be worth, say, 20 XP.

My players love this system because it also gives them a direct role in the rewarding of experience and they get a tangible say in who or what was funniest, most exciting, or best done.

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Player Co-Operation

From Arthur B.

Re: RPT#163 – When Players Attack: Tips For Encouraging PC Co-Operation

There’s one important tip that was missing from the “PC co- operation” Issue: make sure the players know the ground rules before they start.

If you get together with the players and draw up a little “game contract” that covers things like how much PC co- operation is expected, what sort of game the GM will be running, who brings the snacks each week, and so on, it can really help sort out things like this beforehand.

Everyone comes to the gaming table with slightly different ideas as to what makes a good game. If you make a game contract then people have a much better idea of:

  • What they’re getting into
  • Whether they’d enjoy it
[Tips request from Johnn: if anybody has the inclination to whip up a game contract I’d be happy to post it online for other GMs to download, print, and use. Or, if you’ve seen one posted online, please send me the link. Thanks!]

Another tip: don’t absolutely ban PC infighting. Arguing with each other about what’s the best course to take is a great roleplaying opportunity (and comes up quite frequently in campaigns with a strong political/conspiracy/weirdness element).

Sometimes a situation will arise where a PC is entirely justified in killing another PC and you might not want to spoil the dramatic moment/sacrifice/suspension of disbelief by stopping the PC at the last minute.

For example, in the current tabletop I’m in, my PC has just been shot by another PC for practicing extremely evil magic (and we aren’t simply talking animate dead here – we’re talking magic which is specifically about breaking the rules even the Gods don’t break). And even though my PC was sort of suckered into doing it, I’m perfectly happy about it because of various things which had happened in both our backgrounds, and because it was an extremely tense moment for everyone.

Of course, I’d be more upset if she’d up and shot me when we were arguing about how much each of us should pay towards the rent. It’s all about context.

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Dungeon Twists

From Jason L.

  1. A pit trap you could easily jump across, except for the wall of force halfway across. Secret doors inside the pit allow you to exit in either direction.
  2. All of a sudden there are two of Elwin, both claiming the other has to be a doppleganger or evil mage. The PCs need to determine which is really him somehow. Whichever one they don’t believe flees after a brief fight. Unfortunately, *both* are dopplegangers, their friend is still missing.
  3. The PCs find a number of bodies: mostly orcs and three humans, all of whom seem to have been recently killed by a fire-based attack. One of the items found among the bodies is a silver wand of Fireball, which has been created (intentionally or not) so that the fireball effect is centered on the wand, not the intended target.
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More Dual-Monitor Tips

Re: RPT#165 – Prophetic Double-Whammy: Special Two Article Issue About Using Prophesies In Your Games

From Bruno VdC

Here’s an extra tip: Powerpoint (and probably comparable programs) lets you choose where you want to display the slide show. So, I make a slide show for the characters and one for me. I keep the one for me on my desktop and the other one gets projected on the second screen. Great for photos and maps (and use the animation to let them see more and more).

Even better, I use the writing tool in Powerpoint to write their location on the screen and the paths the players have used. They know instantly where they are (and can point and ask questions–but no fingers on the screen!), and if there is too much written on it, I just reset it and start again. And the dimensions are always in the proportions you designed them in.

It takes some skill with your mouse and Powerpoint, but not much (and you learn to work with the program at the same time, interesting for later in business talks).

It’s also great for suspense rolls: I put an electronic die roller on screen, and say: “beat this number”. One always gets their attention. And no difficult dice throwing and counting. Using Powerpoint is also good for timing events, like every half minute (play around with the settings!) or after ten minutes, something happens.

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From Da Pit Fiend

I’ve recently used the dual monitor concept in a Star Trek RPG session (using the new GURPS Star Fleet book) only I took it one step further.

Before the session I created a “bridge viewer” video using Powerpoint, graphics programs, and mp3s of the bridge sound effects from classic Trek.

Next, I created the sound files and other anticipated images that the players would likely encounter in the session.

As the game proceeded, I had the rolling ‘bridge viewer’ on the TV and then interrupted the video with ‘hot’ data from the laptop (through an Avery keyer) onto the big screen (ok only 36?) TV for all the players to see and review.

In an SF setting, the addition of the technology and the active sound effects is great! The only drawback I foresee is the difficulty in running the game with the cool extra sounds if I was working alone (not in this case as there were 2 of us tag-teaming up on the players…).

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Tolkien Resource For Fantasy RPG Names

From Arthur E.

This is yet another suggestion for creating names. A neat and authentic way to come up with both personal and place names, especially in an frpg, is to base them on Tolkien’s languages. There are many web sites that have dictionaries of his languages, but a really thorough one

It is a 176 page Quenya-English dictionary in PDF format. Quenya is one of Tolkien’s languages for the Elves. Sort of a proto-language. Most of the words included are nouns and adjectives.

I have been able to build very authentic sounding compound names by using words from this dictionary, such as:

  • Nuraldanore–Land of the Deep Rooted Trees
  • Oronti-Anar–Sun Mountains
  • Erchamion–The One-Handed

By tapping into Tolkien’s unique genius one can make names that have a cohesive background to them, that sound very different from modern languages, and that sound very fantasy-ish.

It does take some work, but I find it well worth the effort.

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Use Index Cards For Magic Items

From Damon B.

This is a tip concerning magic items for PCs and rewards. I recently bought a 3×5 card holding box and a pile of 3×5 cards. On the blank side of a card I draw a picture of a magic item. On the lined side I describe the item’s abilities. This method was used by my first DM and it was very rewarding knowing that you had a “carded” item.

As a further reward, the DM can give experience rewards to gamers willing to contribute drawings of items on said cards for the DM to flesh out as he sees fit.

My reward, now that I am DM, is my players expressing their gratitude for the games I run.