Example GM Move With Threats Using Lord of the Rings

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0967

Last week I discussed the idea of combining cool boardgame mechanics with adventure design to create 1-3 special
GM Moves for your 5 Room Dungeons.

Roleplaying Tips GM Aidan Hernandez wrote back with a great example using Lord of the Rings:

Graphic of section divider

This will be my first time ever responding to a newsletter. However, I felt it important to do so because I wanted to show how Creating a Special GM Move can be applied and how you can use it to recreate the mechanics from the narrative.

When I read your idea of Effect + Feedback Mechanism + Counteraction I immediately was reminded of the Dungeon World/Apocalypse World system known as “Threats.” [Johnn: Here’s a small PDF from the AW site that tells more about Threats.] http://apocalypseworld.com/AW2ndEdThreatsPreview.pdf

The Clock adds specific ways I could show an Effect growing stronger or weaker.

So I combined the systems to create a dungeon level Threat with specific mechanics. I took from literature and reverse-engineered the narrative to become mechanics.

So I present my dungeon “The Mines of Moria” inspired by Peter Jackson’s Film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Goal (why is this dungeon here): Shortcut, Passage. (It serves as a way through the mountains for the Fellowship and a way to avoid going all the way South or near Isengard.)

Hazards: Delay, Death. (The mechanics to be used in this dungeon either delay the party and seek to advance The Clock or to Kill the Party and end the Campaign.)

Danger: Durin’s Bane aka The Balrog. (The Danger is much like your 4th room Giant. Only it doesn’t just passively reside in a room physically but acts as the room itself.)

Clock: Echoes in the Deep. Each time the Players make a “Loud Noise” the clock advances. (Now here I feel the Loud Noise would be the trigger for the roll. Does the Cave Troll falling in battle counts as a Loud Noise? What about the Kraken at the Entrance? I feel we determine whether or not the Loud Noise effect occurs from the dice and the clock advancing adds more of these checks.)

Clock 0-3: The Silent Halls. Players have not activated any Hazards or the Danger and havelittle resistance making their way through the dungeon.

Clock 3-6: An Echo, Ripples. Players have activated Hazards but not yet the Danger. Hazards now actively seek to Delay the party or cause Death to the party.

Clock 6-9: Shadows of the Deep. Players have activated Hazards and the Danger stirs. (This is my least defined one since in this scenario the party quickly passes this section.)

Clock 9-10: The Echoes Ring. Players have activated the Danger and it now actively seeks them. Hazards now seek to Delay the party to give the Danger time to appear.

Clock 10-11: The Drums Beat. The effects of the Hazards grow worse as the Danger drawsnear.

Clock 11-12: They are Coming. The Danger Presents itself.

The Counteraction: For every day the players spend making their presence unknown, the Clock removes a segment. This cannot be done in conjunction with a long rest, although the players do not gain levels of exhaustion while spending their time this way.

In this dungeon, the party is delayed by the puzzle, which gives time for an encounter to cause the first “Loud Noise” Check. They enter the dungeon proper at 3-6 after fighting the beast outside.

Then, they travel freely until they come upon the second challenge: the three doorways. This delays them again but they suffer no encounters and eventually succeed on the challenge.

They continue their journeys until they come upon Balin’s Tomb. While Gandalf reads the Journal, Pippin makes a failed Dexterity save and knocks the Helmet down the well. This advances the clock to 6-9.

It also triggers an encounter with a band of Orcs and a Cave Troll. Now, it’s not clearly defined when the party goes from 6-9 to 9-10 but I would put it around the Cave Troll’s death.

From then on, the effects of the dungeon get worse.

First, the Moria Orcs and Goblins seek to Delay the party as the Danger actively seeks them out. Second, when the Danger appears they scatter allowing the Danger their Spotlight.

From then on, the party is in the fourth Room with the goal being to escape the Danger.

It ends when Gandalf faces off against the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm.

With that example in mind, I am now looking to create more of these situations. If we can reverse engineer narrative elements like this, then it allows us to take inspiration from an ever-expanding media library we hold. We can convert inspiring scenes into mechanics for import into our campaigns and adjust as we need them.

I would caution that not every dungeon needs this level of depth. It should be reserved to make memorable dungeons in the midst of a couple dungeons that build up the mechanics for this memorable dungeon.

If you’ve gotten to this point in the email, I thank you for your patience and hope to add
more input from my perspective in the future. Thank you for all you’ve taught me and I
hope the future is bright to both of us.

Graphic of section divider

Thanks Aiden! This is a great example.

As always, there’s a range of treatment. Aiden’s example offers excellent drama progression mapped to gameplay. However, if you prefer fewer mechanics and game elements to story and narrative, then simplify the clock Threat and use it as a guide to trigger story effects.