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

Yikes, I forgot I have a big list of this stuff remaining in my scrap pile. Here’s installment no. 4 in a series no one asked for: ideas for gaming bloggers/authors facing a dry idea well. (As if such gaming bloggers exist.)

40. Mundane stuff with non-mundane stories

Create a weapon, crown, or other mundane item, and imbue it with a back story. (A complex back story with specific persons, locations, etc. is fine if aimed at an existing game world; otherwise, more vague “fill in the blanks” description may provide a better fit for readers’ game worlds.) 

Example (with appropriately malleable place names): The Sword of the Alliance was forged by a famed blacksmith of the ancient Silver Mountain Dwarves and lent to the young human king of the old Northern Empire to wield until the orc tribes were destroyed, as a token of a Dwarven-human alliance in that war. The sword was part of many victories and took many names as it passed down the human lineage. Three generations ago, it passed to the humans’ new Western Empire, where it has been invoked as a sign of historical right to rule. But the sword has now been stolen by the enemy Eastern Empire, which names the Western Empire weak and unworthy. The leaders of the current Dwarven kindgom, the Copper Mountain Dwarves, no longer recognize humans as the rightful owner of the sword, made as it was by a long-gone Dwarven kingdom, and lent only provisionally to mark an alliance with a long-gone human empire. They want the sword back. But the Western Empire wants it back, too, claiming that the Northern Empire made no agreement to return the sword if the alliance were invalidated, noting also that orcs still exist, and even questioning the Copper Mountain Dwarves’ legitimacy as the heirs of the Silver Mountain kingdom. Meanwhile, the Eastern Empire is waving the sword about as a sign of its legitimacy to rule…  

41. The B Team (and C Team and D Team and…)

Detail small henchmen teams for hire: Caravan guards, dungeon delver assistants, camp servants, pack team caretakers, starship mechanics and laborers, etc.

PCs are often used to hiring exactly the henchpeople they want in piecemeal fashion, with the ease of picking out supplies at the generic town store. Companies and bands with a “take us all or leave us” policy present an interesting twist.

42. “Half Dwarf, one quarter Goblin, and totally one sixteenth Ogre princess…” 

Half-orc. Half-elf. Half-Vulcan… In gaming and fiction, it’s too often half something + half human.

Pick two non-human beings in your favorite game system and describe the mix. Templates or other character modifications for quarter and smaller lineages could also be fun.

43. Were-Mer-Bear

As above, but with lycanthropes: In games and fiction, it’s almost always a human that turns into something. Take a non-human race from your game system, pick the thing it turns into, and create a were. (Idea: Perhaps “were-” can be left as a morpheme for those common human changelings; you could create new morphemes for naming Dwarves that become monsters, merfolk that change into bears, and so on.)

Along those same lines: How about an animal that becomes a monster, or that simply becomes another animal? Tracking down a man-eating tiger sounds like an easy task for PCs, but it gets perplexing when the beast secretly spends its daytime hours as the village rooster…

44. Ghoulblins

The same concept as above, but with undead: why are nine out of ten undead made from dead people?

Pick a non-human race, and create its equivalents of wights, ghouls, vampires, and all that. If you can, get creative with themes, powers, motivations, and types that differ from the well-known human types. (Herds of minotaur spectres, like hulking phantom bison-men with glowing horns, that ignore the living as long they don’t make the mistake of facing west? Yeah, that’d be odd. And just wait ’til the party cleric tries ‘turning’ them…)

You can do the same for monsters other than undead, of course. Giants in games are almost always human giants. Why not giant Centaurs? Merfolk? Halflings? (Okay, that’d just be regular people. But still.)

45. Is LipitOrc right for you?

Create a half-dozen mundane medicines with interesting effects (or magical/high-tech ones with amazing effects).

A tip: Nick some wonder drug write-ups from an existing high-tech game supplement, and create herbal or alchemical imitations for a fantasy game. Or vice-versa.

46. “Oh, because I’m a Dwarf, I must own a pickaxe, is that it?”

Gaming and fiction often saddle any non-human race with a single “mono culture” – one language, one religion, one representative musical instrument, one typical style of beard, ad infinitum.

Pick such a blandified race from your favorite game system and imbue the poor uni-folk with some variety. Don’t go overboard; thousands of Dwarven religions will just mind-numb the players. (Be especially cautious with languages. A map of a dozen or a hundred distinct varieties of Elvish may be perfectly realistic, but it’ll quickly get in the way of what players want, which is to actually communicate.)

That caution noted, outlining two or three religions for a major race, to pick one example, is a bit of detail that adds flavor to the game world, is simple enough to be processed by players, and can yield plot hooks for the GM. As a bonus, injecting variety into major game races lets the GM continually introduce encounters that feel new, without forever inflating an already-ridiculous number of humanoid types crowding the game planet. (Hi, D&D!)

47. Unique animal companions

Take your favorite game system and write up an animal companion – horse, dog, falcon, etc. – as an individual, complete with its own unique traits, quirks, and even motivations. This is something a busy GM can easily use.

48. “I know a guy”

Players like their PCs to “know a guy” in the right place, someone they can call on for information or even help with a scheme. Some game systems even detail rules for such contacts. Write up a contact (law officer, reporter, city guard, palace insider, etc.) as an individual, focusing on what the contact does, what information he/she can provide, and what will and won’t motivate the contact to help.

49. Useful reference works

List 10 or so lesser-known online gaming resources you find useful. Gaming blogs, reference works, collections of character art, free (and legal!) downloads, you name it.

50. Penances

If your game system has clerics, it probably requires that they follow their gods’ dictates, and prescribes quests for those times when they don’t.

Outline some appropriate quests or other penances for clerics that have displeased their gods. These can be a great help for a busy GM when a clerical character transgresses – and can probably even be recycled into generic PC quests.

51. Under the counter at ye olde weapon shoppe

Does your game system provide for customizing weapons and armors with a choice of quality level, materials, sizes, magical imbuements, and so on? If so, make a big table of weapons and armor listing costs, weights, effects, etc. for a rack of custom offerings.

This could be a collection of variants on a type, such as a rack of every custom knife possible under the game’s rules. Or it could just be a dozen or so mixed items you find interesting. Either way, you’ll provide players with ready-to-go shopping selections.

52. Garage to go

Some game system allow for vehicle design, but lack a big catalog of ready-to-drive (and -wreck) models. A handful of new designs, whether historical recreations or something totally new, will probably be appreciated by GMs and players alike.

If calculating tonnages and power units isn’t your bag, there’s still something fun you can do with vehicle design: Map out a downed plane, wrecked ship, etc. as an unusual setting to explore.

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