Person, place or thing? What do you use to get started?


Often the hardest thing to do when you get started on a new project, whether it’s a new campaign, story arc, or even a session, is to find inspiration.

So my question to all of you is what do you use for inspiration? Whether you go to your favorite novels, movies, or music, I think it all comes back to one of three things – a person, place or thing.


Personally I tend to gravitate towards this one when I’m working up a session idea, who do I want the party to interact with? There are lot of stereotypes and cliches you can use here but the more memorable ones are those that have a particular quirk that the party can always recall later.

One such person I used in the past was a character by the name of Pix (my group I’m sure will remember him all these years later). Pix was an NPC that only the party could see, at least initially. He had a particular pattern of speech which would mimic and poke fun at the party members. This started out as an annoying trait but the party came to realize that it was just his way of speaking and eventually learned to look past it in order to understand what he was saying – often times a warning as he was a rather “old soul.”

If you need examples think of Yoda and his speech pattern, or Merlin the the film Excalibur who always spoke in a type of riddle format.

The important thing here is to stay away from the stereotypes – think outside of the box.


Who doesn’t like traveling to some far off place in search of adventure? Having an iconic place to make as your group’s destination is always a good way to get the juices following. Picking a location as a destination typically brings out the need for a new map (something that I find always helps get me going) or maybe a written up description that you can share with the group. If you’re artistic, maybe there’s a drawing you can do or create a short video showing the location with some mood music.

Some of those might seem a bit of a stretch (a video?). The point is to get your creative juices going, something that will get you to have a vested interest in the development of those plot lines, and let’s face it, a video or written description you can use to “advertise” your new campaign to your group is a great offshoot.


I think this category is probably the most used of the three. At the center of many quests is an object that someone holds in high regard and that it appears only a hero can obtain. The point is to create something that only the party can obtain or is hired to obtain. A rare artifact, or a spell component, are both often used in fantasy settings, but you could just as easily select a weapon such as Excalibur, or, if you read Terry Brooks, The Sword of Shannara.

You can also flip it this and make it about getting rid of something, such as the One Ring in the Lord of The Rings. Let’s face it, it was all about the ring, but not obtaining it, rather destroying it (also note that it’s also about a place, Mount Doom).

So, what do you use to get your creativity flowing? A person, place or thing? Why not share in the comments below?

May your dice roll well.


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Plot Hooks – be careful not to have too many



I came across another interesting post at Reality Refracted talking about plot hooks and asking the question, “How many should you have?”

A.L. does a great job of making the argument that you should have as many plot hooks as you can handle as a GM:

If possible, the GM should have infinite plot hooks more or less ready to go at any moment.

On the surface I would agree with that statement, a GM should have at his fingertips an infinite supply of hooks so that he can keep his group interested and involved.

Beware the plot hook trap!

There is a dark side to this thought process and I myself fell into the trap of too many plot hooks. I mentioned in my posting, Realms of Rylon Postmortem – The Bad, I talk about the multitude of plot lines that contributed to the campaign going stagnant due to there being too many things for the group to tackle.

Where did all those plot lines come from? You guessed it, the stockpile of plot hooks I had accumulated during the campaign’s construction and play, I just love using player ideas when the offer them up.

It’s good to have the plot hooks available but be very careful when you go to tap that list. How many plot lines do you have open and do you want to drop another hook or two into the mix? You also need to make sure that what you have introduced is also getting resolved – that sense of accomplishment that all players need to feel.

So remember, have that tackle box full of hooks ready, but don’t toss them all at once into the water, they may just sink to the bottom and never again see the light of day.

May your dice roll well.

Plot Hooks – How Many Should You Have? via Reality Refracted

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Use a burn down list to keep from running out of ideas



When I came across the above tweet from SlyFlourish in my feed the other day I tagged it as something to follow-up on as it hit a nerve with me.

In one of my many roles at my day job I manage projects and tweet speaks to a tool used in Agile Project Management – the burn down list (or chart) and it definitely has it’s place at the gaming table.

For those that aren’t familiar with the tool, the burn down list, in a nut shell, is a listing of everything and the kitchen sink you’re hoping to accomplish when creating a new product. It forms the basis of scheduling what is done in what order, the goal is always have a usable product at the end of any given development cycle (typically called a sprint and lasting 2-4 weeks). Depending on the project (and management) that list can change frequently, both in what is included on it and the priorities.

I’m sure you can see where this would be useful as a GM running a campaign.

Think of the campaign as your product and any given session as a cycle or sprint.

Create your burn down list

Go ahead, list out everything you’d like to accomplish in your campaign. Don’t limit yourself to just the next session, what would you like to have included? Be sure to add in everything, locations, NPC types, rewards, anything you can think of.

Don’t organize it, just get everything out of your head.

Share it with your players

Take some time out of your next session to show the list to your players. As you go over the list be sure to share your thoughts about why some of those items are on the list. It’s okay to not share those things you want to keep as a surprise for your players but give them a sense of where you are going with this – and explain that it’s to help you remember to insert these things over time.

Get your players’ input

This is always the tricky part, ask your players for input. Some of your group may give you a mountain of items and others will sit there quietly and not share anything, try and get everyone to add something to list. This will give them a sense of ownership with the campaign as well, they have a vested interest, after all, they had a say in some of what’s going to happen.

Set some priorities

Not everything can happen at once so take your list and prioritize it. You don’t have to go through and put a priority number on everything, in fact I wouldn’t, just lump them together in a high, medium, low, type system (you can use more levels if you want). Be sure to have your players give you an idea of what they feel are some high and medium type priorities, again to help establish that they are contributing to the campaign.

Add them to a session

I know there’s a tendency when you have a list to just start at the top and check them off as you work your way down, but I would recommend against that. You have this list (possibly massive), take your time, think through the campaign plot (you have one of those right?) and what will work, short, medium and long term, and then add a few to your current session.

You may find that items lower on your list make it into your session list, that’s okay, in fact you should mix things up. You don’t want to run out of high priority items in session five and then wonder what you’re going to do going forward to keep everyone’s attention.

Review and update

The last thing I would add is that it’s important to review the list and update it. After a few sessions things that seems like a high priority may no longer be relevant to what the part is doing and some item way down on page 42 is now the focus – it’s okay to revise the list, go ahead and do it.

Be sure to include your players too. Every few sessions ask them what they would like to see more of, added, or just plain dropped – keep them involved with the overall campaign picture.

Have you every created a list and used it to drive your campaign and sessions? If so, why not share a bit of what you’ve learned in the comments.

May your dice roll well.


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The power of three

three-zinnenToday marks a rather special convergence, at least for me anyway.

This is my 300th post on the blog, it falls on 3/3 and today, at 3:30, I have an appointment to pick up a ‘new’ to me vehicle – that’s a lot of threes and must mean something.

To be honest, the number three does have a significant role in a number of religions, cults, and organizations and you will often hear it referenced, “the power of three will set you free,” “what you send out comes back threefold,” and so on.

This also lends itself very nicely to you gaming table, can you tap a number that gives significance to your campaign or a culture in it?

The number 13 is seen frequently throughout a number of cultures. In some it’s bad luck, for some it’s the number of months in a year (it’s also the number of moon cycles in a year).

The important thing is to pull a number that doesn’t have as strong an identity in the real world, so obviously you’d want to stay away from the two I’ve already mentioned (I’d include the number seven as well).

As an example, the number nine has a significance in Tolkien’s works – the number or companions in the Ring’s Fellowship, and conversely the number of Ring Wraiths. A duality that not only is an interesting intersection but also makes for good storytelling.

So, what number did you pick?

May your dice roll well.

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