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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:

1. Anyone can submit an entry.

2. One entry per person at any one time. An entry must be your own work, not being published previously or considered by any other publisher, and it must original and not infringe upon copyrighted material.

3. All entries become property of Adventureaweek.com, LLP.

4. By submitting an entry you authorize the use of your name and likeness without additional compensation for promotion and advertising purposes in all media.

5. Adventureaweek.com, LLP reserves the right to withdraw or terminate this endeavor at any time without prior notice.

6. All decisions of Adventureaweek.com, LLP and their arbiters are final.

7. There is no compensation provided – any entries are given freely by their creators for use by Adventureaweek.com, LLP in perpetuity.

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

 

 

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Confessions of an Evil GM: Boring vs. Evil

rotd-diceA few weeks ago I went on about fudging dice rolls; Brian Wiborg Monster had so much to say about it, he’s getting an entire post.

Enjoy, folks. -Mike

 

 “The boulder crushes you underneath and you take 50 points of damage.”

Ahhrrww I am dead then, well I guess I have to roll up a new…”

What, no, wait, you only take 12 points of damage.”

Oh then, I’m still up”

The above exchange between a GM and player exemplifies everything I hate about fudging dice rolls, even if the convention can be necessary to keep the game going. Fudging to keep a character alive can be essential, but when a weak GM takes away the thrill and excitement from the game it is wrong on so many levels.

 

medieval-fashion-1We all love playing in extended games, but most of us have stumbled upon a campaign or GM where something is off. We can’t quite put our finger on it…until someone avoids certain death by blatant interference from the GM (oh no, I ended up in one of those boring campaigns where you can’t die!) Now I know we have seen games where the GM plays favorites, but that subject is for another day; this is purely about campaigns where the characters are immortal because the GM is afraid to let anyone die.

It takes away from the excitement and tension; if my character can’t die, why should I even think about his actions? Without real consequences, he’ll just do everything on a whim. We will never run or surrender, just keep fighting against overwhelming odds (because we know the GM will save us). I must say, I despise it.

 

All this rambling leads me to the sentiment that I am an evil GM. Or am I? Perhaps instead I’m a GM that runs campaigns where actions have consequences (balanced consequences I like to think).

witch

I recall an occasion where I used an unconscious character as a hostage – I gave her back, but by then she was bound to a lit witch’s pyre while an evil psyker directed mobs to block the remaining characters’ from reaching her, with screams of “burn the witch” echoing down the alleyways.

This was set on a pleasure planet in a certain dark future of mankind setting (Where there is only war! -MM). Should the character have died horribly? Yes, she should have. That would have made me evil, but details ensured her survival. First, the group really worked well together to rescue her. Secondly, the planet was in lockdown due to a festival (yeah you know the adventure now, don’t you?) that would have made it difficult to get a replacement character. Thirdly, I was having a good day! No, seriously, the group worked together and legitimately saved the character.

 

In said campaign, a few rules were made painfully clear when playing with me as a GM:

1) Don’t split the party.

2) Don’t run down dark corridors on your own, unless you want to spend the rest of the session doped up on painkillers to function after your chest has been shredded by combat shotguns fired from ambush.

3) Don’t trust a clergyman, ever.

4) Don’t split the party. Never ever.

horse-pictures-24

Now I might add, forget rule #1 and #4, because if I want you to split up, it will happen. It is my experience that the coolest things happen when the party is divided, because those times are the most risky in terms of character death and maiming. With that said, it is important to remember that the rewards in those situations should be higher as well.

Sneaking alone after an informant to a clandestine meeting is dangerous, but learning where the identity of other members of the cult makes the risk worth it. Being discovered eavesdropping on a secret cult meeting will most likely result in a ritual sacrifice to send a message, with you being that sacrifice, unless you run and run fast.

Evil? Yes.

Fun and exciting? Yes.

Boring? No way.

  

To sum everything up:

-Don’t be afraid to kill characters. It keep players excited and interested in their own charges as well as those of the rest of the group.

-Don’t kill just for the sake of it. Say to yourself, “What would BBEG (big bad evil guy – MM) do to a hostage at this point in his plan?”, and act accordingly. It is not a James Bond flick where the BBEG traps the hero, explains his grand scheme and how the hero could theoretically stop him, all the while laughing like a madman.

-The players should not necessarily fear you, but they should fear certain things in an environment, a name, a place, or a situation.

forest picture

If they end up hating you for my ramblings, or should you find them useful, remember one thing:

Oderint Dum Metuant

Let them hate, so long as they fear

 

 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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Unfulfilled Contract

graveyard-pictures-15Unfulfilled Contract    CR 9
XP 9,600
N persistent haunt (30 ft. radius)
Caster Level 8th
Notice Perception DC 22 (to feel the temperature drop)
Hp 36; Trigger touch (10 ft. radius around the headstone of Gravon Thylen); Reset 1 day
Effect: In the first round, the haunt materializes as a cloaked figure wielding a broken sword and starts to suck the life from anyone in the 30 ft. radius. All inside the radius must save vs. the spell enervation (no touch attack to hit is needed, instead the victims are given a DC 17 Will save to negate the negative level damage)
On the second round anyone still within the 30 ft. radius is subjected to a geas spell, with the magical command to fulfill Gravon Thylen’s last contract (remove curse cannot stop this geas, otherwise it functions as per the spell’s description).
On the third round the haunt fades away leaving only a bleached and crumbled wanted poster – Gravon Thylen’s last contract (for the person that killed him in a confrontation just outside of the town).
Destruction: Fulfill Thylen’s last contract and bring back proof of the deed, placing it on his grave.

Adventure Hook: Two dead men have been discovered in the nearby cemetery. Neither corpse shows any signs of violence, but both display signs of extreme fright, their eyes stretched open in a rictus of fear while their hands are held outward as if to ward something off. The local drunkard rambles on about a sword wielding greenish mist, but most of his neigbors put little faith in his babbling and more in his drinking habits. Still, the local priest asks the party to investigate.

 

Submitted by Brian Wiborg Monster.

 

 

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:

1. Anyone can submit an entry.

2. One entry per person at any one time. An entry must be your own work, not being published previously or considered by any other publisher, and it must original and not infringe upon copyrighted material.

3. All entries become property of Adventureaweek.com, LLP.

4. By submitting an entry you authorize the use of your name and likeness without additional compensation for promotion and advertising purposes in all media.

5. Adventureaweek.com, LLP reserves the right to withdraw or terminate this endeavor at any time without prior notice.

6. All decisions of Adventureaweek.com, LLP and their arbiters are final.

7. There is no compensation provided – any entries are given freely by their creators for use by Adventureaweek.com, LLP in perpetuity.

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

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Skofnung, “Best of All Swords”

Sword-of-King-Rytan/SkofnungSKOFNUNG, “BEST OF ALL SWORDS”
Aura strong evocation; CL 15th
Slot none; Price 156,400 gp; Weight 6 lbs.
Description
This beautiful mithral sword is fully four feet long with a long double-edged grooved blade that tapers down to a needle sharp point at the tip while a small cross guard protects the hilt. A pattern picked out in gold runs down the blade and the ornate runes occasionally flare with intense raw magical power. The polished horn grip is wrapped in the bleached leather of ancient unknown beast while a flawless scarlet jacinth of appreciable size adorns the handle. The weapon is carried in a leather scabbard stitched with golden thread, worn over the shoulder in the traditional style of the wild warriors of the frozen north.

This +5 keen wounding mithral longsword is a heavy sword with a tight grip designed for single-handed use to be combined with a shield. It’s double-edged blade is around three and half feet long, suggesting that it is a thrusting weapon almost as much as it is a slashing weapon.

Skofnung was enchanted by unknown beings using powerful rituals and has long been recognized as a weapon for true royalty. In the hands of a bearer that possesses any noble rank, its wounds are exceptionally deadly; any bleed damage caused by the weapon can only be healed by bandages that have been impregnated with amber that has been blessed by a cleric of a good god or after receiving a healing spell at Caster Level 15th or above. Otherwise, the injuries continue to bleed until treated or the unfortunate subject dies.

Additionally, whenever Skofnung falls into another set of hands, the gemstone changes – currently it is a jacinth, but it has been recorded as having been a flawless diamond, an emerald and a blue star sapphire.

History      A character that makes a Knowledge (local) or Knowledge (Royalty & Nobility) check to learn about the item identifies the following fragments of lore:

 

DC 20      Skofnung was the sword of legendary northern king Hrólf Kraki. “The best of all swords that have been carried in northern lands”, it was renowned for supernatural sharpness and hardness as well as for being imbued with the spirits of the king’s twelve faithful berserker bodyguards.

DC 25      The legendary blade was stolen from the King’s burial mound after he died, by the famed fighter-thief Skeggi the Strong (who was chosen by lot to break into the gravemound and retrieve it). The sword was handed down from Skeggi to his kinsman Thorkel Eyjólfsson, lent to him in order to kill the outlaw lord Grim, who had killed Skeggi’s son. Thorkel fought Grim, but the two became firm friends and Thorkel never returned the sword to Skeggi.

DC 30      Skofnung was briefly lost when Thorkel’s ship capsized on a long journey and all of those on it were drowned. The sword became stuck fast in some of the timbers of the vessel and washed ashore. It was recovered Thorkel’s son Gellir, as it is mentioned that he carried it with him later in other adventures. Gellir died returning from a series of adventures far to the south, and was eventually buried at Thaskilde castle, his family home. It seems Skofnung was not buried with him because the few available records note that Gellir did not have the blade with him, “as it had been retrieved by the gods on their final journey home”.

DC 35     According to the ancient saga of Hrolf Kraki, the sword is not to be drawn in the presence of women and that the sun must never shine on the sword’s hilt. It is also told by the followers of Skeggi the Strong that any wound made by Skofnung will not heal unless dressed with bandages dipped in blessed amber.

CONSTRUCTION
Requirements Craft Magic Arms and Armor, bleed, keen edge; Cost 78,200 gp (3,128 xp)

 

Submitted by Jonathan Ely

[Edited by Mike Myler]

 

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