Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #413
From Danny East
An exciting and addictive way to add spice to your game is throwing environmental danger into fight scenes. The following are a few examples to get your party started.
Remember to have a lot of dice on hand when you try these. Tissues, too, because the players are either going to be so sad they’ll cry, or laugh so hard they’ll bleed. It’ll be a good time either way.
Pits and Portals
Add a pit full of spikes, vipers, werewolves, lava, or deadly snapping clams. Have the villains try and push the heroes into the pit, and vice versa. Great fun with miniatures, and allows an element of creativity in combat that might be missing. Heck, toss a gelatinous cube down there, too.
Instead of a pit, slap a portal of some sort down on the floor or against a wall. Try to keep the evil warlord’s alien hordes from leaving this plane to get reinforcements, all the while trying to avoid the portal yourselves.
This is especially fun if you can concoct it so there are no weapons being used, and everyone’s just pushing and shoving like it was a Rolling Stones concert.
Want to make a hallway, swimming pool, tunnel, or boxcar a little more exciting? Chain some Chupucabras to the wall, allowing each one’s lead enough length to just reach the next. But not always.
There may be just enough room to walk through without getting hit. Put the fight in a room like this and both the villain and the hero will have to make dexterity checks. The players will have to navigate their way around, though, or between these beasts.
Works great if the villain has these pets enhanced in some way. Zombies can be chained to a wall and left there for, well, ever. So it makes perfect sense to find a zombie in sealed room.
Remember the Geonosis Droid Factory in Star Wars? How about the factory at the end of the first Terminator movie? Both made for great fight scenes, with the villains and heroes chasing and dodging. Toss your party into one of these hives of confusion and watch the saving throws fly!
A great place to end a campaign or jump start one, factories also add the long favored element of existing as an environment the GM can control. Anything you need can be thrown in, and they are fun to map out with offices and loading bays as well as conveyor belts and vats of boiling chemicals.
Environmental Roleplaying Challenges
Being able to control their environment is something the players will always enjoy, so add that to a fight scene. Have the villain and hero fight it out in a room filled with steam pipes. If they are not maintained, they will blow steam all over the fighters and their precious equipment.
As the pressure rises, so does the tension, and the PCs and NPCs have to decide if they’re going make another attack roll or if they’re going to vent some steam.
This makes for great roleplaying when they have to work together. The consequences for not working together would be deadly to both parties.
Next time your adventurers are wandering around and you want them to have more intimate interactions with their villainous counterparts, force them to spend some time together out of the rain. The rain of fire!
While running and chasing each other along the cliffs, have the volcanic rain come down on them so they’ll be forced to stand together beneath a cliff face. The protective area will be small enough so that they’ll be unable to continue the fight while they wait for the rain to stop.
Not on a mountain top? Have the suburban streets peppered with the falling parts of ships, meteors, or construction equipment and detritus from the rooftops.
Thematic Helps and Hazards
Picture a zombie infested church. The congregation has turned, and there are rambling, shambling zombies wandering around, fixing their old lady hats and chewing on hymnals. Kind of spooky.
But wait, there’s more! That’s right, a Holy Water fountain, dead center. Push the zombies in or smash the fountain. Either way, it’s Zombie Soup for dinner.
There seems to be a thriving community in just about every abandoned subway tunnel, but never in the active ones. The reason is obvious: that dangerous and deadly “Third Rail.”
You know; the one that carries the trains. Next time your adventurers are chasing lycanthropic mutant gang members who drink blood, have them see that train coming. They’ll have a time limit before they must get to the side wall or service door, and they’ll be likewise rolling to avoid that rail. This is a great opportunity for a little creativity.
Puzzling and Limiting Terrain
Try putting the villain in a room surrounded by look-alikes. Imagine one Stormtrooper hiding in the Stormtrooper armor locker room, something along the lines of Will Smith in iRobot. This is better than the old mirror image trick.
Bring the fight to a library, lab, or clothing shop; any place that would limit (or significantly enhance) the use of fire spells or missiles.
A room full of propane tanks will allow your martial artist to shine in a situation where the gunners cannot. Is there an evil giant trying to hide amongst the hay bales? Toss in a torch and smoke the monster out.
Adding this third element to the fight scenes in a campaign is a quick and fun way to spice things up or subtly force role play and plot.
It’s the kind of thing they’ll remember for years to come, and the more you do this the better you’ll get at it. Since this is such a climactic tool for the campaign, try not to use it more than once or twice a session.
Try to remember that this is a great way not just to kill your players but also to lighten their spirits with laughs and innumerable die rolls. Keep your soda handy and you rolling hand warm, because these scenes can sometimes last a while.
A Brief Word From Hannah
Dawn of Worlds
Ever have trouble getting your players interested in the background of your lovingly crafted, awe inspiringly cool world? Yeah, me too. Aside from giving them a pop quiz based on the handouts, how can you get your players interested in the world’s background?
Well, why not make the world with them? Dawn of Worlds is a simple system that lets you collaboratively build a world to game in. This won’t work for every group or campaign, but it’s worth trying out.
I played it with some friends, and our biggest problem was realizing we eventually had to stop playing Dawn of Worlds and get on to the campaign we’d been making the world for to begin with.
We had to house-rule a few things, and some of the rules took a few read-throughs to make sense. Other than that, the system worked great. We knew what kind of campaign we wanted – one involving pirates – so we made sure our world was a fun place to be a pirate in. We ended up with some cool stories in our world that no one of us would have come up with on our own.
Stat Synergy and Roleplaying
Many systems seem designed to reward characters who invest in stats and skills that are all related to the same goal; e.g., smashing things in melee combat, accurate ranged attacks, thematically linked spells. And yet, all of those systems also have options that aren’t related to any particular goal. Why bother?
Obviously, if you pump up your strength as high as it will go, take nothing but combat related feats, and pick powers based on high strength, you’ll be a melee monster. The same with dex and ranged or sneaking, and int or wis and magic. But what’s it like roleplaying that kind of character?
I’ve made characters optimized to fill a niche, and fill it better than anyone else, and I’ve made characters mostly specialized, but with a bit of this and a bit of that thrown in for spice. The former are fun to make, and fun to play when I’m plowing through challenges and racking up victories, but the latter are fun to play all the time, and usually leave me with better stories.
How about you? Have you managed to combine mechanical optimization with unique personalities? Is one of those goals much more important to you than the other? If so, how has it affected the rest of your group, if their goals are different?
Do you think stat synergy limits roleplaying opportunities, or am I just looking at this the entirely wrong way? Let me know what you think.
Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters
Have some GM advice you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!
From Gary Whitten
Just wanted to briefly mention that as back-to-school time is coming up, so too are the back-to-school clearances that go with it. This is a fantabulous time for the cost- conscious GM to save some money while picking up some much needed supplies.
The duo-tangs/portfolio idea from #412 is a great one; in fact, I got a bunch of them last year for 2 cents each at a Target near my office in early September.
From Randy Shipp
I thought you might be interested in this source of cool, free, fantasy fonts:
Microsoft OneNote 2007
My new favorite tool for recording and organizing my campaign is Microsoft OneNote 2007. This is an incredibly useful program when applied to any roleplaying game. I’ve already suggested it to a number of DM/GMs and they all agree.
For one, it’s set up like a typical notebook with tabs and pages. Not only can you record all your campaign details, but you can insert files of all sorts (documents, images, audio clips, etc). It even has a pretty reliable text recognition feature for images.
I’m currently building an entire world for my campaign. I have separate groups for adventures, geography, NPCs, etc. As every campaign creator is well aware, even a digital version of their notes can be difficult to sort through. OneNote solves all that with hyperlinks between pages and a search function that not only searches text, but can use voice recognition to search audio files!
I know there are many out there who hate the corporate monster that is Microsoft, but seriously: if you haven’t looked into this, you need to.[Comment from Johnn: There’s a 60 day trial if this tip has got you interested in OneNote: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/onenote/default.aspx ]
From Mark of the Pixie
ThinkGeek has a remote-controlled, multi-colour light bulb that can be set to any one of several colours and intensities (even strobe and flash) via a small remote. I’m pretty sure it just plugs into a normal socket, and is a shade under $50.
While I would not use it as the only light, I think having it in a lamp near the players would add to the atmosphere of the normal room lighting. This would probably help set mood pretty well. You can check it out at their website.
ThinkGeek Multi-Color LED Lightbulb with Remote:
I have a slightly different set-up for my gaming. I use my living room with two three-person sofas facing each other over a coffee table. I sit on a wheeled chair at the end of the sofas, so I can scoot back and forth as needed.
We don’t have a game table (the coffee table is for snacks and drinks). We can get away without because we don’t use maps, miniatures, or dice.
The homebrew system we play uses cards, and so doesn’t need the extra table space to roll dice. Combat tends to be fast, fluid, and descriptive, so exact positions don’t matter.
I also have spare glasses and cups on the bookcase next to the players, so drinks can be served without needing to leave the area (tea and coffee being the lifeblood of most of my players).
Background music is provided by my computer, where I have set up a separate playlist for each campaign I run, and a few generic playlists for different genres.
Some tips for what to do when setting up a gaming space would be:
- No TV or video games (obviously); even a screensaver can be to distracting for some players.
- Don’t have the GM’s line of sight below any of the other players’ lines of sight. Try to keep all the players within your field of vision (without having to turn your head).
- No player should have their back to anyone else, especially the GM.
- No one should be more than about 12 feet from the GM.
- Players who often talk in-character should be seated together.
- If possible, quiet players should sit closer to the GM.
- Avoid having munchkins or rules-lawyers too close to the GM, as the discussions can chew up game time. If a seating arrangement isn’t working, change it.
- If you have players who like to fidget, leave out some simple, quiet things (like stress balls, stretchy toys, etc.) for them to fidget with. It will keep them more focused and annoy other players less than clicking their pen or constantly rolling dice.
- Avoid having too much incongruent mood dressing as it may detract more than it adds. It’s kind of like the uncanny valley; a bit is good, all is great, but some is worse than none.
D&D 4E: Making Your Own Power Cards
For everyone who wants to make their own power cards for D&D 4E, you’ll find this forum thread at ENWorld of value: Making Your Own Power Cards