Behind the Screen: Wandering the Forest
Updated: Dec 9, 2018
So we’ve been playing a campaign in a setting based on the Dragonlance mythos with FFG’s Genesys role-playing system for almost a year now. Genesys is a pretty cool system for someone who likes game design, but as a base product, I wouldn’t recommend it to users that need an out of the box system. I am hoping to transition to using a pen & paper version of the PC game I'm working on right now (Master of the Rogue Spire). The world is set 300 years after a great Cataclysm. Most of the gods have been expelled from the pantheon by the High God after a huge world war, but one of the gods of evil - Takhesis - has somehow survived and managed to raise an army of Draconian warriors. She is moving across the continent sewing destruction. The players have been given a quest by the watcher god - Gilean - to find artifacts that contain the essence of the banished gods and use them to defeat Takhesis’ army. They currently have the famed adamantine Hammer of Thorgrim which has the forge god Reorx trapped inside it. They are on the hunt for a second artifact - the Arm of Ergoth - inside a cursed temple but have decided to go to the closest city and get more supplies. It’s a few days’ hike through the Elvish wilderness.
The Current Party
Gerfonder Snotlob, the Irda Druid Gerf is an Irda warrior who has been dabbling in nature magic. He has trouble with human society, like the concepts of small talk and money, but has a good heart.
Eigan Rockwell, the Alchemist Eigan is a religious man, trying to find his place in this godless world. He is a risk taker and handy with a sword or a test tube.
Janus Warven, the Doctor Janus is a skilled doctor with a German accent for some reason. He is obsessed with divination and handling dangerous artifacts.
Gokgrik Granitemail, the Dwarven accountant Gok is a warrior and caller of "dibs". He was turned slightly evil by a necklace of change alignment but it got better. He keeps a Modron tied to his person at all times.
Najev Yaidhusin the Ifrit battlemage Najev is the newest member of the party. He was part of another adventuring group that fell apart during a sojourn through the Astral plane.
Last session the group fought a two-headed troll to get across a river, and it took basically the whole session. I knew I didn't really want to do another huge fight this night. I prepped the next village on the map, which they would have to pass on their way to the city, and a road encounter that was entirely optional. I think the key to an open world feel to a game is prepping stuff that you are fine with throwing away, which means don't spend to much time on it.
GM Tips: Prepping Order
Custom content: These are the big story beats, the set pieces. I spend a little bit each week prepping them, doing research, making maps and thinking about what could happen. Players hit this content every 2-4 sessions depending on different rabbit holes they go down. The players help me create this content by showing me what storylines they are most interested in with the choices they make. This could be a city to visit or a dungeon with a big story award at the end, etc.
Adapted Encounters: After I'm sure my story beats are on track for when the players will hit them, I start collecting encounters to adapt to our world. I go through old adventures and mark pages that seem fun. I don't worry too much about the details because the players might skip right past it. I write down any changes I think of on the spot in a scrap notepad. These encounters sometimes spawn custom content in the future. This could be a person they meet on the road, or a 1 or 2 room location, etc.
Random Encounters: Some stuff, like random trail encounters or things that sneak up on the players in the middle of the night, I absolutely do not prep. I roll randomly on the Monstrous Manual or find a website with a list of ideas. These end up being some of the most interesting encounters because everything is new to me as well as the players. I work behind a GM screen/computer screen so no one minds if I look stuff up during the game. This could be Harpies on a mountain trail or a tree full of ravens, etc. If you aren't sure what to do: Ambush!
So I had 1. village prepped, filled out with story hooks, 2. a location adapted from the 2nd Edition Forgotten Realms book Elves of Evermeet and a 3. a link to the page 100 Forest Encounters. We did not get to the village.
The Side Mission
The players found a side trail on the way and learning that there was a small temple in that direction, they decided to take a look. They could have walked right past but there was some hope this temple could help them with the cursed temple, so they tried to get inside. In the Evermeet book, this temple had a thorny rosebush on the gate and was magically locked to non-Elves. I thought it would be more interesting if the roses were enchanted to attack people that try to force their way in, so I made that change. The players were pretty apprehensive about going inside, having just dealt with a cursed temple, so they pulled at the thorns and tried to prop the gate open, but the thorns would attack them and pull away anything they jammed in the way. I gave the thorns above average strength, so it wasn't an easy task removing them, and it was dangerous to stand too close for long. They got it open once and also got strangled a bit, so they decided it was best to stay the night outside the gate and try again in the morning.
Flautist in the Night
I always roll a percentile for each watch at night, a minimum of 3 times if there are fewer watches. If I roll over a certain number, I make up an encounter on the spot for the players to deal with, mostly combat. This night, as has become customary, I rolled over my target on the last watch. Checking my random encounter table from the 100 forest encounters website it said: "A Satyr has welcomed the group to a festival." Looking up the Satyr in the Monstrous Manual I found an entry on the Korred. I usually take the alternate monsters when I find them because my D&D old-timers won't be as familiar.
GM TIPS: ROLLING FOR RANDOM ENCOUNTERS
Safe Environments 10%: Places that don't have that much dangerous happening in the night I roll a d100 and have a random encounter if the roll is over 90. I might even just roll a die and ignore the result. Rolling a die when you are thinking gives the players a sense that the world has rules.
Adventuring Environments 30%. Places where people normally adventure: dungeons, swamps, forests, etc. I have a random encounter on a roll greater than 70 on a d100. There should always be a worry that taking a long rest is not just a free heal, so adjust the danger level of the encounter to the location. If there is an encounter in the night, I let the rest of the night go without rolling again.
Enemies are Searching 100%: If enemies are actively searching for the characters in the area, then it really comes down to how well they are hidden. I give the enemies a search roll vs the players' skills at hiding their tracks. If they succeed, the encounter happens. No dice rolls needed when the characters have a fire and are talking loudly, except for the players to figure out if they realize something is coming to get them.
So the Korred came into camp dancing and playing his flute while the party did their best to try and ignore it. Gok the Dwarf wasn't able to last long this way, so he finally pushed the tooter away. "Make a save." Now the Dwarf - who has the lowest resistances but the highest damage output - was dancing behind the Korred in a deep squat. Next, the battlemage succumbed to the Korred's dance and the others started to attack. They landed a couple good blows, then broke the creature's flute, so he let out a laugh that stunned everyone but Gerf the Irda. In desperation, Gerf stabbed the Korred again and critically wounded it. Ready to kill the fey creature, an ominous feeling crossed his mind that he could perhaps be upsetting the balance of nature. This worked out well because the Korred saw the moment of weakness and asked to parley. Gerf healed it up and sent it on its way, as long as it agreed to release his friends, and it gave them some info on the nearby temple. They all watched warily as it limped away with its broken flute. I liked the encounter because it ended a little differently than most combat encounters. Have your monsters give up sometimes and see what the players do. It's much more interesting than having everything fight to the death for no reason. In our Master of the Rogue Spire rules, I'm working out a morale system for characters that will help me figure out when enemies break up and run away. Right now I'm just doing it by feel.
Inside the Temple
Once morning came they were brave enough to go inside. Eigan, the religious one of the group, used his book on Elvish religion to identify many of the altars on the inside. Some were from the book, some were of my own design. Finally, they found what they were looking for, an altar to the cursed god of the cursed temple, and with it that god's holy symbols that had been cast away after the Cataclysm. It was a good find, and well worth the hassle of getting inside. I like rewarding players for taking the side missions with something to help the main mission, especially if they are vocal about why they are taking the mission. I think it's okay to let the players dictate some of the terms of their adventure. In this case, I had been planning on putting the symbols in from the start, but if I hadn't it would have been easy to add a satisfying (to the current quest) reward like this on the fly. But then, always the adventurous one, Eigan just had to drink water from one of the altars. He instantly was polymorphed into a giant eagle. Good thing the druid can speak with animals. That's where we left it for the night.
I like a session with a little fighting, a few puzzles and an ending that keeps people talking during the week. "Should we all turn into Eagles?" "How long does it last" "Maybe we could fly to town." Now I've got to go prep some more in this location - the one-off temple is becoming a lot more interesting as the players add their own ideas into the mix. I'm attaching a Korred encounter for 5th edition D&D and Genesys here. Good luck and happy prepping!
Forest Encounter #1 - Korred Flautist 5e
Forest Encounter #1 - Korred Flautist Genesys