Content of the article: "5 Gimmicky Ways to Spice Up Your Next Session"
I’ve just wrapped up two year-long campaigns, and sigh, I’m sad to step away from this game for a while. However, this community has helped a rookie DM like me get through 2020, and I wanted to give something back. Here are a few gimmicks I implemented in my games that you might enjoy in yours. They didn’t always work for me (see Battle of the Bands), but with the right tweaks, they could work wonders for your next game.
Team SHIT and Purple Haze – this is for you 🙂
- The Battle of the Bands. Our adventurers had gone into the Underdark to retrieve a legendary Kitar, held by the Duergar. Despite the party’s pleas, the King offered them a chance to win it in battle…but not just any battle. They would have to face the Duergar’s most famous rock band, Doom, in the arena. Whoever won over the audience would win the Kitar.
How it works: I tracked the crowd’s favor on a scale of -100 to 100. Getting to 100 would mean the players won, while -100 would mean Doom won. We then designated a “lead singer” for both sides – the Players naturally chose their bard. On their turn, the lead singer can perform for the crowd and roll a d10 which would be added to, or subtracted from (for enemy rolls), the current score. As for everyone else, they could attack the enemy band, knocking them out for round or two, OR could “work the crowd” – this could be any activity that gets the crowd amped, from doing floor gymnastics, rapping, or even throwing them free t-shirts. Upon a success, the lead singer is granted a multiplier to their performance rolls (so an 8 roll w/ a 2x multiplier becomes +16 points for your side). Multipliers would only be reduced if there was bad sportsmanship (like polymorphing the other team’s lead singer).
What happened: I was so excited for this one, but it dragged on for too long. The players didn't immediately catch onto the importance of multipliers and liked beating up the other team. Also, because we had 8(!) players vs. 8 NPC’s, each round was lengthy, limiting each lead singer's ability to "perform". Allowing other players to “perform” (maybe at ½ the team multiplier) or being more generous with the multipliers may help you keep pacing nice and snappy for your game.
- The Time Limit. Our adventurers have infiltrated a factory to rescue an important NPC. Upon entering, they have set off a trap that is slowly filling the factory with toxic fumes. You then tell them they have two real life hours to complete their rescue, or else…
How it works: I told the players that they would die at the end of two hours – however, as they ascended to the top of the factory, they learned there were things they could do to buy time. As an example, they could befriend the automatons protecting the facility by making them laugh. If they did, the automaton would let some gas escape and buy them more time (e.g., five minutes). This is a wonderful way to add tension to a session, raise the stakes for combat encounters, and encourage fast decision making.
What happened: It was awesome! I was worried about a potential TPK, but with their rapid-fire decision making and some paring down of possible combat encounters, the players made it to the top floor with minutes to spare. After rescuing the NPC on the top floor, they decided to leap off the roof of the building and used a wind fan at the last moment to cushion their fall. It was a wonderful, improvised solution that capped an adrenaline-pumping two and a half hours.
- The Repeating Day. This was done in the Adventure Zone podcast, and I wanted to do my take on it. The players awake inside a tavern in the center of a large city, and by midnight, the city is destroyed by a mysterious force. However, the players then wake up back in the tavern and get to replay the events of the day.
How it works. I had been playing a lot of the Return of the Obra Dinn, and liked the journaling system. I created this timeline of events for players to keep track of important NPC’s throughout their day: Log
I tried to make each pivotal event raise even more questions. So, if we learned that the Chief Magistrate was invited to a ball, but that an imposter attended in their place, the party would then investigate his real whereabouts the next day.
What happened: It felt a little video-gamey, but otherwise was a success. I wanted it to feel like a murder mystery, as the players would witness key NPC’s being murdered or going missing throughout the day, keeping them on their toes as to who was really behind the city’s destruction.The players got lost a few times, but it was very satisfying to see them put the clues together and determine who the real mastermind was all along.
- The Mashup. Our adventurers are after the McGuffin, and are surprised by the arrival of a second set of adventurers who traveled through space-time to retrieve the exact same thing…
How it works. Inviting the two groups to the same session is straightforward, but there are a few things I want to point out. First, you have to decide whether their campaigns take place in the same universe – can one set of players visit the locations and NPC’s of the other? Secondly, you should limit the number of combat encounters, as fights involving that # of people can be a slog. Finally, I gave them slightly competitive agendas, because who doesn’t want a little bit of drama?
What happened: This worked because the two groups were drawn from the same group of friends – ymmv with two sets of strangers! This helped b/c despite not knowing the others’ plotlines, there was a natural willingness to work together. They jointly retrieved the McGuffin, and had a big climatic LOTR-style battle with the BBEG. Afterwards, one set of players stepped through a portal back into their own time. It worked so well, in fact, that I ended up making one campaign a prequel to the other (through some time-travel magic and shaky plot logic).
- Time jump. Our adventures defeat one evil guy, only to be surrounded by a nasty looking armada of airships moments later. The evil bad guys threaten to kill them and the innocent townfolk, unless the players surrender. They are each taken aboard separate airships and are only reunited a year later…
How it works. This is a contrivance designed to split the party and allow them to develop their characters apart from the others.
What happened: I gave them 20-minute “days” to learn more about their captors, explore their ships, and devise their own escape plans. Once the remaining airships reached their destination separately, I then introduced a time jump to reunite the characters a year later, all of whom had been changed by their experiences. It was a great way to setup the next villain (who had kidnapped them all), but also allow the players to craft a mid-campaign backstory in telling the rest of us how their character spent that year away from the others.
Hope this post inspires some of you to try something different in your next session. Good luck and happy gaming!
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