Adventures In Business – How To GM PC Entrepreneurs
From Johnn Four
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0634
- A Brief Word From Johnn
- Adventures In Business – How To GM PC Entrepreneurs
- d30 Business Ideas
- Monthly Earnings (d6)
- How Can You Break The Grind Habit?
- Red Green Initiative
- DIY Map Overlays
- Better Narration
A Brief Word From Johnn
New Home For The RPG Blog Carnival Archives
The carnival presents a single theme each month, hosted by a different blog. Roleplaying game bloggers then write an article on that theme and the host collects all the links into one easy place for gamers to check out.
Past themes have included races and aliens, Star Wars, devious dungeons, favourite NPCs, and more. Dozens of carnivals are listed on the RPG Blog Carnival Archives page, which I’ve volunteered to host.
Check out all the great blogs and topics » The RPG Blog Carnival
It’s a big issue this week, so I won’t say much else, except to ask you a quick question.
Are you finding the Back to Contents links useful in the newsletter? Or should I not bother with them?
I’m thinking they’re just an extra fiddly bit I need to do for each newsletter, but if you find them useful I’ll keep adding them. Let me know.
Get some gaming done this week!
Adventures In Business – How To GM PC Entrepreneurs
In my Riddleport campaign, the PCs owned an inn. It was their home base – a place to rest, meet, and plan. It also generated the party some extra gold pieces each month.
I’ve GM’d character-run businesses before, but this was the first time the whole party got involved.
And it was a fantastic success.
In today’s tips, I’ll share with you how to setup a character-owned business and some of the things I’ve learned GMing them.
What Do They Sell?
Consider first the business idea. What will the party sell? What goods and services will they offer?
I chose an inn for Riddleport for several reasons:
- Inn and tavern were a well-known concept to players
- It worked within my city design (some business ideas might be too weird or wrong for your setting)
- It offered lots of NPC interaction (so a great source of hooks, clues, and campaign plotting)
- It could be divided up by the players (each PC got his own room, for example)
- It was class and rules independent (all characters could easily join in)
- Was a great and easy way to unify the party and have a party HQ in a city campaign
Before the campaign, I pitched the idea to the group. They liked the concept and I ran with it. I did some pre-campaign design and prep for it, then handed it over to the PCs in the first encounter.
So, I would approach this first step of What Do They Sell? this way:
- You and/or your players come up with one or more ideas for a business
- Get group agreement on what business concept they want to play
- Go away and do some prep (using the tips in this article)
- Figure out how you’ll introduce the business
- Hand it over to the players
With regards to point #4, you have a few options:
- Party owns and runs it from start of campaign
- Party acquires a business after campaign begins
- Party starts a business from scratch as campaign premise
- Party starts a business from scratch after campaign begins
If the business is the raison d’être for the campaign, then you can do a lot of planning and dreaming up front. The business is a fixed and known concept from the start, and you can design with this in mind.
For example, the PCs might be caravaners. A caravan is great because PCs can be guards, hagglers, buyers, sellers, fixers, scouts, and other roles. In this case then, you know the party will be doing lots of travelling. You’ll need to design destinations and way points. Routes and obstacles. Merchants and markets.
If the business gets introduced after the campaign starts, then you have an opportunity to game it all out. From opportunity to action to results. This means you can approach things at your own pace and evolve the business over time, making tweaks and corrections as you go. For example, high level PCs might decide to start a business and semi-retire. Or maybe after a successful quest the party says, “That was fun, let’s do it again!
This is a nice approach because the business itself can be a form of party or character reward. You give them the opportunity for doing something like making the area safe for business, or for getting a perk out of the adventuring the party does anyway. For example, maybe as one adventure seed the group delivers a bounty. They earn whatever rewards for the adventure plus the treasure they find, and an extra bit of gold for the bounty. The group likes this setup and decides to ask around if there are other bounties available.
This can evolve into the premise of the campaign, or be just an adventure trigger or side-plot you run in the background.
So take a step back at the start and decide what role the business should play in the campaign, or if you’ll leave that up to the players, and whether the business is part of the campaign start or an opportunity later on.
Who’s In Charge?
The business will get faced with various decisions, as many or as few as you design or the PCs trigger.
Figure out with your players up front how these decisions will get made. Also, encourage all decisions be made in-character for good gaming.
Here are some ways to manage decisions:
- Party meeting and vote, majority wins (great roleplaying opportunity here)
- Any PC has authority to make decisions on his own, without consulting the others (offers faster game progression but more party conflicts)
- Quorum of a certain number of PCs required to meet and make an official decision (makes it easier when the party gets split up)
- Dice roll (chaotic, but offers quick decisions in the spirit of our dice-style hobby)
- Other – players to come up with a system and honour it
There’s another interesting option I’d like to present to you, which I’ve had good experience with before.
Have an NPC make the decisions. An NPC is the boss or owner, letting the PCs focus on whatever actions the business needs.
In one campaign, Durghan the dwarf was the boss of a caravan and the PCs were guards and did whatever needed doing to keep merchants safe and happy. Durghan is my favourite NPC of all time. I’ll tell you why sometime in the future.
But as part-owners of a business in the game, the PCs got a stake in the profits without having to manage the day-to-day tedium of operations, finances, and other details. They just obeyed orders (more or less) and had their adventures.
If you think an owner, or even an ownership group of some kind such as a cabal of wizards or something interesting like that, would give you the best of both worlds, then go for it. The campaign involves a business the PCs own and care about, while the party remains unencumbered by the operational commitments.
Regardless, figure out from the start how decisions get made so you know how to GM the situation.
d30 Business Ideas
Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about what type of business the PCs could get into.
- Magic item dealers
- Thieves’ guild
- Inn or tavern owners
- Monster parts emporium
- Alchemy shop
- Bounty hunters
- Private investigators
- Scribes, translators, and linguists
- Spellcasting services
- Gladiator school
- Exotic brewery
- Loan sharks
- Casino or gambling den
- Plantation style farming
- Adventure planners, consultants
- Protection services
- Circus or carnival operators or acts
- Cattle or monster drivers
- Antique restoration
- Map makers, cartographers
- Code breakers
- Trap makers, finders, breakers
- Street entertainers
Thanks to Jesse Cohoon, Dale Himebaugh, Eric Nieudan, and Michael Fuller for helping make this list.
Mix In Two Parts Plot
Before going further with business-side planning, stop and figure out how the operation fits into your campaign.
For example, in Riddleport I got the idea of running an inn first, then I worked it into the campaign premise and plot.
Here are a few things to consider when fitting this piece into your plot jigsaw:
Will the business have an address? Or will the PCs run it from their encumbrance list?
If the business has a location, think about the best plot place for it. For example, put it in contented territory, near rivals, close to the dungeon entrance, beside the palace.
Also make sure the spot is convenient for the party. If it’s too much trouble getting to the business from adventure sites, it will soon get ignored. For example, if there are hazards, obstacles, or game-delaying encounters in the way each time. That’s not fun.
Make a map of the business and its surrounding area. This makes it more tangible to visual players, and will come in handy when the party needs to figure out logistics, such as combat, where each PC’s space is, and where any valuable items get stored. In Riddleport, a player drew a fantastic map of the Chalice Inn for me, so consider asking if any of your players are interested in taking on this task.
Appeal to the treehouse-climbing and fort-making parts of your players. Make the location interesting and the premises cool. For example, the PCs’ inn in Riddleport had a history, was built like a small keep, and had interesting NPCs as staff. Lots of small hooks to get players interested and proud of the place.
Speaking of history, give the business or location a quick but interesting past.
And work in several plot hooks. You get instant jigsaw fit this way.
Note, you don’t have to reveal all the backstory or hooks at the start. Reveal them slowly.
For example, the PCs’ Riddleport inn was called The Inn of the Silver Chalice. Or Chalice, for short.
At the start of the campaign the PCs discovered a secret door in the basement. It was magically sealed and they could not open it yet. It was a great mystery that gnawed. What was behind the door?
Then villains and other third parties tried to sneak into the basement and crack that door. That amped up everyone’s curiosity.
Another hook was the former owner who bequeathed the inn to the party. His name was Saul.
As the PCs slowly explored Riddleport, they learned all the inn and tavern owners were named Saul. What did this mean and how did it affect the Chalice and the PCs? More mysteries.
In the first session, I relayed a short story about who built the Chalice. It was a humble innkeeper trying to feed his family. The inn did well. Then it burnt down. The innkeeper rebuilt the inn. The inn thrived. Then it burnt down again. Frustrated, the innkeeper poured his life savings and rebuilt the inn, but this time he made it out of stone. The inn would never burn down again. But unfortunately, soon after the inn re-opened, the innkeeper and his family disappeared.
Another mystery, and this short backstory helped make the business feel like part of the world and the campaign.
Weave plot hooks and setting details into the business’s history.
With the Chalice, I went all the way and made the plot dependent on it. Whether the PCs kept the inn or not, the secret door in the basement would be a critical part of the campaign’s climax.
You don’t have to go this far to integrate the business into your campaign, though it’s rewarding if you choose this route.
Else, look for ways you can bring the business into play once in awhile as part of the plot.
Customers are one good way to do this. For example, the PCs run an exotic goods and coin exchange galleria. In the region, there’s not many who will exchange the party’s treasure for gold, because it’s a risky business, a soft market, or there’s no businessman interested in doing that. So the PCs decide to open a galleria and sell their treasure themselves.
During the campaign, you make various customers into plot-related NPCs. Perhaps one is the King in disguise – an avid collector of ancient coins unable to resist the lure of seeing what the PCs have scavenged. The King comes back again, but this time as himself, with full guard cohort. Then the King sends an agent and asks for the PCs’ help with a delicate matter….
All kinds of possibilities open up with customers becoming plot hooks.
You can also make the business’s needs a source of encounters and adventures. A business will need supplies. Perhaps there’s a shortage or an expected resupply goes missing. Or maybe something strange is found in one of the crates. Or maybe the Thieves’ Guild is using the PCs’ supplies as a smuggling operation right under the party’s noses. Good stuff.
Another option is maintenance. The roof caves in. The mage’s fireball does, well, what fireballs do. The PCs bring back a weird fungus that spreads in the basement. Look for ways and means to turn grounds keeping, building maintenance, and the mundane operation of the business into occasional adventures. Little Shop of Horrors is a nice idea.
It’s good to turn business into adventure once in awhile, but avoid over-doing it or the PCs will find it too much bother and bail. I might start with one business-related encounter every session, and one business-related adventure every third adventure. That was the rate I aimed for in Riddleport, and you can tweak frequency as you like once the campaign unfolds. For example, if a current plot thread is hot and engaging everyone, delay a business encounter until the thread gets resolved or until a deliberate pacing moment.
However, that said, you can skip all the worry about the business causing friction by making it a plot enabler. In this way, it becomes a plot device without frustrating players with distractions, administrivia, or costly delays.
For example, with the Silver Chalice being an inn, it became a natural meeting place. Villains, rivals, and allies all met with the PCs there. At the players’ option, they would provide security or make plans to counter trickery. Else, I only focused on the NPCs and the inn stayed quiet in the background, not intruding on the intrigue, politics, and roleplay.
And that’s another tip and this moment is as good as any to pass it along. Be generous with the business. You know the game master axiom, “Say yes”? I encourage you to say yes with regards to the business. If the players want to make secret rooms (and we know they will, lol) let them. If they want to trap up their possessions and secret places (and we know they will…) let them.
I’ll get into allowing player personalization as a form of reward a bit later, but for now, just try to use the business to facilitate plot and story development. The business doesn’t need to be the source of it all the time. Instead, make it an asset for the party to gather information, meet new NPCs, help with their schemes, and fit into the world.
Give It Secrets
Give the biz a few secrets. I mentioned a couple examples of this before, with the secret door in the basement and the weird group of Sauls.
However, I didn’t mention that a devil named Astrinus, who was an active NPC in the campaign, was responsible for burning the inn down those two times and for disappearing the innkeeper and his family.
Also, an old elf was living on the inn’s roof, tending a magnificent herb garden. The PCs discovered him early on, but it would turn out the elf would have a key role to play in the plot.
And the cook was a spy. And an enemy kept a stakeout going across the street to report on the party’s comings and goings. And another enemy made the bartender a double agent.
Secrets are great.
For businesses that don’t have a past because the PCs start it fresh during the campaign, you can deliver secrets anytime via NPCs. Customers, suppliers, employees, neighbours. If the business has a location, you can give that spot of land a secret past or quality.
And then there’s repercussions of services or goods sold. Once business has been conducted, you can add secrets to consequences of that transaction. For example, as mentioned before, by making business supply runs into a cover for Thieves’ Guild smuggling.
Gold In, Gold Out
Once you know what the business sells, create a simple revenue model. Figure out how much the business will earn. Like an experience point system or encounter CR calculation, use your projected revenues to gauge game balance. You don’t want the business to earn so much money the party decides to retire from adventuring.
A nice way to do this is with a weekly or monthly dice roll. That puts all results on a chart, making revenues more predictable and game balance easier to maintain.
Start with a monthly base earnings amount. Use your game rules equipment costs, magic item costs, and crafting costs to gauge a fair number. Also have the campaign setting factor in. For example, selling stone carvings in a dwarven stronghold is going to be tough.
I would also look at starting treasure amounts and base earnings on that. You don’t want the business to overshadow treasure earnings, unless that’s the point of the campaign.
However, you are only worried about the early stages of your campaign. As the PCs gain experience, their adventuring hauls will far surpass what the business offers. The business will not keep up with treasure levels, unless that’s the point of the campaign. Instead, you are just concerned with maintaining game balance at the early, fragile levels when game balance might get destroyed with +500, +5000, or +50,000 gp money injections each month from a business.
Factor in all these conditions and pick a base earnings amount. For Riddleport, it was 1,000 gold pieces a month, and the PCs were level 1.
Then have the die roll on a table affect that.
For example, the PCs run an exotic bakery. They hire bakers and preparers, plus a manager to run the business while the party is away gathering exotic ingredients. Each month, the business will earn on average 100 gp, which is inline with your world and equipment rule calibrations.
Monthly Earnings (d6)
- 1 Business is terrible. It loses d100 gp.
- 2 Business is poor. It earn loses d10 gp.
- 3-4 Business is average. It earns 50+5d10 gp.
- 5 Business is good. It earns 100+5d10 gp.
- 6 Business is great. It earns 200+10d10 gp.
As you can see, it’s a simple chart. Make it what you wish. Consider also adding qualities to the results:
- 1 Business is terrible. It loses d100 gp. The law investigates complaints against you.
- 2 Business is poor. It earn loses d10 gp. Someone vandalizes your location.
- 3-4 Business is average. It earns 50+5d10 gp. You earn 1d4 new regular customers.
- 5 Business is good. It earns 100+5d10 gp. Someone notable becomes a customer.
- 6 Business is great. It earns 200+10d10 gp. +1 to your permanent business Reputation.
Tie one or more of the PCs’ skills into the dice check, to make revenues a lever or game option players can affect.
In Riddleport, one PC was chosen and we used his merchant skill and charisma modifier. If PCs explained how they helped the business that month, they could roll an Aid check to give the merchant PC a +2 on his roll.
Simple, fast mechanics like this help the business become an NPC in its own right, and get the players roleplaying, without bogging the game down in balance sheets and profit and loss reports.
Pay With Rewards
Gold is just a minor benefit of having an in-game business in your campaign. The players get some extra spending money in a good month, and that’s great.
But if you sew other types of rewards into this game element, your campaign and players get a whole bunch of cool additional benefits.
First, use the business to introduce NPCs into your game ongoing, and to make various important NPCs recurring customers so you build up the relationships over time in a natural way.
The King idea above is a good example of this.
Pull Don’t Push
A TPK Patron recently asked me how to make hooks not seem like hooks. The best way is to have players pull them from NPCs. If players do the pulling, then it feels very natural and immersive to them.
Do this by roleplaying transactions and throwing in strategic hints. For example, an NPC drops by the brewery to order 10 tuns of the PCs’ best brew. You roleplay it.
“The man looks disheveled and frantic. He seems impatient to get the order done. Krug, you wonder from this guy’s ratty garb whether he’s got enough money to pay you for the ale.
Then you don’t say another word and see how it plays out. You threw in a couple of clues and interesting bits there. You also brought Krug into the encounter in a way that makes it seem like he’s active and observant – a subtle intro technique.
Many players will get curious and ask their customer why he’s in such a state. The NPC will say he’s a manservant for a merchant who just rolled into town and is holding a party to woo the local nobles.
If the conversation develops further, and perhaps the PCs make some social checks (or my preference – just roleplay it out until tension of some kind emerges) the manservant shares his opinions of his master. The fat merchant is not a nice man, he’s always running some kind of con, he makes more money robbing nobles than he does selling his goods.
If the game plays out this way, it will feel to the players like they earned this hook. Their clever parley and ability to get a stranger to confide in them. Their alertness to something unusual and chatting up an NPC. Their ability to start putting the clues and gossipy bits together into some kind of narrative and picture of what’s going on here.
Compare this pull approach to just pushing it out:
“The brewery has a big order today. One customer in particular has ordered 10 barrels. He’s part of a caravan that just rolled in. You hear rumours the head merchant is a con man and he feasts on unsuspecting nobles.
That feels like a plot hook. It feels like you’re directing the players in a certain direction. You’re pushing.
But in the roleplay example, it’s all on the players. They’re pulling. All you did was provide the opportunity.
Anyway, that’s a side ramble. Back to the main point,. You can queue up such opportunities for players to pull hooks, clues, and information to trigger new adventures or propel existing plots forward all day long this way. The business becomes a rewarding part of the game, beyond a few gold pieces.
In addition, use the business to reward players with spotlight time. In Riddleport, I often called out specific PCs with business events or things that happened to them as a result of doing business.
For example, while the wizard was visiting the Mage Guild requesting membership, I told two other players their characters notice a table of drunken customers giving their servers a bad time. There was no plot hook here, just a quick and interesting activity to play out.
You can also spotlight under-used skills on character sheets as a reward. Just scan character abilities and think up ways to brings various skills into play. All kinds of encounters and situations are possible with any business – puzzles, social, combat, skill challenges.
The PCs in Riddleport soon became heroes to their neighbours. A community feel began to emerge as the group got to know the smith at the end of the block, the hatter next door, Saul who owned the Golden Goblin.
Several encounters involved one or more characters helping people. They fended off bullies, gave fatherly advice to impetuous teens, cleared out a basement or two of spiders and rats.
As relationships grew and connections formed, the party enjoyed the community that was forming around their leadership. A neat reward for just running an inn.
Some players might enjoy a Biz Sim. They want to simulate running a business because it’s fun for them.
That’s great. I say let them run with it as it’ll give them interesting things to do when they wait for their turn or between sessions.
I’d start simple. Run it like a lemonade stand. As mentioned, figure out a monthly earnings base for an average business in their market.
You might add a random events table. Kind of like wandering monsters, but for accounting. 🙂
Events might include unexpected expenses such as a roof collapse or small fire, a Big Fish customer who brings in new business, an interesting offer from a shadowy supplier, an increase in ingredient prices, a jump in rent, things like that.
Ask the players to give you a list of monthly expenses. What are the costs of running the business? Then add your own items and tweak the others as you see fit.
Next, ask players how they will drum up business.
You might give the business a reputation score. The reputation is a modifier for a monthly revenue roll. This can represent repeat customers and word of mouth.
At the end of each month, total up revenues and expenses. Subtract expenses from the revenues. If the amount is great that zero, that’s profit and the PCs add that to their loot. If the amount is less than zero, that’s a loss.
Losses get subtracted from loot. If the PCs can’t pay, serve up an unscrupulous loan shark.
Oh, and don’t forget taxes. Decide who’s going to tax the business and how much. The local lord, the King, the Church, and the Thieves’ Guild offering “protection” are all good tax options.
Finally, your game world hates success. The common folk and the innocent love heroes. But who loves rich merchants? The more successful the PCs’ business becomes, the more enemies it will acquire. At the least, run a torches-and-pitchforks encounter where the locals demand lower prices from the fancy, rich player characters. Likewise, any authority or agency who sniffs good profits will attempt to lean on the PCs for higher payments or new taxation.
Yet, all this becomes another form of reward. No games thrives without conflict. There needs to be uncertainty. And if the PCs overcome this type of adversity, then a successful business becomes a badge of victory for them.
Create Interesting Customers (With Interesting Problems)
We’ve already discussed this a bit, so here’s a quick recap:
Use the business as a major source of NPCs. Introduce new NPCs who will be important later on. Bring back interesting NPCs for more interactions and relationship building.
Have the business trigger encounters. They can be standalone encounters for a change of pace, or encounters tied to the main plot.
I especially enjoyed using the Chalice to trigger encounters for PC side plots. The party split up a lot during the city-based campaign, and the business became an easy way to get characters left out of the loop back into the action.
For example, while some PCs were out chasing down leads, I’d have a messenger drop by with a note for an idle PC. The note would be a summons, a clue, or something to get the player active and engaged again. Worked great.
Customers are a fantastic source of gaming opportunities. At its core, the business exists to solve problems people have. Hopefully the business premise attracts interesting problems. For example, the PCs are private investigators.
But even if the business is more mundane, such as a carpentry shop, you can still introduce interesting customers with interesting problems. For example, an NPC needs new furniture. Why? Perhaps his son has sorcerous powers and is accidentally setting off fires. The PCs know from the main plot that sorcerers are being hunted down by an evil cult. If the party chooses, they can take this simple bit of commerce and go down the rabbit hole.
Life without challenges would be boring for the party. And an easy way to make the business itself a challenge is to introduce enemies. NPCs or agencies who either actively oppose business operation and development, or who present obstacles and challenges without intending it.
Set up another business that competes for the PCs’ customers or the community’s accolades. Engage in pricing wars or competition over suppliers.
“Ffargan the manager tells you this morning you only have a few ingredients left. You’ll soon run out and the business will have to close down.
“What!? Why? What happened to our ingredients?
“Well, Ffarghan says the supplier is way overdue. It’s been over a month since he dropped by last.
“Ok, let’s go find the supplier and get more ingredients.
“You find the warehouse and see it’s very busy. It looks like the supplier is doing a booming business.
“We find him and ask why he hasn’t resupplied us this month.
“Gardroop is very busy, and it takes a couple of minutes to capture his attention. When you do, you learn he dropped you off his supply run.
“Well, last time Krug was very rude to him. Also, the Rockhammer Brothers are ordering all his available supplies, leaving none to deliver to you. Business must be great for the Rockhammer crew these days….
It’s easy to create angry and upset customers. Just roleplay a demanding NPC. Many players will react with rudeness, threats, and force. Instant enemy.
Angry customers will harm a business’s reputation, especially in small communities.
They might also vandalize the location, report the PCs to the authorities for the slightest infractions, or just lie about the PCs being dishonest merchants.
If the PCs confront the customer and things go badly, well, news of that will spread fast. It’s tough dealing with mercurial customers!
Have the business attract people who take moral, ethical, or religious offence at the PCs.
For example, maybe members of the ruling council object to the cleric’s choice of diety. Or maybe each time the PCs return from the wilderness covered in blood and dragging monster carcasses behind them it attracts the ire of local druids and rangers.
Let the PCs be PCs, and chances are they’re going to offend someone’s sensibilities.
Enemies made from plot also make good business foes. I advise against targeting the business directly. If the biz becomes a money pit or nuisance because it’s constantly being attacked, getting threatened, or demanding attention, especially because of the villain, the party will bail. They’ll deem it a vulnerability or bother, and close up shop.
However, if villains act in a more subtle manner, the business becomes interesting. For example, some customers are villain spies. Smart PCs who notice might try to turn the tables and extract information from these NPCs once in awhile.
Allow the party to personalize the business to their hearts’ content.
Let them decorate the place and furnish how they like. Let them do custom crafting of products to sell. Allow them to name the business and advertise it.
If the PCs want to build secret doors and rooms, that’s great. If they want to add defenses and spying gizmos, super. If they want to interview new staff, roleplay it.
This becomes rewarding in its own right. And it further bonds the players with the business.
For example, in Riddleport the PCs took the heads of major kills to a taxidermist for treatment and mounting. Then they put these heads up along the walls of their inn and roleplayed the stories of the combats to customers. They even labeled the map with what heads were mounted where.
This became a cool campaign log. I remember one moment when the party reflected on one of the first heads mounted and how much had happened in the campaign since then.
As PCs customize their business, keep an eye out for costs and consequences. Some additions will not come free or cheap, but as long as the expense is deemed fair, the party will spend their hard-earned treasure because they’re invested in the business and it’s fun. And some personalization will have downstream effects. For example, when customers of the same species as a mounted head visited the Chalice, they did not take kindly to that.
Make as much or as little of running a business as you and your group want.
It can be the premise of the campaign, or something fun done as a background activity.
You can let interested players get deep into the details or just make a monthly summary earnings roll.
No matter your approach, try to integrate the business into your campaign and make it a contributor of hooks, clues, NPCs, and encounters.
Make it interesting and make it the PCs’ business.
Custom Item Cards
I saw these https://plus.google.com/u/0/+BrianOstrander/posts/RyR4kP6dgaq?cfem=1&pid=6085891549809270146&oid=107121074713863034108 posted by Brian Ostrander on G+ and thought they were great.
Print the blank cards Brian made, then sketch in the item and write brief details below and on the back.
I think the bespoke nature of these makes them better than pro cards, whether you can draw well or not.
Larger version » Loot Cards LG
How Can You Break The Grind Habit?
From Mario N. Bonassin
I have a question about the combat missions. I really like the idea and want to apply them to my game, but how do you filter that info to your players?
They don’t quite get subtle hints that each combat need not be about total annihilation. I’m currently in a battle where they are slightly outnumbered and could die. Their whole point was to find and rescue their friends, but they are not trying to get by this first group to search for them, they are just trying to slug it out.
If you have suggestions I would appreciate it.
That is a great question.
Here are some ways:
Tell Them Out Of Character, GM => Players
“Guys, don’t forget the bigger picture here. You have a goal you should efficiently try to reach or risk not having enough resources left at the end to possibly achieve it. Also, there’s only a couple hours left in the session and it would be great to dig more into this adventure. Can you think of any other approaches to get past these foes here other than grinding it out?
Tell Them Out Of Character, GM => Characters
“As you slash, stab, and chop, you realize this might not be the best approach. You’re making a lot of noise that might attract more foes. You are also taking wounds and you will need all your strength for what’s coming ahead. Plus, tipping off the guards at this point possibly puts your missing friends in greater danger.
You could tailor this per character. The intelligent mage has a rational realization. The rogue has a leap of intuition. The fighter just feels the pain and wants to get it over with. Etc. Tailor your descriptions for different characters to change up your narrative point of view.
Tell Them In Character
Have an NPC ally or hireling point out the problem. Better yet, have a foe taunt them.
Give Hints With Skill Checks
Ask PCs to make perception, knowledge, or any other checks you deem suitable. Successes mean PCs get a clue or nudge that they’re missing a tactical advantage or are jeopardizing the mission somehow.
Such checks reward non-combat skill building, and give you a plausible way to steer PCs in other directions, away from the grind.
Sometimes you can force the party to make better decisions.
“Krug looks up and sees wave after wave of them coming in the distance. This might be a good time to investigate other options….
I hope this helps, Mario.
Red Green Initiative
From Heiko Müller
I use a system for initiative with red and green poker chips that is easy and fast.
At the start of an encounter all players roll individual initiative (those that are not surprised). I roll one initiative for all the monsters together. Initiative is only rolled once.
Each player that is lower in initiative than the monsters gets a red chip. Players with equal or better get a green one.
Green players act first. Then the monsters. And then the red players.
After the first round the surprised players roll initiative and get the appropriate chip.
The fine thing is that in a group (green/monsters/red) the players or monsters can act in an order they like, so there is room for tactics (like one flanks first, then the other attacks). That’s true for intelligent monsters too.
If someone delays he just exchanges his chip for the other color.
It works fast and is much fun.
DIY Map Overlays
From Zach Orzech
This is pretty sweet. You can buy Printable Vinyl Sheets.
I’m going to buy some and print single encounter terrain maps.
Only usable with ink jet printers.
From Rick Stump
This is an excerpt from a good tip Rick posted on his blog. Dungeon Master Tips: Better Narration You can read the full post here.
Years ago when I was in my early teens my dad got a present from one of my aunts – several of the old radio serials of The Shadow on cassette. My dad (who is older and a WWII vet) had loved those shows when he was a kid and they were new and pretty soon the whole family was listening to them after dinner every Sunday night. My Seaward campaign was already 6 years old and soon my players were mentioning that my descriptions were better.
I realized – of course!
The old radio shows relied solely upon narrative description to set the scene, and some of the best writers in the world were working to make these descriptions clear, powerful, evocative – and brief! The thrillers and supernatural shows are essentially training courses in better DM narration.
I listen to Old Time Radio on Sirius/XM satellite radio 5+ days a week. Many of these shows can be found on the Internet Archive, too. Here are a few:
Some episodes of The Shadow.
The science fiction show X Minus One.
The horror/thriller/sometime supernatural show Suspense.
And don’t think this is just for the DM! I think players can learn a great deal from Sherlock Holmes.
If you want a real treat you can find an episode of Sherlock Holmes where Holmes is portrayed by Sir John Gielgud, Watson by Sir Ralph Richardson, and Moriarty by Orson Welles Sherlock Holmes 54 12 21 The Final Problem here!