Big Bad Bosses Episode.025

The five of you stand at the narrow ledge overlooking the room down below.  Through the colossal windows to your right is deep space speckled with starships.  Your attention is locked to the lone figure in the center of the room.  Although not looking directly at you, it is clear he knows you are present as his hands move to grip both pistols.  He speaks out a sarcastic welcome to you and challenges the lot to the final showdown for the access code embedded into his cranial chip.  Three of you forward flip down onto the main floor while the remaining two send shards of energy toward the enemy.  A few shots are fired from the dual wielding shooter, but the three of you on foot deftly deflect the beams through various means of your skills.  Upon him suddenly, you combine forces into multiple swirls of attack that bends the hand of time to your will, vanquishing your enemy…..rather simply.

Boss fights.  Final countdown.  It is so easy to throw random encounters at a party and not worry if they obliterate the monsters, but villains are a different story.  We as GMs seek to challenge our players and give them the thrill of a lifetime, but balancing a good fight is not always that easy.  I find many rule systems that offer suggestions on how difficult each creature is often underestimates the typical role player.  Regardless of whether they are the min/max, power-hungry type, even characters that I have played to which are given numerous flaws and disadvantages, often find themselves trumping creatures at the same level or slightly higher.  I find this truer as systems continue to “modernize” with the times, that is, they fit more to the way we think and play now as opposed to 20 or 30 years ago.

big_bad_boss_by_cweinman-d6e3wb1

And this is especially true with so-called “boss fights” and the way GMs select them out of our monster books.  Sometimes GMs will choose a single monster that is supposed to be a balance to a four-person party instead of numerous “easier” ones that won’t have a chance of doing damage to the party.  While this appears to be fine, it really doesn’t always work.  In fact, it is a bad idea.  Let’s use Pathfinder for an example although many other systems out there use other means to assign value to a monster (i.e. Hit Die).

Pathfinder assigns a Challenge Rating number with every monster they create.  This is a value that should be compared to the mean, or average, level of the party.  A CR 2 creature would theoretically work well against a party of 4 second level characters, right?  This isn’t the case.  When a monster is defeated (I’m still referring to Pathfinder), the experience points are divided by the number of participating party members.  This is true for the bulk of the systems dating back to the first editions of Dungeons & Dragons.  This is because that it was a joint effort and the experience point value for that monster would only be awarded to one person if they could vanquish the enemy on their own.  Does this mean that every monster could be tackled solo?  In theory yes depending on the system and build of character.  However, given the fact that you divide the reward among the players gives reason to believe that the enemy isn’t quite at the level of challenge originally thought to be.

1281739746987

But this can be ridiculous and get out of hand quickly as you wouldn’t multiply the average party level by the number of party members and that’s the CR you should throw at them.  Four, 4th level players of Pathfinder should not be able to handle a CR 16 creature.  But throw a CR 4 creature at them, and five will get you ten they will take it down in a couple of rounds, perhaps with minimal damage even.

So how do you throw villains and bosses at players and expect them to have any kind of a challenge?  You have to distract them and keep them occupied.  Even if I am going to bring a colossal red dragon out of my mini’s box and put them against him, I am going to include a bunch of minor creatures that aid the dragon.  It doesn’t really matter if the creature you pick is listed as solitary.  Find some minor creatures or NPCs that can be used alongside them.  Back in 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons, they actually had a pretty good suggestion by the notion of adding “minions” to the lot of the system.  Essentially they are 1 hit point beings that can have generally whatever other stats you wish.  I often make either hard hitting minions, smart minions, or combat-skilled minions.  I make sure they have a decent chance to make contact on the players, but the trick is they all have just 1 hit point.  If players make their roll to hit, the creature automatically dies due to everyone being able to deal at least one point of damage automatically.  It allows for players to easily mow down them, but it takes up their actions to give the big bad guy time to bring out his nasty weapons or abilities.

Given this thought, I will often take monsters that are very high level straight out of a monster book, strip all but one of their abilities, knock them down to 1 hit point, and unleash the hounds.  You can just about pick any monster you wish with this method.  Medusas can be minions with the ability to still petrify, but they take only a single hit to kill.  Use a small handful of them while the players are battling something harder, and you have yourself a challenge.  Because they are considerably weaker by means of limited abilities and hit points, don’t award maximum experience points to the players.  Instead, consider for a moment that despite their ferocity, they are easy to kill targets.  So a percentage, say 25%, of their original experience points could suffice, if not fewer.  The final number would still be divided by the number of players.

BigBad_Closeup_01.jpgedfc99af-69e5-4d6f-b06a-9433fb3152eaLarger

I remember one GM once used hit tallies instead of actual hit points for minions.  That is, it would take two hits regardless of the damage rolled in order to down the foe.  It is an alternative to having low hit point creatures and would force players to face them for an additional round.  It could bode well when you are faced with players who have multiple target or mass attack abilities.  The goal here is to buy time for your main creatures that you really want to work with.  Be creative with your minions.  Buff up goblins, strip down djinnis, or bring about three liches in front of an adult black dragon and see how the players react before realizing the liches go down quick and easily.  This way, their attention is diverted for the time being on numerous targets.  And don’t be afraid to throw in true cannon fodder for the hard-hitters of the group.  It can be satisfying for them to mow down 6 or 7 creatures in one attack, and it takes up his action.  You will find that using this method will prolong your BBG’s and allow you to have a little more fun while preventing the “oops, the villain’s already dead” moment.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Advertisements

Suspenseful Adventurous Moments Episode.024

You choose to draw your sword at the approaching figure, not entirely sure as to its intensions let alone what it is.  From all of the encounters you’ve faced within the last week, it’s no surprise you are on guard and on your toes.  Yet your code forces you to hold your swing until you know for certain whether you face friend or foe.  At last your visitor reaches the edge of your torchlight, casting deep shadows over the beaked nose, bushy eyebrows, and green skin.  For a moment your mind screams at you to strike the troll that your eyes are sure they are seeing, but something makes you hesitate as your gut says something is not quite right.  The creature speaks, raising its hand up in a form of peace, begging you for your help as it is a bewitched Valkyre, shifted in form after facing a swamp hag.  Your gut proves to be right as she calls herself Varisha, your lost sister’s name.

Do you ever notice how the unknown tends to haunt us more?  The sound in the basement jars our imagination awake and fills our minds with things that simply don’t exist, yet we sometimes have to struggle against that fabrication.  Once we go downstairs to investigate and see that it was just a haphazard pile of junk finally toppled over or some small rodent, our mind immediately goes at ease.  Granted, if there really had been a monster causing the noise, our fears would have been moot upon inspecting since we’d be horribly killed.  However, it never is the case, and we almost always feel less excited upon the reveal than the suspense.  The unknown is very scary.

basement_1

I’m often faced with walking a fine line between giving a big reveal to my players after a long, suspenseful story of mystery and leaving much to the imagination.  Sometimes the result doesn’t live up to the suspense, such as the basement analogy above.  Other times even the result being catastrophic such as an ancient red dragon is a different kind of excitement than the suspense of “what lives down here?”  So let’s take a look at the do’s and don’ts and reveals, the concept behind suspenseful RPGs, and how to make sure you deliver the punchline that lives up to the hype.

To begin with, what creates suspense?  So many different kinds from personal reaction to endangerment, although it is not always important to experience an enjoyable game, it can help with tempo and plot richness.  Keep in mind suspense will cause the illusion of slower time.  Something terrible is near, but if something else is done within a short timeframe, it will be avoided, which gives us the dramatic feeling of slow motion.  Much of that is thanks to film where movies often will increase frame rate exceptionally to offer a slower series of events.  Although our brains are capable of processing information quicker than our awareness can register, our eyes draw in information that seems like an eternity of time passes.  We often say our life flashes before our eyes, but our conception would be slower to visualize all of the information in such a short amount of time.

23292

It’s important to note that suspense isn’t the process of “things not happening yet.”  Tension won’t mount as quickly if you describe very little occurring as they progress.  “You continue down the dark corridor, the musky air fills your nostrils.  You creep further down the hallway as it turns left then right, the darkness barely repelled by your torchlight.  A short set of stairs takes you down to a long corridor.”  Although the description contains suspenseful words, players will take it all as a whole rather than individual parts and conceive in their mind they just went through an empty hallway.  Sure, monsters could be around every corner, but they weren’t and interaction from the players was nil.  Part of developing suspense is having the players participate in building their own suspense.  Give them reason to want to investigate, inspect, or take interest in something that yields no immediate answers, and you create mystery.  Lead them along with a carrot by having opportunities for dice roll checks that will add to the suspense regardless of the roll.  Successful roll?  They notice the clues that give hint of something about to happen.  Failed or even critical failed roll?  They still find the clue, but it’s obscured enough to not make heads of tails as to its specifics of when, where or what is about to happen.

The length of your suspense and mystery equals the “Ah Ha!” value of the reveal.  The longer you draw on the mystery, the tougher it is going to be to pull off the shocking conclusion and still maintain the shock.  This is especially true to campaigns.  If the party spends months of game sessions tracking a creature that keeps slaughtering village after village, revealing it is nothing more than a particularly powerful manticore might not give the players that satisfying resolution.  So how can you know when your suspense has outgrown any possibility of a good ending?  One thing you can do as a GM is be observant to your players.  Are they still on the edge of their seats?  Are they showing signs of excitement?  Are they still throwing out hypotheses on what the reveal could be?  If so, you can still carry on a bit, but take particular note of their reactions to clues throughout.  When they begin to skim over the clues or attempt to push a bit faster than usual on down the road, that’s a good indication the suspense has about run its course and needs to be wrapped up.

CITW

This is an RPG still, and the core concept is storytelling and development of our imaginations.  Make sure when you finally show the players what they have been guessing for the past few hours that it is rich in dramatic flair.  Don’t ever simply say, “You open the door and see a sleeping dragon on a mound of gold,” after the party has been traveling through a maze of tunnels, through booby traps, monsters, and puzzles.  Each step in their trip gets closer to their goal, and everyone knows that.  Deliver with a bold sense of adventure.  Give them a taste of what’s about to happen and fill them with a sense of urgency, fear, dread, or delight.

Red herrings are sometimes looked down upon among GMs because they can backfire if you aren’t careful.  If players bite too hard on one, you’re going to either waste time while they reach that dead end or cause something to occur that shouldn’t have which disturbs the main plot.  However, they can indirectly add suspense falsely by planting a seed in the players’ mind that can fester.  You could go so far as to throw too many red herrings at the players to cause chaotic suspense where they can’t focus on just one threat or mystery.  We can only work on one thing at a time despite us thinking we are multitaskers.

an_inn_across_the_mountains_by_jonhodgson-d4uypx9

Bewilderment, confusion, anxiety, hopelessness, and fear are all goals through any plot to give the story character and depth that can drive idea along.  Used sparingly, in the right context, and in the correct portion, and you will find your players dying to see what’s next…or what else your devilish mind came up with.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Solo RPG Adventures Episode.023

You check your 6 to make sure you lost your tail.  Nothing but shadows follows behind though it’s anyone’s guess if he’s still back there.  Meanwhile, your target continues down the street past two guards before suddenly making a quick side step into an unlit building.  The quick motion appeared suspicious.  Did he notice you were following him?  You skip across the street under the moonlight into the next row of shadows and slip down next to the building.  There’s a candle inside that has just been lit, but the windows are mostly frosted to get a good look.  Deftly you climb up the wall, nearly losing your footing at the moment of carelessness before reaching the roof.  There is a vent that is open, and you peer down to spy on your target as he is talking to someone out of view.  Your grapple lets you drop down into the room, hovering above the two to hear better.  You don’t recognize the other, but it doesn’t matter.  You are here to remove your target.  It will have to be a double kill.

I have seldom had the opportunity to run or play in a solo adventure.  I remember during the 2nd Edition AD&D era there were a series of solo adventures specifically built for the main core classes, most notably for me was for the thief simply called “Thief’s Challenge.”  The series was popular enough to produce a second series for the classes.  Running solo can be a lot of fun on a number of levels.  The player obviously gets more playing time and doesn’t have to wait his turn during combat.  The game is focused on one character, so encounters tend to be more lethal because you have no one to watch your back.  Pick someone who has the ability to heal and you lose the chance to deal out massive combat.  Go the other route and who mends your wounds when you are nearly dead or dying?  It allows for the flow of the game to have less choice in which path to take.  If you’re playing a thief-like character, charging in through the front door as you might do with a group of 4 well balanced players would not be the wisest method.  Solo adventures also open up one class in particular that typically does not play well with others: the assassin.

poor-thief

 Assassins are really not great team players in most RPGs.  Their special abilities usually deal with quick kills either from more lethal strikes or through the use of poison.  Although it is nice to have a player in the party who can take out an enemy relatively quickly, it becomes a challenge to decide whether to have the assassin go on by himself to try and take out the BBG or have him just kill one or two random henchmen while the rest of the party deals with the villain.  Some core rules give a decent chance for an assassin to kill an enemy in one shot if saving throws are failed.  This gives a better than bad chance that an encounter becomes too easy.  So they tend to not be allowed in games that I run unless I offer a solo adventure.

As a GM, what are some things that you must take into consideration before running a solo game?  First, you need to know the class to be used inside and out.  Unlike a more traditional RPG where you just need to have a good understanding of each class played and let the players know the rest, it is far more important to know everything about the one class.  This is because every situation in the game will revolve around the choices that class has.  The class may not be able to heal or bend bars or cast spells or pick locks or wear heavy armor.  All of these could come up in a situation, and you as a GM should have the scenario revolve around these.  It should not be necessary to mention that a situation such as the need to bend bars should not come up for a thief.  The best kid of adventure, and perhaps your ultimate goal here, is to find a way to utilize every ability for that class.  Their skills go right along with their abilities in that goal as well.  So read languages, use magic device, appraise, and acrobat (I know I’m referring to D&D and Pathfinder, but you get the point), are all things to consider.  You don’t have to come up with situations for every skill they have, just think of unusual ways to present a few of the ones that aren’t used all the time.

280192

For example, the individual must use disguise to enter an elaborate ball where the duke has arranged to invite numerous distinguished aristocrats, one of whom has recently purchased a lot of forged paintings he wishes to sell.  Appraise will come in handy when the character must quickly identify which of the lot of paintings are fake and which are real.  He must bluff his way past the guard into the vault by mentioning he is a nephew.  The use of escape artist skill will allow him to free himself when he failed his skill check to disable the snare trap in the vault.  And finally his ability to figure out how to use magical devices by holding them in his hand will allow him to use the wand to open the door that is locked on the other side and escape into the night.

5414718483_9a95b1cd28_z

The more challenging solo adventure would be surprisingly a fighter type class because unless they are a specialized class such as a ranger, they might lack in non-combat abilities.  Even if you sit down with someone who wants to be a fighter and just “kill everything,” you two are going to find some challenge keeping things interesting after the 30th combat encounter in a row.  That’s when you watch action movies.

Even movies like Rambo and Predator have a plot and don’t comprise of combat after combat after combat scene.  Rambo offers the element of surprise and stealth.  Predator offers suspense of the unknown.  You can create tension through suspense by having the fighter as the hunted rather than the hunter.  Give a brief encounter with a creature that shows it clearly is more powerful than the fighter, but have the creature retreat during combat for unknown reasons, perhaps to toy with the fighter.  When a creature encounters something that it knows it clearly overpowers it sometimes has a tendency to play with the prey before killing it.

5414712433_4c6556b553_z

Another situation for a fighter-only class would be the horror genre.  Fear can break down even the heartiest characters, and a GM can put it to the test.  Even though it is a solo adventure, the character need not be alone.  I often will place weak NPCs in the protection of the party to give them more responsibility and force them to be more cautious in their actions.  They can’t charge into a dragon’s lair if they have an 8 year old orphan girl with them.  Three massive giants coming this way?  You better believe the party will try avoiding the confrontation entirely so the girl is less likely to be harmed by a random thrown boulder.  One other option is to start a solo adventure with the character severely wounded.  Give them but a few hit points and force them to go through an area that is dangerous.  Like having a weak NPC in the group, it causes the player to think twice about being too bold on their decisions and gives more challenge to each encounter.

Solo adventures can be a lot of fun on both sides.  One-on-one moments give GMs and players a lot more experience and challenge as they must approach the game a little differently.  It works for good practice for GMs who have gotten lax in their need to find diversity in their stories, too.  Try the simple exercise of creating 4 short, solo adventures for a fighter, thief, cleric, and wizard class and see what you come up with.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Session 3: Finalizing the Right Plot Episode.022

Just before you take your leave of the room having loaded your bags with as much treasure as they can hold, you notice a small statuette just behind the giant statue of the Frog King.  Curiously you reach down to pick it up and examine it closer.  Within your mind, you hear the sound of a choir of ominous chanting of a single note endlessly.  The noise becomes deafening as your companions try to speak to you.  It feels like eternity, but the chanting soon dissipates and leaves you with a clear vision of a temple surrounded by swamps that soars you through the chambers within to rest in a sealed vault.  A larger version of the statuette in your hand sits on the floor, holding a ruby in the shape of a human skull.  Telling your companions your vision, a silence is answered by them all as everyone realizes you received the best lead of the Gem Skull’s existence and location.  There is only one swamp within a thousand miles from here, and it’s the very last place any of you want to be.

For me, plot is difficult.  Everyone can come up with a general idea for a plot such as someone stole something and the group needs to bring it back, but that’s just a concept of a plot.  It hasn’t been fleshed out or tested.  The latter is even more important.  When someone is writing an adventure module for publication, it is often play tested numerous times to flesh out any bugs, loopholes, or imbalance issues.  Yet when we as GMs write up a concoction for next Saturday’s game session, we test the story out on the day of the show.  There is no true testing for amateurs, which often can lead to poor stories or game experiences.  Players can suddenly become tremendously empowered or supremely wealthy all too soon or well fleshed out campaign-long villains can die by a single encounter.  Plot is important to every story to give the game a point.  Even the most die-hard hack-n-slash gamers enjoy some break in the action from time to time.

ae5b4c340228987becf5c5282fecdffb

Much of the plot for my lighthouse scenario is thought of.  The dragon, Vipros, destroyed the small town of Cascade a few centuries ago, and the town’s lighthouse was perfectly preserved onto the back of the dragon as it plowed through the village.  Today, he resides in a colossal cave where the Neishek people reside, providing the much needed light from the lighthouse in order for their crops to grow after he destroyed their illuminating fungi.  Several former citizens of Cascade that perished in the assault now dwell in the lighthouse as ghosts seeking for the afterlife.  Their torment will forever occur unless the lighthouse is vanquished, but the citizens of Neishek will starve without the light source.  Since the lighthouse is now biologically a part of Vipros, only the destruction of the dragon will put out the light.  However, if the party can comprise of an alternate to the light source that has a similar intensity, then the dragon need not be slain.

Then we have some side plots for the players.  The Sage, Wizholme, requires a tome that will allow him much more power than he is willing to admit he possesses in exchange for an answer by the players.  Bartholomew Blackbeard, despite being a ghost, requires the Pinpoint Sunrise in order to find peace.  Nicodemus would love to find a way to break the enslavement Wizholme has placed upon him and would be willing to do anything shy of being enslaved by the players.  Then you have Jyk who is on a quest himself to create the perfect glass heart to save his dying wife.  Perhaps there is more to the story there such as his material supply is running low and he is unable to leave his post without someone else taking it.

1000x584_3051_Tree_in_cave_2d_landscape_fantasy_picture_image_digital_art

In all, I have one main plot and at least four side plots to flesh out and continue on with.  So let’s work on the main plot first.

The biggest gap right now that is glaring at the plot is the Neishek people.  It seems that if the players can simply create some kind of permanent light source, the problem is solved.  This doesn’t bode well for a challenge because if they are powerful enough to tackle a dragon, they might be powerful to have a wizard in the group who can cast Light on an object and use a form of Permanency upon it.  So there has to be a uniqueness to dragon’s fire that regular illumination can’t handle.  This could tie in Jyk’s ability to create glass containers that can hold the dragon’s fire inside safely.  However, to create a globe that large would require a vast amount of material, most notably sand.  The cave can be in a part of the world where sand is quite scarce, so a sage would come in handy to answer where the location of sand of that amount can be found.  Of course, this then tie further into the side quest of the tome Wizholme desires.  So a side-run for the tome.  Players could have the option to receive the answer in advance with a geis to acquire the tome unless killed or receive the answer when they return with the book but lose precious time.

Marilyn Girling Faux Leather Tome Cover

I’m not going to flesh out the side quests because they are plots that go beyond the confines of the lighthouse, and our focus on this exercise is to remain within the structure and leave avenues beyond for future work.

Hauling that much sand will be problematic all the way back to the cavern unless the portal will be close to the location of the sand in a certain number of days.  They then have a deadline to reach the sand and stock up before the portal, including reaching the tome.

Landing_marker_by_OmeN2501

When thinking of plots, I generally try to play the game in my mind as an overpowered, rules-savvy player who enjoys finding exploits and loopholes in the game.  If I think “Eh, that’s a bit of a stretch to come up with that loophole,” it means it is going to be discovered by a player.  It never fails.  Even when I think of seemingly everything to challenge the players, they come up with an idea that trumps everything including the challenge.  So although there is a general plot, I try not to spend too much on alternatives.  I think of any glaring loopholes and then throw it all at them to see what they come up with.

Bartholomew’s predicament is merely a hunt-n-grab, but the entire plot could be reaching the ends of the world to acquire the teardrop artifact.  Nicodemus’ situation could be as simple as slaying the sage, but then the players will discover Wizholme is more than just a man of knowledge but of tremendous power.  Wizholme might reveal his true nature as a powerful demon to the players if provoked enough.  His enslavement on the Tiefling is going to be far too powerful for any wizard in the party to dispel, which should give a good warning to the party the sage is more than what he presents himself to be.  Perhaps a more powerful artifact can destroy the spell?  To make it less overwhelming to players, connecting multiple side quests together (or with the main quest) will encourage them to bite more aggressively, so the Pinpoint Sunrise that Bartholomew desires could be simply loaded with 3 very powerful wish spells.

Given all of this, it’s clear that the task of establishing a one-page adventure is going to be next to impossible simply because of the addition of all the NPCs.  So I am going to cheat a bit and place the background and plots on the actual page with the list of NPCs as an appendix.  It will still turn out to be a clean look.

landscape-fantasy_701087

I hope you could take something from this mini-series, even if it was a great way to kill a few minutes between more important things to do.  I feel that focuses on abridged formatting when writing adventures or scenarios can help reduce the chance for writer’s block or GM staleness.  Give yourself small exercises to keep your mind sharp, fresh, and focused, and you shouldn’t have too many problems getting through the long haul of a campaign.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

~~~~~

The Roaming Lighthouse

HISTORY

Once part of the seaport, Cascade, the lighthouse became fused onto the back of the ancient red dragon, Vipros, when he barreled through the city for his amusement.  The force of the beast mixed with luck caused the building to position onto his back fully intact.  Over the years, the dragon’s scales grew within the building as it became biologically a part of him.

DESCRIPTION

Standing 60’-0”, its base spans 75’-0” in diameter and tapers to 15’-0” at the top.  It has an outer wall that rotates clockwise, making a revolution every ten minutes, which lines up to the inner wall door for a short time.  The building has 4 floors and a cellar.  The ground floor holds a small market with three vendors: blacksmith, glassblower, and a summoner (described in the appendix).  The first floor contains a moderate size library, spanning 50’-0” across and hosted by the great sage, Wizholme, who enjoys challenging riddles and puzzles to those seeking knowledge.  A hidden book will open the ceiling door to the 3rd floor, which contains a mischievous portal whose sister portal teleports randomly throughout the world.  The room is filled with star charts and maps used by the last keeper who was in search of the great artifact, Pinpoint Sunrise, which would grant him the ability to communicate with dead gods.  The final floor’s light source comes from the fountain on the ground floor that is filled with the dragon’s fire.  It rises in a tube and spews outward like a volcano and collected in trays for recycling.  The fire is used by many of the vendors to create powerful magical items.  The cellar is accessed by inserting all three keys from each vendor into a hidden compartment on the fountain.  Down below, the room is filled with ships in a bottle that are real ships that crashed in the past.  Uncorking any will cause the ship to teleport to the nearest water source and scale to the size of that water, even if it’s a puddle, with a full crew.

Plot

The PCs must choose whether to aid the ghosts who reside in the lighthouse, shadows of former citizens of Cascade, by extinguishing the flame in the lighthouse, or aid the cavern citizens of Neishek who rely on the light source to grow their crops.  They could convince Jyk to build a container filled with draogn’s fire to nurture Neishek’s crops, but he will need more sand.  The sage knows where an abundant of sand is, but requires a tome in exchange.  The 3rd floor portal’s sister will be near the sand in just a week, so time is urgent.  Finally, the PCs must slay Vipros in order to put out the lighthouse fire permanently.

NPCs

Hrothgar Bennington [Dwarf, Legendary Blacksmith]

Motivation or Life Goal: Creation of the perfect weapon made only through the fires of a dragon. Personality: Happy when working, disgruntled when interrupted.  Annoyed by the other vendors.  Obsessed on the perfect weapon.  He has a secret weakness for kittens.

Vipros [Ancient Red Dragon]

Motivation or Life Goal: Collection of wealth, finding amusement, keeping everything in the lighthouse a secret.                                                                                                                                                                                        Personality: Highly intelligent, insanely evil.  His knowledge is almost endless and unforgettable.  Torments the Keishek for amusement.  Extremely agile.  Hates riddles.  Loves learning the unknown.

Jyk Thorne [Elf, Glassblower]

Motivation or Life Goal: Create a magical glass heart to save his dying human wife.                          Personality:  Optimistic with hidden doubt.  Huge heart.  Enjoys whistling harmonically with Kasandra.  Paranoid about others.  Hesitant to stop his construction of the heart but will always happily do so.

Nicodemus [Tiefling, Summoner]

Motivation or Life Goal:  Capture and summon any creature at will.                                                     Personality: Two-faced, charismatic, jovial, conniving, deceitful.  Hates Wizholme for enslaving him.  Scowls when summoned.  Only eats fish; loves salmon.  Enjoys playing head games.  Easily bored.

Wizholme [Unknown, Sage]

Motivation or Life Goal: Obtain all truths by any means.                                                                            Personality: No morals, evil.  Unknown race.  Demi-god-like demon.  Opium obssesion.  Timeless.  Enjoys riddles/puzzles and sending people on wild goose chases.  Brash, almost arrogant, subtle and calm.

Bartholomew Blackbeard [Human Ghost, Lighthouse Keeper]

Motivation or Life Goal: Communicate with Lenora, goddess of night.                                              Personality:  Giggles with hands on his belly.  Neglects duties searching for the Pinpoint Sunrise so he can talk to Lenora.  Hopeless romantic.  Delusional in love with goddess.  Loses the pencil behind his ear.

351359_art_kamni_peshhera_fantastika_chelovek_1680x1050_(www.GdeFon.ru)

Session 2: Creating NPCs Episode.021

The old man is hunched over his book, decades of wear on his back gives him a permanent curvature of the spine.  A few puffs from his pipe before resting it on the table to turn the giant page.  He has always shown calm in his actions, yet deep inside he constantly is tortured and hammered with anxiety, stress, and obsession over his work.  A lifetime of following adventurers around the world in hopes they might stumble upon this tome he now has resting on his table has removed handfuls of years off of his life, but he doesn’t care.  To him, the long years and sleepless nights were worth it as the words on each page pour into his soul.  These are the words that will bring the world to its knees.  He knows his motivation is cliché, but he doesn’t mind.  Long has it been since the world found the utopia his mind has concocted.  And it shall be so.

468px-Final_fantasy_xv_characters

I feel NPCs are challenging to a lot of GMs.  When you are the players in an RPG, you have a single character to develop.  You take the character under your wing and nurture him into something memorable.  Your focus is on that individual and what lies ahead for just him.  When you are a GM, you have short-lived, temporary characters and long-term more permanent characters…and potentially a lot of them.  You’re required to bring life into hopefully every NPC the players come across because, well, they are supposed to be living, breathing entities within the game world.  Even if the players are casually talking to a pig farmer on the side of the road about an army he saw 2 days east of here, that pig farmer has a life and history, albeit less interesting than the players’.  Just as if you chat with a stranger at some restaurant, everyone has some kind of a personality, even if they don’t seem to have a personality.  GMs are expected to bring life into everyone, make them non-clone-like, and give them character.  Without this, the role playing portion of an RPG would become stale and static.  There would be no flair in dialogue.  But creating a bunch of NPCs is a bit of tedious work.

THE INITIAL LIST OF NPCS FOR THE ROAMING LIGHTHOUSE

When we last left off, the lighthouse structure was more or less completed and documented, and even some of the concepts of who dwelled within and the general outlining plot were thought of.  But in order for a GM to be able to pick up this document, glance at it in 5-10 minutes, and be ready to roll smoothly, the document needs to have a list of NPCs with a bit more than stat blocks.  Here is who could potentially be in this scenario.  We might weed out some of them in the end.

  • Vipros, ancient red dragon
  • Hrothgar Bennington, blacksmith
  • Kasandra Lonefellow, tailor
  • Jyk Thorne, glassblower
  • Nicodemus, summoner
  • Wizholme, sage
  • Bartholomew Blackbeard, lighthouse keeper
  • Various Cavern Citizens
  • Various Ghost Citizens

Fantasy_characters_Linup_small

This gives a rounded selection of individuals who can be interacted with in some form or another whether that be violent or peaceful.  The next step is to give them all some kind of life.  In the previous article, I explained that a GM really should not need a novella-length description of any NPC.  Ever.  Two pages for an NPC is simply more information than someone is going to retain or utilized in the game.  Essentially an NPC should have motivation, personality, and any quirks or special behaviors.  You can’t expect to write down how the NPC would react to every situation.  Instead given a well described personality and motivation, they can react to any situation appropriately.  If there is a significant background story for a major NPC that is going to be around for more than one battle, then that should be included in the background portion of the document along with the rest of the plot.  I see a lot of redundancy in modules where by the time I reach the NPC section to read their info, I already know why the character is doing what he’s doing that pertains to the story.  The rest is either fluff or filler.

If the character is a non-threatening NPC, someone the players will role play and not roll play with, then there’s really no need for a stat block, even a small one.  I know some companies insist on keeping every single Tom, Dick and Harry flowing with continuity to their layout guidelines, but it’s totally unnecessary.  No XP, no HP, no level.  Nothing.  You don’t even need to put their alignment because that should be clear in their description.  Case in point, Hrothgar, the blacksmith.

Hrothgar Bennington [Dwarf, Legendary Blacksmith]

Motivation or Life Goal: Creation of the perfect weapon made only through the fires of a dragon.

Personality: Hrothgar is always in a great mood while working, but if he is ever interrupted for any reason, even for news of a family member’s death, he will become short and cranky with whoever caused the interruption.  That’s not to say he won’t appreciate some coin in his pocket selling his wares; he just won’t show appreciation for it.  He’s greedy and selfish and spends each day perfecting his near-perfect art of metalwork in the hopes of one day creating the perfect weapon.  He was granted ten year access to the Forever Fiery Fountain after winning King Jeroff’s tournament, creating an unbreakable sword, which he is in his 9th year.  He wears one of the three rings that unlock the secret cellar door located on the fountain’s base, but he will only give it up for the right price or if granted longer access to the fountain.  Vipros is the only one to grant such a gift.  Hrothar despises the other vendors, especially the annoying Kasandra and generally ignores them all.  Although he won’t admit it, he has a weakness for kittens.

382231

And there’s a paragraph that easily gives the GM something to chew on with ease of remembering without any numbers to crunch or complex story backgrounds.  Granted, he is not a major NPC, but he does have a history that is briefly mentioned in the block.  Although some inexperienced GMs need to be given information in order to get a good understanding of how to run a particular adventure, they still are a GM, which requires them to ad lib portions of the story sooner or later.  Give them a little bit of information here and there, such as him winning a tournament by making an unbreakable sword, and let the GM run with it and make it his own.  Now let’s try one that may be needed for combat: Vipros, the ancient red dragon.

Currently, the dragon is set to be simply campaign-endingly big.  He would take legendary weapons and armor, and he would be able to take a lot of damage before falling.  It would be a huge event, perhaps something that would affect the entire kingdom and not just the community of people in the cave.  Nevertheless, he is a dragon, and players like killing them.  So off we go:

Vipros [Ancient Red Dragon]

[HP: 700][AC 43]

Motivation or Life Goal: Collection of wealth, finding amusement, keeping everything in the lighthouse a secret

Personality: Vipros is purely evil and highly intelligent.  One of the oldest living beings known in the world, he has witnessed firsthand nearly every war, catastrophic event, or major change.  His wealth in knowledge is seemingly unending as he has such a strong mind that he has never forgotten anything he has either learned or observed.  He doesn’t enjoy riddles or puzzles, but he does enjoy learning something he doesn’t already know, which can be used to any player’s advantage.  Currently his amusement is fulfilled by tormenting the fellow villagers of the cavern community, Neishek, by occasionally flying overhead to provide much needed light for their crops to grow.  Although magically enhanced to grow at an accelerated rate, they require a few minutes of light, which only comes from the lighthouse on Vipros’ back.  He avoids combat whenever possible as very little can challenge him.  When in battle, however, despite his size he is ferocious and agile.  When he uses his breath weapon, the fountain in the lighthouse will burst up the tube at an alarming speed, sending a beam-like trail of fire from his back.

startled_by_allengeneta-d5zbud1

Vipros might need some stats, and depending on what system you are using, some GMs will need more, some less.  Some prefer to give special abilities such as invisibility, damage reduction, etc., to the creature.  Every GM is different in preference, and if you want a detailed stat block, go for it.  If I am running a Pathfinder game, which I would cringe at the combat for an ancient dragon, I would most likely extend the stats with his attack bonus and damage, but that is it.  I don’t need to really give him too many abilities because he already has the traditional aspects of a dragon: some claws, some teeth, a tail, and maybe some wings if I am in a bad mood with the players.  But I ultimately try to keep things as light as I can get away with so that combat flows more smoothly.  Refer to Mastering as Game Master: Efficient Combat Timeframe Episode.002 for more information on getting through combat quicker.  In the meantime, here are the last of the NPCs listed above:

Kasandra Lonefellow [Dwarf, Seamstress]

Motivation or Life Goal: Find her lost mother, create something for every person she meets, see Hrothgar smile.

Personality: Kasandra is cheerful and talkative to a fault.  Her stall is beside Hrothgar because she has a crush on him that she blatantly tells him daily among a million other things.  She loves to hum melodies her mother used to sing to her, and her voice is beautiful and can be heard as high as the 2nd floor.  Her prices are surprisingly low for what she makes as she has the ability to create magical items that border legendary artifacts.  She’s always willing to tell anyone about her mother and that she last saw her when she was a child on a caravan to the Myrtle Clan, which are her kinfolk.  She believes her mother is still alive and that she was captured by beastmen near the hidden entrance to the clan at the base of Gilamonroe Mountain.  She wears a ring, but it is not one of the three that will open the fountain door although she is not aware of this.  It resembles one of the runes, however, and the others will keep her believing it works by mixing it with the others.  Her favorite color is blue, and she likes to click her teeth when she is nervous.

Jyk Thorne [Elf, Glassblower]

Motivation or Life Goal: His human wife is rapidly dying from his long-living perspective, and he wishes to create a special glass heart that will contain the fire of Vipros, which he has been told by Nicodemus will extend her life exponentially.

Personality:  Jyk clings onto optimism, but his eyes betray his true turmoil of doubt that grows larger everyday he fails at constructing the heart.  He has always been a businessman and enjoys making a few coins from his wares, which are usually quite high in both value and quality.  However, there is always hesitation in his voice when he knows he is losing precious time working towards his wife’s cure.  He is best known for making glass containers that can withstand extreme temperatures, but he can make virtually any shape or form given the right amount of time.  He will often subconsciously whistle in elven harmony with Kasandra as he works.  He doesn’t trust anyone but Kasandra in the lighthouse as he can read deeper motives within each other their eyes.  Most of this is chocked up to paranoia that was caused when he first arrived and had to work so close to a dragon he knows is evil.

Nicodemus [Tiefling, Summoner]

Motivation or Life Goal:  To become a true summoner and not rely on trinkets to do his work.  Ultimately he would like to learn how to capture creatures and have the ability to summon them whenever he desired.

Personality: Nicodemus is two faced.  The outside projects a charismatic, often jovial, attitude towards anyone he meets, but his true desire is conniving and deceitful.  He cares nothing of selling his magical pictures to buyers.  In fact, he would rather keep them for himself, but he knows the demand is exceedingly high, so he prices them astronomically.  He always pretends to be happy to aid another, and he is often playing head games with the other vendors as he grows bored often in the lighthouse.  Out of all those living in the building, he is the only one there against his own free will.  Wizholme, the sage, summoned and enslaved Nicodemus years ago when he was caught attempting to summon the sage.  Nicodemus is the only living creature who discovered Wizholme’s true identity and attempted to summon him for his own bidding only to have it backfire as the old sage was more powerful than he anticipated.  The other vendors, especially Kasandra, snicker whenever Wizholme calls downstairs to demand he join him in the library as they know Nicodemus always has to go despite his scowl.  Nicodemus enjoys salmon and only eats fish.

sage

Wizholme [Unknown, Sage]

Motivation or Life Goal: Little is known of this creature down to what it actually is.  Secretly, he is a powerful demon, challenging demi-god-like, and he thrives on seeking knowledge.  He has no true morals and disregards any significant alteration to life, time, or space if his acquired wealth of knowledge always expands.  He most recently is interested in the death of Lenora, goddess of night, who vanished from existence and any awareness of the other gods.  Bartholomew Blackbeard was especially keen on communicating with her, and Wizholme considered him one of his only true friends.

Personality: Nothing pleases Wizholme greater than knowledge.  He doesn’t need to eat or sleep.  His eyes are heavily covered in thick, white eyebrows, and his mouth is hidden from a goatee that trails down to the floor.  Indeed it is difficult to identify what Wizholme really is.  He doesn’t care about anyone but a very select few.  He uses anyone without a second thought.  He’s brash, almost arrogant though his demeanor is subtle and calm.  It compares to the moment before a storm without the storm ever approaching.  He never shows happiness, but he revels at mocking Nicodemus for meaningless tasks.  Incapable of addiction, he obsessively takes opium.  When confronted or challenged, he will present riddles and puzzles before answering.  One particular riddle’s answer is the title of a trigger book in the library that opens the 2nd floor above.  He won’t hesitate to send those foolish enough on wild goose chases in exchange for an answer or bit of knowledge.

Bartholomew Blackbeard [Human Ghost, Lighthouse Keeper]

Motivation or Life Goal: Communicate with Lenora, goddess of night.

Personality:  Bartholomew has long since passed away after a long life of hopeless romanticism and sadness.  His heart was filled with love of a deity he never truly knew.  Each night, he would gaze upon the stars she created and concoct his own image of the goddess.  He spent years, most of his life in fact, pouring over charts and maps from all over the world in hopes of locating a magical artifact called the Pinpoint Sunrise, which was said to communicate with anyone at any point in time.  His hopes was to thank the goddess for her creation and profess his love for her.  He is a kind man and would stop his research to always do his job in maintaining the lighthouse.  However, the numerous ships trapped in bottles in the cellar are a result of his neglect from time to time over the years, which accumulated to a considerable amount.  He giggles instead of laughing and always holds his large belly when doing so.  He’s always looking for the pencil behind his ear to make markings and notes on maps despite being a ghost.  He is always happy to talk about Lenora, but his perception is skewed and exaggerated to any holy scholar’s account.

Various Neishek Citizens [Cavern People]

These simple humanoid people are rather small in size standing between 18 and 24 inches tall with rotund bodies and faces.  They can be traced back to relating to dwarves and orcs, prior to their split in race.  They are essentially the “leftover” portion of the original race having much of the good genes going to either the dwarves or orcs.  What was left was excellent labors and knowledge in basic survival.  They developed vegetation that has accelerated growth that requires very limited sunlight.  Their lives depend on Vipros flying through to provide the illumination from his lighthouse.  Vipros destroyed all fungi that grew on the walls and floor of the cavern that fueled the plants prior to his arrival.  They are such a nice race they have never shown signs of negativity, malice, or hatred from anyone including Vipros.  Instead they use excuses to blame for the bad luck or ill fate that might befall them.

1000x604_8304_The_Magistrates_2d_fantasy_characters_picture_image_digital_art

At this point, I have obviously written far more than I initially set out to do because some ideas I liked came to mind.  However, a big bulk of this will need to be condensed in order to fit the one page goal I set out to accomplish earlier.  The rest of this can be added to a supplemental appendix if necessary, or, yes, you could just make a 2nd page.  However, I feel this is a sufficient amount of information to compile with the earlier structure segment and the next installment consisting of the plots, which will have one major idea and a few minor side notions players could investigate such as Bartholomew’s obsession.

I stripped the descriptions down to very minimal, yet the NPCs still took up an entire page.  So I removed the description of the cave people, who I called the Neishek.  I also removed Kasandra because her cheerful, good natured heart didn’t fit the rest of the vendors or the sage.  The entire atmosphere of the lighthouse is more somber with so many deceitful and evil creatures.  As a result, the three vendors will each have a ring instead of the false 4th.

These one-page exercises can be equally as challenging to those who have no trouble thinking of ideas for their game much like how a short story demands each word to be carefully chosen in order to make an efficient, concise document.  But by this point, after having created the building and fleshed out the NPCs, the plot should basically already have been written and just requires a little cleanup.  We’ll find out in the final session in this 3-part mini-blog series.  Meanwhile, here is the final layout we have so far with included NPCs:

The Roaming Lighthouse

HISTORY

This lighthouse was once a part of the seaport city Cascade, but when the ancient red dragon Vipros completely leveled the community, a stroke of luck left the lighthouse suck against his thick scales and now resides upon his back.  Over the years, his scales conformed around the base of the structure, solidifying it even more where it is a part of his body.

DESCRIPTION

Standing 60’-0” tall, its base reaches 75’-0” across and tapers to 15’-0” at the top floor.  It is double-walled so the outer wall rotates every ten minutes, allowing entry for a few seconds.  There are four floors total with a hidden wine cellar below.  The ground floor contains a small market with several vendors.  A blacksmith, a glassblower, and a summoner (described further below).  The first floor contains an extensive library, spanning 50’-0” across and hosted by a sage who enjoys challenging riddles and puzzles for those seeking knowledge.  Only by means of moving a specific book will open the circular doorway in the ceiling to the third floor, which contains a mischievous portal.  This portal’s sister end randomly changes locations from one extreme location to another and requires a key to access that end.  The rest of the room is filled with star charts and nautical maps with various locations marked.  These were used by the original keeper in search of a great artifact used to communicate with deities.  The top floor’s light source is from a fountain on the ground floor that is filled with dragon’s fire and rises through a tube to gently spout into collecting trays.  A reflective disk provides the directional illumination.  This fire is used among the vendors in creating their powerful magic.  By inserting three rings from the vendors into the fountain, a hidden doorway grants access to the wine cellar, which each contain actual ships that wrecked years ago.  Uncorking releases the ship in working order with a crew, but it scales proportionately to the nearest water source.

NPCs

Hrothgar Bennington [Dwarf, Legendary Blacksmith]

Motivation or Life Goal: Creation of the perfect weapon made only through the fires of a dragon.

Personality: Happy when working, disgruntled when interrupted.  Annoyed by the other vendors.  Obsessed on the perfect weapon.  He has a secret weakness for kittens.

Vipros [Ancient Red Dragon]

Motivation or Life Goal: Collection of wealth, finding amusement, keeping everything in the lighthouse a secret.

Personality: Highly intelligent, insanely evil.  His knowledge is almost endless and unforgettable.  Torments the Keishek for amusement.  Extremely agile.  Hates riddles.  Loves learning the unknown.

Jyk Thorne [Elf, Glassblower]

Motivation or Life Goal: Create a magical glass heart to save his dying human wife.

Personality:  Optimistic with hidden doubt.  Huge heart.  Enjoys whistling harmonically.  Paranoid about others.  Hesitant to stop his construction of the heart but will always happily do so.

Nicodemus [Tiefling, Summoner]

Motivation or Life Goal:  Capture and summon any creature at will.

Personality: Two-faced, charismatic, jovial, conniving, deceitful.  Hates Wizholme for enslaving him.  Scowls when summoned.  Only eats fish; loves salmon.  Enjoys playing head games.  Easily bored.

Wizholme [Unknown, Sage]

Motivation or Life Goal: Obtain all truths by any means.

Personality: No morals, evil.  Unknown race.  Demi-god-like demon.  Opium obssesion.  Timeless.  Enjoys riddles/puzzles and sending people on wild goose chases.  Brash, almost arrogant, subtle and calm.

Bartholomew Blackbeard [Human Ghost, Lighthouse Keeper]

Motivation or Life Goal: Communicate with Lenora, goddess of night.

Personality:  Giggles with hands on his belly.  Neglects duties searching for the Pinpoint Sunrise so he can talk to Lenora.  Hopeless romantic.  Delusional in love with goddess.  Loses the pencil behind his ear.

b3522453a45011501550d5509bb8d42b-d5py8kr

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Session 1: Creating a Structure Episode.020

Your best guess is that you’ve found the place.  The peddler warned the entrance was going to be peculiar, and the rotting, gaping mouth of a giant elephant makes the warning an understatement.  There is no ease in entering the underground laboratory – you have to squeeze through on your stomach.  Your feet don’t immediately touch ground as you choose feet first, and suddenly you are holding onto the throat of the beast as you dangle above the floor below some 15 feet down.  Suspended from the ledge, your eyes are filled with an array of hues from liquid filled bottles boiling around the room.  An older man is hunched over a book as he writes while referring to a chart nearby.  His back is turned, so you deftly drop down, leaning a bit to land on the cushion of a cot.  Your choice is to backstab the man before he can unleash the power of the Nine Hells upon you….at least that is the plan.

kraken-fantasy-art-sea-ships-storm-131315-1280x800

Brainstorming

I almost always begin work with a notepad.  I seldom use a computer for note taking because it feels too organized for this stage.  I’m not wanting to get an essay down; I just want to drop as many ideas as I can, often writing all over the page to cram as much as I can on one sheet.

With the initial structure concept, I wrote lighthouse, home, courthouse, warehouse, tavern, windmill, mausoleum, sanctuary, and circus.  I simply envisioned as many buildings as I could think of in a few seconds and wrote anything down even if it wasn’t something I was wild about.  Usually after I have my list, there is one or two that have already jumped out at me, and in this case, it is the lighthouse.  I like the concept, and since they are typically very simple in style, it gives me an opportunity to come up with something very unique to make this lighthouse one-of-a-kind special.

The next step for me is the general concept of this building.  What makes this thing so unique?  Is there a gaping portal on the ground of the main floor?  I visualize an ordinary interior lighthouse and begin randomly inserting things that usually don’t associate with a lighthouse like giant mirrors, guillotines, dark portals, caged animals, water tanks, aviary, small shopping center, a library, wine cellar, potters lab, tentacles, and innards of a living organism.

How big should this lighthouse be?  I don’t want a traditional lighthouse because many of them are nothing but a spiral staircase up to the observation deck.  This will include a few floors with a tight, wrought iron staircase that pierces the center.  I don’t want it to wind up feeling more like a wizard’s tower, so it will have 4 floors including the ground floor and observation deck.  Really I could have just increased the thickness of the lighthouse and refrained from having so many floors, having each floor contain more square footage, but multiple floors will allow for different themes or environments.

What is the light source at the top?  Open flame?  Magical electric lantern?  An eye…no.  A holy symbol?  A gem?  Pure energy?  Perhaps the fountain below has a tube that pierces the spiral staircase (or the stairs attach to the tube for anchor support), and gently erupts at the top floor, its falloff landing in a collection tray to be pumped back down to the fountain.  Add a saucer-shaped reflective piece of metal behind the flame and you have your reflection.

Should the building be made of brick?  Stone?  Crystals?  Perhaps it is made of flesh and part of a living organism?  The lighthouse could be merely a protrusion of a colossal beast that lurks under the surface in a 1000 year slumber.  It doesn’t have to be perfectly constructed either.  Rickety, uneven floors with an off-center z-axis vertical (meaning it isn’t perfectly straight up).  Does it have to be a solid form?  Can it not be made of a thick enough gas that constantly swirls around its outer walls, yet you can reach out and touch it, giving a somewhat gel-like texture.  For me, the lighthouse itself isn’t what’s unique.  It’s the location and what’s inside (that counts).

880x964_13638_Glasses_2d_fantasy_warrior_dwarf_picture_image_digital_art

Locations can be on a remote mountain range deep in the snow overlooking a valley; floating on a piece of granite that is neutrally buoyant in air; on the back of a moving creature such as a dragon or giant; in a huge cavern; or it hangs upside down from an overhanging cliff because there’s no room for it on top.

I like the concepts of the dragon as well as in a huge cavern.  The dragon could have ransacked a village that had the lighthouse, barreling over the structures, and by simple luck the structure fused onto its back with the various pieces of stone being peppered into the air.  The heat from his breath could partially melt the stone or metal to its scales.  Does it have to completely be accurate to science?  Of course, not.  It’s a dragon…

The cavern is also a nice touch.   It gives the area more life and offers a sense of volume with the need of a lighthouse.  It need not be there to warn ships of nearby rocks.  It can provide the general illumination for an entire city much like the sun would.  And why not combine both concepts?  It is important to not allow what you know in the real world hinder your imagination.  Don’t think of caverns as the kind people explore that are confined.  Caverns could be miles wide, dozens of miles wide.  Large enough for a dragon to fly in.  The type of evil dragon who knows he has the only major light source strapped onto his back.  When it suits him, he flies around and provides the much needed energy the lighthouse produces in order to grow the crops.  Now we are getting somewhere.

Enough Brainstorming, Let’s Get To Work

So we have our idea down for a building to flesh out.  I’m going with a traditional look comprising mostly of large stone blocks with reinforcements of thick lumber that wraps around the outside and forms a sort of lattice to secure the stone further.  By now the structure should have some organic pieces melded into the construction for being on the back of a dragon for so long, so a mixture of scales and a few claws protrude from the walls.  Should this dragon be an ancient red dragon?  You betcha.  We will flesh out his role in the lighthouse in the next segment with the other NPCs, but for now, we’ll focus on him being a part of the structure and treat him not as a living object.

the_abandoned_lighthouse_by_pakoune-d4dy81q

Since there are going to be NPCs involved with the lighthouse, dwelling inside for whatever reason, there needs to be both a mundane and magical means of getting off a dragon.  Since dragons spend a great deal of time resting and conserving energy, either one of his legs or his tail can have a spiral staircase that wraps around and provides access to the ground.  I liked the idea of a magical portal in the lighthouse somewhere, hopefully a sinister one because fun, happy portals are boring.  So that will be the magical means of getting to and from the lighthouse.  The portal’s sister will be off somewhere hard to find such as towards the top of the tallest mountain on the range the cavern is hidden within.  You can get in and out of the lighthouse through magic, but it’s not going to be a cakewalk to do it.  There can be even a key and lock to open the portal before use.

So now let’s focus on the lighthouse’s insides.  I decided to go with 4 floors, each of which will have a decreasing square footage as I want a conical lighthouse.  You could think outside the box here on its shape.  A reverse conical would look more like a wizard’s tower, but having a broader top than bottom can be a benefit on design.  You’d be able to fit more things on the pinnacle to give it more of a crowning jewel than just a light source.  It could be just a giant open bonfire to give the overall look as if it were a torch.

The main floor should have some kind of an entryway once you get on the back of this dragon.  Speaking of the dragon, to hold a lighthouse on its back and not look like disproportionate, this sucker is going to have to be much larger than some of the rule books out there like D&D or Pathfinder.  Probably triple to quadruple the size of an adult red and we’re getting somewhere.  It needs to be big enough that a party can walk around casually on its back.  By this size, we’re talking almost the size of a Tarasque.  This lighthouse had better be worth getting into.  Remember we are not trying to create some huge campaign story here.  Just because things are huge doesn’t mean it has to be a part of a long, drawn out storyline.  It can be literally a dragon with a lighthouse on its back that has been a total jerk to the community within the cavern and needs to be disciplined.

Back to the entryway.  Being a lighthouse that would naturally have rotating capability on the roof, why not have the entire structure rotate similar to a barber’s pole, minus the stripes?  It would rotate slowly, and the opening to the main floor would happen once every 10 minutes.  Not so long they get bored killing time, but long enough for them to have an encounter outside the building.  Once they are inside, the ground floor is going to be measured as diameter rather than square footage since it is round.  Although I don’t like tactical warfare in role playing games, I keep grids in mind when designing for others, so a 0’1” grid equally the standard 5’-0” will really make the diameter at least 10 squares to give them enough room to move about a bit.  Four characters with 4 monsters take up all but 2 squares, which causes a lot of “I can’t move because you’re in the way.”  Let’s make it more comfortable, so it needs to be 15 squares in diameter or 75’-0”.  That allows not only for better movement, but it allows GMs to place monsters outside the 60’-0” range that many spells can reach.  It also forces players (and monsters) to move at least once before they can engage in melee, which gives the GM more time to prepare.

I want the lighthouse to have a hidden wine cellar below ground floor, which would put it into the dragon’s back, but with it being so large, the scales will be thick enough.  A library would allow for rare tomes and spell books that could be highly sought after, so that’s going in the lighthouse.  I like the shopping center because it’s very unique for a lighthouse.  Nothing to extravagant, just three small set up stalls three individuals sell their services or wares that are extremely rare, valuable or unique.  I like the caged animals idea, but the space is going to be limited, and I think it draws away from the rest of the rooms I want to put in, so the portal will be by itself on a floor.  I’ll put the market on the ground floor because it has the most room for the stalls.  It’s only 75’-0” across, but it will have cobblestone flooring and a tiny fountain in the center.  Those selling their goods and services will have access to the fountain, which will be pure dragon’s fire in liquid form to be used to forge, weld, and bind items together.  That way they have a reason to wanting to be there.

Petera fountain

Naturally a blacksmith will be among the shops followed by some kind of tailor for the cloth wearers.  A sage will be available who has an endless supply of knowledge, but he will be found in the library upstairs.  You could throw in a jeweler to cover the rings and amulets, but I prefer something more out of the ordinary.  Perhaps the caged animals could come back but not be physically there.  Instead, the shop keeper has moving pictures hanging on the wall behind him that are touch-portals to summon the creature to you.  The last shop keeper will have to do with the dragon’s fire directly.  He is the only one who has the secret knowledge to harness the fire into glass bottles that he can blow to withstand the temperatures.  The fire can be available to do a number of things such as destroying powerful artifacts, fuse portals together, break down impossible objects, or could be placed in magical items to provide heat or damaging flame.

With the ground floor done, we go up the stairs to the first floor.  Stairs will have to be over the fountain for dramatic effect.  The heat will be so intense above the flames that travelers will have to have special protection either in magical items sold by the vendors or spells.  Reducing the diameter to 10 squares or 50’-0”, we still have plenty of space to build and move around.  The first floor will be the library.  Here is where the sage comes in.  Every great system needs a sage, and this one can provide the right answers for a price.  Back in 1st edition AD&D, there was a chart Gygax created that listed to cost of the question asked.  I believe they carried that over to later editions.  If you really wanted to expand the game to more than just a one-shot adventure, the sage could provide information after they perform a great task such as retrieving a stolen tome for him or documenting their observations on a newly formed entity in the world the sage is not fully aware of.

The books can be literally anything from foreign languages to interactive books that work like in the game Myst that teleport you elsewhere.  They can be popup books that animate over the pages.  They can project the images onto the walls in the room.  The information can be cryptic or plain as day.  One book can be triggered to open the circle door on the ceiling leading up to the 2nd floor.  A riddle provided by the sage would have the answer in the title of the book.  But what else can you do with a library to make it feel less cliché?  How about the library is where the ghosts are?  That lighthouse was once a part of a thriving community that was decimated by the dragon centuries ago, and they now are bound to the only remaining structure of their past.  They long to be released from their imprisonment, which is to put out the light of the lighthouse.  There’s a dilemma.  Extinguish the light forever to give relief to the ghosts who are in turmoil or keep the flame going so the living community in the cavern can raise crops and survive?

141795_library-fantasy-art-books-artwork-wallpaper_www.wall321.com_39

The third floor should contain the portal.  Five squares will be the diameter here, so only 25’-0” across, which starts to make things a bit crowded with a full troop.  It’s not as important to have a lock and key on this end because you would have to scale a dragon and go through the building in order to reach it.  Having to climb mountains bigger than the Himalayan Mountains only to need to unlock a door is a good balance for both sides.  The portal could change its sister side as well.  The décor could be all that makes the floor unique rather than having important things.  Being of nautical in nature prior to becoming a part of a dragon, this floor could have remnants of the original keeper of the lighthouse.  Provide a nice mixture of star charts as well as sea charts.  These could spring so much future stories.  The keeper would be bored living there isolated as he was, so he would have a lot of time to think.  Perhaps he had poured over countless volumes of maps and tomes from the library in search of something special to him.  A crystal pendant that contains the tears of a long dead goddess that would have provided him the ability to communicate with her in the afterlife.  She could have been the goddess of the night who created the stars that he gazed upon every evening, falling in love with her beauty and creation.  His desire to talk with her just to thank her personally for all she has done was important enough that he dedicated his life to finding the pendant before dying from the dragon attack or passing away from old age, never to have found it.

He could be a ghost that provides the group with friendly advice.  The sage and shopkeepers below could be indifferent to the group, bordering on hatred as they prefer to create than sell and being interrupted.  Sometimes dangerous environments should have a friendly encounter to give relief to the stress temporarily.  The keeper could be that relief.  His romantic attitude towards the goddess might earn the players’ sympathy and wish to help him although it is too late.

At last, the final point, the top floor where the light source is from.  It’s the most important part of any lighthouse, naturally, so it should definitely be more unique than a simple lantern.  I decided earlier that the building rotates completely once every 10 minutes, so the light source should be directional.  From earlier, the flame is being reflected by the mirror circle.  Glass created by the glass blower from the ground floor made an encasement around the flame to reduce heat and permit walking around the circumference of the floor, which is open.  The walkway will need to be single-file only so 5’-0” max width walkway.

274002

I did just remember the wine cellar I wanted to include that was hidden and accessed in the market.  The fountain could be the focal point here for simplicity.  There are three hard-to-find indentions with different runes along the base of the fountain.  Three vendors wear rings that will fit inside and trigger the mechanism.  The fountain rises in a spiral motion revealing an opening that goes down into the cellar.  Although it looks like a typical wine cellar, each bottle contains actual miniaturized sailing vessels that have been lost to the rocks.  If uncorked, the vessel is released and comes with a fully seasoned crew.  However, the ship will scale appropriately to the nearest water source.  If only a puddle is around, it will scale to it proportionately as if it were an ocean.

 ~~~~~

And that’s all she wrote.  Five pages of description of a single structure although much of that was brainstorming and explanation.  Now we take all that information and conform it into an organized, easily readable format to which we will tack on the NPC and plot to in the near future.  Although abridged significantly, the goal is to keep the structure’s description, NPCs and plot/purpose within a single page.  Once we finalize the NPCs and plot (which has been decided earlier) it will all be edited to a more efficient document.

The Roaming Lighthouse

HISTORY

This lighthouse was once a part of the seaport city Cascade, but when the ancient red dragon Kalandria completely leveled the community, a stroke of luck left the lighthouse suck against her thick scales and now resides upon her back.  Over the years, her scales conformed around the base of the structure, solidifying it even more where it is a part of her body.

DESCRIPTION

Standing 60’-0” tall, its base reaches 75’-0” across and tapers to 15’-0” at the top floor.  It is double-walled so the outer wall rotates every ten minutes, allowing entry for a few seconds.  There are four floors total with a hidden wine cellar below.  The ground floor contains a small market with several vendors.  A blacksmith, a tailor, a glassblower, and a summoner (described further below).  The first floor contains an extensive library, spanning 50’-0” across and hosted by a sage who enjoys challenging riddles and puzzles for those seeking knowledge.  Only by means of moving a specific book will open the circular doorway in the ceiling to the third floor, which contains a mischievous portal.  This portal’s sister end randomly changes locations from one extreme location to another and requires a key to access that end.  The rest of the room is filled with star charts and nautical maps with various locations marked.  These were used by the original keeper in search of a great artifact used to communicate with deities.  The top floor’s light source is from a fountain on the ground floor that is filled with dragon’s fire and rises through a tube to gently spout into collecting trays.  A reflective disk provides the directional illumination.  This fire is used among the vendors in creating their powerful magic.  By inserting three rings from the vendors into the fountain, a hidden doorway grants access to the wine cellar, which each contain actual ships that wrecked years ago.  Uncorking releases the ship in working order with a crew, but it scales proportionately to the nearest water source.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Preliminary: Creating a Mini-Scenario Episode.019

When we last left off, you had barely escaped with your lives as the ambush of goblins was too overwhelming.  The retreat brought you deeper into the cave system and into foreign territory.  You went beyond your map’s edge hours ago, and now exploring without much focus until a prominent landmark is found.  Your torch is growing dim; you have perhaps another hour before you’ll be in total darkness.  But up ahead there is the sound of rushing water.

Often I find creating entire campaigns a bit daunting.  I may have a surge of inspiration or a concept that is burning my fingers to write down, but it doesn’t take long before that energy is spent and the general idea is created before I feel overwhelmed at filling out the remaining 100 pages’ worth of material.  And this is the case so often with many GMs, even the seasoned ones.  Writing lengthy material is exhausting to say the least.  It taxes our minds.  And world building is even more time consuming although it can be a wonderful daily exercise for aspiring writers or GMs.

239371

I prefer to take small bites.  It’s healthier.  A writing exercise I enjoy when I am bored or feeling inspired is to create either one-page adventures or world build a single small structure such as a home, barracks, or lighthouse.  The goal is to flesh out whatever the subject is as much as possible, keeping a restriction on the word count.  It provides two results.  It forces the writer to be more selective on their words to be more efficient.  It also offers a comfort zone with being but a single page to prevent any anxiety of having to fill tons of pages.  When it comes down to it, everyone who has the ability to write can write a single page of something.

I am going to begin a short series spanning a few episodes demonstrating the operation I go through in order to create a short scenario.  This will be kept fairly simple; it will involve a single, simple structure (no castles or other complex buildings).  I’ll provide the breakdown of each area I focus on and explain my thinking of each idea.  By the end of the series, there should be a complete scenario capable of being adopted into most role playing game settings.

Since it is my favorite part, I will begin the series with the structure itself.  That article will contain the concept, history, and general interest of it.  I’ll list information for dimensions, building materials, and any hidden information not privy to the average passerby.  Dimensions are generally most important for casters or those with area-effect abilities, but sometimes it can come in handy for visualization.  Typically I see a generalized list of building materials for a structure or area such as a dungeon having all stone doors.  However, some GMs like to have more detailed environments.  Knowing the furniture is made out of a deep, rich mahogany wood instead of a dry white birch may be useful.  Gary Gygax once told me that the reason he put in so much seemingly meaningless information throughout his work was because a GM can remove things easier than creating things to put in (in his Castle Zygag stint, one of the city’s shops had a very detailed and accurate account of wooden ladders for sale, specific to what lengths would be typical for that era).

b89ba57bd15bcf8a4f8129b0cc6d6f1f

The second part will be the creation of the non-player characters or NPC.  These will be the fuel of the plot and point of the scenario’s creation.  They should not simply be stat blocks, but I feel that sometimes adventure modules get carried away with fleshing out noteworthy NPCs, especially when they are only going to be around for the one adventure.  One example that comes to mind is Paizo’s Adventure Paths.  Often a particular “big” NPC will have two full pages of background information on them, when they last one-night’s gaming session.  So let’s keep things nice, clean and short.  Really a GM should only need to know the NPC’s motivation, general personality, and any unusual quirks or behaviors that might set them apart.  The rest will naturally be filled in on-the-fly as the GM is roleplaying the character to the players.

The final part in the series will be the point of the scenario’s existence.  Why did I bother to create this bit of work?  The plot or at least points of interest will be fleshed out just enough for anyone to be able to read it or at least skim through it and have a basic understanding of how to run the adventure.  It should contain the secrets that will be uncovered by the players, any plot twists, any side rewards to be acquired, perhaps alternative endings, and a list of key moments that are affected and not affected by the players.  I like to approach these types of projects from angles that I am not used to viewing it.  Consider instead of a tavern at a crossroads, the tavern is buried underground and accessible only through a secret entrance by invitation only.  It will result in rejuvenating concepts that have been run to death in your past game sessions.  With all of the information broken down and fleshed out, the layout will be created so that only the information that is most important will be added and the filler will be left out.  If enough material is created that is cut out, an Appendix can be created, but it should only be another one page document with an abridged format.

fantasy_adventure_by_ortsmor-d6mfkoy

The goal of this entire exercise is to provide those looking for methods of tackling the art of world building or adventure writing, or perhaps hoping to take their first step in breaking away from published modules and going independent.  Even though I have been running role playing games for 22 years now, these simple procedures can keep creativity and imagination vivid and rich.  So stick around and hopefully you find inspiration, ideas, or successfully kill your boredom.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.