GM Tips: Questions to ask about Settlements

village-1043623_960_720GM Tips articles offer advice and ideas for gamesmasters to help hone their techniques and run their games, these lists are not exhaustive but provide some tips to point a GM in the right direction.

One of the most important things a GM can do when designing a campaign is to ask themselves questions, by doing so you ensure consistency and might also through up some important elements of your setting that can be woven into compelling stories. Continue reading

3Brothers Obsidian Portal

After watching the second session of TheRogueDM’s excellent Clockwork Opera steampunk D&D 5E game I noticed that Jenny had set up an Obsidian Portal page for the game (you can see that by clicking here), I remember using this campaign management website years ago but had never really got into it, I took a look and was please to see that it looked like a possible solution for my note/plot management concerns for my 3Brothers Campaign so I rolled up my sleeves and dived in.

You can find my the 3Brothers Obsidian Portal page here:

Three Brothers Gazeteer

For those of you who read my blog regularly you’ll know that I’ve just started work on preparing a campaign world called the Three Brothers to run a regular D&D 5E game in, the world is essentially one that was taken over by the Gith and all the people enslaved, one hundred years before the campaign began, three individuals (an elf, dwarf and human who came to be known as the three brothers) lead the people in a rebellion that saw the Gith being cast down and the races freed. Continue reading

Random Campaign Creation

I was visited yesterday by a friend of mine who lives nearby, he brought his young son (12 years of age) round with him, the idea being that we’d all watch some films, whilst we were chatting and having a couple of cups of coffee the conversation turned naturally to tabletop RPGs (since both myself and my friend are gamers). About halfway through this conversation my friends son spoke up and said, “Would we be able to do some roleplay now?” Continue reading

[RPG] Using Rory’s Story Cubes as an Idea Generator for RPGs

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  • World Events
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:
  1. Strange creatures that hunt only by the dark of night have been hunting along stretches of river that supply several kingdoms with water.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
NPC occupations

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.
  1. Action – “Oh I was just here looking for a friend of mine.”
    Occupation – Scout.
  2. Action – Looking for someone to stash something important.
    Occupation – Builder.
  3. 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.

Dark Sun Campaign – Dungeon World – Session 6

Themiclés began to agonisingly pull his wounded body across the sands towards the cover of the dunes, a huge spear shaft still piercing his side, Athrialix slithered over to the Templar and with both hands began pulling the injured man towards the dunes, only stopping when it became obvious they were out of firing range.
In the distance Hurgen, Tk’Tak, the Bloodtide and their entourage of half-giants approached the unfolding scene and witness Athrialix pulling the bleeding Templar to cover, not wanting to agitate matters or be associated with the Templar themselves, the group elected to stay back. Themiclés meanwhile, between swallowing mouthfuls of a fruit based healing tonic that Athrialix pressed on him, told the philosopher that the mission was the most important thing, without water everyone in Arrakis would die, it was more important than anything even his own life; looking at the state of the Templar Athrialix suggested that they withdraw to the northern mountains and look for another way into the city, nodding in exhaustion Themiclés allowed himself to be pulled onto the back of Athrialix’ crodlu and the small party moved northwards into the forbidding darkness of the mountains.
At a distance, the Bloodtide turned to Tk’Tak and asked if he knew what Athrialix was doing with the Templar party, the mantis man responded that he wasn’t sure but that their philosopher friend was not being held against his will; at the Bloodtide’s suggestion Tk’Tak transformed into a desert bird and flew over the tower to scope out the defences, he saw a number of dwarves clad in leather armour keeping watch from the roof, each with a number of throwing spears to hand, a female dwarf matched between them, snapping out orders in a commanding, military fashion. Returning to the party, they watched as the doors opened and the dwarves came out to scavenge the fallen remnants of the Templar’s slaughtered crodlu mount that still lay on the sands, Hurgen approached them holding her hands out in friendship, after some initial tension the dwarves welcomed them, recognising that the half-giants were also former slaves of Arrakis like the dwarves own ancestors.
The dwarven commander, a woman by the name of Karam escorted them into the tower of Sandstone, a decaying watchtower being all that remained of a once glorious city, an old dwarf accompanying the group named Makad lamented that they had lost so much of their heritage that they could no longer even read the dwarven legends and stories carved into the walls, “It wasn’t enough for Arrakis to destroy our lives, they has to take our history as well” he mused bitterly, lost in his memories. Karam explained that the lower levels of the dwarven city had long since been blocked and were inaccessible; she was interrupted by Makad who told a long rambling story about a fell creature trapped in the lower levels, although Karam didn’t seem to take his story seriously, discounting them as mere legends. Karam explained that her great-grandfather Drakmar (a famous dwarven gladiator whose fame lived on even now, his exploits had inspired the Bloodtide to break free from his own bondage) had lead a group of escaped slaves north from Arrakis to reclaim their ancient home.
Hurgen asked whether they would allow the half-giants a home in Sandstone, the dwarves seemed amenable (and sympathetic) but explained there meagre resources could barely provide for themselves and the shanty town of tents filling the tower, each tent inhabited by a malnourished dwarven family; with the decrease of regular caravans due to a recent spate of bandit attacks they were barely surviving themselves. Tk’Tak suggested that perhaps, with the help of the half-giants and his friend in Shades they could set up some sort of trade concern themselves, Bloodtide was skeptical saying the Shades was a foul place rules by a man called Aráz, also known as the Slaver Lord and the Bandit King, no doubt they would be trading to the very people who were equipping the bandits.
Makad meanwhile had taken Hurgen aside and continued his rambling tales, explaining that he had been just a boy when Drakkmar bought them here, but he remembers the look of horror on the old chieftains face when he emerged from the depths having encountered the creature of the lower levels, Drakkmar said that the thing must never be allowed free and called for ten stout warriors to join him as eternal guardians; Drakkmar then descended into the depths with ten men, none of them were ever seen again but occasionally people disappeared in the tunnels nearest to the lower levels.
Under cover of darkness Athrialix took a single soldier and hunkered down in the dunes just to the north of the tower, calling upon ancient magics he cast a mantle of invisibility onto the soldier who climbed the tower, murdering the dwarven sentry on duty and dropped a rope down the side of the tower. Athrialix sent the soldier back to rendezvous with the rest of the Templar party, giving him orders to wait three days for him; sneaking into the tower Athrialix stealthily made his way through the filthy domiciles inside the tower until he located a deep well in a disused side tunnel, climbing down it he discovered that the well was blocked by chunks of fallen masonry, the lithe philosopher was forced to discard almost all of his equipment to squeeze past the obstructions and continue his descent.
A few levels up, just as the Bloodtide was worrying about where Athrialix was and what he was doing with the Templars a loud alarm bell began to sounds, the dwarves had discovered the body of the murdered sentry and sounded the alarm; during the distraction Hurgen asked Makad how they could get down to the lower levels, the old dwarf thought for a moment and then told them that there are a few wells leading down there but most are blocked and an old gate obscured by a collapsed tunnel roof. Deciding to try the gate, the half-giant Hurgen and Tk’Tak (who transformed into a mighty ursine creature) cleared the gate quickly, just giving Bloodtide time to poke around some adjoining tunnels, although he found little other than the decaying remnants of some ancient mineworks.
Beyond the gate, Tk’Tak could just make out a dull amber glow and, as the dust cleared they found themselves confronted by a roughly dwarven shape composed entirely of black stone and molten, burning rock, the creature opened it’s mouth and flames flared within the snarling maw.