epic preparation – p5 – Specialities

January 24th, 2009 by TheLemming (3) english,Roleplaying Games

Specialities and additional repertoire of resources

Now we got a basic network of persons, a world and everything about your players set and ready… This part of the guide will help to get yourself prepared to keep your players busy and yourself not always on the edge of your imagination.

Motivation and Pushing into the right Direction

When I first wrote this I was going to start with all the main sections you find below, but luckily during my recent research of blog entries I could use I stumbled over Viricordova’s blog Bard of Valiant and his her character death posting. Almost as interesting for me were the comments on this one and in detail I am referring to Killstring’s comment. Vengeance – when a character dies as a part of a whole (party), the players might feel something they did not expect to feel, rage – fear – vengeance and it’s all yours to feed upon. I’ve given it a night’s thought and I am very much fond of it, inspire greater feelings in your player. You do not have to kill one of them, but you have various chances to inspire them. I’ll name a few:

You’ve got the background stories at hand, they might have a short paragraph on their youth, someone they didn’t like – someone they liked very much – what keeps you from getting this particular NPC as a villain into your game? It will be a hell of a roleplaying opportunity when they are meeting face to face, prepared for combat and one of your players recognizes him as a dear old friend (or the one that always stole his lunchbox…, you get the idea).
Don’t be afraid to (if it is possible in your world) resurrect old dead people, let them follow a greater calling – they make for mysterious encounters and can tell stories of places the characters might want to see in the future. A formerly dead cleric might have seen the other side and remember bits of it, he might be mad or not that’s up to you – but it gives you outstanding starting points to add some atmosphere to some special place you’ve always wanted your players to visit.

So you might be asking for a few motivators – here you are:

Most of them will be due to character backgrounds and the inter-character or character-npc ties, if you ain’t got information from your players that suit you, speak with them – if they like roleplaying I doubt they will not help you in this and accept your ideas.


Vengeance makes a great motivator, you’ve lost something that seemed incredible important to you? Think about it, make sure you understand what you do to a character that was a witness to the slaughter of his hometown. Your players might react in different ways to such things – no matter if they are past or present – so you should prepare it together with them.


Oh Love is great, I mean – really. Love is something that’s happening far too seldom in roleplaying games that I’ve been a part of, I think it’s most often too much of an implication for real-life things and gets troublesome thoughts inbetween players (again, just an assumption here). I guess NPC/PC love is the best approach you can get, even the lowly streetliving girl from years ago might inspire a spark of something greater in your players if they really felt for her in a special way. Love can lead to a lot of other strong feelings depending on what happens in your world. Just make sure you don’t always let bad things happen to beloved ones or you will generate probably a little frustration. A loved one can be in need of something and doesn’t always have to die by the hand of the evil archvillain dragonlich – that’s clicheeeeee!

Family and Friends

I’ve seen a lot here, players who create their background stories always the same way, with parents dead, rest of the family slaughtered and hey I can tell you those guys make great loners ;). But on the other side I think family and friends is something everyone of us has a strong need for, so once again don’t abuse background stories that give you potential “to-be-killed” victims but use them in a more positive way. The family can be a great resource for items or a good start for your wizard’s tower or laboratory, just be creative.


Honestly, who hasn’t played on this sin before? It was the one motivation that drove me when I started roleplaying, gold – items – power – Ahaha Ha! *insert really evil laughter with dark echoes*.  Since you’re the one that knows your players best, you might know as well what motivator is good for every single one of them. Get it straight, you’ve probably a few players who always wanted the Staff of Might or Robe of the Archmage – this is your chance to use their own motivation to get your story going.


Ever had the players lighten up a village, kill some innocent bystanders? Then you might want to give them a chance for redemption. Or reminder your players about the village they helped before and who are once again asking them for a favor… It’s always possible to create some major plots and machinations around small ones.

Don’t feel bad to use these feelings – it will be for the good of your players. Even if you put real stress on some of these motivators, you’re using it to create something for them. Just don’t play them worse than need be, if someone is attached to his character and you ruin this character’s life by taking away everything he ever needed – that’s not going to improve it for either of you!

DM Tool – what you might need

Hey, you’re running an epic campaign, you probably know the ruleset better than I do, you know your world and everything – so what tools do you really need? Right, it’s absolute up to you and I can only give you two things I personally am very fond of:

First of all I (as a Pathfinder / 3.5+ gamer) use DM Genie – it has all that nice features to keep track of the time, together with a most comfortable weather generator, you can keep track of distances and the approx time needed by different travelling methods… Furthermore I like to keep my npcs all close by and have their stats and abilities at ready when I need it most…

Second thing I like to have close is my folder. What is in it? First chapter is a list of names for dwarves, elves and all things you can think of – it’s a collection to get the right name for the spontaneous need – I wouldn’t go anywhere without it.
Next chapters are various things, spontaneous encounters and sideplots, all kinds of magical items – and most importantly a collection of names for all special points of interest – temples, taverns and more. Next chapter is my personal favorite – it’s a collection of fantasy-setting meals and menus – that’s purest flavor for every game you have – honestly – serve some roasted griffon filet for a few gold pieces, it will taste like chicken but it is something to talk about… (unless it’s standard anyway). THen I got a good collection of poisons, traps and riddles for all occassions. It gives me a good idea every now and then to get things started.


(You’ve been waiting for this, haven’t you?)

I have to disappoint you, I will not list a special encounter in this, it would not be helpful. Just a sidenote, my personal preference is not to have every encounter matching to the overall level of my group, I love putting in some orcs against your epic fighter-crew as much as I like putting a dragon against them, I don’t think fate always matches in fair ways, nor do I (ok I cheat every now and then and tend to give them a good chance when it is a really planned encounter, but so do we all, don’t we?)

First of all, have some encounter lists, you can find several useful in the dungeon master guides, dm genie (software) is helpful getting them to work or use a sheet of paper and take a random screening through your monstrous manuals… This will keep a (depending on your mood and planned amount of combat) game with a decent amount of fights. More important than ever will be that you give your guys a clear sign of being overpowered, a mighty wizard (like Paul S. Kemp‘s Creation of the Sojourner) should be very – VERY – obvious if you don’t want a direct confrontation. At least that’s true for most of my groups so far – if you don’t have that big nasty sign “I blast you and you don’t get a saving throw if you come any closer” out they will go for it.

So what advice can I offer? Only a little, do not create to many encounters, prepare a few, maybe one or two tough ones per evening, maybe less – and rely on a few side-encounters which should be random but not too challenging (after all it’s hardly possible that spontaneously everyone has gotten godlike powers just because you’re running an epic campaign, agreed?)

In my understanding, combat encounters will be more an element of flavour and less a challenge for epic campaigns, at least that should be true for most plots. Do not underestimate what a single opponent can wreck upon your players if he is that powerful, and be aware that most creatures that powerful have more of an idea why they survived that long than the average orc out there.

Good luck on this one, I hope the ideas will help you a bit further.

The whole series (links to the posts will be active after publishing of them).

Getting started on Preparing an Epic-Level Adventure – part one
Problems of an Epic-Level Campaign
Epic Character Generation Preparing an Epic-Level Adventure – part two
History and Geography Preparing an Epic-Level Adventure – part three
Background Interweaving Preparing an Epic-Level Adventure – part four
Additional resources (links)
Specialities and Resources Preparing an Epic-Level Adventure – part five
NPC Definitions and Setup Preparing an Epic-Level Adventure – part six
Political Setup Preparing an Epic-Level Adventure – part seven
Actionplan Preparing an Epic-Level Adventure – part eight
Weaving it together Preparing an Epic-Level Adventure – part nine

3 Responses to “epic preparation – p5 – Specialities”

  1. Wavatar TheLemming Says:

    My apologies Viriatha, I just read that you’re one of those female gamers that even have a blog ;). –> [updated her / his]

  2. Wavatar Viriatha Says:

    Hey, no problem 🙂 People don’t expect the female gamer who is also a GM who also is a writer 😛 We’re pretty rare.

    Backstory is an excellent source of epic campaign writing material. I’ve never seen a story I couldn’t weave the PC’s past into just by changing a few names.

    Any world benefits from custom monsters/items/food/etc. d20 3.5 would. I think more GMs would do it, too, but time is often a problem.

    Keep a list of small encounters for each terrain the PCs might be in that night (city, forest, well-traveled road, whatever) to bust on them when they a) get bogged down in the details or b) get bored. Things like a pickpocket, a small nosy child, a swarm of annoying insects. Nothing to kill them – just annoy them alot so they get moving on.

    Done right, these can end up being great parts of the story later; the PC who has the phobia about bees steps too near a hive… 😛

    Viriathas last blog post.. – Game Masters and Leadership Skills: Part 1

  3. Wavatar TheLemming Says:

    Indeed, the combination is rare, I’ve 3 female gamers in my current group and only one of them has so far tried herself as dungeon master, and I’ve got a girl next to me who doesn’t play roleplaying games (therefore doesn’t dm) but she’s an outstanding writer…

    I guess that combination makes you somewhat special ;).

    Yes, a few different encounter-groups/cards are very useful and in combination with “hive” I think I’ll put a few encountercards up after I’m done with this epic-thingy here.

    May I ask what you’re writing?

Leave a Reply

This site employs the Wavatars plugin by Shamus Young.