This past Friday I rolled up the short adventure series I was running for my weekly gaming group. It went well. Brick killed a guy, with a trident. I did get to K.O. a PC, which is always amusing. And then I decided a coup de grace was in order. Within my gaming circle I am known for beating PCs black and blue. A reputation earned but regularly over exaggerated.
The latest adventure series was a stop gap, filler between the end of another DM’s adventure and returning to our main campaign set in the world of Ryndaria. You can find out about the campaign world and its DM over at his blog, Ryndaria.com. Due to the nature of the latest series I used it as a way to explore some techniques and ideas I’ve been mulling over for some time. I employed the static bad guys elucidated in a prior post, played some more with D&D Next, used the Story Forge Cards I reviewed to determine some elements, and decided to roll up some random gear for the wayward adventurers.
I’m going to speak more about that last point. Gear is always a fun thing for me to tweak. Most players, myself included, show up to the first session of a new campaign with gear. Some characters are even built around specific gear. I know what’s in the PC’s pack, his armor, weapons, and even how much coinage he has remaining. Now think about any survival movie you have ever seen, whether it is zombie oriented or natural disaster oriented. The story about the guy whose bunker is stocked for a decade of the apocalypse is really boring. Great stories are about surmounting challenges, beating all the odds. I have a tendency in my games to strip that away and gear is a good and quick way to do it. In the first hour of an adventure you can place people in an uncomfortable place and that engages them.
Because I’m not utterly cruel I did not make them bare knuckle brawl for every bit of their gear. Beforehand I found a random gear table and rolled on it for every player and created a number of backpacks to be picked up by the PCs. I was even nice enough to balance it so there would be useful gear for all the players. In addition I found another rolling table of random items and rolled on it to provide each pack with a different signature item. These items ended up being a wooden pen with runes carved along its length, a silver box decorated with stars and moons, a metal bracelet of intertwined serpents in blue and red, and a silver flask engraved with the initials S.K. These items are mundane but worth a little bit of coin. Worst case scenario from the idea is the party sells the items at the first town they come across. I otherwise did no planning for what the items would do or what their importance might be.
So what happened is we played. The players got their bags, and went through their gear trading with each other allowing for some nice in character role play I was able to sit back and let them talk only speaking to answer questions about specific items or to clarify my bad handwriting on the gear lists I gave them. At this point I’ve already accomplished all I wanted. The players are offset by the loss of their gear so they’re actually engrossed with what’s happening in the game because you know… they want gear. Very quickly they’re already developing an in-character dialogue and a better foundation of who these brand new PCs are.
Throwing in some random signature items can give you tools to help integrate your story and fill some gaps with a bit of improvisation. Right away the spell caster in the group was lacking a staff or wand to cast. So I drew on the runic pen, now it’s a wand that has been discretely disguised as a pen. Hiccup avoided. The halfling thief stored all his meager wealth in the silver box (its existence he kept secret from the rest of the party). After inadvertently rescuing a party of dwarves at a new construction worksite the party, suffering some rare fit of competency and lucidity, decided to ask them about the other special items in their possession. They knew nothing of the strange serpent bracelet. The silver box exploded with a flutter of notes upon opening. The money within gone it was stuffed with small bits of paper with scribbled messages asking about someone named Mathias. Shared storage spaces are one of my favorite items in the D&D universe so I decided on a whim to make the box a shared storage box between a wizard and his apprentice (going with the whole moon and stars motif). As for the flask, suddenly it was the flask of one of the dwarves, a missing member who had left for the nearest town to buy supplies.
Building in extra stories is a great way to improve/riff on what is going on in the game. Now the players have quests seeds that could spin the game off on whole new adventures. Staggering adventure seeds will also make your games feel less segmented where one adventure ends and there’s a lull before the next arc begins. You can also run small side adventures while writing up the next major arc.
Pro Tip: Repurpose published adventures for side quests to keep your creative energy to use on the main plot.
I then set up a spot where the party was traveling from the dwarves to the kobold lair. On the way they could try to stop in the nearby town or potentially come across the wizard looking for his apprentice on the road. Neither happened but the thief did stay in contact with the wizard for the rest of the short plot. One of the fighters realized now that the serpent bracelet was returning to his wrist while he slept. I did not develop anything for the serpent bracelet until the end of the plot where the party faced off against the BBEG. Due to poor rolls they never were able to make the connection that the BBEG had the same sort of symbol on his neck, the intertwined serpents. With one PC downed to death, and the bad guy defeated they realized too late his body was gone. The villain escaped, but the dead PC came back to life as his companions busied themselves looting his body.
Overall it was a fun adventure and a pretty simple affair to run. I definitely encourage everyone to try out some random items. A quick search on the internet will find copious lists for rolling items and equipment. Really try to feed off the energy of your players. If they’re interested in the item make it important if they don’t give it a second look, let them sell it off at the nearest trinkets dealer.