Shake Things Up – Adding Complications to Encounter Designs

Whether you are a veteran GM who crafts every campaign world and adventure from scratch, a newcomer to running games who is just trying to get through a published adventure, or someone preferring any of the hundreds of possible in-between styles of gamemastering, sometimes you realize your encounters are in a rut. It may not be your fault—many GMs run published adventures for lack of time to create all their own content, and even for GMs who make a lot of custom adventures, players can often get really good at determining how a specific game works, and cutting to the solution of any challenge much faster than expected. Even if neither of those issues is a problem, sometimes you realize a player has built a character to be good at something that never comes up in play… and they feel cheated for not getting to do the kind of adventure they are prepared for.

Regardless of why you think your existing adventure toolkit isn’t doing everything you need it to, and no matter the game system you are using, it may be time to shake things up with a complication. Or a dozen complications.

Complications

Art by Biagio D’allessandro

Simple Complications

There are a number of very simple complications you can use to change the feel and flow of the RPG sessions you run. Here’s three that don’t take much advance work or thought.

Add Restrictions: If the players have gotten good at killing foes, require them to drive off threats without seriously hurting anyone. If they are masters of out-talking competitors during negotiations, make them argue their case next to a waterfall so loud no one can hear anything. If a single character is the best hacker the world has ever seen, set up the need to get information during a complete blackout when no computers are running. If the players’ favorite tactic is setting everything on fire, make them fight underwater.

The advantages of adding a restriction is that it doesn’t change the core rules of the game, it just makes players tackle a problem with some of their options off the table. You shouldn’t do this often—then it’s just shutting down character abilities—but there’s nothing wrong with forcing players to be flexible now and again.

Add Hindrances: While a restriction is specifically something that takes away some of the players’ normal options, a hindrance is something that makes the challenge of the encounter more difficult by adding new elements that can cause problems. If the PCs can sneak into any secure site anywhere, make them do so with an angry songbird in a cage they can’t muffle. If they normally bully citizens into giving them what they want, make them carry out their investigations with a bigger bully the citizens already hate. If they are experts at ranged combat, have a fight in a corn maze, with strong winds and torrential rain reducing visibility.

Add A Twist: Don’t go all M. Night Shyamalan about it, but sometimes the situation not being exactly what is expected is a great complication to throw at players. Perhaps the “attacking” wolves are just running from even bigger monsters right behind them. The crime family not only capitulate to the PCs’ demands they lay off a neighborhood, they ask the PCs to help them go fully legit. The final lock on the dragon’s vault is a sleeping cat you have to move without waking.

Secondary Challenges

Rather than just adding complications to an encounter’s normal challenge, you can add an entire secondary challenge of another type. If the encounter is a fight with a band of highwaymen, perhaps a group of mercenaries wander by and the bandits try to recruit them as reinforcement while the fight is already underway. Now in addition to the initial challenge of the combat, the PCs must deal with the secondary challenge of a negotiating while the fighting is ongoing. If the PCs were trying to break into a vault before the next guard shift comes by, perhaps they discover previous thieves have already rigged the vault with a barrel of gunpowder on a lit fuse, and now both problems have to be handled at the same time.

A secondary challenge can be a great way to allow characters who aren’t good at the type of encounter as the main challenge (or players who just don’t care about that kind of encounter) to get some time in the spotlight of attention anyway. If you have a complex puzzle lock with riddles, and that kind of challenge bores one of your players who has a combat-focused character, adding a mini-secondary challenge can give them something to engage with while the other players tackle the puzzle lock. Perhaps the lock is also haunted, so ghosts of past (unsuccessful) lockpickers materialize and attack every few rounds

When adding secondary challenges and complications there is often a temptation to make sure the difficulty of overcoming them is tied to how crucial it is they be overcome. That’s pretty standard design for the main challenge of an encounter, but it can be needlessly difficult and complex for something you are adding as a complication. When an encounter already has a key challenge, it can be overwhelming for an additional challenge to require the same degree of focus, effort, and resources. If you’re going for a climactic, epic encounter, that may be exactly what you want. But if you are just adding a complication to increase variety and interest in the encounter, there’s no reason it has to be as challenging as the primary problem—in many ways it’s more interesting if it isn’t. If most of the characters are trying to evacuate children from the burning orphanage, and you only expect one or two to be dealing with the still-present arsonist, making him relatively easy to deal with keeps the encounter’s focus on the lifesaving, rather than a fight. The characters who are poorly equipped to help get kids out, or who can’t resist a chance for a brawl, can focus on just a few of them easily defeating the firebug, while the rest of the characters get the more important plot point of saving children.

But that doesn’t mean the secondary challenge can’t be just as important, even if it’s not just as hard. Obviously, the children in the burning building need to be saved, but stopping the arsonist is important as well. Not only does it keep him from starting more fires (possibly in the building just across the street), so resource efforts don’t have to expand, it’s also a potential opportunity to find out why he started the fire to begin with. Is it fire-for-hire, as a crimelord wants to make a point, or a developer needs the land to finish a new project? Or did one of the children see something the arsonist wants to make sure never gets reported?

Keep it Fun

No matter what elements of complications you add to spice up encounters, try to make sure you are creating things your players will see as challenges to be overcome, rather than efforts to punish them for having powerful or single-minded characters. Problems with how characters are built or players should be handled with a conversation out-of-character on what is bothering you, and how the players can help you have fun while still making sure they have a good time.

Complications and additional challenges are to make the game surprising and fun for everyone and, like seasoning in good cooking, a few sprinkles now and then often go a long way!

SACRED BAND CHARACTER SHEETS: Llorona

Sacred Band 2nd editionAs we announced earlier this week, to celebrate the release of Sacred Band’s Nisaba edition, we are giving you the Mutants & Masterminds stats for the five members of the team, one per day. Today’s instalment is the elementalist Llorona !

Here’s the introduction to this series from Monday, just in case this is the first blog post you’ve found:

“My writing compatriots often joke with me that I write novels like a game designer: eighty thousand words into world building before I realize that I need a plot and some characters. In the case of Sacred Band, the joke is literal truth, though.

As part of my character design, I decided to turn to a familiar “language” for my development of Gauss, Deosil, Sentinel, Optic, and Llorona – the language of game mechanics. Specifically, the Mutants & Masterminds rule set. Building my protagonists in that system allowed me to make decisions on things like abilities and limitations as a structured undertaking.

Of course, when the story needed something that the rules didn’t or couldn’t account for, the story won out, but having that starting line to apply my creativity to in the first place made the process much easier than just writing into a blank space entirely.”

Echoing during the Houston Event in the mid-80s, Llorona has seen much of superhero history first-hand. Named for a tragic figure from Mexican folklore, Llorona’s power is sonic in origin, a terrifying wail that she can use to make herself ghostly and intangible for as long as she can maintain the shriek. She works for the Golden Cross, a superpowered organization that helps with natural and man-made disasters the world over, which puts her in a position to sometimes see the worst humanity has to offer…but to then also do something about it!

You can download the character sheet for Llorona right here!

Sacred Band is now on sale in the Green Ronin Online Store (in print or in ebook) and on Amazon (in print or for Kindle). It’s even available in ebook on DrivethruRPG. Look for it at your local retailer as well!

Monday’s Sacred Band character sheet for Gauss

Tuesday’s Sacred Band character sheet for Deosil

Wednesday’s Sacred Band character sheet for Sentinel

Thursday’s Sacred Band character sheet for Optic

We hope you’ve enjoyed these character sheets for the cast of Sacred Band. Be sure to let us know if your group uses them in your games of Mutants & Masterminds!

SACRED BAND CHARACTER SHEETS: Optic

Sacred Band 2nd editionAs we announced earlier this week, to celebrate the release of Sacred Band’s Nisaba edition, we are giving you the Mutants & Masterminds stats for the five members of the team, one per day. Today’s instalment is the elementalist Optic!

Here’s the introduction to this series from Monday, just in case this is the first blog post you’ve found:

“My writing compatriots often joke with me that I write novels like a game designer: eighty thousand words into world building before I realize that I need a plot and some characters. In the case of Sacred Band, the joke is literal truth, though.

As part of my character design, I decided to turn to a familiar “language” for my development of Gauss, Deosil, Sentinel, Optic, and Llorona – the language of game mechanics. Specifically, the Mutants & Masterminds rule set. Building my protagonists in that system allowed me to make decisions on things like abilities and limitations as a structured undertaking.

Of course, when the story needed something that the rules didn’t or couldn’t account for, the story won out, but having that starting line to apply my creativity to in the first place made the process much easier than just writing into a blank space entirely.”

Today’s member of Sacred Band is Optic, the photoassumptive former military man capable of turning his body into a coherent field of light! Though he served with the superpowered Air Force unit known as the Seraphim with honor and dignity, he was the first super ever drummed out of the military under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and was influential in the repeal of that law. Since then, he’s done well for himself as a Hollywood action star, but he’s secretly itching to be back in uniform doing good work!

You can download the character sheet for Optic right here! 

Sacred Band is now on sale in the Green Ronin Online Store (in print or in ebook) and on Amazon (in print or for Kindle). It’s even available in ebook on DrivethruRPG. Look for it at your local retailer as well!

Monday’s Sacred Band character sheet for Gauss

Tuesday’s Sacred Band character sheet for Deosil

Wednesday’s Sacred Band character sheet for Sentinel

SACRED BAND CHARACTER SHEETS: Sentinel

Sacred Band 2nd editionAs we announced earlier this week, to celebrate the release of Sacred Band’s Nisaba edition, we are giving you the Mutants & Masterminds stats for the five members of the team, one per day. Today’s instalment is the elementalist Sentinel!

Here’s the introduction to this series from Monday, just in case this is the first blog post you’ve found:

“My writing compatriots often joke with me that I write novels like a game designer: eighty thousand words into world building before I realize that I need a plot and some characters. In the case of Sacred Band, the joke is literal truth, though.

As part of my character design, I decided to turn to a familiar “language” for my development of Gauss, Deosil, Sentinel, Optic, and Llorona – the language of game mechanics. Specifically, the Mutants & Masterminds rule set. Building my protagonists in that system allowed me to make decisions on things like abilities and limitations as a structured undertaking.

Of course, when the story needed something that the rules didn’t or couldn’t account for, the story won out, but having that starting line to apply my creativity to in the first place made the process much easier than just writing into a blank space entirely.”

Sentinel is in today’s spotlight, and rightly so! One of the Original superheroes of the setting, Sentinel is an iconic figure in the world’s mind. When anyone thinks of superheroes, they think of this high-flying, super-strong powerhouse, though he’s known just as much for his good nature and sense of right and wrong. A terrible scandal forced him out of the public eye, but just the right situation might bring him out of that retirement.

You can download the Character Sheet for Sentinel right here! 

Sacred Band is now on sale in the Green Ronin Online Store (in print or in ebook) and on Amazon (in print or for Kindle). It’s even available in ebook on DrivethruRPG. Look for it at your local retailer as well!

Monday’s Sacred Band character sheet for Gauss

Tuesday’s Sacred Band character sheet of Deosil

SACRED BAND CHARACTER SHEETS: Deosil

Sacred Band 2nd edtionAs we announced yesterday, to celebrate the release of Sacred Band’s Nisaba edition, we are giving you the Mutants & Masterminds stats for the five members of the team, one per day. Today’s instalment is the elementalist Deosil!

Here’s the introduction to this series from yesterday, just in case this is the first blog post you’ve found:

“My writing compatriots often joke with me that I write novels like a game designer: eighty thousand words into world building before I realize that I need a plot and some characters. In the case of Sacred Band, the joke is literal truth, though.

As part of my character design, I decided to turn to a familiar “language” for my development of Gauss, Deosil, Sentinel, Optic, and Llorona – the language of game mechanics. Specifically, the Mutants & Masterminds rule set. Building my protagonists in that system allowed me to make decisions on things like abilities and limitations as a structured undertaking.

Of course, when the story needed something that the rules didn’t or couldn’t account for, the story won out, but having that starting line to apply my creativity to in the first place made the process much easier than just writing into a blank space entirely.”

Today, we’re looking at Deosil, the team’s elementalist witch. Best friends with Gauss, Deosil (or “Jesh,” to her friends) is a neopagan social media maven and often the voice of reason. That said, she knows she has some fears to conquer – but look out once she does!

You can download the Character Sheet for Deosil right here! 

Sacred Band is now on sale in the Green Ronin Online Store (in print or in ebook) and on Amazon (in print or for Kindle). It’s even available in ebook on DrivethruRPG. Look for it at your local retailer as well!

Yesterday’s Sacred Band character sheet for Gauss is still available for download as well!

SACRED BAND CHARACTER SHEETS: Gauss!

Sacred Band character sheetsMy writing compatriots often joke with me that I write novels like a game designer: eighty thousand words into world building before I realize that I need a plot and some characters. In the case of Sacred Band, the joke is literal truth, though.

As part of my character design, I decided to turn to a familiar “language” for my development of Gauss, Deosil, Sentinel, Optic, and Llorona – the language of game mechanics. Specifically, the Mutants & Masterminds rule set. Building my protagonists in that system allowed me to make decisions on things like abilities and limitations as a structured undertaking.

Of course, when the story needed something that the rules didn’t or couldn’t account for, the story won out, but having that starting line to apply my creativity to in the first place made the process much easier than just writing into a blank space entirely.

So, to celebrate the release of Sacred Band’s Nisaba edition, we are giving you the Mutants & Masterminds stats for the five members of the team, one per day.

First out the gate, we look at Gauss, the young magnetic college kid who is the catalyst for the formation of Sacred Band! He’s a mag-leving daredevil who prefers to work his powers through a cloud of ball bearings he keeps with him. Though he’s new to the superhero business, he’s all in.

You can download the Character Sheet for Gauss right here! 

Sacred Band is now on sale in the Green Ronin Online Store (in print or in ebook) and on Amazon (in print or for Kindle). It’s even available in ebook on DrivethruRPG. Look for it at your local retailer as well!

School’s Haunted! Expanding Bite Club for your Halloween campaign!

Bite Club a Halloween Astonishing Adventure!

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Halloween! And once again, we here in the Mutants & Masterminds office are offering a thematically appropriate adventure for the holiday season! Following on the tail of Monster Mash-Up, we offer the newest Astonishing Adventure: Bite Club! Unlike previous Halloween adventures, this installment is specifically a hero high caper, intended for PL 8 heroes who attend the prestigious superhero school known as the Claremont Academy!

Over the course of Bite Club, the heroes discover a coven of vampires threatening their school, but who are they and why threaten a school full of super-powered kids? Bite Club takes place over just a few days and focuses on the growing drama and lurking threat posed by children of the night. But if you want to expand Bite Club for free, you can cannibalize our previous adventures to flesh out the perfect adventure for the spooky season.

Using Monster Mash-Up

You can use Monster Mash-Up as written as an opening scene for Bite Club. Several Claremont students attend the Laugh at the Dead show, including the heroes and the supporting cast. The hallway confrontations from Scene 1 of Bite Club can either happen before the show begins or take place in the stress and chaos after the heroes battle Scream Queen and Madame Macabre.

Using Nothing to Fear

Nothing to Fear ends up being a more useful collection of scenes to supplement Bite Club than an adventure you can drop into the middle.

Fearmaster makes a useful tool for the adventure’s mastermind, who sics him on the school once anyone begins investigating the vampire attacks. The emotion-manipulating supervillain plants his gas dispensers across the campus to cause widespread chaos. The mastermind hopes the young heroes will assume the vampire attacks were yet another fear-induced hallucination, and it also allows him to study the young heroes’ emotional reactions.

Doc Holiday may be a young student at the academy or serving as an intern, only to have his magical powers triggered by Fearmaster’s gas. But he might instead appear later, emerging on Halloween to try and usurp the growing vampire clan to serve him, using their stolen bio-energy to fuel his empowered state rather than the fear and panic of the parade crowd.

However you choose to run Bite Club, have fun and enjoy your Halloween!

Bite Club – When High School Really Sucks

Astonishing Adventures: Bite ClubAstonishing Adventures: Bite Club, is available now!

High school – so many of us couldn’t wait to escape it, and yet, it’s one of the most popular settings for superhero adventures. Perhaps because the alienation and angst felt by a lot of teenagers matches up so well with the secret identities and soap-opera melodrama of comic books, or because the teens who were “art nerds” and “theater kids” in high school later go into creating comic books…and, ahem, roleplaying games.

Whatever the case, maybe the only thing better than the genre blend of high school and heroes is to add a dark touch of horror to the mix! Bite Club, the newest release for the Astonishing Adventures series, does just that, offering a perfect Mutants & Masterminds adventure for your Halloween happenings! The adventure is designed for a group of teen heroes attending the Claremont Academy, a secret school for the super-powered in Freedom City, but you can run Bite Club with other types of heroes as well, perhaps visitors to the campus, concerned mentors, or guest-teachers.

If you don’t have a regular Hero High game featuring teen heroes, it also makes for a fun change-of-pace adventure for your Halloween holiday: Have your players put together a group of power level 8 heroes, or grab the Next-Gen characters from the Hero High sourcebook, and they can play a session where they see the challenges faced by the teen set, where the stakes aren’t as high as saving the world, but may involve mending a broken heart or two—and speaking of stakes and hearts, we don’t want to give away too much about the adventure itself, but you can probably guess…

Bite Club is available in the Green Ronin Online Store, and on DrivethruRPG!

Amusement Park for Danger Zones – Available Now!

Danger Zone Amusement ParkAs previously mentioned on the Mutants & Masterminds Monday Livestream. This week we are proud to release the Amusement Park for our ongoing Danger Zones series for Third Edition!

Atop a rushing subway car, trapped in a raging apartment fire, crushed beneath the animated oaks of a possessed parkland, superheroes face as much danger from the world around them as they do from their most nefarious villains.

“Buckle up, gentlebeings! This ride’s about to get bumpy!

The smell of cotton candy and screams of delight can’t keep evil at bay, and the hall of horrors makes a delightful hunting ground for things that feed on fear. Welcome to Danger Zones: Amusement Park, home of the wildest rides, the biggest shows, and the greatest thrills on Earth!

Danger Zones helps you bring your world alive by describing 30 different urban backdrops for superheroic action, from the classic warehouse to the neighborhood coffee shop to the hospital they’ll need to recover when the adventure is done. Every location includes a map, as well as useful information on how to use that setting’s unique features in a cunning plot or superhero slugfest.

To help populate your urban jungle, Danger Zones also provides a catalog of colorful characters, ready to come alive in your Mutants & Masterminds, Third Edition campaign!

Danger Zones: Amusement Park is available for purchase now in the Green Ronin Online Store, and on DrivethruRPG.

Check out the previous Danger Zones Here!

You can also find all of the earlier Danger Zones settings on DrivethruRPG!

Three Made One – BROKEN TOYS

Three Made One Toy Boy

When children are playing alone on the green,
In comes the playmate that never was seen.
When children are happy and lonely and good,
The Friend of the Children comes out of the wood.

Nobody heard him, and nobody saw,
His is a picture you never could draw,
But he’s sure to be present, abroad or at home,
When children are happy and playing alone.

—From A Child’s garden of Verse, by Robert Lewis Stevenson

This week’s release of Astonishing Adventures: Three Made One concludes the NetherWar adventure series with a bang and brings back plenty of old friends and enemies the heroes have encountered over the last five adventures, including Sandstone, Medea, the Factor Four, Sallah, Seven, and more side characters than you can shake your character notes at. There are moving parts galore and possibly one of the toughest villain fights yet printed for Mutants & Masterminds, Third Edition!

But one recurring face doesn’t make an appearance in Three Made One. The phantom toy elemental, Toy Boy, sits this one out. This isn’t incredibly unexpected—the heroes defeated Desmond Lettam pretty thoroughly at the climax of Broken Strings, potentially trapping the spirit villain in a legendary Orb of Ghormmuz where he can no longer hurt others. But Toy Boy was a fairly major element for three installments of NetherWar and depending on your group’s interactions with the villain, his absence in this adventure may feel like a glaring omission.

Una—the fawning Desmond’s “Dark Lady”—immediately turns her back on her failed agent upon his defeat. While he was eager and could communicate with Una directly, his work was complete and his usefulness drew to a close during the events of Broken Strings. Una has other agents she can turn toward destroying the last Eldritch Talisman, the Golden mask of Malador, and so Toy Boy’s absence means nothing to the ambitious would-be god. But Desmond Lettam has never taken rejection well.

Here are a few options for featuring Toy Boy in Three Made One:

The Boy in the Orb

If the heroes capture Toy Boy in the Orb of Ghormmuz, he remains their prisoner as the adventure opens and is drawn into Elysium with them, though the dimension’s magic shifts him from the heroes’ immediate possession to their headquarters’ trophy room (assuming he wasn’t there already). Desmond rails against the heroes, hurling insults and accusations, but doubt has begun creeping into the back of his mind. A part of him knows he’s been forgotten by the only person he cared about, and if the heroes play to that they can turn the villainous ghost into an information source.

You may decide that releasing Toy Boy from the orb is one way the heroes can escape Elysium. His powerful emotional ties to Una allows him return to Earth-Prime like Malador’s Mask once did, bringing the heroes along for the ride. Once back on Earth-Prime, however, he only remains with the heroes if they’ve treated him well during his imprisonment; Desmond hasn’t turned over a new leaf, he’s just angrier at Una for rigging the game, than he is at the meddling heroes who spoiled his fun.

Toy Boy knows only bits and pieces of magic lore, but he knows a lot about Una and her ultimate goals and can help the heroes by providing an Aid bonus to their checks to investigate Triune, and if the heroes have been extraordinarily understanding or can provoke Una into confirming Toy Boy’s worst fears about his abandonment, Toy Boy can even join their final showdown with the Dark Lord as an additional magical ally who helps delay Triune’s reunification.

Free Spirits

If the heroes never imprisoned Toy Boy during Broken Strings, the ghostly villain has finally escaped the Dungeon Dimension only to discover his Dark Lady has forgotten him and recruited Medea as her new favored agent. While happy to sulk for a time, Triune’s ascension is enough to snap Toy Boy out of it and either drive him to beg the newborn to accept him as a servant or else his bitterness drives him to seek out the heroes.

If Toy Boy seeks out the heroes to help them, he might be one element to help draw them out of Elysium or clue them in that the world isn’t what it seems. You can present Elysium as far more realistic, with only recurring toy-based elements seeming out-of-place until Toy Boy grows strong enough to approach the heroes on his own. Much like when he is trapped in the Orb, an independent Toy Boy can help the heroes investigate Triune upon their release or act as an incorporeal spy and go-between for the various factions, helping the heroes coordinate with their allies—not that Desmond is a completely trustworthy ally who won’t create new complications for the heroes to resolve. He may likewise serve as a mystic ally in the climax to help delay Triune’s re-assembly or he can play a similar role to Medea as an emergency back-up in case one of the established heroes is incapacitated.

A Toy Boy rejoining Una’s side becomes one of Triune’s dread guard, the Wings of Doom. Use the Terror Teddy statblock from Broken Strings to reflect the new doll body Triune creates for him, or use one of the existing villain archetypes from the Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide, such as the Brute (an enormous toy dinosaur), the Composite (a toy box), the Hybrid (an Immature Radioactive Samurai Squirrel action figure), or the Robot (a transmorpher). This version of Toy Boy operates as a lone hunter tracking the heroes as they explore the city and investigate Triune.

I’m a Real Boy!

Among the rewards that you can hand out at the adventure’s climax might be a second chance at life for the troubled Desmond Lettam, whose disability and the sheltered life his parents forced on him only fueled his emotional problems. If the heroes go above and beyond to bond with an imprisoned or allied Toy Boy, Desmond might sacrifice himself to save a hero from an especially vicious critical hit from Una the Evolved during the final confrontation. Una’s magic allows her to shred spirits as easily as flesh and Toy Boy—with his innate +0 Toughness bonus—has little chance to resist the overwhelming force she can apply. Depending on the tone of your campaign, this might be a bittersweet end for a troubled soul, or the mystic shock and the transformative magic following Triune’s defeat might restore Toy Boy to life, either as his old self or as a young child with a second shot at life. Heroes might return him to his aging parents or turn him over to the state, or adopt the reborn villain as their own and hopefully give him a healthier environment in which to grow up as second time.

Astonishing Adventures: Netherwar part 5 Three Made One is on sale now, and also available on DrivethruRPG