When I started GMing many moons ago, I always had a collection of running lists on paper. I’d have a vague picture of the setting in broad strokes, but not have all the details worked out before a campaign began. So the running lists would serve as places to put down those details as they came up in-game.
- The PCs walk into a bar? What’s it called? Write it down in the “Places” list.
- The PCs go up to a barkeep? What’s his or her name? What do they look like? Write it down on the “People” list.
- The PCs ask some questions and suddenly a new plot appears? What is it? Write it down on the “Plots” list.
- And so on and so forth…
Eventually I’d flesh out an area, which leads then to other areas, plots, features, and so on… At some point it would all be typed up in a file somewhere and printed, added to, printed again… A never ending cycle of mining my bizarre imagination for story fodder at the players’ prompting. After all, it is shared storytelling and as such a give and take between the GM and players more than anything else.
I expect that all GMs have their own method to the madness. I’ve seen some use 3×5 cards exclusively. Some only use pre-defined NPCs and places in their worlds. Others have perfect memories (must be nice!) and don’t have to write anything down. Whatever the method, it’s a creative process of not only coming up with the ideas (or using others’) but then integrating it into the patchwork that all worlds become.
Sure, it may be the “Forgotten Realms” – but I bet that no two GMs have exactly the same version of FR in their heads or their players’ heads as Ed Greenwood, the creator does. So regardless of where the pieces come from, how they synthesize into stories at the table makes them unique to that moment in time with those people. After all, you can’t step in the same river twice.
That said, even though I don’t GM much any more, I’m always looking for new ideas to integrate into the mess of ideas inside my head. Publishers such as Rite Publishing, Raging Swan Press, Torn World, and many others offer great idea fodder in a variety of formats. And one of the things I love to peruse is a collection of NPCs to throw at a group of players directly or indirectly.
Torn World has some “character packs” that pull fully-developed NPCs for Paizo’s PFRPG – each with an overview, art, characteristics, items, and more. In the case of The Shattered Blade Thieves, there are five NPCs to choose from – a rogue, a minotaur, a cleric, a cavalier, and a wizard.
Each of these characters is detailed in two pages. The first page features a full-color picture of the character from artist Pierre Carles or Jeff Hill (all of which are gorgeous). Also on that first page is a solid overview of the character’s background, description, and a bit of their personality and behavior. On the second page are the full stats for the character, plus special abilities, combat details, etc., as well as any additional details special to the character.
Embedded among these characters are some terrific ideas and concepts I’m sure are explored more fully in other Torn World books. The idea of a person born in and affected by the taint in an area (The Blight) is not new, but I love the shape and form of Moreshea Cethla-Riyll, a rising star among the emissaries of Govorthol quickly climbing in the ranks. Beyond that she seems to be one of the linch pins of this group of thieves – protected by two members of the team for very different reasons.
Now add to that a setting-based “blessing” of the Lich King that protects her from all poisons and the fact that she carries two Blightsteel scimitars… Blightsteel carries with it an evil taint, giving it the ability to do blight damage, which can’t be healed normally (must be magically healed in special circumstances), as well as making it difficult to use in the hands of a good character (there’s a price).
Each of these characters is similarly detailed with plenty of crunchy bits to provide hooks for whatever world they show up in. Also scattered throughout the book are weapons (Thrasher Chain – nasty damage), an evil goddess (Hel – from Norse myth), a knightly order (Odin’s Oaks – holding back the undead hordes of the Lich King beyond a wall at the edge of a bottomless crevasse)… Like I said earlier – plenty of concepts to explore further in the Torn World setting or to take and use as creative seeds for your own campaign/adventure needs.
What I thought was missing from this book was a description of the theft of the Shattered Blade itself, or some broader picture of why these five characters were still together after that event. Perhaps if the Shattered Blade seed exists in another book, referencing the other book (or books) would have helped fill in those missing pieces. Or a section at the end of the book suggesting what books to look at next for details on the various areas, groups, and major NPCs that were described in passing.
But ultimately I think The Shattered Blade Thieves: A Torn World Character Pack offers quite a bit of crunch (usable NPCs, great concepts) and a fair bang for your buck at RPGNow. Be sure to check it out along with the rest of the Torn World resources! (And for more about Torn World, check out their website at TornWorld.com!)