Monday, 16 July 2018

Dungeon Master: Magic Items as Stories

Magic items are capable of a great many things. They can give players and villains alike a needed boost in strength. They can be the source of entire adventures, or trinkets that the players don't think twice about. However, they tend to get stories associated with them over the course of adventures. Even otherwise seemingly useless items may gain life for their utility, or be remembered fondly for the one time they proved to be useful. At this point they become more than just a magic item, they become a story. And it is this topic I hope to explore today.

More Than A +1 Longsword

An easy first step is to avoid giving +1 weapons. Make the item something special by adding a couple of details. Even something small like a few notched on the cross guard can lead to an interesting story when someone they run into finds it familiar. Now, I'd usually recommend something bigger but subtly can be surprisingly effective too.

In terms of function, I've found going big is most memorable. Something that changes the game. The real potential for story telling with these items isn't that it's just a sword like my old one but does more damage. It's that it opened up new options previously beyond the player's reach. The new options that open up allow for new stories to be told. However, you can do both aspects or one or the other. The great part about an item, even if it's just a +1 longsword in combat, is that it might open up role-play opportunities not otherwise possible. A +1 longsword in a world with almost no +1 longswords becomes something more. It will be coveted.

Let's Find Them!

There is always the classic story of trying to find an item. A whole campaign could revolve around finding an item. Whether that's because it's valuable to the players or the NPC that hired them is irrelevant: the item has value and they'll look for it. It takes care though, and players who are willing to go after such a goal.

However, I think that you can't rely on the item itself in this case to drive the whole campaign and story. Instead it's a catalyst for the players and forces who want it to perform actions. As such, the location where the item is and the path to getting to it is the real core of the story. Where and how an item is found, even one that wasn't sought, tells quite a lot about that item and can hint to a larger story. This may sound obvious but I've seen all too often that an item becomes all that is important in a campaign instead of a setup.


An item needs to be made by someone for some reason, and if the players aren't going to pawn it off at the nearest stand they'll need a purpose for it too. The purpose may not be foreseen, since it's up to the players to find creative methods to use items. However, if the players realize they are about to face a dangerous situation it isn't uncommon for them to look for ways to change the odds more in their favour. And a common method is through magic items. Scrolls, magic rings, world shattering devices, a sun blade in a vampire centred campaign, take your pick. What's great about these situations is that since the players are actively seeking these items out, it means they already have a purpose. Of course, the trouble with this method is that if the players always break to look for magic items and resources, a good portion of the tension will fly out the window. They can't always run into a situation perfectly prepared.

When it's on the other side of the DM screen I find that the items should help further the goal of the NPC in some way. If the NPC or villain is also chasing after the same item, they need to have a reason. Money is an easy one, but something more personal can often lead to better results. Potions to prevent aging, or the severed limb of a now crippled death knight who wants to regain his power. Those sorts of things.


Magic items can become part of the identity of a character. I think we can all remember a character we had that had a certain item that was closely associated with the character in question. Even if it's a published item like a sun blade, the moment it was used cleverly to kill 3 vampire spawn goes down in campaign history and leaves an impact. What it requires to become more in this case is a special moment and use for it. After all, a sun blade wouldn't have been nearly as fondly remembered in a campaign with no vampires, though it would still prove to be more useful than a regular old short sword. This also means that if a player character dies, their old magic items have a history attached to them. I've seen this occur both in cases where players reacquired items their old characters used to have (the campaign was set a thousand years after their previous ones), or where a new player joining a group received the items from their recently dead friend. The responsibility to do justice to their fallen comrade that the player role-played was something hard to describe. The reactions the players had to regaining their old items that now had a long storied history in the world was also hard to describe. The item became a character in the campaign itself, and it was like seeing an old friend NPC come back.

On top of that, some magic items can help tell the story of a character. It's not that uncommon to see a player character who is a disgraced noble or hero. Besides their magic sword, and memories of grander days, they have virtually nothing. You can also have the item grow in power over the course of the campaign as the player becomes more powerful and gains more control over their magic item. In this case, their starting weapon is closely linked to their personal story and has a history all their own. It's also a history you can let the player come up with. Whether it's the magic sword of their fallen friend that they will take to finish their work or whatever else, such a history is a great opportunity for telling stories and role-playing.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Dungeon Master: When to End a Session

Part of plotting a session is trying to figure out when you will call it a day. Eventually time runs out and we need to take a break. However, we also want the sessions to be fun and interesting. This is why it is so hard and so much of a skill. Balancing interesting things, and allowing players the chances to do what they wish within a defined time is tough. It's made even tougher by the nature of role-playing games: things often don't go as planned. Hopefully my thoughts on the matter will be useful and as always, I'm happy to hear other opinions.

Too Short Better Than Too Long

I am of the opinion that running too short is better than running too long in most cases. There are some exceptions that immediately come to mind, but the good thing about running short is that it means you still got through what you had planned. This usually means that there isn't much of a risk of a dead session where nothing happened. Some sessions will naturally be more interesting than others, but something happening is better than nothing. Of course, things could have gone off track but full of interesting events. My group also tends to have strictly timed sessions because of other commitments so I have this opinion by necessity.

What happens if we get through everything we planned? We could of course keep going and in many cases, I'd say this is the correct choice. We have the time so let's use it and continue in the story. The risk we run into is pacing and structure issues. Jumping into a half completed segments, combat encounters especially, can be rough. If we know that we only have 20 minutes left, it may be a good idea to break early instead of expecting everyone to jump right back into a half finished encounter. We could also end up ending on a low note after a tough and engaging combat encounter. In practice, I'm not really worried about this option. I find players often appreciate some breathing time after and to reflect on what happened. Still though, it should progress even if slowly. Some extra time at the end is also perfect if you plan to do a session postmortem.

When Is it Better To Run Longer?

There is also the option of running the session a bit longer sometimes. It will depend on who you have. It could be the only thing they have left for the day so whether they leave at 11pm or 11:20 doesn't matter as long as it ends reasonably close. In these cases, the right choice might be to just do the encounter and end on the high note. We'll run long but we can afford it. It is also sometimes a good idea to let your players know the session will run longer if you know ahead of time. This is especially true for the end of a campaign. If you normally have sessions that run 2-3 hours, it might be a good idea to run a longer 4 hour session and finish everything in one chunk. That way everything is fresh and rolls together well.

Why Are Breaks Bad?

It's been my experience that sessions tend to be scheduled weekly or by-weekly for groups. A week or two are perfect amounts of time to forget things and even with experienced groups, it can take a little bit of time to file the rust off and continue. I find it's somewhere in the 10-15 minute range. For this reason, starting a session in a half-completed combat encounter doesn't generally work the best. If you are using digital tools, it's less of a concern because the map will be untouched. Physical maps and miniatures need to be put away unless you don't need that table for 2 weeks. Sometimes it's unavoidable. I found my players prefer ending a bit early and starting the combat encounter next time. Some combat encounters can be very large and ornate, and in those it's more reasonable to find a logical spot to stop and commence. If the fight takes place in a tower where floors are breaking, stopping just as they fell to the final floor is better a less defined and memorable situation. And obviously the longer the time span between sessions, the worse it is.

Play Until Done

I've played in sessions where the target was about 2 hours, but everyone would stay until it was done. As a result things would often run long (3 hours, and once 4 hours) but each session felt like a complete experience. This worked great for this group, but not everyone has that kind of flexibility and out-of-game factors overrule the game in these cases. But man, is it satisfying to spend a most of a day playing a tabletop game.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Dungeon Master: What A Roll Says

Chance is an important part of a tabletop game and the dice is our tool for introducing it. That little object can determine success or failure for our actions. However, one thing I've wrestled with for as long as I've been gaming is what the roll actually says. In some cases it is rather straight forward. You swung your sword and you hit. In others, such as rolling to determine if someone is lying, things get weirder. As a player, you can even ignore your roll in this case. And it is with the intent to explore this idea that I write today.

Same Idea

Regardless, I find things work best when the meaning of a roll and its result is understood by all at the table. It makes things work far smoother. That way a player knows what the roll failure means and can role-play accordingly. Restarting a scene is something I feel should not happen during play. It takes away one of the great strengths of tabletop gaming: the commitment to choices and progression of story. It is also a major thing that marks it to be different than most video games, though some try to do this as well (though some fiddling with your appdata folders is still possible).

The Roll

So I roll my dice to see if the character was lying. Whether I succeed or fail, we are in a bit of an odd situation. If I failed, and they are in fact lying, do I think they are telling the truth? If they are telling the truth, do I think they are lying? This also adds an extra issue: if I do this consistently, the meta-game becomes obvious. If I failed I get the opposite result. If I rolled a 1 I know what is going on by process of elimination. I can obfuscate it and sometimes tell the truth and sometimes lie. I can also say they don't know when they fail and give the players an answer when they succeed. I'd say this last one is the most common and the simplest to implement. In general, it would be my suggestion for those things that involve recollection or mind related checks. Of course, introducing some exceptions into the mix can make for fun gameplay moments.

Ignoring Them

I don't mean ignoring them like when you don't bother to roll because a player role-played their character well and brought up an excellent point that doesn't need a charisma check. What I mean is that even if a player thinks a character isn't lying, they may still choose not to believe them. This is where things get a bit rough. Is a lie of omission a lie? Technically it is, and I'd argue that a roll should help you figure out that something is being hidden from you based on things you notice from the person who told the lie. However, even if that checks out, a player may still choose to ignore the result and not believe the character. This character broke their word thrice already. Why would I believe them again? Even if they don't lie, they are setting something up. There is a trick somewhere. These moments are great since it's the character the player created overpowering what the player knows or think they know. The roll gave them something, be it knowledge or a new position after climbing a wall. What they choose to do with what they gained is their business.

Did We Succeed?

Your character is trying to convince someone of something. Maybe they are lying, maybe they aren't. Still, how do you know if you succeeded? In this situation, it's hard to tell until the results come back to you. If a bad guy saw through your lie because they are better at reading your actions, or because they know something that directly contradicts what you said, you won't know until they spring their trap. Sometimes you will by a change in disposition. However, sometimes the result of the roll won't be known until farther along, because they'll use the chance to trap you. Again, it's fine and niche in application, but still important. Just make sure to note it for later use. It's easy to forget that your bad guy noticed if you don't.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Dungeon Master: Maintaining Player Interest

I recently wrote a little bit about hooking players. However, that's just phase one. Once we have them hooked, we need to keep them. This is far more subtle, and still requires serious attention. It involves delivering things that were promised, but often not in ways originally expected. Part of it is also getting your players to think of the future, and look forward to their options. And of course, there is much more to it as well. So let's jump into it.

Giving Players What They Want

Part of a campaign is giving players what they want. Now, this could mean a lot of things and be delivered in different ways. It could also change from player to player. Some players will want elaborate, complex, and challenging combat encounters. Others will want situations they can talk their way out, or rally allies to their cause. Others still will want to unravel a mystery, or navigate the complex political relationships between kingdoms, alliances and empires. Keep hitting these notes that your players love, and they'll be looking forward to more. Seems simple right? Well, not necessarily.

What If They Don't Know?

There is more than that. It's great if your players know themselves well enough to be able to tell you what they want. However, they may miss things. Likewise there will be constraints. You can't have massive battles every session at the same time as deep political intrigue, and a hunt for a lost magical item without it getting jumbled occasionally. So the player who likes political intrigue may need to wait a session or two to have their favourite part come back.

These situations are tough. Finding out what your players like when they don't can be a game of trial and error. However, don't be too worried. Well executed searches that are in the right ballpark go over fine. There just might be other things your players enjoy more that you'll find as you search. You may need to balance everyone's wants as well, and a player might not get their favourite thing but still get enough to enjoy coming back every time. Sometimes players want something new. What is that? Well, they'll know when they find it. It's not exactly helpful advice but it does remind us that looking for novel things isn't a bad thing.

You can also hit something else. There may be a root cause to why your player likes what they like. You may also learn that your player likes the other aspects of the game too, even if they didn't previously say it. This could happen for a wide variety of reasons from their previous game experience, to something just working in ways they didn't foresee. You might have also hit the real root cause of why they like what they do. A player who loves combat encounters may end up really enjoying a political intrigue campaign because they have many options to try to bring people over to their side instead of their enemy. This situation of weighing options, each with their advantages and drawbacks, and making decisions could be the real reason they like combat encounters. You can target this, of course, but more often I find you'll stumble upon these kinds of revelations. Just keep an eye and try not to miss when they fall into your lap.

Paying Off Promises

There are promises that are made when starting a campaign and bringing in players. If you said there would be combat encounters, they expect some combat. Chances are your players were looking forward to them. Some may have been pushed over the edge and decided to join the campaign because of them. Likewise, as you build things during the campaign, players expect them to lead somewhere. Anywhere. You can't guarantee players will like twists and turns as much as their own ideas, but they tend to be far more interested when they know that they are building towards things, and that there will be a reveal.

Also, when thinking about this topic, be careful about going too specific. That there will be kobolds is probably far too specific to be the kind of promise I am talking about here. What makes this difficult is that the promise that the campaign will involve hunting vampires may not be too specific. Some players may really have decided to join the campaign to get the experience of hunting vampires. They loved the idea of living a version of their favourite fiction. However, often times the promise will be higher level. Figuring out what promises you made, and making them accurately in the first place is difficult. However, carefully keeping this in mind is important. Sometimes you can break them but you need to give something in return that is as valuable. What? I don't know. It will depend on your group and it's part of what makes running campaigns hard. However, exercise caution since it's very easy to fail when subverting a promise for something better. You also don't want to do it too often, otherwise promises become meaningless.

Sometimes People's Opinions Change

It's easy to get the idea that things are fine and keep doing it. And often times, this works well for a group. However, it's also important to note that sometimes people's opinions change. The players who were super into dungeon crawling may want a break for a few sessions. If you notice this, or are informed, incorporate it into your campaign. Don't take it personally either. You could make the best spaghetti in the world, but sometimes people want something else. It can happen to the Dungeon Master too, or just makes sense as the campaign evolves. Your intrigue campaign about gathering forces to stop an undead army may in fact end with a combat encounter. After all, doesn't it make sense for a massive battle to occur after so much buildup? It's not necessary, but more often than not your players will want such an awesome combat encounter after so much buildup.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Dungeon Master: Traveling Between Locations

Sooner or later, players need to cross some area to get to somewhere else. Whether it's moving from one city to another, or even one dimension to another, it's a process and there are many ways to handle it. Do we just skim past it and go to the action after? Do we give side content (some levity and variety could be welcome)? If we do, is it a distraction or does it give them resources they need later? Do we do meaningful stuff that somehow ties back into everything? There are many ways to handle such a situation and what makes things even harder is that it can be very situationally dependent. For these reasons I wish to explore the topic a little.

It's Not Easy

Traveling between locations is difficult in tabletop role-playing games. You want to make it interesting as a Dungeon Master, but it's easy to get mired in side details that people don't enjoy. At the same time, you'll find yourself needing to do something involving it if you have a ranger. Otherwise they'll feel a bit ripped off. Part of this is choosing the right granularity. If there's only one choice to be made for a 3 week journey, you might not want to do a day-by-day (asking everyone on every day what they wish to do) unless it feels like something can happen in between. You might want to give your players a day-by-day break down after they set their path and made decisions, especially if they know where they are and where to go. Or, they might want to know every time something in the journey changes and make a decision. There's a swamp in the way. Go around or go through it? Lose time in one, lose resources because of combat and struggles in the other. If you go this route, I'd recommend at least knowing generally what the location is like. A map makes things far easier. Still I find opinions can greatly vary from player to player.

Did the new Dungeon Masters reading this get scared? Well, don't be. It doesn't instantly mean that all your players will hate your game if you get it wrong. Just be aware of the possible issues that might arise and be prepared to change your approach if your group likes things differently. Experienced Dungeon Masters also run into this when playing with new groups or players. They just know how to handle it due to their experience.

Choosing Granularity

If you have a map in a pre-made adventure, you know roughly what the party will run across when setting a course and can describe it in ways that best suits your group. If you are making a map, that's where it gets difficult. You typically at least want to describe the general layout of the land, and possibly weather. If there is a change of location, such as rolling hills to desert, you'll also want to describe that. However, the big thing is to keep in mind when decisions will be made and these decisions often result in a time vs risk trade off.

Story or Simulation?

Part of this comes down to if you want a more simulationist or story driven experience. For some, role-play the travel can be the highlight of an adventure. Keeping an eye on food, trying to avoid detection, facing the elements, and still trying to arrive on time to their destination. On the other hand, the environment can be something to just skip past. Maybe nothing happened. A bear attack doesn't happen every time someone goes into a forest. Likewise, the trip can be unimportant. So make your choice.


When traveling between to locations, I find that there should be some sort of pressure. Whether it's a competing group trying to reach a legendary ruin first, weather getting progressively worse, or the threat of supplies running out, there needs to be a catalyst for tough decisions. It also means that the travel paces in D&D 5th edition start to have meaning where usually they don't. Without this kind of thing, a fast travel pace will very rarely be chosen. Why are your players traveling anyway if they don't have a reason to?

Being Chased

A common and rather effective method for getting players from one place to another is through a chase. Such a setup ideally forces difficult choices to be made and provides a sense of tension. However, we also need to put some complications in. Otherwise it'll just involve the party running away as fast as possible. There also needs to be some solution to the problem at hand. We can't have an unwinnable situation behind the players, forcing them to run forward at full speed right into an ambush they can't win. And at the same time, if the situation they are supposed to run from is unwinnable, the players should know. Looking back, a hilarious number of situations that were meant to be chases ended up as slaughters because players picked fights they thought they could win and failed.

Risk vs Reward

There is an idea of risk and reward when talking about going between two locations. Why wouldn't I explore every place I run across between here and my destination? Well, often times it's the risk of losing time towards our goal. Perhaps having that town indebted to me would be helpful in the long run, but I'll also lose time and give my enemy a head start on the important magic item stored in the vault of the city 4 days away. If I only have so many rations and no ranger, I might not be able to enter every ruin I come across either. Instead, I need to selectively pick them, mark them down, and maybe revisit them later.

This idea also comes back into getting lost. What does it matter if the party gets lost if there is no risk or penalty for doing so? Oh, it takes me longer to get to my destination? So what? The exception to this is when inadvertently finding locations. In this case, getting lost found me a new cool location, new resources and/or allies. However, without risk and reward the party may often just go at a normal pace because they don't want to deal with getting lost. Or they might go at a slow pace because they want to sneak. This decision depends on your party, of course, but the party will typically have one approach they use for everything. This can be fine in general, but there will be cases where you want that added pressure.


If decisions are being made there should be some outcomes at some point. Approaching a camp in the woods might allow multiple approaches. If we sneak, we might be able to get a sneak attack or poison their water. If we go fast, maybe we can get their before their hunting party gets back and use divide and conquer. Maybe we know they have hunting parties looking for us. If decisions are being made while traveling, they journey will probably be glossed over with a quick description. That's fine as it lets the party get to what they consider the good stuff. However, keeping in mind what choices the party has over their travels is a good starting place to make it more interesting. 

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Dungeon Master: Yanking Narratives

A common topic of discussion with tabletop role-playing games as well as role-playing games in general is the idea of freedom. The desire to avoid railroading is commonly mentioned and player control is important. However, at the same time, players don't have unlimited control over a game either. That's part of the point of having rules as opposed to just sitting together with friends and coming up with a story. In my experience, regardless of your feelings on railroading or player control, yanking your players back on track doesn't go over well. This, however, is different than just railroading players. It's about taking control from your players, and yanking them to where you think they should have gone. And it is this topic that I will talk about today.

Some Situations Have Fewer Options

Based on your player characters, their level, their magic items, the help they have access to and many other factors, your players have a set of tools at their disposal to solve problems you throw at them. However, it also means that not all campaigns are created equal and not all parties need or want the same tools. This also means that some situations will be more desperate with the players having fewer options at their disposal. I find it that in these kinds of situations, limitations are important. Working within limitations in creative ways is part of the fun You don't want to make your players irreverent either. Find a balance between these two for your players and things will be fine. I've played with groups who liked playing more structured narratives. However, they still wanted choice. Don't take away all choice from the players.

Yanking Back On Course

Problems often happen when players are trying to play the game and they keep getting yanked back on course. You want to avoid situations where players need to replay a scene except in special circumstances in particular. What this does is takes away the meaning of choices and forces them to make the choices that you make. This is one of the more extreme examples, however. In general the game should be going forward with players making decisions to keep pushing the story forward.

This doesn't mean that players can't make mistakes. However, if they do, it works best if they realize that a mistake happen and try to correct things. The alternative is you throwing something in their way that forces them to change paths. The specifics here are important but not really well defined. However, there is a difference between a nudge in the right direction when players are lost (from my experience they often appreciate it) and taking all control by yanking their leash. That said, giving nudges is a bit of a skill in itself.

Different From Hints

Though it was hinted in what I said before, we have to note that there is a difference between yanking players back on track and providing hints. Hints need to be decoded and players then need to use them to set course. They also don't always tell a player what to do, just what they need to work towards. Them being told where they can find information about what they are looking for doesn't help them get their. It only sets their direction. These distinctions are important because it's an inherit part of the give and take relationship of tabletop role-playing games. Dungeon Masters set up a world and conflict while players navigate them and try to influence outcomes through their agency.

Player Sabotage

Players who don't want to play can sabotage a game. However, trying to yank them into the story you want won't help. They'll be unhappy and you'll be unhappy that they aren't playing. I don't think it helps anyone to try and solve these kinds of problems at the table. They are personal problems that need to be handled as people. Once the real problem is handled, the game can continue and you can all have fun. After all, you can throw you players into an undead apocalypse and have them want to do nothing. Then, if you attack them, they can choose to forgo their actions and get killed. At a certain point you need to realize that you can't force them to play. You can put challenges in their way, you can put restrictions on them that make the struggle meaningful, but you can't and shouldn't play for them.

Challenges to Be Solved

I've written before that I find the best way to think about these kinds of things as challenges for my players to solve. However, they need to solve them. I know what's afoot. I designed it. Of course it will be influenced by their actions and I may need to adjust on the fly, but my fun comes largely from handling what my players come up with to solve the problems I put in their way. It isn't fun for me anymore if I can play the game for them. That's what I'm doing if I yank them onto my story path. But again, that is far and away different from giving hints and providing methods to achieve what they want. There is a difference between telling the characters where the magic sword is, telling them exactly how to get it down to the minute detail, and taking control from them to get it.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Dungeon Master: Hooking Players

When running a tabletop role-playing game campaign, we want to draw people in. We want to hook them and have them looking forward to the next session. And as is the pattern for this kind of thing, it isn't easy. Different people may need different things to draw them in. Though I of course cannot offer a definitive opinion or an exhaustive list, I hope I can offer a few helpful tips at the very least.

Types of Games

The nature of the games we're playing has a large impact on the kind of things we can use to hook people and how important they are. In a one shot, doing so quickly and efficiently is very important. We have very little time to work with so we need to make use of it effectively. In more relaxed settings, such as a long home campaign, we have a bit more time to work with. However, getting players interested in the goings on is still extremely important. It's just we can be more subtle and measured instead of being forced throw our players right into the thick of it.

Hooking vs. Maintaining

Hooking, grabbing the interest of players at the start, is different than maintaining interest. Of course, both are important but I want to focus just on the hook for now. It also wouldn't say one is easier than other, and there are many overlaps. However, they often work in different ways.

Start With Actions

One of the easiest, most straight forward and effective ways I've come across is to make sure things start with some sort of actions or events. It's similar to the idea of show, don't tell. Particularly when you don't have a lot of time to work with, the adventure might need to come to the players. Of course, the players still need to make the choice to go on the adventure.

What do I mean by actions? Let's take the classic situation of all the players being in an inn and meeting each other. This kind of thing is more of a setting for an adventure and not an event. If we now had the inn catching on fire, attacked by someone or have an injured stranger collapse into the room, we've got an event that can capture the interests of players. These kinds of events, from my experience, tend to work best when they hint at something bigger. They are parts of stories, and that's a source of their power. However, they should also be able to stand alone and be interesting on their own. In a long campaign your first session may be aimed with the expressed goal to try and hook your players as well as introduce them to your world. In this case, it should probably still be part of a larger story, but also function as a story on its own.

Keeping this kind of thing in mind is a good idea in general. Instead of hearing about some event, you can instead show the consequences of the event. As an example, show the large influx of people as a result of armed conflict to the north instead of just hearing people discussing it in the bar. You can still keep the discussion, especially since not all details will be immediately noticed. That's fine though. After hearing the conversation there can be that “aha!” moment. 

Also don't be upset if they don't bite at first, or go in a different direction. They may be waiting for more details before jumping in, or have great ideas you never thought of. I also find it helps to think of this as setting the stage. We'll set events into motion, and the players mess it up, twist it, and turn it towards their outcomes. Don't forget it's a shared story.


People often have their own pet themes that they love to see. I know I am guilty of it. If you know some of the themes your players find interesting, incorporating some of them is often an easy way to increase interest. Of course the execution matters too. But there are certain things that just resonate better with us. It might be time travel, or it might be the nature of undeath, but regardless it still helps. I've made my opinion on the matter of themes extremely clear. Having an overarching theme or themes helps in other ways too. It allows players to have a vague idea of the kinds of things they'll experience, without telling them what to expect. If your players are speculating about things that might happen or planning for the next session, you know you hooked their interest.


Combat, is of course, an event. It can also be a great way to get generate interest at the start of a campaign. However, there are a few things that I think need to be kept in mind. Even when doing so, the role-play considerations should be kept in mind. One of the great things about interesting combat encounters is that they have real risk and force players to weigh options. However, once over, they can often be forgotten and fade into the back ground. Having the combat encounter be an event that relates and pushes the story forward means that it is not so easily forgotten. Instead, it keeps generating interest because it still has a link with the future. Fighting random wolves in the forest doesn't do this, unless of course it turns out that the reason that the wolves are forced out of the forest is an army of undead moving ever closer.

Even if there is a reason in the background for it, your players need to know or at least have a suspicion or it won't work. Instead you'll have a revelation moment, no speculation, and no real payoff. I want my players to feel something is off and want to discover what that something is. Another thing to keep in mind is the general skill level of your players. Throwing players right into combat can be daunting for a new player. However, when planned properly, it can also be a good way to introduce them to the combat rules. It also helps establish the kind of game they will be playing. Will the battles be big and grandiose, forcing the players to use all of their skills and abilities? Will it be a longer battle of attrition where one battle won't kill them, but using the wrong resources at the wrong time will? Or is it your special blend of both? A well designed combat encounter can be talked about years later.