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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Six-Word Sparks II: Mysteries

Six-word sparks are those magical mini-phrases that I use to capture the essence of an adventure idea in order to save it for later.  Sort of like reducing a sauce in cooking; the more water you boil out, the stronger the remaining flavor.

My first batch were pretty varied—a bit of politics, a bit of banditry—but this time I'd like to focus on mystery ideas.  These sparks may not turn into mystery adventures, but they'd all start with a mystery.

Six-Word Mystery Sparks

1. Birds, thousands, flock to ancient lake.
2. Farmer's barn fills with grain nightly.
3. Giant gears uncovered below city catacombs.
4. High-profile silver robberies throughout city.
5. Innkeeper disappears; wife scared, daughter suspected.
6. Local murder; only suspect?  The victim.
7. Local woodcarver deaths connected by forest.
8. Mighty river dries up; Gnomes accused.
9. Stone wall appears around city overnight.
10. Well begins drawing up green slime.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Tavern Names

If there's one thing fantasy authors seem to love, it's naming taverns.  I suspect that many GMs get the same enjoyment out of it.  A tavern's name can convey mood, build on the history of the setting, and include a snippet of humor.

Telling the players that the local tavern is called The Snuggly Duckling is very different than telling them it's called Merlin's Left Buttock or Blood Bucket.  A soft name (probably a misnomer for a wretched hive of scum and villainy) versus a complete wacky name (which also implies the presence of magic) versus a scary name (which probably lives up to its hype).

Sure, you could search a list of real-life tavern names, or you could come up with your own.

I guess.

Or... you could roll 1d6 on either of these excellent tables.

Seedy Taverns

1. Queen's Bedchamber
2. The Stables
3. Westhill Public House
4. The Filled Latrine
5. Brick and Mortar
6. The Dented Skull

Classy Taverns

1. Golden Slumber
2. The Silver Bell
3. Downkeep Inn
4. The Charger's Standard
5. Kettle and Cloth
6. Well-Laid Table

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Random Adventure Table

Surprised by players who want to play a game soon?  At a loss for what to do now that your players have cleanly resolved your most recent plot?  Having a one-shot adventure to liven things up?

Me neither.

But that didn't stop me from creating this Adventure Generator table for a Contessa contest a while back.

Since I can't reproduce the whole table here (not effectively, anyway), I'll post a link to it and then generate a random adventure here.  Be aware that this table tends to generate fairly straightforward plots-on-rails, but sometimes that's all you need.

Adventure Generator (via Google Sheets)

Genre: Post-apocalyptic survival
Plot: Trick or force marriage on an innocent
Scenes: High-stakes game of poker/chess/Catan and high-speed horse chase/car chase/aerial dogfight
Minions: Mindless drone soldiers
Villain: Tinker
Villain Personality: Certifiably insane
Twist: The villain is one of the PCs from the future
MacGuffin: The lipstick of Lady Luck

With some creative interpretation, we have a clear adventure outline.


In the aftermath of global firestorms, survivors struggle for food and water every day.  A group of survivors have banded together and have formed a small community. This community's scavengers are the PCs.  They wander the ruins around their community seeking supplies and tools to help rebuild their budding town.

The villain, an inventor from the future, has come back to the present in order to marry a close friend or lover of one of the PCs.  Unfortunately, she has come back with a force of military automatons to do her bidding.  She captures the spouse-to-be and demands betrothal with force.

The target, thinking quickly, agreed to the marriage, but requested that the villain acquire a special lipstick first, the lipstick of Lucky Lucy, a famous woman from before the apocalypse.  The villain agreed and took the victim into the ruins, along with her robots.  The dazed and confused survivors relay this to the PCs, who must delve into the ruins themselves to find this lipstick and cut off the villain's insane plan.

The PCs track down the lipstick at the same time the villain's robots do, and the PCs must chase the robots through the scorched streets on conveniently undamaged and fueled-up motorbikes.  But the lipstick is a decoy!  The real one was stolen by a local warlord.

The villain escapes with the spouse-to-be and arrives at the warlord's riverboat headquarters before the PCs.  The warlord allows the PCs to enter, and then reveals that the villain has staked all of her robot warriors in a high-stakes game in order to win the lipstick.  The PCs must enter the game in order to prevent the robots from going to the ambitious warlord or the lipstick from going to the mad villain.

The results of the game set everything on a knife edge, and the villain inadvertently reveals that she is one of the PCs from the future.  She claims that she had always loved the spouse-to-be, but that this warlord destroyed the village while she was out on a scavenging trip.  The loss drove the villain to madness.  It is quickly revealed that the warlord was only able to destroy the community because of the robots brought back by the villain.

Can this mish-mash time paradox be resolved?  Will the spouse-to-be get whisked away into the future?  Will the warlord claim the robots and destroy the town?


Is this the greatest adventure of all time?  No, probably not.  Is it a fun way to spend a few hours?  Probably yes.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Campaign Sparks I

If you haven't read any of Johnn Four's Roleplaying Tips, go do that right now.  Read all of them, I'll wait.

Back?  Great.  Anyway, one of my favorite things that Mr. Four has created is the campaign seed.  Basically, this is a 100-word blurb from which a GM and players should be able to grow an entire campaign.  In fact, since you've read his post on them, I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about.

A campaign seed should have a villain, an interesting milieu, 2-3 NPCs to stir the plot, a left hook, and something that makes the stakes real for the players (not just the PCs).  A tried-and-true method for generating a classic campaign.  I only propose a couple of modifications, mostly just clarifications.  Though I'm calling my versions "campaign sparks" instead of "campaign seeds."

A campaign spark is a 100-150 word summary that sets off an entire campaign.  A campaign spark requires five pieces.

Conflict: A persistent villain (with a tangible goal), an impending catastrophe, or an intractable situation between equally powerful forces.

Setting: A neat place to adventure, full of excitement and opportunity.  It also has a memorable or evocative name.

NPCs: 2-3 characters who have an interest in the Conflict and the power to effect change.

Stakes: What happens if the Conflict isn’t resolved?  Why do the players care?

Twist: A revelation that changes not only the campaign going forward, but also sheds light on previous events and actions.

Now that you know what a campaign spark is, here's an example.

Campaign Spark: The Village and the Forest
The Forest is a dangerous place.  The Village is home to a few hundred content villagers.  Every day, the Forest expands inward, closing in on the Village.  The villagers seem indifferent to this constant growth, treating it as a minor inconvenience.  But when the Forest grows too close, villagers start disappearing.  Whatever happened to the old explorers, anyway?

New explorers have been chosen by No├»ta, the wisewoman and village leader.  She sends them into the Forest to bring back anything interesting that they can find.  Faber, the blacksmith, will craft many found resources into usable tools, but he grows suspicious of the Forest and the other villagers’ indifference.  All the while, Rolf, the woodsman, busies himself by chopping down trees and clearing brush, cheerily failing to slow the inevitable advance of the Forest towards the Village.

Hidden by layers of mystery is the truth: the Forest and the Village are a test created by two gods to judge the worth of mortals.  Will the explorers save the Village and the oblivious villagers, will they allow the Forest to take its natural course, or can they find a way to thwart the plans of both gods?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Six-Word Sparks I

If you're anything like me—or if in fact you are me—then you are frequently bombarded with niblets of ideas: a tasty villain outline here (bugbear swashbuckler) or a political morsel there (fantasy mayoral election).

Sure, you could wedge those concepts into an ongoing campaign, or sit down and create an NPC, adventure, or campaign around it. But if you're like me—or, again, if you actually are me—you don't have time for that jibber-jabber.

So, here's what I do, and also what you can do if you're like me—or if you secretly are me.

Whittle that concept down to six words. Use telegraph style if you have to, but keep it at six. Seven words? Too many! Five words? Add more flavor or go all-out and use that preposition you've been keeping your eye on! Take these six-word sparks and collect them somewhere; I keep mine in a Google Sheets file. Add some organization (if desired) and pull it out anytime you're stuck for inspiration, or if you just want to work on something new.

Six words is just enough to spark an idea for anything from a weapon to an adventure to an entire socio-economic power structure. For even more fun, randomly combine them and see what you get. But don't take my word for it, try these samples on for size.

Six-Word Sparks

  1. Swashbuckling bugbear seeks crew, piracy ensues.
  2. Election candidates: holy champion, master assassin.
  3. Halfling vigilante swordsman defends Human city.
  4. Dwarves and elves ally against humans.
  5. Birdmen refugees begin arriving, fleeing catastrophe.
  6. Firewood starts disappearing as winter begins.
  7. Hedge witch announces discovery: eternal life.
  8. Fairy princess captured by pirate queen.
  9. Sun doesn't rise, moon grows larger.
  10. Halfling beer brewers compete against Dwarves.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Random Encounters I

I'm not a big fan of random encounters.

By which I mean that I don't like sitting at the table, during a game, and rolling on a table to decide what (if anything) is going to attack the players while they're busy doing something else, like sleeping.

I do like random encounter tables, though, because they can provide inspiration in the planning stages of a session.  And I like wandering monster tables for dungeons, because they can add to the theme of the dungeon and even move the plot along.

So, maybe I am a fan of random encounters, as long as they're done well and used sparingly.

At any rate, I like making random encounter tables, so here's one for a generic high-fantasy setting.

Roadside encounters (fantasy)

  1. A poorly dressed peasant selling trinkets from a shoddy wooden cart
  2. An unconscious woman with disheveled blue wings
  3. 2d6 bandit elves who are masquerading as traveling minstrels
  4. A depressed titan
  5. 1d4 lycanthrope children (siblings) who are hiding under an overturned cart
  6. An abandoned cart full of weapons and armor of varying quality and material
  7. A red flag planted in the middle of the road
  8. A young, silk-adorned red dragon charging a toll to pass through a canyon

Saturday, January 24, 2015


Welcome to Gather 'Round the Table.  Here, I'll gather and post my RPG resources to share with others.

You don't want to hear about me or my mission statement, though.  You're here for content.

Here's something to tide you over.

Table: The contents of a merchant's pocket
  1. 2d8 silver pieces, an iron key, and a contract
  2. 1d4 gold pieces and a caravan route marked on a map
  3. An emerald on a silver chain (worth at least 6d6 gold pieces)
  4. 1d6 copper pieces and a pair of well-worn bone dice