Campaign Crunch #9: Across the finish line, Town Rumors, and “Universe Rolls”

So this week we finished up our Fantasy Iditarod. The gang thought they were in first place but unbeknownst to them another sled had passed them. It was actually the team that Jung had tossed one of them from their sled and into the snow costing them a speed point. After the Frost Giant encounter we knew there were going to be 2 more skill checks for speed points (if you don’t know what speed points are that’s ok we made them up, you can check out Campaign Crunch #8 to find out). Instead of doing the rolls at the table we just pre-rolled the other competitors last two checks so we had their speed point totals all wrapped up. The sled that had to stop for their dislodged member actually accrued an amazing amount of points in the home stretch for the overall win. Narratively we had them pass the party while they were dealing with the Frost Giant. The party did make attempts to slow down the sled that came in 3rd place, and were successful. Gax used his Mold Earth spell to throw out a slew of pot-holes for them to navigate. We had him make a skill check using his spell casting to hit bonus and compared that against their Animal Handling to avoid the potholes. They failed so we subtracted 2 speed points from their total. Overall the skill check system seemed to work well. We narrated in details for high and low rolls on the checks and they really did determine the outcome of the race. The party did have a -1 speed point modifier on their last two results as they were down to 5 Dire Wolves after the Frost Giant smeared one of them.

Another thing that we’re trying to do in this campaign is make the city feel alive and active. Each session we try to sow in some rumors or news about what’s going on in the town. Last session we had a few things we wanted the party to pick up on:
– Cultists of Myrkul are being found murdered, with a single raven’s feather laid on their bodies
– Drow have been seen visiting the local watering hole: The Diamond Spider Tavern
– The Criminal HQ that Magnus got rid of the Githyanki sword was destroyed and everyone inside killed.
We don’t write in exact scenarios for finding such info/rumors. We just drop them into our notes and pepper them throughout the story line. One rumor we dropped into overheard conversations in the bath house, another was scuttlebutt from a gambler who’d lightened some of the party of some of their money, one was overheard by Magnus from a nearby table in the bar. We got the info across to the party without forcing them into situations to give it to them. If you want to give your party world information know what you want to give them and drop in into scenarios they’re already in or that they put themselves into. It makes the world feel deeper and more alive.

Universe Rolls. This is one of the best tips we’ve picked up for running games. Players will ALWAYS ask for odd things. Things you’ve never thought to plan for. You can say, “No,” and close that door on them. Or you can say, “Yes,” and things will get out of hand for you real quick. One thing we’ve learned is that if a player asks for something odd… they have a plan for it! Always saying No takes all the fun out of it for the players. Always saying Yes can lead to absurd situations for the DM. So… Universe Rolls. The player rolls a d20, and the DM rolls a d20. Player wins they find what they’re looking for. Player looses it’s not there. Keep in mind that as the DM you can always forego the Universe Roll and just say Yes or No, but the roll adds some chance into your universe.
Here’s how it went in our game this week; Wizard finds an arcane shop and is looking for a specific spell scroll. Knowing that the proprietor may or may-not have that specific spell scroll prepared we took it to a universe roll, player lost. Proprietor lets them know they can have it made in a few days if they’re interested.
Other times it’s been players looking for a ladder, or a fork, or flowers in bloom. It’s a fun way to put some of the power of the world in the hands of the fates.

That’s all for this week. Check back next week for more behind-the-screens content. Also Monday we post our “Plan”-dom Encounters blog where we give you tips and ideas for using specific monsters in your campaign!

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