4 Reader Tips
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #248
- World Building Methods & Planning Tips
- World Building Tip: Get An Overview
- Fleshing Out NPCs
- Finding Inspiration
- Tips Request: Player Tips
- Record Funny Moments
- Split Party Tip: Separate The Players
- Split Party Tip: Re-arrange Seating
- No GM Is Complete Without A Bag Of Zombies
- Who Says Vampires Have To Be Human?
- Confessions Of A Campaign Assassin
- Campaign Templates
- NPC Personality Generator
World Building Methods & Planning Tips
From Tony Den
I have found the following to be of use when designing one’s own world:
- A basic knowledge of geography. This is not to say that one needs a PHD in the subject, but understanding the basics of climate, continental drift, and plate tectonics will help you make the world realistic. Certain terrains (e.g. a desert) are caused by a few factors. One cannot just say it doesn’t rain. Why doesn’t it rain? Possibly coastal mountains block clouds from making their way inland, or perhaps ocean currents are cold, leading to little evaporation, hence no rain clouds.
- Plan from the bottom up. Decide first what you want your world to be about (high fantasy, gritty and realistic, etc.) and how big you want the world to be and how old the world will be (this will dictate the height of mountains and the position of continents in relation to each other).
- Design each continent and island from the bottom up. First decide on their shape and then put down mountains. Next, insert rivers and lakes/seas. Forests, deserts and other types of terrain can follow. It’s good to have some sort of idea on altitude – when drawing maps, try and start off with a topographical view.
- Once you have your continents designed, move on to history. Population spread must fall in line with a place’s history. i.e. Why the mountain orcs now dwell in a forest, or why elves have become nomadic desert dwellers. Cultures do not just exist in a place, they will have had a reason to be there. A good guide here could be Britain, whose original Pictish population was pushed out by the Celts, who were in turn displaced by Britains, Saxons, etc.
- Along with history go religion and creation myths. How did the populace come to be, were they created or did they come from a distant realm/another world? (Isn’t it amazing how many worlds have humans.) Shrines and special attraction features could be added at this point.
- Decide on a timeline. How advanced is the most civilized society? The reason for this is to ensure that cultures fit together. It’s one thing to have very different cultures on separate continents, but if many societies exist in close proximity, it is inevitable that certain technologies will spread. Thus, if your world is bronze age, it’s unlikely that bordering countries will have a vastly different technology set (e.g. Knights armed with steel vs. bronze- armed phalanx).
- Elaborate on specific areas. A popular method here is creating a gazetteer. Gazetteers usually contain details on, inter alia:
- Country or regional geography
- Towns and cities
- Places of interest
- Local politics (relationship with neighbours as well asinternal)
- Special personalities.
- For the actual world design, I find my mind sometimes goes back to the Civilization II computer game. Its custom world creation engine was quite inspirational.
- Another brief source of world designing tips can be found in the Rune Quest (Avalon Hill 3rd Edition) Glorantha Book. A section is dedicated to world design.
- Most valuable, of course, is atlases and encyclopaedias, especially when one wants to find a standard template to base their gazetteer on.
World Building Tip: Get An Overview
From Asbjørn Hammervik, Norway
I’ve been trying to create the perfect campaign world for some time now, and got quite far before I realized that what I had been working on was a bit faulty. Luckily, I got some good ideas, but I learned something: don’t put a lot of effort into the finish before the framework is complete.
In my case, I had drawn and scanned a beautiful map, and done some nice coloring, before I found that it just didn’t work for me. So, I trashed it, and started all over again. This time, however, I put some effort into how my nations were organized, how my world would look, and what my concept was, before I even drew a line on the map.
So, my tip is: work out your concept before you start overdoing it and polishing things If you find you have to start patching inconsistencies caused by your finished work, you’re probably doing something wrong.
Fleshing Out NPCs
From Bob Winans
Even in pre-fab adventures, most NPCs are fairly one- dimensional. What helps me tell a better, flowing story is to make quick bio’s for each of the NPCs the players could encounter. I try to memorize these. I also write them down on 3×5 cards.
For example, the PCs run into a little girl crying on the road outside of town. The PCs stop and ask what is wrong. The little girl points to a cat in the tree and says, “my kitty is stuck in the tree.” The PCs either retrieve the cat or not. After entering the town, the PCs get into a fight with the local Brawler. The PCs must avoid going to jail.
This is a flat, stale adventure. Not much information provided. Completely one-dimensional characters. This adventure is boring and not fun.
Time to make it more interesting.
The little girl. Let’s flesh out this NPC first:
- She needs a name. For this example, let’s call her Shari.
- Who is she? The daughter of a farmer? A noble? The mayor? The captain of the guard? Let’s say she’s the daughter of the captain of the guard. (A new NPC is created.)
- Why is she here? Did her cat run away? Was she running away? Let’s say that a boy chased her cat up the tree. (Thus creating another NPC.)
- What information does she have other than the obvious? Does she know her way back home? Does she know the layout of the town?
Now let’s look at the Brawler:
- He needs a name. Let’s call him Hank.
- Who is he? Let’s say he’s an ex-guard for the town and he’s bitter about being kicked out of the guard. (Sub plot: why was he kicked out? Stealing? Accepting bribes from the local thieves’ guild?.)
- Why is he there? Why is he picking a fight? Because he doesn’t like the look of the PCs? Maybe he saw the PCs help Shari and didn’t like it?
- What information does he have? Maybe he knows the location of the thieves’ guild. Maybe he is the father of the boy who chased the cat up the tree?
Now, the captain of the guard:
- He needs a name: Brock.
- Who is he? The captain of the guard.
- Why is he there? To stop the fight between the PCs and the Brawler.
- What information does he have? He knows why Hank was thrown out of the guard. He knows Hank has a son. He and Hank used to be friends. He feels sorry for Hank.
This type of fleshing out only takes a few minutes per NPC, and a lot of this information may never come to light. But, by having this information available, and creating relationships between the NPCs, your story will become more believable and flow better. The second thing that happens almost automatically is the creation of subplots.
So, let’s playtest this adventure now.
The PCs wander upon Shari and her cat. She asks them for help. The PCs ask how the cat got into the tree, Shari answers by telling them a mean boy chased it up the tree. The PCs save the cat from the tree. Shari thanks them. They ask Shari a few questions about the town. Shari tells them to talk to her father, who will be able to answer their questions. As they walk through town, they are stopped by the local Brawler, Hank. A fight breaks out and the captain of the guard shows up. He breaks up the fight.
Hank tells Brock that the PCs started the fight. The PCs deny it. The captain, not knowing the PCs, tends to believe Hank and is going to arrest the PCs. Suddenly Shari shows up and tells her father about the PCs saving her cat. The PCs now are shown to be more credible and thus avoid being arrested. Hank ends up spending the night in jail. Hank now has more of a reason to antagonize the PCs.
From this, the captain may want to hire the PCs to find the thieves guild, or this could be the end of the encounter. Either way, this encounter now has more depth, and the characters are more real. If you follow this vein, soon you will have a whole town full of unique characters, sub plots, relationships, stores, farms, love affairs, arguments, and tons of information.
After awhile, any writer can get burned-out for a particular genre, be that sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, horror, intrigue, etc. Many times, the best story is not always the one with the most original plot, but in how a standard plot is worked. Think about the movie Star Wars, tales in mythology, or historical events. They all have something in common: good vs. evil, a struggle between convictions, romance, and events that are commonplace. An author of fiction takes real happenings, or those of fiction already used, and puts a twist on them.
Anyone remember the movie Enemy Mine? In that tale, two opposing soldiers are stranded on a planet. One is a human and one is an alien. They both hate each other, but they find they need one another to survive. Eventually, they become very good friends. This story has conflict, camaraderie, suspense, woe, and much, much more. All the things that make a great story. It even has a happy ending.
When crafting a new story or gaming interest, try to put a twist in it. This is not an original thought mind you–it’s been done many times–but what I am saying is that almost every plot-line has been covered somewhere and somehow. It’s up to the individual writer to explore avenues by which his own creation is something not seen before, and to do that takes more than thinking out-of-the-box.
When setting down a piece of work, think about what makes the story interesting to you. That’s the first step, because if you like what you are doing, then chances are better that the piece will succeed in at least some measure of satisfaction all way around.
The second thing to do is to think about what your point is. What message are you trying to tell in your story? Is it pure entertainment and meant to be humorous? Or are you trying to tell a story that no one knows?
If you are working an aspect of fiction, look to historical references or a contemporary model first. Read as much as you can on your subject model, then see where you can put in a change that you think might suit your whimsical side.
Once I wrote a short tale about a man who was blind. It was a story about his day, a typical day. I didn’t know a blind man, not an old one at least, but I knew a blind girl and asked to spend a day with her. Then I put a blindfold on one night so that when I woke up I would not be able to see. I did the whole day like that and didn’t take it off until the following day. Then I went to visit with some retired gents at the local pub and just sat one afternoon and listened to their tales and hardships, their loves, their favorite sports teams, and what they did when they were young.
I had gleaned a lot of information that way. When I eventually figured out what I wanted to write about this old blind man of my imagination, I sat down and began to relate his tale as though he were telling it. What was the surprise? That he was really a wizard a long time ago and he can never die even though he ages on and on. I won an award for originality and effort in my writing class.
I am not a real brain when it comes to dreaming up adventures. I usually start with the mundane and go from there.
A Brief Word From Johnn
Tips Request: Player Tips
Last issue I posted a topic ideas request for Issue #250. Thanks to everyone who replied! I haven’t decided yet what the issue will be about, but Cris Jolliff sent in this idea that I’d like your help with for an upcoming issue:
“I have an idea: How about an edition dedicated to all of our players? Without players, there wouldn’t be much for us GMs to do.
Let’s put together some great player tips for:
- Creating interesting characters
- Keeping player info organized
- Sources for great character-creating stuff like the
- *NPC/PC online and downloadable generators
- Background story ideas
- Unusual or unique character concepts
- Tips for new players wanting to make interesting but still playable characters
I think this topic is a great one and I look forward to your tips, links, and advice.
Cheers and Happy Holidays,
Youth for Creative Adventure StoryTelling
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Readers’ Tips Of The Week
Record Funny Moments
From Amber Maberry
If you want your players to howl in laughter every once in a while, capture those moments when you’re gaming and someone says something that makes the game stop until everyone settles down. Write them in a small notebook. You can get them at Walmart for like a buck.
We write down gaming quotes as they come up. Little things people have said that make others roll on the floor with laughter, or character concepts that are just off the wall. Then later, we look back through them and laugh all over again.
It saved us on the explaining to one of the players that hadn’t been there the night before what had been said that was so funny. Nowadays, we just hand them the book, they flip to the last entry, and they usually start howling with laughter as well.
Split Party Tip: Separate The Players
The way I handle split parties is straightforward: I physically separate the players by asking person/people X to step into the hall. They go through things with me and I interrupt every few minutes of game time to go back to the first group, give them an update on what they notice (or not) and ask them what they are doing.
This worked great at our last campaign when the band of fifteen orcs in the cave on the hillside were trying to get the female half-orc barbarian to dump the party for some real males; she played along and scouted the situation out, then made a brilliant running escape.
Split Party Tip: Re-arrange Seating
A split party is almost never ideal except when I have a missing player. (Hey, where did Narfdong go? Oh well…) There were plenty of sessions that just ended in frustration for all. None the less, there are times when every party ends up being split into two or more groups. Sometimes, it’s a conscious decision; other times it’s not.
I had one game where the buggers (er, my players!) ended up going in _five_ different directions in a city. It would have been four groups, but one character got split off because he was arrested for inciting a riot. It took quite a while to come up with a “working” split system.
When a party splits, I have the players re-arrange their seating relative to their characters’ groups and roll initiative for each split. (Making the players change their seats also serves to motivate them to stick together!) Each group then gets timed turns in sequence until they collect themselves. Each group generally gets 2-4 minutes, depending on the type of scenario activity. Combat situations get less time than roleplaying scenes.
I’ll also shorten or extend a player’s turn if it serves the storyline. The players seem to accept this since they know when their turn will come and how long they’ll get “to do their thing”. More often than not, by the time I get around to a group, they will have their characters’ actions already planned out so as to make the most of their allotted time.
As for organizing the splits on my end, I set down a piece of note paper for each split and write the names of the characters in each group. That way, I can keep the notes for each groups’ activities separate and in order. I can also stack the sheets in the order of group initiative and cycle through them as the play progresses. This works well.
A nice, noisy combat gives “lost” characters the excuse to come running back to join the rest of the group. Not to mention, the idea of missing out on a combat (and subsequent treasure) is one that isn’t easily ignored by most ;o).
No GM Is Complete Without A Bag Of Zombies
From Cris Jollif
I have found a great source of massive amounts of miniature undead. Just do a Google for “Bag o’ Zombies.” They come in regular and glow-in-the-dark (“Bag o’ Glowing Zombies”) versions, from Twilight Creations. A bag of 100 figures costs anywhere from $9-10 US. The figs are all identical, but a little spray paint can distinguish ghouls, ghasts, and zombies (of course, you don’t want to paint the glowing ones…)
Who Says Vampires Have To Be Human?
From Jason L.
Who says vampires have to be human? I am running a campaign and the players are levels 9 – 11 and are starting to get pretty tough. There is not a lot of things left that are a big threat and at this stage every DM wonders what to throw at them that they can’t size up by sight alone. In a flash of insight, I thought of orcs, the staple bad guys of D&D. But they were too easy, even in large groups, as they had little chance of actually hitting the PCs .So I then wondered, why do vampires have to be human?
Which spawned the idea of a village of vampiric orcs! The leader was a half-orc ex-adventurer who was infected during an adventure. He came home to his village after he and his friends killed the vampire, then succumbed to the disease himself and turned his fellow orcs into vampires to create an army of undead to take over the area. Boy, were the players surprised to find out the orcs were more than 1 HD and had all those abilities! This could work with most humanoid creatures as well as the disease of lycanthropy. Have fun!
Confessions Of A Campaign Assassin
I was once a campaign assassin, though, to be fair, I only killed games that deserved it. The GM I was gaming with at the time had an absurd way of making sure the characters were always overpowered. He never let a PC die, even if they deserved it. Once, a character attempted to commit suicide and he not only failed, which could happen, but he was caveated out of the action after failing, with no explanation.
Since this was the only game in town, I developed a habit of playing the campaign until it got too crazy, and then killing it so we could start again. In a game with so many built-in flaws it is easy to destroy a campaign without even really trying; all you do is expose the inherent flaws by forcing the GM to reveal that there is no cause and effect in his world.
Watch as your character lives, even though your third level rogue should never be able to kill a blue dragon. Look for the toughest encounters and then not only do you go for it, but you do it with a frying pan for a weapon. The campaign will usually detonate rapidly at this point.
Nowadays, I have a good game group and have given up killing campaigns. For me, as a GM, I try to remember the really bad sessions and GMs I have gamed with; they allow me to do a better job than any of them could have imagined. I understand, since I am more of a player than a GM, the perspective of those poor shmucks caught up in a game they hate, and try to avoid the pitfalls of those bad GMs of the past. If you are playing in a game where you need a campaign assassin, you are playing in the wrong game.
From Bill Hein
Here’s a MyInfo template (also in RTF format) of a few campaign and session planning forms. It’s pretty bare because I fill in from here what I’m looking for. The template is a lot of different stuff drawn from your e-zine, an old brochure for the Chaosium game Niphelim, and a few other spots; mostly your e-zine though – I know quality when I see it.
NPC Personality Generator
From Manuel Ebert and Peter Sidor
Visit the URL below and click the Generate button on the right-hand side to craft NPCs with a little more depth to them:
It’s never safe to go back into the water…
Expeditious Retreat Press presents their second Monster
Geographica book, Monster Geographica: Marsh & Aquatic.
Featuring 200 monsters found in the wetlands and water,
Monster Geographica: Marsh & Aquatic is a great monster
resource for any GM running a 3.5 game. The PDF of Monster
Geographica: Marsh & Aquatic is now available at rpgnow.com.
Stop by and pick up your copy today.