Pre-Campaign Checklist + d100 Jungle Encounters
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #633
How to Escape Your Skull
From Johnn Four
Everybody gets trapped in their own skull. We dream, and think, and dream some more. We develop something to the point we’re ready to game it, and realize there’s other people on the planet who might not like the same things we do.
Our players, for instance.
Save yourself a lot of headaches and heartaches by collaborating with your group a bit before you go too far down the hole. Get out of your own skull and build what others want to play too.
Here’s a short list of questions you might ask over beers with your group. Pick and choose the questions you want, then get answers as soon as you can.
- Who wants to play?
- Who are the characters supposed to be?
- Who is the villain?
- What game system? What genre?
- What’s the theme, sub-genre, or flavor? What’s the tone? Horror, comedy, gritty sword & sorcery?
- What should the party composition be? What key character roles are needed?
- What is going on that requires the character’s attention?
- What happens if the characters do nothing?
- What is your game pitch to entice the players?
- What do you want to avoid? Behavior, situations, Bob for a character name
- What world or universe? Published setting or homebrew? Is your homebrew ready for play?
- Where will characters adventure? Should they prep for hot deserts, cold glaciers, sea battles?
- Where will game sessions be held?
- Where will the campaign ideally go? What’s the critical path walkthrough?
- What’s the timeline and recent history?
- When does the adventure start?
- When will you play? When can everybody make it?
- Why should the players get involved? What’s their stake in it?
- Why will this campaign be fun for you?
- Why will this campaign be fun for each player?
- Why will this campaign be cool for each character? (Tip: Ask players what they want)
- Why should the party stick together?
- How many players and characters? How many will show up each time, on average?
- How much and what kind of contribution do you want from each player?
- How does the party form? How do the characters trust each other?
- How will character actions make a difference?
- How deadly is the campaign? Should players expect frequent character deaths, or are the PCs protected by plot armor?
- How does each PC fit into the plot? How would the campaign be different if a PC wasn’t there?
- How much time do you have to prep?
- How much time do you and the others have to play?
- How long do I want this campaign to last?
- How much does everyone want to play this campaign?
- How much shit and abuse will the GM screen take? (Joking. No, not really, have a thick screen. I’m speaking metaphorically here.)
The longer you stay in your own skull, the bigger the gap will be between the other skulls in your game.
Get out there and ask your group some questions so you can make your next campaign the baddest, evilest, funnest campaign you’ve ever gamed.
Thanks to Alan Kellogg, Brent Newhall, Darren Priddy, Gavin Steele, James Young, Jesse Cohoon, Matt Ross, Nathan Meyer, Paul Kießhauer, Peter Maranci, Shannon Mac, and the Game Master Tips Group for supplying these fantastic questions.
Brief Word From Johnn
Colour Outside The Lines
We were playing Settlers of Catan last night. To build the board I just grabbed tiles from the box. With three players we only needed a standard board, but the tiles I used included expansions.
So, terrain distribution was a bit skewed. Only two ore, extra wood, one less brick.
I liked it. Felt like a new challenge. I knew ports would be more important, for example.
However, my co-players didn’t like it at all. They wanted just the tiles from the standard game.
We can all get stuck in our ways and expectations. I think it’s good to colour outside the lines once in awhile.
Your campaigns will benefit.
(P.S. And the biggest detractor ended up winning the game!)
Kingdom Events Table
This quick tool was sent out last year to subscribers, but for new readers I’ve posted the item again at the website.
Ed Larmore, creator of the Scabard RPG Manager, sent me a great and simple Kingdom Events generator.
Grab it here » Enrich Campaign Kingdom Events
Combat Mission Template Contest Ends This Week
Reminder: the contest ends soon. Create and enter your Combat Mission Templates.
If you missed the details and the earlier tips, here’s a zip file you can grab to catch up.
Download the zip, unzip it, and you’ll find four HTML files inside. Open the HTML files in your browser.
Download it here » RPT Contest Info
And if you are having trouble thinking up ideas for types of combat missions, check out these links sent in by your fellow Roleplaying Tips readers:
- Mission Complications
- Goals and Objectives Index
Get some gaming done this week!
Ships As Dungeons
From Derek Lutz
As I’m running a space opera as well as a fantasy pirate game, I was wondering if you had any articles or advice on creating ships (without too much extra prep time) as if they were a dungeon, or a fort?
I want to give my PCs a problem (get off the ship, find the thing in the dead ship, take over the ship, etc) sometimes, and just reveal the layout as they explore, instead of railroading them through just a few rooms.
And in last week’s issue I put out a request for your tips on this interesting topic. Here were the tips that came in – thanks tipsters!
Sailing Off Into The Great Unknown
From Kyle Turner
I think the first question the GM has to answer is, “Is this ship traveling a known shipping route or is it sailing off into the great unknown?
If the ship is traveling a known shipping route, then the trip will be a bit like being on a bus across country. The captain and navigator will know the route well. They’ll know about towns or isolated areas along the route where the ship can stop and resupply. The adventurers could even get off ship at these locations, go shopping, act like tourists, and have short micro-adventures before getting back on board to continue their trip.
The greatest dangers when traveling these known routes are storms and pirates. Storms are generally not a great roleplaying danger, unless the adventures are all sailors or in charge of the ship. If the adventurers are passengers, their job during a storm will be to stay below decks, stay out of the way, and not to vomit too much.
Pirates, on the other hand, are a great roleplaying danger. They love to travel or lie in wait along known trade routes and pick off ships that get too far away from their convoys. Pirates are also a danger that adventurers can help with.
If one of your party members is a mage, they might be able to change the winds to your ship’s advantage or blast the pirates. If your party members are skilled in long range missile weapons, they can do horrible things to the pirates before the pirates ever get close enough to board. When the pirates board is when the adventurers really get to shine, as their melee fighting skills are probably much higher than the average sailor or pirate.
The most interesting conflict, however, might arise between the adventurers and the crew when the pirates first give chase. Many pirates make a habit of letting the officers and crew of ships that surrendered to them go, as long as the pirates got to loot the merchants and passengers. The crew doesn’t care. It isn’t their money and goods being stolen. This gives the crew a strong motivation just to give up…and the adventurers a strong motivation to make sure they don’t.
Exploring the Unknown
If the ship is traveling into the great unknown (i.e. trying to find a new shipping route to the West Indies) then being on the ship is a lot like being trapped by a cave-in in a dungeon with a large group of ignorant, smelly, superstitious peasants.
The adventurers may or may not have anything to contribute to the running of the ship. Either way, they’ll have to put up with:
- Food supplies starting to run low and go to spoil. “I hate maggoty meat and bugs in me biscuits! The cheese taint bad though. It gets this blue fungusy stuff growing in it and it just gets tastier and tastier.
- The growing fears of the sailors as they leave sight of the coast and all known waters. Remember, for hundreds of years, even the greatest of sailing vessels never got far out of sight of land, lest they get lost. “Do you see the deep dark color of that there deep dark water? I’m telling ya, it taint natural. It’s near unta freezing my heart just look’in at it.
- The superstitious over-reactions to every potential (and possibly real) omen. “Yesterday, the boatswain belched and farted at the same time an albatross flew overhead. It’s as sure a sign of coming calamity as ever I seen. If only we had a cross-eyed, one-legged elf we could throw into the sea, to appease the angry spirits of these stranger waters.” (Hopefully your party’s elf is not cross-eyed and one legged.)
- Ship’s officers who are overly harsh on the sailors, trying to keep them in line as things get tense.
- Ship’s officers who are afraid of the men and attempt to befriend or bribe them into behaving.
In addition, other passengers on the vessel who:
- Have their own agenda
- Have their own opinions on how the vessel should be run
- Have their own opinions on the adventurers themselves
- Whine a lot at the inconvenience of adventurous travel
Things can get VERY tense trapped in the floating dungeon, going for weeks without sight of land, with winds being intermittent, food and drinkable water running low, everyone starting to smell worse than usual, having to quiet the anxious crew with larger and larger amounts of grog, and everyone second-guessing the captain and navigator. Throw into this a murder or theft to be solved and you’ve got a real powder keg.
I bring up the murder or theft because, assuming the captain has reason to trust your party, solving the crime is something he could assign to the adventurers.
Of course, as soon as land is sighted, food and water can be resupplied and everyone can get off the ship for a quick stretch of the legs, all the tension dissipates and all the grudges are forgotten…until you are out at sea again.
Pathfinder Map Pack: Boarding Action
From Sean Ventura
Hey Johnn, just writing to reply to a reader tip request from issue #632.
The reader request was regarding “Ships as Dungeons.” I find that, barring just drawing a ship on your standard battle grid, the Pathfinder Map Packs are great for taking around with you anywhere you go. This really only helps with, “Where to get ship maps or mapping tips for ships?
Check out Pathfinder Map Pack: Boarding Action. It comes with several different map tiles (all 5×8) that show not just the deck of the ship, but several layers of the underbelly of the ship as well (including access points from one to another).
I’ve used it several times for when my parties were stuck in the middle of the ocean and had to repel pirates, or simply for when they were roleplaying encounters in/about a ship and the players needed to know where they were in relation to everything around them.
Ship Conditions Constantly Change
The great thing about ships as dungeons is conditions constantly change. Wind picks up? Ship tilts. Rain? Water rises in the bilge. Another ship attacks? Whole new set of circumstances.
For the party, cramped quarters can mean no end of nightmares. Below decks in a D&D-era ship, reach weapons are out of the question, and many two-handed weapons can take a penalty or be similarly restricted (in a sleeping area, for example, poor rolls may end up with a greatsword tangled in a hammock).
Ships are mazes. It’s easy to get lost, especially if you’re not providing a map for your party (which I actually recommend in certain cases to raise the difficulty some). It’s hard to sneak around a ship that is creaky, rocking, and tilted as much at 20-30 degrees. Suppose the party kills the crew, and a storm approaches (hells, suppose the party kills the crew, and they need to get somewhere besides wherever the wind wants to take them). Anyone know how to sail a ship?
Even on the same ship, things can change room to room. Lots of places to hide, rooms with two to three entrances, thousands of nooks and crannies. Even after a party has “cleared” one level, they may return to it to find the pirates they killed have been replaced with the sleeping shift from another area and must now deal with angry pirates who know they’re there, and have time to set traps or prepare an ambush, or even just rush the party as they’re digging through the treasure in the hold.
As far as mapping goes, I would Ancient Ship Plans find schematics and blueprints of actual ships. More modern ships can be found, but military vessels will (unsurprisingly) be difficult to find layouts for. Luckily, most ships are built on the same principle, and a large cargo ship is a reasonable facsimile for an aircraft carrier with a few tweaks.
All of this is part research, part experience, part that educated guess, creative thinking, and just plain made up things we GMs do.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
From Jesse Cohoon
I saw your request to use a ship as a dungeon. Readers might want to check out The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword starting from this point for the next several videos, for inspiration:
d100 Jungle Encounters & Hazards
Last week I asked for ideas on jungle encounters. Here’s 1d100 for you!
- A deserted tree house filled with miraculously unspoiled books and scrolls.
- An unseen jungle spirit bent on driving the PCs out of the area through trickery and misfortune.
- A tropical island that appears to move. It is actually on the back of a colossal turtle and is indeed moving.
- A massive frog that swallows a player but doesn’t eat them, and carries them to parts unknown.
- A squabble between two native tribes people, apparently fighting over possession of an artifact. They don’t reveal that item is actually cursed, and they were fighting over who had to own it and carry the burden.
- An artifact that controls an army of giant ants, and the druid who uses it wants her army back.
- An otherwise primitive society with access to higher technology, such as crossbows or firearms.
- A mysterious orb that, when touched, shrinks the party down to insect size. The orb to return them to proper size is stashed in a wasp’s nest.
- Giant stone pillars built in a straight line with tops shrouded by the canopy. They are revealed to be supports for a gigantic bridge built over the forest.
- Floating islands with waterfalls rushing down from them.
- A small glacial fortress.
- Oozes spill down from treetops onto unsuspecting adventurers.
- A secluded cove with remarkably intelligent dolphins.
- Something large enough to flatten entire swaths of ancient trees, the path leading far away.
- An area of the forest with dead trees, no animals, and only the sounds the PCs make.
- A delicious, and sentient, fungus creature.
- Rains hard for hours every day! Everyone and everything is wet all the time, food spoils, paper turns to mush, cloth rots, armour chafes.
- The heat forces people to strip down to light (or no) armour or get heat exhaustion.
- Overgrowth so thick with plants PCs can only move 1-2 miles a day.
- Mud slide. 2-3 meter high avalanche of rocks, trees and mud.
- Infections. Nasty spores and fungus. Treat as a disease.
- Zombie monkeys. Make them howler monkeys if you want the extra sonic attacks.
- Drunk mud covered elephants.
- Fungus men – skeletons covered in necrotic fungus.
- Frog Spiders. Large 8 legged 8 eyed green brown frogs with poison skin who spit webs.
- Colony spiders. Hundreds of near invisible threads of web hangs down. Anything that touches them triggers the leap-down ambush of thousands of tiny biting spiders.
- Mana ticks. Ethereal parasites that attach to spell casters and absorb a spell slot or points. The caster doesn’t know until they try to cast the spell and it fails. Normally hide in skin creases (underarms, crotch, butt, knee) and can only be found by a manual search and need to be carefully cut off with a magical weapon.
- Mimic mosquitoes. Large flying critters that copy abilities, skills, or spells from their prey with each hit.
- Breeder leech. Small critters that reproduce a new, 1 hit point leech with each point of blood they drink. Can quickly grow into a deadly swarm.
- Flaming ivy. Brushing up against this plant will get PCs covered in oily sap that randomly bursts into flames once dried.
- Snake! A poisonous snake, two or more venomous snakes, a snake with multiple heads, or a hydra.
- Tentacle or vine hidden in dirty swamp water grabs the leg of a PC and tries to drag them down in the swamp.
- The skeletal remains of another unfortunate soul (such as another traveler).
- The skeletal remains of several different creatures. What could have killed them, and is it still there?
- The sound of something moving through the jungle nearby. Is it just an animal, or is something/someone stalking the party?
- A large but unnaturally light grey stone with runes engraved on it.
- A bird flying overhead – a bird that normally does not live in the jungle or anywhere near it.
- A character looks up and spots a giant spiderweb between some of the larger trees. But there’s no spider or anything else that might have created it.
- A bright red totem, easy to see from a distance. Is it a warning for danger, or a way to mark someone’s territory? Or is it something else entirely, such as a signpost with directions?
- Thick fog directly on the path. Suddenly, strong winds appear from nowhere, yet the fog remains unmoving.
- A plant with fruit shaped like a brain that amplifies psychic powers.
- Crocodile wallows that lie on either side of the single, slippery path into a lonely tower.
- Ancient, liana-covered ruins where ghosts and spirits appear at the dark of the moon to impart wisdom, secrets, or death.
- The hut of a wise woman or medicine man, where carved totems come to life if anyone is disrespectful or misbehaves.
- Large stampeding beasts – rhino, elephant, dinosaur, Tarrasque, you name it – coming down the steep hill right at the explorers.
- Platforms high in the trees linked by rotting rope bridges and creaking boardwalks.
- A lightning storm and magnificent downpour begin. Travel by land is dangerous, travel by river more so.
- Elemental quicksand, which is a minor portal to the Plane of Earth.
- A lost child bundled in heavy furs with thick boots, calling out in an unknown language.
- A group of hunters or poachers looking for a rare beast of some sort.
- Pit trap filled with venomous snakes instead of spikes.
- Abandoned canoes on shore. The canoes leak so merfolk/lizardmen underwater can easily trap wanderers in the middle of the water.
- Talking bird. It can copy what the PCs say, maybe even at inopportune moments. It can also repeat what others have said, giving PCs a potential clue.
- A swarming colony of red ants on the march.
- An earth and water elemental fighting each other.
- A ruined fort with rotting timbers and swampy cellars.
- Wild ape men who swing from vine to vine.
- Man-sized carnivorous venus fly trap plants with a fake gold piece as the lure.
- A lost colony of high elves who have devolved. Friendly or not?
- A terrible ritual with cannibals, lead by a massive shambling mound druid.
- A bizarre wreckage, such as a ship found far inland or siege engine.
- Massive downpour, possible flash floods.
- A huge river filled with crocodiles, piranha, barracuda, and some tasty shipwrecks on sandbars/islands in the middle.
- An intelligent hive of insects battling a village of settlers. Twist: the insects are guarding something sacred and are the good guys.
- An idol on a pedestal that turns out to be an anathema that holds a great evil at bay.
- A tribe of goblins tougher than orcs thanks to a special herb that grows only on the south facing slope of a dormant volcano.
- A group of orcs that have crossbred with a group of girallons. Four armed half-orc gorillorcs.
- A cave of multi-faced crystals that when exposed to three hours of sunlight hatch crystal spiders.
- Headhunter dwarves.
- A deranged hermit wizard spouting prophecy.
- A massive bird dive-bombs the river and swallow a giant crocodile whole.
- Tiny plant creatures that swarm up a person’s legs until they envelop the whole body, suffocating their prey.
- 2d4 armed revolutionaries.
- 1d3 dangerous apeman hunters on patrol.
- Hunting panther.
- Lone dwarf explorer.
- Recently abandoned campsite.
- Tribal halfling village among the treetops.
- Raging river in a rocky ravine.
- Patch of purple, poisonous miasma.
- Zoologic expedition.
- Conscious, dying coatl.
- Entrance to an unexplored temple.
- Stone obelisk surrounded by bare, scorched dirt.
- A group of neanderthals with spears and slings patrolling their territory.
- Hive of killer bees guarding their magical honey.
- A rot grub pit trap filled to the top.
- A fork in the river ends in a huge cave-hole and large waterfall.
- A throne of shrunken skulls covered in vines.
- A ziggurat crumbling with age, entrance at the base wide open and dark. Old footprints enter but do not leave.
- A large stone inked with blood and cut marks. Touch it and be cursed. Sacrifice on it and be blessed.
- A chasm and precarious bridge crossing it made of ropes and bones.
- A sentient, walking tree pretending normalcy as the PCs walk by. It will follow them for miles.
- A small raft stuck high up in the canopy, now a platform for carnivorous gulls.
- Massive mound of dung now a termite nest. Where’s the creature that created the home?
- Tribe of lizardmen sneaking toward a village of jungle elves.
- A 6 foot giant centipede whose milk can cure disease.
- A geyser shoots 100′ into the sky with something strange caught at the top of the jet each time if fires.
- Rotten trees start to topple across the PCs’ path.
- A whirling, snarling Tasmanian devil. It has a bad temper but is easily fooled.
Thanks to Mark of the Pixie, David Durmazolu, moonblack, Bill Collins, Andrew Y., Doug Rector, Alan Skinner, Mike Elston, and Tim Hunt for building this table.