A blogger’s dozen (Part I): 13 ideas for RPG articles

Gamer people! Are you looking to exercise your Writing skill with an article for a gaming blog or magazine, but find yourself trapped in the multi-turn Long Action of staring at a blank screen? Hey, I’ve been there…

I’ve let pile up a gigantimungous list of ideas for gaming-related articles. In the interest of unburdening my dust-collecting trove (how did I actually get dust inside of Evernote?), here’s an initial baker’s dozen* unleavened dough lumps for the consideration of writers. (Right, as if not enough ideas is the problem that gaming bloggers have. Well, just humor me, okay?)

* A “baker’s dozen” is a name for 13 of some thing, taken from an old baker’s custom of tossing in an extra loaf of bread for the purchase of 12. It’s a nice foody reference for a site that cops a cheesy “diner” theme.

Note: Despite my GURPS leanings, I’ll do my best to toss out system-agnostic ideas. That said, many of the ideas unavoidably veer toward specific game systems and settings. Substitute and garnish as needed!

Here we go:

1. Bespoke martial arts

Everyone loves detailed fightin’ styles! Games like GURPS offer plenty already, but it’s always fun to see gamers’ original creations, especially with more outré ideas. Idea: Start with a game world that has multiple character societies (including races), and devise a new martial arts style unique to some group. (Bonus points if you can turn a race’s traits into concrete aspects of the style.)

Example: Write up a Gnome martial art that makes the most of small size. It might eschew powerful blows, focusing instead on misdirection, trips to bring big foes lower, pinpoint strikes on vulnerable locations, and avoiding, not absorbing, hits. Toss in a write-up of a skilled practitioner, ready to kick PCs’ knees.

2. Meaningful monsters

Everyone loves monsters, too! Going beyond the obvious idea of a new monster design, pick a monstrous theme – a fear, a role, an origin, etc. – and write up an original design or few built on that. (It’s the deeper themes of disease, seduction, and loss of self, not the teeth and cape, that make the vampire such a classic!)

Examples: Monsters that exemplify fear of the unknown; monsters as metaphors for disease or disabilities; monsters to populate a specific mythology (let’s see some tunnel-dwelling horrors from Dwarven tales!); monsters with a role of challengers or guardians (like the Sphinx)…

3. Fun with economics

That’s right, I just said “fun with economics“. Pick a game world city or locale. List a handful of notable economic factors and their major effects, including any outstanding changes to price lists. These will of course be quite specific to a game world, but if you keep them fairly simple and create many, GMs will find some good ideas to nab. 

Example (with general price modifiers in parentheses): “Western Plains: Livestock is plentiful (-10%) but lumber is scarce (+20%, including wooden weapons). Castle City: Recent drought has made crop prices soar (+100%), yet the Prince continues to demand feed and new creatures for the royal menagerie (+50% or more over “normal” price of creatures). All other prices in the city are generally higher than default (+10-30%).”

It sounds dull, but these bits of market color can be fun to brainstorm. They invite all sorts of money-making schemes by players (arbitrage adventure seeds, if you will), provide instant hooks for NPC motivations, and help a game world come alive.

Economic color can even suggest plots and capers that don’t involve merchanting. (“The Prince is diverting scarce food to his exotic animals? Hmm, sounds like it’d be easy to start a riot among hungry city folk… which would draw the Guard away from the Treasury… and a team of visiting “beast traders” would have good reason to be inside the palace at that time…”)

4. Specialist stats

Write up a mini-template for a profession. A game like GURPS offers character builds for all kinds of professions (especially adventuring ones!), but there’s a never-ending list of occupations waiting to appear as aids for NPC designs (or even PC starters).

Examples: Cartographer, Wandering Philosopher, Evangelist, Ship’s Cook, New Cowpoke, Caravan Leader, Starship Pest Exterminator…

5. Mini-locations for ready adventures

Pick a game locale other than a city. Write an overview of the location, with simple map, key features, and an adventure seed or few. These are great bits that a GM can call upon when PCs drift away from planned locations or storylines.

Examples: Remote canyon with hidden treasure (including the belongings of past explorers who didn’t know about the flash floods…); an old, dark forest (with a giant tree that’s perfect as a lookout point… and that’s inhabited by unfriendly creatures who hold the tree sacred); an infamous haunted crossroad (and the real story behind those ghost tales); an abandoned ranch (just a place for tired PCs to shelter, recover, and scrounge for equipment… or does something more interesting lie within that covered well?)…

6. Mini-games for ready action

Pick a simple contest or other task and expand it into a playable bit of gaming – that is, a mini-game, exploit, or whatever you want to call it. Hunting food in the wild, prospecting an asteroid, scamming rubes at a market fair… There’s no limit to these little sub-systems, which can be fantastic aids for harried GMs.

Example: Arm wrestling, always a great way for tough-guy PCs to win mugs of ale from tavern patrons, could be made much more interesting than a two-second comparison of ST scores and a roll. Create a simple system that lets a close match see-saw back and forth, with more variables than just strength playing roles. Are there skills that would help? How does willpower factor in? Pre-battle stare-downs and smack talk? Does fatigue come into play if the contest lasts long? Are there any tricks or strategies players can use?

Design it, test it, and write it up!

7. Monstrous embellishment

Pick a little-detailed monster in your game world and flesh out its background, traits, and ecosystem. Where does it come from? How is it born? What specifically does it eat? What eats it? What does it want, if something more than food? 

It’s a time-worn idea for an article, but even a brief writeup (or three…) can give a GM all kinds of ways to turn an encounter with Yet Another Dire Wombat into something interesting.

8. Natural monster variants

Instead of creating another new monster, take an existing game monster and write up a natural variant of it. This is a great way to add to a game’s monster roster without overpopulating the man-eater list to the point of silliness, and adds great color to the game world. (For bonus points, toss in an adventure seed or two.)

Examples: Create a monster’s juvenile form (perhaps as different from the familiar creature as a caterpillar is from a butterfly); a subtype (piratey Sea Trolls!); a seasonal variation (a quiet herbivore that gains white-furred camouflage – and a taste for meat – in winter); a herd or other group with unique behavior (boring old Giant Rats… that have learned to attack from hidden burrows like trap-door spiders)…

9. Unnatural monster variants

As above, but write up unnatural versions of existing creatures (which may often mean unique individuals). In particular, think of the many unusual traits, odd powers, and mundane or unnatural afflictions that often make human characters unique, and ask: What if this condition happened to something else?

Examples: Non-human undead (Dwarven ghouls, Martian zombies, animal vampires…); a powerful monster weakened by age, disease, etc. (a huge dragon crippled by a rival, sparking a race among emboldened dragon slayers); a weak monster powered up by mutation or magic (a mysterious, all-conquering… Kobold!?); a monstrous creation from non-human wizards (what sort of golem would a Giant mage create?); whatever weird comes to mind (a farm animal with devastating psychic powers and unguessable motives)…

10. Tomes of note

Everyone loves spell books and eldritch tomes, but other volumes in game world libraries always get overlooked. Write up a few “mundane” works that would aid research or otherwise be of interest to PCs. Even if the books have no immediate adventuring use, they can let the GM reveal information, add flavor to a library or treasure trove, and – if nothing else – offer enterprising players a new way to earn gold. (“So, who would pay up for the 11-volume Compendium of Gnoll Medicines written during the Second Goblin Empire?”) 

Examples (with ideas in parentheses for who’d value the work): Ancient military maps of an area (strategists, historians, adventurers looking to locate long-lost cities); a scholarly treatise on a type of monster (monster slayers, wizards, occultists); a book of royal lineages (historians, claimants to the throne); a scroll by a prophet (collectors, True Believers); hidden notebooks by Nikolai Tesla (collectors, mad scientists, Evil Industrialists wanting to bury revolutionary technology); a long-lost literary work penned by a suspected vampire (occultists, collectors, the bloodsucker himself…)…

11. Tactical monster-slayer guide

Pick a common monster in your game world. Write the complete guide to killing or capturing it, with the best tools and tactics for turning a fair fight into an unfair one (just the way players like it!). Give weapon lists, spell lists, equipment lists, and skill lists a quick once-over to see what stands out as perfect for bringing down a Twin-Tailed Ice Wyvern.   

As a bonus, offer suggestions for how a GM can get that information into the heads of PCs who need it for upcoming challenges. Is there a rare tome the PCs can seek out? A sage or ex-fighter willing to share the knowledge (for a cost)? A secret school able to pit trainees against the creature in an arena?

12. Quick quests

Briefly outline 5 ideas for quests put out by a ruler, wizard, company, etc., in need of heroes (or patsies). These adventure seeds are the classic go-to plot device in tabletop RPGs (“You’re hired by the Mercenaries’ Guild to recover a valuable treasure…”), and take further inspiration from computer RPGs (where every other villager is standing around waiting to bestow a quest on the first hero to step up and chat).

13. Not-so-mundane skills

Pick a mundane “non-adventuring” skill. Detail several ways that the skill could be of help on adventures.

Example: What good is the Farming skill outside of Green Acres? As an expert on food plants, a skilled farmer might be able to: Guess the best way to stop a rat infestation (or the huge, dungeon-sized version of an insect pest…) … Gain a ruler’s favor through advice on growing and storing crops in a flood-prone year… Choose the best site to build a new colony… Help a mad wizard grow an army of plant-men in half the time… Pick out the richest farmers at a strange city’s market… Quickly scrounge adventuring equipment from an abandoned farm… Earn room and board in rural areas…. Direct a hungry platoon on the march in the quickest way to raid fields… Gain plot clues from farmland oddities that other PCs would miss (crops unharvested despite the late season… a gang of “farmers” who don’t appear to know how to hoe beans correctly… something strange about a field’s soil… unnaturally shaped sheaves of grain, possibly hiding something inside…)

A boring-sounding skill could aid or even replace more adventuresome skills for limited tasks. That character with Farming skill could help a soldier choose the ideal tactical spots among barns, silos, irrigation ditches, etc. for placing traps or ambushes…. judge the skill of a blacksmith from the quality of his farming tools… stand in for a chemist in knowing what fertilizers will yield explosive components….

What other uses can you think of (and write up!) for an overlooked skill?

More to come

The above barely puts a dent in my list. Stay tuned for more. 

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