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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
So today on encounter culture's we're going to look at an adventuring staple: Bandits. Everyone loves bandits because they are so deeply hateable. Right up there with Zombies, Nazi's, Skeletons and Goblins we have those people who will just straight up kill you for whatever is in your pockets.
This time we're gonna look at a group of competent roadside bandits, the kind you can put on any highway or main road in the world. These bandits are practised hardened killers who know exactly what they're doing.
Basic Premise: A large group of low level Rogue's lay in wait, hiding on the sides of a road, ready to attack on a given signal.
The Breakdown: 12 Level 1 Rogue's (CR 6= 2,400 XP) A group of twelve level 1 Rogue's wait by the side of the road, four on each side of the road. Each one has a light crossbow, a dagger or short sword, and a tangle foot bag. On the first round, one rogue per each walking party member throws a tanglefoot foot bag. This will target their flat footed touch armor class, making a hit very likely despite the huge level difference, and once the hit is scored it will entangle the targets, further lowering their AC and possible rooting them in place. The remaining rogues then open fire, they prefer to target anyone bearing holy symbols or spellbooks, preferring to focus down one target at a time, and that usually means the healer. After the first round the bandits will need to choose between reloading and firing again, drawing daggers and rushing into melee for flanking options, or using their move actions to either split up and run away or gain distance and reload, counting on their entangled foes being unable to keep pace. From there they maintain whatever approach seems to work best, and they are not abovegrabbing valuables from a downed foe and fleeing for their lives should the situation call for it.
Tale of the Tape: A first level NPC with a class level should have 360 gp worth of items which is more than enough to cover the needed items and a few extras that let you spice things up (See Variations). They've made themselves rather comfortable and used some basic camouflage, granting them a +2 bonus to their stealth checks, and they've taken a 20, hiding themselves as well as humanly possible. This will put their total stealth somewhere in the ballpark of 30 or so making them extremely hard to spot, but given how weak each one is individually this shouldn't alter the balance too much. Remember: 2 cr 1/2 monsters makes a CR 1 threat, and for each doubling after that we add +2 cr. So 4 bandits is CR 3, 8 is CR 5, and increasing by 50% adds +1 CR so the encounter is CR 6 For 12 Bandits.
Hooks: Banditry doesn't often need much explanation, however just a little bit of background can turn a group of murdering cutthroats into sympathetic rebels or a tragic example of the effects of poverty. And of course since bandits are always picking up things that don't belong to them they serve as a great way to drop plot hook related items, treasure maps, old family crests, cursed items, tons of great goodies can lead to more exciting adventures.
Variations: There is a whole plethora of ways to spice up the encounter. The first is to up the number of participants, increasing the CR by 1 makes for a mass of 16 dangerous bandits, basically a small camp ready for battle. Alternatively, making the rogue's level 2 would give you 8 Rogue's at CR 7 or 12 at CR 8, though you might be better served by 8 level 3 Rogue's for CR 8 since they'll have the extra sneak attack die.
This encounter can also be spiced up with a few neat pieces of gear. Giving everyone a potion like cat's grace, haste, or true strike can make this attack far more effective, or you could have every third Rogue light a smoke stick right after firing, flanking the party in thick fog into which they cannot properly target. Using thunderstones and or flash bangs is a great way to hinder the party as well, and a few tripwires or bear traps can make the fight even more perilous.
Other variations can include switching up the feats, traits, or races the rogue's have in order to add a lot of customization. Giving them even a minor damaging cantrip like ray of frost spices up their boring ranged weapons, or having them all bust out minor psionic powers or other abilities form your favourite splat can really give players a shock.
Finally, a change of tactics can do wonders. Having a few rogue's delay their attacks for when someone casts a spell can help cripple the casters in the party and shut them down in a pinch. Having the Rogue'sflee in all directions, forcing melee specialists to hunt them slowly while their allies rain down fire is a great tactic and a very effective one at that. Another fine move is to try and lure the big bruisers away from any wagons or pack animals and send a few men in close with the casters to grab some loot and bail.
Hopefully this has given you a few new ideas to use with a classic encounter model.
This month is March, and if you know much about the subtle ways of Duck and Roll you might not be surprised to find out this month's theme is: Travel!
Get it? March? Travelling? Cause marching is a form of travel. Shutup, I'm not forcing it, you're forcing it. Anyways, what better way to start off travel in March than to talk about Overland travel.
Whether you play a galaxy spanning space opera, a gritty struggle to understand eldritch forces, a sweeping fantasy, or just the tale of a few desperate survivors it is inevitable that sooner or later, someone will want to go somewhere. Overland travel is by far the most common type of travel since it's readily available to nearly all beings of sentience, and it can take many forms. So let's take a look at some of the aspects of overland travel:
Travel in the Narrative: Whenever someone is venturing from one point to another, it's important to consider the purpose of that travel in terms of the narrative, it's place in the story. This can be as grand as setting your campaign as a worldwide globe spanning journey as a way of representing the character's internal journey and development. It can also be as simple as a character crossing a room to come face to face with another, to take that moment of suspense, to let the players plan, or dread, or wonder whether they're about to be attacked, embraced, or threatened. Movement can be very symbolic, used to represent change, to show action or the intent to carry out action, to add emphasis. But just as important as why someone moves is HOW they move. Someone who "Slinks" is very different from someone who "Trudges", and someone who "Sashays" could never be mistake for someone who "Charges". Describing movement in keeping with the expected environment can establish a character who is logical, reasonable, lawful, or intelligent. Someone charging across the battlefield makes sense, urgency is needed and it's life or death. But someone who strolls casually across the battlefield lends a sense of wrongness, they are, or believe they are, different and askew from normal people. They may be insane, or lack regard for their life, they may be invulnerable, or simple confidant in themselves, but any which way it is very telling about their character.
The senses: Moving from one place to another entails a great deal of sensations and experiences. The crunching of gravel, the smell of offal as you enter the next room, the distant mountains carved with the faces of passed kings, the bumps and jostles of your carriage, the smooth purr of your sports car. While in combat one has to be careful not to break the pace with too much description, a little bit can give a solid feel for the surroundings. Meanwhile, when the players mount up and sally forth across country you have a great chance to help set up a nice in depth transition scene. Describe the lay of the land, the weather, the smells, the taste of their rations, the feel of the ride. One of the most important things you can do during a journey is to give the players a moment to breathe, to relax, to take things in, let them contemplate, let them sip the surroundings with all the senses let them feel the richness of your world before you plunge them back into chaos.
Events: Few journeys are truly uneventful, rarely in life does a trip go by without incident, without anything of note. In some games this could be a random encounter, a sudden injection of action, danger, combat, and XP, this usually follows the golden rule of 1 random encounter per trip. The main reason to limit such encounters is that they are basically padding, crunchy, exciting, but don't generally add to the story. In other games this might be a simple obstacle like a car engine breaking down. Or sometimes it may just be something for note. "During the trip your NPC friend won't stop humming that new pop song". I also quite enjoy asking the players what their characters will be doing during a trip. If they have a pastime, or who they spend time with, as a way for fleshing out the transportation and letting the players consider their activities when life or death isn't on the line.
People often ask me "How do you build a really solid boss fight?" and I've always found that an interesting question. Since this month I'm talking all about campaigns I figured I'd give the breakdown.
First of all there are two vital parts to a boss fight. The Why, and the How. A boss fight without meaning is immediately at a huge disadvantage. Fighting a dragon because you want it's treasure just doesn't have the same weight as avenging your slain allies. Likewise, desperately trying to defeat or get passed a raging werewolf is all the more engaging when it has you locked in, when it's hunting you down. My rule of thumb is that if you consider a fight to be a boss fight, then it's worth some foreshadowing. And that isn't a hard rule to follow.
"Many of these slain soldiers were impaled on crystalline quills, but we've never seen an alien with that sort of weaponry." Boom, now later in that mission when your space marines suddenly see a huge raging alien covered in crystal quills, you know sh*t is on. It builds consistency, it grows your world, it creates mystery, and it gives your players a chance to prepare. If they took the time to analyze what they know and take precautions, they should be rewarded when it comes time for the battle. Which leads me to my second point.
A good climactic encounter, like an ogre, should have layers. When the players get waylaid by phantom fungi or a group of zedheads it's fine to have them rush in take some swings, mess with the best and go down like the rest. A boss fight though needs more setup, more stages, more grandeur. It should always have more than one draw. An ancient vampire prince, or an ancient dragon, or an ancient robot, or a big time super villain never relies on just one trick. Claws, magic, breath weapon, fear aura, tail, bite, crush. Dominate, Majesty, celerity, vigor, shotgun. Rockets, giant foot, machine gun, laser eyes, drone. Omega beams, super strength, agony matrix, minions. You get the idea.
Likewise a good boss is one that doesn't go down in one hit, they have survivability, which means more than just a lot of health. The most common, but also worst way of providing this is to give them Immunities. "You mind control the boss? Sorry it's immune. Drain their soul? Immune. Turn them into a squirrel? Immune". This is painfully common in a lot of games and is deeply discouraging. Instead consider giving your boss' more creative protections. Picture an evil sorcerer who has stolen a magic lamp granting them three wishes. Each time they're defeated they make a wish and the problem is solved. This means that you have to beat them four times to truly win, ideally in four different ways. That same encounter could also be won easier though by stealing the lamp, or muting the sorcerer, by goading them into wasting wishes, all sorts of things. Picture a powerful psychic with a platoon of clone bodies. When one is destroyed they hop into another and another until they run out. The Important thing is that unlike immunity, the players are making tangible progress, they are getting somewhere, and they know if they keep going they can win.
Many classic boss fights have different stages, many moving parts, many vulnerable spots, this allows you to change up the fight, preventing it from dragging on and on while still making it a lasting and enduring challenge. Of course some games allow this better than others, but look at the systems your game allows and consider how breaking it into sections can be beneficial and can help spice up an encounter.
So in summary, a good boss fight should have a reason, should have foreshadowing, and should be mechanically interesting with layers and different parts to it. Hopefully this has helped you create some memorable and exciting boss fights
It's amazing to me how many times I've spoken to ambitious DM's excited for their games who can't tell me what sort of campaign they're running. They'll tell me what rules they're running, or they'll try to sum up their plot, but they don't seem to have any thought towards the style of campaign. Rather than just complain I figured since it's campaign month I'll go over some of the basic styles of campaign.
Sandbox: The sandbox campaign, one of my personal favourites, is a GM creating a large world, sprinkling plots and characters and adventures across it, and then releasing the players with a vague goal. If you explain the overarching story of your campaign and at any point you don't know what steps the players will follow to accomplish that goal, you have a sandbox. In a sandbox game the focus is on player freedom, exciting locales and plenty of options for success. The benefit of this type of game is that the players are free to do what they like. The bad thing is the players are free to do what they like. It's important to either be able to improvise well, or to thoroughly plan out all the things the players are likely to encounter or investigate so you don't wind up with an empty box.
Linear campaign: This campaign follows a specific series of adventurers in the hopes of accomplishing a goal. Retrieve the 3 pendants, then get the 7 medallions, then slay the evil wizard. These campaigns sometimes get a bad reputation because they limit player freedom somewhat, but I feel that a nice tight well made campaign can make up for a lot. Because you know exactly what adventures have to get done it's easy to create several very fine, very precisely made encounters. Likewise because you know where the players need to go it's far easier to make fewer but more detailed locations and characters. These games are great for playing strongly on a single theme or idea or fully exploring one or two conepts.
The Oneshot: This campaign is really just a single 1 session long adventure. A one shot is perhaps the most efficient form of campaign from a pure work to play ratio. You need only to make one adventure one or two locales and then you're done, with the added bonus of being able to re-use 100% of it with a new group of players. With that being said, the drawbacks likewise are fairly self explanatory. It's short, the oneshot doesn't generally build anything, it doesn't form a long lasting story, and it's hard for there to be a real deep character arc.
The XL campaign: What happens when a linear campaign has reached the conclusion but no one is ready to stop? The XL campaign ahoy! Sure the world threatening wizard has been stopped, but it's only gonna be about a week or two before The dragon queen rises from the Abyss! And once she's gone the long dead god NarlothOP'fg will awaken. These campaigns are always beautiful to see. When a GM gets to completely cap off a story and then the players want more, that is a great sign that things went well. These games become a series of linear campaigns stacked ontop of each other, but the spackle and grout is in fact the formation of a sandbox. As the world grows, as powers and threats escalate more and more options and allies become factors. You can't start a game expecting this sort of campaign, but many GM's are happy to see it happen. The advantages of this sort of game is that the setting and lore build and builds as the game goes on. This can mean a lot of book keeping, but it can also be deeply rewarding to see.
This Month's theme is : Campaigns, and so all month long Duck and Roll will be talking about campaign styles, how to build a progression of adventures, how to build an open sandbox game, and more.
We're going to kick things off with a nice little sample campaign structure. We're gonna start off with a pretty basic structure that can work in just about any kind of game. This model focuses strongly on getting the most out of a very small range of foes and it starts with a lot of excitement and builds up continually from there. Because of the tight focus it serves best for short campaigns and works well without having many or even any side adventures. This model also provides a good mix of fear, action, and excitement. It's heavy on stealth but has plenty of room for some combat and problem solving and provides a heavy dark atmosphere. Let's take a look:
Adventure 1: The first encounter
The first encounter is a horror themed adventure. The player characters find themselves together in an isolated area. This works best in an enclosed space where options for escape are few. Good approaches to this are: A carnival funhouse, an office building after dark, the dungeon of a castle, a derelict ship, a small colony on a remote island/planet/moon, in a restricted military base, a pocket plane, or a space station. In this location the players are stalked by your villain of choice. This foe should be powerful, persistent, terrifying, and in some way unnatural. Ideal foes are implacable undead, murderous robots, frightening eldritch beings, killer golems, or the like. The foe stalks them through the location of choice, killing npc allies and making its best attempt on the players themselves. The foe should either be immortal, or at least durable beyond the ability of the party members and it should be clear. If the players have guns then it should soak lead, collapse, and then crawl back to its feet and continue pursuit. If the players have knives it should take a stabbing without even bleeding or slowing. Classic examples of this foe are foes like the Terminator, Jason Vorhees, DND Trolls, and Resident Evil's Nemesis or Tyrant. The foe pursues them slowly but unfailingly and finally through the perfect set of circumstances the party is able to slay or escape the foe and live another day. During the adventure any information about the enemy is very well concealed and very minimal. No one knows what it is or where it came from or what it's after, and what little can be determined is hard to piece together. It's important however that the final result of adventure#3 is in some way foreshadowed here. And make sure you save your map if you made one, we might need it later.
Adventure#2: The nightmare returns
This adventure is the least like a traditional adventure in the series because it's quite the opposite of the first one. In this adventure the party from the previous encounter becomes aware of signs that whatever stalked and hunted them is back. Maybe a group of slayings on the news match the monsters M.O, maybe the trail of filth it leaves behind has been seen around, maybe the nightmares that it brings with it start all over. Some way the players know that the thing is back. This can also be done by having a group of npc's approach them, they say they know what the players have been through and now the monster is after them!
From there however the players are able to act accordingly. They can try to get help, but who would believe what they've been through, and more important who could actually be powerful enough to help them? The intention here is to build a sense of fear and helplessness. The monster is out there, it's taking lives and only a few people have ever seen it and survived. The players may use this opportunity to reach out to eachother but even if they don't they'll still be in a great position for the climax of the adventure. Once the fear and paranoia has been cranked up it's time for the monster to emerge, but this time it's different somehow. It fights different, or looks different, or it's wounds and scars are gone, it's still closer to the foe they faced than anything else, but something is wrong. It may seem like it's evolved, or devolved, but as the players engage, flee, or hide from the threat they get "the message". A cell phone call from someone who contacted the players, a desperate message spell, a psychic scream, a cry for help in the night, the distant howl of... a second monster. This threat, this foe is not the one they faced before, the invincible unstoppable threat they barely survived, there's more than one. The party escapes, maybe fleeing, maybe somehow slaying both monsters. But they find neither is the one they faced before. These things are out there, and now there can be no doubt, answers must be found before it's too late...if it isn't already.
Adventure#3 The delve.
After pressing their contacts, consulting the stars, or a lengthy investigation the players become aware of a location that may hold the secrets they're after. An abandoned lab, a distant planet, a forgotten portal, a long closed amusement park, some desolate location holds the secret of the monsters. This may sound a lot like adventre#1, and it should, in fact if it's at all possible this adventure is best set in the ruins or remains of wherever adventure 1 happened, making your map twice as useful. This time however the players know that one or more of the monsters is out there, and they may even be coming from the very bowels of this location. This time escape is not enough, they need answers. This is where all the clues dropped in part 1 can come around and become important messages, the final pieces, or at least more pieces, fall into place and the players understand the full scale of the problem. While evading capture and whatever natural hazards fill the area the party learns that this is just the beginning, that the country, kingdom, world or galaxy could be threatened by this epidemic. What they face now are just the first things awakened from cryosleep, prototype robots, the weaker brood. The players also find the origins of these things and more importantly, how to stop them. They have a weakness, not just for defeating the creatures individually, but for stopping all of them. An EMP, a computer virus, an airborne toxin, a single specially made ritual, some Achilles heel. But in order to make use of it, the party must venture to the very heart of the enemy itself.
Adventure#4 The final adventure.
The party must now infiltrate the root of the enemy. Now powerful foes, nearly unstoppable threats, are in a multitude and hope wears thin. Now the players can put all the skills and allies they've gained to the test in the climax of the campaign. The nature of the enemy means an all out assault is insane in the best of times so the key for this adventure is stealth. This helps play on the same ideas and themes as the first adventure, but now, thematically, the players are on the offensive, stalking, sneaking, hiding and surviving. This is also a good place to include a few very easy combat encounters, a chance for the players to show off how strong they've become. The element of danger and excitement in these battles though is that the foes don't have to win, they only have to raise an alarm in order for the fight to go very badly for the players. These smaller encounters should be with scientists, failed experiments, security drones or the like to ensure that the big monster of the campaign doesn't get devalued. Finally the players reach the end goal, the final switch. Customarily there should be a nice big boss fight here. If the power creep has been minimal then it could be the first monster from the first adventure, provided it was defeated in a way that leaves a chance for its return. Alternatively it could be an aberrant mutant, a superior next generation model, or the original being that was cloned to make the others. Ideally this monster should be powerful, relentless, and unbeatable, but all the party has to do is keep it busy long enough to execute the program or flip the switch and turn the key or complete the ritual in the right place and then, sweet sweet victory will be had. The threat is finally over, the monsters are banished or de-activated or slain, and the players have earned a long rest.
Variation: This arc is flexible enough to leave a lot of room for variation. You can use robots, plant people, demons, evil clone demigods, animatronic fursuits, aliens, all kinds of stuff fit this model quite nicely. One could also lighten the tone considerably by casting everything in the light of a B movie. The police are useless to help and don't believe anything, the monster has improbable and sometimes wildly changing powers, the deaths are over the top and gory, and despite mortal danger NPC's are inexplicably prone to making out alone in the bushes.
Works well with:
Paranoia: Someone or something was behind all of this. This kind of technology isn't cheap. Somewhere pulling the strings is a huge bureaucratic entity. It could be an evil corporation, or a secret branch of the government, but somewhere there were people of power who put their seal of approval on these nightmares.
Eldritch horror: These things simply should not be. Perhaps they are monsters from another reality, perhaps they are created and fed by fear itself, perhaps they came here from beyond the stars. Even if they're defeated the players will forever be haunted by what they've seen, and by the knowledge that things like that exist.
After the ending:
The nightmare continues: The robots are all shut down, except that one who the players shocked so bad it's uplink was severed. A single mutated variant of the creatures survived. The progenitor of the species didn't die in the final battle and went into hiding. Somehow, someway the creature that always comes back...came back! This can lead to either a final adventure where the players must finally face off against the last remaining monster in a no holds barred battle to the death. Or it could also be used to have that creature propagate, reproduce, and begin a whole new arc.
Enter phase two: The project was a failure, but valuable information was gained, and while costly, the wheels of industry keep on turning. A new monster can be cloned, or bred, or captured, one immune to the weaknesses of the predecessor.
The heroes of the past: Once you've battle against terrifying monsters and save the country/world/galaxy regular challenges feel dull and muted. From here we follow the players after their great adventure. The GM should throw a simple, boring, easy challenge, emphasizing how much the players have grown, what they're capable of, and how much more they could accomplish. From there a new opportunity arises. A monster that needs defeating, a special ops team, the call of the king or president, someone needs the heroes to regroup and face a new challenge.
When one deals with time, there are a lot of opportunities, a lot of ideas, and a lot of questions. Fear not, Duck and Roll is here to walk you through a few of everyone's favourite classic time shenanigans. This article takes a look at: Time Dilation.
For those not familiar with the term this is also known as fast time, compressed time, time inequality, asymmetrical chronology, or hyperbolic time. It essentially means a situation in which time flows at a different rate for some but not all people. This means that there's some sort of time ratio like "One day out here is a year in there" or "Every second is six seconds within the circle" or something to that effect. Time Dilation can also occur when something like say a spaceship moves at speeds that approach the speed of light. The faster you move, the less time passes for you relative to things moving slower. Someone moving at just under light speed may find that almost no time passes for them, while everything else seems to age and decay and evolve with incredible speed. Usually that sort of speed based time dilation belongs in sci-fi and does not have a set ratio, since naturally your vessel or whatnot may change speeds during a trip.
Time dilation is an excellent plot device that can be used in many ways. Firstly It can be used to allow something normally impossibly long in scale to happen over the course of a campaign or session. This could be for example to allow the players to have an adventure where they interact with a primitive species, and then return later in the campaign to see how they have developed into a medieval, modern or futuristic society, or even to return many times. Each altering the course of history and shaping how their people develop and change. It could be a case where a player wishes to construct a magical item, a vast machine, or even a fortress or ship, but still be able to both begin and finish construction in time for the finished product to impact the campaign. Another example would be a place where heroes could slip in and train or adventure and grow stronger and more skilled over days or years and then emerge back into the world far stronger in a short period of time.
Another use of time dilation would be to allow an entire adventure to take place in a single moment. Imagine the party uploads their minds into a computer to defeat a security system, and meanwhile in the real world their ally is walking down the hall, talking to a guard and having them look in their system. The players must complete their entire cyber adventure in compressed time in order to ensure the relevant data is in the system when the guard checks. One could even stack these compressed times on top of each other under the right situation ala Inception.
Time dilation can also serve to highlight a sense of surreal or absurd helplessness. The passage of time is inexorable, but we rarely feel it crush down on us all at once. But imagine the party stepping through a gateway to another place with a different passage of time. Before the last team mate steps through the entrance to the other time stream they bid their child and loved one a fond, final farewell. They know that they will die of old age in what seems like minutes to those they care about, but this is the only way to save all of reality. A long hug, some final words and sweet kiss and they step through. When they emerge they find their allies have already made a settlement, built their forces, armed themselves, and decided they could wait no longer, throwing themselves against the forces of the ultimate evil and already been defeated. Now only the last one through the gate remains to do what all the other's could not. Imagine those few seconds our last hero has to consider stepping back through the rift before it's forever too late.
Picture a sci-fi tragedy. A lone hero ventures to a far world to find a cure for their cryogenically frozen love. The hero pushes nearer and nearer the speed of light to reach a distant planet where the medical herb needed is found. By the time our hero has returned they find that the disease has already been cured through science, and the love has already remarried and long ago died of old age, leaving our hero, just days ago an eager excited starstruck lover with a top of the line ship, now alone, with an ancient vessel, out of touch with the entire world.
There are a thousand great ways to play with the passage of time as long as one pays careful attention and gives it proper consideration. This is an extremely powerful narrative element, and any GM should take care with it. Major battles will be very different In a fantasy game where a party can withdraw, teleport away, and then within minutes have a year's worth of preparation. And likewise, in a modern game is someone finds that they can spend a week in their wardrobe and only a day passes you can imagine the vast potential profit they could reap, and the monetary and tactical value of such a wondrous closet.
We've talked now about the counting of years, and we've talked about the calendar for your campaign, but we need one more detail in order to bring it all together. You know how many months you need, and how many years have passed in the eras of your world, but they still need to be brought to life, they still need names.
As a minimum you'll probably want a name for the week days and months and some sort of naming convention for different eras in your setting. This will allow you to present time in a familiar format and convey some basic information in a quick sentence. There are many great ways to name these increments of time, but I'll present a few of my favourites here to give some ideas as a starting point:
Rulers: If your campaign focuses largely on an area which has a long history of unified rulers or monarchs than each month could be named after a distinct ruler. From there one could name each day of the week after an aspect of the kingdom that the monarch manages. For example: Mercantile day or Merchday, Taxday, Warsday, Thanesday, Fieldsday, Statesday, and Spiritsday. And you could break your eras into two distinct chunks such as BDM (Before the Dawn of Man.) and AMD (After Man's Dawn). Of course you could mix this formula up easily by making each monarch's reign its own group of years and then name each month for a different famous duke, prince or princess
Farmers calendar: Common folk worry about common things, and they may well track common things as a method for keeping time. One might see a kingdom or even large stretches of environmentally similar areas using a calendar that tracks common farm life. In this system the months might be broken down based on how warm or cold it is, or the types of crops grown during those months. One would see "Month of the snow yam." or "Whetmonth" or "Month of corn". And the days of the week could be broken into Important tasks. Milkday, Tillday, Weed day, Plowsday, Fenceday, Watersday, and Restday. Of course these days would not be hard and fast rules, a chicken farmer obviously has work to do on Milkday, and one doesn't need to till their field every week. The idea is the naming serves as a general reflection of the tasks in a farmer's life. Although having whole communities out doing similar work all at the same time does lead to some interesting options. The eras of such a timekeeping system aren't likely to matter much to the common folk as few have much stake in any group of years besides the ones they live in.
Magic Calendar: It's not too hard to imagine spellcasters being in charge of making a lot of the most important choices in a region, kingdom, or world. After all, they are typically the smartest, wisest, and most persuasive of people. If spellcasters decided to egotistically name the passages of time after themselves we might see this calendar used. Months could each be named after a type of spellcaster. The Month of the oracle, the Month of the Priest, the Month of the Magus and so on. Whereas a week might be broken into eight days: Abjurday, Conjurday, Divinday, Evoday, Enchanday, Illuday, Necroday, and Transday. Of course a more puritanical calendar might exclude Necroday for an even six weeks. To take this a step farther one could include in their setting that on each day the schools spells become stronger getting +1 to effective caster level or other bonuses. In a calendar like this the Eras may be tracked with the discovery of new arcane methods. "In the era of truespeech" or "In the time of the occult" or "During the reign of Psions" or such things as that.
Divine Calendar: It should be little surprise to anyone that even in worlds with a myriad of religions, faith has a huge impact on history and society. In a world in which gods are provably, demonstrably real it is likely to draw even more from its gods. A divine Calendar takes its names from the Gods and demigods of the setting. Months like "Pelortober" Or "Nerulvember" or "Nurgle Month" or "Baneuary" may fill your setting. Or maybe you can pick names that don't sound terrible. Your weekdays could then be named after famous demigods, or even perhaps specific religeous rituals. "Monastary day." followed by "Tunesday" and then "Worship day" and "Theurge day" and "Fasting day". The eras in a setting can be tied to significant religious events, such as "635WGW" (When gods walked), or 235 GF (God fell), or other events tied to your mythology or cosmology.
Numerical calendar: Wouldn't it be nice is everything just made sense? The Months of your year could be so perfect. Evenly numbered months telling you exactly which number it is. "Primus." "Deus" "Trinitary" "Quatober." "Quince" "Sextus" "September" "October." "November." "December". In this system one might not even bother with naming days of the week, they aren't strictly necessary after all. Alternatively you could have a binary of "Workday, workday workday, holiday" Every four days a new cycle. And the Eras may simply be increments of 1,000 or 10,000 years, or you may not have any at all, simply using an ever increasing number of years instead.
Realistic calendar: Just take a mouthful of the different ideas above and spit them up on paper, edit absolutely nothing and BAM, you have a realistic and likely calendar. Unfortunately people don't always agree on things, and often times kingdoms are conquered and absorbed and some ideas pass on and some aren't. One look at the Gregorian calendar will tell you that history doesn't always make sense. Name one month after a god, name a weekday after some king's favourite horse, have an era that was a 2 year long gap in which all the recorded history was just forgotten or burned, just take several good ideas and bash them together with a crowbar into a hot mess.
One more thing to take note of. My recommendation when it comes to months and weekdays, and I'm certainly not the first to suggest this, is to try to keep the names somewhat familiar. Many of the above examples may have had you intuit which days of the week are analogous with our own week, and this is very intentional. Even though knowing "Today is Tillday, which is just like Tuesday" isn't inherently crucial, being able to say "My magic item won't be finished until Fieldsday" without having to stop and check and ask the DM about the calendar, can go a huge way to showing the detail and immersion a player can enjoy by having a relatable weekly cycle.
Hopefully this all has helped you out in determining the months and weekdays and eras of the calendar in your game, and inspired you to create a novel, exciting, or at least functional, calendar of your own campaign so you always know what day tomorrow is.