Category: DM Tips

Keeping campaigns organized with blogs and wikis

I’ve been fiddling around with my sci-fi Savage Worlds game getting everything together. Something I’ve been a stalwart supporter for over the years is using online tools as information repositories for current games. I tend to game pretty infrequently, just about every other week. So for long campaigns I need a place to keep track of major events that happen. Another plus is I don’t need to saddle my players with scribbling down the name of every major NPC they come across. The important stuff I can put on up the campaign site for reference later.

Additionally we have about 2-3 different settings going on. I sometimes get a little burnt out GMing a particular setting and like to have an occasional one shot game once in a while. It can be a challenge for my players to keep track of the types of worlds they are playing in. Sometimes they need something to jog their memory on who the major movers and shakers are for that campaign. In these cases having an online wiki or blog is great keeping everything together.

For a long while now I have been using Obsidian Portal for a few of my games. It’s a great tool but lately I’ve migrated towards having more simple sites. I’ve found I don’t usually need the complete functionality of a wiki. I can just keep a running page or two of major NPCs or locations. So currently I’ve been leaning towards using blogs instead.

For my Savage Worlds superhero game it’s been a great means to provide a quick reference for major criminal (and neutral) organizations. Also by adding posts and tagging them, my players can filter out a lot of stuff and skim through past posts looking for specific enemies or topics related to the campaign. I haven’t been keeping a running adventure log going for that, but it could be done.

With my sci-fi game I’ve found this especially helpful. Above all other settings I think players sometimes need a little more information on the game universe. Sci-fi encompasses so many styles and themes, it can be difficult to accurately get across to players the levels of technology or how proliferate alien species are. Having a site that they can navigate to get that information is helpful.

Mind you have to be realistic about how deep players will dig through your site. Some may enjoy it but expect many to be willing to skim through about a paragraph at most. So I try to keep things brief if possible, especially for adventure recaps.

One last point though on having a campaign blog or wiki, it’s public. While it’s a way to share your world and ideas with others, it’ll also show how messy your games run including all the lackluster ideas. Just roll with it. Because sometimes you’ll have people mine your stuff for adventure ideas to use in their own games (Hee… or learn about things to avoid if scouring my campaigns). Honestly that alone is a great reason to have your campaign material up on a wiki or blog.


Hindrances as PC motivations for Savage Worlds Demos

Savage Worlds for demos or one shot games works well. It’s a relatively streamlined RPG system and pretty easy to get into. One hiccup however are dealing with hindrances. For prep work you have to really make fleshed out pre-generated characters. Yet once a person sits down, they are somewhat locked into a persona as skills, edges, and their flaws for their character are set for them. When I run my demo games I shake this up a bit.

I don’t have hindrances for my Savage World pre-gen characters. Instead I prepare a bunch of cards with hindrances and tie them to motivations. Players pick a motivation early in the session and gain the hindrances associated with it.

To get the ball rolling quickly when they first sit down, I don’t have players bother with introducing their characters. Instead I hand wave things some and give a nod to the idea that they are all gathered under specific circumstances facing a particular situation together. Once they all get a firm grasp of the challenges ahead of them, I pass out several cards with general motivations on them.

Each card has one word that sums up something the PC would strive to achieve, a drive, or a core aspect of their persona. On the back of each card are more details along with specific hindrances. Once they’ve had a moment to digest all the information, I finally have them introduce their character to the others.

Another key point I bring up with this is if a player pushes the group or does actions that would fulfill their motivation, they get a bennie. Sometimes I have this associated with a particular location depending on the session. If they achieve the task of pushing the action so that they can satisfy their motivation, a bennie is rewarded.

This method does tend to work for more structured one-shots or demos. I’ve run a survival horror, sci-fi game and another weird WW2 game where exploration and investigation was warranted. Having the motivation cards linked to particular areas really drove players to discuss with (and at times connive) each other into exploring a particular area. This helped push the characters into being proactive which is especially helpful for a timed demo game.

UMC Mine Outpost Layout
Another benefit is that once a player understands the stakes involved and has an idea what would drive them to make certain decisions, they get a better feel for their character. Delaying that initial character introduction until they’ve selected their motivations and the scene is set, allows players some time to let their ideas ferment some. You can really see people get into their character, and they seem to embrace their hindrances more.

As I mentioned, I’ve done this for a few demo games. Most of the time I have people sit down that have never played Savage Worlds. One game I had a table full of 6 players with zero RPG experience. Using these motivation cards helped them jump into the game easily. They had time to get a better idea who was actually depicted on the character sheet. And I’m especially happy to say everyone had a blast while playing.

Sometime I need to formalize my adventure notes and post my past demo games. But I just didn’t want to wait on conveying this concept. It’s worked so well for me and also helps push the players into being proactive. The next time you are running a demo game or a one shot for Savage Worlds, consider using this idea.

Hindrances, bennies, and Walter White

heisenberg-breaking-badAwarding bennies in Savage Worlds can sometimes be a pickle. A great rule of thumb for handing them out is whenever a player does something that moves the plot along. Another key suggestion is awarding bennies when PCs play up their hindrances. However you can get players at conflict with what would be a smart way of playing, and doing something rash that is more in line with their character’s persona.

Players want to be clever. They typically want to make the right decision and avoid doing a bonehead move. So this can sometimes be at odds with hindrances they’ve chosen for their character. On paper, taking something like Big Mouth might appeal to a character concept, but in actual play you might find a player avoiding situations where that hindrance would come into light (or at worse ignoring it completely).

An important thing a GM can do to encourage playing up personality hindrances is awarding bennies. If a player sticks to what their alter ego would do and complicate a situation, then hand out a bennie. Bennies offer this strange feedback loop with Savage Worlds. A PC will muck up a situation and get a bennie, however having more bennies means they can likely make a clutch roll when needed. It creates this dynamic cycle where ‘poor’ decisions create obstacles for the players, but they end up with more resources to overcome them.

How do you sell this concept to players though? Sadly, I think certain behavior is ground into a player’s head that they’ll be punished for a bad decision. If they initiate a plan of action closer to what is deemed prudent by the player than according to their character’s drive and motivations, it’s viewed as a better choice. As a GM, a lot of this can come down to the opposition and obstacles you put in their path resulting from what choices players make. Awarding bennies as previously mentioned is one way to entice them. However all of this seems to counter what likely a rational person would do in particular situations. That’s a key point you need to drill into players. They aren’t rational. They are big damn heroes with huge flaws.

One particularly great pop culture example of this idea is Walter White from the TV drama, Breaking Bad. Walter is a chemistry high school teacher and, for the uninitiated, he opts to start making crystal meth to help his family out after he’s diagnosed with cancer. His character is a smart guy, with a great analytical mind. However he has flaws. He has an ego and some could say he’s a bit greedy.

Continually in the show he takes courses of action that a man of his intelligence wouldn’t normally do. It’s his ego and emphasis of getting his ‘fair share’ of profits that drives him to make poor choices. Walter’s need to feed his ego is so great, that near the end of the show, it helps initiate a chain of horrendous events in his life. It’s a great character and an excellent example of how a smart, cunning persona can still make bad decisions based on flaws they have.

I’ve heard some complaints from GMs that mechanical hindrances like Lame or Anemic easier to run than personality hindrances in Savage Worlds. However I’d counter that with the bennie economy, it’s easier with personality hindrances. If players are really pushing events into interesting directions due to their hindrances, you can help them by awarding bennies. Otherwise, it’s up to you as a GM making a call if players have sufficiently driven the plot forward to hand them out. With personality hindrances, there can be more opportunities to award bennies.

That’s my take on bennies and hindrances for Savage Worlds. So next game you run, keep a list of your PC’s hindrances handy. Be on the lookout for chances where you can award bennies to players that do something aligned with their flawed motivations. Try to be flexible with obstacles and challenges that might pop up as players do crazy things dictated by their quirks. If anything, it’ll make for some memorable sessions.

Drawing villains from PC back stories

So you are sketching out a new campaign and drafting up a list of villains, trying to figure out their motivations and what drives them. Sometimes you will blank out on new ideas or potentially start recycling villains. To get around this consider looking over your character’s backgrounds and see if there is any synergy to incorporate their past with NPC villains you are making up.

For my weird west game I had a few general ideas of the villainous movers and shakers in the alternate 1870’s world I was crafting, including some evil organizations. As a first adventure, I set about the players being asked to deliver a holy artifact after being betrayed by a trail guide. However, I only had the barest of ideas though and needed to solidify a few main villains for the game. Tasked with this I scoured over the backgrounds of my players to get a few ideas for evil NPCs.

I fell in love with the 6th Gun comic and really dug the idea of a relentless group of undead soldiers. One of my players was a former soldier so I prodded him for a few more details. He saw himself from a long line of farmers that bred horses. His family and farm got wrapped up in the Civil War and he found himself fighting for more out of defending his home than for political reasons. At the conclusion of the war as it ground to a stalemate and eventual truce, he lost his family and land when it became territory for the other side. Losing everything he became a despondent snake oil salesman out west, more keen on drinking laudanum than selling his wares.

Sixth-Gun-concept-art02Getting that background, I asked for more from him. Of course he was a former cavalry officer, so I asked for more details on his commanding officer during the war. The only bit of solid information I requested would be that officer was someone the PC despised and thought sadistic. The result from him was Major Clancy ‘Buck’ Futter. A gross glutton with an enormous gut that nearly buckled any horse he rode. Joking aside with the nickname, this got my mind running with ideas.

I latched onto that key characteristic of a fat glutton and the idea of someone with a ravenous hunger surfaced. I envisioned the unit near the end of the war getting caught up in a siege. Cut off, surrounded by an enemy army with winter set in, Major Clancy Futter ordered the horses to be eaten. Starving still for weeks, some rumors in the fort fell about that wounded soldiers were quietly disappearing. When the enemy finally stormed the fort, the player had escaped believing his commanding officer was killed in the battle. All of this back information the player knew about.

What my player didn’t know was that Major Clancy Futter survived. Aching with hunger and fearful of starving to death, he was enticed into invoking a ritual of dark magic with some of his men following suit. Culminating this foul ritual by eating human flesh, he would transform and be undying. It was successful but he was cursed with the wendigo. Forever alive, he would be driven with a ravenous hunger that could only be sated for a short time by consuming human flesh. His cadre of men around him were also cursed with this affliction.

That villain stuck out for the campaign. One of the first clashes the group was at a church, the group inside surrounded by men on horseback. Unable to enter the hallowed ground they called for the PCs to throw out a holy artifact they wanted. My snake oil salesman player quipped something back. I then described some of the men parting and a gaunt fellow riding slowly forward. Despite its emaciated frame covered with a tattered uniform and cavalry officer hat adorning its head, it still had a grotesque paunch of a gut. The villain called out the PC by name, ‘Cyrus McClintock! That you in there? So you made it out of Fort Bean alive.‘ Trust me, jaws dropped at the table as players realized someone in the group had dealings with this creature before.

A small idea from a player back story cemented into a foundation of being a major villain for the game. It became a driving, relentless evil force, ever pursuing the PCs. Additionally it was taken from a player’s past and was a way of drawing that PC into the world, as they had a shared history with the villain. Instead of me having to fill in the story, that player could step up around the table at that moment describing how they knew the NPC, and its likely intent.

So I encourage looking over your players’ back stories and try to mine it for adventure ideas. People and events of note in their past can easily become the villains for a campaign. Asking details from players on a name, description, and mannerisms all can help give the NPCs a life of their own. Best of all the players become part of the world building process for the campaign and become greater invested in the setting. So don’t try and force yourself to think up everything, allow the players to help carry that creative load.

Litko game tokens as holiday gifts

Say you want a stocking stuffer for your significant nerdy other, or want to give a small gift to a gamer pal. Litko makes quality plastic acrylic game tokens and other miscellaneous game items, offering a great gift for them. A long while back I made no bones about my preference using tokens and markers around the table. Having a tactile marker to represent a condition, bonus, or temporary status is great over just using pen and paper. So I’ve had a long affair of enjoying Litko products for years now. They’ve got wonderful stuff for just about any gamer you’d like to get a gift for.

The wargamer – They offer tons of sets and individual packs for tokens. From command and casualty markers, to range band and blast templates, Litko offers some fantastic tokens and markers.

The board game fan – Litko has branched out and now provides game token sets for popular board games too. Imagine spicing up your Pandemic game with these tokens…

Not to mention some really wonderful X-Wing token and marker sets…

And I’m certain Netrunner players would enjoy having these on the table…

The RPG player – Litko also offers a lot of sets and tokens for RPG games also. You can find lots of tokens to mark temporary conditions….

and complete sets are also available like this one for Savage Worlds.

They offer some more interesting items like paper figure miniature stands…

or markers for indicating which character miniature is holding a torch…

And other bits for gamers – Litko also makes a variety of bases for miniatures and other really clever items like counter dials….

and a variety of portable dice towers which can be taken apart and thrown in a zip lock bag. Perfect for those gaming tourneys.

So I encourage folks to give them a look. Several online retailers also carry their products. And if you aren’t sure about what they’d really like, well just give them a gift certificate instead. Hope folks enjoy the holidays with family and friends (and get some games in too).

Money in Savage Worlds

I’m not a fan of keeping track of money in games. A long time ago I used to dole out silver and gold coins, making sure my PCs kept track of the money they spent for ale and a night’s rest at the inn. I stopped doing that altogether in my games.

However money is still a motivator for some PCs. They want loot, or a means to acquire it through cash, so having some manner of wealth is something I needed. I just didn’t want to get mired down in individual dollars/gold coins/credits. For my 4E D&D game I took up the concept of chests of treasure. I simply awarded some abstract chest of treasure, a pile of coins, or just a share of wealth.

So for my Savage Worlds game, I adopted this as resolving wealth through shares. Shares are an abstract sum of wealth. They can be awarded in ½ increments. When players complete a job, or gain a significant amount of reward, they gain a share. A share is about $250 (or ½ the starting money a player gets during character generation), with ½ shares being roughly half that ($100-125).

Monthly income and expenses – I assume that every month a player goes through ½ a share. This is the gradual expenses of housing, food, upkeep of equipment, entertainment, etc. At the same time, if a player is not actively adventuring, they accumulate ½ a share. So the net income per month is zero. They are spending as much as they are earning.

I see this as a player spending time gathering spell components, income from odd jobs, money for pelts they’ve trapped, or the occasional sale they get from running some business they own. It all depends on the setting and the resources available to the player. Regardless, they get enough to pay the bills, keep a roof over their head, and their belly full.

Purchases – If they want to buy incidentals or some special equipment, I don’t worry if it’s under $100. I consider they have enough money on hand to cover the costs. Restocking arrows, buying flasks of oil, or repairing equipment, I just lump into typical monthly expenses. If they are making a larger purchase for special expensive equipment, that is when I dig into the players’ resources. Then I’ll have players spending shares in at least ½ increments, translating it to dollar amounts. So I don’t sweat the small stuff, it’s the larger purchases and expenses that hit the PCs in their purse strings.

Rewards – Most jobs are going to award each player one share. They might pick up more during the adventure, but one share is going to be the typical reward they’ll each get from a patron. Actively adventuring will cut into the time they would be spending gaining income through other means. At the end of the day, a player will be earning ½ a share in actual profits as they are going through ½ a share every month. So it’s a slow accumulation of wealth but players can earn a bit.

I like this as it leaves open more opportunities to give out rewards. Players might be charged with exploring a set of ruins. For such a task they’ll get one share from a patron. During the exploration they might come across treasure or some artifact that’ll fetch them even more money, allowing them to individually get another share (or a half).

I simply don’t bother with having players record every bit of wealth they get. If they stop a few bandits, in reality they might find a few dollars between them all however it’s not worth writing down. I end up hand-waving a lot of rewards. Players will always find just enough through your typical adventuring to pay for incidentals. It’s the completion of larger tasks that earn them enough reward to be considered a ‘share.’

Being Rich or Poor –These edges and hindrances can be a little tricky. For the wealthy edge I figure that a player is earning 1/2 share a month, regardless if they are actively adventuring or not. I still assume that whatever money they take in, they are spending just as much enjoying a more affluent lifestyle. They just don’t have to work at it as much as others.

This means if typical PCs take a job for 1 share, they’ll net ½ a share in profit at the end of the month. Remember they spend about half a share each month in expenses and adventuring takes away from time spent making a steady income. That PC with a wealthy edge will be walking away with a full share of profit instead. They aren’t penalized for spending time adventuring (it’s nice to live off interest, a trust fund, etc.).

For PCs with a poverty hindrance, they don’t gain ½ a share income every month like other players. So while other players can keep their heads above water and net a little profit leading a life of adventure, that poor PC will always be digging into their pockets a bit more. These guys have to always be on the prowl for work and always be looking for some manner of employment. While others have enough resources to get by, idleness will slowly grind PCs with the poverty hindrance into the ground. They just can’t get the typical monthly income other players get.

I like how this works for my game. PCs slowly accumulate their shares of wealth. Every month of game time I tell players to dock off half a share for expenses. If a lot of time has passed where they haven’t done anything noteworthy, their wealth is unchanged (they spend their time earning as much as they are spending). PCs with a wealthy edge don’t worry about having to spend ½ a share for upkeep, as they get that automatically and spend it every month. PCs with a poverty hindrance might have to worry about being an idle adventurer for too long as their shares of wealth can slowly be whittled away.

It’s pretty simple. I can quickly translate it to actual dollars when they need to spend something. More importantly, the bookkeeping is manageable and I don’t have to have players counting silver coins each time they hit up an inn for a belly of food, a pint of ale, and a place to rest their head.

Plot Crawl Campaign – Running my Cthulhu game with a pile of props

As I blogged about a while back, I am running a 1920s Cthulhu game on the side along with my regular Weird West campaign. I lifted an idea from the Secret Cabal Podcast which I found rather inspiring. Rather than your typical game where someone would initially approach the investigators to tackle a specific mission looking into the supernatural, instead it would be based on what the players wanted to look into. It’s a plot crawl campaign.

It’s much like your good old fashioned hex crawl game. While there isn’t a map of randomly generated content, it’s open ended to allow players to go where they will. Like a hex crawl game, a plot crawl has adventure seeds acting like a map of sorts with a few details laid out to grab the player’s interest. They make the choice where to go and what to look into. Sometimes more choices might branch out depending on what they investigate, but they can turn around and poke their heads into another ‘section of the map’ investigating some other adventure plot if they want to.

It’s designed to run very much as an episodic game. There really isn’t any over arching story. As things progress, you can have recurring villains, NPCs, and past events to weave back in as details if needed. It’s immensely flexible as you can tailor the game to deal with past events and players, building up a larger story, or just go for the ‘serial adventure of the week’ format instead. None of this has to be planned out either. You just think of 4 or 5 different adventure seeds and run with it. The details will be fleshed out as the game is played.

My players started the session being called together by a lawyer overseeing the estate of a recently deceased professor. All of them knew the person and had a relationship with him (be it a relative, colleague, etc.). They were each individually named in the will to be present for the opening of a trunk of the professor’s belongings. They were all led into a room, given a key to a small trunk, and left alone to go through the contents.

Inside the trunk they found different files, photographs, and other tidbits of strange information. I had made up a series of props in the manner of photographs, handwritten letters, and fake newspaper clippings. Each group of clues were given codes to match as a set (so all the clues for adventure G were together, while ones for adventure B were in another set, etc.). The players could rifle through the papers and pictures, and decide what they wanted to investigate.

For my first setting, I did kick things into high gear having the lawyer killed under exceedingly strange circumstances. This was followed up with the players being hunted by undead lackeys. All of it emphasizing that the strange did exist, and there were evil forces at play which knew the players had knowledge to secrets better left unknown.

However at the end of the session I gave the players a task. They needed to continue going through the contents of the trunk and decide that night what they wanted to investigate as a group for the next session. All the clues were fragments of some story, location, or odd supernatural thing. I made it a point that there were more papers and files within the trunk (meaning I would add more to the trunk later), however there were 5 different sets of clues and props for them to go through at first.

This really worked well for the group. It was a task to have them decide on what to do next (expect at least 30 minutes or so at your table). However it really cemented the feeling of them investigating these clues of weird, strange events. That there was another layer of occult existence under the normal world around them, and they were slowly unearthing it. Best of all, I knew exactly what the next adventure would be and it was based on what the PCs wanted to investigate further.

It is a bit of a chore to create some convincing props. However I didn’t have to flesh out any adventures. I just needed some ideas of a location, possible NPCs, and some weird thing for the PCs to look into. So you don’t have to have six different adventures fully prepared at the beginning, just a few ideas presented as six different sets of clues. As the players pick what they want to look into, I can turn around and work on that adventure specifically. Since many of the details were rather vague, I could even use an adventure generator for assembling the next adventure if needed. It really is a surprisingly flexible way of providing adventure seeds where the players get to give input on where to go next.

Something like this can be adopted for other settings and I am really beginning to take a shine to it. Maybe it would be printed public notices posted around a fantasy city, or an infonet log players would look through in a sci-fi campaign. Either way, all I would have to do is sketch out a few ideas and let the players decide what they wanted to check out next at the end of the session. If you are struggling to think of ideas for your next campaign consider running a plot crawl, with props and leads for the players they can provide some inspiration for further game sessions.

Travel for Savage Worlds

My weird west campaign has my players spending a lot of time in the saddle. Quite a few of the PCs opted to get survival and tracking as skills. It’s something they thought would be helpful and envisioned their characters as more hearty, pioneer folk rather than a bunch of gunhands wanting to stick around the saloons all the time. Because of this, I wanted to try and incorporate some type of events for overland travel which might use these skills, rather than just handwaving it all the time.

I was sort of stumped though. I wanted to try adding some structure to travel, but also have the opportunity for random encounters. I wanted players to be able to use skills to impact how efficiently they conducted their expedition. I also wanted provisions and keeping on course another factor.

Digging around, I found this wonderful set of random encounters for a fantasy SW setting. I really liked how these were laid out. However, it was still a bit clunky for me. So I opted to work on it a little more and make up my own version.

I kept everything related to using cards and had no dice rolling. I also tweaked it some related to expanded events in particular terrain. Really hazardous lands might incur more usage of provisions (which would relate back to fatigue). I wanted to keep this open ended and not get down to too many specifics, in order to allow the rules to be used for a variety of settings. You can draw a single card every day, or instead decide to draw only for each important milestone.

Likewise some of the events are sketched out. Inclement weather could mean the players might suffer exposure and need to make vigor rolls to avoid fatigue. Possibly another check might need to be made to avoid a wound. Say some heavy rains have made riding along a mountainous path dangerous. So failed riding skill checks could have the player’s mount be injured (or themselves taking damage from a fall).

One big change is the number of provisions needed. If you are planning an expedition, you’re going to take enough food to get you there and back again. At key points you’ll be going through food, water, and other items needed during your journey. I wanted to reduce the overhead of excessive bookkeeping and avoid the need to keep track of various ‘legs’ of a journey. So I opted to just have set points where players exhaust a level of provisions. Be mindful that if you are drawing a card every day, but a trip might take 10 days to complete, players will likely quickly run out of provision markers early. It might be better to draw a card every 3 days or so instead.

So here are my travel rules for Savage Worlds. They allow for a variety of events where player abilities can help in reducing misfortune. I think they are also relatively generic enough to work in a variety of settings. Hope people get some use out of them around the game table.

DM Tip: Intimidation isn’t always bad cop, worse cop

This always seems to happen. You’ve got a NPC refusing to offer some assistance or key information. Then a player grabs a d20 and tells you they are cuffing the guy across the face and demanding something, rolling off using their intimidation skill. It’s at a point like this where I might turn the NPC into a gibbering heap, spouting snot, tears, and nonsense, completely worthless for offering any help. That demonstration of physical force and the threat of more has rendered the person panicked in utter fear, unable to act. Or alternately, I might even push an NPC into responding with violence as they feel they have no doubt the player means them harm.

I always viewed intimidation as more than just physical threats against someone. I see intimidation almost like insight, but keyed in on sensing weakness. They are able to read that weakness and then use it as a tool to force someone to their whims.

It can certainly be a physical aspect but it doesn’t have to just be a warrior hefting a weapon threateningly. It could be a stare or a physical presence that instills doubt. We’ve likely all experienced this before. You’ve met someone that just carries themselves in a way that projects threat.

Take the crime drama, Knockaround Guys. There is a scene where Vin Diesel gives a beat down on a local thug in a bar. His dialog at the start of that scene is great. It’s just him talking about wanting to be a tough guy and figuring as a kid 500 fights was the number needed. He describes his reasoning and simply starts taking off his jacket. You can see the steam and ego of his opponent just deflate. The local thug has overstepped the line. In front of him is a legitimate tough and all of this is achieved through words and an imposing physical presence.

Intimidation is the key ability to know what threats will work and what will sting the most. It’s an ability to read the social standing of someone, and likely what they hold near and dear. Threats don’t have to be physical. They can target a NPC’s character and their standing with the law, or maybe a threat to dishonor them in society or to family (think Francis Urquhart/Underwood from House of Cards).

Someone with a high skill in intimidation can also likely read when a threat is serious or not. It’s staring right through a facade of a violent display and recognizing it for being just chest thumping and bluster. So PCs with this skill could read certain threats and certain social situations much like insight would.

Unlike diplomacy, that seeks a common ground and tries to build cooperation through good will, Intimidation is all about manipulating people through threats (real or perceived). Not all of these threats have to be physical. When you look at intimidation as a means of seeing weakness in someone, and being able to capitalize on that, you open the door for a lot more opportunities and a variety of means to use the skill. Consider letting your PCs explore intimidation being more than just the ability to get answers from someone by knocking out teeth.

The importance of maps

I’ve gone back and forth with maps. On one hand my free time is limited. Rarely I have the time (or skill) to hand draw an elaborate map for my game. While mining online resources is always an option, it does take some time and usually difficult to get a map that is precisely what would fit your game. So at times I’ve slipped into giving a locale or backdrop environment a narrative description. While it does cut down my game prep time, just describing something doesn’t seem to grasp my PC’s interest.

As one deficiency to using a narrative approach, I don’t spout a thesaurus-like vocabulary when I try to evoke a mental picture in everyone’s head. I just can’t seem to get that descriptive and it never seems to match that of a physical representation. Having a physical document, where everyone eagerly props their elbows up on the table to gaze over a printed page, just seems to capture their imagination more.

This works for me too, I just seem to sprout more ideas when I sketch out something. It even works just looking at maps. The Nentir Vale seems more alive when you have a map to gaze at. Even a sparse one like over at D&D Doodle gets your story gears churning. The paved road through the woods depicted there just oozes theme. Could there be bandits? And what of the Farmer’s stead nearby? Does he offer a reprieve from the elements? Or are travelers forced to camp near the waystone before the long trek through the forest? And what of the barren patch of hills to the north?

For my recent Savage Worlds weird west campaign I managed to snag a wonderful alternate history map of the US. The various political states got me thinking about different movers and shakers within this fictional Americas. How did Texas become an independent republic? How friendly would the Union be towards the British Possessions in what would be Canada today? Would the former colonies be close or would they have better relations with the relatively independent Dominion of Canada? All of the partitioned country boundaries of these Americas got me thinking of potential allies and villains for my PCs.

Maps do that. They spark the imagination of players and can certainly get your creative juices going as a DM. There’s a certain concrete feeling of having a physical document in your hand that cordons off potential wild thoughts into tactile plans for stories.

So when considering thinking up your next grand adventure or new campaign. Spend some time sketching or searching for a suitable map. You’d be surprised how many ideas you can get from an image of transecting lines and the stories that might spring from them.