Top 100 City Encounters and Plots – Part 2 The Final 50
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0501
A Brief Word from Johnn
My Summer Vacation
Dear Mrs. Rice,
My summer vacation was great this year. I went to Horse Lake, British Columbia for two weeks of camping, fishing and visiting with family. The fishing was not so great as I only caught four fish, and those were all caught on the last day before my fishing license expired.
B.C. was on fire this year. So it was always smoky, at least in the mornings till it blew away as the sun warmed things up. That meant we could not have camp fires, which was a bummer.
As I spent hours in the boat rocking gently on the water with a fishing line just an afterthought, I contemplated roleplaying games. As my holidays had their relaxing effect on me as each day passed, and life’s stresses began to seem like another world, I realized there is more to my purpose of publishing Roleplaying Tips than helping game masters have fun every game.
You see, that original vision was to keep GMs excited about their games because they were having so much fun running them. And the best way to have fun as a GM is to game with confidence and to always be learning. So, sending tips out by email to those who asked to receive them seemed like a natural way to give us all more GMing confidence and to teach us new tricks and techniques to try each session.
Real life crashes in when you get old(er). Games are harder to schedule. Players are more difficult to find. Work, family, errands and chores, friends, email, TV and internet and movies, sports and a million other things all eat away at our schedules until there’s hardly any time left to game.
For me, it means many gamers have hardly any time left to live a balanced life. Life is pretty short and it tends to go by faster with each year behind the screen. Life without play is out of balance. It’s broken.
Play crushes stress. It adds more energy back into our lives. Unlike many activities, play is regenerative. It gives back more to you than it takes. Sure a game session is four hours and game prep is four hours, so play takes up time. But it gives back so much more. Game sessions give you laughs, challenges, relaxation and memories. Sessions and planning time stretches your brain in ways you probably never get to use otherwise. Imagining, roleplaying, strategizing.
Biggest of all is creation. As a GM you create. You craft NPCs, villages, plots, traps, treasure, encounters. Opposing all the things that seem to suck energy out of you, gaming replenishes the well because it’s all about creating stuff.
How many of us spend time replenishing ourselves through creativity? Gaming gives us that opportunity. Play gives us a way to add a bit of balance back into our hectic, attention-deprived lives. It’s important. Critical.
So Mrs. Rice, on my summer vacation I came away with a new mission for Roleplaying Tips: play more often. Who can afford to let life slip by without having fun? And RPGs are so enriching that we gamers must make an effort to fit this amazing activity into our crazy schedules. We will live
longer and be happier because of it.
Have more fun at every game, and play more often.
50 More City Encounters and Plots
The final batch of my top 100 contest entries. View the first batch of 50 here.
You can also download all 650 entries as a PDF here when you subscribe to my weekly Roleplaying Tips newsletter for game masters. serious about levelling up.
51. Access to the market area is blocked by a number of burly trade apprentices and a barricade of wagons. They advise PCs the area is off limits – they should move along. Sounds of combat and cheering can be faintly heard coming from behind the blockade.
52. A harried man approaches the PCs. He looks as if he hasn’t slept in days. He states he has been framed for his lover’s murder by her husband, and fears he will not get a fair trial as her husband is well connected in the community. He begs the characters for assistance. He can offer them nothing. Will they help him escape, or at least represent him before the city tribunal to ensure justice is done?
53. A character attempts to buy food from a vendor in the market, but the merchant gets angry and refuses because the character does not have any local currency, only foreign coins.
54. During a magical performance by a gnome mage something goes wrong. A simple trick summons a beast from another dimension and it attacks the audience and PCs. After a long battle the PCs must decide what to do with the gnome. Is he the one responsible for all that pain or is there more going on than meets the eye?
55. Reports come in about a ghost haunting a dark alley in a city, and anyone investigating the ghost ends up dead in that alley. Most people who live near the alley avoid it and stay in after dark when the ghost is said to come out. The PCs investigate, leading them to an elaborate operation in the sewers where crooks are attempting to break into a vault of a nearby building. They created the ghost story to keep people away. The crooks are behind the deaths of those who investigate the alley.
56. A young girl wants the party to find her doll. The girl is the daughter of a mage, and the doll is a miniature golem.
57. A small insect continuously buzzes the PCs’ ears. The insect, if listened to closely, can be heard giving warnings, secrets or other vital information to the PCs’ quest. The insect can be an NPC transformed or simply an intelligent being in disguise.
58. A landlord is convinced one of his tenants is actually a dragon disguised as a human. He wants the tenant out but is afraid to evict them himself. He asks the PCs to evict the tenant without causing damage to the building.
59. A half-orc sells kittens by the roadside. Do the PCs investigate?
60. One of the PCs is able to outperform a local performer. This shames the celebrity, who now hates the PC and tries to save their own reputation while bringing down the PC.
61. A famous adventurer was found dead outside the main gate and his body laid to rest in one of the temples. What’s he doing walking into the tavern? And why is he coming toward your table?
62. Goods are going missing from stores in broad daylight. Owners have gaps in their memories, and if pressed, can be made to vaguely remember a kindly soul offering to help hide their more valuable items from thieves.
63. The Scaly Schooner on the Fisherman’s Wharf explodes as the PCs pass by. Amongst the screams and fire, a badly burnt, wild-eyed man in scorched pirate’s garb stumbles over to the PCs and hands them an enormous red ruby. “It’s not the last one, but don’t seek the treasure!” he hisses at the PCs before collapsing at their feet.
64. A child is crying in a dark alley. If PCs decide to help the child, it attacks them, blood covering its face and black eyes. Will the PCs kill a young and innocent child?
65. A merchant is whipping a talking mule who is desperately trying to explain that the load the merchant wants it to carry is too heavy. The merchant is too furious with the mule to listen, and the mule is stubbornly refusing to obey, which only makes the merchant angrier. The load may or may not be too heavy, but the beating is severe and getting worse. The mule appeals to the gathered crowd, watching and mostly silent, for help.
66. A young man, who is obviously not an adventurer, claims he has a map showing the location of the cache of an adventuring group that went missing. He offers to sell the map to the PCs.
67. A chatty bard walks alongside the party repeating random bits of conversation.
68. The characters pass a storyteller who seems to be describing the party’s current adventure. The names have been changed, and the storyteller claims it is just a story, but is it? Does the story contain a clue that the party needs, but perhaps overlooked, or is the clue a red herring?
69. A rival’s henchman who was defeated by the PCs is now being made to fight every night in the pits as a punishment for failing his master. Do the characters rescue him from certain death, or enjoy a night at the games betting on how long he lasts?
70. The Overlord challenges everyone to recover decorative tiles that bear parts of a message. It concerns a future quest to a neighboring town’s temple. The party runs afoul of a competing party of searchers.
71. A group of young nobles are racing horses through the streets and nearly ride down the characters. The nobles are arrogant, rude and more than slightly drunk. How the party handles this situation will determine how well they are received by the various factions in that city.
72. A bride and groom ride down the street in a horse drawn carriage. The horses suddenly rear up and the cart threatens to topple. A terrified goblin tries to dodge flailing hooves. Do the PCs go to the cart, horses or goblin?
73. A drought wreaks havoc in town. The PCs are asked by a medicine man to help locate water using his tools. Once the water is found bad guys show up to break the water supply or steal the tools.
74. An apocalyptic street preacher has been predicting the weather and minor events with unerring accuracy. As the PCs pass by one day, they hear him predict an important person’s death.
75. A flock of chicken’s peck at the street. Upon investigation, it seems they are eating small gems.
76. A round-faced boy is looking for his pet frog, Trevor. The PCs hear a croaking noise coming from a building where several thugs lounge out front.
77. A plague of rats has befallen the best bakery in town. A fat and greedy wererat can’t resist nightly visits in rat form to gorge himself on the delicious treats. He has so far killed every cat and dog used to try and stop the monster rat.
78. A troupe of well-armed adventurers pass by chatting about returning to the secret location for the rest of the treasure tomorrow.
79. A guard officer has lost his badge of office and must find it before the end of his shift. One of the PCs spots an orphan beggar handing it discreetly to another beggar through a window of a nearby building.
80. A small child asks one of the party if that is a real [weapon/item] they have hidden on them.
81. A shady character approaches the party and offers a deal: he will trade news for news. If the party agrees, they will tell a piece of information for a piece of information in return. If the party tells the complete truth, the information they receive in return will be the complete truth, but if they lie, so does the info merchant. The more the party shares, the more they stand to gain.
82. A random party member is stung by a bee. They spot a strange man sitting on a step nearby, tracing the air with his finger, muttering to himself. Suddenly, he jabs a finger in the air, and then another PC gets stung.
83. A sewer worker is found after being lost for several days and claims he saw a lizard man leading a monster on a leash through the sewers. The monster touched his lantern and it crumbled to dust. The lizard man left him to find his way out of the sewers, blind.
84. Dogs chasing each other run by. One of them gets vicious and a wounded dog turns on the next weakest thing it spots, be it a PC, a homeless man, a wife bringing home baking, etc.
85. A dead author haunts a secondhand bookstore, vigorously defending the last remaining copy of his only published work – “Sentimental Songs for a Soporific Summer” from Vanity Press. The bookstore owner would like his store back. He’d also like to know how the book got into his store, as he doesn’t remember acquiring the infamously bad poetry book.
86. A disheveled beggar follows the PCs through the streets of the city. He hounds the PCs until he gets a coin or a boot to the backside. How the PCs react will affect a later mission, as the beggar is royalty in disguise.
87. A druid is speeding up the growth of several trees, seeking to use their roots to subtly destroy certain buildings. Unfortunately for him, the PCs notice what he’s doing, and he has no choice but to attempt to silence them.
88. A foreign diplomat has been kidnapped, polymorphed into a goblin, and dumped in a rough part of town, outside the inn where the PCs are staying.
89. A furious hill giant materializes in the town square. Can the heroes calm it or get it out of town with a minimum damage to life and property, or must they fight it? How did it get here in the first place?
90. The PCs are contracted by the neighborhood leader to get rid of a werewolf and her minions who are terrorizing the locals. During the battle, the werewolf makes the group an offer: the gift of lycanthropy and the knowledge to use it, as well as the spoils from the town if they will join her. Leave the decision for the group to make as individuals and a group, as some may join and some may not. Do the members who join kill those that don’t? Ah, the possibilities.
91. A group of town guards confronts the party demanding they present their belongings for search. The guards are responding to the claims of a poor peasant that the PCs have robbed him of his mother’s silver comb. In truth, the peasant is part of the thieves’ guild and is hoping when the guards search these traveler’s belongings he will spot riches for him and his friends to steal later that day.
92. A minstrel wanders, singing a ribald song about one of the PCs and the wife of the Sheriff. Innocent fun, or is someone trying to get the PC?
93. A jail breakout disrupts the PCs’ downtime in town. As the newly freed prisoners riot through the streets, the PCs come face to face with the villain they helped lock up some time ago. He’s got himself quite a following since being locked up.
94. A pretty herald tries to get the party to join them in an inn tonight. When the party arrives, the inn is packed with patrons that, in the end, don’t turn out to be patrons, but some shape-changing monsters preying on the party.
95. A well-behaved dog starts following the PCs around town. It can execute all sorts of complex tricks, and will follow the party even if they try to get it to leave (if only at a distance). Before long, the PCs are confronted by the dog’s owner and the town guard and accused of dog-napping.
96. A young girl struggles to carry two heavy buckets of water through the marketplace, despite being tormented by a pair of small monkeys who seem to be flinging pebbles at her. Off to the side, a pair of drunk gentlemen are placing wagers on whether or not she will drop the buckets before getting them back to her market stall.
97. A young noble asks the PCs to take him on adventures. Even if the PCs refuse, he will try and follow. He is incompetent and a danger to himself and others, but his family is powerful, so it might not be a bad idea to let him come along.
98. The group stumbles across a halfling running a 3 Card Gnoll game in front of a tavern. PCs notice he is cheating and has racked up quite a sum against unsuspecting town folk. They also notice another suspicious character eying the halfling’s ill-gotten gains.
99. The gambler PC hears of a racket with a race, where all the participants are being drugged slightly to give the edge to a low-placed racer. The bets are paid 1 to 20. It is, however, a false story spread by a bad bookmaker to cover bets against a star racer.
100. To become a full-fledged member of the thieves’ guild, a novice thief must steal something noteworthy from someone dangerous to earn the respect of the other members. What if she targets the PCs for this task, not out of greed but out of admiration for their skills?
Ok, I lied. Here are six more I wanna squeeze into my top 100 list:
101. In the midst of a city, trees and plants have begun to sprout spontaneously, taking over streets, plazas, and even whole buildings. A radical druid group is attempting to reclaim the urban environment for their nature religion.
102. The PCs hear about heroes well known and loved in the area. The next day, the heroes happen to show up. Young women go crazy, older ones ask the heroes to bless their babies, the sick and weak reach out to touch them for blessings. When people ask the heroes their most recent achievement, they pretend to be responsible for the latest heroic act the PCs did.
103. The adventurers are hired by a noble house to rid the Orc Quarter of a magical weapons smuggling ring. Another party has the same goal, but different masters: intelligent ghoul thieves who want a bigger piece of the action.
104. The characters recognize the mayor’s daughter climbing out of a disreputable two-story building.
105. A group of goblins, fresh from their foray from the sewers beneath an alchemist’s shop, climb out of the sewer grate and then begin throwing alchemist fire on many of the surrounding buildings and then commence breaking into store- fronts and stealing. Do the PCs fight the fires or stop the goblin looting problem?
106. A group of kids plays on a gallows. One has put a rope around his neck, pantomiming being strangled, and it looks like another is sneaking up to kick him into the hole.
Treat Combat as Skill Challenges, And Challenges as Combats
From Da’ Vane
Especially in D&D, combat is often treated as special and different from the rest of game systems. Sure, combat is exciting, and most of the final conflicts and climactic battles involve a good bout of combat. It’s a gaming staple, but too much of a good thing can render it bland and meaningless.
There are numerous articles on how to shake up your combats with new themes, special effects, and so forth, but after all that, it is still combat. So why not take a change of pace and step back from that for a bit?
Just because it’s narratively defined as combat, doesn’t mean you can’t treat it as something more appropriate to the pace of the adventure.
Skill challenges are often simpler than combat, designed to provide a break from the intense simulation and number crunching required by combat in most systems. If the combat is a minor or random encounter, which is designed more to add flavour to the setting and story than pose a real kick- ass challenge to the PCs, you could always set it up as a skill challenge instead.
This is useful if the PCs are in a situation where they come across a lot of lower level enemies, such as trying to reach the commander of an opposing army besieging the city. You could even combine skill checks with the start of combat, using the results of the skill check to determine how many minions remain when the PCs finally confront the boss in combat.
You could even have PCs make such minion skill checks during an encounter to give them an opportunity to spend their turn fighting a new wave of minions to see who actually makes it through as reinforcements for the boss. Give them a choice in this case: a turn of normal combat to deal with existing combatants or a skill check to take out incoming reinforcements in a cinematic way. This has the added benefit of reducing the setup needed to record them.
We can also do the opposite, particularly if we want to focus on another area of the system. It might take a bit of preparation on the GM’s part, but entire areas neglected by existing systems can be tweaked to get the same focus as combat.
A major part of this stems from the importance that such actions have in the story, and your entire group should be working together on this. Maybe defeating a villain isn’t the climax of the adventure, but extracting information from him is.
This would normally be a simple skill challenge, but could be expanded to become as complex and climactic as combat itself – but this time, it’s not a contest of might and magic, but one of will and trickery.
The Spycraft system from Crafty Games has a number of sophisticated systems for scenes like chases, hacking, interrogation, infiltration, and seduction, as befits the espionage theme of the game. Their Fantasycraft line brings the system into the fantasy world, so you can incorporate elements for your own games. Using divination magic isn’t all that different from Hacking, for example, and their chase scene mechanics works for horses and dragons as well as cars and helicopters.
But there’s no need to stop there. The above systems involve some form of direct conflict used to develop the detailed system. But indirect conflict also works to be climactic if given enough narrative and system impetus.
You could turn a trap-laden room into a virtual gauntlet, with each trap as a semi-mobile creature with its own special abilities and effects. Obstacles and features work for these situations like any other combat, to add an extra twist if desired.
External events and forces could also be treated like creatures in the same way. A fire or rock slide might slowly consume the area like a huge gigantic ooze; bolts of lightning could randomly strike squares like tiny sprites, charging the area and causing damage to those nearby for a short time; swamp gas could float about like air elementals.
I’ll finish this article with another possibility that works for both creature and non-creature combat encounters – why not give the PCs some additional objectives in there?
Most traditional combat simply has the goal of either defeat the enemies or survive. These objectives still work with non-creature combat encounters, except that defeating the non-creatures typically means destroying or bypassing them somehow.
But why not be a tad more specific, especially for climactic encounters, and provide the PCs with more options in such situations? Maybe they need to deactivate the security grid for the base, steal copies of the villain’s next plans, or get a prisoner to safety as part of the combat as well.
You could even make some of these optional or hidden objectives – if the PCs get the chance to check the warlord’s desk during the combat, they could discover what his next target is, or look to see what other places have been struck. Some of this information could be gleaned after such an encounter, but you could always throw the PCs a curve ball now and then by booby trapping the location or otherwise setting a time limit for success.
Diffusing a nuclear bomb on the side of a dormant volcano above a village of the island governor where the world’s supply of a recently discovered important resource becomes all the more important when it’s set to a time limit, and the PCs need to deal with inclement weather and harsh conditions.
You still need to throw some native tribal warriors to harass the PCs too? Didn’t think so – if they fail, surviving the blast, outrunning the lava, and evacuating the civilians should keep them more than busy!