The Gassy Gnoll: Recycling In Your Campaigns

This Gassy Gnoll is not exactly a tree hugger, but I do try to help out the environment whenever I can. At my house we recycle newspaper, plastic, cans, and try to reuse as many things as we can. Boxes, mailers, scrap paper, grocery bags, and so on are ripe for reuse here… But I recently began wondering how much recycling goes on in roleplaying campaigns.

Reclaiming Land and Resources

No matter whether you’re reading fiction or playing fantasy, modern, or science fiction roleplaying games there’s the concept of reclaiming land and resources, right? Look at ancient Rome and the use of what’s come to be known as the “Roman Brick.” After Ancient Rome fell, these bricks were reused throughout what used to be the Roman empire. Certain organizations went so far to hoard bricks for construction projects throughout Europe. We seem to build things, tear them down and build them back up again. Even today some home developers specialize in tearing down and rebuilding homes from the ground up when open land is scarce.

Cities of the Underworld

Image via Wikipedia

That doesn’t even bring into account the buildings torn down or destroyed that had underground living or storage space. If you’ve never seen the show from a few years ago on the History channel called Cities of the Underworld, it showed just how much, even in the modern world, we are still building over the top of older construction. Root cellars, bomb shelters, escape tunnels, old mines and dungeons… there’s a chance any or all of these may exist right under your feet if you’ve been in a place that was populated before.

Why don’t we see this happen more often in roleplaying game settings and adventures? Ruins are commonplace. But unless there’s good reason not to, why wouldn’t people decide to rebuild on previously civilized lands vs. starting from scratch? And if they do that, why lies beneath their feet? Crypts? Ancient dungeons? Entire city sites covered over by lava, ash, earth, or rock? The potential is endless.

Atarin’s Delve from Small Niche Games is the only example I can recall where I’ve seen a “lost” temple found by another group and repurposed for cult ceremonies. What other examples have you read about in RPG supplements and adventures? Leave a comment below – I’d love to take a look at them.

Map Reuse

Do you have a bunch of old maps lying around that you’ve already used? Why not dust them off, tweak them a hair, and put them back into circulation? Rotate them 90, 180, or 270 degrees… Reverse them completely. Fold, spindle, and mutilate them until a corridor or two matches up, populate it with some baddies and you’re off to the races.

For this image, I took a couple of Dyson Logos’ maps – the Desert Temple of the Order of Iron and The Winter Fortress and mashed them together to create something new. It’s not pretty (it’s a hack job is what it is), but it would offer plenty of space for a few monsters to occupy if you only had a few minutes to throw something together.

Dyson and others have taken this concept of pattern reuse to new levels with the geomorph movement as well – taking individual pieces of maps and putting them together in different ways like some kind of crazy puzzle is just brilliant. If you refresh this page created by Rob Lang of the Free RPG blog, you’ll end up with probably hundreds, thousands, or even millions of potential combinations. (No, I’m not a math guy, so don’t hold me to the potential number of combinations – but suffice it to say it’s a large number I’m sure.)

NPCs, Encounters, Plots

The grand folks at Engine Publishing and Gnome Stew have proved that you don’t need a lot of details to get an idea of a plot or an NPC, and they can be largely system and campaign independent. Why not take that crusty innkeeper you developed for the Tavern of the Dragon’s Maw, slap some new futuristic clothes on him, and shove him into a cantina bar on Tatooine? Or why not have your fantasy party recover a magical item of extreme importance for a king’s spymaster in a similar way that you had your party of FBI agents recover an alien artifact from a technologically advanced terrorist?

Or if you don’t have your own library, pick up a copy of Eureka or Masks and instantly have 501 plots and 1,000 NPCs in your arsenal.

Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with shortcuts. The thought that every single idea you come up with has to be shiny and new is more than a little ridiculous. There are new ideas, but sometimes looking at the wheel from a different angle is just as good an approach to solving the problem!

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