Loot. We all love loot. Well, unless we’re an ascetic who’s renounced all worldly possessions. And then there’s the bard who loves his lute, which is a different kind of relationship with an inanimate object. And unless you’re Nordic, you’re probably not as much a fan of lutefisk, which I have to say is a bit disturbing…
Look, I’m in the first paragraph and already distracted. [SQUIRREL!]
Mike at Campaign Mastery has kicked off this month’s RPG Blog Carnival, and it’s all about loot. How can you use loot to forward the story vs. simply working as the carrot at the end of the stick for your players?
The Gassy Gnoll loves nothing more than to knock out his opponents with his noxious odor, strip them of their items, and rush down to the pawn shop on the corner of Theft and Larceny. But it’s not the gathering of the loot that gives him the rush these days, it’s discovering the history of those items with his friend Taylor Hand who runs Hand’s Goods, the pawn shop the Gnoll frequents (someday you’ll hear more about the shop). Sometimes if it’s a really good item, TGG and Hand go on fun little side adventures to discover the where’s, the why’s, the how’s, and the who’s behind it!
As a GM, there’s nothing better than planting evidence and seeing if your players will take the bait. I’ve been shocked at how many times the players completely miss the point, but sometimes they get it and we’ve gone on wild goose chases that have been a grand time for all. But how do you set something like that up?
It all boils down to one fact: Every item has a story.
Sure, the story may not be all that exciting. Bob the Blacksmith in the seaside village of Boor may have forged a thousand knives in his lifetime for use by the fishermen who live around him.
If you look beyond the mundane creation of the item, sometimes you end up with a bit more story. So the knife your character holds in his hands may have passed from fisherman to fisherman over lifetimes until one of them broke the mold and decided to join the army of King Richard the Cruel to seek his fortune as a man-at-arms. Trained in the ways of guarding a dungeon, that poor sap probably never thought he would get slaughtered by a marauding party of adventurers seeking to free their companion from certain doom…
Or consider the longsword of Mladen the Brave, hero of three countries, princess rescuer, and dragon slayer. Eventually Mladen is going to die of old age or during one of his adventures. What stories might his longsword tell? What abilities might that sword possess according to story and legend?
Sure it’s just a sword. But over time and with a bit of belief, it can become more than that. For example, it might have gained a +1 bonus when attacking dragons simply because it was used to successfully fight and kill a dragon or two in Mladen’s lifetime. That bonus may disappear over time if it’s never used again vs. a dragon, or it may gain some new mythical powers or tales with its next owner – Vlad the Happy – who uses it to behead undead…
It’s those stories that have power. Sure, there may be magic involved – but ultimately magic, whether arcane, divine, or myth, comes down to belief. And if it’s a really good story, why can’t it be the story that grants an item extraordinary abilities?
The item story concept however could apply to any item – not just magical ones – and not just for the major ones either. Think about all the little details in every single gaming session. Are there torches along the wall in the dungeon you’re exploring? Who put them there? How long ago were they put there? What were they made of? Could you trace the origin of the wood back to some area on the map? As a GM, each of these questions might lead you to discoveries about the previous occupants of the dungeon. Who was held there? Who were the people left to die who are now animated as skeletons trying to kill the PCs?
Supplements like Raging Swan Press’ recent So What’s For Sale, Anyway? and So What’s For Sale, Anyway? II offer a great way to randomly figure out what magical items might appear in a village or city. But I think that what you find on the tables is just the beginning.
Every item has a story. What’s your favorite item-based story?
- The Gassy Gnoll: Hook, Line, and Sinker for Setting/Adventure Design (gameknightreviews.com)
- The Gassy Gnoll: Darkness and Our Fascination With It (gameknightreviews.com)