Play games. Tell stories. Have fun.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Six-Word Sparks XII: Miscellany

It's been a while since I posted any six-word sparks, so I thought it must be time once again.

Six-word sparks are phrases that get straight to the core idea of an adventure, setting up its most important aspects. Using only six words prevents the spark from becoming a full story before the players get involved. That limitation serves as a strength, allowing the story to develop alongside the PCs' actions, rather than in spite of their actions.

Six-Word Sparks

1. Townsfolk fall asleep; sorcerer demands payment.
2. Swordmaker forges "unbeatable" sword, holds competition.
3. Living tornado ravages countryside, approaches city.
4. Merchant seeks mercenaries: Ghost Canyon shortcut.
5. Dogfolk mistaken for werewolves and persecuted.
6. Desert spirits drift northward, bringing sandstorms.
7. Dogs start disappearing from local homesteads.
8. Corpse-covered barge floats into wharf.
9. Stray cats gather in alleys, planning.
10. Beneath the lake, diamond knives glitter.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Random Encounters: Superpowered Sewer Tunnels

As with previous random encounter tables, this is designed to be able to generate an interesting random encounter in a specific genre at a specific location. Hopefully, this will be more relevant to you than simply handing out a d100 table of completely random encounters that leave you with wildly disparate (or even impossible) encounter elements.

In this case, the tables below should generate a dynamic encounter in a superheroes setting in the sewer system below a largish city.


1. Nuclear-powered android
2. Four-armed alien princess
3. Squad of blaster-wielding goons
4. Anthropomorphic crocodile
5. Rat-themed supercriminal
6. Rogue vigilante

Environment feature

1. The stench is debilitating to anyone with a nose.
2. The area is a maze of branching tunnels and hidden alcoves.
3. The water is much deeper than it looks.
4. The tunnels open into a cylindrical room, where the wastewater flows in a series of waterfalls.
5. Detritus of every kind litters the walkways of the tunnels.
6. The walkways on either side of the tunnel are far apart and linked only by long wooden boards laid across the water.


1. A rush of filthy water comes crashing through the tunnels.
2. A blast of super-cooled air rolls down the tunnels, freezing the rushing wastewater as it goes.
3. One of the nearby grates spews a gush of wastewater tainted with mutagenic chemicals.
4. The walls, floors, ceiling, and rushing water all flicker and disappear, revealing the interior of a large alien vehicle.
5. Black-clad ninjas armed with electrified blades ambush the PCs and the creature.
6. The cries of a child echo from somewhere, but the tunnels can carry sound a long way…

Friday, August 21, 2015

Random Encounters: Pulp Jungle

It's been more than a month since I made a Random Encounters post, so I thought it was high time to put up some more. As usual, the idea is to roll once on each table and use the results to generate a random encounter for your session.

Today's is a jungle encounter in a pulp setting (think Doc Savage or Indiana Jones). Enjoy!


1. Squadron of jack-booted thugs
2. Action archaeologist
3. Ruthless treasure hunter
4. Pair of hunting panthers
5. Swarm of killer bees
6. Native guide

Environment feature

1. A raging river cuts through the jungle.
2. The canopy above is so think that this area is as dark as night.
3. A narrow rope bridge spans a deep, rocky chasm.
4. A large stone head radiates an aura of dread.
5. Thorny vines hang down through the area, and their thorns are thoroughly venomous.
6. A circle of quicksand takes up most of a clearing.


1. A second creature arrives with contrary goals and/or motivation of the first (roll again, even if the result is the same).
2. A group of violent baboons swings down from the trees, angry and territorial.
3. A strange horn sounds loudly nearby.
4. A low-flying hot-air balloon drops a rope ladder into the area and someone calls out to the PCs to climb.
5. Wind blows the scent of burning vegetation from nearby.
6. A masked woman on horseback gallops into the area wielding a pistol and a curved sword.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Elves vs. Orcs

I've already talked in depth about orcs before, but this time I want to address a broader concept: elves and orcs. In standard fantasy clichés, elves and orcs are mortal enemies, and have been so for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. I'm not here to say that this particular cliché is wrong to use in your game—only you and your players know what's right for your game—I'm just here to expound upon this idea a bit.

So, if your setting has a bitter rivalry or an ancient war between elves and orcs, these tables can help you flesh it out and make it relevant to your players.

Racial Traits

If a player has an elf or orc PC (or if you have an important elf or orc NPC), roll on this table to give that character a direct tie-in to the elf-orc opposition.

  1. My parents were soldiers who died fighting [elf/orc] warriors.
  2. I spent years in an [elf/orc] prison camp, performing hard labor and watching others die.
  3. I witnessed bloodthirsty [elf/orc] warriors slaughter an [orc/elf] village full of noncombatants.
  4. My best friend is an [elf/orc] pacifist.
  5. I am a spy for the other race.
  6. I believe [elves/orcs] are inhuman monsters, unworthy of breathing the same air as my people.

The Feud

This rivalry between orcs and elves has been going on for at least a little while, but what started it? Which side cast the first stone, and why? Roll on this table to find out.

  1. Elves desecrated a sacred place where orcs used to commune with their ancestor spirits.
  2. Bloody Urulla, queen of the orcs, slew Eshra Ling, the elf king, in a duel.
  3. The Lost Princess of Orcs (her name is no longer remembered) left Star-upon-Earth (an elf princess) at the altar.
  4. Gurug Two-Hand (orc) accused Aelenn of Silveroak (elf) of cheating after losing a game of cards.
  5. Elven prophets spoke of the coming of eternal darkness unless the orcs are all killed.
  6. Orc politicians convinced their people to strike the elves before the elves—who they claimed were preparing a magical superweapon—could destroy them.

Status Quo

You know how it all started, but what is going on now? What are the elves and orcs doing about it? Roll on this table to find out.

  1. Orc envoys are holding peace talks with elf negotiators on neutral ground.
  2. Elf battalions are engaged with orc warbands in many places, but neither side has an advantage.
  3. A massive orc army has penetrated deep into elf territory, and elf guerrillas are trying, and failing, to slow its progress.
  4. Elf priests and magicians are unleashing the full might of their magic upon the orcs, which is destroying the lands around them.
  5. Elf diplomats are trying to secure alliances with other nearby powers, and orcs are on the march toward elven lands.
  6. Orcs are fortifying their defenses, and elves are embroiled in a border war with another nation.

Monday, August 3, 2015


There are many ways to begin your RPG campaign. Many of these methods draw from other forms of fiction: older and more established forms. There are many tropes that come from movies and books. Sometimes, those work well for RPGs, but not always.

RPGs are their own medium, and borrowing tropes and ideas from other media doesn't always work. The interactive, collaborative nature of RPGs clashes with many of these traditional tropes. You cannot dictate your players' actions (or their characters' actions) once the game has begun, not without their approval and buy-in, anyway. So, any narration or opening action has to take place before the game actually begins. The idea here is that if you want the game to begin with a prison riot, don't start it three days before the riot and expect the players to sit on their hands; start the game as the riot begins.

More than just setting the game up before it begins, you cannot narrate the PCs actions beyond one or two simple ideas. Saying "you arrive in Sunshine City and decide to join the Adventurer's Guild; your guildmaster orders you to join the first mission that comes up" sets out several actions that you decided for someone else's character. That might not be what they feel their character would have done after entering Sunshine City, or even after joining the Adventurer's Guild.

Instead, use ideas like "You're on your first mission for the Adventurer's Guild of Sunshine City." The end result is the same, but now the players have more agency to decide what led to this opening. It lets them explain how they came to be there, rather than you telling them. Not only that, but you can jump immediately into the action (or at least into the player-driven narrative) with less GM exposition up front.

Here are some ideas that take the above concept to an extreme. They will help you, your players, and their characters jump straight into the action of a new adventure.

Beginnings (in media res)

  1. At the entrance to the Tomb of Princess Titania, the spirit guardian bids you enter and wishes you good fortune. The map should be reliable, at least the half of it that you have.
  2. As the port disappears over the horizon behind you, you find yourself wondering whether the legends of spectral pirates and ravenous sea serpents are true.
  3. The masked woman leads you through the destroyed prison wall, back out into the city, which is burning in many places. She says, "The creatures came at sundown, as was foretold."
  4. The escape pod hits the ground with a jarring impact amidst the bluish vegetation, and the last emergency distress signal from the orbiting cruiser cuts off with a burst of static.
  5. The words of the Queen of the Vernal Court still echo in your mind, "The medusae hunt you; your only refuge is in the Dreamworld."
  6. The subway screeches to a halt. "End of the line," tumbles from the crackling speakers. This is by far the worst part of town, but the email definitely said 1:00 am. It also said some other things, things that you'd pay dearly to keep secret.