Ale Break: Romantic Musings

Writing romantic storylines for your players is very different from the typical RPG story. But as a potential source of interesting dramatic storytelling it’s tempting to try.

Fantasy writers have never had to think up something romantic for a specific person, guessing at what they’ll like, and role-play it out with their audience while looking that person in the eye.

It brings up all type of issues, even if you’re two players who’s characters play out some type of romance.

Which player do you write the 1st romantic storyline for? Or do you try to write a storyline for each of them that takes place at the same time?

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A Series of False Trap Sketches

Inspired by a brief conversation from tonight’s role playing session, here are some false trap ideas for your dungeons. They’re brief themselves; so be it.

Alternate Flooring

One way to keep your party (especially the rogues) on their toes is to mix up the flooring. Drop in fitted stone where there is mostly naturally-hewn rock, or parquet in the middle of a wealthy treasure chamber. These false positives will set the party up to let their guard down for the real traps awaiting them!

Spurious Tripwires

Have tripwires in dungeons that don’t set off any traps. These wires might set certain levers, building to a larger trap, be lines to traps already set off, or simply be duds, traps that never seem to work.

False Pits

Have floors drop out from under the party, only to have them land 6″ below the normal floor. This will set them at ease… Or will it!?!?

Anti-trap Tripwires

Have these tripwires drop shields that protect the party from the falling rocks in the next room, or provide other potential escapes and work-arounds, such as opening up a side chamber or otherwise revealing a potential escape.

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Ale Break: Questing for spells

One way to add some meaning (and difficulty) to spell-casting is to require spell casters to learn their spells in-character. Some characters may have a formal tutor, but many others will likely not, especially if they are sorcerers, woodland casters (druids, rangers, less-structured clerics) or rogue casters.

For these characters, there is a great way to make them (and their players) really respect and cherish their spells. Make them quest for them! Here are a few ideas.

* The party learns about an ancient tome containing a story about a historical figure who could disappear and reappear across town almost instantly. They decide to track down the tome, which leads them into a large city or the Plane of Knowledge (giant library, the size of a plane, with all known knowledge within — see upcoming CCB post) for more information.

* Someone in the party is killed or otherwise rendered incapacitated (due to an expected player unavailability for the next few sessions), and the rest of the party needs to gather the rare reagents to create the ritual environment for a raise dead, remove curse or similar to be successful.

* A young apprentice wants to learn the invisibility spell, but in order for his master to feel that he has learned the spell, she will hide the scroll that must be scribed in a secret location, and the scroll itself is invisible. The apprentice will need to locate the scroll, and this earn the spell, before he will learn the spell. The master might quip, “First you must know what it is like to be on the other side before you are mature enough to wield the spell.”

* A high-level spell is spread across multiple scrolls, which have been sent via courier to the princely barons of the land. Only by convincing these royals to hand over their parts of the scroll will the party acquire the spell, which happens to be, for instance, charm monster. This may require the party to perform tasks and take on quests for each of the barons, leading to even more adventure!

More to come in a future post…

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CCB tips picked up by!

One way we try to actively give back to the gaming community is getting our ideas out there in less conventional formats. Johnn Four runs a great little gaming magazine, where he gathers and dispenses tips from game masters the world over. He recently included one of our posts on the use of the written (and spoken) word in role playing campaigns:

Keep sharing ideas, everyone!

Also, check out the rest of his site. It’s chock full of good ideas.

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Traveler’s Tables

Traveler’s tables are nice little elements to add some spice (and encounter locations) to your worlds. Placed outside the city walls, though often in view of the town guard, these are simple tables set up so that merchants and travelers can regroup, take in a meal, and generally rest up before heading into the hustle and bustle of town and city centers.

The construction of the tables varies per region, with some city-states erecting magnificent stone tables, complete with moderate shelter, horse ties and posts, working wells and shrines. Other, less well-to-do locales offer more meager accommodations, but all municipalities consider it their duty to accommodate the weary traveler, and this is one such gesture of welcome.

These locations are often named for famous adventurers who hail from the towns in which they are placed.

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Ale Break: Immediacy in Storytelling

Here is a problem that plagues many role playing campaigns. The story isn’t driven enough by the need to move. Think of many classic fantasy stories that inspired the creation of dnd and have been written since then – Lord of the Rings, Golden Compass, the novels of Jack Vance, etc. time and time again, these stories move from location to location because the protagonists aren’t allowed to idle. There are no two-month periods where they sit around spending loot in bars and brothels. Sadly, too many dnd games devolve into this, with players playing out their adolescent fantasies in the campaign world. This is also the pacing of games like World of Warcraft, where the goal is to level your characters without ever actually role playing. This too has become too often the norm. Sure, players love shouting one-liners across the table, and this should be encouraged, especially when it’s done in character. But in too many games, real role playing is often the afterthought.

Unfortunately, World of Warcraft has made its snickering (and highly profitable) way into the latest edition of the rules, which are written to entice players to want to level up to get that next encounter power, and making that the focus, rather than actual role playing. This perversion of the rules (huh… why’s everyone able to heal themselves fully ~10 times a day?!?! and where’s spellcasting gone?!? it feels like fighters wield as much magic as mages…) More reasons why 4th ed is subpar compared to other, more realistic, though perhaps more loop-hole-ridden systems to follow in a later opinion post.

Back to the topic at hand. One thing I’ve noticed (remember that this is an opinion piece) is that so many decent fantasies come from Britain, and so few from the U.S. It’s not to say that Americans (and I’m one of them) can’t create them, but why are we as a culture so stunted when it comes to deep storytelling? Maybe because there’s not much of an oral tradition anymore, or really any sense of history at all. More people my age can name all the thundercats and transformers than can name all the U.S. state capitals or the 44 presidents. And don’t dare utter the term Magna Carta unless you want to face blank stares.

In role playing sessions (and outside them as well), this bugs me, for without knowing your history you have no context for what you’re doing. History (though often confined to thick tomes and a certain not-so-aptly-named cable channel that shows more infomercials than actual history) is living… history provides context… history provides immediacy. And it’s this immediacy that makes role playing fun and exciting. Not all campaigns feature short people who travel the land to deliver an evil ring to its maker, but certainly any epic-scale campaign should include some reason for the characters doing what they’re doing.

Otherwise they’re just floundering around the world, a drunk gambler with a penchant for whores, like a gamer with no opposing alignment. And thus, no need to move!

So if you’re a DM, keep reading up on history (or make some up!), and introduce or maintain a sense of immediacy in your storytelling. Your players will thank you… maybe not today, but when they look back on your campaign through the lens of their future’s past.

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