The Quarantine

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0770

Here’s a great campaign seed from Danish Roleplaying Tips GM Alexander Aubert:

A quarantined city where a magical disease is turning everyone, including the PCs, slowly into monsters.

These days, when I come across ideas for adventures I do something new.

It’s a quick action borrowed from Dungeon World.

And it’s part of this bigger idea I’m exploring with Campaign Logger developer Jochen Linneman of being an Agile GM that we’re calling PXE (a game master who Preps smart, eXecutes sharp, and Evaluates performance for constant improvement).

Interrogate The Idea

So what do I do with new adventure ideas?

I ask a simple question and brainstorm answers for a couple minutes.

If I like the answers, then I incorporate the idea into my campaign.

If I have a tough time coming up with answers, or if the answers suck, I file the idea away for future inspiration.

Either way, I tag it in Campaign Logger for future reference.

That’s it. A pretty easy test that only costs me two minutes but can save me hours of crappy gameplay or give me hours of awesome gameplay.

Test Everything

The thing is, I now do this question for all sorts of things.

I do the brainstorm before each session.

I do the two minutes for encounter ideas. And for monster ideas. For world building ideas, too.

And the more I do this test, the better I get at it.

If you struggle getting ideas or doing brainstorming, think of this is a quick and easy brain exercise you can do every day to improve.

The best thing? It’s building me a library of ideas I can tap anytime. Saving me prep. And it gets my brain working in the background, between sessions, because I’ve given it bones to gnaw on. All sorts of ideas collide, merge, split for future gameplay.

The Test

Here’s what I do. And I’m warning you, it sounds pretty basic. But try it out a few times and I think you’ll see its benefits.

For any game element, I ask this question:

What encounters or character situations can it trigger?

I ask myself this question and try to brainstorm 10 answers.

If I struggle getting even four answers, I know the idea needs more work. I file it away for future inspiration.

However, if I get 10 great answers, I now have 10 possible things I can do during a session!

Either 10 encounters or 10 character actions during encounters.

So imagine doing this once a day for a week. You’ll have up to 70 encounter and situation ideas!

How many encounters do you run during a session on average? Me, I aim for 5.

So 70 ideas gets me enough menu ideas for 14 sessions.

As weeks pass, your idea library grows and grows. (Which is why I’ve started keeping them in one place and well-sorted, so I can find them again fast when I need to.)

This test works because if you can’t think of good gameplay to come from your idea, then that’s a sign you need to move on. Don’t waste time squeezing water from a stone.

And don’t set your future GM-self up for failure by using ideas that don’t have legs.

Example: Monster Curse

Let’s see this Agile GM technique in action.

Try this along with me. Take Alexander’s idea and think up 10 encounter or situation ideas.

If you can think up at least four, maybe you can use this next session. A cursed village, a weird dungeon room, and maybe a whole new campaign premise.

Ok, let’s begin. 10 ideas for encounters or situation ideas where a magical disease is turning people into monsters:

  1. Bounty hunters. PCs are hired to kill the cursed before they develop into powerful, terrible monsters.
  2. The strip turned pink. An alchemist creates an oil that tests if a person has caught the curse. Spread the oil on their body and wait a couple minutes. The alchemist has disappeared….
  3. False cures. Over time the PCs hear rumours about several potential cures. Unfortunately, all but one turn out to be false.
  4. What kind of factions form? Perhaps strains of the curse turn people into specific types of monsters, who then find each other and stay together for protection — proto-factions. Dragonkin, beholderkin, werefolk, etc.
  5. Gladiator. Guards capture those turned and force them to fight to the death for entertainment.
  6. Monster synchronicity. What happens if smart monsters or monster leaders start stacking and optimising critter features? Fliers for overwatch and dropping weapons from above. Burrowers for back routes and escape routes. Fire breathers plus fire immune for inflammatory attacks. Mayhem!
  7. Flaw. What if transformation also generates a new personality flaw. Create a random table of new impulses. Roll once for each victim.
  8. Monster government. It forms and challenges the current government for acknowledgement, maybe even control. Clashes in the streets.
  9. Monster religion. Starts as a cult and grows into a new religion. Which god? Followers try to convert others.
  10. Godzilla. Trap the PCs between mega monsters fighting to the death.

Ten ideas. I timed myself and it took four minutes. This idea of Alexander’s, for me at least, has lots of potential.

How did you do?

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Like I said, it’s a basic test. But it stirs your imagination. It gets you thinking. And it helps you be more creative while giving you ideas for your campaign at the same time.