Evil PCs and NPCs have been on my mind as of late. For villains most DMs seem to go with the typical kick-a-puppy type. You’ve got a baddie and they are mean. Occasionally you’ll dabble in the Mr. Freeze type, a villain that thinks they have moral justification for their evil actions. But for the most part you’ve got villains running around doing really bad things to good people.
Thugs, bandits, warlords, necromancers, you can pretty easily sketch out what drives that type of evil. But if you broaden your definition of evil some. You start to see how easily it can be a label placed on many NPCs, organizations, and even for the players.
What I define as evil in much of my campaigns is a lack of empathy and selfishness. You’ve got a merchant that scraped their little store together from nothing. They’ve been ruthless against competition and unyielding with their prices and policies. Want to get something on credit? Sure, but you pay hefty interest. They’re the kind running a company store for mining claims. They are evil.
Think of a wealthy merchant that built trade empire on white lies and uncaring adherence to the law. They never busted heads or threatened anyone with violence, but they sure got signatures for contracts through pure browbeating and other underhanded tactics (cutting off water rights, undervalued offers for land, etc.) that would make a fictional character like There Will Be Blood’s Daniel Plainview seem mild.
If anything Lawful Evil would be a fairly common description of most the evil NPCs in my game. While they might not outright break laws, they certainly bend them and find loopholes. Even more so they’ll also unerringly seek to enforce laws that play to their advantage. The most important characteristic they share would be lack of empathy and being selfish. They are a literal embodiment of ‘F&*K you. Got mine.’
It’s their family, loved ones, and kin that might get an expression of kindness or caring. Everyone else might get a furrowed brow of concern at the most. After all, they can’t give away all they have to help everyone in the world. And this logic is used to cloak themselves from shame when turning their backs on strangers in need. When you adopt that type of mentality for evil NPCS, you begin to see these types of people can be found everywhere in your game.
Alignment isn’t an absolute. Those good villagers might be distrustful of strangers, and circle more around those that they know. But they can be goaded into doing the right thing. However for my evil NPCs I see them doing good deeds as a way to adhere to quid pro quo. Yes, that evil noble will donate to an orphanage but it isn’t an act of charity or compassion. They know they are getting something from it. They know it helps seat them in power and sway the peasants to his banner. He is using that act of charity to further his own selfish goals.
This is easily something that can be adopted for your players. The evil PC is going to get theirs, no matter what. Tasked with clearing out a warren of goblins? Okay. But the village is going to pay. The PC will get a reward AND keep a share of treasure found, no matter what. It’s literally a mercenary way of thinking. And when this type of motivation is expanded some, ensuring a PC gets compensated sufficiently for every ‘good’ deed that is done, your game opens up to playing evil aligned characters.
I would argue it’s the Neutral characters that are the most difficult to play. I see these types more akin to zen-like monks that see the value in letting the universe just be, and not align with any particular moral force. These types seem to hardest to properly stoke motivation in navigating through potential story lines and adventures.
In the past I’ve put my foot down on having players helm evil characters. More from my laziness in not wanting to wrestle with thinking up the right type of adventure hooks and lures to get the group going in a particular campaign direction. But lately I’ve reconsidered acceptable motivations for PCs that swerve into more selfish territory. Once you allow the notion of evil being acceptable for PCs, you’ll also start seeing it a more common NPC personality trait too. It can add more complexity and depth to the type of interactions your group has with denizens in your campaign, and something worth exploring around the table.
Picked up Tomb of Annihilation and eager to get my group into the adventure. It really looks fun. One thing stood out for me though was that a decent chunk of the game is a hex crawl. I wanted to dabble some in exploration of the island, but didn’t want the hex-by-hex movement the book suggested. Instead I wanted to farm out the overland travel system I used for Savage Worlds.
It’s an abstract system using milestones and marking provision levels using markers. The journey to a location is divided up into milestones, where each milestone reduces the levels of supplies one by one. If players reach a milestone and are out of provisions they suffer fatigue.
Random encounters and challenges are based on drawing cards. If a face card is drawn, something happens with the suit dictating what event occurs. They can range from getting lost, losing supplies, to even encounters with creatures. I tweaked it some to make it more friendly for 5E D&D.
Nearly all of the obstacles and challenges players will face require group checks. One pickle of course, especially dealing with rations, is there are magical items and spells that would likely counter any effects of obstacles during travel. To take these spells and equipment into account, players get advantage on checks that they make if they use (or have access to) such abilities.
I stumbled across a player friendly map version of a Chult which I like far more than the default blank hex map in the module. In addition for exploring the jungles of Chult, I had some additional rules…
Speed of Travel: For each milestone players should determine their speed. Normal speeds will cover 10 miles per day (a single hex), while traveling by canoe allow for 20 miles per day (2 hexes). The DM should determine the total distance traveled for a single milestone of the trip and decide what likely terrain types will be common for potential events during the trip.
If traveling at a slow pace, roll a d12. A roll of 12 results in the group being able to make up the distance traveled as if they were moving at a normal pace. Otherwise the pace is much slower and the total distance expected to travel for the milestone is halved. There is a bonus of +4 to any checks however as the slow pace allows the group to be better prepared to overcome any challenges.
If travelling at a fast pace the party will travel 1 and ½ times the total distance they normally would cover traveling at a normal pace to reach a milestone. Any checks made during the trip are at a disadvantage. Note this means traveling at a fast pace will cancel any advantage players get due to spells, abilities, magic items, or special equipment for ability checks.
Guides: The guides are a fairly critical part of the initial adventure and I wanted to have them serve some importance here. If a Hearts suit is drawn as an event, the guide makes a difficult Wisdom check (DC 15). If successful they can allow up to two players to make their Wisdom check with advantage to avoid getting lost.
Gear and Equipment: Some equipment like rain catchers can allow players to supplement the provisions they carry. These items will allow players to have advantage on certain checks.
Terrain types: The jungles of Chult are exceedingly difficult to travel and navigate. The region is hot and humid, making one consume far more water than journeys through other lands. The high canopy of trees and foliage make conditions of the jungle almost similar to that of the Underdark. Combined with the dark jungles is hilly terrain crisscrossed with narrow streams, and lack of unique landmarks and direct sunlight make orienteering difficult. Additionally, some regions covered with swampy water attract even more aggressive wildlife. These conditions and lands alter the resolution of events seen in typical overland travel. The normal rules for travel are used however some events may have a greater chance of occurring.
Undead Territory: Areas of lesser and greater Undead Territory are more likely to have a chance to encounter undead. A draw of Spades (2-Ace) indicates that the players have stumbled into an encounter. This is regardless of the terrain type.
Jungle: Deep jungle terrain not broken up by river or coastline is hard to navigate and the rough ground and heat make it more likely provisions will be consumed faster. The jungle also is a refuge for all manners of creatures. A draw of Clubs (8-Ace) means that players may lose one rank of provisions. A draw of Hearts (5-Ace) indicates that the group might become lost and add another milestone to their journey. A draw of Spades (8-Ace) results in a random encounter for the party.
Swamp: The additional water in this terrain makes it more hospitable to wildlife and the fetid marches can be a source for disease. A draw of Spades (5-Ace) results in a random encounter for the party. A draw of Clubs (5-Ace) means that players may lose one rank of provisions.
An example of a travel milestone– A group decides to head south through the jungle of Chult to explore unknown regions and then return to Port Nyanzaru. The DM decides this will take a total of 4 milestones. Two to travel a certain distance out into unexplored land and 2 milestones returning to civilization. They are prepared and have a full complement of rations and water, so they are at the Stocked provision rank and also are taking canoes with them. The DM decides that for the first milestone the group will travel for 7 days, and the group tells the DM they will attempt this first leg of the journey at a normal pace. Note if the players were trying to reach a specific location, the DM would still say the trip would require 4 milestones (2 to reach the destination and 2 to return to Port Nyanzaru), but the actual number of days per milestone could be greater, or less, depending on the map distance.
Looking over the map, the party decides plots a course that will try to take advantage of a nearby river. The group will try to travel 4 hexes (40 miles) in 4 days through the jungle. On the final 3 days they can cover another 6 hexes (60 miles) by canoe rapidly navigating through a great river. This might change however depending on what events transpire during the first part of the journey. The DM expects that at the end of the first milestone the party will have traveled 10 hexes at most.
The DM decides for this initial milestone the party will have three potential challenges. Two will certainly occur when travelling in the jungle, while the third might take place as the group is on the river (or still occur in the jungle depending on what happens). A player draws one card getting a 2 of Spades indicating no major event happens during the first leg of the trip.
A second card is drawn indicating a 7 of Hearts. The group might possibly become lost. They have a guide and a Wisdom check (DC 15) is made for the NPC which fails. This means even the guide is turned around and cannot help the players get through the thick jungle (not allowing the players to make any checks at advantage). The DM decides that a medium DC Wisdom (Survival) is appropriate. One player is a Ranger with the Forest as their favored terrain, and another has a magical compass. The DM allows both of these players to make ability checks with advantage.
Despite this help, most of the party fails their Wisdom (Survival) checks. The entire journey will take another milestone. The DM decides that the players still keep on track direction-wise, but get turned around some or make a bad choice trying to go a certain path leading to an impassable area, adding time to the overall trip. Instead of taking 4 days to travel 40 miles, the party takes 6 days to travel the same distance.
The last check for this milestone the DM decides will be on the river for one additional day of travel. The players have made it through the jungle and are now seeing what event might unfold as they travel by canoe. An ace of Clubs is drawn. Players make another medium DC Wisdom (Survival) group check to determine if they manage to utilize their rations effectively. Again most of the group fails their checks. The DM describes a large portion of food and fresh water is lost as a canoe capsizes. The group loses one rank of provisions and are now at a High rank.
At the end of the first milestone, provisions decrease another rank with the party supplies at a Sufficient rank. At the end of 7 days, the group has traveled 6 hexes. Forty miles through jungle and another 20 miles along the river. As time was lost and another milestone added to the journey, they didn’t travel as far as expected. This is a little open ended as they are not trying to reach a specific destination but rather poke around in unexplored territory. However now the group has a difficult choice.
They can press further, but due to early difficulty navigating through the jungles they’ve severely cut down the territory they can explore. If they were trying to reach a specific location they would have an additional milestone to their journey. They could cut their losses and spend another milestone to return back to Port Nyanzaru, or push on and see if they can get some luck. If they choose to travel further, they can hope when low on provisions they are able to forage enough from the countryside to supplement dwindling supplies.
I’ve used this system with great success in my Savage Worlds games. I like it as it keeps everyone engaged and contributing to the success (or failure) of the group. For 5E I’d consider not allowing automatic successes due to spells and abilities but instead offer advantage on checks. I’d also consider using the ability checks as suggestions and feel free to allow players to pitch the use of other ability checks if they can effectively describe their actions. Strength (Athletics) and Constitution checks might be alternates depending on the conditions and situations the players are tackling.I hope folks find some use for this in their games.
I’ve got a player eager to take the helm running a D&D game periodically. I’m super excited to see them flip to the other side of the screen and be a DM. They freely admitted struggling some with thinking up an appropriate way to kick off the game, and the decision to dabble in making up their own world or run something pre-made. They also wanted to know if I had any advice. So I pointed them over to Running the Game, a YouTube series about being a DM.
It’s done by Matthew Colville, a writer that also works in the video game industry. The videos he creates run between 15 to 30 minutes and commonly cover a specific RPG topic. Some address a specific issue most DMs will face at the table or when planning out their session. He also has a series that covers his own game more in detail and the problems he occasionally has when playing.
Now a big caveat with the advice is that what he will regularly state the tidbits he throws out are his opinions and how he likes to run his own games. Your mileage might vary with his advice, and he’ll freely admit his approach might not be for everyone. Another point is that much of the series is about running D&D. I think if you were a GM for other game systems a lot of his advice would still be great but you are going to get some chunks of content not quite applicable to a non-D&D game.
This last point touches on a few episodes. One is related to the Deck of Many things (which dragged some for me), and if not playing D&D or including that magic item in your campaign, much of the video will be not helpful. However you might pick up some interesting tips and ideas handling a similar powerful, legendary magical item in your own game. The concept of using a few props to spice up your game is great and I particularly like the idea of a little sleight of hand to make players think they have full agency (when in reality you are guiding events some).
Another ding with the video series is the speed that Matthew speaks. He talks fast. You might want to slow down the playback speed at little. I think especially if English wasn’t your mother tongue you’d have a hard time keeping up. I enjoy his rapid fire dialog and find it engaging and quippish, but keep in mind he speaks at a fair clip.
But these are quibbles. You’ll find his videos a great resource. I especially like that he also talks about things that fall flat at his table. We tend to just spout off the things that work in our sessions and not dwell on the times when things just didn’t work. I agree with his opinion that sharing stuff that failed can also serve as helpful advice.
In the end you have a fantastic introduction to being a DM. Seriously, for the uninitiated wanting to sit down and try their hand at running a game, this is a great series. The first four are especially solid tutorials for DMing your initial adventure. There really are some golden tips covered in them. It’s such a helpful and entertaining bunch of tutorials. I really can’t recommend it enough to new DMs, and if you’re a bit long in the tooth as a GM, give a few videos a watch. You’ll either be nodding your head in agreement or picking up a few good ideas for your own game.
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.
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.
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.
Awarding 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.
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.
Getting 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.
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).
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.
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.