Now that I’m getting a better feel for what this bizarre “Story Challenge” entails, I figured I’d give it another shot. Its in part because I had an idea that I thought would inject some liveliness into your games, and in part because these are much easier to write up then a usual combat encounter, and require much less mapping. Not that I’m lazy – I just have a lot of projects on my plate right now. Fret not, you are, and always will be, special to me :-3
This “encounter” will really end up informing a series of encounters in a dungeon you will soon be plopping into your player’s paths (or that they will stumble upon through their own agency.) In that respect this gets closer to a full on adventure than an encounter – but I think you’ll see how it fits in with my usual fare of content pretty closely.
The goal here is to let your players contribute to some of the session planning and world building, while simultaneously constructing some in character dialogue and role playing bits where the characters share their experiences with rumors, legends, and hearsay. Its a prompt for interaction and an excuse to let the players do a bit of the heavy lifting in your dungeon planning. They’ll get to contribute something to the game world, while not compromising the verisimilitude with too much meta-game, and still being able to enjoy the surprises hiding down dank dungeon corridors.
A Dungeon of Renown
A couple weeks in advance of running a dungeon, present your players with very brief questionnaires – supposedly for your gratification. Each will contain a single prompt asking what the player’s character has heard about some specific aspect of the dungeon. Obviously this isn’t a reference to a previous event in your campaign – but the player filling in the blanks of their character’s past experience, and inventing some new tidbit of information about the world. The catch is – this tidbit is only a rumor, and its accuracy is highly questionable.
You’ll collect these inputs and then use them to color how you design the dungeon. In most cases, you should twist what the player has given you in some surprising way: If the player says that the tomb of the evil Necro-Vizier Malak Al-Rahim is guarded by a horrible Troll-Hydra hybrid, add a twist. Being a necromancer, this bizarre tomb guardian is more than just a hyrda with troll heads – it’s also undead! If the player states that the most feared trap in the tomb is a room that fills up with acid, then have that trap play out as the player describes – and then point out that the walls are also slowly closing in on them! Or, perhaps the player’s suggestion is devious enough that you simply leave it exactly as they intended.
Whatever you do, make sure to keep the player’s suggestion as intact as possible. You may need to eschew certain aspects or soften/harden the impact of the threats they describe, but don’t completely deny or ignore their input. The point is to make their suggestion a welcome part of the world, and to give that player a moment to shine. You want them to feel like they have agency in crafting both the world and the story (because they do, though normally that is exclusively through their characters). Your changes should compliment the suggestions. Keep in mind that old improvisational theatre rule of “yes, and…” and you’ll do fine. The player’s inputs are never wrong – they’re just lacking in some key details.
That said, don’t let this free reign of creativity permit greedy player’s to try and grab unfair advantages. Be judicious. If a player writes down: “A giant pile of 10,000 gold coins” as the treasure, have that be the treasure. Of course, many of the coins are adhered to the backs of a swarm of brain-scarabs, and assuming the players can defeat the swarm, those coins are likely to be in an unusable condition. But at least some of the coins survive!
If you feel like too open-ended a question may not be helpful, you can also pose these prompts as multiple choice.
This will require a bit more work and creativity on your part (despite having some ground to work from) but the collaboration will be rewarding on both ends, and make for a (hopefully!) memorable dungeon. And if it winds up a TPK, then they only have themselves to blame.
The specifics of your prompts will vary a bit depending on your campaign but the jist of it is this:
Your character has heard rumors and legends about The Forbidden Tomb of The Necro-Vizier Malak Al-Rahim. It is a place commonly mentioned among adventurers around campfires, and in bragging and warnings over mugs of ale:
-What has your character heard about the creature that guards Al-Rahim’s treasure? Be as specific as you can and don’t worry about stats, your friendly GM has that covered. Remember that this is what your CHARACTER has heard – his/her experiences and background might color the content of the rumors he/she has heard! And remember – this is knowledge that your character possesses; his/her allies may not be privy to this information.
You know your dungeon better than I can, but here are some potential prompts to throw at your players. I’d suggestion only one per player.
- Describe the creature guarding the dungeon’s treasure
- Describe the method for discovering the entrance to the dungeon
- Describe the most devious trap in the dungeon
- Describe the dungeon’s greatest treasure
- Describe the effects of the curse placed upon the dungeon’s greatest treasure
- Describe the dungeon’s builder
- The dungeon was originally intended for another master – what was it’s original purpose?
- Who has attempted to delve into this dungeon before?
- What particular breed of monster favors this dungeon and why?
- There is a riddle in the dungeon that serves as the lock to a treasure hoard. It is located in a shrine to which deity? (You might make the riddle’s answer fits with the player’s selected deity’s portfolio)
- A chamber in the dungeon contains fantastic terrain. What characterizes this weird location?
- The dungeon is supposedly home to a powerful creature that might not be hostile – and may even aid explorers. What kind of creature is it?
- A faction that is a rival of both the players and the dungeon’s inhabitants is seeking to delve into the depths as well. Who is this faction and what do they want with the dungeon?
Encourage your players to be very specific in their answers. The more input they give you, the more you have to work with.
If a player is having trouble coming up with something, consider giving them a different prompt that might spark their creativity more readily. Barring that, give them some examples of answers to these questions from books and film to catalyze some inspiration.
This one will require a bit of work on your part to make all these disparate inputs make sense – but it should be well worth the trouble.