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Roleplaying Game Design Excuses


GM Excuses, Part 1

First, I want to point out a fantastic podcast for writers, which you might already know about. It's called Writing Excuses. This year, the 10th season, is a master class on writing. WITH HOMEWORK! Second, I'm going to do the homework here, on my blog, but not the way the presenters intended. Instead, using my transmogrification ray, I'm going to make the homework not about writing a fiction piece, but about writing a roleplaying game adventure. Let's start!

Class 1 is Seriously, Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

And the homework is: Write down five different story adventure ideas in 150 words or less. Generate these ideas from these five sources:

  1. From an interview or conversation you've had
  2. From research you've done (reading science news, military history, etc)
  3. From observation (go for a walk!)
  4. From a piece of media (watch a movie)
  5. From a piece of music (with or without lyrics)

WizOfOz1. (I was talking with Alison, my wife and editor, and she said, "What about a Dark Oz?" Alison is a big fan of the Wizard of Oz, and we have a collection of first editions.) The player characters in a fantasy roleplaying game find themselves brought to the land of Oz, but not the Oz we know from the books and the movie. In this Oz, good and evil are reversed. Glinda still looks and talks like a good witch, but she stays young and beautiful by stealing the life force of others. Players have to contend with munchkin assassins, a man who seems made of tin, but is really an adamantine plated killing machine, and so on. The Wizard of Oz is a Lich. If they want to get home, they'll need help, and the green hag of the North is their only hope. How can they get to her with the forces of Oz on their tale?


2. (Online article: Habitable exoplanets are bad news for humanity) In a space exploration game, the PCs are astronauts on the first manned expedition to an exoplanet that unmanned probes have found to habitable. They have also found what appear to be ruins. When the PCs awake from deep sleep, they are greated with the news that the great filter struck Earth just after they left. A nanotech facility in India imploded and nano-biobot replicators were released that turned organic material into copies of themselves. The living world was drowned in a gray goo of nanobots. A few tiny space colonies survive in the solar system, but are not tenable long term. Can the PCs find a solution on the alien world that will give humanity a second chance? Or will they unleash the alien version of the great filter and destroy themselves?


3. (Went for a walk. The woman behind the bakery counter filled coffee, moved inventory around, and left. Like she couldn't see me.) The player characters trigger a trap that takes them outside normal life. They can move around, see and hear people, but no one can perceive them. While they struggle to find a way home, they find other beings are also out of phase with reality. These being are spying on the world, up to no good, and they notice the PCs have slipped into this voyeur side world. Can the PCs thwart the threat from this extra-dimensional source? And can they find their way home?


4. (Media: Drood by Dan Simmons) The player characters are occult investigators in Victorian England who meet a popular writer, Wilkie Collins, who claims that Charles Dickens has been possessed by an Egyptian demon. He says that Dickens is now a cannibal necromancer with a cult to carry out his mysterious and unholy wishes. While there are plenty of reasons to distrust Collins, the characters keep running into evidence that is consistent with his wild accusations. Are the thieves breaking into the characters' flats robbers or cultists?  Can the characters be seen to be spouting lunatic libels about the most popular writer of his time? Can they restore Dickens to himself?

WorldWithoutTears5. (World Without Tears, by Lucinda Williams) A misery demon has come to town, and it doesn't mean to leave. Bruises fly in packs, searching for faces to lie upon. Scars hunt for skin to etch themselves into. Guns load themselves and find unstable hands to slip into. Occult investigator PCs need to stop these manifestations, and track them down to the source. Can the PCs find the demon before its manifestations cripple them? Can they find the means to banish it so it won't come back? What drew it here in the first place?

That was fun. Try it for your own game.

Happy Gaming!


PS, want to see what a real writer does with this homework assignment? Let's snoop on Christy Shorey. Here she is, coming up with cool story ideas. And you know, a cool story idea is often a cool adventure idea, so this snooping is Dread Unicorn approved!

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