5 Ways You Can Make Travel Interesting Or Important

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0071

  1. Provide A Background For The Encounter
  2. Get Into The Nitty Gritty Details Of Travel
  3. Consider Adding New Environmental Challenges
  4. Pre-Plan Some Basic Encounters For Use At Any Time
  5. Reveal Important Information
  6. Get Into The Travel Spirit

Readers’ Tips Summarized

  1. Build Your Maps In Lego
  2. Use Prophecy For Tension Creation
  3. Find New Roleplayers By Hosting A Murder Mystery Party
  4. Multi-Tasking Testimonial
  5. 5 Campaign Tips

A Brief Word From Johnn

My group had a great 10 hour roleplaying extravaganza yesterday. I felt that we actually got three sessions of stuff done in one day because of the extended time and the continuous play–we avoided two extra session set-ups and clean-ups (and only had to deal with ordering pizza twice– lunch and dinner, lol).

Another bonus was that all the players showed up. This meant I had a full group for three sessions worth of play.

If you can swing it with your group, extended sessions once in awhile can definitely give your campaign a jolt or keep it steaming ahead.

Have a great gaming week!

Johnn Four
[email protected]

5 Ways You Can Make Travel Interesting Or Important

Provide A Background For The Encounter

Try to create a brief background for each travel encounter you design. How did the current situation develop and why? Is there anyone or anything with ulterior motives involved?A little bit of background material, even if it’s just a sentence or two, will greatly improve the encounter:

  • Fun to GM because it is more than just a few statistics now.
  • Helps you develop the campaign area in bite-sized pieces.
  • Gives you information for inspiration during or after the encounter.
  • Makes it easier to GM the encounter during the game.

For example, you have a bandit encounter planned. But, bandits don’t usually just wait on the road for unlucky adventurers. So, what is the background for the encounter?

The how: perhaps they have an informant tipping them off when suitable targets will be leaving the city and taking a route ripe for ambush?

The why: maybe the bandit leader is the bastard of a local noble and has resorted to banditry to try to raise funds for a small army?

It’s difficult to keep on top of all the events of your campaign area and to make it seem alive and dynamic. Often we have our hands full just dealing with the PCs, and soon it seems as if the world starts to revolve around the party.

However, outdoor encounters are a perfect opportunity to make your world change and move on regardless of the PCs’ presence. Adding a little background to each encounter is a great way to help you do this, as demonstrated with the bandit example.

Another enhancement to the background idea is to link some of your encounters to the PCs or story in some way. However, if you’re struggling with a static game world, then be careful not to make the encounters start to revolve around the PCs again. Just look for some small way to make it personal for the PCs.

In our bandit example, we haven’t asked the who? question yet. One possibility could be, who is the informant?

For a minor link, you could make the informant be the innkeeper where the PCs stayed. The innkeeper runs to a bandit scout in town who then rides off ahead of the victims to alert the bandit leader. This would definitely make your game more interesting if the PCs were to learn about the connection.

For a major link, perhaps the bandit leader is being influenced by the story’s villain? The bandits don’t normally attack well armed travellers, but the villain exerts his influence over the bastard noble and the bandits mobilise for an ambush. Perhaps the bandit leader then, has a juicy bit of knowledge about the villain? Suddenly this formerly standard travel event becomes much more interesting and valuable to the PCs….

Get Into The Nitty Gritty Details Of Travel

Without slowing play to a halt and turning a short travel stretch into a three session long snore-fest, try to challenge the PCs with the discomfort, hazards and challenges of traveling. An easy way to do this is to think about the details of travel:

  • Severe weather (it’s effects on equipment, supplies and henchmen)
  • Food and water
  • Navigation, directions, route
  • Travel equipment (broken-in boots, vehicle maintenance, can-opener)
  • Bug repellent

For example, the party is delivering a message to the archbishop of a neighboring city. Two of the characters have social aspirations and would like to turn the archbishop into a powerful acquaintance, or even an ally. However, during the trip, the PCs stumble into huge clouds of ravenous mosquitoes.

Instead of a professional and composed meeting with the archbishop, the characters show up with scabby red welts all over their faces and arms, and often scratch at things unknown beneath their clothing. To add insult to injury, the message scroll is covered with bloody mosquito kills because it made a better swatter than a sword.

Another example would be to quickly gather the party’s character sheets and/or equipment supply and check to see if they brought enough food with them. If not, then let this journey become known as “the squirrel soup” adventure.

Consider Adding New Environmental Challenges

One thing I’m guilty of in my games is to assume that, except for terrain and weather, the environment pretty much stays the same during trips. Thanks to a subscriber tip submission from Stanton, I’ve learned about all the things I’ve been missing!

Here are Stanton’s tips:

  1. Customs
    A long list of unspoken taboos and unique criminal offenses should keep the PCs on their toes. Something mundane – eating in public, talking to a person outside one’s caste, accidentally wearing the “royal” color – can quickly put the party in trouble with the conservative and unforgiving locals.
  2. Disease and toxins
    From minor allergies to killer viruses, travelers have to be careful of invisible hazards that the locals built up immunity to long ago. The issue cuts both ways – the cliche of a traveler’s “common cold” triggering a global plague is always a real fear to port authority officials. Note that in “reality”, radiation is lethal to everything and no normal being builds up “resistance”.
  3. Animals
    Locals know that the Great Ravinoxarus comes out of hibernation to mate at this time each decade. Too bad nobody mentioned the Great Ravinoxarus to the visiting off-worlders who just left camp for some sightseeing.
  4. Language
    Imagine the problems which arise when an off-world trader’s phrase “Please adopt our Imperial standards” gets mistranslated to the locals as “Please become the parental guardian of our Imperial representatives” – and what happens when the kind-hearted locals agree?
  5. Gravity
    Off-worlders in a heavier gravity find themselves awkward, tired and distracted while their bodies adjust to the higher-G. Likewise, a weaker gravity world seems “bouncy” and can cause light-headedness until acclimated.
  6. Climate
    An exceptionally cold, hot, dry or humid world may seem “comfortable” to the locals, while off-worlders shiver, cough or sweat their way across the landscape.
  7. Taxes
    Entry tax, exit tax, road tax, guild fees, ministry dues, carrier service fees, national tariffs, holiday tax, baronial duties… Regional rulers may have redundant taxes on top of local rulers, and then the “shadow” rulers, criminal gangs, and merchant guilds all seek their due. Some could be bribed or ignored, while others might be fanatical misers willing to pursue tax dodgers to the realm’s farthest borders. PCs might find smuggling an easy way to go, though such a tact has its risks.
  8. Government Surveillance & Intervention
    What if a planet’s medical records system is watched carefully by the government, which holds the rights to specific genetic mutations. One character trips one of these tests, and government agents insist on detaining the character indefinitely as cellular property of the state. (“Our study only takes a few years until a stable clone is made.”)
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Pre-Plan Some Basic Encounters For Use At Any Time

Step 1:

Make a list of typical and not so typical travel encounters that could happen.

Step 2:

Think of one idea for each list item on how you could make that encounter different or unique through a plot twist, complication or location twist.

Step 3:

Using tip #1, add a one to two sentence background to each encounter.You now have a list of encounters that, depending on the background detail you gave them, you can drop in any time travel gets boring or taken for granted by the players.

Here’s a brief list of travel encounter ideas to get you started:

  • Ye old inn encounter
  • Meet a traveller on the road
  • Bandits
  • Wild animal or monster
  • Small village in need of heroes
  • Vehicle breakdown
  • Scene of a recent battle
  • Sink hole or dangerous terrain
  • Ruins or old buildings spotted

Now, just add a twist, a background and stir!

Perhaps you could create six encounters and replenish them between sessions as they get used. That way, you’ll never be caught without something to make a trip interesting.

Reveal Important Information

Travel is a great time to introduce new information for future use or to help the PCs during their current adventure. Depending on how much game time you want to spend on the trip, you could give a short description/monologue of the information discovered, let the PCs investigate briefly and then move on. For example, you could introduce a new villain by having the party discover the smoking ruins of a village that has just been raided and razed. Or, perhaps the villain’s carriage runs the PCs off the road.

Maybe you could have a traveler provide some interesting news about things that are happening in other lands, to help the PCs learn more about your game world. (As a related tip, information tends to get more accurate as you get closer to the source, so feel free to spread those wild rumours.)Or, you could simply introduce a new type of flower that could become important later on.

One subscriber wrote in with this great example of slowly revealing information about an upcoming travel encounter: “my party was hearing rumors of bandits on the Mithril Way (a caravan trail) and that there was a huge reward. As they slowly got closer to that area they learned that the bandits were lead by Ogres… Twin Ogres… The Twin Ogre Heroes, Og and M’og… who wear the hides of dragons… one wields an orc double-axe, the other a dire-flail…”

That’s building pretty good anticipation and would make travel much more interesting than just ambushing the party with Og and M’og.

Get Into The Travel Spirit

If you want to make travel more interesting than just saying “ok, you leave on day one and get to your destination on day 3”, try celebrating a couple of small events that take place during the trip.

For example:

  • Snowball fights
  • Rainbow spotted
  • Beautiful scene (such as waterfall or breathtaking view)
  • Wild, non-dangerous animal approaches closer for an inspection
  • Beautiful beach and a warm swim
  • Comical incident with an NPC traveling with the party

Tips Request For Issue #72: “Using Names In Your Games”

I’m on a quest for names tips. What can you do with names in your campaign? How can they add flavour to your game world? How can you use names to enhance your campaign in some way?

For example, a friend of mine, David M., uses a special naming convention in one area of his world to indicate whether someone is of noble birth. I found that added a lot of atmosphere to the sessions (especially when I learned my character had a special name too :).

Do you have any naming tips? If so, please send them on in to: [email protected]

Thank you very much.

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

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

Build Your Maps In Lego

From Transbot9

While reading your site, an idea hit me…use Legos for maps & Miniatures. Some people (like me) have large collections left over from their childhood. Here are some good points about it:

  • Lego guys have so much stuff that they are easy to customise for figures. Pick up a set or 2 & you have enough for a variety of Custom Miniatures every time.
  • Making the maps as you go. This was a tip I’ve heard several times on the site, and with Legos, you can build an outline of dungeon or map areas on large Lego platform/plastic sheets. I have a ton of these, and the Lego company still sells them.
  • Pre-building sets. GMs can relax beforehand by building entire sets for the characters to use.
  • Built in grid. Because it uses block, the grid the pegs provide gives an easy way to tell distance.
  • Involving the players: Get them building as they play!
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Use Prophecy For Tension Creation

From Sean A.

I (accidentally) discovered this tip during a short encounter between the PC’s and a traveling gypsy fortune teller. The gypsy read the group’s fortunes, describing what the future held for each member of the group in a very cryptic manner and without revealing which fortune belonged to which PC. Included in the prophecy was that one member would betray the group. I never said then, (and still haven’t said) whether the prophecy was real or simply a red herring.

The group, however, took it to heart, especially when (a dozen sessions later) one of the prophecies seemed to come true. Since that time, I have talked to each of the players, who have confided in me why they think they might be the one to betray the group, or else who they suspect of being the traitor.

Now every time the group gets into a tight spot, everyone gets uneasy, looking over at each other to see if one will betray them. Every note passed from the DM to a player is seen as possible evidence of eventual betrayal. I have received more info on character backgrounds, future story hooks, and better roleplaying than I ever could have expected from this, and all because of one tiny encounter that planted the seeds of suspicion between the characters.

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Find New Roleplayers By Hosting A Murder Mystery Party

From Miguel

I know you just covered this, but its a subject that keeps coming up: How to get new people interested in roleplaying?

Have a murder mystery party. I just had one of my non- gaming friends throw a “How to Host a Murder” party. It was quite fun, but afterwards several people had problems with the format. This party gave each person a short synopsis of a character, then it had four rounds. In each round you had information you were supposed to reveal and information you want to conceal, but cannot lie about if directly confronted.

Sometimes people asked questions that went beyond the information you had and you had to break character and say you don’t know. Several of these questions were answered in later rounds.

The people who were complaining said that it would be better if you knew all the information ahead of time. These people are probably good for recruiting into roleplaying. Perhaps a second murder night that is more like a LARP, where everybody has a more detailed character history and knows everything ahead of time. After observing that, you can probably tell people who have the roleplaying bug.

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Multi-Tasking Testimonial

From Derrick S.

I wanted to respond to your uncertainty about GM’s rushing themselves and keeping busy in order to multi-task (and stay on task) better. I think you nailed it right on the head. I am an experienced “wing-it” GM (I’m winging an entire campaign and my players love it) and I find keeping myself busy during the session is critical to keeping my creative juices going. It allows me to respond to the players (and the crazy things they do) quickly and intelligently.

Even if I have nothing to look-up, research, or write down, I’ll get up and pace or even just stand on a different side of the table (nice change of perspective for myself and the players). However, when there is some really good role- playing going on I pull my nose out of whatever book it’s in and just sit back and savor it, how could I not? I have found, in my own group, that the players really pick up on the vigour and impetus I put into my side of the performance.

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5 Campaign Tips

From Steve G.

I’ve been receiving your weekly roleplaying tips for a few months now and really enjoy all the advice and ideas. They’re extremely helpful!

Here’s some tips of my own for keeping your players interested in your game.

  1. Keep An Open-ended Campaign World
    It’s all right not to have an elaborate scenario prepared to drop your characters into. In fact, I’ve found that a majority of players would rather play in a campaign where anything goes rather than be stuck in a storyline that may be exciting to the GM, but not so much for the players. This brings me to my next pointer.
  2. Have Several Different Adventure Hooks Ready At All Times
    Your players can build your campaign for you and help you gauge what types of adventures they’re interested in for future gaming. Prepare several simple adventures (your own, a module, or one from a magazine) that involve your PCs’ backgrounds and goals and subtlety work them into the game (a rumor heard, an encounter with an NPC, etc.). It helps if you can unite the party with a simple common goal while keeping their individual goals separate.

My current campaign started with the characters all traveling to the capital city. One of them wanted to learn to be a wizard, another was looking for clues to locate a group of thugs, the next was a gambler hoping to make his fortune in the city, and so on. They each had different individual goals, but one simple one that brought them together as traveling companions. Along the way, I tossed in a few different adventure hooks that brought them together as a group and eventually as a well-known adventuring party.

  • Challenge Your Players
    Keep your players a little off balance and don’t be afraid to give them a butt-kicking once in a while. You want to avoid becoming predictable. Maybe that weak looking goblin up the road is actually a high-level human warrior that got polymorphed by a wizard and is now deranged and out for blood.
  • Challenge Yourself
    To keep the game fresh for myself, I try to tackle gaming situations that I think might be difficult to pull off. One time I decided to role-play the negotiations of a wedding between two noble houses (the groom-to-be was the paladin in our group). I had to come up with a bunch of different medieval type tournament games and rules for each (the horsemanship/trickriding contest was a blast!) to commemorate the wedding negotiations, interesting NPCs, and a few little twists to keep everyone involved (the drunken noble that kept hitting on the half-elf thief played by one of the girls in the group was really fun!).
  • Join Other Groups
    Every once in a while I get the urge to be a player, too. I like to find a group I’ve never met before and join for a while as a player. From watching other GMs, I’ve learned a lot of new techniques, game styles, and got a lot of new ideas, some of which I ended up incorporating into my own campaign. It’s also a good way to find more players. A lot of other GMs get the urge to be a player for a while, too.

That’s about it. Hope these tips help other GMs the way other contributors have helped me.