Inspiration For Your Games: Superstition Contest Entries

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0356

A Brief Word From Johnn

Munchkin A Good Game

We’ve been playing the game Munchkin during lunches at work, and it’s pretty fun. Funny too. Through cards you draw each turn, you build up your character, try to set-back the other players, fend off attacks, curses, and other threats, and be the first to achieve a certain character level. If you are looking for a casual game, you should check this one out.

Tip & Topic Requests?

A reader wrote me last week and said the content quality of recent issues was down. First off, thanks for the feedback T. – it’s always appreciated.

Second, the comments were a bit vague and I could use more information:

I feel a key part of the quality equation is the type of topics covered. If they are relevant to you, you’ll find them more valuable. So, this is a general callout to see if any of you have tip topic requests.

Quick Correction

As pointed out by Peter G., the opening paragraph in last week’s article mentioned the contest entry tips provided were last but least. Oops. That should have been last but not least.

Get some gaming done this week!


Johnn Four
[email protected]

Inspiration For Your Games: Superstition Contest Entries

Recently, I ran a giveaway where gamers could win a prize for writing in with ideas for in-game superstitions. Here are most of the entries. Hopefully you can use them for ideas and inspiration, in game flavor, plot hooks, and encounter seeds. Thanks again to everyone who entered. Stay tuned for more contests in upcoming issues.

List Of Quick Superstitions

  • Children conceived (or born) on a holy day are said to be closer to the appropriate god(s), especially those deities of plenty or life. They often become priests or saints.
  • Council tables always leave one empty chair at the head of the table in honor of the gods. It is a symbolic invitation for them to sit in judgement over all that transpires.
  • Eating or drinking within sight of the dead is inviting the corpse to rise at a later date to seek nourishment itself.
  • Sunrods are made with real sun!
  • Letting a platinum piece touch the ground means you’ll be poor for 8 years thereafter.
  • It’s much easier to hit a target if you scratch it first with the arrow, bolt or bullet that you intend to shoot it with.
  • Garments or items woven from one’s own swaddling clothes or baby blanket are said to ensure longer life when worn as an adult. This comes from a time when infant mortality was common and any child that lived long enough to become an adult was already blessed. Many people wear colorful bracelets or necklaces woven from parts of their infant clothes.
  • Leaving a bedroom window open on the night of the new moon (or full moon) is an invitation for fairy visits.
  • Saying a greater being’s (god/whatever) name gives it the ability to hear, appear, or act upon events within 100 feet of the speaker. Careful who you call upon and what you say about them.
  • Inflicting harm to priests on holy ground is asking for their god(s) wrath.
  • Being hit by bird droppings is lucky.
  • If you ever find yourself in the presence of a god, looking it in the eyes will blind you.
  • Wearing red hats on Tuesday is bad luck/good luck.
  • The blood of a vampire will slow the aging process.
  • Werewolf teeth are good luck.
  • Ground up unicorn horn increases the effectiveness of spells.
  • If you leave your tooth under your pillow, the tooth troll will leave you coppers.
  • When a full moon looks blue, stay inside because _they_are coming.
  • On harvest-tide eve the recently dead walk the earth calling upon friends and laying enemies low. Give out candies to children dressed up at your door.
  • Sometimes, when a person does something horrific or when there is so much suffering the world itself feels sorrow, the fog will come and take the person away – no one knows where.
  • Bringing women/men/type of animal on a ship is bad luck.
  • If you sail beyond sight of land you fall off the edge of the world.
  • Anyone who can climb to the top of the mountain and bring down a five leaf clover from its top, is blessed by the gods.
  • If he/she can cast spells they are cursed and should be hung before we are all affected. If he/she survives then they are cured.
  • If you flip a coin and it lands standing on its end, choose neither choice, it’s a sign from the gods.
  • A cat’s scratch is an omen of ill fortune. Consider a -1 penalty on morale or luck checks for 1d4 hours.
  • When you bump your shin on the table you have to spin around three times blinking or a friend will betray you.
  • Carrying an oaken twig protects you from evil spirits. Gain a +1 bonus on the supernatural abilities of incorporeal undead, one time per twig per tree, max three a day.
  • Keeping a river stone in your pocket will win you the favor of the ladies. Gain a +2 bonus to all non-aggressive charisma skill checks vs. women. Works for men only.
  • If you spill onto a book that’s cover up, it’s good luck, if it’s front cover down, bad luck. Gain +1 or -1 respectively; can only be done unintentionally.
  • If a hen that hasn’t laid an egg that day pecks you, you will catch a mysterious fever. It is said drinking from a rare basin (e.g. a cactus head for the desert, a fresh pond for the Underdark, or a hot spring for the mountains) will cure or prevent the fever.
  • Each morning, the NPC drinks a droplet of a cure potion (or other similar beverage), because his mother said, “It’s good for your health.”
  • People with long, pointed ears are smart and think of logical solutions.
  • See a falling star on a clear night, make a wish and it will come true.
  • Beware seeing a falling star come through the clouds on a starless night, for bad luck comes your way.
  • Wearing your clothes inside out will ward away faerie magic.
  • Undead cannot enter a building uninvited.
  • Smoking every cigarette from a pack is bad luck – you should throw one away.
  • Finding a flower on your clothing or possessions when you were not expecting it is bad luck.
  • Scratching your name into a bullet or arrow tip and keeping it on you makes you harder to kill.
  • If you keep your bottle caps in your hand whilst drinking, you will stay sober longer.
  • Juniper berries are good luck as long as you put them in your pockets on a Thursday and take them out before Sunday.
  • Never mix whisky with well-water – it’s bad luck, as the spirits that live in the well don’t like it.
  • Dance around the house counter-clockwise with your significant other from sunset to sunrise, and the building will be blessed with good luck for a year.It’s said that if an animal dies nearby while a woman is giving birth, the child will be unusually healthy. The bigger the animal, the healthier the child will be.
  • If you kill a deer with your bare hands (or with weapons that you made yourself) and wear its skin from sunrise to sunset on a frosty day in spring, you will become faster, wiser, and stronger.
  • Never wear someone else’s armor. It’ll be trying to protect them instead of you. There are no means of making armor “yours” – you’ll know when it is.
  • If you’re going to strangle someone, do it whilst wearing velvet gloves. If you do, you haven’t sinned; there’s a line in a holy text somewhere that says it’s okay.
  • Eating butterflies makes you better at dice.
  • If you mix every kind of alcohol in a building into one drink and down it in one breath, you’ll die.
  • For every finger you cut off, you live a month longer.
  • Chewing ginger lets you start fires more easily.
  • Matches are intrinsically unlucky because they burn away the good fortune that surrounds you. If you need fire, try to find an existing source.
  • Wind chimes scare away cats. This is good, because invisible demons that steal small items from your house ride on their backs.
  • Never let the bristles of different paintbrushes touch each other. If you do, they get confused and don’t paint as well.
  • Steam is very lucky. Try to have as much as possible around you.
  • Wearing a horseshoe on your person doesn’t make you luckier – it makes you stronger, especially when you kick. Sportsmen, warriors and acrobats often wear them. The more you have on, the stronger you become.
  • Keeping basil about your person makes you more popular with the opposite sex.
  • Always carry money with you.
  • Loose nails are unlucky.
  • Never carry a gun with more than 6 bullets loaded.
  • Never let a clock stop ticking of its own accord; the longer it’s stopped, the more of your life it takes to make up for it. Conversely, the more clocks you have in a house the longer you will live. As people get older they get more and more clocks to live longer, but the risk of one of them stopping and killing them is increased.
  • Juggling is very lucky – and the more balls you juggle, the luckier you become. This only works in public, and if you drop the balls you become unlucky.
  • Always keep your toenails and bury them. If you leave them laying around, goblins take them and use them in their magic.
  • Try to avoid saying the word “underneath” if at all possible as it’s cursed.
  • People with green eyes are touched by the devil and should never be trusted. People with yellow eyes have been touched by angels.

Superstition Generator

To use the Superstition Generator, roll 4d6 and consult the following tables. For the Trigger subtype tables (B1-6), use the one that matches the result from Table A and count left to right to determine the result.

Table A: Triggers

  1. Weather
  2. Symbol
  3. Animal
  4. Event
  5. Item
  6. Person or physical feature.

Tables B1-6: Trigger subtype

B1. Wind, light, temperature, storm, rainbow, rare
B2. Word, letter, number, phrase, gesture, sound
B3. Wild, domestic, pest, bird, unique, pet
B4. Regular, religious, social, accident, harmless, crime
B5. Weapon, tool, money, spice, vehicle, luxury
B6. Man/woman, old/young, healthy/sick/dead, virgin/pregnant, familiar/foreign, rich/poor

Table C: Feature

  1. Color
  2. Seen
  3. Passed
  4. Touched
  5. Thrown
  6. Lost

Table D: Effect

  1. Luck/safety
  2. Wedding/contract
  3. Birth/death
  4. Love/lost love
  5. Money
  6. Accident/risk

Example 1: 1,2,3,5 – Weather, light, passed, money.

An on overcast day sometimes light shines through tiny cracks in the cloud cover – an effect known as the god’s fingers. It is believed wherever such light appears, great treasure is to be found.

A rural village of hard-working people believes that riches come to those who are touched by the first rays of the rising sun, possibly because those people tend to be hard- working. The origin of the legend is lost, but locals who have to wake up early anyhow take some pleasure in the prospects of wealth.

Example 2: 6,6,3,4 – Person, rich/poor, passed, love.

On Midsummer Eve, should the first person an unmarried woman passes in the morning be a rich one, the man will fall in love with her; if a poor one, she will fall in love with him. By putting people in the right frame of mind for love, this superstition has become surprisingly accurate, which in turn has given it more credibility.

Example 3: 2,3,5,1 – Symbol, number, thrown, luck/safety.

The favored number of the god of the roads is three, so travelers embarking on a perilous journey will perform a small sacrifice, make a donation, or say a rhyme or prayer – in triplicate. Whether the road god actually cares for the number is to be determined, but the routine gives some ease of mind, and stops the traveler to think for a while about the dangers waiting ahead. This may cause him to take heed and proceed more carefully.

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The Value Of Lore

Superstitions are cultural memory, and as such, not to be overlooked. They tell of the local history, hinting at events and facts long forgotten. In an adventure they can provide valuable clues about the location and nature of the opposition, or simply provide local color.

Superstition can even be life-saving. For example, locals would know not to go on any long trips without a traveling staff and an oil lamp. No one really remembers why, but it is simply done. The staff can be highly useful when a vampire needs be staked and the oil lamp the very thing needed to finish off a troll – rare incidents, but they could mean the difference between life and death for an adventurer.

Here are a couple of additional examples:

  • The eastern wind being an ill omen could speak of a dragon’s preference to glide in from the west into the face of the wind.
  • Masks on the backs of the head are used even now as defense against tigers – because tigers tend to attack only from behind (hear it actually works).

Adventurer Rituals

When I was in college, I took an Anthropology class called “Magic, Witchcraft and Religion.” One of the chapters covered “Baseball Magic”, detailing the sorts of rituals that professional ball players used to ensure a winning game. Here’s a similar article:

So, if baseball players have rituals, why not adventurers? A trip to the local tavern could feature a special drink like “Dragon Ale” that is the favorite drink of adventurers and reputed to help achieve victory in battle if drank the night before a dungeon crawl. It had been the favorite drink of a noted dragon slayer who never failed to slay his quarry. Or, you might have adventurers who always throw a coin into a bag of holding on the table for the same reason.

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Thanks to the following Roleplaying Tips readers for their superstition contributions: Donald Qualls, Jody Mcadoo, Kate Manchester, Michael Tumey, Jamie Barlow, Daniel Burrage, Bernardo Cortizo, Mothshade, Darryl, Steve, ElfWord, Aki Halme, Grant Howitt.

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

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

Chaotic Good Game Room

From Carl Ross

I enjoyed the picks of Jeffrey Strause’s organized game room. Now I feel I must show the other side of the coin. To balance out his lawful game area, I now present pics of my own humble chaos game room. I have been gaming since 1979, so you can imagine the clutter.

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Resume Mid-Combat With Digital Pics

From Leah Watts

The games I’m in run on work nights, so we often have to end the session in the middle of a battle scene. The battle mat can’t be left set up until the next session due to space limits (and cats), so the GM simply takes digital photos of the mat at the end of the game session. At the beginning of the next session, he just pulls up those photos on his camera’s LCD screen. Setting up for the game only takes a couple minutes. (If you’re using cardboard fold-up minis, take photos from different angles so you get everyone in theright place.)

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Scenario Writing – Plan Events Not Locations

From Palmer, Squishy of Squishies


An adventure only looks linear if it’s run heavy-handed. I find the best adventures are linear – they just don’t _seem_ linear.

The angle I go for is to plot out the requisite scenes, but not the locations or hard details about them. Let the player’s skull sweat those out for you!

You have your hook (pageant) to draw them in, complete with mooks. Great.

Now figure out where you want to go from there. No, not where. Figure out what you want to happen. Then come up with a list.

  • Ape fight at pageant – some escape
  • Chase scene
  • Catch up to escaping apes who are running back to MM
  • Fight scene, MM escapes.
  • Next day
  • Ransom delivered – exchange set up.
  • It’s phony. What’s there depends on how the feel for the game is going. Could be apes, could be a booby trap, could be an old bum who was paid $50 to keep everyone busy by telling long, irrelevant stories.
  • Eventually get some kind of clue to MM’s fake hideout.
  • Track down MM’s fake hideout.
  • Ambushed by human minions with ape shock troops at fake hideout.
  • Capture a human, who spills everything, including real hideout.
  • Go to real hideout.
  • Epic showdown.

Now, you only need hard details for 3 things on this list. The start (which you have, the pageant), the exchange (even then, that’s not necessarily required), and the showdown.

“Wait, what about the fake hideout? And how do you mean I don’t need to know where the exchange is?”

Simple. The players tell you everything.

You litter each scene with clues and other stuff. Don’t worry about what’s right and wrong. It’s all right.

The players do the clue processing, and will come to a conclusion. It’s the correct one. Or, it’s more accurate to say, it’s completely irrelevant.

Where it is and how they get there, the players figure it out themselves. Not your job. No matter what they do or decide, your next planned scene will happen. If they decide she’s at the zoo and rush there to find her, then the fake hideout and ambush are at the zoo. If they figure her for a mad scientist and start checking books at the library, then the ambush will come to them and attack at the library. You have the scene plotted – they supply the location and details.

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Flowchart Your Adventures

From Darkechilde

I’m a big fan of flowcharting adventures and I do not go for simple yes/no, and/or, option A/option B decision junctions, either.

If you’re not familiar with flow-charting methods, a simple Google or MS Live search will turn up ‘how to’ sites. You can do it on paper, but I bought a good sized dry-erase board for $20 at Office Max, which works great because I can make changes easily.

Once I’ve got the basic flow chart down of how I think the adventure will/should go, I call up a GM buddy who doesn’t play in my campaign, and we start brainstorming how each segment or junction can be ‘broken’ by the players – and rate the chances of that break happening as ‘likely’ (which means I need to consider what they may do, and write down options and solutions), and ‘unlikely’ (which means I get an idea of how to fix it if it happens, but I don’t bother statting anything out – I just wing it if it happens).

After that, if I don’t have to start over at the beginning because of so many broken holes, then I start statting out the adventure, and map out any place necessary. If I still have time after that, I start considering working up player handouts, creating or hunting down props, etc.

One thing I learned a couple years ago that I like doing is starting at the culmination of the adventure. I envision what I want the height of the action to look like (e.g. I’ll conceptualize a fight leaping from rooftop to rooftop of a fantasy Victorian/gothic city, battling a young dragon out to set fire to the town). Then I’ll consider backwards how the PCs and dragon ended up there and I’ll envision scenes along the way. If I’ve got inspiration (maybe a picture from a magic card, a video game, or a character from a book or comic), I’ll try to envision how and where the inspiration fits in. I’ll inspect each scene to make sure an earlier scene isn’t more dramatic or more important than the end- scene, so that the end scene is truly the summit of the dramatic story.

I’ve even started doing flow-charting like this for published adventures – it gives me a much better feeling for how the adventure goes.