Thursday, October 20, 2016

DM Lessons: Improvisation Building Blocks

Sometimes, you can really force yourself to think on your feet if your players decide to do some investigating and look deeper than the surface of things.

In our last Over the Seas and Far Away session, one of the players went off to his temple to inquire if they have any work. As the DM, I want to remind players of the horrible system of oppressive slavery and corruption that the party is working around the edges of. So he does have a job, alright.

Job is: escort these clearly innocent virtual slaves to their new life of hard labor in a logging camp. Temple is getting paid to transport them.

Player winces, but hey, might be something interesting here, so he does some investigating as to why these prisoners haven't been moved already. "Let me see their paperwork".

Instantly, he's getting paid a bunch more because this shit is shady. Also there are about 50 of the prisoners.

So now as the DM, I have to think up several things.

1. Why haven't the prisoners been moved?
2. What makes this shadier than usual?
3. How can I make this scenario more interesting?

One of the keys to running an effective campaign (sandbox or otherwise) is to have done enough worldbuilding that you have components to put together to flesh out a scenario like this. I improvised thusly:

The prisoners haven't been moved because there are a lot of them, they are dangerous, and the company that contracted for them hasn't sent anyone to get them.

This is shadier than usual because the prisoners aren't from the usual prisoner's channel, and everyone knows it, but are being paid to ignore that.

How can I make this more interesting?  The prisoners are of the same persecuted minority as one of the characters.

I need to put this all into context now, so I start pulling worldbuilding from my back pocket. In the Empire, the half-orcs are a persecuted minority, and lots of them live on the fringes of the Empire.

Transported are only supposed to be convicted criminals, but the amount of labor needed in the Colony has created a thriving secondary market for "off-brand" Transported.

Half-orcs are strong and tough, making them more dangerous than standard prisoners.

So now the party has to transport 50 or so angry half-orcs a hundred miles through fairly dangerous forests and deposit them in the same sort of logging camp they LITERALLY just rescued 50 people from. Irony is fun.

Now, this is a really important DM tip: if you set up a scenario, don't get at all tied to YOUR solutions. Just sit back and see what your players come up with.

In this case, one of the players is a half-orc, so make friends is the answer. They spent hundreds of sp getting them blankets, food and clothes, and promised to free them from the logging camp after delivery. The prisoners were suspicious, so Wrenaldo, the half-orc in question, accepted their offer to temporarily join the coffle and get rescued with the rest of them.

Happy day! At least for me. Not sure they're going to enjoy this.