Thursday, 29th March, 2007, 04:09 PM #1
ry's Threats, Rewards, Assets, and Problems (TRAPs)
Preparing games is very different than other forms of writing, but I often find the difference isn't made clear to GMs. In the past, I often found myself preparing material that did not see play, and finding myself underprepared while at the session despite putting in a lot of work. To figure out what I should be preparing, I sat down one weekend and sketched out what happens in the meat of my roleplaying game sessions.
The diagram is a flow chart that looks like this:
This is not a play aid!
After working on this - and it took a long time - I realized that all I needed to prepare, in the interests of my players driving the game, was problems, threats, resources, and rewards.
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The Missing Dryad
Problem w. complications
Gnolls have kidnapped a dryad who guards a sacred oak! The gnolls have traded the dryad to an evil wizard in exchange for a magic item. The gnolls are using that magic item to assault the fort of a nearby lord. The dryad will die without contact with her tree, but will rise as a dangerous undead due to the wizard's experiments.
The Riderless Horse
A saddled horse with no rider coming down towards the players. The horse is slightly wounded (a piece of a broken arrowhead is stuck in its flank), and is skittish. When the players examine the animal they see an emblem relating to an organization they are familiar with (like a knight's clasp, a wizard's sign, etc.)
That kind of encounter puts a problem in front of the players: Should we track this horse back to where it lost its rider, or take the horse, or just leave it here and hope everything is fine?
The NPC horserider has abilities that can be a resource to the party, and has been left for dead in some skirmish with humanoids or the players' enemies. If the players track back, they can save him/her. Depending on how you want to handle this, this can be a small enemy camp with the NPC as a visible prisoner, or and empty battlefield where the players can find one of the stripped corpses is actually still alive.
Many dungeons have portals to a slave market maintained by yugoloth slavers and other fiends. This place is like an intricate anthill of caverns and twisting passageways, with major crossroads guarded by Molydeus demons (CR 19). The players can stumble across an old portal in a dungeon, or if they find themselves chasing captives in a dungeon, they may have to buy them back before they are sold off to some horrible demon.
A strange virus is spreading, which spreads via sound - the infected speak only Abyssal, and unless they know the language cannot even understand themselves. (DC 14 WIL save upon hearing, Cure Disease removes). If enough people are screaming abyssal at once, Tanar'ri may be summoned.
An organization of rangers and scouts marks trees, stones, or caverns in the area with Sylvan runes. These give simple clues as to an alternate entrances to a dungeon or warn of nearby dangers. If spotted (Spot DC 20), later runes are easier to find (DC 15).
From a high outcropping of rock, a character can see for miles and miles in all directions. The air atop the rock is clear and fresh - the first player to climb it receives an extra action point.
Poachers versus Druid
Local poachers (allied as a guild with any other criminal elements) will pay handsomely for pelts of owlbears, but nearby druids will be angered.
The players receive packages without any trace of their origin. The packages usually contain information helpful to their quests, but eventually include a minor magical item as well. Using the magical item causes an invisible wizard's eye on the forehead of the user (the effect can be detected with detect magic).
Set pieces, such as the hub of my new campaign, are really just more complicated groupings of problems, threats, resources, and rewards.
Located not far from the bustle of the Guildsmen district, Water Street was once home to merchants, bankers, and city officials, but is now in decline as those families move to Oldtown or Rivergate. With the closing of the street's pub, Water Street faces a real danger of becoming a slum. The families and small shops remaining on Lantern Street are increasingly threatened by gangs - whose younger members are often recruited from the Water Street orphanage. The community also lacks leadership, with the closest thing being a foolish grocer who deliberately antagonizes the gangs.
At the end of Water street lies the Lantern, a small lighthouse that lights the way to a small set of docks there. Unbeknownst to the residents, one large lantern inside of the lighthouse is home to a Lantern Archon. This archon is rarely active, spending most days contemplating the connection between physical light and spiritual goodness, but with the current danger to the area he may become more active, speaking to the occasional adventurer or even animating the lantern in which he dwells.
Resource with hook to Threats
Those who have lived there know about the connected cellars beneath many of the houses on Water Street, even running across the road (these date from an earlier period of the city and luckily do not experience seepage from the sewers). A few loose stones in the cellars hide a tunnel to ruins from even earlier incarnations of the city - if it is not discovered soon by a PC, it may become an entry point for monsters that dwell beneath the city.
At the very end of the street is a hub of a few roads, where they meet at the circular Wyrrith Park. Wyrrith Park is known for the Wyrring Tree, a large oak watched over by a dryad who, though seldom seen, is subject of many local folk tales. The Wyrrith Park is the main location for the holidays celebrated by the people of Lantern Street and is large enough to host a small fair (although this is definitely a local park - the rest of the city celebrates holidays elsewhere, especially in the market district). Both the dryad and Wyrrith park can be portrayed as rewards for nature-loving PCs, especially after any threat to the area. If that portrayal does not work for your campaign, the dryad of the Wyrring tree is also an adept healer. If Gnolls have a chance to raid the area, this could also be a springboard for The Missing Dryad
Resource with possible Problem
Water street is also home to a talented but not very respected alchemist, who operates a lab in the basement against municipal bylaws.
After a magical battle in a city leaves a small but growing planar vortex in a major square, the PCs are enlisted to track down a herd of "plane stitchers" which can close the vortex. At least two dozen such creatures will be required, and they are more commonly known as "Flumphs."
The Enemy of my Enemy
Resource, possible Problem
Within a dungeon, the players find - strapped to torture equipment - a Lawful Evil wizard who they have heard about before (i.e. he was expelled from his college for investigating dark arts, but hasn't done anything particularly villainous). He's the defeated enemy of the dungeon's master, and promises to help the PCs. His spellcasting abilities would be a great help in a difficult fight, and he is true to his word. Having an evil wizard with ties to the PCs can be a great source of plot hooks - from an enemy that lets the PCs off easy, an unexpected help, or a later, more powerful enemy.
In a dungeon, the players notice a shaft upwards, which is blocked by brickwork. If they bash through the bricks, they find a small, smooth-floored area with a trickle of pure water. This can be easily defended and can serve as a resting spot. If the PCs are beneath a city, the resting spot can be a boarded-up building instead of a deep dungeon room.
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