Twas the day of Christmas and all thorough the boat,
Our six heroes were hunting,but no pirates about.
When out on an island, came a big surprise,
A great white dragon, appeared before there eyes.
It peered and sneered, giving little Rand the shakes,
He ran and hid, while Dmetri did quake.
The dragon proclaimed, to the small human boy,
"Leave my island, or your flesh i will enjoy"
Both ran away with much haste,
While their present prepared to lay waste.
Ben and Vloy met new friends,
As Tyraag and Luci tried to make amends.
Off they left now with many more to their crew,
When suddenly the ocean began to stew.
Before their eyes did appear,
A giant red Kraken, with much to fear.
Our heroes shit bricks and thought this the end,
But lo and behold, came help on the mend."
On Roy, and Donald, and Nebin and Wenner,
On Tony, and Corrin and old Ander."
Captain Teekie did come to slay said beast,
For the children he would bring home a seafood feast.
The battle did rage late into the night,
Spells and howls of shire fright.
Our heroes fought to get home,
They threw everything they had even some gnomes.
The Kraken was tough and the ships took their beating,
The crews saw their hope slowly a fleeting.
The Scuzbucket in ruins and its captain drug under,
Our heroes prepared and started to wonder.
Where be this beast and what tis the delay,
Little did know, Teekie was about to slay.
With a slash of his sword, the Kraken met defeat,
Both rose to the crews' treat.
The beast was dead and all could rest,
They had survived this grueling test.
As they pick up themselves and sailed for home,
Twas the finals that belonged to the head gnome,
"Twas one of the greatest fights,
As we sail out of sight,
Merry Christmas to you all and you all a good night."
My first experience was in a game Gavin and our friend Bill created. If there is not a video out with Bill in it yet then no worries you will meet him soon enough. They co-created an open world campaign (Edge of the World) using D&D 4E for all of their friends to play, and there were plenty of us. I think at one point we had over 25 PCs existing in the world of Edge.
If you are not familiar with an open world campaign then let me explain as best I can. In Edge, there are no set story arcs to follow; there is just a partially filled in map that the players can use and, as they venture farther out from the known areas, fill in what we find. Gavin and Bill made a history for the area and gave us hints about what was around there but mostly it was up to the players to decide where to go and what we to do. We would let the GM know what the plan was about a week before meeting up to play so that they could prepare the random events that could happen as well as prepare any surprises that they wanted.
Oh and there were plenty of surprises. I was part of the first party that went out into this new world and we made many mistakes. My first character - yes we can make new ones but you had to start over from the lowest level which was level 4 at the time - was a cleric named Katorot. My party decided to head into the swamp where there were reports of undead creatures controlling an old Dragonborn city. Let's just say that four Level 4 were not supposed to be there. We stumbled into creatures that were way too powerful for us to handle. This can happen within an open campaign. There are no safe areas and not all the areas are scaled to match the players levels. Gavin and Bill each have a massive binder that reminds them what they had populated each hex with. Well safe to say, Kat did not make it out of the swamp that day but all of his friends did and that would have made that character happy.
The experience of losing the first character I created within the first few hours of playing a table top game got me hooked. I went home and had to make a new character that night. It is still the character I use in Edge to this day. His name is Dmitri and he is an avenger.
One of the other interesting aspects of Edge that our GMs wanted from us was a backstory on all new characters coming into the world. Since I was new I used some information from the fantasy worlds I was used to. It helped me build a backstory and explain why I chose the class and skills I did. Dmitri has been on many adventures in Edge and caused a lot of trouble for the world. There are some great stories that we at Nat One can get into about all the shit we caused. It is rather funny how much trouble Dmitri is partially responsible for. One of the funniest examples I know was when my group went searching two nearby islands to see what was on them. We found a White Dragon and some pirates. We did some pirate fighting but left most of those islands undiscovered because we were not equipped to take on those threats yet. Then we had a very fateful random encounter on the trip home...
At this time, I want to bring up something the Gavin and Bill make all of us do after every trip out into the world of Edge. One person from the party must create an in-character a recap of what transpires so that all the other players who were not present know what happened. Well for this adventure, I was selected to write the recap. Now back to the fateful encounter. On the trip back we had just escaped the White Dragon without issue when we set sail for Edge. In game the dates of the events happen between Dec 22-26 and, well, Gavin as GM rolled a 99 on the random encounters chart for us.
We were not prepared for that happened next. We were all still low level when a Kraken attacked our ship. This was my first experience with a giant creature and it was pretty much a boss fight. This is probably the fight that hooked me for good into playing all types of table top games. It was exciting and a little scary because I thought I might lose my second character in as many outings. However, I won't ruin the surprise as I said before I had to write the recap for this adventure. Next time, I'll regale you with the ode to the Christmas Kraken. :)
What got you hooked on table top gaming? Would you like to hear more off-camera adventures? Let us know!
Most role playing games are fun ways to tell a story with some rules thrown in to give everyone a fair shot at impacting the story in a meaningful way. And stories are about eliciting a feeling. Your standard D&D style fantasy scenarios are about empowering the players to feel larger than themselves. Feelings of accomplishment, struggling against adversity and, feeling your own worth in the world are common themes here. But horror games are different. In horror games the feeling you're looking to instill in your players is, well, horror.
But what does that mean? It means making your players uncomfortable with progressing. It means making them second guess their decisions. It means making players know that there are real, lasting, irreversible consequences for getting something wrong. But how do we do that in a role playing game? When you watch a scary movie, the director is able to rely on things such as "scare chords" to startle you, visual effects to disturb your senses, and other tricks of high production cinema to elicit the desired response. Without these tools to work with, what is a GM to do?
Well we can recreate some of that with effects of our own; turning off the lights of the play area, putting on a mood-setting sound track, and only speaking in whispers are ways to enhance the horror experience for players that can be met with varying degrees of success. But that is approaching the problem from a disadvantageous position. We are trying to beat movies at their own game. Instead, we should focus on the strengths of the RPG medium; one of the biggest strengths we have is active audience investment.
Movies have to take a while making the audience care about the characters on the screen in order to get any payoff when they are put in danger. But your players inherently care about their characters. So let's ratchet up the tension by making the characters uncomfortable.
And the big word here is tension. The players have to feel impending danger without knowing exactly where it might come from or what form it might take. Consider the difference between a character opening a door to find a monster in full view, and a character opening a door to freshly mauled body parts. In the first scenario, roll initiative, action, fight scene! In the second, the player carefully and quietly investigates the room in the hopes of avoiding the action.
This all works best if four criteria are met:
1) The characters are vulnerable.
You can have the scariest monster imaginable stalking the characters, but if they are carrying heavy firepower, or they can be resurrected from the dead, or they can leave danger behind instantaneously, you will never get your players scared. Why should they? They can out gun and out run anything. You have to make sure they know that the thing they are facing is stronger than they are, and that there is no easy escape from consequence should they lose.
2) The characters have a legitimate reason to not just run away.
Whether this is because of duty, curiosity, or being trapped, so long as the characters have a reason to continue forward in spite of not wanting to, there will be tension.
3) The characters are in an environment where they do not know all of the information
This can range from the room being very dark to the characters not knowing why the room is set up a certain way. Consider a room where every mirror has an "X" put through it in red marker. Why? We don't know, and the players will jump to horrible conclusions.
4) The characters progress by doing something they don't want to do.
I am reminded of a wonderful video game that had a moment like this. Outlast is a survival horror game wherein you are trapped in a terrible mental asylum. At one point early in the game, the only way to progress is to walk past an obviously deranged patient sitting in a wheel chair. I spent 15 minutes carefully creeping up toward him, because I did not want to find out what happens when you get near him. Give your players similar situations.
Those are some of my thoughts on eliciting fear as a GM. What do you guys think? What scenarios or ideas have you had that legitimately scared your players?
Undated Journal Entry (The handwriting here is furiously written, and the page is stained on the right upper edge with a slight bit of candle wax.)
I awoke from a dream in which my body was mine, but was as equally as foreign-feeling to me as the body of a rabbit. What I mean is that the machinations, structure, general "action" of the body was human, but to a greater degree than what I understand the human body capable of doing. Color vanished from my sight, only to show itself in times of great focus, as if highlighting the nuances I would otherwise miss. My hearing heightened to the point where my own breathing would have drowned out every other sound were it not for my inability to take a breath.
My surroundings were barren, an expansive blank canvas of a room. It extended in all directions to the horizon, floor meeting ceiling at some unknown distance. And while nothing itself showed in the room, colors appeared - sometimes briefly forming into objects, yet mostly appearing as spun strands of silk wafting through the air.
I looked down, scanning my hands, and noticed what I assumed were streams of blood coursing through my veins. Yet as I studied their paths, I noticed that the stream did not follow the in-out pattern of blood being pumped. Instead, the light shining from my body simply existed, itself pulsing in time with an unknown metronome. My sleeves blocked most of the light continuing up my arm, so I began to disrobe. In time I stood in the center of nothing, naked as the day I was born.
Free. I smiled, my head tilting up towards the ceiling. This was the foreign feeling causing my initial discomfort. Without my clothing restricting me, I felt connected to the entirety around me. I added light to this room, and within moments the symphony of lights that had only briefly shown themselves til now began to spring to life. My body reached out to them, dancing in time to a silent chorus, beautifully choreographed without conscious thought.
Moments passed, the feeling of oneness overwhelming me. In response, my body began to create and initiate rather than respond and react. My own colors, my own objects, overtaking this world and filling it with "me." I felt my body beginning to draw from the energy around me, utilizing it to amplify my creations. I smiled again, allowing myself to consciously act once again. My arms extended to either side and I spoke a single word - "Stop."
The lights obeyed my command, even those emanating from my own body. "Show me," I said. They responded in kind, forming into a large crystal. I squinted slightly, noticing a shape upon the crystal - a beard remarkably similar to my own.
"Mine," I uttered with a hint of question. The crystal shimmered, as if in affirmation. I spent the next minute staring into the crystal, taking in its intricacies. My thoughts raced, ultimately coming to a singular conclusion. I smiled for the third time, melding my current freedom with this idea. I lowered my left arm, simultaneously moving my right out in front of me. My hand cupped, and I commanded, "Form."
My scepter formed from the crystal into my outstretched hand. I scanned the room, the lights still waiting with baited breath for my next move. I was suddenly appointed lord of this land. With this power, I dismissed everything, banishing the lights to the far reaches of this plane. I was once again alone in a colorless space, the only light coming from myself.
I glanced down again, yet this time proceeded past my extremities to my chest. My left index finger touched the center of my chest, creating a ripple effect through my body as a sphere of energy revealed itself from within.
My brain once again came to life, putting the puzzle pieces of my movements together. I drew from this power source within me, sending it to my scepter, making the light swirl and glow brightly. I was no longer a torch, but a beacon - a lighthouse among the colorless. I thrust my scepter forward, a veritable cacophony of lights and sounds erupting forth. It was more than I had created before, and so I tried again. And again. I repeated this internal amplification a dozen times over, noting before me a to-scale replica of my street back home. I laughed a silent laugh.
With a swipe of my left hand, I erased the entirety of the scene and pulled it within me. I melded this energy with that of my own and pushed it back into the scepter, brighter than a star. Another eruption took place, and I found myself within the Grand Library, a book in my hand about the Twelve Kings. I felt a pulling sensation in my neck, lines crawling up my face. This sensation - one I had felt before in a nightmare - snapped me out of my reverie and burned an image in my mind.
I awoke immediately thereafter, the thoughts of the dream implanted in my mind, seared next to the visage of my face, tainted by dark red veins...
From the travel journal of Ohvar Callumn; wandering Orcish philosopher, seeker of The Lost Relics of the Hrakket Empire, Soothsayer to Emir Plox:
I'd wandered the Shimmering Dunes for many ten-day hoping for signs of the Buried Monastery. It is said that Carano Vell was the last to see the Mirror of Lady Hrakke. This is not, however, an account of how I recovered one of the Six Relics; this is an account of a shining jewel languishing at the base of the western mountain ranges. I had made to scale the eastern slopes of the far range, hoping against hope that a forgotten spire might peak from beneath the shifting sands. I felt invigorated despite the punishing heat, and somehow knew today would bring a stunning discovery. I reached a satisfying height and looked out over the sprawling desert. With a touch of disappointment I noted that there didn't seem to be a lost library struggling to reveal itself to me. The sun was setting, and I decided to camp on the mountain, where the steady breeze kept the air slightly cooler. As I rounded the mountain, looking for a spot to set up camp, I noticed something seemed to have caught the setting sun and was glittering brilliantly in the light. I attempted to look more closely but the reflected brightness obscured its source. Camp forgotten, the reflected light seem to draw me in, appealing to the academic in me. It took longer than I would have guessed but I was beginning to feel the excitement only fellow adventurers can relate to.
Then I saw it.
It was a great city of glass; twisting spires seemed to grow directly out of the sandy soil, huge domes appeared as bubbles that had formed in a heat of unimaginable source. Wisps of color, interior fractures, and shimmering sands worked into the walls of the crystalline structures provided privacy for the residents of the reflective city. As I was wondering who could have built this, a pair of red Dragonborn emerged onto a beautiful porch, shaded by vines and trellises. They spoken in a hissing language the likes of which I have never heard, and seemed to be enjoying an evening meal of roasted fowl. Lights were starting to crop up as the sun dipped still farther behind the mountains, giving the city an even more mystical look. The familiar sight of faerie fire ringed the mouth of a large cave “Probably some sort of religious hall,” I muttered as I picked my way down the slope and closer to the city.
As the words fell onto the deaf stones of the mountainside two gargantuan red dragons emerged from that same cave and took to the skies, diving and nipping at one another, clearly at play. The couple I could still see on their porch watched the two huge creatures, an appreciative smile on their faces. More dragons took to the sky, all reds of varying sizes and ages, stretching their wings and enjoying the cooling twilight. The collected wyrms landed in the large festival square - a glimmering plaza of large glass flagstones of red and orange - an homage to the Reds, I knew now. Townsfolk, all scaled in crimson emerged from their homes and from what must have been some sort of storehouse several large smoked animals were wheeled before the dragons, who conversed easily in the same sibilant tongue as the townsfolk, smoke curling from her nostrils as one chuckled to a murmured joke or anecdote.
I couldn't see much more from here, not without the lenses that the rogue Parniss stole from me in Merschelmerre. I had no desire to be seen as an intruder so I stole away before the wind took my scent to one of those great lizards. I've marked the location of the shining city; I'm hoping some enterprising adventuring group will accompany me back to that place...this time with a spell to comprehend their tongue.
The Seed and Expand approach to scenario crafting:
Many GMs look for advice on how to create their own standalone scenarios. While there are no wrong ways, I can give you my process and see if it helps you along the way.
For me, scenarios, game sessions, or little mini arcs, all start with a seed; an idea, scene, or concept that I think will be really cool or interesting to present to my players. These can range in scope from "they encounter an apartment where all of the doors are labelled with sticky notes" to "my friends are playing themselves but with magic."
Any idea will work so long as I find it interesting or unique. Then, the trick is to logically extrapolate from the seed until you have a chain connecting your players to the seed, and then out from there. Like this...
How did my friends get their magic powers? Some weird spell.
Who cast the spelll? Some wizard who wants to incite chaos.
What else is the wizard doing? Probably burning the town down.
And extrapolate from there until you have an adventure for your friends.
Try this out with a particular scene you want to see happen, and let us know how it worked out for you! We always love hearing from you. <3!
Felnůr regarded the collected children in front of him, all looking eager in the firelight. He nudged one with his hoof as it got too close; they had a tendency to tug at his soft shaggy hair as it peeked from below his wide breeches. It was a warm night, moreso because of the fire, so he had doffed the goldenrod cloak that marked him as a Bard of the Northern Pass. The tall satyr took a long draw off of his pipe, and finally spoke:
“I suppose ye lot would fancy a story then?”
The collected little ones - humans, orcs, a couple of already hairy dwarven children, and a diminutive gnome toddler - all roared with impatience. “YES PLEASE, MR. BARD, SIR!!”
“Now as ye know, Felnůr and all Bards love the seas for they are full of magicks and wonders and creatures gargantuan.” The children clung to one another here, as many had heard his stories of great kraken and dragon turtles.
“Nay, but tonight instead we will hear of a collection of beasts...and their leader.”
The children clutched their comrades tighter still; nary a breath broke the silence.
“They call her Berrinna of the Rogue Wave. She is a druid of immense power - power so great she can not just speak to animals, but raise them to sentience. Her ship, Rogue Wave, is a massive affair, as large as any ship in the Rensėr Navy. But she is the only Halfling on it. They say she was born to merchants and spent her life at sea, and decided to devote her life to it; that she can feel the songs of the whales in her feet on the deck.
The Rogue Wave is crewed entirely by animals that Berrinna has given the spark of intelligence. Monkeys work the rigging; egrets keep watch. Pods of dolphins and whales are often seen cresting the water around the ship. Berrinna herself uses her magic to fill the sails on days that are still, and together they hunt those that would ruin the perfection of the open ocean.
Whalers and pirates speak her name in hushed tones, fearful that the ocean breeze will carry the whispers her way. Invading armies pray to their gods that she does not chance upon their armada. It is said even the great kraken pauses for the Rogue Wave to pass, giving deference to the staunch defender of the ocean. Peaceful travelers rarely see her but some have reported seeing pods of dolphins following their ships, and in the distance sky blue sails surrounded by birds and cresting whales.
Some dismiss Berrinna as a myth, but hark here! Whenever she strikes, the captain washes ashore… always in his home country, even if it is half a world away, and always lashed with kelp to the plank bearing the name of his ship.”
The children let the ominous ending hang for only a moment before one of the little orc girls blurted. “What's an egret?”
The older kids started to laugh, and the good-natured Bard took another draw on his pipe…
The Worm that Walks has crossed the world and drowned the continents in a deluge of voracious insects, while smashing apart the armies of civilized creatures. But locusts die when the food is gone, and pockets of life survived. Can our adventurers survive this barren and horrible new world?
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