ry's Threats, Rewards, Assets, and Problems (TRAPs)

Ry

Explorer
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:

[sblock=This is not a play aid!]
[/sblock]

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.
 

Attachments

Last edited:

Ry

Explorer
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.
 
Last edited:

Ry

Explorer
The Riderless Horse

Problem

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.
 
Last edited:

Ry

Explorer
Problem
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.

Threat
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.

Resource
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).

Reward
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.
 
Last edited:

Ry

Explorer
Poachers versus Druid

Problem
Local poachers (allied as a guild with any other criminal elements) will pay handsomely for pelts of owlbears, but nearby druids will be angered.
 
Last edited:

Ry

Explorer
The Watcher

Resource
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).
 
Last edited:

Ry

Explorer
Set pieces, such as the hub of my new campaign, are really just more complicated groupings of problems, threats, resources, and rewards.

Water Street

Problem

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.

Resource

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.

Reward

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.
 
Last edited:

Ry

Explorer
Herding Flumphs

Problem

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."
 

Ry

Explorer
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.
 

Ry

Explorer
Resource

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.
 

Ry

Explorer
Delivery for the late Mr. Bones

Problem

A ghost entreats the players to return her bones to her family plot, to be reunited with her husband. Unfortunately, her husband was a hero buried in a public park in a major city... and most people who spend their time digging up graves attract some suspicion.
 
Last edited:

Ry

Explorer
Save the Ship!

Problem

During a rainstorm, a ship just off the coast of a town or village the PCs are in has run aground and is sinking in choppy water. Skum, sahuagin, or just plain sharks are starting to swarm in the area. As an additional complication, the captain has an Aboleth's eye in the hold, built into a magic item ordered by a powerful (and impatient) wizard.
 

Ry

Explorer
Problem

A noblewoman (or queen), in a play for petty revenge on a friend of the PCs, appears to have her most valuable jewels stolen at a party the PCs attend. The PCs must recover and return the item on short notice before their friend, the host, must cough up some ridiculous sum in line with the politesse expected among the nobility.
 

Cheiromancer

Explorer
This is tantalizing, but a little mysterious. In some of the examples it seems unclear what the difference is between a threat and a problem, or between a reward and a resource. To me it seems like a problem is an indirect or potential threat, and a resource is an indirect or potential reward. A reward, in turn, is a sort of anti-threat; a way of overcoming threats and thereby gaining more resources/rewards.
 

Ry

Explorer
Threats, in my view, mean danger in an immediate sense. Problems can lead to threats but are not imminently dangerous in the same way.

Resources and rewards don't break down in quite the same way.

Resources can take a lot of forms (this lever causes water in the dungeon to rise 5 feet, the Baron can be convinced to aid the party if they're polite, an Alchemist has set up shop by the crossroads). But they're things that the PCs have to choose to use.

Rewards also take a lot of forms (magic items, gold, cute girl feeding apples to your horses, banquet in your honor) but they're not things PCs are likely to pass up. If you think of magic items and gold as resources, then there is some overlap, but I think players do feel rewarded when acquiring those things, even if they proceed to use them resourcefully.

PTRR is about making sure you write stuff that will see use. In My Experience, when the GM puts something before the players, these 4 things are things the GM needs. I did a big diagram a while ago to determine the flow of play in my D&D games; I found after the player-characters are created and the players have accepted the basic premise (we're playing a game, your characters are fantasy heroes, here's a basic context for where you are) the DM's job was to put interactive elements in front of players.

Bad design, whether it's railroading, DMPCs, or boring settings, all have one thing in common: They put inert elements in front of players (a.k.a. they're all a waste of time).

"Here's the prince of Roundheria, he's thinking of invading the peaceful land of Overtheria, but you can't convince him not to."

"Here's the dragon of the west mountain, but he's so powerful he'll kill you all instantly, so listen to his monologue before he flies off to what I've already decided he's doing, OK?"

"You're in a town. There's an inn. No, nothing interesting is happening."

"Elminster talks to you for half an hour, here's his 20-page explanation of why he's not going to help you. No, you can't convince him."
 

Ry

Explorer
In short: if it comes time for the DM to add some element to the game, and it's not a problem, threat, resource, or reward, it's a waste.
 

Ry

Explorer
Here's an example of a crappy problem:

The dopplegangers in the city are trying to hide from aboleths, who enjoy using them as their slaves.

This doesn't actually put anything in front of the players. A better problem would be:

Walking down a busy street, a player sees a woman turn around, and just for a second, she has a different face. She flees from the player if approached. If they catch her, or ask after her with the locals, they can eventually find out that she is a member of a doppleganger village that moved to the city fleeing a group of aboleths. They are terrified at discovery because the aboleths, and many skum, have come to the sewers below the city / the lake near the town.
 

Advertisement

Top