56 Campaign Concepts & Starts — RPT#505
We finish the series, at least for the moment, about kicking off your campaign in interesting ways, with examples from RPT readers and GMMastery Yahoo! Group members. There is a nice mix here of action and roleplaying starts, so there should be something for every GM.
1. Last campaign I played in had an interesting start. We were just normal people with stat bloat, hungry for fame and fortune. My character was 50 years old and on the run from the mob, whom he had double-crossed in the south. He thought hanging around some country bumpkins would be good cover. Suddenly, he was tossed into a party salad with an eight- year-old psion, a barbarian cannibal, and a priest with a Russian accent who seemed to have a raging thirst for holy water he kept in a silver flask.
It began with three of us converging as strangers on a village about to burn the fourth PC – the psion – at the stake for being a witch. After a round of duck jokes, we smacked a few villagers, freed the girl and fled with the whole village chasing us. My character was thrilled he had kept his low profile for so long. Ah well.
With this common experience behind us, we heard a story from the psion about her parents being turned inside out by demons, and began to get a “strange feeling of being drawn together and that we are somehow psychically connected.” We headed for the hills looking for answers.
We found a strange barrow where we learned a villain had infused us all with the blood of various creatures to create strong minions that would help him take over the world with his demonic weekly poker group.
Though we were created at different times, our demon daddy was just activating our bloodlines now and drew us to this place to fully unlock our heritage. As a group we agreed this was not cool, and we bonded and banded together to stop this demonic plot.
2. The PCs were prisoners, marching in a chain gang between cities, when the slavers had a wandering monster encounter. The PCs took advantage of the chaos to slip their bonds, get a jab or two in, and then escape into the wilderness.
3. The PCs were condemned to death by hanging. At the hanging, their ropes snapped and they fell through the platform into a secret room where they were recruited by an entrepreneurial mercenary captain. Illusion was used to make it look like the PCs were successfully killed.
4. This idea comes from the good old N4 Treasure Hunt (module) for AD&D. The PCs were strangers shipwrecked on an island. They were 0 level characters and their actions eventually won them first level and determined their character class.
5. The PCs were friends and regulars at a tavern that had rooms for rent and a chef famous for using monster parts as ingredients. One of the PCs learns he has just inherited the tavern. The PCs spend the campaign fetching monster parts for the demanding chef, follow plot hooks dropped by various room renters, and get mixed up in neighborhood politics.
6. The PCs are random folks who hire on to a sailing ship in 1765. The ship is a Baltimore clipper type: fast, small and maneuverable.
The point of the campaign is to sail around the world of the 18th century grubbing for gold, encountering problems and having ethical dilemmas to figure out, and give opportunities for GMs to rape and pillage Wikipedia for historical and semi-fantastic plot ideas.
7. This idea requires players willing to put a lot of trust in the GM. The characters awaken in a state of confusion. Hand the players blank character sheets and tell them their characters have total amnesia.
As they awake, they are in what looks like an oversized living room where everything is covered in blood. In each character’s hand is a different improvised weapon: a candlestick, a kitchen knife, etc. The weapons from “Clue” work well.
One by one, take them aside and tell them that, as they awaken, they see bloodied people (the other PCs, but they don’t need to know that) rising from behind various pieces of furniture. Allow them to state one action, then it’s off to the next PC.
When everyone has stated their actions, each is then resolved with all present. Let it develop from there. The idea was they had to try to discover their abilities while figuring out who they were and what they were doing there.
In my game it was Ravenloft, and they were in an insane asylum where the doctors were experimenting on patients. The gore was from the patient revolt, and the PCs are the only survivors. The PCs were put there by foreign agents seeking to keep them out of the way while they tried to pry info out of the party using magic, truth serum and torture.
8. Vista City Police Dept. The PCs are detectives and uniformed police officers assigned to the VCPD’s “Special Investigations Squad” – a squad designed to warehouse weirdos, work cold cases, handle weird cases no other squad wants and be political scapegoats protecting the Chief of Police from controversy.
This is a light urban fantasy – murder mysteries mixed with occasional supernatural encounters.
9. Vista Point. In the 1870s the PCs are residents of Vista Point, a Western town. Besides having day jobs, they are part-time deputy sheriffs and posse members.
10. Omega Squad. The PCs are meta humans recruited by the United Nations for a special peacekeeping force. (Basically a rip-off of GURPS IST.) Also a dumping ground for troublesome metas.
11. Discrete Investigations Internationally. The PCs are private detectives and bodyguards who work for a franchised detective agency, run by a retired European adventurer (Named Monsieur Treville, for the captain of the Musketeers in The Three Musketeers). PCs could wind up visiting foreign offices of DII to investigate other cases.
This scenario also included urban fantasy elements. Besides fighting government conspiracies, evil overlords and master criminals, the DII detectives also encountered supernatural incidents and creatures.
12. Green Jack’s Salvage (Star Wars). The PCs are down-on- their-luck adventurers who hire on as mechanics and salvagers for a semi-retired adventurer, Green Jack. Using beat-up ships and well-used tools, the PCs hunt for treasure and lucrative salvage, as well as engage in some investigation, security and leg-breaking work for Green Jack’s friends and customers.
As employees and hired hands, supposedly the better they grubbed for money, the better off they’d all be. This was an attempt to get away from the “All the PCs have badges and obligations to do the right thing” campaigns I tend to default to.
However, the PCs quickly ran afoul of the Empire (amazing how quickly a bunch of well-armed, money grubbing outsiders will find a way to annoy the secret police) and became semi- voluntary pawns of the Rebellion.
13. Macton Patrol (Star Wars). Macton is an obscure frontier world. The Macton Patrol Doubles as the local police and national guard. The local government wants law and order to promote business, but especially wants to avoid any controversy. The Emperor has a tendency to respond to controversy on imperial worlds by mass executing civil government people and installing a military governor.
The PCs are hired as pilots for Macton’s second rate fighters to ward off pirate attacks and as back up street patrol officers. Basically, this is the Vista City Police Department Game with added fighter planes, set on a backwater Star Wars planet. Interestingly enough, it was a very successful game until the PCs separated in a loud huff to pursue separate destinies.
14. The Quest for the keys of La-Arial (Dungeons and Dragons). The PCs were residents of the Kingdom of Gala, summoned as 1st level characters to report to the capital to serve a mandatory term of service in the Galadrian Army.
15. Dinosaurs and six-guns! The PCs are a random collection of characters living in and moving through an Old West town in 1875. During the night, a huge storm slams into the town with blinding rain, hail thunder and lightning.
The morning finds the town has been transported to a fantasy world. The town is along the flanks of a valley, a no-man’s land filled with dinosaurs and other fantastic creatures.
The town must regroup and adapt to survive in their new home.
16. The Crusaders. A diverse group of military personnel are recruited into a secret special ops squad. They operate as deniable hitters, bodyguards, spies and problem solvers for the government, while supposedly fulfilling mundane jobs at a large naval air station near the campaign’s central city.
My first adventure for this campaign featured the PCs being sent to a South American country to bodyguard an honest but anti-American left-wing judge, while local drug lords tried to assassinate and bomb him.
17. Eye on L.A. From 1980 to 1987 this sort of news/human interest/reality show produced weekly ½ hour shows featuring supposedly interesting places, people and things – the more touristy and loopy, the better.
What more perfect cover for an undercover group of spies, monster hunters or other problem solvers? The PCs are an RV full of producers, directors, camera men, sound men, technicians and talent who travel the country desperately seeking the entertaining and the stupid to film for their weekly TV show, while stomping monsters, foiling spy rings, defeating crime lords and other wise adventuring.
18. I have considered running a low level fantasy game where the PCs are members of the local town guard, defending the town from loopy adventurers and bandits, undertaking special missions for the local lord and generally making the world safe for Feudalism.
19. Players began with zero level characters. The system was Iron Heroes plus the SRD sanity system. The setting was Eberron in the ancient Dhakaani Empire (goblinoids) when the denizens of Xoriat (plane of madness, mostly aberrations) invaded.
They chose ability scores, race (goblin, hobgoblin or bugbear) and traits. They had a few skill points, bonus languages and two feats they could choose immediately or keep until first level. They also had ten tokens with which to activate special class abilities.
The session started with them working in the fields when monsters attack. As they fought, the PCs saw their village burning and more creatures stalking about, so they decided to flee while they could after killing their attackers.
To achieve first level, they had two goals, one in-character and one metagame. They had to reach the nearest city, and then they had to find mentors in the classes they wished to enter. By providing the second goal in a metagame way, it left the method to achieving it open.
Start in medias res with one PC being chased by the others. During the chase, flash back to the events leading up to it. When I played this it was pretty fun and interesting, but it also instilled a little bit of distrust between the characters.
These are inspired from: http://www.treasuretables.org
20. As part of character creation, ask for a reason why each character is at the starting location. Tie the reasons into the plot as you build the scenarios.
21. Have a common threat bind the characters together. They’re all in the same town/tavern, or on the same wagon/caravan, and they have to help out.
22. Borrow from Spirit of the Century, and during the making of the backstory, have each person hand someone else their character; that person tells a story that involves both characters. Repeat.
23. Require each person to share a common thread or history with at least two other members of the group. It need not be the same thread with both (in Firefly, Zoe fought alongside Mal, but is married to Wash.), and multiple members can use the same threads (everyone is part of Mal’s crew).
24. Start in a jail where each character was somehow targeted by the same group or are disparate groups involved in the same caper. The plot then naturally gravitates towards unraveling that caper.
25. And then there’s one of my favorites: Crucify Elminster.
Take a well-known fact or central NPC figure and drastically alter it. This single action clearly states, “This is MY campaign, and what you think you know from reading all those books will only serve to confuse you.” And it gives a great mystery to investigate.
26. Start the campaign by having the PCs crawl out of a vat and become conscripts for demons in the Blood War. The last thing they remember is dying on their first adventure.
27. The characters find themselves in a room with about 340 other NPCs. They have no memory of their past lives. All they know are their class abilities, spells and skills. All they have is one suit of armor and one weapon.
Suddenly, the room starts filling with water. Four doors appear and a voice says, “Leave and work together to survive, or stay and drown.” So the PCs join together and have to overcome whatever problem they find beyond the door they pick.
28. In one of my most recent campaigns, I ran GURPS Fantasy/Cliffhangers. The PCs started out bound and gagged in the back of a horse-drawn carriage. There’s no driver and the carriage is heading straight towards a blind cliff edge. Each PC could feel a lump on his head where he had been knocked out. The captors had done a quick search and removed any obvious items or weapons.
If the player specified at character creation that he had something hidden, I left it there, as well as any armor he might have been wearing, as the captors didn’t take time to remove it.
I didn’t tell any of the players what I was planning ahead of time, just that it was a generic fantasy world. I also wrote down any gear the captors had removed and had it placed in a chest on the back of the carriage so that there was a chance at them salvaging any starting equipment.
29. I had an empire-wide contest to become a state- sanctioned treasure seeker. Every PC had to be a citizen and a desire to travel and adventure. To qualify for the contest, they had to display some feat. The players roleplayed this out so they could be introduced to each PC’s skill a little bit.
All the people who arrive for the contest are randomly put into groups of 10. Each group goes gets subjected to certain tests of skill, endurance and knowledge (all the PCs end up in the same group, of course).
I made sure to have one NPC in the group everyone was sure to hate (a snotty aristocrat know-it-all cheater) and one NPC everyone could laugh at (a club-footed-cleft-palated- idiot with a good heart).
In the middle of a contest, the audience rioted against the authorities. This gave the PCs a chance to come to the aid of the authorities and work together because all of the other NPCs ran away. They teamed up and demonstrated a little valor. They all succeed in becoming a state sanctioned treasure seeker, and for their actions during the riots they all receive a reward from the authorities at the same time.
I had plenty of options from that point. The PCs could be hired by the authorities to investigate the cause of the riot and the riot’s instigator could become a common enemy of the PCs. A new NPC could express interest in the group after having seen their work at the adventurer contest and offer to hire them. Or a PC leader could toss out his or her own adventure hook and invite the others to join in the quest.
30. The PCs are summoned to the capitol for a blood, magic or purity test. No one tells them why the test is necessary, why they’ve been chosen or what will happen if they test positive.
31. Two competing gods use player characters as pawns in a private bet:
“I bet you can’t make anyone I choose into your champions, and use them to start a new era of divine reverence of yourself.”
“Alright, sister, you’re on, but at least one of them has to believe in me to start with.”
Whilst the Chaotic Good god of Time, Hafrin, was up for the bet, his sister, Besellem, the Chaotic Evil goddess of Shadows, was more than happy to ensure she won it by arranging for minions to kill the PCs. This leaves the characters on the run, in fear of their lives and not sure why Hafrin was so interested in them in the first place. Given Hafrin’s motto is “Do what you think is right at the time,” divine guidance hasn’t been all it could have been….
A variant could be applied to other settings using powerful nobility, dragons, world leaders and so on.
32. At the start of the campaign, have the players answer two questions for their characters: What were you doing between the equivalent ages of 6 to 10, and how did you die? All the characters begin newly raised from the dead, trying to find out who brought them back and why.
33. For a modern or horror setting:
The light changes and you begin to cross the street surrounded by a large crowd as is the norm for this part of town. The same is happening across the street. As you near the middle of the street, you can see the corner ahead is clear of people. You glance away for a moment and when you look at the corner again, you see a few people running away. No surprise, there’s always someone in a rush to be somewhere, but you also notice a small boy with yellow-white hair, cream colored t-shirt and white pants. He’s holding something with a red splotch over his little chest. You notice this for only a split second before you realize he’s staring at you.
As you reach the corner, the boy stretches out both his arms to you, handing you something – an envelope of heavy cotton paper. “For you, Mr. Jacobson,” he says. You turn the envelope over to look at the red splotch, a red wax seal. You look back at the boy to ask him who he is and who sent the envelope but the boy is nowhere to be seen. He must have run away into the crowd.
Each of the characters received such an envelope from this enigmatic boy. The envelope contained an invitation to a dinner with a somewhat eccentric fellow who had an unnerving amount of information about each of them (dropped as hints, inside jokes and innuendo throughout the meal). The characters were then hired to retrieve an artifact before a rival group could acquire it. This same messenger boy has been employed a couple of times since.
When I ran this, two of the players were quite sure the red splotch was blood, and all of them have expressed different levels of creepy coming off this innocent little boy.
34. Village friends. Something happens in a backwater village and several friends work to solve the problem, encounter more interesting things and start to adventure. In this case, a farmer’s wife was taken by ogres. They got her back, but while out in the woods they discovered more things they wanted to explore.
Use circle development. At first, set adventures very close to your starting locale and develop outward, building plot hooks into the descriptions. You’ll be able to develop the region as you go, right down to the personalities of important or colorful NPCs.
35. A retired adventurer has set up an adventure club in a remote or dangerous location. In exchange for one share of the take and a choice among the magic taken, the club offers a comfortable base, researches possible adventures and supplies healing and recovery for the party.
36. This was for four characters starting at first level who did not know each other at the beginning of the campaign.
The characters responded to an advertisement looking for adventurers for hire. Upon arriving at the warehouse location they were instructed with along with everyone else to form a single line and lots would be drawn. Each lot would either be blank or have one of four symbols on it – drawing a blank would send you home.
I had the players actually pull lots for this at the table, and as “luck” would have it, they all pulled lots with the same symbol on it. In addition to the PCs, twelve others were selected and all sixteen were then seated at four tables – each table matching the symbol on the lot they pulled.
I next had a simple puzzle box challenge for the group to figure out. The players had to do this with a just little direction based on some knowledge rolls. They were told that only three teams would move onto the next challenge and they just managed to come in third.
After the puzzle box, the remaining teams had to negotiate a maze. There were four doors that could be used as an exit, all locked and each needing a different key. It was a condition that they use a key – no lockpicking! They were also informed that only two teams would move on from this challenge. In this case the PCs were first out.
The final challenge was a cross country race to the potential employer’s home – a tower about a day’s march. Along the way, there were two small encounters where the PCs had to use steel and spells to get through. Once at the tower the PCs were introduced to their potential employer and we moved on from there.
What was nice about this was that everyone was able to get into their characters and interact with each other. There was some nice role-playing involved, not just between the PCs but also with the other contestants (more than one enemy was made during this). It also gave everyone a chance to showcase a bit of their characters and build team unity among them.
37. I once ran a Champions campaign where superpowers had been declared outlawed by international agreement. This was following a massive war among super villains that left huge chunks of civilization in ruins, and most heroes and villains dead.
Twenty years later, the PCs were high-powered characters, all hiding their powers and trying to lead normal lives. They were virtually the only people in the world who recognized a supernatural uber threat to all mankind. They had to continually battle and hide from the UN superpower police (S.P.U.N. the players named that group), and battle the various warlocks and critter-type agents of the uber- demon.
I started it with one of the group members being chased by SPUN. The PCs were all strangers to each other, and the others joined the fray at a major intersection. Each PC had their own reason for being there, but was shocked at seeing another super, and moved to help him escape. A major fracas ensued, and only got more chaotic with the release of the first minor extra-dimensional minions. At the end of the fight, I let them see a few warlocks escaping, just to let them know there was an organized threat. They banded together and the campaign was on.
38. In the last campaign I ran, an NPC antagonist was involved directly or indirectly with the background stories of all the PCs. He had stolen a holy text from a temple and the cleric PC was sent to recover it. The ninja PC was sent to bring back his head, as he was a renegade ninja from the PC’s clan. The Sumo PC had visions of the end of the world involving this NPC.
The PCs were all on the same ship in hot pursuit of the NPC when it shipwrecked on an island. That night they discovered tiny tracks leading into and out of the beach. The PCs had to work together first to survive, then in search of their common foe.
39. I started a D&D campaign in a bar where weapons were not permitted and I would not allow the PCs to talk to each other. I had the players roll five d20s, write down the results and give them to me. I then started a fight and got them involved, using the results of the d20 rolls and a percentage chance of actually hitting the other PCs. The fight went five rounds before the city patrol came into the bar and threw them all in the same jail cell where they became friends and banded together to fight evil.
40. A friend of mine once started an Amber campaign like this:
Every PC has a secret the GM gives him. “Corwin is my father, but everyone thinks it is Eric. Never let anyone find out that Corwin is really my dad.” “When you were little and playing in the corridors of Castle Amber, you saw Dworkin walk through a secret door. Dworkin made you promise to never tell anyone of these secret passageways.”
All the PCs are told separately they need to keep an eye on one of the other PCs just in case they are insane.
They are all invited to the Amber Fall Ball in one week.
It set up intrigue from the very beginning. It was a great campaign.
41. The PCs discover that there is a monster inside one of them, but don’t know which one. Give PCs clues as to who and where while keeping them on their toes. They need to keep each other in sight lest the monster burst from one of them. This works as a great glue especially at low levels.
42. We had a London-based Shadowrun game where summoned spirits were actually demons breaking through, trying to destroy the world. The PCs were the chosen ones there to stop them, complete with an old man who was inheritor of prophecy and by awareness of the future had become immensely rich and influential to finance our fight against the demons.
As the plot gained speed and steam, we discovered what was going on (shocked Shadowrunners), learned the prophecy (incredulous Shadowrunners), found out the demons had three power centres – Stonehenge, a volcano in Hawaii, and the Pyramids, all three of which had to be active in order for them to take over the world – and we had to destroy one (hysterically incredulous and planning to be drunk Shadow runners).
Our mentor asked us, “Which do you want to assault first and what do you need to do it?”
“What have you got?”
“Well, I have contacts in the British Army, Navy and RAF, Government and Secret Service – whatever you need basically.”
“Okay, well tell you what, launch a cruise missile strike on Stonehenge and get a destroyer to bombard the pyramids to dust just to cover our bases. We’re going down the pub.”
“But that would cause an international incident!”
“It’s saving the world. By the way, we quit your employ, Mr. Johnson. Don’t call us.”
Only slightly bettered by the demolitions expert’s proposal to walk out of the building and say, “Oh, I’ve left my briefcase behind…. prophecy this.” *activate detonator* which wasn’t done in the end because the GM was staring at him in disbelief.
43. Have the characters spend one game session as younger versions of themselves. They start off as teenagers who all belong to the same clique. Present them as outsiders who share common antagonists such as the school bully, the popular group, abusive authorities, etc. Show how, by sticking together, they can overcome these obstacles. Then, flash forward ten years or so, or whenever you want your campaign to begin. Even if they have lost touch, there is still that bond.
44. In my current game, set in a dark version of my hometown of Mobile, AL, I was dealing with very diverse socio-economic characters. Some fabulously wealthy, some living in trailers, with all the life experiences such backgrounds entail. Normally, these characters would never hang around together. What I did was insert a similar tragedy into each of their backgrounds: the mysterious murder of a loved one. Then I had them meet each other at a group grief counseling session. The bonds were formed over a mutual tragedy that could allow each character to empathize with and like his or her peers.
45. The characters are all beneficiaries named in the will of a dead rich adventurer. One of the things he left them were maps to adventure sites he never visited. Sure, it’s a bit trite, but it worked well.
46. Make the PCs all part of the same organization. I had created the Dragonslayers. All characters were taken from their homes around 10-15 years old (they were dwarves), to be taken to the Dragonslayers’ home. In that world, I had decided that the number 5 was important, so all groups were five people. I had four players, and I teamed them up with a fifth character who was them teleport specialist.
47. The family reunion. All the characters had the same unknown father and all had decided to look for him. In following clues, they had ended up in the same place. This is handy if you have an often-changing group of players, as new characters can be easily introduced when necessary. We never did find out what was up with dear ol’ dad, but we had no race restrictions either….
48. The game started in the winter season. All the characters were travelling separately in the same area and suddenly it began to snow much harder than normal. The snow came down harder and harder, until the weather conditions were so bad they had to look for shelter.
The only place where they could shelter was an old crumbled tower.
So all of the characters made a run for the tower, and once inside they saw other people (the other characters) who were also taking shelter from the blizzard. And at a point when all of them were inside and were introduced to each other, the only entrance collapsed.
The only way to get out was to work together, because they had to go through a mini-dungeon I worked out, where each character had a chance to stand in the spotlight and show to the rest of the party how useful they were.
49. Overwhelmed hiring NPC. This idea can work well whether the PCs know each other or not. If they don’t, they get to learn about each other; if they do, they can sometimes relive past accomplishments to help convince the NPC.
Have the PCs participate in a group interview? Each has their own reasons for interviewing for a job: competition, to be part of a caravan, or whatever the event is.
However, due to overwhelming response, the hiring NPC decides to conduct group interviews. The characters just happen to be selected to all interview together. They quickly realize this has turned into a full group interview, and if even one of the people in the room with them right now isn’t satisfactory they will all miss out on the opportunity.
It is always fun to see the party members touting each other’s skills and abilities, and even showing off or lying to get the position they want. Sometimes, they may even find that what they say is actually something they believe.
50. Choose your party. This idea can take a little longer to get going, but ultimately the players will feel it was their choice to travel and meet challenges together. It can also help them to appreciate why each of them is needed.
Present one PC with a challenge. When attempted, the PC should realize they are going to need help. They then start searching out the right type of people who can and will help them.
This start can take a little longer, but it permits an opportunity for role playing and non-combat teamwork. It also presents a few places to place plot hooks for future events (the challenge itself, rumors heard while searching for other adventurers, and my personal favorite, snubbed NPCs).
51. Bumping into each other. Another strategy I use is that most player’s characters will be traveling at some point, for some reason. They all happen to be near an area at about the same time, and an event occurs, such as smoke in the distance at a burning wayside inn, a young woman traveling alone is attacked nearby or a farmer’s wagon breaks down in the road. Just come up with an event that you think all of your players would interrupt their travels for, and place it smack in the middle of all of them.
52. The PCs are all kids from the same small town and same age going to adventure when a mutual friend disappears.
53. The PCs are all in the same mess: they find themselves in the same ruins with no memory of the past, or traveling in the same area when a geological or weather-based crisis strikes and they’re forced to take shelter together.
54. You’re in the army now: There’s a large scale war and the characters have been enrolled. However, their special abilities mark them for a special investigation unit as evil cults are growing now that most of the weapon wielders are away from home.
55. the PCs dream of each other, perhaps because each has a special item that relates. In my campaign, the PCs all found an odd shaped stone bearing a rune. Those stones provided special abilities (e.g. fire rune -> protection vs. fire) and gave dreams showing the possessors or the location of the other stones. All the stones formed a jigsaw puzzle. This had a long introduction. It took four sessions to get everyone together.
56. An evil cult in a small Massachusetts town wants to grow tourism to provide more victims with less hassle. They use the town council to create a Historical Development Committee, which is run by the cultists. The PCs are members of a team from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, brought in as contractors.
Jeremy B., Jay P. Hailey, Chris J. Whitcomb, Eric, FitzMedrud, Deformed Rabbit, Jae Walker, Jonac Marcel, Soylent Green, Garry Stahl, John Gallagher, Reed Ulvestad, Telas, Bobby Nichols, Gus, Jeffrey G. Strause, Bobby Nichols, Kate Manchester, Mike “Pika” McLarty, Fred Ramsey, François Beausoleil, Sandrinnad, Jeroen Aarts, Mike D., Joachim de Ravenbel, Tom, Mark of the Pixie, Jeremehovah, Steve
Thanks to Heather Myers for a super editing job on this issue.
A Brief Word from Johnn
Howdy fellow GMs,
I had a great game session Thursday (that included a cool birthday gift from my players). In a previous session, the PCs made enemies of githyanki by stealing the leader’s silver sword. Now the githyanki want it back.
We ended last session with the PCs getting news of an imminent githyanki attack on their inn. So we started session #15 of the campaign with the group preparing for a mighty assault. Also, Pat’s character fell in session #14, so his new cleric was introduced in an interesting way, which relates a bit to this week’s topic – character starts in campaigns.
As the PCs readied for attack they spotted someone getting mugged in the alley across the street. Two thugs sapped some poor person and started looting. I asked Pat what his character’s race was. He said elven, so I said the victim in the alley might have elven features. By the time help arrived, the muggers had stripped their victim almost naked.
Pat, who was already giving me the evil eye for literally jumping his new character in to the campaign, was turning pink as he could only sit by and watch two NPCs stripping all his starting equipment. Ah yes, it puts a twinkle in the GM’s eye, doesn’t it?
So battle ensues and the two brigands suddenly receive sniper support as poisoned arrows thunk into exposed flesh! Everyone around the table is nervous as these thieves are tougher than they first appear. Could it be a precursor to the githyanki assault? Pat’s apoplectic (say that ten times in a row, fast).
Then I announce that a new figure appears out of the dark and stormy night. He approaches the alley battle with caution. It is none other than Pat’s character! Bait and switch.
Hey, what are jerk friends for? I’ll remember that character introduction for many years to come. Good times.
Oh, and my reward for jerking Pat around? A new bar fridge. My players pitched in for my birthday to get my game room a way to keep all our bevvies chilled. Thanks again guys! It’s awesome.
And hey – guess what’s in my new bar fridge right now? Your minis! That’s right, you’ve been warned. The githyanki are gonna put you on ice. See you in two weeks! Johnn Four’s photos.
The following interesting tid bit is copied from The Escapist Blog.
Two quick stories about D&D in pop culture:
First, the Wikipedia page for the classic Dungeons & Dragons module Ravenloft featured on the front page of Wikipedia October 6th, 2010. This was due to the efforts of wiki editors like Kevin Baase and others who have worked to make the Ravenloft entry worthy of such an honor. In July, the page for The Expedition to the Barrier Peaks was featured on the front page for the same reason.
Next, it looks like D&D has earned another honor – a nomination into the Toy Hall of Fame at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. The Rochester Business Journal explains that twelve finalists will be considered for the two nominations for 2010. The other finalists are: Cabbage Patch Kids, chess, the dollhouse, dominoes, the Game of Life, Hot Wheels, Lite Brite, the Magic 8 Ball, playing cards, the pogo stick, and Rubik’s Cube.
With that sort of competition, it may not seem likely that D&D will get one of the two spots, but I wouldn’t rule it out; the Toy Hall of Fame seems to have an appreciation for toys that encourage imagination. According to the article, one of the criteria for induction is how the toy fosters learning or discovery through play. And if that’s not enough for you, one of the previous 44 nominees into the Hall was the cardboard box.
The final inductees will be announced on November 4th.
Reader Tips Request
Hi Johnn, I’ve been following your articles for a while now and look forward to each arriving in my email. Up till now I’ve just been a reader, but after a recent RPG session I feel I must share something.
My GM is getting boring. Not in the game itself, but boring in – of all things – his descriptions.
Last session he said things like, “You have found a bag of gems.” Why not say “You have found a velveteen pouch with a dozen, small, coin-sized gems. They appear to be rubies but have a slightly darker color.” That is SO much more interesting.
We also encountered “A troll with a club.” Why not say something like, “You have come across a troll strangely he has an ear missing and a smile on his face. He wields a club made of a large bone.” Different and memorable.
What I am saying is, please GMs (I do occasionally GM, and when it’s my turn I intend to make the effort) make a little effort not to fall into the boring descriptions habit. These things can be ad-libbed in a matter of seconds and make every encounter, treasure and other description something to remember.
Could you pass this on, Johnn? Perhaps readers could send in tips on descriptions. How can I help my GM make his descriptions better?
Game Master Tips & Tricks
Do you have a game mastering tip to share? E-mail [email protected] – thanks!
1. Another Great Obstacle Course Idea
From: Jerry Jensen
Congratulations on reaching #500! I’ve been waiting to see the city encounters and found many of them to be fun and interesting. I also saw you posted a response to my inquiry regarding an obstacle course. I really like readers’ ideas and will use them as part of a climatic ending for my Fighters Guild training course.
I also came up with obstacle cards for 3 different courses, easy, moderate and hard. Each card has a point value assigned, which is awarded if the PC completes the obstacle successfully. More on that below.
To add to the excitement, and to give the course a “rigged” effect (for entertainment if the obstacle course is used for a gauntlet type of game) there are also checkboxes at the bottom of each card to see if a conditional modifier is added. If so, a modifier card is drawn at random and added to the obstacle. Some cards say “no additional modifier” and some have a “special” checkbox.
So, for example, a PC is faced with a knotted swing rope, the DM uses the special box and adds in a magical invisible wall half way across. The intent is meant to be funny and entertaining, rather than humiliating the players.
Last but not least is the point system. Players are awarded points for each obstacle they complete in the course. If they fail an obstacle they can retry if stated on the card or move on to the next obstacle.
If they make it within the top three positions, they are awarded prizes (usually gold). The DM would determine the point value of the top three positions based on the overall length and difficulty of the course.
I made a file for RP readers of my obstacle course cards, if they are interested.
Here are my D&D notes on building the course.
Steps to Building a D&D Obstacle Course.
10(+) cards to represent course (or track)
- each card has 1 obstacle
- cards may be laid out in a sequence or pulled at random to create the first course.
Obstacles – Assign each a DC (add Skill Check modifiers as needed)
- Trivial DC 10
- Simple DC 1
- Standard DC 20
- Difficult DC 25
- Very difficult DC 30
Reminder: Like building a chase, vary the DCs and skill checks. Two obstacles from card-to-card should be roughly within 5 points, not identical.
- Rope wall, rope ladder, rope bridge, tightrope, swing rope
- Rock wall, pole, pole tops, narrow ledge, (add moving to each of these to increase DC by 5)
- Wood bridge, swinging objects
Targeted Skill Checks:
- Acrobatics (balance, dive, flip, jump, roll)
- Escape Artist (slip out of bonds or restraints, tight spaces, grapples)
- Fortitude (withstand physical punishment – i.e., avoid being fatigued)
- Reflex (dodge area attacks or unexpected situations)
Fees and Winnings:
Beginner (to DC15)
Entry fee – 50 gp
1st place – 600 gp
2nd place – 400 gp
3rd place – 200 gp
Intermediate (to DC25)
Entry fee -100 gp
1st place-1,000 gp
2nd place-750 gp
3rd place – 500 gp
Expert (to DC30+)
Entry fee -200 gp
1st place – 2,000 gp
2nd place – 1,600 gp
3rd place – 1,200 gp
In larger cities, participants may have to complete a separate qualifier course to determine their skill level.
Courses may be scored by time or point value. When a participant cannot complete an obstacle they incur the appropriate penalty and move to the next obstacle.
2. Good Tile Map Maker
From: Ben Scerri
Greetings again Johnn,
I just found this randomly: http://members.cox.net/shawnriordan/tilesystem.htm
It is a Tile Map maker originally designed for use with the Doom Board Game (designing layouts etc) but it can be used to make some nifty grid based dungeon maps.
3. Create PC Dossiers
I just read the Design the Party Not the Characters article. It’s fun. One thing my fellow GM and I have done in our group for the last two or three campaigns is character dossiers.
The characters have fully fleshed out backgrounds. If they know each other, that relationship has to be worked out for both players ahead of time and written down.
The dossiers also include details such as favorite pop culture and terrible fears so characters don’t suddenly charge at something that reminds them of their worst fear.
It has worked especially well in my current horror campaign and my friend’s espionage campaign. It gave us good ideas of what would terrify the characters and what a character’s actual identity was.[Thanks for the tip, Jeremy. Readers, there are a couple of dossier tips in this post Mike and I did at Campaign Mastery you might find useful: How to survive political games with paranoia and intrigue.]
4. Showing Players a New Game Without Overwhelming Them
This is Clive. I have a question about new people in D&D at college. How do I, as the DM, show them the system without overloading them with details and still make it enticing at the same?
P.S. They seem in seem interested in D&D but I really don’t want to scare them.
- Offer them pre-generated encounters.
- Build a strong PC group backstory and reason for sticking together and acting as a team.
- Have NPCs use various rules and tactics against the PCs. Even if this sometimes puts the NPCs in weak tactical positions, it’s worth using them as learning devices until the group is up to speed.
- Use a series of simple encounters to highlight a new rule or situation each time.
That last one is key, and the best format I’ve found is a competition, like a tournament. Run a series of events. Start first with one based on a simple skill, like perception. Then a more complex skill, like stealth. Even if the PCs are poor at these skills, it introduces the mechanic to them and a safe environment (a tournament).
Once you are ready to do combat, start with an archery contest. Then do a three-round much (highest damage wins) one-on-one. Then do group combats. Then do wrestling (grappling) and special maneuvers events (bull rush, flanking, etc.). Then do a free-for-all.
Offer a few side competitions for magic.
Introduce interesting NPCs as you go. Then near the end of the tournament, introduce a small plot, like the Princess being kidnapped. Allow the PCs downtime (i.e. an evening between a two-day tournament) to pursue this short plot. Then on day #2 hold your final event (best if the free-for- all) and a ceremony at the end for all the event winners plus a surprise award to the PCs for saving the Princess. Along with the reward is the next plot hook, such as a special meeting with the King on the morrow.
I’ve run this scenario a few times and it always works with new players.
Interesting Game Master Links
Some recent blog posts you might be interested in:
Excel File Generates Shop Inventory For You
How to Run a Manhunt
How Can GMs Evoke the Tone of Danger in an RPG?
Bang! Why The Start Is So Important
GM Interview: Jenette Downing
Roleplaying A Black Dragon
6 Ways to Enhance Magic Items
25 Cleric Character Hooks
Plot flowchart example
The Minds Eye: Examining Psionics