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10 Ways to Run a Better Tabletop Game

Human BooksWe’re keeping it quick and clean this week; enjoy these suggestions on how to run a tighter tabletop game and then get ready for Halloween!

 

1. Get a GM Screen.

Don’t want to spend any money on one with some sweet artwork? Fine – put together some simple word documents, print them out and use two manila storage folders (or some cardboard for the super-thrifty) to make your own. Not only will the quick reference material prove essential, but this keeps anyone with prying eyes (including those you most love and trust, apparently) from seeing the hit point totals of a creature or what an NPC’s roll for a Bluff check was.

2. Keep a Running Cast List

Do you remember that surly bartender from the inn way back at 2nd level? I bet the PC he refused to serve does, and you don’t want to give away any indication that you don’t. Make a Running Cast List and every time you hand out a name, write it down (and include a short stat block or a note or two about what the NPC is about).

 

Vikmordere Ship3. Let the Players Captain the Ship

Nobody likes throwing out hours of design and development, but you have to remember that tabletop roleplaying is a collaborative engagement. If you wrote up a campaign for the great north, but they absolutely refuse to go there, then don’t. Go ahead and provide incentive to steer them where you intended, but if they insist, make those obstacles into an adventure all their own until you can adapt what you’ve got or present something different for your players to sink their teeth into.

 

4. Snacks

Everybody loves snacks.

 

5. Ambiance

I’m not saying that you have to game in a dark basement, but you should try to. Whenever possible, have some background music or sound effects playing. If they’re in the swamp, get some chirping crickets, or if in a cathedral, get some chanting from somewhere. The effect this has on a group is readily apparent for something so easy to provide.

 

Unloading the Ship6. Voice Acting

Even if you aren’t any good at it, you should be doing this. You are the game world – bring it to life. If nothing else, it makes it easier for PCs to differentiate who’s who in a multiple NPC conversation without breaking character and provides both the GM and the group a mnemonic device to remember that fictional individual.

 

7.  The 2 Rule

This guy comes straight from the mouths of some of Paizo’s very best. It’s a general, situation-based bonus/penalty to ensure game fluidity. Find some reason for why the PC would have failed or succeeded on the check, then dole out those one or two integers to make the story move along. More details on that in the link above.

 

8. Play to the Entire Crowd

Obviously the party bard will take second seat in some combat situations, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be busy. Make sure that your encounters are keeping the attention of all the players – if they aren’t, include a lesser enemy to harry them and increase the drama. If their contributions aren’t needed for victory, they aren’t going to feel compelled to make them.

 

Snowy Forest9. Keep Random Encounters Random

Don’t stop doing them entirely, make sure to scale them (to a degree – some ambitious and overzealous goblins can be just that) and don’t make them predictable or a constant occurrence. Not all of them need to be monsters either – earthquakes, hail and freak snowstorms happen.

 

10. Have Fun!
Make sure to enjoy yourself! Happiness and good times are contagious – if you’re engaged, focused and excited, your players will be as well.


 

Do you have a contribution or idea for Meta Thursdays?  Send us your ideas (after reading the submission guidelines) to submit(at)adventureaweek.com with “Meta Thursday” in the subject line!

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The Laughing Death

Fire-Elemental-1

The Laughing Death    CR 8
XP 4,800
CE haunt (50-ft. radius)
Caster Level 8th
Notice Perception DC 20 (to hear the manic, stuttering laughter of the deranged)
Hp 16; Trigger touch (physical interaction with a skull baring golden fangs); Reset 1 day
Effect: When this haunt is triggered, several things happen; first the environs are transformed into a hellscape filled with infernal growths, cackling spirits and the shrieks of the damned. All creatures within the area must make a DC 14 Will save or become shaken and take a -2 penalty on saves versus fear effects. Both of these effects persist while within the affected area (treated as though a vision of hell had been cast).

Next, the skull pulses with a wave of energy that has a visible, strange glowing effect when it passes across the heads of any allies within the radius of the hellish illusions; afterward, creatures within the radius of the effect are left with the impression that somehow, this unholy apparition is being caused by their companions – the only way to end it (indeed, it could spread across the entire realm!) is to bash in their skulls. Any creature that fails a DC 14 Will save (with a -2 penalty) is compelled to do so, as if a suggestion were cast upon them.

Finally, the madness of the situation hits home; any creature that fails a DC 14 Will save becomes enraged, gaining a +2 morale bonus to Strength and Constitution, a +1 morale bonus on Will saves, and a -2 penalty to AC until the haunt ends or the lives of their allies have been extinguished. 

Characters that fail even a single one of these saves cackle with insane glee until the haunt ends or they’ve left its radius of effect. Any character that fails the second Will save and either the first or last Will save suffers an additional effect – should they fell any creature while this haunt persists, they immediately bash open the corpse’s skull with whatever they have at hand. They then voraciously consume the brains within until all of the gray and white matter is gone, at which point they may make an extra DC 14 Will save to break any enduring enchantments (should they fail this save, they return to attacking anyone nearby and the behavior repeats).

Destruction: Permanently destroying an occasion of The Laughing Death is no simple task – each fang of the haunted skull must be sundered by a weapon made from cold iron, then scalded by the (molten) gold of the jaw’s fangs.

Adventure Hook: A local member of the nobility has been kidnapped by gnolls under the direction of an exiled counselor that has been tracked to an abandoned keep in the mountains. Several adventuring parties have attempted to rescue the royalty, but none have succeeded. The only survivors are stark raving mad, their fingernails nearly bitten down to the bone and their eyes wide with the berth of a distant, detached and unhinged mind. Any reactions from these individuals are short, violent and to the point – when pressed for details about what happened to their companions, they scream in utter terror and flee for the wilds, never to return.

 

 

Do you have a chilling idea for a haunt? Send it along to us at submit (at) adventureaweek.com, but please, bear the following in mind before you submit anything for review:

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8. Your statblock must be properly formatted (ex: The Drowned Maiden).

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Uyutmak’s Shield

Uyutmak's Shield

Uyutmak’s Shield

Aura moderate enchantment; CL 6th
Slot none; Price 16,170 gp; Weight 15 lbs. 

Description

The rim of this ornate circular heavy steel shield is decorated with thousands of miniature fragments of gem and crystal inlaid in complex gold trim. The gilded metalwork sweeps inward to the center of the armament like a draining pool of water, each separated by strands of reflective, polished silver. A second rounded plate at its center, worked in a pattern opposite the outer ring, holds a large ornament filled with bits of jewels, with two smaller sister accouterments just off the center of the bulwark

This +2 heavy steel shield, in addition to being a true work of art, grants special abilities that may be activated after a successful shield bash. Three times per day after successfully hitting an opponent with a shield bash, the wielder of Uyutmak’s Shield may take an immediate action to temporarily disorient their opponent, cuffing them lightly and allowing the enchantment to do its work. Instead of dealing damage, the wielder uses hypnotism (as a spell-like ability that does not provoke attacks of opportunity) against the struck opponent; any creature with two or more hit die than the wielder ignores this effect, but otherwise the target is forced to make a Will save (DC 10 + 1/2 wielder’s hit die + wielder’s Charisma modifier) or be fascinated, reacting to the wielder with two steps more friendly an attitude, prepared to take one brief, reasonable request. This effect ignores spell resistance and is considered ‘out of combat’ for purposes of the save to resist it, incurring a -2 penalty to the target’s saving throw.

 

History A character that makes a Knowledge (history) or Knowledge (local) check to learn about this magic item identifies the following fragments of lore:

DC 15     Stories abound about why and how Uyutmak’s Shield came into existence, but everyone knows the person responsible: Uyutmak the dweorg skald, explorer of the Underworld. Some of the most popular tales claim that the diminutive storyteller used it to escape scores of drow raiding parties, fell subterranean monsters and confound more than one dragon in his time. Naturally, it has long been a popular item for wandering dweorg and skalds alike.

DC 20     The stories all carry a bit of truth to them, although they’ve been warped by the passage of time as much as by Uyutmak himself. While his enchanted shield certainly had a great deal to do with how he survived so many dangerous encounters in the Underworld, it was rarely ever by attacking his foes; instead, the dweorg often smacked his spellcasting companions, compelling them to do as he bid (resulting in the deaths of many of their allies, and sometimes the mage or cleric themselves).

DC 25     Uyutmak actually led to the downfall of several adventuring groups that otherwise would’ve been successful; many of his contemporary skalds claimed that the dweorg was cursed, or worse. This rumor was only enforced by the fact that several of said storytellers found that to be the last tale they spun, each suffering the same gruesome fates that met the few of Uyutmak’s companions that survived to (briefly) retire.

DC 30     The dweorg Uyutmak was not as he seemed – in truth he was a foul gitwerc, sent to the surface by a drow House deep in the Underworld to do reconnaissance, testing the proficiency and competency of Upperworld’s denizens. Eventually he came to a violent end after a collection of skalds took arms against him in a cunning magic assault, forcing the traitorous brigand to impale himself on his own blade.

 

CONSTRUCTION
Requirements Craft Magic Arms and Armor, hypnotism; Cost 8,085 gp 324 xp

 

 

Do you have an idea for an enchanted sword, arcane-empowered armor or unique magic item? Take a look at the submission rules and send a brief summary of your proposed enchanted item titled ‘Armory of Adventures submission’ to submit(at)adventureaweek.com with the following:

  • the nature of the item (weapon, armor or wondrous)
  • one or two sentences about its appearance
  • what the item in question does
  • the components and spell(s) used in its construction