Stories in Novels Vs Difficulty curves in games (and idiot RPG authors who say you can do the former)

I wrote this recently as a comment on reddit and it warrants it’s own place rather than being buried amidst a pile of comments.

The situation was the GM had a group of ‘bandits’ (actually a political faction causing trouble under the guise of bandits) . The players run right into the group and get defeated, one captured the others escaping. The players weren’t happy. And here is my reply to this:

The problem is in Venn diagram terms, what the players find fun is one circle and what you presented is another circle – they really didn’t overlap.

Imagine you’d done this instead – they ran into outlier camps of the bandits, who are in small groups that are more balanced to the PCs and wont be calling the main group. The players would win the battle – which they were looking for at least once otherwise they feel their new PCs are chumps.

Further imagine you make larger and larger groups, with an increasing chance of calling the next group along.

The players would encounter tougher and tougher resistance until they question whether they can take the next group. Maybe they should see if anyone in town can help – sellswords, for example? Exactly as it turned out, but with players being happy about it.

This is a smooth difficulty curve, rising from low to challenging. What you had was a difficulty spike – nobody can really handle that and enjoy it, precisely because it’s too realistic – if realism was fun, why are we playing fantasy rather than being out in the real world?

That said, the author of the books give the impression you could run the game exactly as you did (or so I guess – most RPGs do). And the authors are idiots for it. You were told what you did would work but you were told something that does not work because it’s not actually compatible with human psychology.

So many new gamer’s try to use the aspiring novel writer method of designing games – but it doesn’t work, because as a novel writer you can screw your characters over royally and no one bitches about it. What you did would work as a novel. As a game it doesn’t work. But you were given bad advice, so it’s not your fault.

 

Have a plot but you hate having passive players?

I’m posted this recently: I’d like to explain that having plots makes players passive lumps. Why is that? Because if a player ever goes to do something that would screw the plot up, the GM does one or both of the following A: Subtley or obviously chastises the player or B: Makes events stop the player from doing the action.

The thing is, the player is never sure what action will cause the plot to break. So what’s the best solution for the player if they don’t want the plot to break and to suffer A or B? Well….do nothing. Be a passive lump. That way you can’t break the GMs precious plot.

GMs who use plot but loathe passive players are their own worst enemy.

Encounter 03 & 04, Beloved Soup & The Damaged Specter

03 Beloved Soup

Ahead you see a Shawled Figure sitting by a big, bubbling cauldron, its hood obscuring its features. As you approach you hear it say “Would you like to eat some soup?”. But from where you are you can see into the cauldron and find only bubbling water in it.

From nearby bushes or ruins, a Satyr appears and replies to the Shawled Figure “No one eats water!”

The Shawled Figure appears chagrined, and replies “Many people eat soup! Many do!” and rambles off a huge list of people who eat soup.

“Those people eat hot water when there’s something actually in it!”, the Satyr replies!

“Stop changing what you said! You said people don’t eat soup!” the Shawled Figure replies, getting angry.

“You don’t have any soup, you fool!”, the Satyr replies.

The Shawled Figure gets angry and rises to attack, revealing itself to be a Green Hag!

Before it does, though, the Satyr quickly says to the players he has his own cauldron – gesturing behind him amidst the bushes or ruins, and what he has made there is a healing broth. The cauldron has a fluid that looks similar to healing potions (A low DC arcana check will reveal it will indeed heal and probably taste mildly good). If they’ll side with him, they get what comes from his cauldron. If they side with the Green Hag, they get what comes from the Green Hag’s cauldron.

How did these two lunatics get to arguing? Anyway, which cauldron would you like to imbibe from? Or get out of here and leave them to their madness?

Notes on the healing cauldron: It’s unwieldy to move and if it is moved that takes it away from the magic circle which is part of it, with the healing fluid inside quickly fading. Ie, it is not meant to be a healing item to be taken away, it’s just a healing opportunity. At most each character can get the effect of two healing potions from drinking from it.

The other cauldron just has bubbling water it in – it’s not even soup!

 

04 The Damaged Specter

This encounter is designed for use in a corridor, to trigger an encounter with a ghost who insists on that may very well not make any sense, but will affect all the parties lives!

Read out the italicised section here:

As you head down a corridor toward a door at its other end, you hear a loud clang some feet behind you and turn to suddenly find a portcullis has fallen in place there! Even as you take in the situation, a secret door begins to open in the side of the corridor – and this one would better remain secret! There’s some kind of terrible monster behind it and when it is fully opened, the monster will be released!

 Quickly you try the door you were headed to but you find it locked, of course! And no apparent keyhole to pick! You are trapped!!

 But you notice something here – there is a small scrying device here, and through it you can see something interesting. It shows two chambers from above, where in the first chamber a party of humans stand before two doors that are almost next to each other. These doors are blocked with iron bars, but the iron bars are slowly opening. From the second chamber you can see the first door has a trace of yellow magic that the humans can’t see – it extends from the first door, through the scrying image and to the locked door in front of you! It seems like if the humans go through the first door, your own door will become unlocked! And you will escape the monster that is about to be freed!

 But the problem is that you can see the second chamber and behind the second door you see there is a small chest of gold behind it! And the humans already stand closest to the second door! Both doors will open at the same time and they will see the gold behind the second doorway…Which doorway are they likely to step through when both doors open at the same time!?

Give the players a moment to take that in!

“Oh my, you’re doomed!”, cries a slightly cracked voice!

 You turn to see a spectral figure step out of a nearby wall as it hovers gently above the floor. It holds a staff with a large red gem on it.

 “If only there could be something done!”, the spectre wails!

 Through the scrying image, you notice the chest of gold rests upon a small disk that glows red. They can see a thin red line of magic emanating from the glowing disk the chest rests upon, through the scrying image and to the red gem on the staff the ghost wields. It controls the disk!

 The ghost sees them make the connection, but it announces the following sadly…

 “No, nothing can be done, even if I were to use the staff to move the chest! Incentives don’t work, you see! People aren’t interested in incentives! Moving the chest to be behind the first door wont have any chance of making them go through the first door!”

The ghost is adamant about this! And so the crux of the encounter – where as a physical solution may seem very apparent, the one holding the means of enacting the solution adamantly believes that that solution wont work and wont do it. The ghost is called the Abbot, and the players may find themselves going deep down a rabbit hole trying to convince him to simply activate the red stone and shift the gold. The Abbot will insist it is their theory that moving the gold would make the humans go through the first door, that they should do the test. No, that doesn’t mean they can have the staff to test it – they should go do that test elsewhere, the Abbot informs them!

Is the Abbot mad? Or will the players go down the rabbit hole and humour his insistence that incentives do nothing actually the case?

The way the players escape the encounter don’t have to involve convincing the Abbot. It is simply an opportunity to require talking to place some demand on talking to someone with a seemingly mad notion and what that experience is like. In the end the players might just try to bash down the door, or smash open the portcullis, or try to steal the staff from the ghost or even just plain fight the monster behind the secret door. But just for a moment, they will have considered entering the Abbots mad little world, and what it is like to hover over that abyss.

Notes: The red gem is really just a ghostly artefact and doesn’t really exist to have any value – it’d likely fade away if kept (though if a character starts using it as their own weapon/something cool like that, it aught to remain instead)

Oh, and if they somehow activate the staff and move the gold? Well, it’s up to your group and GM as to what the human group does – do they go through the first door, or do incentives not matter?

If they do happen to go through the first door, the door ahead unlocks for the party (and the secret door starts closing) and as they pass through it, they hear behind them…

“Oh, they meant to go through the first door all along!”, the ghost cries behind them as your party leaves, even as seen through the scrying device the humans in the other chamber run small piles of gold coins through their fingers…

Previous Encounters, Next Encounter

Encounter 01 & 02 – The Chest & The Test or the Trick

01 : The  Chest

This encounter should be able to be had anywhere – the encounter can be made to happen where the PCs are, rather than the PCs having to go to a specific location to trigger the event. It’s method of play is that the PCs choose what they do – there isn’t a guiding force as to what the PCs aught to do.

As the PC’s round a corner they notice a treasure chest lying on the road. It is resting inside a set of two poles that attach to it, so it could be carried by a pair of men, but there is nobody near it now. There are the signs of a fight happening here and there are several unconscious or slain town guards. Looks like they were escorting the chest. There also look a few rough types on the ground as well, again either dead or unconscious. One of the rough types even seems incapacitated. In the distance it looks like the remainder guards are chasing off an enemy and have left the chest completely alone in the confusion.

Well, that chest could just be carried off right now! You could disappear with it – but while the town guards would know, that brigand on the ground over there can’t do much, but he is watching! He’ll report to his boss latter and the leader of them might well send someone after you if…that witness remains alive. I mean, they are unarmed, unable to fight – it’ll be easy! Indeed, there’s a low chance another brigand is watching even if you killed them first! But it’s just a chance – you might get away scot free!

Or you could stay with the chest, guard it and there might be a small helpers fee from the guards. Or there may be no fee, but an offer of work now you’ve proven you’re trustworthiness. But then again, small fees or no reward at all except the offer to work for coin? Surely you deserve better?

Not to mention, you haven’t even looked inside the chest. Perhaps just a quick look – what’s the harm of picking the lock, having a look then locking it again? Can’t hurt to know what’s in there, right?

02 : The Test or the Trick

There is some pomp and splendour ahead, with a small well dressed crowd around a stage set up here.

It turns out around here the young of nobles need to go through tests. Here the young noble had a choice between two staged rooms, guessing from clues which of them hid a special ceremonial artifact behind their furnishings. It seems the young noble has chosen already.

That’s when one of the nobilities retainers approaches the party and parlays. Perhaps they know of the parties exploits and have earnt some trust, perhaps the party seems a little…flexible, in their outlook and there’s no one else to turn to.

The thing is, the retainer whispers, the young noble has chosen wrong! And the next step of this test involves burning the staged room that the noble didn’t choose! But that has the ceremonial artifact hidden at the back!

It would be most upsetting and decorous should this mistake be seen in front of the crowd! If the party would be so kind as to sneak around or have their sneaky member slip around the back of the stage and remove the ceremonial item and move it to the other room, there would be gold in it for all of them for this act of diplomacy! The retainer will hold off the burning for as long as he can and he has no one else to do this deed for him.

However, the party can talk with the young noble as they approach. Do they want to talk with him? If they do, they can sense from his demeanour he is the type who wants to face up to his mistakes. Indeed, perhaps this would be a healthy trait in ruling loyalty, when he grows up and takes power in latter years?

But then again the retainer isn’t going to pay you a few gold coins unless you move the ceremonial artifact!

The actual sneaking, if done, should not be so hard – a chance of being caught, a need to talk your way out of it with a convincing lie. And if that fails, perhaps despite the urge to trick, you fail and…the young noble learns the truth?

Also even if the PCs decline to do the deed, the retainer still gives a small fee, 10% of what he’d otherwise have given each of them, for the PCs to remain quiet about all this. More diplomacy money.

Next Encounter

Consistent PC Rewards – Boons!

Players love their character getting more powerful! It’s a strong reward for play and to engage players at the table, making them keep coming back for more!

But powering up through levels can start to take multiple sessions, while speeding up leveling takes some of the enjoyment out of anticipating a new level and appreciation of the previous level gained. And once you’ve given a +1 weapon, that’s it. The only thing to go onto is +2. And soon enough the party will all be equipped with +2 and we will be strapped for what to give as a reward next, while having made the party significantly more powerful at the same time. We want to give powering up rewards multiple times in play, but there is little granulation and so the rewards give too much too soon?

Here is your answer! The following is a way of granting more power to each player regularly through play, granted in manageable increments!

Here is the first example – Defensive Boons!

[[ I’m currently developing a PDF with a number of different Boon types, offensive as well. Providing many more hours of rewards in play ]]

Defence Boons

These upgrades are found as small, magic precious stones. The magic allows them to be pressed into armour and they will magically set themselves into the item. When finding these stones, it can be fun to say to a player ‘You’ve found a precious stone – what type is it and what does it look like?’, as the magic stone will become a part of their armour latter on, once used. So they will decide the new look of their equipment!

Each magic stone represents an upgrade stage. Armour can have multiple stones, each increasing the level of boon granted upon the armour and thereby the character that wears it!

Defence Boon Levels

1 This level grants the wearer to activate the boon as a free action on their turn, and for one round (until the start of their next turn) they receive +1 AC on top of their regular armour class. This can be done once per long rest.
2 The Boon grants a bonus for two rounds
3 The Boon grants a bonus for three rounds
4 In addition to the previous effect that can be activated, the Boon now has a reactive component! When the PC would be struck by an attack, as a free action the player can choose to activate the Boon to gain +1 AC. They decide this after finding out the attack roll result! However, this bonus only applies to this one attack and then the reactive charge is spent. See the recharge rules below.
Recharge cost : 20g
5 Reactive recharge cost reduced : 10g
6 Reactive recharge cost reduced : 5g
7 Reactive recharge cost reduced : 2g
8 Reactive recharge cost reduced : 1g
9 Reactive component will self recharge for free, once per week! You can still pay for a recharge, which doesn’t reset the recharge time.

Recharging Reactions

This can generally be done in town where spell services are performed. All the strange glass jars on the walls, mystic books and stuffed crocodiles owned by the NPC magic user are part of their effects for gathering energy over time. Collected inside all these knick knacks in their magic shop, which they can use for effects like recharging the reactive Boon in the adventurers equipment! The magic user, for their expertise, time and prior investment in miscellaneous strange potion bottles and crumbling scrolls, requires a fee in gold, as described in the table. Only one reactive charge can be held at a time by an item.

Sometimes a town is grateful for the adventurers deeds or the adventurers have proven to be good souls in how they act in town. And so the magic user providing the spell casting service will offer a certain amount of gold removed from the cost of recharge, to reward the PCs or attempt to gain some favor with the PC’s.

Other times the PC might find a recharging ritual circle in a dungeon, set up by humanoid monsters (the energies were to be used for evil designs, no doubt!). They can use the energy of these ritual circles (once! Then the circle is spent!) to recharge their Boon. A circle is the equivalent of recharging a certain number of golds worth – the GM determines the amount when they create the circle. This becomes another form of treasure to be found in dungeons! Otherwise the PCs can simply pay for the service in town and receive the benefit of the Boon.

Sometimes the player might be able to buy a one use portable magic device that can be used mid dungeon to recharge their item. It costs twice as much as a regular recharge and only one such portable recharge can be applied per item per long rest. It’s also a nice thing to come across – appreciate the generosity in the GM’s world if you find one!

How to Apportion the Rewards / At what Rate to Give the Boons

If there are four players are at first level and a session is around two hours then it’s a question of whether they get to level 2 occurs in the first session.

If they will level after the first session, a good rate to start with one Boon found by a players PC in the first half hour, then another at around an hour into the session. The last hour of the session will likely be rather busy and may involve other treasure types to act as rewards, as well as the reward of leveling.

After that, one Boon per half hour of play for a group of four! Also on that half hour, roll a D6. On a 6 a second Boon is found! Occasional extra rewards lends more spice to play!

At that rate and in terms of armour, that covers about 15 hours of play at one reward per half hour. The players will probably upgrade their armour at some point, needing to start again with new Boons in the new armour (The old Boons cannot be transferred over, they are a part of the previous armour now!). So this will cover around another 15 hours of play!

[[ The PDF version of this play support will have a table for various group sizes and what rewards to give, more information on level 1 and Boons that go up to level 12 in strength! ]]

But how do I make sure PC’s get a Boon at the right time?

Boons can come to the player, they don’t have to wait in a specific location until found – did they look in a draw that’s empty? It’s not, it has a Boon in it! Did they just open a door or make a turn in a corridor into an area they haven’t seen? Well, there’s a small chest there, with a Boon inside! Freed prisoners, thankful villagers – all can have a stash they give up to the PC’s.

[[ In the PDF there will be a table with over a dozen entries to choose from or roll on when the real life time has come to determine where a Boon could be found ]]

How does the group distribute them?

Really the PC’s might be drawing straws. In real life, the players can roll off (or you could make straws to draw, to add immersion!). Only players who have not yet received a Boon roll off to see who gets the highest roll (equal highest roll off again until there is only one left!) – once everyone has received one Boon, then a new round begins and with the new round everyone rolls to see who receives the next one. And so on, distributing the Boons evenly!

A basic guide to splitting the party

Let’s look at how it can be done fairly neatly.

Say you will be playing for two hours and there are four players.

We could slice that into 30 minutes per player!

So if one player splits off from the rest, they get around 30 minutes of solo play.

“But everyone has to wait for thirty minutes as one PC does their thing!?”

No one said that!

You can take that thirty minutes and breaking it into 5 minute chunks. Mark down the time when the solo PC starts their time. The solo PC gets to do stuff for roughly 5 minutes.

When done, note a five minute chunk has been used up, until they’ve used up their full 30. Do about 15 to 18 minutes with the main party, then the solo player again.

Try to end on a ‘not sure what will happen next!’ cliff hanger with the solo player at the end of each five minute chunk, to keep them hanging on for more. Try not to finish off with ‘Okay, you bought a sword…now back to the main party!’. Sometimes you will end up having to do this, but if you can stop at four minutes on a cliffhanger, don’t resolve it to do the full five minutes.

Sometimes a player wont even want to use their full time and will rejoin the party after completing their business. Though sometimes the PC is just not part of the party anymore – they are their own faction in the game world, as much as the party is. Though with more members in the party, the party is more likely to survive or spend less time sneaking, figuring ways to sneak or retreating!

“But I don’t want to watch that PC even for five minutes!”

Something has gone wrong here – you should be interested in your fellow players characters. Why did you invite the person if you are not interested in their creations?

“I don’t really like that other gamer!”

But you’re gaming with them anyway!? For goodness sake…it’s not splitting the party that is dysfunctional, it’s the social context of your games that is dysfunctional. More exactly the lack of social context!

I’m…I’m just going to go back to the functional groups and speak with them…

“But a split party gets in the way of my plot!”

Argh!

Okay, I’m going to just link to a post I found recently here

 

The too clear moral choice

I think some moral choices can have an answer which is too clear – to much of an expected result. Do you save the bus load of orphans or instead spend your time eating a cheeseburger? And indeed players will probably have a character who will eat the cheeseburger sometimes, since they ostensibly get a choice about their choice.

One moral choice situation I read recently was where your group has a pressing mission elsewhere, but a deal you’ve done is with a guy who turns out is probably going to do some bad things to some strangers. Stay and deal with this, but potentially jeopardize your mission, or leave.

There’s a few issues with this – with relatively good characters, the outcome is pretty clear cut.

Another thing is that it is ambiguous – something going to be jeopardized? What? It’s ambiguous. What is actually, definitely going to happen and be a change in the game world if we stick around?

Finally, its kind of walking away from action – with action being the stuff a lot of people actually find super fun and engaging.

So let’s workshop this!

The Good Guys Problem – I think adding a third option to the mix alleviates the automatic response here. See, you can be the devil and tempt the PC’s – say for example the PC’s could drop off armamentss for the threatened strangers to use to defend themselves, then the PC’s leave. That’s nice. But what if the PC’s would just shrug and do it – it’s still too clear cut. So increase the costs of the armaments, for example. Or that the strangers are ill or old and/or very young. But be careful you don’t swing the other way and make it clear cut the other way ‘OMG, child soldiers! We have to stay and fight for them’. The situation can be primed to make the choice agonising! This is the sort of agony you want to inflict on your players, because you hate them (in a good way!), because you’re the Devil Master…wait, I said Dungeon Master, right? Right! *shifty eyes*

Anyway, it can take fine tuning until you nail a real bitch of a moral problem to deliver. though keep in mind sometimes the problem still misses – you think it’s really difficult to answer, but then a PC just instantly decides, like they are Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian knot in twain! It happens – and frankly when its unexpected clear cut decision making, it’s entertaining. It’s only when you can see the decision in advance does it raise the question ‘Is this really worth gaming?’

The Ambiguity Problem – To me, it’s too easy to go ‘Wooo, something might go wrong at some unspecified point in future if you don’t go back to the mission’, but then the GM completely wimps out ’cause he loves you and your PC’s so much (likely if playing good guys) he’d rather just kinda forget about doing anything in regard to that whole threat thing. But screw that, I want things to blow up. Okay, we stay and fight the villain – what concrete, objective thing gets wrecked? Maybe if we don’t get back, tankers of fuel will be stolen. Not might – WILL! Maybe add a moral component – and the oil for fueling heaters in the village. How many ill or elderly will die when winter comes (OMG, it’s coming!). But then again that might be making the choice too clear cut ‘We can’t let granny die! We go to the mission!’. Damn, too clear cut. Okay, maybe people will get sick rather than die during winter. It’ll be miserable. But then again these strangers might die? What to MFing do?

And then once you have a concrete effect, STILL add on ‘and it might jeopardize the mission…in other ways as well!’. Leave yourself that blank cheque for adding bad stuff latter, which themselves are just excuses for more moral choices. Maybe, or maybe you’ll leave it because you love the group and PC’s and you’re soft and wont twist the screws…just admit it! >:)

The Walking Away From The Action Problem – This is probably the easiest – going back to the mission has to have some defined action we are going to. When faced with action now or ambiguity, players and their PC might just choose action automatically. Again, it’s too clear cut. But we don’t have to be fancy here – if we make sure choice A: is action and choice B: is action, then we are choosing action no matter what. So now were kind of perfectly even, it makes sure one choice doesn’t outshine the other by dint of having action when the other doesn’t.

~~ And there are some ideas on making moral choices less clear cut and more agonising!

But yeah, there was this guy who I’d totally primed to stop the mugger. He had all sorts of super powers, but he just wanted to be a wrestler. So he ignores the mugger, saying ‘It’s what my character would do!’ – which is something only ‘that guy’ says, am I right? That character was going absolutely no where in terms of story, that’s for sure!

Sorry, just finishing off by having a bit of fun of the idea if someone wanted to make a player take a certain choice. But no one ever does that, right?

Dungeon Traversal Mishaps!

Dungeons are rough places – and perhaps players should start to feel that? Just by themselves they present a threat of personal injury, discomfort and loss, let alone once monsters enter the picture!

So here are a series of dungeon mishaps that can happen just by walking along corridors and through rooms. These are made in mind that even if you have dark vision or similar, simply making out one thing from the other in a haphazard, chaotic environment can be difficult and things can catch you by surprise. If you can’t see in the dark and are seeing by the light of a swinging lantern or light spell, it’d be even harder!

Each roll affects one PC. The XP amount is a suggestion to start off from. It might be worth raising the XP for each event to 10.

Roll 1D6 when the PC’s are traveling through largely uneventful areas and the dungeon needs to make the players feel something!

  1. Uneven ground – uneven and hard to make out and a stone, over decades, has raised above the rest of the floor. The PC makes a DEX check DC: 12. 2 Damage on a fail, 1 Damage on a pass. XP: 5. Or if the PC feels their PC would avoid such traps, then they will miss out on the XP as well.
  1. Unseen stalagmite – Over time drips from the ceiling deposit minerals on the floor, leaving spikes called stalagmites. They can be tucked away in all sorts of corners and can hook and drag on carried equipment without the adventurer even realising it as the PC’s press through tight corridors or even through doorways. Roll 1D4 on the following chart:
    1. 50 feet of rope hooks around the stalagmite and is left behind
    2. 1 day of provisions is knocked loose or knocked out of a bag by bumping into the mineral deposit and is lost.
    3. A dagger or javelin is jostled free of its holding by bumping against the stone and is lost.
    4. Bedroll is lost

XP: 5. If the player feels they just couldn’t have lost an item that way, then they don’t get the XP either.

  1. Stalactite – now these are the ones that cling ‘tite’ly to the ceiling! The exact position of them can be hard to make out – you might duck one, go to stand up and run into a second that was hidden behind the first. Or they are there as you round a corner, unexpectedly. The PC makes a WIS check, DC: 12. 2 Damage on a fail, 1 Damage on a pass. If they have a helmet they get advantage on the check. XP: 5. If the player feels they wouldn’t run into anything, then there isn’t any XP gain as well!
  1. Pothole – not a pit trap, but can be just as invisible. Just a hole in the ground – perhaps subsidence created it, perhaps a burrowing left it. Maybe leaves or mould or detritus covered the top. Player makes a CON check, DC 12. On a fail their movement speed is reduced by 10 feet, as they have twisted an ankle badly. On a pass their speed is reduced by 5 feet. This lasts for two hours or until they complete a short rest. XP: 5. If the player doesn’t think this could happen to their PC, then neither does the XP.
  1. Swarm of bats – Or something that roosts in dark holes under the ground! They swarm out, startled and fly into one PC in particular as they escape! The PC makes a WIS check against DC: 12. On a fail they take 1 point of Damage and their perception and initiative suffers a -3 penalty for an hour, as their senses are disorientated. On a pass they just suffer the perception and initiative penalties. XP: 5. If the player thinks bats wouldn’t have any effect on their PC, then they don’t get the XP either.
  1. Chilling drip – Often dungeon tunnels have issues with water slowly dripping through roof of their corridors. Sometimes a droplet hangs for some time, building up, until any nearby movement makes it finally break away. Other times there’s a continual small shower from the roof to press on through. Some might just get a PC’s clothing slightly damp, but sometimes it gets right down the back of their clothing, chilling them to the bone! Make a CON check, DC 12. On a fail they are at -1 to hit for an hour and take 1 Damage unless they have a chance of under clothes (fabrics worn under armour) and take a minute or two to change. On a pass they are just -1 to hit for an hour. XP: 5. Again, if the player can’t imagine their PC being affected by this, then they wouldn’t receive the XP either.

Connecting Random Encounters to Big Bads

Random encounters don’t have to be all that random! They can have links to the local powerful entity or monster, which we will refer to as a ‘scheming lord’ from now on! If you run into something, it can gives a clue that someone who is powerful with a number of minions is enacting some (nefarious?) plan. Roll 1D4 on the following chart. Each entry has details for intelligent forces and for beasts – use the one that is applicable. The chart can be extended and if the views for this page is good then I know this is a table to extend in the near future!

 

  1. The cursed

Intelligent: Some sort of side effect of the scheming lords plans have affected a local raiding group, making them have to move out of their land. Perhaps poisonous chemicals used for mining or a spell ritual who’s malignant magic oozed out over the landscape. But the raiders are definitely affected, with visible glowing pustules formed on them. And perhaps while dying after a fight (if that happens), some might moan of the terrible thing that came upon their lands, giving information about the scheming lords plans that way. When it’s bad for raiders, you know it’s bad for you!

Beasts: Similarly affected. Here the effects might be more detailed (from longer exposure as the beast didn’t realise it should move away) and as a result reveal more information to an investigating PC. This would reveal information about what causes such a dread effect on a creature.

 

  1. Local hire ons

Intelligent: The underlings of the scheming lord have some coin to spend on local forces, who know the area better than they do or who are just plain expendable and used as a buffer between opposing forces and the lords own retinue, who are harder to replace. Generally sent out on basic patrols or basic recon – they are not relied upon for serious work, only the basic grunt work of a project.

Beasts: Perhaps trained guard animals allowed to patrol/prowl the area they are tasked to. Or the handlers of the beasts are hiding in the bushes or ruins after having commanded their charges to rush in. Either way, this is a local force hired by the underlings of the scheming lord because they don’t want anyone around these parts. If they had handlers, those would flee but could potentially have left behind documents/clues about the lords plans. If it was autonomous guard animals, they may have collars whose construction hints to the lord. Or they may be branded with a specific sign or sigil.

 

  1. Looters!

Intelligent: Rather than being in pay of the scheming lord, this group has stolen from the lords supplies. Perhaps they mostly stole food and booze, having eaten most of it already. But they still carry around the bags branded with the lords mark or that gives clue to whose supplies these were. The litter left behind the raiding group could lead to an outlier of the lords forces.

Beasts: Similarly beasts have raided the scheming lords forces and taken supplies, or perhaps even killed and snatched away some of the guards from one of the scheming lords bases. Either way they leave a trail that could lead to one of the lords outer positions.

 

  1. The scheming lords own forces!

Intelligent: They are part of an expeditionary force of the scheming lord, sent out here searching for something (they have some documentation on them that hints at what they were looking for or outright states it)

Beast: They were driven out of their natural habitat by the scheming lords forces as they spread out. Some of them have arrows in them with the distinctive fletching the powerful lord uses. Or they have been struck and the marks left on the beast are distinctive to the weapons the scheming lord distributes amongst his soldiers.

Adding Character Goals to Play, with Charts for Ideas

Character goals – instead of what is happening to your PC, what does the character want to do in the game world? How are they going to happen to the game world? Characters with goals are character who become more alive from becoming active in order to pursue their own goals.

Below are a number of character goals. They are defined loosely – what matters is the characters attempt to complete them, not so much the details of the actual goal. The details can remain fuzzy while the character impetus to complete the goal remains in sharp focus and attention – this shows who the character is and what they do!

In future posts I will add more potential character goals – those below are ones to start off with!

How it works is you lay out the goals on the table and a player chooses one that seems to suit their character. Players can choose a goal other players have chosen – it could be related to the same target or one that is similar. If players choose the same target but one character fails while the other succeeds, then the other character has indeed failed. It gets a little bit ‘Gimli Vs Legolas’ at that point, where both have the same goal in mind but a rivalry in regards to completing it may occur. If both pass, the one who rolled best did that little bit more towards completing the goal!

In terms of XP, one option is to assign 40 XP times the average party level. This gets distributed amongst all players, so one character completing their goal helps everyone else advance. If you prefer you could have the XP award be individually. In this case the main option is to award 10 XP times the average party level, for a completed goal.

If they happen to fail the goal, one option is to still give the full XP amount. This isn’t about winning and losing, it’s about examining the character. The character just trying to complete the goal has succeeded in showing us what the character cares about, even if he fails to do what he cares about. So they get the XP either way. That is the main option. Another option would be to halve the XP on a fail. The main point is to make goals attractive and rewarding. In my experience play does not flow when there is an absence of rewards – particular during failure!

This amount of XP probably means character goals are a background event – they aren’t ‘big’. It’s deliberate so as to introduce the idea of goals without them appearing to overshadow traditional play if used.

Ultimately this gives players practice at choosing goals for their PC that they would pursue and are mechanically part of the game!

  1. Irate Lordling – A wanna be lord has been offended, treating his own way as having to be the way everyone must behave. He must be dealt with! Somehow? But he has many guards – perhaps a dark secret from his past raised, or a startling revelation in regards to his beliefs (or both – proof his ancestors behaved in very different ways?)
  1. Alignment – The relics are out of place. Magic flows and sometimes it’s a torrent unless controlled. Ancient relics were placed long ago to maintain a peaceful flow, but one has been stolen. Or perhaps misplaced. A storm is on the horizon and the earth trembles. Will someone restore the balance?
  1. Fine print – Some of the young folk of a village have been taken. The problem is, the hooded figure who took them had struck a bargain with the village and the villagers just didn’t expect that a sub clause in the deal would have them losing their children under a certain event. The hooded figure has quite a powerful retinue – but they are stuck with a weakness in the bargain. A clause within a clause. Which if the loophole can be found, would make the deal undone and the youths set free!
  1. Vulnerable villages – Forces, perhaps green skinned, are building up to attack a number of villages or a town, near the frontier (or where ever raider menaces might be!). However, the leader of the raiders is gaining his following from a fetish item – maybe a staff or ornamental weapon. If this item could be destroyed or proven to be a fake, it’d undermine the raiders efforts. Finding out how to do either of these is your goal!
  1. Lost soul – you are trying to find someone. Maybe they got spirited away, maybe they tried to lose themselves because of a tragic event, or a mix of the two. Now you’re looking for them, so their friends and relatives can know where they are again. Maybe you are a friend or relative of them? Hopefully you can find them soon!
  1. Lost Dungeon – Find the location of a dungeon. Perhaps its seeking wealth or items of power. But you have to find where the lost dungeon is (whether it has anything in it or has been looted years ago or collapsed, who knows. But you do know you have to find it first!). Time to start looking for details of this place!

 

Achieving Goals

The following methods of achieving goals can be seeded through play. Ideally some could become apparent right after a combat or interaction roll. Or the player can prompt for their goal – the DC for the goal goes down by 1 if the player initiates the process of making the roll.

The idea is over two hours of play there will be three goal completion checks per player. Two build up and one final one to determine the result of whether the goal was fulfilled.

Each has a base DC of 12 that you will need to roll over. If they pass the first roll, the second test is DC 10. If they fail the first, the second test is DC 14.

The final DC is 15. For each of the previous checks they passed, subtract 2 from the difficulty of the test. For each of the previous checks they failed, add 2 to the difficulty. So if they failed both prior checks, the difficulty would be 19!

What stat do they do the test on? Decide the one that seems appropriate!

If the player attempts at all to engage the fiction on any of the tests (eg “I look at the strange runes on the wall”) the DC is reduced by one. This encourages interaction, regardless of whether the interaction is one that will help. Enthusiasm is more important than accuracy. And for particularly interesting and adept interaction, feel free to give bigger bonuses (like Advantage in D&D 5E)

The final roll to attempt to complete the goal represents doing the final deeds in completing the goal. This can be abstracted – the character is assumed to go off and quickly do what they can to try and meet the goal. They may give a quick description of what they do in order to reduce the DC of the test and maybe gain other bonuses to the roll. If they pass, then a quick narration of the positive event. If they fail, a quick commiseration. It’s a quick abstraction, rather than going through every five feet of the event.

Which way to achieve the goal?

It really depends on where the PC’s are – if they are in a dungeon, probably roll on the exploration of ruins chart. If they are in a city or town, probably through street contacts. If you’re not sure, choose either Exploration of Ruins or Street Contacts as the closest and flip a coin to see if it is that or through Research. Or just choose one that seems about right! Regardless, then roll dice to see which method is the one involved.

Achieving your goal through Street Contacts

  1. The owner – You see the owner of a tavern you once helped out when things got a bit dicey on their establishment. They have heard many a thing and a few careful questions might get you that one step closer to your goal!
  1. Fair trade – You pass by a market trader, either as he travels with his cart or has his stall set up here. He’s made some coin from buying trinkets you’ve found in the past and then found collectors to buy them for some amount more. More importantly, he keeps an ear out on what is happening. Ask a few questions and gain some ground on your goal!
  1. The rogue – They aren’t always in dungeons. This rogue is a sometimes pawn shop owner, sometimes skulking around back alleys and seedy bars, scaring up work around these parts. Maybe you’ve had to rough him up in the past over felonious acts, maybe you’ve pawned an item or two. But you’ve got a bit of a rough understanding of each other, there he is over on the corner, and you’ve a few questions to ask him about your!
  1. Street urchin – Somehow children fall through the gaps and end up trying to make some sort of living for themselves on the streets. Maybe that’s how rogues are made? So you’ve passed a coin or two to one of them in the past for shined shoes or to buy fruit from them, stolen from who knows where. But now you need information and either you’ve spotted the urchin or spotted one of his friends and gotten him to fetch him, so he’ll be here in a moment. You’ve a goal and some questions to ask!

Achieving your goal through Research

  1. Unpublic library – You’ve gotten to know a few people or a certain circle of scholars – and nearby there is one of their private libraries. It might be just the place to quickly research and find out some information on your goal!
  1. Scattered wizards scribings – In your profession you have gotten to know a wizard or two and nearby is one of their abodes. Inside, no doubt, are a flurry of papers detailing various things they have observed. The servant at the door will recognise you and perhaps under the mass of paper you can find a few scant clues to aid your progress towards your goal?
  1. Market of information – Like other goods, information can be sold at a market too. Stalls lined with old books, which for a coin or two allow you to peruse their wares or even buy books outright. Sometimes their stock is fairly eclectic, but you might just find a lead in the pursuit of your goal!
  1. Your eyes only – The local officials of the kingdom are a little bit lax with their security, it’s not impossible to slip in, peruse a few lower level official records and slip out. Which might be just the thing you need to get ahead in the goal you’re pursuing!

Achieving your goal through Exploration and Decryption of Ruins

  1. The wall – Suddenly a wall comes into view that is covered in pictograms and icons. Or maybe it was hidden until you looked at it in just the right way. But this could have information on some sort of method to achieve your goal!
  1. Whispering bones – There are bones here. Or perhaps the remains of a battle. And amidst it all, scraps of papyrus or even tree bark with markings. They’d carried some information with them, on where to find something or an important place to go. And now if you can decipher it, it’ll help you get yourself to where you need to go or what you need to obtain to help you with your goal!
  1. A code – There are faces carved on the walls, statues gesturing, icons. It appears like decoration, but there are secret inferences and relations between it all. And if you can decrypt it, it could tell you something that will aid you in the pursuit of their your goal!
  1. Worn – the way this rooms floor has worn from footsteps of visitors in the distant past, the way they have worn out objects in the room from use – the repeating pattern of behavior gives clue to a hidden place. If you can just detect enough of these marks of habitation, you can figure it out and find something that will likely aid you with the goal that you seek!

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