How to scare your players

So last week we talked about why you might want to add a dash of terror to your games, so now let's talk about some ways to do just that. Making your game scary is very difficult as I've talked about in the past,  but here are a few good ways to get started.

Challenge: This method I've covered already a little bit. Make the players feel outmatched and threatened. I don't just mean the sort of general feeling of being weaker than someone, like standing near an important or powerful npc or person. I mean have something far deadlier than the players trying to kill them. An ancient vampire prince against their new turned whelp. A retired boxer in the presence of an ancient writhing horror from beyond the shadow of the world. A low level hero being chased by a raging T-rex. This is a situation where it's actually a good idea to try to use metagame knowledge against the players. That player who memorized the monster manuals is going to be way more scared of a monster 8 cr higher than them. A world of Darkness veteran is not going to handle the presence of something called a "True fey" nearly as well as a first timer. Of course, it should be said, don't get your players into a situation like this without at least two good ways to get them out alive!

The disturbing: Frightening and spooky imagery and symbolism are abundant in horror based media, and for good reason; they work. The little things, the things the players can't explain, can't really get a grip on, the things for which there is no answer are often the most haunting. When the ranger on watch realizes the night has gone utterly silent, there's nothing they can do but wait. When the hunter preparing to face the vampire prince  finds even fresh milk curdles in his coffee, it can only be taken as a grim omen. There are no limits to the number of creepy and haunting events. One of my favourite books, Heroes of horror, has a huge abundance of them, but almost any good horror media has plenty to work from. The important thing is that these small bits of mood setting don't become quantifiable, identifiable, and overpowering. If the Hunter spends an entire day trying to figure out why his coffee curdles, you've sidetracked the big battle. Likewise the ranger who goes out looking for animals should be promptly redirected back to their watch (possibly after a long enough search that something slipped past)

The unknown: People, and especially players, fear what they do not understand. Nothing is more sinister than being acutely informed of how little you know. This can be anything from a pitch black room, to knowing something invisible is watching, to having just enough information to know something changed. A protagonist walks across the room in the dim light only to stub their toe on their end table. They know without a doubt that it has been moved, but no one should have been inside. A cough in an empty room. A single subspace radio signal stating only "do not proceed.".  Being injected or slipped something before the culprit escapes. There are any number of ways to create a sharp sense of dread and terror just by creating a simple X factor for the players to worry about. Their imagination will always be better at scaring them than you could ever be.

The unexpected: Sometimes all it takes is a shock to put some fear in a players heart. An enemy, neither exceptionally challenging, nor disturbing, nor unknown can still become quite a terror when found under one's bed. Something sudden, something unexpected that deviates from the plan is a spectacular way to instill some unease in a player.

Hopefully this article has led to some fun and thrilling times for your group. Stay tuned for more articles all month long.

 

 

Fear at the Table

It's October, and that means it's time for a very special theme month. This month's theme is: Fear. The sheer terror and trauma that can accompany a truly gripping life or death adventure. Fear is a simple concept that all of us have felt and experienced, butsomehow when we move it into a roleplaying game it seems to get very complicated.

Let's start with the uses of fear at the table. From there we can explore all sorts of other themes, but we want to start with the basics. Let's look at the reasons to inflict fear at the table, both on players and their characters.

 

Excitement: The easiest reason to give your players a fright is for simple enjoyment and fun. People like being scared to some degree and under the right situations. In most roleplaying games there's a strong focus on victory, on success, on planning to be accomplished. But when you take that focus away, when you make them wonder if they can win, if they can even survive, then you've really changed the game. A terrifying monster, a deadly trap, a sudden betrayal, these sorts of things snatch away the comfort that many games are built. Instead players are thrown intoan excited rush to find a way to get back in control.

Advancing the plot: Fear is the simplest of all motivations, and as a storyteller it is your job to motivate players. When your party needs a reason to go on to the next quest, that reason often falls to fear. The only way to defeat the necromancer, the only cure for the spreading plague, the only jump gate out of a collapsing star system, these are quests for survival, driven by fear. This use of fear is very easy because you only have to scare either the players or their characters in order for it to succeed.  To some degree a great number of adventures are built on this premise.

Tactical effects: Of course a number of games also use fear as a status effect or condition, which I'll talk about in another article. Though obviously different systems will have different rules it's fairly universal that fear effects are meant to debuff and drive away opponents. They also serve as a flavourful way to inflict certain statuses. An attack that pushes everyone back, like a giant wingbeat, feels very different from an effect that scares you into fleeing the same distance.

Tone: Sometimes fear exists just to set the proper tone for a game. A murder mystery is hard to do when everyone is laughing and making jokes. A bit of nervousness, anxiety, and tension can help create the ideal atmosphere for your game. This is perhaps the hardest to pull off but also the most rewarding use of fear at the table and I'll be covering more of it soon. Sometimes the difference between a casual beer and pretzels game, and a gripping thrilling campaign is a sharp sense of danger, importance and weight.

 

So now that we know some of the best reasons to include fear it's time to actually get into the real guts of the issue. Keep your eyes peeled for more spine tingling articles coming soon!

Change of System

Continuing on with this month's theme of change, today we'll be talking about changing systems. I've known a great many gaming groups and one of the first things that gets asked upon meeting is "What do you play". And then the battle lines are usually drawn, and the edition wars begin, and everyone hoists the banners of their favourite systems. Sometimes though I'm lucky enough to see players speak frankly and honestly about the games they play and why they play them. This can often lead to a lot of excitement and curiosity. There are a lot of gaming systems out there and I always find it energizing to tell or show someone something new. That all being said; a different system is by definition, different and there's a lot to consider about a new system. So let's take a look at how a group can deal with a change in system.

 

A new setting: Many games have vastly different campaign settings from each other, often by necessity. Even if the rules were the same, going from a fantasy setting to a modern one can be very jarring for some players. Let alone moving from something like a world of darkness game into say a Starfinder game. Even smaller changes to a setting like going from Greyhawk to Eberron can be very hard to get used to. For a game master, the most important thing is to be gentle with your players. It can be very easy to read or write a lot of setting information only to forget that these things aren't common knowledge. It's also important to consider player dedication. Only the most devout playerswill put as much attention into learning about your setting as you. Think like an exam writer, every question and test should be based on things that you have personally had the players deal with and address. For players new to a setting, think about some of the important basic aspects of the setting and how they apply to your character. If your character is a "Asteroid miner" think about what sort of life they lead. Most importantly, ask questions of your storyteller. If you think the job is basically low class dangerous grunt work akin to a coal miner, double check the case. It may be more like an ice road trucker, doing just a little bit of extremely dangerous work and getting paid enough to need only a few such jobs a year.  Remember, when it comes to an entire world different from our own, it's going to be impossible to explain, think of, or remember everything in one night. Take your time, allow for mistakes and do over's, and be patient with each other as you explore a new world together.

 

New rules: This is going to be one of the major things to get used to when switching systems. When people talk about a new system, most often they're talking about the rules and all their differences. The most important thing to realize is that no system will be your old system. Everything else you play will be different, which can mean better, or worse, but usually it means both. Different systems will be designed for different things. A call of Cthulu game is not likely to have the best rules for computer hacking for example. Likewise a gritty world of darkness game might not have as much detail in say the intricacies of sword combat. If you judge a game based on how well it does something that it's not trying to do, you're gonna have a bad time. Instead look at what the system is designed to do really well, where it puts the most attention and focus. Go into a new system with an open mind. It can be easy to find 1 or 2 weird rules and pick them apart and hold them up as sign of a flawed system, but nobody has ever made or played a perfect game. It's also really important to highlight what you like and why. Even if I'm running a pathfinder game, I might still grab the house and army management rules from the song of ice and fire rpg. I'd use those rules because, imagine that, the system is really good at house management and war. Even a bad system has a few good things to offer, and a great system might be full of ideas you can incorporate into other games. Just like getting used to a new setting, the most important thing is to be patient and to give your best effort to learning the new setting and understanding that mistakes will happen. And that applies to players and GM's alike. Sometimes a rule is misunderstood, sometimes the errata contains something vital, and some rules are just not for every group. My recommendation is to see if you can find videos of someone explaining the rules, including examples and the like. Five minutes of example can make more sense than five hours of just reading. Maybe a rule you thought was stupid actually had a really good reason that only makes sense when you view the game as a whole. Or it could just be bad rule, every game has them, and learning which rules to ignore is as much a part of a tabletop game as learning which rules to follow.

 

Newstyles: This kind of ties into the previous two things, but many games have dramatically different approaches. Imagine playing a world of darkness game like a DND adventure, kicking in the door, killing with impunity, stealing the loot and moving to the next enemy. You would get killed or arrested very quickly because it's a modern mostly realistic setting. Similarly, a call of Cthulu game where you try to negotiate with or politically outmaneuver cultists is likely to end with you kneeling at the altar of a great old one or being force-fed a sacrificial knife. A game tends to have a sort of unspoken way it's generally meant to be played. How severe the consequences of your actions are, how dangerous the world is, how powerful your character is, and more can vary a lot. It can take time to feel out how a game should be played, what the atmosphere should be like, and what sorts of things are acceptable and not. Luckily everyone at the table is there to help each other out and come together to find the real fun of a game. Make sure to be open minded about a new game style. If you're used to hack and slash adventure and your group wants to put on some sombre roleplaying, give it your best try even though it's different. You never know, you might actually really enjoy it.

 

If you keep these things in mind when changing rules systems, you're sure to have a more fun, open, and educational experience. Seeing a new game with eyes wide open and an accepting attitude can improve not just your new campaign, but all the games to follow as you pick up bits and pieces of great gaming philosophy.

Change in players

It's September and Duck and Roll is back! This time of year is full of change both in the weather and in people's lives. To celebrate that, this month's theme is Change. All month long we'll be talking about changes in scenery, adventures, stories, and more!

To start things off we're going to talk about change at the gaming table, and some of the many forms it can come in. A tabletop game, and a gaming group as a whole is a living thing that grows, shrinks and evolves with very little provocation. I have no doubt that every person to roll a set of dice has encountered some pretty big changes in their group or groups. Let's take a look at some ways that the players of your game may change and how to make the best of a situation.

 

Loss of a player: People move away, people lose interest or get busy, and sometimes they have to quit for other reasons. When a group looses a player it can be a very sad occasion and it can leave an empty void not only at the table, but in the story and the dynamic of the group. Sometimes a DM or storyteller can fill the gap by bringing on an npc to serve a similar purpose. For example:  If the player who served as the group's link to the mafia can no longer make it, a new member of the organized crime family reaches out to join the party. If the party finds itself lacking a melee powerhouse, a mercenary companion or loyal ally may take up arms to help the heroes. (or antiheroes if that's your thing). Sometimes the role a player occupied can be replaced with an item, a plot device, or a change of situation. An adventuring party suddenly lacking a magical healer might find that a magic wand or crate of potions does almost as well. A superhero team short of their fire breather might come to realize that throwing cars is about the same damage (if somewhat messier). Some plot elements may have to get reworked fairly considerably depending on the importance of the player's character. Some common ways of adapting are to have the party take up their old friend's mantle, identity, or destiny, or to have an outside source hold the team responsible for the deeds of their former associate. There's also a lot that the other players can do to try and pick up the slack. If your lost player used to track initiative, try volunteering to fill their shoes. If your wizard can't play for a few months, maybe the Rogue or bard can grab some scrolls. It's easy to be dismayed or disappointed in a friend, and to fall to a defeatist attitude. "I guess we aren't doing any ghost stuff without our sin eater." But stepping up, having your mage learn a few dots of death magic for example, shows a maturity and initiative that is sure to get noticed. As much as I love my weekly sessions and my gaming group, as much as I've made it my life's ambition, I understand that at the end of the day other people have responsibilities to uphold. It's important not to take someone bowing out of a game personally. A lot of the time it's cleaner and easier to have someone choose not to play with your group rather than being distracted, not giving it their all, or not having fun at the table.

 

Addition of a player: Tabletop games are big, and they get bigger every year, more and more people are getting into it, and that means those players are going to wind up at the same table as you. A "New" player might be a 30 year gaming veteran, or they might have never held a character sheet before. When someone joins your group, regardless of if you're a player, storyteller, DM, Ect, it's your job to make them feel welcome and help them to get accustomed to things. Different groups have different rules and customs and it's important to be patient and open minded. If your spectacular roll was suddenly nullified because "Floor dice don't count" you might be pretty upset too if you'd always had them count before. Try to be sympathetic to this newfound stranger at your table. And if YOU are the new one at the table, do your best to pick up on how your new friends do things. Don't be afraid to offer a different point of view, but understand that no two groups are the same. From a story perspective it can be challenging to integrate a new player, especially if your plot involves a specific number of people, and it can likewise be difficult to catch someone up on the details they've missed. One of the easiest solutions to this problem is so simply explain to the player only a bit more than their character knows, and introduce their character as an outsider only meant to offer temporary aid. Soon one encounter turns into two or three, connections form, and consequences fall on both parties. In the long run of a game a player can start even halfway in and still feel like a fully fledged party member by the end.

 

 Change of role: As my groups Forever GM, I deeply understand the desire to change up roles sometimes. Everyone should get a chance to play, and some people are better off running games than being on the party. When a new player picks up or takes off the storyteller hat it can be a tumultuous time. Table rules could change, new campaigns may be formed, old plots might be rewritten, and styles may clash. When someone steps up and offers to run a game, the most important thing to remember is that everyone is on the same side. You all want to have fun, and nobody shows up to the table with the intent to ruin other people's enjoyment. That being said, some people do things very differently, and not everyone is cut out to sit behind the screen. And not all great storyteller's make great players either. The easiest way to help a transition like this along is to come together as a group, to listen to each other, and be willing to try out different styles. If the new GM isn't working out, see if you can all clearly come to the conclusion as to why, and find a solution that works for everyone. It's easy to fall into the same roles as always, the same GM running for the same players, but only by trying new things and new compositions can you really find out what works best for everyone.

 

Change of identity:  Sometimes people change, and those changes aren't always easy for the person involved or for the people around them. Some people are more comfortable when their character has elements of them self in them, and when a part of someone's identity changes they may want that change to be reflected in their character. Of all the changes that can occur at the table, these sorts of changes are the easiest to know what to do, even if some people have a lot more trouble dealing with them. All that required here is communication. If a player wants to go by a different name or pronoun, all they should need to do is communicate that desire. If a player is no longer comfortable with a certain type of content, they should only need to mention it and that aspect can be downplayed to a comfortable level or taken out entirely. When a player undergoing a major life change wants that change to be reflected in their character there are two main ways to handle it. The first is to have the character also undergo a similar change, which depending on the game or setting might be a very quick change, or it may be a very long one. This experience, if done right can even be very theraputic for a player and can help enrich the setting and the character's arc. The other option is to retroactively change things so the character always had the qualities being changed to. This option is much faster and easier to implement and requires a lot less attention. Fortunately it's not hard to figure out which to use, just ask the player what they'd prefer and proceed from there.

 

Hopefully this has helped some people deal with big changes at the gaming table among their players. It can always be a trying time when the things we're used to change, but hopefully this can help keep you centered and give you some guidance for getting back on track.

Interface Zero review: Part 1

Hey all! So I know I’ve been pretty quiet lately, moving and a few side projects have kept me on my toes, but what free time I have had has been spent withInterface Zero

It’s a Dystopian Cyberpunk game, very similar in tone to Shadowrun, but it’s for Pathfinder!

I’ve known a lot of people who want to get into Shadowrun but can’t really take the time or focus to learn a whole new system, this is your answer. It immediately grabbed my attention and did not let go. And now I have a minute, I wanna share it with you all. But more than just praising something I really like, I want to also hold it up as an example of game design done really well. To that end I’m going to do a few articles talking about different aspects of the book and what they do right and and wrong, what you can learn from them. So I’m going to start by talking about where your readers are going to start looking. 

Everyone who I know will, upon getting a new pathfinder book, immediately zero in on the foundations of character building, the Races and the Classes. If you are creating a new setting, or detailing a large sprawling adventure, or exploring a major topic, it’s always a good idea to include something eye catching and exciting. Does Interface Zero do this? You bet it does! Let’s take a look at the races:

The Races: 
Android
Biodroid
Cyborg
Human
Human 2.0
Hybrid
Simulacra

I read that and I was already hooked on the line, I was excited and more importantly, I wanted to know more. Once I did actually read about each of the races I was very pleasantly surprised. Each of these races is really well balanced and incredibly well thought out. In a lot of pathfinder games, Human tends to be the most popular choice, since they’re so easy to relate to. And of course they’re one of the most mechanically powerful in a normal Pathfinder game. But Interface Zero has made every race not only exciting and relatable, but also has balanced them very well against each other mechanically. My personal favourite is the Human 2.0, which is a genetically engineered “perfect” human. And what I love is that even with a concept like that they found a way to balance it against a regular human in a way that fits their world and keeps the game fair. 

Each race has a different sort of vibe or feeling, and allows a player to explore a different side of the world. A vat grown simulacra has a very different view of the world than someone whose wealthy family paid to have them be born a Human 2.0 and they both have a different outlook from someone who is as much machine as human. This is how you introduce races properly, not just for aesthetic and statistical variety, but for giving your players different lenses through which they can view your world. Okay, Races check out. But what about classes? Let’s see:

The Classes: 
Agent
Cybermonk
Gearhead
Gunner
Hacker
Idol
Investigator
Medic
Sprawler

Alright, this definitely checks out. A whole assortment of immediately evocative ideas and exciting character concepts are available. If your race is the lens you view the world with, then your class is how you affect the world around you. Thematically and statistically your class is possibly even more important than race, and these classes are rock solid. Even the names and roles that we see tell volumes about the world. This list of classes contains hints of government operations, an abundance of violence and harm, criminal activity,  mystery, a thriving entertainment industry, and tells us a lot about the technology available, just from the names of the classes. This is how you tightly pack details of your world into every little nook and cranny.

Just looking at the race and class options alone can already stir up a ton of fantastic thoughts and possibilities. What came to mind right away for me: A simulacra that was genetically engineered to be the perfect cyber-noir detective, now trying to track the case of their own creation. An android medic that feels like a walking talking WebMD, diagnosing cancer and terrible maladies over minor symptoms. A hybrid catgirl/catboi idol taking over the charts with their phenomenal jpop. And a Cyborg Gearhead who interfaces with their sweet motorcycle directly and converses with it like a close friend.

And much like the races a lot of attention has gone into balancing out the classes. Hacker’s may be a stand in for wizards but the balance is so much better because of the nature of their hacking and the way the class is designed. A cybermonk is able to eschew many of the weaknesses and flaws of the traditional monk class, and even the Idol is given abilities that allow it to shine, and the game’s reduced reliance on direct combat is perfectly highlighted by the class. 


If your book or homebrew contains major categories like this, pay a lot of attention to how they’re presented, make them easy to find and easy to understand. If you can tell half as much to your reader as Interface Zero than you’ve started off strong.  Keep a cybereye open on the worldnet for my next article where I’ll keep talking about this book, and the pitfalls and benefits of referencing, using and lifting mechanics from core. It’ll be more interesting than it sounds really.

Myths and you

June is Myth month, and that means all month long we'll be looking at myths, legends, and the lore that you can add into your very own campaign. Before we dive too deep into the topic, I want to take this article just to explore a bit about what a myth can be, and why it matters.

 

So to start off, what is a myth? In the context of this article and your setting a myth is a legend or part of the setting that may have happened at some point in the past and is still remembered today. Almost anything can become a myth or legend, and thus a part of your world if it's important enough. Most of the finest and enjoyable works of fiction contain fascinating pieces of lore. Brann the builder crafted the wall in the frozen north of westeros using magic and giants, a wall so important it became known as THE wall. The Millennium Falcon and her pilot Han Solo made the Kessel run in just 12 Parsecs. John Wick. Just John wick, the movie, the character, the franchise is all essentially one giant mythos about how cool that character is. A rich mythos and legend makes for a rich world. Just look at the influence of stories and legends on our own world.

Epic sagas about those people long passed, and those still around, add weight and importance to a scene, a place, a character or an interaction.  No warrior, no matter how gleaming their armor and stylish their weapon, will convey the same message as "Dragonslayer Ornstein".  One is a man, the other is a legend. Of course with enough time and world building you can convey great deals of information about a character at a glance. After all, not one word needs to be spoken when a lightsabre burns to life, for you to know that a Jedi has decided to do battle.

Legendary figures can also help give your players something great to aspire to. If the greatest Hunter in history brought down a mage, a werewolf and a vampire in one night, then your players have an immediate idea of where the bar is. And some night, far into the campaign, after the players kill a vampire and their dominated lycanthrope, only to be betrayed by their mage friend and have to put them down, they'll realize they made it, they've become legends.

The lore and history of the world can also though help you to drive home the theme of a campaign. If your world is dark and sombre then a few legends of heroes who fell, who failed,  or who won at too great a cost, can really drive home that feeling. Likewise if your game is an epic swashbuckling adventure then tales of great heroes and their phenomenal drunken exploits might serve better.

Legends and myths can play a great myriad of roles for you campaign, and in the coming weeks you'll learn all about those bountiful opportunities.

Instant Myths

All this month we're exploring the theme of Myths. Myths and legends are wonderful and a great way to enrich your setting, but sometimes you don't have enough time to finely craft a tale. Well here's a quick and easy shorthand you can use to generate myths and legends on the fly. All you do is roll on the chart of Random myths, and then if needed roll on the secondary chart indicated or fill in the blanks yourself.

 

Random Myths:

1    Killed a powerful monster (roll on powerful monsters chart)

2     Has a legendary mount or pet (roll on powerful monsters chart)

3     Prevented a terrible crime (roll on terrible crimes chart)

4     Committed a terrible crime (roll on terrible crimes chart)

5     Saved someone important (roll on important people chart)

6     Murdered someone important (roll on important people chart)

7     Fled or failed a great deed (roll on great deeds chart)

8     Performed a great deed (roll on great deeds chart)

9     Brokered peace with a neighboring faction

10   Roll twice

 

Powerful Monsters

1   Dire wolf

2    Kraken

3  Great shuddering ooze

4    Manticore

5  Griffon

6    Chimera

7    Talking snake

8    Magical horse, Unicorn, pegasus, hippogriff ect.

9    Ancient Machine

10 Dragon

 

Terrible crimes:

1     Roll again but the event occurs at a sacred ceremony, wedding, funeral ect.

2     The death of a diplomat or holy person.

3     Wrongful imprisonment of a hero or many innocents

4     Corruption or taint of the land itself

5     Destruction of a holy relic or work of art

6     Theft of a priceless item

7     Gruesome torture

8     Murder of an innocent

9     Betrayal of a loved one

10     Massacre or genocide

 

 

Great deeds:

1     Heroic sacrifice of one's self

2     The redemption of someone evil.

3     An act of fantastic charity or generosity

4     A great act of mercy against a sworn foe

5     Formation of a just country or kingdom

6     Creation of a beautiful work of art

7     Discovery of a forgotten sacred site

8     Retrieval of a long lost relic

9      The defeat of an evil warrior in fair combat

10     Defeat of a wicked mage

 

Important people

1     Religeous figure, Priest, Rabbi, ect

2     General, Admiral, other important military figure

3     Wealthy merchant/head of a big corperation

4     Scholar/inventor/scientist

5     Famous actor

6     Popular musciain

7     Witness in an important trial

8     The last remaining member of a venerable or respect group or species

9     Major/Duke/Barron

10     Ruler/Prime minister/head of state

Leafy Lore

A lot of the time, when I get excited about a topic, I tend to put the apparatus before the Kwalish if you catch my meaning. I've gotten a few messages asking me for some really good examples of how to incorporate plants into a setting and I'm happy to oblige. I'm going to lay out two examples, one is taken from one of my all time favourite settings, and the other is something I created for a custom setting I ran, hopefully they'll help give you some inspiration.

Example#1

When magic came to the world, it fell from the stars as a seed. A single magnificent seed that burrowed deep into the earth. Over time that seed grew, and grew, and grew. It fed on the natural energy of the world and became rich with magic, the first magic. And after a thousand years that tree bore a single fruit. The person who consumed that fruit was the first spellcaster, and from her descended all other mages. Eventually, this first mage became one with the tree of magic, turning herself into a great living being of magic and wood, but for all her power she was not able to stop her apprentices from sealing her in a great orb of stone that became the moon.

That is a very simplified take on some complex lore, but it establishes several important connections . The idea of all magic coming from a single seed, can show the tremendous power of growth from small beginnings (particularly fitting in rpg's). The idea that magic comes from beyond our world, and that it draws on the power of our planet introduces some fascinating questions about the world of your setting and what lies beyond. The concept of fruit being the medium by which magic became something humans could use can draw exciting religious comparisons. The idea of wood absorbing and suppressing or conducting magic can also have a ton of applications and mechanics. Lastly, the idea of powerful sealing magic forming the moon creates a constant reminder every night about the origin of magic and the moral lessons of the legend (depending on how you spin the story). A simple one paragraph origin for magic helps to create a bushel of blossoming options for players and GM's alike to play off of.

 

Example#2

The war between the vampiric blood god and the immortal Lich lord was a fierce and terrible battle. The Vampires were stronger and faster by far, but the lich lord had countless hordes of zombies and skeletons, shambling at his command. But then the Lich lord discovered the Vampires secret weakness to wooden stakes. The cunning necromancer took a battalion of his skeleton warriors and destroyed them, grinding them into necromantic bone meal and using the dust and marrow to feed and nurture those trees. When they grew tall and powerful with shards of bone woven into their bark the Necromancer retook control of the plants, using them as an army of walking undead trees. With countless branches and thorns and minions the Lich the lord was finally able to overcome the so called blood god, impaling him andhis minions and growing great trees around them. To this day the bone wood forest remains, each might tree still feeding off of the necromantic power deep within.

By tying necromancy with trees and life we create a very different dichotomy than we see in most games. The idea of controlling trees and plants with necromancy could spring into an entire academy of "Green" necromancers whose powers are still very much in line with nature. And we have the added bonus of having a spectacularly interesting location. The forest of bone could be a haunting and terrifying place, or a beautiful and majestic monument to the defeat of the blood god, or anything in between. And a setting like that can certainly place a new spin on Treants and other living plant creatures.

Hopefully these examples have been helpful in incorporating plants into your own game.

Campaign Model: Growing strong

Campaign Model: Growing strong

This campaign model tells the tale of a single powerful work of magic going awry. As such it's suitable for fantasy games. One could also replace the magic potentially with toxic or biological mutation or even a freak of evolution. The tone can easily be adjusted from light and adventurous to bitch black tragedy or horror. As it stands, the adventure is designed with elements of mystery, horror, and fantasy. It's a slow build to a massive confrontation.

The story is as follows:

It all started with a simple tree. A beloved tree, with deep strong roots covered in moss and fungus. A tree that stood for decades, the favoured tree of a humble nature lover.  And then there was a moment, a moment of beauty and a single instance of magic. Perhaps it was a blessing from above, perhaps the humble nature lover had earned the power through training or sacrifice or the admiration of a fairy. But regardless of how, they were blessed with the power to bring a plant to life, to sentience and sapience with a touch. But when the moment came to lay hand upon the tree, there was a mistake. Instead the magic flowed into the fungus, deep into the earth, spreading across a massive network of fungi so expansive that it covers much of the world itself. (And of course if it suits your game you can replace this origin with a network of fungal roots reaching a spilled pool of toxic waste.)

Now a single massive organism lives, and breathes and feeds and grows beneath the surface of the world. It hears words whispered in the royal gardens, it feels the indiscretions hidden in the cornfield, it drinks the blood of the battlefields and it comprehends all of it, constantly feeding an intellect as vast as the organism itself. It knows the knowledge of the open world, and through this it learns.

As it waits and listens, drinking in the knowledge of the world, it is discovered by a small coven who form a cult around it. They meet in tunnels webbed with roots and fungi and perform their strange rites in honour of the mushroom god they have discovered. Depending on the mood you want to go with these could be entirely mundane beings believing themselves mystical connected to this world sized life form, or they could have true magical power. Likewise, the tone can decide what exactly the cult is doing. A darker game could find the cultists abducting humans and using them as fertilizer to feed the their god, whereas a lighter game may have them pressuring others to join, stealing garden supplies and mulch, or consuming dangerous psychoactive in an effort to commune with the plant. But regardless of their motives and abilities, they do manage to catch the entities attention, and through their supplication it comes to believe that is indeed a god.

When the players inevitably foil the cult, this being takes notice of them, deciding to enact the godly vengeance that is promised by its cultists. It's first attempt should be minor but mystifying. It could be a great sinkhole opening up beneath one of the players, exposing a deep root filled tunnel, or it could be several small savage mushroom creatures attacking from a small hole in the earth. Even something subtler still, like the player's garden dying and rotting and filling with fungus in short order., and then finding the ground beneath the garden has opened up into small tunnels. Enough to tell the players that something is definitely going on, and to lead them to a network of tunnels similar to where the cult was, but smaller.

From here the players may want to wanted into the tunnels alone or they might group up to explore. Depending on how things worked out with the cultists they may seek out surviving members or victims. The important thing here is to put on more pressure. if they visit cultists they get waylaid on the way, by living fungi, felled trees, or more stronger mushroom minions. You may also choose to have the cultist or their victims also attacked, their fate also left to help enforce the tone of the game. If the players advance into the tunnels confront them with choking roots, or toxic spores, or animate mushrooms, nothing too strong for them, but enough to tell them they're on the right track. Another major boon of this model is that if the players try to leave or flee, the organism is everywhere.

If the players back off, give them a brief reprieve, let them catch their breath, plan their next move, and then as they implement that plan, put the pressure back on, no stronger than last time, but just a reminder that they can't escape this. If they press on into the tunnels heading deeper, then it's time to get psychological. The being communicates with them, and it wants the players to surrender to it. This can be anything from demanding they become it's champions, to submitting to fungal infection, to earnestly asking them to lay down and die amidst its roots. The important thing is that these are not the idle growling demands of a monster. They are the sweet cajoling words of a god, of a being so mighty that it already knows the party will die and fail, so they should save themselves the trouble. Sine few parties ever back down when asked to they'll likely press on. At this point wet stomp the gas and throw a big threat at them. Good options are a vast cavern with a massive fungal creature, a hidden clearing on the surface with fugally infected animals, optimally in varying states of decay, or just massive tentacle like roots. When the party wins the battle, they'll quickly realize the war is just beginning. This is a good chance for ominous messages from around the world. If players have friends across the world, have it drop one of their names and what they're doing. If there's a war the players have investment in, have the creature give ominous news from the front, or just tell them what their family back home is up to. This is a power play, this is the god revealing at least in part how expansive and powerful it is.

At this point the players should be allowed a little reprieve, a chance to draw back and consider their options. They can consider a lot of approaches here, Magical, Chemical, Alchemical, Psychological, the important thing is that as long as they settle on a somewhat reasonable goal, have it seem like it should work. If it seems like they really need a bone, you could even have them discover there's a powerful heart at the center of the mass, grown around where the spell was laid. Regardless of the approach as a general rule it should take 1 adventure to prepare and a second to implement. If they want to blow the heck out of it with explosives, that's 1 adventure to get the goods, and 1 to place and detonate. If the approach is magical it should be 1 adventure to find the info and another to bring it to bare. You get the idea.

It's also important to remember, the players by this point should be aware the creature can see and hear them in an outdoor environment. So if they decide anyways to prepare their plan outside near all the plants and moss and fungi, then take note. Have the plant react accordingly, it's not a stupid entity that will allow it to be destroyed. If it knows where the players are going and what they plan to do ahead of time, it should take steps to prevent it. whether that means taking over the chemical plant, infecting the sage who knows it's weakness, or anything else.  Depending on campaign length, that could mean just making an encounter a bit harder, throwing in a few enemies or an extra obsticle, or it could mean completely foiling that option and forcing them to go on another adventure. That last option should also only be used if the players actually have more than one idea about how to stop the entity.

Finally all the preparations are set, the players have what they need and have finally begun moving to place it or enact it. At this point the entity offers a truce, a partnership, after all it is a being with more knowledge and power than any other , surely it could turn the tide of any conflict. Of course this being would never actually be the tool of mere mortals, but if it can buy enough time it can heighten it's defenses and defeat the players. Hopefully the players will see through this ruse, and together defeat the massive being, ending it's existence and saving themselves and perhaps the world.

 

 

Plants in your game

So last week I talked a bit about how to make plants important and relevant in your story, but now let's look at what you can actually DO with them. This is, how to use Plants in your campaign.

Plants in narrative: As I eluded to last week, there are a ton of ways to use plants from a narrative perspective. They can of course be symbolic, using the plant as a narrative shorthand, as a representation of a concept or ideal. A certain event or place or character becomes linked with that plant, andit allows you to say so much with few words. Of course a plant can also be much more directly relevant to the plot. A small town's survival may hinge on recovering a rare herb, a sprig of mistletoe may be the only weakness of a corrupted god, or perhaps a gigantic network of mushrooms is threatening all of the world.

Plants and their mechanics. All it takes is adding a few basic spell effects to rare wild plants and you can create some fascinating foliage. Imagine wild Goodberry bushes, or lotus blossoms that when brewed into a tea make one invisible. Of course there are plenty of other ways to get creative with plants. Magic vines that serve as enchanted rope, mundane herbs that provide bonuses to skill checks when used properly, and of course there's good old fashioned cover and concealment. There are a limitless number of ways you can use plants and tie them to mechanical benefits to help make them stand out to your players.

Plants as obstacles. Of course as helpful as plants can be, they can also make fantastic foils. From classic plant based monsters, to overgrown brambles too thick to pass, right to massive treetop fortresses that must be besieged or scaled. Plants can also serve as opposition in less conventional ways, such as a thieves guild trading in opiates or other naturally derived narcotics. And one of my personal favourites, is to convert mechanical traps into organic ones. A scythe trap becomes a snapping man eating flytrap and a dart trap becomes a blossom that ejects deadly thistles without needing to modify the rules much at all.

And all of these above options are very simple to implement, taking very little extra work. All you need is to give the new plant a name, a tidbit of lore about it, and what it does. Just make sure you keep a record of your plants because they become more potent and make your world more immersive with repeated usage.

 

Important Plants

May has arrived, and since "April Showers bring May flowers" we're going to be celibrating Plant Month! All month long we'll be talking about plants, herbs, trees, fruits and veggies and of course plant monsters. So if you're vine with that then let's get right down to the root of it and talk about plants in the campaign setting, and in particular, how to make them important.

Do you know where to find Nirnroot? There's a good chance that you do. You might know it grows on the banks of rivers in Cyrodil and Skyrim. You may even know to listen for the gentle humming noise it makes. And you might beware that someone asking for it is probably up to no good since it's used in strong poisons and for invisibility. What can you tell me about Calatheas flowers? Exactly, you probably wouldn't recognized one if you saw it, and those are real! All it takes is a little bit of investment to turn something boring and mundane into something that adds depth and breadth to your entire world.

So how do we make plants interesting? No problem, there's three simple ways. First, as in the example above, is to make the plant tied to practical knowledge. If the players know that Liander berries made into a salve will heal 1 hp with a heal check, you can bet they'll remember that. Likewise when the players are toe to toe with a troll and they spot a bush of Firenettles, they'll have quite an easier time if they remember the burning venom those plants bristle with. 

Second, you can create symbolic or historical significance. If the world was grown as the fruit of a great apple tree, then it's easy to understand a religion of growth and creation using apples as gifts to the poor. They would cut and peel the apples for the young and elderly and recite the story of the creation of the world as they did so. Then sometimes when they return they'd have the children tell the story while they peel. And then upon a the third visit they let the child carefully peel the fruit, with guidance, when they talk. And finally the priests need only hand an apple to a youngdisciple and let them spread the word as they share their fruit. And when the players travel to the next city over and see the royal army chopping wood, there will be something eerie, something surreal, about watching a soldier cut down an apple tree to burn for a night's warmth.

Third, you can create personal investment. The above example is good, but if the player was once a street urchin being fed apple slices, it's even better.  A sailor marooned on an island with only thistles and prickly pears to consume may find themselves quite shaken when a creature of living thorns attacks. Or they may hunt down their old crew and slay them before stuffing their mouths with briars as their calling card. When you make something personal, you make it memorable, you give its importance to the player and allow them to grow it.

The best thing is that these benefits are not only cumulative, but they are exponentially stronger when stacked. Take an assassin, who grew up as an urchin living off of the apples of the priests. When they find out that the ruler is in the service of a wicked flame god, who would use the world as kindling, the path is clear. They take the seeds of a thousand apples  and brew a single dose of Cyanide meant for the king's lips. The perfect blaend of practicality, worldbuilding, and personal tale.

Of course, this is just the seed of an idea. Keep an eye out for future articles which will help grow this concept and provide a bounty of fruitful plant based opportunities.

Weather and the world

So in the last two weeks I covered How weather can impact the story, and how it can impact the mechanics of your game. This week I want to go into what weather can say about your setting as a whole.

Some places in the world are nearly synonymous with certain weather. Canada gets snow, Scotland gets rain and fog, Britain gets rain, Texas gets heat waves, you get the idea. Even though of course these ideas aren’t always accurate they are a part of the very mental image of these locations.

Your world can have that very same effect and make use of those powerful associations. Imagine a powerful NPC who always seems to show up during raging thunderstorms. A vast city perpetually wracked by blowing sands to the point that every market is held in great indoor buildings. A little village built on great stilts to account for the many flash floods common to the area. These are memorable in an instant, they are evocative and reactive. The moment a thunderstorm picks up and your players double check their battle ready you will know you’ve done it.

The best way to establish this connection is really quite simple, just use repetition and integration. If a city has different weather every day, it’s kind of just a normal city. There’s nothing really noteworthy about changing weather patterns. But when it’s rain, rain, rain, torrential rain, rain, flash flood, the players will notice a pattern. Secondly, all of my examples in the previous paragraph are extra easy to remember because they have something tied to them. The town knows they get floods, so they put their city on stilts. There is some aspect of the location, of the world, that has taken notice and accounted for a pattern. These are the details that players will remember. These are the things that let them have gondola duels, and parkour chases in raging sandstorms, and to kick someone out a window and into frozen lake 600 ft below.

There’s really not much more to say, it’s a simple but powerful concept that’s really easy to implement and I hope it helps bring your game to another level.

Weather and mechanics

Now we step into the crunchy snow. Now we feel the mechanical clockwork roll about beneath our feet. Now we talk about how the weather affects our mechanics, our combat, our challenges.

First and foremost, weather is almost universally a penalty. This makes sense because the default rules for any game always assume that nothing is aiding or hindering you. Once another factor is added in, it's going to make almost anything harder. From climbing a rope slicked with sleet, to firing an arrow through howling wind, to listening for invaders amidst a rainstorm. But let's think about that last example and consider this: Someone else' penalty is your bonus.

Because bad weather is generally going to penalize a lot of actions it's important to consider how it can be used most effectively, and how different systems are going to be affected by this. Consider a gritty realistic game where failure is common and perilous. Having a rain slicked precipice can quickly turn an encounter into a desperate struggle to hold on while battling an equally hindered foe, and there's a very real risk that everyone is going to fall to their death. Conversely in a more high action, high power game a slippery floor might be something you can easily negate with a power in order to gain a small advantage. Likewise in that high powered game maybe a fall from the roof to the back yard is just a good way to tack on a bit of extra damage before the duel continues on ground level.

Introducing volatile weather also allows a GM to have an extra bit of say in an encounter and a chance to add a little fudge to a fight. A sword fight in an open field on a sunny day between a player and their foe is pretty likely to be a test of skill with little else involved. But on a mountainside during a blizzard? A player at risk of having a boring fight may find them self slipping and clinging to the stone for dear life. A villain catching the upper hand may find a small, or very very large blob of snow suddenly dropping upon them. And a defeated enemy who should ideally re-occur can take a quick tumble off a mountain to "certain" death only to return later, frostbitten and vengeful.

Weathercan also pull double duty with combat as a great way to make a switcheroo. After a few rounds of battling Orcs on a mountainside, the ferocious sounds of battle trigger the real encounter, a deadly avalanche! Or perhaps the player on duty finds them self scanning pitch blackness during a torrential storm only for a single bolt of lightning to suddenly illuminate the dozens of werewolves lurking in the blackness. That second one is an especially good surprise if a player takes off their metal armor for fear of being struck by lightning.

And of course some powers and abilities directly rely on or affect weather themselves. Powerful solar weapons, crackling storm magic, the power to bend the elements, all of these are great ways to showcase the scope and ability of a character, PC and NPC alike.

 

Final Fantasy Pathfinder

Alright, so this month is weather month, but I'm actually going to take some time to talk about a homebrew I'm really passionate about. I can do that cause I do what I want.

I'm gonna talk about the Final Fantasy Pathfinder homebrew. You can find it right here

It's a totally free fan project that has been steadily building for years and years, basically since pathfinder came out. This site is an absolute treasure trove of amazing homebrew. It has a huge selection of classes, archetypes, prestige classes, feats, items, races and even monsters all from the lore of the final fantasy series.

Each class and archetype has new features, fascinating abilities, limit breaks, and generally well written and easy to understand powers. Every Final Fantasy game is a little different, with different classes and abilities and takes on what those classes do and how they operate. But no matter what game, class, or character you admire you can find exactly what you're looking for.

There's a whole slew of extra custom features like the variant multiclassing from pathfinder unchained, but updated for a multitude of their own base classes. More than that they have feats and skills that compliment thetechnology found in Final fantasy games. Everything is well designed and integrated, even to the point of including a Materia system and a Magitek system.

In addition to all the amazing classes and feats and character options they've even imported and updated a vast array of technology from the D20 Modern and D20 Future systems and they spared no effort. You see the modern and future D20 systems use a wealth score instead of having you buy items from a depleting pool of gold. This means that they couldn't just grab the item and cost and slap it into their website, they had to come up with a price for it. Now technically there is a chart for converting the wealth score needed into a specific dollar value, however this conversion method produces some incredibly strange results. But FFD20 went a step beyond, instead they laboriously picked out new Gil values for each item that actually make sense. That might seem like a little thing, but as a designer myself I can tell you how much work it can be, and how easy and tempting it is to take the easier shortcut in exchange for a less quality end result. But they went above and beyond every step of the way.

As with any homebrew system there's always the potential for a few things to go a little wonky, and this content is by no means flawless. A few class features are a little tricky to understand or vague. And a Few of the skills and items are adapted from D20 future and modern in strange ways and a couple of feats don't match with changes made to class. But that brings me to another major strong suit, the site is still updating and being improved. The last update was less than a month ago and they're still going strong, making changes and improvements all the time.

I've always been a huge advocate of good homebrew and you'll find few places with such a high concentration of amazing free content. I could go on and on detailing my favourite races and classes and picking apart all the little things I love, but I'll leave it with this. Check out this site, donate if you can, and make your next pathfinder game a little more fantastic.

Weather and storytelling

April showers bring May flowers, and that's why April is Weather month! All month long we'll be looking at the nuisances of weather, and to kick things off let's look at weather and mood.

Weather has a powerful impact on our emotions. Everyone can relate to waking up to a warm sunny day and feeling a little bit better, or having a nice rainy day as the perfect backdrop for a warm drink and a good book. We've all had our plans changed by a sudden storm or a beautiful day. Likewise weather can play an integral part of a scene and make it far more memorable. What was the weather like when Gaston fought the Beast? How about when Spiderman kissed Mary Jane upside down? When The Bride and O-ren IshiI had their showdown?

My advice is to make sure the players always have a sense of the weather. This should be part of setting any scene even if indoors so the players have a feeling of the world. This also helps re-enforce and remind players what the seasons is like and the environment of the area around them. Describing day after day of bright sun and heat is fitting for a desert environment, and when it finally rains a savage downpour of needle like stinging rain it will make the scene that much more memorable.

Another useful tool for conveying emotion is the change of weather. When the storm breaks, when the sky turns dark, when the snowfall warms into rainfall, when rain becomes hail. These moments of transition are often used to highlight a turning point or a transition.

Weather can also influence the story as a plot point. The players may have to delay a trip across a desert or body of water due to a bad storm or sudden earthquake. Another good option is to give the players a choice. If time is a major factor you could give them the choice between crossing the desert in a wild sandstorm, or waiting a few days for it to pass.

Once you get into the habit of describing the weather it will eventually become second nature, a regular part of setting your scene and before long your players will know to ask all on their own if you forget!

 

Campaign Model: The Travel Ban

This is a simple layout for a short campaign focused around a theme of travel, classism, and discrimination.  The concept is pretty simple. A corrupt and megalomaniacal dictator has imposed a complete ban on traveling into their country from certain other countries, namely those of our players. But our players have life or death emergencies that they cannot be kept from and they will not be deterred.

This campaign works best in a modern or sci-fi setting but can work as well in a fantasy setting in which overland travel is either not feasible or nonexistent and the alternatives are strictly monitored. This model is also well suited to smaller groups with a focus on strong narrative and role-playing.

 

Setup: The establishment of the premise is vitally important. For this campaign to work you have to really sell the feeling of xenophobia , paranoia, and oppression present in the country the players need to enter. You must make them believe that this totalitarian country or kingdom can and does function at least on some level. A good dictator always needs a scapegoat, an enemy they can fear monger about, a threat to rally others against, and in this case the players find themselves caught in the widely cast net of potential targets.

The other side of that coin is the conveyance of where the players are now. In a campaign filled with propaganda and lies about their starting country, it's crucial that the players are shown the truth of where they're from. What the people are really like, this is vital to the theme of the entire campaign.

Couple with those two ideas the setup must also sell the emotional need to get into the country. each character needs a powerful personal investment. An organ that must be delivered, a child being born, a loved one on a death bed, a war to end. A soldier or interpreter who has served the country loyally, now finding that with their cover blown and enemies on their trail they cannot return home. A parent whose child was sent on the flight before them, now separated. Refugees who promised aid and then, after leaving everything behind, denied it once they've come so far. These characters need something for which they will break the law and risk their very lives for, make it powerful, make it deep.

That's why I highly recommend devoting an entire session to the setup, to playing through each characters introduction, their struggles, and their exploration of their current environment.

 

The campaign: With the setup established, some or all of the party finds out there are other ways to get around the travel ban, that such a restriction really only keeps out those who follow the law. But using these means will involve violating that law, traveling with criminals, and risking their safety and security. The first step may be following a lead to someone who can produce illegal passports or a similar stand in, and procuring their service. This of course will come at a cost not easily paid by those on the run, the exact details can vary but it should cost them more than cash.

With passports secure, next, travel must be obtained. This might mean boarding an old unreliable ship in cramped fetid quarters, possibly even stowing away. It might mean sneaking across a patrolled border into a neighbouring country that was arbitrarily excluded from the ban. The players could even procure a ride aboard a private aircraft or space ship one way or another. To help heighten the contrast between communities in our opposing countries, consider this travel being procured as an act of charity, a kindness, a sacrifice made by someone else, a gift from a near perfect stranger with a trusting and sympathetic heart. This will perfectly oppose the blind jingoism and paranoia of the other country.

Hardship follows the players and disaster strikes. Their vehicle hijacked, the border erupting in a firefight, their ship attacked by pirates, but one way or another a life or death battle ensues. The players are pushed to the limits of what they're willing to do, willing to endure, for the ones they love, to accomplish their goals.

Finally, the arrival and the last obstacle. The Players reach the country, now they must make their way to their respective goals, possibly facing one more challenge as a group, or perhaps each facing an individual hardship. The country they've come to does not want them, or at the very least the law of the land doesn't. This final challenge can be resolved in a number of ways appropriate to the players and in a way that will satisfy their individual arcs. And with that last challenge completed they may finally enjoy the fruit of their labour, complete the goals they set out for and resolve their stories.

This campaign model uses themes and ideas that are all too real and painful for some people, and while some might consider it insensitive to make a campaign based on these real events I strongly advocate it. The games we play are a part of us, and if we can learn to better explore the tragedies and struggles and triumphs that others around the world are going through, we should grab that opportunity. Interaction is the most powerful method of teaching, and only through teaching and education can we break down the walls that others build out of fear and ignorance.

Dimensional travel

So far we've talked about travel through the air, over the water, and across the land. But now we traverse into a bold new territory: Dimensional travel. So obviously this may not be applicable to every type of game, though a surprising number of campaigns and systems make room for one kind of dimensional journey or another. These voyages are more complex but can also be even more rewarding than more mundane modes of travel, so let's jump right in.

Meaning: First and foremost, when you're talking about journeying to another dimension it's important to decide what exactly that means. Are the players venturing into an alternate version of their own world? Will they meet their own evil or bizarre counterparts? Are they venturing to another plane of existence where the fundamental rules of physics are different? Are they literally reaching another dimension in the sense of becoming two or fourth dimensional (or more).  All of these choicr can lead to some very different and very exciting options, but it's crucially important to decide how these dimensions work. Are they infinite in scope? Are there an infinite number of them? Consider the answers to these questions and the implications of those answers right from the outset.

Method: How are the players getting to another dimension? Do they need to follow tunnels into the depths of the earth and walk a secret passage into Hell itself? Is there a great machine built by ancient beings that can tear a bleeding hole in reality? Do they have the power of a magical pixie that lets them become two dimensional? Is it as simple as a mad scientist with a portal gun or as complex as an entire campaigns worth of preparation?

Description: One of the most important among a GM's jobs is to explain the surroundings of the players. When they venture into a strange world entirely foreign and bizarre that is no small task. Always remember the five senses when setting a scene. Touch, Sound, Sight, Taste, and Smell. Give that to the players and let them drink in the feeling of this strange new realm.  Even in a modern setting, something as little as, "The scent of fried chicken fills your nose, But in this world, Kentucky Fried Chicken smells like McNuggets." Is enough to send a shiver down the players spines and fill them with a sense of wrongness.

Encounters: When it comes to interdimensional peril, there is literally no limit to what you might want to throw at the players. Always remember however that a change of locale can be very disorienting and can change fundamental aspects of encounters. A barbarian who has absolutely annihilated every foe thus far with their war hammer might find a little bit of extra challenge on an elemental plane of water, as might a wizard who relies on verbal spell components. Likewise a smooth talking lawyer might find it hard to talk their way out of a run in with a posse of werewolves when the laws and people they know don't exist. And needless to say, if your players get teleported to a dimension with roiling lakes of fire you had better put a darn guardrail up or be ready for a player to fall in the lava.

 

Air travel

We've looked at land Travel, and at Sea Travel, and now it's time to look at air travel. In many games there are few better ways to get from point A to point B than flying. The advantages of flight are numerous: A relatively direct course, lack of obstruction, traffic, rough terrain, tolls, and far less likely to run into ambushing foes. When incorporating flight into your games there are several important factors to consider.

Danger: It's a basic tenant of adventuring that air vehicles are the best places for awesome encounters. Amazing air ship ambushes, blimp basket brawls, Sky skiff shootouts, perilous plane punchups, harrowing hang glider hostility, I could go on. But one of the things that makes these battles so exciting, and perilous, is the potential to fatally fall, or calamitously crash, or take a deadly dive to ones death.  This means that a GM or storyteller who has an interest in the players surviving should probably provide some way to help them survive in case a player character goes over the rail and starts freefalling from a few miles up.

The senses: A flight  above a long stretch of territory is a perfect chance to explore the senses. The contrast of the beautiful majestic landscape beneath you with the boxed prepackaged food is an easy sell. Or one can explore the smell of the air aboard the deck of an airship, the sound of the engines, the sway of the balloon basket, or any of a dozen other amazing sensations that come with travel. On top of all that one can also explain the shapes of the continents, the sights of the city, the colour and majesty of the ocean below. Travel is always a great chance to take a breath, set the next scene and flesh out the environments and people, which brings us to our next topic.

The people: As mentioned in our article about sea travel, all sorts of individuals may wind up pursuing a fast convenient means of travel.  Each method though lends itself more to specific type of person. An airship is likely filled with merchants and adventurers, a first class plane ride for celebrities and businesspeople, and coach for everyone else.  But of course with Staff, and likely security there are still plenty of diverse characters for the players to meet along their journey.

The world: Of course air travel also has a big impact on your entire world. Being able to travel from one country to another in a matter of days instead of weeks or months changes a lot. It means you can carry more goods and people and need less supplies, which in the long run makes it cheaper and it means more cultures are exchanging ideas faster, it means the landscape of war itself could change depending on how advanced and combat ready these vehicles are.

Tactical: Of course not all air travel takes place on big ships. Sometimes it's as simple as a flying carpet, a jetpack, or a little magic. The power of flight provides an immense tactical advantage. If you can fly and use a ranged weapon and the opponent can only attack up close, you have won that fight. It's important to keep in mind how intensely vertical movement can influence a battle, both on the small and large scale, and if you give your players the power of personal flight, you must expect they'll use it to the utmost advantage.

Sea Travel

Sea travel:

As we continue our look at travel, we move from land to sea. Few modes of travel are as exciting, romanticized, and evocative as sea travel.  Everything about sea travel is visceral and powerful. The taste of the ocean air, the rocking of the ship, the sounds of boats creaking and bending, it's all immediately clear in our minds. Travel across seas is one of the most fundamental aspects of the development and spreading of culture. The exchange of peoples and customs and goods and ideals across water is always worthy of getting noticed. So let's take a look at some of the most important things to note about oversea travel:

Food: By virtue of being out at sea far away from any land or merchants, a ship will need to provide as much food as possible for the crew. This is to minimize having to make stops and resupply, which is costly and takes time, which of course ends up meaning more supplies are needed, compounding the problem. And that's assuming places to resupply are even available. If anything happens to the food supplies, from mold to rats to thievery, the entire crew could find themselves starving and doomed to a slow wasting fate. Whether a single person rowboat or a massive super yacht, the universal truth is that for each and every person you need will need to procure as much food as it takes to feed that person for the entire trip, plus usually some excess just in case. Bigger boats have more people which means more need for food, and let's not forget that many people have unique eating requirements, especially in more modern times.

Entertainment: Spending days, weeks or months at sea without any entertainment is a sure way to breed discontent, unsavoury behavior and mutiny. Minstrels, board games, videogames, books, tennis courts, fishing, shore leave, and countless other activities can help assuage the crippling boredom that can accompany long voyages at sea. Cabin fever and ocean madness are less common in modern times, but the psychological effects of keeping people isolated to small areas alone in the middle of the ocean for a long time are not to be underestimated.

Dangers:  Whether from pirates (modern of historical), shark people, sea serpents, angry Merfolk, or terrible sea storms a ship can be exposed to a vast array of threats depending on your setting. The sea is an open vast expanse. There is nothing to hide in, and yet it's deeply isolating. There are no police, no guards, no backup, and that makes ships, fat with wealth and people, very fine targets for those who would plunder them. Likewise being so alone, a single powerful tempest can change the lives of everyone aboard, or end them. When trouble breaks out the crew must be equipped and trained to handle any situation that could occur, and if they aren't it could spell disaster.

The company you keep: There are many reasons to travel the seas, and with that there are many people who do so. From wealthy nobles seeking passage, to equally wealthy merchants seeking trade, all the way to poor and desperate stowaways hoping to survive and find work in a new world. Treacherous pirates, noble navy men, tourists and crew and slaves and prisoners alike might all find themselves uncomfortably close to mingling aboard any given ship, and this mix of people, beliefs, caste's and ideologies can make for powerful opportunities.

Opportunity: Of course there's a reason people are willing to tangle with all the above perils and complications. Sea travel presents fantastic and vast opportunity. The riches and wonder of a new world. The opportunity to sell your wares to those who have never even seen them before. A new life in a new place with new people. Escape. The rewards are countless. Of course being isolated with a large group of people whose entire fate rests on just a handful can also lead to less scrupulous opportunities.