These random things articles are designed as quick idea generators for time-pressed GMs who want to inject some additional details into their game. Isolated villages and towns inevitably develop their own traditions and customs, these can add a lot of flavour to an RPG but are often sadly ignored.
These random things articles are designed as quick idea generators for time-pressed GMs who want to inject some additional details into their game. Street vendors are often seen in smaller settlements in fantasy RPGs where there are no established markets, selling their wares from wooden carts or in simple crates at the side of the dirt paths that serve as the main throughfares, however they can also be found in larger settlements, either trying to dodge taxes or perhaps they simply can’t afford a pitch on a more prestigious market.
These random things articles are designed as quick idea generators for time-pressed GMs who want to inject some additional details into their game, in this article we look at trinkets. Trinkets were one of my favourite things about character generation in D&D 5th Edition, each character starts with at least one, a small item or curiosity that has some odd property or something strange about it, it’s not a powerful magic item, just something interesting that could spur conversation and plot.
These items can of course be used in other RPGs.
The list of trinkets in the D&D 5E PHB is great, but it had to be for the standard style of fantasy world that a large number of D&D campaign games take place in, this is great and makes sense from a marketing stand-point, but over the years there have been some really compelling primitive worlds (Dark Sun, for example). Whilst it’s possible to adapt some standard trinkets, I wanted to offer a table themed more towards these savage worlds: Continue reading “Random Things: D&D 5E trinkets for a savage world”
These random things articles are designed as quick idea generators for time-pressed GMs who want to inject some additional details into their game, in this article we look at random rumours that you might hear about a haunted house.
When you need some inspiration just roll a D20 and consult the table:
A number of previous residents have killed themselves after complaining that they were being haunted by something unseen following them on the stairs.
The previous owner is believed to have murdered a number of people when he ran the building as a guest house, their angry spirits now prowl the hallways seeking vengeance.
Rumour has it that a hidden gateway to hell lies somewhere within the grounds of the building.
Local children dare each other to spend a night alone in the house, normally nothing happens but occasionally one of them goes missing and is never found.
The owner has reported seeing wet footprints appear and then disappear in the hallway.
There is a bloodstain on the lounge carpet that is believed to have belonging to a young man who was stabbed in the building, it has been cleaned numerous times but always re-appears.
Set in the wall over the the fireplace is a human skull, it is believed to have belonged to one of the previous owners and was cemented into the wall as per instructions in their will, legend has it that when someone is going to die in the house, the skull screams.
A phantasmal black hound haunts the bounds of the property, the locals say that anyone who sees it dies shortly afterwards.
Villagers at the local tavern make religious gestures and grow silent when the house is mentioned, saying that the place and the family that once owned it had an evil reputation.
Rumour has it that star-crossed lovers died in the house, according to local legend their souls wander the property trying to find each other.
One certain occasions a spectral figure of a woman, hair and clothes moving as though she were underwater manifests in the drawing room, this apparition has been witnessed by numerous people.
Odd knocking sounds are often heard from the walls, sometimes whispered voices can be heard as well.
There is a door that must once have belonged to a chapel within the ground, although the rest of the building has long since crumbled to nothing. Oddly the free-standing door is always kept locked with a fresh chain and padlock, a crude sign in-front of it warning trespassers to stay away.
During the last bad winter it's said that a vagrant froze to death outside of the building, since then the temperature inside the house has be noticably colder than outside.
Furniture often re-arranges itself inside the house, although never when anyone is looking.
Sometimes at night, a light is seen bobbing along in the distance, it disappears if anyone gets close.
The old rocking chair on the porch sometimes moves on it's own.
The original building on this site burnt down many years ago, sometimes the smell of charred wood and another sickly, sweet odour can be smelt throughout the house.
It's said that evil cultists once performed blashpemous ceremonies within the grounds and that the spirits of their victims (or perhaps the things they summoned) linger here.
The spectre of a man wrongly executed for a crime is said to wander the halls carrying his severed head under his arm.
These random things articles are designed as quick idea generators for time-pressed GMs who want to inject some additional details into their game, in this article we look at random things you might overhear at a ball or other upper class social event.
When you need some inspiration just roll a D20 and consult the table:
Apparently the young scion of a noble house has recently run away to marry a commoner, the family is scandalised by the whole affair and has been trying (unsuccessfully) to keep a lid on things.
Two of the young nobles have decided to settle their dispute over a lover by holding a duel in the old forest when the clock chime eleven, despite duelling being illegal.
It is said that the Countess is ill and soon to die, a cynical person might wonder if that's why so many of her relatives have chosen to come and fawn over her this evening?
The second son of a noble family recently lost a good portion of the family's fortunes gambling, they have had to lay-off a number of their servants and sell some of their properties to cover the debt.
The eldest daughter of one of the local dynasties was recently found dead, murdered in a tavern room, the family suspects a jealous lover that she was meeting in secret.
The patriarch of the family recently died after a long illness and his wife quickly moved to consolidate her hold over the family, there have been suspicious mutterings about the nature of the patriarchs illness, although local apothecaries declared it a natural death.
A local noble wishes to have a rival disposed of, but cannot be seen to be directly involved, he is looking for someone who won't ask inconvenient questions to carry out the task.
Two nobles from feuding families have fallen in love and have been meeting secretly, rumour has it they are attending the ball in disguise so they might catch a few precious moments together.
Large contingents from a feuding family have both attended the event, despite the best efforts of the hosts it would not take much for the social barbs to escalate into outright violence.
An assassin is believed to have infiltrated the ball posing as a distant relation, their exact identity and target remain unknown.
Lacking a worthy successor in her own family, the ailing matriarch has decided to host this gala to choose a recipient for her wealth and title from the guests gathered.
The bastard son of a noble family has managed to infiltrate the gathering an intends to cause a scene.
The spread is a little poor and the decor a little sparse since the family lost a large amount of their money due to bad investments, this gala is an attempt at saving face.
The family are well known for donating to worthy causes and investing in local business, at the end of the ball the head of the family will hear pleas from a number of supplicants and then decide whether to donate any funds to them.
There are a lot of guards at the event, that is because the whole thing is an excuse for the hosts to show off a rare and valuable item they have procured at the climax of the celebration.
Word has it that the servants have appropriated some of the fine wine and are holding their own celebrations in their quarters and the kitchen, some of the younger more tempestuous nobles have even snuck out to join them.
Two of the younger members of aligned noble houses are pledged to marry, the main purpose of this event is that the two families might meet to discuss a dowry.
There has been some scandal regarding a missing heirloom, some say it has been stolen, others say it was sold to hide family debts.
A foreign dignitary from distant lands with customs different from our own has arrived, their aims are currently unknown.
A local guild wishing to set up a base of operation in a nearby town has sent a deligation to the function seeking to secure noble backing for their endeavour.
These random things articles are designed as quick idea generators for time-pressed GMs who want to inject some additional details into their game, when you need some inspiration just roll a D20 and consult the table:
A variety of colourful spiders (some possibly poisonous) crawl amongst the bones and thicking webbing in the tomb.
It appears as though someone has recently ransacked this tomb, a number of coffins are broken open and the dust has been disturbed.
Dust hangs heavy in the air, creating a hazy film through which the flickering sunlight passes. The air in here smells stale.
The corpse of a man long dead but clad in clothing more modern than the tomb itself lies on the floor a crossbow bolt lodged in his chest.
A trail of footprints made in the thick dust and moss crosses the floor of the tomb to the far wall and then the prints disappear.
A gentle breeze that smells faintly of the sea emerges through a crack in one of the tomb walls.
The bodies in this tomb have been entombed according to some ancient tradition, each body is mummified and laid to rest in elaborately crafted sarcophagi resembling their occupant.
Ragged black and brown rats perch on top of the coffins, chewing on bits of bone and scraps of cloth, they regard the PCs through shining yellow eyes.
There is an eerie tittering sound from further on in the tomb, perhaps it is just the wind or maybe the tomb isn't as unoccupied as previously thought.
Bare footprints that resemble a humans, but clawed, ragged and stained with dirt criss-cross the chamber.
A series of urns each containing the ashes of occupants who could not afford a luxurious coffin line the stone shelves of the tomb.
Through a hole in the ceiling a pencil thin beam of sunlight falls onto the centre sarcophagus illuminating an ancient script.
A worn but recognisable statue of a dragon takes centre-stage in the tomb.
Two skeletons are propped up in full armour near the entrance as though guarding the dead.
The roots of a tree long-ago broke through the decaying walls of the tomb, winding through the coffins and entangling the bodies within.
A great warrior is laid to rest here, along with all of the warriors who died with him in his final battle, their equipment with them.
A huge stone gateway is built into the wall, although the entrance is painted black it goes nowhere, symbollising the entrance to the second world.
Prayers to the gods have been delicately carved into almost every stone surface in the tomb.
The tomb is an ossuary where the dead do not lie in coffins but are built into the very walls of the place.
A series of perforated pipes is built into the walls, when the wind blows in a certain direction musical notes are produced.
Using Rory’s Story Cubes as an Idea Generator for RPGs
I’m sure we’ve all been in this situation at one point or another in our lives, you’ve got a game to prepare for the end of the week, you’ve been staring at your notes while the seconds tick by and waiting for some sort of inspiration to strike; given all the other pressures in life that can pile up and demand our attention it can be sometimes very difficult to get over that initial hurdle and get the ideas flowing to create a session. I’m a big fan of anything that either jump starts this process or helps give the GM a little creative boost to get the mind working.
A couple of weeks ago I saw an advert on the internet for a product called Rory’s Story Cubes; the concept is a fairly simple one, each story cube is a six sided dice containing a number of small pictures rather than numbers, you roll nine of these cubes and then use the imagery on them to inspire a story.
The basic set of Story Cubes is the orange box shown above and contains a wide variety of initial pictures from light bulbs, to moons, draconic shadows, fish, torches and globes, all of these are designed to be fairly ambiguous so that they can be interpreted in a number of different ways when you tell your story; the point is not to see a flower and say, well i’ve rolled a flower so i’ll have to put one into the story, your tale might not mention a flower but it could feature other vegetation, the concept of beauty, growth or any other idea spurred in your imagination by the imagery.
For example below is a sample roll using just the basic set:
In that initial roll I have a shooting star, a crescent moon, a flower, a dice, an L plate, a mobile phone, a light bulb, a pyramid and a high rise apartment building.
So why is this any use for RPGs?
Well although the basic idea of the Story Cubes is to tell a narrative inspired by the icons, to me one of the central facets of RPGs that makes them very enjoyable and that keeps me coming back to the table year after year, game after game, is that RPGs are essentially a group narrative, a story, but one created by the collaborative input of all of the people involved. An RPG isn’t just me sat tapping away on my computer keyboard with a mug of coffee or can of cider next to me (as i’m doing whilst writing this) and with only my ideas going onto the page, it’s a group creative space where lots of people can throw their ideas into the ring and where the result often exceeds the sum of it’s parts.
But doesn’t the GM have more control in the game than any of the players?
There are some schools of RPGing that believe that the GM should have a lot more control than the players and that can work in some games, however, i’ve always been a fan of getting the players involved in games I run and giving them almost as much control over the narrative as myself; this means that occasionally i’ll get surprised or not know what shape a session is going to take, it can be scary, concerning and occasionally a lot of work if things really go off track, but it’s never boring and i’ve had some truly magical moments in RPGs when the players have taken that narrative ball and have really run with it.
So using Story Cubes for RPGs
The core Story Cube idea is to roll nine of the dice, these might all come from the orange basic set or there are two additional large sets (covering voyages and actions respectively) and some smaller sets (I have three, enchanted, clues and prehistoria, each containing three dice).
You take a number of dice from your sets totalling nine, roll them and then create a story based on the imagery. The instructions suggest that you select three of the dice to represent the beginning of a story, three to represent the middle of a story and the remaining three (unsurprisingly) to represent the conclusion of the tale.
Now of course roleplaying games are a little different, when it comes to planning an adventure you aren’t defining the whole story, since the actions of your player characters may alter it significantly; there are a few ways that I think Story Cubes could be useful during RPGs though:
Coming up with adventure ideas
If you’re stuck for adventure ideas then the Story Cubes could help give you some ideas to get you started, since you’re not going to be determining the middle and end of the adventure beforehand, i’d suggest that instead of rolling 9 dice and splitting them into beginning-middle-end that you roll 3 dice per adventure that you want to create (so you would get three adventure seeds out of the default 9 dice pool).
As an example i’m going to make a roll below and use it to create three adventure seeds, these will all be set in a standard tolkien-esque fantasy world for ease of example (since most people are familiar with that setting) but you could do the same for your home-made campaign world or any purchased RPG campaign.
This example was created just using the basic orange pack.
And here is my roll, I have grouped the dice into three lots of three and below them are three potential basic plot/adventure seeds that I have come up with using them as inspiration:
Herd animals are dying across the world in a deadly plague that is spreading in an unknown fashion, leaving animals twisted and mutilated, people have begun to whisper that perhaps more than a simple disease is behind the deaths.
A strange mask has been discovered locked in a seal compartment within the fortress of an ancient and noble race whom no longer walk the world, all those who discovered the mask died in mysterious circumstances shortly afterwards.
An ailing noble has discovered a reference amongst some ancient papers that he purchased at auction to a wizard having unlocked the secret of immortality, he now seeks people brave (or foolhardy) enough to venture to the desert ruins of the sorceror’s previous lair to recover the elixir of life.
These are just three possibilities for different adventures all from a single 9-dice roll, there is plenty more potential in the basic set and even more once you add in dice from other sets.
The same technique can be used to create world events, things that are occurring in the background of your world and that may or may not directly involve the PCs, having these events in your game though help to create the fiction that the world exists independently of the player characters rather than it being a simple stage set that depends on the actors to give it life.
The example below was created using the three dice from the three smaller sets that I own:
Strange creatures that hunt only by the dark of night have been hunting along stretches of river that supply several kingdoms with water.
The unsolved murders of several prominant citizens, all reputedly linked to the founding families of the kingdom has lead to an increasing city guard presence and further draconian laws being introduced in the kingdom.
Seismic activity amongst a local mountain range has caused several herds of animals and more dangerous denizens to venture down into populated areas, panicked town authorities are currently looking for a way to deal with the unwanted animals whilst fearfully eyeing the smoking mountain tops.
The Story Cubes can also be good for finding out what sort of occupations or activities a random NPC is engaged in, we’ve all had those encounters where the PCs have stopped a few random bods in a town or city and it can be difficult to come up with occupations and activites for them; rolling a single dice (or a few if you wish can help give you some ideas.
The rolls below use dice from the blue ‘actions’ set:
In the examples below I offer a suggestion for both an occupation and an activity.
Action – “Oh I was just here looking for a friend of mine.”
Occupation – Scout.
Action – Looking for someone to stash something important.
Occupation – Builder.
Action – Travelling to a nearby well to fetch water.
Occupation – Alchemist or apothecary.
I hope this blog post has given you some ideas for how Story Cubes could be used to help you create some interesting adventures, world events and NPC activities/occupations; obviously the cubes don’t do all the work for you and there’d still be a lot of fleshing out to do, but if you’re stuck for an initial idea or you’re coming up a blank with your starting concepts then the Story Cubes could at least get you up and running. Personally I found them easier to use than a random table because I tend to be quite visually minded and something about seeing a picture (as opposed to a line of text) not only got me thinking more but it also allowed me to make broader interpretations.