“When the Bad Guys Win” is our RPG Blog Carnival theme for the month. Be sure to check out all the other posts, and the month’s summary at the end of the year.
‘Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the tower
Not a hero was stirring
They’d been sapped of their power
Knocked out cold on the stair
Beaten by goblins
And left sucking for air
Up the Stakes!
What a great mantra for adding spice to a game (or story). If things are getting stale or boring, add conflict. Add danger. Add risk. This simple rule keeps fresh blood pumping through your story. It keeps players (or readers) invested.
So how do you add conflict to an evening’s adventure? Add more encounters?
Well, sort of. Encounters, by themselves, add only short-lived conflict and some risk.
We’ve all defeated a random monster in a dungeon and then forgotten about it. To make an encounter work, it has to connect to the narrative. To make it sing, the encounter needs high stakes. It needs real risk.
And I’m not talking about the chance of a TPK. Total Party Kills are not fun. The risk that they might occur is a powerful motivator, but let’s, for the moment, assume the player characters are invincible or, at the very least, we don’t want them to die.
How’s this idea?:
The heroes enter a dungeon. As far as the players know, this is a randomly generated map. They’re level one, and they encounter some goblins. Heck, the party might even just have come from the tavern, where they all met for the first time. It’s all very vanilla.
But things are about to get serious.
They manage to drive off the goblins, but not before one of the green skins shouts a curse.
“Death to the humans!” It declares, before taking a crossbow bolt to the chest. Other goblins take up the chant, and some of these manage to escape.
When the party leave the dungeon, they find their village, including the once-cozy tavern, burned to the ground. Corpses litter the streets. Worse still is the number of missing people. There are signs that goblins have rampaged through the village, and they’ve left a corpse riddled with their black-shafted arrows hanging over the village well. A clear sign that this was an act of revenge.
But there are survivors, and they lay the blame for this squarely on the party.
If the party didn’t care about the village before, then standing on the sidelines is no longer an option. They must leave or take up the villager’s cause.
The goblins have won this fight. Now they’re a significant enemy, and the choices the party will have to make do matter.
Up the stakes!
Santa’s Solo Sale is Here!
Until the 11th of January, 2021, get 30% off any of our solo RPG titles.
The Rising Phoenix Games dude.
Rodney is a writer and editor of tabletop RPGs and a painter of Orks. He is worryingly fond of mill decks in Magic: the Gathering and a self-confessed Japanophile.