Category Archives: Story Challenge

Theater Ninjas presents “GameNight”


     I’m frequently making references to Theater Ninjas, the Cleveland-based theatre company I’m a member of. The brief snatches about my theatre life are usually in context of how I’m dividing myself between many time consuming passions and putting poor Save Vs. Weekend on the back-burner. But in this case, Ninja action applies directly to the gaming world!

      The Ninjas actually use games an awful lot in our rehearsal process; both for scripted and self-written original pieces. This year we decided to expand upon the group’s interest in games, and invite the audience in to join us.

     Enter our new, free, monthly get-together: GameNight. The focus of GameNight is to introduce fans, collaborators, supporters, new comers, gamers, the curious, their friends, and anyone else to try out some games that focus on story and player creativity. In almost all cases that means some kind of role-playing game. My interest in table-top role-playing grew out of my love of improv and began with traditional titles like my beloved D&D. But recently (and in part because of GameNight) I’ve also branched out into some newer, extremely innovative titles that focus more closely on character and open-ended story-telling. More often than not our selections are (gasp!) totally GMless!

     I wanted to share a bit about the games we’ve been playing, and how GameNight can be relevant to D&D players of any edition. There are a lot of facets to what makes a good D&D campaign, and that ultimately comes down to which interests all the players at the table overlap on. But no matter what, story and character are going to play a role: and the more care you put into these elements the more your game will benefit. “Care” in this case does not mean hours of writing or railroading the PCs. It means establishing some simple links between and objectives for characters to inspire players to build the plot and dramatic action themselves. GameNight’s offerings are great at that, and I think each of these indie games has a place in supplementing the regular play (or campaign world prep) of a D&D game.

     We started GameNight off with Jason Morningstar’s FIASCO, a game where players create everyday people with burning ambitions and faltering impulse control. FIASCO’s rules build relationships between player characters into the action, – and even folks new to the RPG world take to it easily. A single game of FIASCO can be a good building block for exploring your D&D campaign’s characters, or even figuring out how the party got together before the classic “you are sitting in a  tavern when” moment (A suggestion Jason even mentions in the rules for FIASCO). In particular, Wizards of the Coast vet Logan Bonner has written a fantastic FIASCO playset that pairs well with experienced D&D players.

     Most recently GameNight took a crack at Ben Robbins’ Microscope. In this game, the players work together to write the epic history of a world by taking turns to create sweeping periods of history, crucial events, and the moment-by-moment role-played scenes that changed the fate of the world. Using Microscope as prep for your D&D game is a good way to bring the players into the world building stage. It can also be a means to sidestep forcing your players to write a 5-page essay explaining their character background (protip: maybe ONE of your players will EVER do this). You can build 1,000 year spans time, or focus in on a few pivotal minutes. Being non-linear, you can hop back and forth down the timeline, zooming in as you wish. Each player has complete, neigh unquestionable authority on their turn, but builds on the ideas of everyone else at the table. It’s your chance to invest the players (and their characters) in the world and its backstory, making them more likely to closely follow the plot and react strongly to the villains, allies, and institutions they run into along the way.

     Opening a D&D campaign with one of these (or any of the countless other) “story-games” can reap major rewards in player investment and attention, and does a lot of the dirty work for you. Best of all, it’s actually a lot of fun, and can help burn off any fatigue incurred from playing the same game for a long stretch of time by allowing you to try something new, while still contributing to the host campaign.

     I personally advocate for FIASCO and Microscope. Each of the Theater Ninjas’ GameNight events has been a major success. I love to hear the players chatting about that month’s game, the stories they built together, and how they might do things next time as they pack up at the end of a session.

     If you’re a gamer in Cleveland Ohio, I highly encourage you to check out the next GameNight event (details at the Theater Ninjas website). I think it’s a foray into a different way to play the kind of games we already love, and gives you ammo and ideas for your own home campaigns. You’ll find some pleasant surprises. But then again, I am a little biased.


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Posted by on November 28, 2013 in Announcements, Story Challenge


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Kill Your Darlings


This encounter is intended for any number of players of any level

Let me tell you a story about my early days of DMing – back when 3rd edition didn’t need a decimal point after the number. Back when you were excited about “Song and Silence” hitting the shelves of your FLGS. Back when Cause Fear lasted 1d4 minutes (seriously, why not make a spell that just tells one of your friends to go home and hang out by himself?)

I was asked to run an impromptu game for some friends. We were all pretty deep into playing Warcraft III at the time (this was, after all, the world before the World of Warcraft) and that had infected our thinking. Their was a mutual suggestion to play a party of orcs – a short term brush with running an “evil” campaign. This half-cocked little session ended up being the impetus for a long running campaign, but that’s another story for another time.

So as they all rolled up their heartless orc raiders I started digging through stat blocks and the DMG for challenges. While going through our collective resources I stumbled upon some character sheets that the guys had used a week before, for a game I wasn’t present at.

I slipped those character sheets in with my notes.

I ran the game. It was what they expected. They raided a village, killed its militia, pillaged the farmsteads, laid siege to the kind-hearted land-baron’s villa, and awaited the armed response from the incensed lord of the realm. That response came.

It was headed by their characters from the previous game.

It was a resounding moment for the players. A conflict of interests slashing into their previously simple world of callous orcish brutality. They wanted to win – but winning meant destroying something they cared about. Also they had min/maxed those characters like crazy, and the fight would not be won easily. In the end it was a memorable game in which the players were invested, conflicted, and had a lot of fun.

And that’s the goal for this weeks encounter: have your players make a one-off character, grow to love them, and then force the players to betray their darling PC. Old school DM cheatery – or compelling gimmick to encourage player investment? I’d argue it’s both.

Part I: The Bait
New sourcebooks are coming out all the time, and so are new ideas for characters. Running ongoing campaigns is great, but it doesn’t provide players that opportunity to mess with other character concepts, races, class builds, or backstories. That’s where the one-shot adventure comes in – and that is stage one in your emotional terrorist plot! This will take some careful planning on your part, but the payoff will be worth it.

Propose a one-shot adventure set in your campaign’s world (in fact, you may wish to abstain from any mention that this session takes place in the same continuity, but don’t be untruthful if asked.) Secretly the purpose of this adventure is to establish these player-made characters: their history, group dynamic, and accomplishments – just before they are handed over and made NPCs. For maximum impact, they should not return for a couple sessions, giving your players time to get back into the swing of your usual game, to the point where their “alt” is almost forgotten. Almost.

While the one-shot has a nefarious goal, there’s no reason why you can’t use it as a chance to introduce a place the “real” PCs will soon visit, explore another aspect of the campaign world, mess around with gameplay at a higher or lower level (adjusting these characters accordingly when the final showdown with the “main” PCs occurs) or to tell the story of other NPCs both new and old. This one-shot gets maximum use as a “flashback”, “flashforward,” or a “meanwhile, 100 miles to the north…”

So the location of this adventure is likely to be somewhere the original PCs will be going soon (whether they know it or not). Set some guidelines for the one-shot characters, but encourage your players to try new things, or explore other aspects of the campaign world. Playing a valiant paladin who is a sworn vampire hunter? Try playing a necromancer! Used to your city dwelling guild assassin? What about a skilled, anti-social ranger? Steering them toward characters who would conflict with or (worse) be friendly towards their usual characters isn’t absolutely necessary, but it might not hurt. Maybe run it as I did, demanding that all the players choose an evil alignment (assuming your PCs to be predominantly good).

Now comes the hard part: running a session that is fun and having the players make characters they enjoy. Obviously there’s no quick and simple advice for this: it’s a honed craft and an art all its own. But giving the players an opportunity to try out some off the wall or atypical characters is usually enough. I’d suggest setting most of the encounters on the easier spectrum – that way the players succeed more often, and have a good opinion of the usefulness of these characters. Don’t wuss out on them or anything, but definitely pull some punches. Consider it an investment for later.

Part II: The Switch
Your game returns to normal. You run a session or two as always, with the same Pcs the players have been consistently playing, furthering your group’s collective plot-lines. You might lay down some hints of what will be to come, but you’ll lose the element of surprise if you get too heavy handed. Then, roundabouts the 2nd or 3rd session after the one-shot, the “alternates” show up!

Don’t just state that the characters are there – describe them in detail as though the players had no knowledge of these knaves. Let the realization sink in! Remind your now conflicted players not to do too much metagaming here. While they may love Torbash the Dark: Half-orc Necromancer, their lawful good paladin has no appreciation for him. And if he never took prisoners before; why would he now?

The “alt” characters (please don’t mind the MMO terminology) can be in conflict with the PCs in many ways: commanders of an enemy army, a rival adventuring company, they might be bandits preying on the PCs, mercenaries hired to “deal” with the heroes, mind-controlled pawns of an evil overlord, opponents in a competition, etc.

Though I joke about being brutal to your players it is mostly just that. This is meant to be a fun challenge and add some drama and pathos to your game, not to be particularly emotionally abusive. The PCs very well might find a way to avoid bloodshed, take prisoners, escape, or even turn enemies to tenuous allies. As always, give the players a fair shot to improvise and “make things right” no matter how hopeless or straightforward a situation you throw at them.

Stats and Powers
Running a full player character sheet as the DM can be a bit much – even worse when you have more than one! To simplify things, you might consider “monsterizing” the alts. Draw up a Monster Manual style stat block, using one or two of their At-Will attacks, and one encounter, and one daily power of the highest level available. Keep any iconic abilities (marking, a “Healing Word,” sneak attack damage, etc). Think about what powers, skills, and items the players made use of during the session with this character and use or emphasize those, ignoring the bits that got ignored anyway. That might make a combat encounter with around five fully-fleshed out characters more manageable.

Special Considerations: Ominous Foreshadowing!!!
So I’ve highly encouraged you to conceal the presence of the “alts” before they are finally revealed for dramatic impact – but it can be just as engaging to instead do the complete opposite: foreshadow their arrival at every turn! Building anticipation of this confrontation can be just as valuable a story-telling tool as making it a “twist.”

Maybe the last moments of your one-shot reveal that these characters have arrived in a location the usual PCs have just/will soon explore. Perhaps their last goal put them in league with a hated enemy from the ongoing story. Maybe they arrive in the wake of the PCs, and it becomes clear a confrontation will soon occur as the new characters track the old. This final scene can be used to build anticipation for your next session, and serves as a good cliffhanger.

Another thought: Let’s say you have a player who is very unhappy with his or her character, and you’ve been seeking an appropriate exit for this PC. Now is a great time! The player can “swap” characters in a way that is rooted in the story and the action of the game. Maybe the alt has a change of heart and turns on his allies, siding with the PCs when the conflict is at its most desperate. If the new characters aren’t morally at odds with the party, perhaps the no-longer favored PC duels the alt in a rigged contest and loses, leaving the victor a clear and valuable new companion for the party. Perhaps it is this PC you want to get rid of that proves a turncoat, and the new character, though appearing at first a foe, instead proves to be a misunderstood ally. Whatever your approach, this can be a great avenue to introduce a “replacement” character that already has a place in the player’s hearts and minds.

A final word: the goals here are to be surprising, to get your players emotionally involved in the game’s characters, to add a nice twist to your plot, and to remind them that just because the game is designed for them to ultimately “win,” it does not mean that the challenges along the way will be easy!

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Posted by on October 26, 2012 in Playtested, Story Challenge


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Under Scrutiny

“Yes, I’m aware the dragon was THERE but it was ME and my arcane might they were running from!”

My background is in theatre. I was a theatre kid as far back as middle school – and where I went to school, that meant you were probably also a gamer. It’s a trend that I don’t think is overwhelmingly common but it follows logically. Roleplaying games, at their core, hinge on the notion of portraying a character – their attitudes, gestures, voice, objectives, etc – just like in theatre. Specifically, the freeform nature of the tabletop RPG makes it much akin to improvised theatre; which was, coincidentally, my theatrical High School/College sweetheart (and if you were wondering, we’re still together). There’s such a strong link between the two that the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide even explains the most fundamental rules of improvised theatre as a guide post for how to run your characters well at the table (‘Yes, and…’ Always ‘yes and…’!).

So…what does this have to do with a story encounter, exactly? While working on a really marvelous show during my college days, we implemented an acting exercise that really hit the mark and helped the whole cast hone their characters. That exercise stuck with me as one of my favorites, and recently it dawned on me just how well it could be translated to the tabletop – not just as an exercise to play eith before the dice get rolling, but as a dramatic scene within the actual gameplay.

The point of the exercise is not dissimilar to those “100 Questions About Your Character” questionnaires that you see floating around. your character is more than just a paragraph of biographical narrative or history text-book backstory page. A lot of tiny details can really flesh your character out, inspire illustrative quirks, or add layers of complication in his or her relationships. A question as simple as “what do you have in your pockets” can force you to ask big questions about who your character is…the ones you never really thought about answering until now. That’s the crux of this exercise – to get at the details of your character and ultimately to brighten the broad strokes with the short ones.

This exercise/encounter also plays a bit with meta-game and in-character knowledge. In general I think meta-game knowledge is an unfortunate evil, but in this circumstance I feel it can do us some good in helping the PLAYERS to be active participants in crafting an engaging story, without violating the conceits of the world too much. That sounds vague right now, but it will become apparent as you read through the steps of the encounter.

But anyway, on to the action! (I’m certainly not done talking about the value that theatre has to the tabletop gaming world. And incidentally, video games are also benefiting from the influence of stagecraft).

For the best execution, this encounter involves some particular circumstances. The PCs have been taken in for questioning by a legitimate authority; an organization. This group shouldn’t be an enemy, at least not in any direct way – a suspicious militia, proactive counter-espionage agents, cautious courtiers interviewing those who wish an audience with the duke, stern-faced elven march wardens who are wary of those crossing their borders – any of these agencies would be perfect for this encounter. Do your best to emphasize that lying to these individuals is neither necessary or a good idea. It’s a cheap but effective tactic to explain that the PCs are in the presence of a zone of truth or similar spell, but sometimes preserving the spirit of the exercise is worth the strong-arming.

Whoever the group is, they separate the adventuring party, questioning them in isolation and one at a time.This is not a brutal interrogation, and the investigating group is only trying to determine what side, if any, the PCs are on, so do your best to prevent things from getting ugly. The interrogators are cool and calm, even toward belligerent PCs.

The Interrogation
At this point, have all but one of the players leave the room. Tell the player that when you re-enter the room, you will be portraying the interrogator, and this next scene is entirely in character (as best as can be done). That player should take a moment to think about their character – their attitudes, the circumstances, their past, and respond accordingly. You will then leave the room, and join the rest of the party to explain to them the terms of this exercise.

The remaining players will join you in portraying the NPC interrogators – questioning this busy-body adventurer and finding out if he or she means harm for the citizens they are protecting. But they have a meta-game goal as well: to find out things they did not know about the waiting PC. It’s reasonable that characters might keep certain secrets from their close companions that they might not mind giving to a disposable stranger. Or perhaps the group dynamic prevents a lot of questioning and prying into one another backstories in a logical way. By giving the players a third-party persona, they can ask hard hitting questions, or ask about details their own characters might be unwilling to inquire after.

Regardless, they must do their best to stay in character the entire time as well (an easier goal, as the interrogators are likely to be stoney and aloof).

Once the players (and now fellow interrogators) are prepared, go into the room and begin the questioning. As DM, you are playing the leader of this group, and you will decide when the “interview” is over. Have a few good, hard-hitting questions of your own ready to steer things in the right direction if this prompt doesn’t give your players any immediate inspiration.

Once you are done pick a new player to sit, and repeat the process.

By the end of the exercise, you will have accomplished a handful of goals:

  1. The players understand their characters better, and have developed their personalities further
  2. You have dredged up some good personal plot hooks
  3. Meta details will help steer the group towards interesting conflicts without requiring further meta-gaming. For example: let’s say in our exercise; we learned that one of your players has had trouble in the past with agents of the Raven Queen. Later in the game, the players have a chance to pick between a series of side quests to go on – and one involves exploring a haunted shrine dedicated to the Raven Queen – The players are more likely to pick that quest as it pertains to one of their backstories and will be grounded in personal motivation. It’s a way that a little meta can go a long way in making the game better without getting intrusive

Too Much Meta, and a +17 to Bluff
That all said, it’s not a fool-proof plan. If you think your players will need the extra nudge, remind them that the knowledge they gleaned by playing the interrogators is available to them as players but not at all available to their characters. It’s better this way, as it adds an element of paranoia to the whole situation (did somebody snitch…is there anything they could even snitch about?) Encourage them to have some care when using meta knowledge to steer the game in a direction inspired by this encounter – this information is meant to inform otherwise arbitrary choices, not to allow the players to harass one another about their backstories.

The other potential problem is a likely one – characters not wanting to give up their secrets or much information at all to the interrogators. This makes sense; PCs tend to have shady pasts, criminal backgrounds, or monetarily motivated intentions, and nobody wants to share that information. However this exercise is about sharing information and thinking about characters, and that requires a little honesty.

Split the difference – tell the player that if they feel like their character would be lying to the interrogators, to go ahead and lie, but indicate to the DM and the other players somehow (a raised hand, a wink, etc.) Sometimes the lie itself, or more importantly which answers are answered honestly and which aren’t, can be just as telling about a character.

Similarly, you don’t want to sabotage any secrets you and the player have worked out ahead of time – especially if you are banking on a dramatic reveal later! Use your authority as the lead investigator to belay any questions that or too pressing, or even to broach the secret carefully, setting up a little foreshadowing to its eventual revelation.

Example Questions
Many of your questions will be tailored to the specifics of your characters, but below are a smattering of possible inquires to get your mind going:

  • Were you born in the country you were raised in? As a wanderer, do you consider yourself a citizen of…anywhere?
  • Do you have children? Might you have children you are unaware of? Any heirs?
  • If I told you one of your companions was a criminal, wanted for high crimes, would you testify against them?
  • Do you suspect any of your companions of turning traitor? Which one is most likely to betray you?
  • You’re an adventurer, you raid tombs and ancient places I suppose. Are there any kinds of artifacts you would not remove from a tomb or ruin?
  • Do you find slavery acceptable under any circumstance?
  • If you were to pass a traveler in your journeys, who was beating and admonishing his own child severely, what, if anything, would you do?
  • Is it proper for a captain of a vessel to go down with his ship?
  • If in your delvings you came across an undeciphered text of no magical value, what would you do with it?
  • What of the three is worth more to you: gold, knowledge, or a favor repaid?


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Posted by on July 27, 2012 in Story Challenge


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Legend Has It…


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.

Player Homework
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.

Potential Prompts
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?

Special Considerations
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.


"What animal do I choose as my Beastmaster Ranger's companion? You're kidding, right?"


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A Trade of Secrets

This encounter is intended for five players of varying heroic tier levels

You’ll notice this is the first “Story Challenge.” When I wrote the tag for Story Challenges I wasn’t sure what I meant. Skill and combat encounters are plain enough but I wanted something that incorporated player choice in a more ephemeral way – or at least challenges that influenced the story and direction of the game as much as/more than they influenced hit points. So let’s give it a shot.

“Secrets secrets are no fun, secrets are for everyone!”

Partially incorrect! Secret are fun but only for the keeping and unkeeping of them. Not every player intends their characters to have any deep and dark (or at least valuable) secrets – but they can be a great vehicle for adding party tension that doesn’t grind gameplay to a halt. This encounter is intended to force an information trade between the players – while still maintaining some measure of uncertainty as to who’s secrets are who’s.

The goal is to subject the characters to an accidental magical information trade. The players write about a secret their character has in a first person format. Later on the characters will encounter an unstable being of the Far Realm that on death, causes a psychic shockwave to jaunt uncomfortable memories randomly between the players. What they choose to do with that information will (hopefully) spice up your campaign with a new wrinkle, and get those players role-playing!

Player Homework
Have each of your players write a brief (2 – 5 paragraph) first person narrative for their character (It’s best to do this a few sessions before actually running this encounter). This narrative is a memory (and may be subject to some of the after-the-fact revisions that memory often is – though avoid outright lies). In particular, an unpleasant memory. Ideally this is a dark secret the character is concealing from their fellow companions but it may not need be that extreme – a “worse thing you ever did,” a childhood trauma, something the character surreptitiously witnessed, forbidden knowledge, damning personal opinions or political convictions – all would fit the bill. This has to be something that emotionally effects the character – or at least something that could make things complicated if it got out. The specifics don’t matter so long as there are stakes in the information.

When pitching the homework be concise about your specifications. Play this up as a “getting to know your character” exercise. Sell the deception. The players should NOT know that these essays will later be shared with other party members. It’s up to the player to decide if his/her narrative reveals any “tells” about the character – their name, their race, characters from their background yet to be mentioned, etc.

Ideally, get these typed up and print them off in some relatively uniform fashion (to avoid the player’s identifying who gets which memory when the time to swap comes). When it comes time to hand them out, remove the memory for the player you are handing to, shuffle the remaining memories, and foist one over (repeat this process until each player has another’s memory). You will hand these out in concurrence with the Unstable Abomination’s “Psychic Shockwave” power – a burst of psionic static that is emitted when the creature is killed.

The Unstable Abomination
The catalyst for this strange effect is an unstable, mutated monster from the Far Realm. It doesn’t have a goal of sewing discord among the players, (unless you want it to) the psychic shockwave that causes this jumble of memories is simply a side effect of its mutated and already alien biology. Apply the following template to a monster in the encounter:

Unstable Abomination
HP: +10 + level
Resist: +5 Psychic

Memory Drain (Recharge 5-6): Ranged 5; targets creatures: Wis vs. Will – 2d6 + level psychic damage and the target cannot use encounter powers until the end of its next turn.

Psychic Shockwave (Encounter – TRIGGER: when the Abomination reaches 0 hit points): Close burst 20; targets enemies: Wis vs. Will -HIT: 1d10 + level psychic damage. The target is stunned until the end of their next turn. MISS: the target is dazed. EFFECT: All targets succumb to chaotic psychic eruptions. A single memory from each target is transferred to another target. Creatures of the Far Realm are immune

NOTE: With a range of 20 squares you will likely effect all of your players. But if not, then leave out the memories of the character who is out of range and likewise, he receives no swapped memories from his friends.

Suggested Encounters
Below are some possible monster arrangements this encounter could take place with. In each case, the bearer of the Unstable Abomination template is indicated.

Level 1 Players
x1 Fell Taint Thought Eater – Unstable Abomination – (Monster Manual 2 pg. 105)
x1 Fell Taint pulsar – (Monster Manual 2 pg. 105)
x3 Fell Taint lasher – (Monster Manual 2 pg. 105)

Level 5 Players
x1 Ustilagor – Unstable Abomination – (Monster Manual 3 pg. 118)
x2 Ochre Jellies (Monster Vault pg. 220)
x1 Fell Taint Warp Wender (Monster Manual 2 pg. 105)

level 9 Players
x3 Foulspawn Berserker (Monster Manual pg. 112)
x1 Foulspawn Mockery – Unstable Abomination – (Monster Manual 3 pg. 89)
x2 Foulspawn Grue (Monster Manual pg. 112)


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