Friday, 28 September 2018

The World is a Room: A Method for Organizing Gameable Content

Traditional fantasy maps are excellent for inspiration, but there’s a reason most board games don’t use freeform poetic maps: they don’t present inherently clear and strategic choices.
When creating a location for adventure, organization of information is paramount to presenting clear choices to the players. Whether or not you show your map to the players, having one for yourself can tighten up your design and facilitate the language you use to describe what the player characters are experiencing. The clearer you can be in your language, the more you can control the experience of the game.
By organizing my world into rooms and transitions, I’ve been able to vastly improve the underlying structure of my settings and adventures.

The World is a Room

Remember the old King’s Quest point-and-click adventure games? In these games, you travel around the world by moving between different screens. One screen might show the western gate of a town, and if you travel west, the next screen shows the deep woods that stand to the west of that town. When you move between these screens there is a quick fade, but it’s inferred that there is some physical geography between the two screens that isn’t depicted. This is the transition. Within these screens, there are a number of objects to interact with. Some are clues, some are items, some are NPCs, and some are objects that lead to hidden screens.
Text-based MUDs work in a similar fashion. Each location in the game world is a “room.” Each room has a description, some words of which are interactable. To move between rooms, you either type a compass point direction, or “enter,” “exit,” “up,” or “down.”
Traditional dungeon maps operate in much the same way.
Organizing the world into rooms allows for very precise control over the information the players have access to, and allows movement within the game world to take on the same simplicity, structure, and tactical choice as it has within the dungeon.

Presenting Choices to the Players

When the PCs arrive in a room, objects present make it clear what things they can interact with; transitions make it clear where the players can go. Based on my map of Birtash, I can tell my players easily what their movement options are from the Wealthy Troll: a verdant street leads off toward a gleaming marble temple, a bustling street filled with crowds leads off to the market square, and a worn, slanting street leads down to the main gate. In my experience, players enjoy making a choice from a few clear options more than they enjoy having an overabundance of choices but no clear paths to take.


The transitions between rooms need only be simple, flavourful descriptions. If a transition contains interactable objects or transitions to other rooms, it isn’t a transition — it’s a room. In essence, if the players stop moving within a transition, they are now in a room.

Hiding Transitions

You can hide transitions inside rooms as interactable objects. For example, my players are trying to find the secret lair of an apothecarist named Oriust in the town of Birtash. With a poetic map of a sprawling town, it would be difficult to meaningfully hide the lair because the players would either a) never find it, or b) have to rely on a task roll or getting directions in order to find it. Also, there would be no reasonable way for the players to stumble upon the lair without having already learned of it. If the world is a room, though, the players could physically search for it and even stumble upon it by accident.
In the Market Square room of Birtash, I have my description of the merchant stalls, the carts, the fountain, and so on. I also describe a large stack of crates and barrells with a tarp over it in the southeastern corner of the square. Now, the players may ignore this, and that’s fine — it’s a hidden transition, after all. But if they go poking around in those crates and barrels, they’ll discover a dark, narrow alleyway behind the stack. The alleyway leads to Oriust’s Lair.
This exploration-based discovery is very satisfying to the players because it’s a result of a choice they made as opposed to the luck of a roll. Admittedly they could make the choice to ask NPCs for the whereabouts of the lair, but there’s no reason you can’t combine that option with this one: as we know, it’s best to create problems with multiple solutions.


Gates are barriers which require keys in order to pass. I use the word gate because gates more often block access than doors do, but I admit “doors” goes better with “rooms.” Gates can be placed in front of any transition, and can take the form of a physical barrier, an NPC, or be hidden. The key to a gate can be any number of things: a physical key, money, an item, a task roll, a keyword, information valuable to the gate, or just finding the gate if it’s hidden.
Gates can also be placed in front of just about anything you want to keep the players from having free access to.
Gates can control the flow of movement on your map.

The Flow of Movement

What rooms can be accessed from this room? What interactable objects does this room contain? Do any of these objects lead to other rooms? Are there any gates in this room?
All of these questions help clarify the flow of movement on your map.

NPCs as Rooms

NPCs can be thought of as rooms which contain their own objects and transitions. For example, in Birtash’s Market Square, there is a middle-aged herbalist woman named Tiall. Tiall also has a hidden transition to Oriust’s lair, as she has worked with him before. In order to open the transition, however, the players have to gain Tiall’s confidence, or inquire about poison-making.
An NPC room can contain any of the following: a description, information, quests, clues, transitions to other NPCs/rooms, or items (magical, equipment, quest/plot). Any of these can be hidden or gated just like in a regular room.
You can add an NPC room to your map if it has transitions to other rooms.


This is just one way of organizing a game world. I have found it to be useful in conjunction with my theory on room design. The main benefits to me are clarity of choice for the players, ease of use in play for the DM, increased depth of exploration-based play, and an increased tightness of design in preparation.
May this inspire you and help you improve your games!

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

The D&D Shopping Trip: A Guide to Shop Prices and Treasure

'Fish Market' by Frans Snyders and Anthonis van Dyck

Here’s the thing: players love shopping. Why? I don’t know. Nobody knows. But what I do know is that at some point in a campaign, the players will decide to go on a shopping trip — they want to spend their hard-earned treasure on something cool. This is a system for creating an internal game economy to prepare for that eventuality.
In order to create a balanced and satisfying internal economy for your players, you’ll need to know how much gold they'll have on average and set shop prices accordingly. Luckily, that’s entirely up to you.


Decide on an average income-per-level of a player character. This shouldn't be too difficult as the amount of treasure the party gets is completely in your control. This income typically increases as the characters level up. You want them to have just enough to get some of what they want, but not so much that they stop feeling hungry.
Using the average treasure-per-level in the D&D 5th edition DMG as a base (p. 133), I discovered the following income averages:*

LevelAverage income-per-level
1st - 4th140 gp
5th - 10th3,900 gp
11th - 16th18,300 gp
17th - 20th228,000 gp
*This assumes a party of four characters splitting treasure evenly.


Thinking about your internal economy in percentage values can help clarify how much of the party’s resources you’re draining with your prices. Take the average income of a player character and make that value equal to 100%.
When rolling for starting gold in 5e instead of taking the equipment packages, the average amount any given character will have to spend at 1st level is 100 gp. This is the perfect number for translating to percentages.
Now, looking at the equipment lists, you can easily see how much of a 1st-level PC’s average income these items will cost them. Leather armour? 10%. Greatsword? 50%. Chainmail? 75%.
Once the game starts, between 1st and 4th level, a PC’s average income increases to 140 gp per level. Therefore, 140 gp is your new 100% mark. Now that chainmail only costs 53%. And so on as the party levels.


If you have your percentage values, setting prices is as easy as deciding how much of a PC’s income something is worth. Make yourself a chart of common percentage values for each level range and keep it handy for quick reference when the players get in the mood to shop.

Percentage1st-4th Level5th-10th Level11th-16th Level17th-20th Level
100%140 gp3,900 gp18,300 gp228,000 gp
75%105 gp2,925 gp13,725 gp171,000 gp
50%70 gp1,950 gp9,150 gp114,000 gp
25%35 gp975 gp4,575 gp57,000 gp
10%14 gp390 gp1,830 gp22,800 gp
5%7 gp195 gp915 gp11,400 gp
1%1 gp, 4 sp39 gp183 gp2,280 gp
*Each of these amounts is per character, not per party, assuming an average of four characters.
It’s definitely okay to set prices above 100% — PCs can choose to save up, or they may choose to pool their money if they really want something.
No matter whether you’re running a low-treasure or high-treasure game, just decide how much treasure you’re going to give out in advance and build your percentages off of that. If you decide you want a low-treasure game and the players are only going to see 100 gold pieces between them over the course of the first four levels, there’s no need to scale up your percentages as they level — just stick with the initial costs. Heck, you might even want to switch your income averages to silver pieces but keep the costs the same to create a really gritty tone.


Now that you’ve set up an income and decided on percentage values, you need to find ways to keep charging the PCs between 5% and 75% of their average income-per-level in order to keep them hungry. You can charge them for tolls, bribes, plot items (which could cover a lot of things like official documents, artifacts, information, etc.), access to new areas, special clothing for access to court encounters, bailing an NPC ally out of prison, temple prices for healing...
If you want the economy to feel meaningful, gate mostly optional content behind gold costs. To make it feel really satisfying, throw more stuff at them than they can afford. Tease things for them to save up for.


Gates are barriers which require payment in order to pass. As an abstract concept, a gate can be a bribe to gain an audience with an NPC, a toll for using a road, the cost of passage on a ship, or a literal gate with an entry tax.
In most cases, gates should lead to optional content. If you put a gate in front of an essential path to progress, realize that you are stealing wealth from the players and essentially lowering their income. Keep the costs in mind: are you draining 100% of their income with this single, non-optional gate? You don't want to hobble them financially for the rest of the level.
Gates are great for tempting players to spend their treasure on optional content.


Upkeep can help give low-level motivation to PCs. A constant tiny drain of income will add just a dash of a race-against-time element to your campaign, which ideally keeps the party from loitering around too much.
For inn costs, to make them meaningful and worth tracking, bump them up to at least 1% of a PC's income per night. If using the figures I’ve outlined above, make staying at the party’s first inn cost 1 gp, 4 sp per character per night. If they want to pay for a better inn/room (5%), you could give them Advantage on one ability check the next day. If they stay at a poor quality inn (book prices), they make a DC 10 Con save or get Disadvantage on Con checks the next day and may get robbed (50% chance) in the night for 5-20% of their gold. Whatever you want — just give meaning to their choices.
As they level, they acquire wealth, and the innkeeper notices (if it’s the same innkeeper), so maybe he raises the prices because he knows they can afford it. Or maybe they move on to a new area with a new inn, and then you can just raise the prices accordingly.


Keep some prices static so the players feel their wealth gains matter. Make these mainly rare or expensive items they can work towards buying.


Create a few shops. You can make a single shop which has prices covering multiple levels of income, or a few shops with prices covering different levels. The benefit of having a single shop which covers multiple levels of income is it can tease the higher cost items to the players. The benefit of having multiple shops is the joy of discovering a new shop full of new items.
I recommend making items in your shops behave like one-use spells (kind of like scrolls) or permanent minor-effect spells. You can look at magic items in the DMG and just tone them down for the shop shelves. I don’t recommend selling full +X magic items in your shops, but you could sell pieces of artifacts which can be collected and combined to make a full-powered magic item.
Sell mysterious objects as well, objects the shopkeeper has no information about; they just want to get rid of it for a good price. Include quest items, maps and riddles, clues leading to treasure — anything that could be of value to the PCs or lead to adventure.
Use wonder in your equipment lists, with threads leading to juicy history or adventurous background stories. Put carvings, initials, and symbols on items. Describe the cultural style items are made in. Give items intriguing titles. Make them interesting. Make them weird.
Make shops reflect your world.


Smiths can upgrade the PCs' weapons and armour for an appropriate cost. This allows players to forge bonds with their gear instead of replacing it every few levels.
Upgrading an item simply means giving it a +1.
Depending on the size and effectiveness of the item, the cost for the first upgrade should vary between 70% (club) and 350% (greatsword) of income. When pricing your upgrades, use your judgement to decide how much each should cost. Looking at the base value of the item to be upgraded in conjunction with the table below is a good starting point.
You can have the smith require special materials for upgrades as well, which the PCs must either purchase elsewhere or attain on an adventure.
Looking at the Magic Item Rarity table on p.135 of the DMG, we see the following prices:

RarityCharacter LevelValue
Common1st or higher50-100 gp
Uncommon1st or higher101-500 gp
Rare5th or higher501-5,000 gp
Very Rare11th or higher5,001-50,000 gp
Legendary17th or higher50,001+ gp
Using the average income-per-level table from before, these are the translated costs:
For 1st to 4th level incomes, magic items are worth between 50% and 500%.
For 5th to 10th level incomes, they are worth between 13% and 128%.
For 11th to 16th level incomes, they are worth between 27% and 273%.
For 17th to 20th level incomes, they are worth anywhere from 22% and up.
Admittedly these costs seem arbitrary, and they probably are; after all, 5th edition wasn't designed with a magic item economy in mind. However, it's a good rough guide to pricing your upgrades and items, and if it doesn't suit — change it!


Temples offer healing at a fraction of the cost of potions. A potion of healing costs 50% of a 1st Level character’s average income; a potion is more convenient than temple healing, so you could lower the temple cost to something like 10%. As the party levels up, the temple will expect them to give ever larger donations. If the PCs don't donate appropriately, they may need to succeed at a Charisma/Reaction check in order to acquire healing in the future.
The expected donation might be 10% of income for a basic healing spell; 20% for greater healing.


Go ahead and charge the PCs for expert consultations, sage opinions, hirelings, enchanting, and spells-for-hire. Nothing is free!


If you're using random tables to generate treasure (which is perfectly fine), your players may have more or less than the average income you figured out for your campaign. That's okay. You want your game world's internal economy to feel organic (even though it's not), so the PCs getting a variable income each level is just fine; it probably won't stray too much from the averages to matter.


Be creative when coming up with stuff for your players to spend their coin on, especially at the higher levels when their income makes the cost of all normal equipment and upkeep into pennies.
Treasure could be any number of things: coins, gems, jewelry, art objects, goods, furnishings, clothing, magic items, spells, animal or human companions, information, access to new social or adventuring areas or encounters, social status, land, property, renown, vengeance, gratitude, protection, safety, honour, approval of the gods, completion of a quest, or anything else that could feel like a reward to your players.
You can make any of these things for sale within your internal game economy.


This is not a realistic economy. This is an internal game economy, a mechanic to enhance the campaign at a game-design level. It's meant to give the players something to spend their gold on, and to give the DM a way to further motivate the players.


All of the prices I have set down here I have done so with my own discretion: you can set prices to anything you wish. The important thing is to realize what percentage of a player character’s income you are charging so you can be deliberate about your prices.
I have used 5th edition as a common point of reference, but this system can work with any version of the game.
I know not all DMs will want a structured system like this. Many are content to handwave treasure and shopping, and that’s a perfectly legitimate way to run the game. For those looking to expand and formalize their internal game economy, however, I hope this proves useful.

Friday, 21 September 2018

125 Character Roleplay Challenges

'Witch of Endor' by Nikolai Ge
I believe interesting roleplay can be achieved by setting a challenge for characters, a limitation of some kind. Alignment is the default roleplay challenge in the game but that's just the starting point.
Whenever my players make new characters, I have them take a look at this chart I made for inspiration (if they want it). Some of these are obviously more challenging than others, so I leave it up to the players to decide what they take on. The rolling is there for fun/convenience. (None of these challenges should get in the way of approaching the game in a smart way as a player, but should rather make certain choices more interesting.) These could serve as inspiration for NPCs, too.
Note: the rolling method below does not give results even probability. If using an online dice-roller, just roll 1d125. For even probability, use this formula: (1d10/2) • 25 + (1d10/2) • 5 + (1d10/2) + 1.  The first die roll is telling you whether to pick the first, second, third, fourth, or fifth group of 25 options. The second die roll tells you which group of 5 to choose within that group of 25. The final die roll tells you which one to choose in the group of 5. The 1 at the end is because humans start counting at 1, not 0. (thanks to /u/Zenocrate for the dice maths)
/u/Fenind3745 has made an awesome PDF version of the table. Get it here. (printer-friendly version here)

Roll d100 + d6
(if d6 is even, add +25 to roll)
1. Addicted to substance
64. Hates magic
2. Kleptomaniac
65. Obsessed with magic
3. Hatred/fear of killing
66. Bad manners/vulgar
4. Expensive taste
67. Leaves no one behind
5. Too proud to ask for help
68. Fears the gods
6. Doesn't know the common tongue
69. Superstitious
7. Never refuses a challenge/extremely competitive
70. Obsessed with a god
8. Has an injury
71. Receives visions (insane)
9. Owes a large debt
72. Fugitive
10. In love/heartbroken
73. Haunted
11. Fear of common hazard (fire, water, heights, animals, darkness, insects, magic)
74. Hunted by something/believes they are being hunted by something
12. Moral code
75. Secretly evil (and must keep it a secret)
13. Magical curse (inhibits certain type of interaction, action, or activity)
76. Prophesied to die soon by a fortune teller and believes it
14. Has a terrible secret/not who they claim to be
77. Servant to a hidden master
15. Has a great past sorrow
78. Multiple personalities
16. Irresponsible with money
79. Socially inept
17. Trusts nobody
80. Dormant behavioural conditioning program
18. Responsible for a dependant
81. Traditionalist
19. Apologist/condoning
82. Conspiracy theorist
20. Responsible for a terrible event
83. Brainwashed
21. Blames something or someone for a great sorrow
84. Naive
22. Breaks hearts
85. Father/parent complex
23. Faints at the sight of blood
86. Collector
24. In love with someone horrible or forbidden
87. Obsessed with fitness
25. Desires an honourable death
88. Terrible liar
26. No sense of smell
89. Illiterate
27. Blind
90. Extremely shy
28. Obsessed with justice
91. Overconfident/arrogant
29. Hunts a certain type of foe
92. Self-deprecating
30. Plagued by nightmares
93. Fiery temper/anger issues
31. Parties too hard/over-indulgent
94. Trusting
32. Easily seduced
95. Hypochondriac
33. Compulsive liar
96. Oblivious
34. Extremely greedy/will do anything for money
97. Chronic illness
35. Puritanical
98. Monstrously ugly
36. Fears building close relationships
99. Painfully beautiful
37. Thrill-seeker
100. Social conformist
38. Bloodlust
101. Authority issues
39. Obsessed with personal hygiene
102. Was involved in a huge scandal
40. Attracts a lot of attention (gigantism, towering height, dwarfism, exotic features, albinism, unusual/flamboyant fashion choices, booming/piercing voice, distinct loud laugh, exhibitionist, has ravenous fans/followers)
103. Notorious
41. Extremely vain
104. Self-righteous
42. Altruistic
105. Avenging
43. Devoted to one of the player characters
106. Pretender/heir to distant throne or ruined kingdom
44. Pyromaniac
107. Impoverished noble
45. Psychological trauma
108. Dependant upon an item for an ability score/incredibly weak without a certain item
46. Hears voices
109. Suffers from chronic pain (magical or non-magical)
47. No patience/impulsive
110. Constantly seeks out fortune tellers, palm readers, tarot card readers, good luck charms
48. Paranoid
111. Once-powerful demon cursed with mortality and stripped of all powers
49. Running from the past
112. Takes up a new hobby every adventure
50. Pet collector/animal-lover
113. Taken a vow of silence
51. Pack rat/hoarder
114. Hand-makes everything
52. Ritualistic (by choice, conforming, or magically compelled)
115. Keeps a chronicle of heroic events, exaggerating the details
53. Needs medicine to live
116. Composes short poems about party successes and failures
54. Absent-minded (randomly forgets/loses things)
117. Failed minstrel
55. Addicted to gambling
118. Prone to jealousy of others' success
56. Swore an oath about one of the party members (in regard to enemies, treasure, or magic)
119. Contempt for nobility
57. Only eats a certain food
120. Contempt for the comforts of civilization
58. Needs certain conditions to sleep (certain item(s), can't sleep alone, etc.)
121. Craves creature comforts
59. Vendetta against type of monster
122. Outwardly curses the gods
60. Very fat
123. Secretly much too young for adventuring
61. Very old
124. Romanticizes everything
62. Deaf
125. Reads signs and omens
63. Fears magic