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Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #435

Treasure Siphons



This Week's Tips Summarized 

Treasure Siphons

  1. In-Character Encouragement
  2. Reward Generosity
  3. Out-of-Character Encouragement
  4. Group Obligations
  5. Individual Obligations

For Your Game: 10 Pocket Dimensions

Gamemaster Tips Summarized 

  1. Critical Thinking Exercise: Hunger Pangs
  2. Managing Character Equipment
  3. Running Henchmen in Combat
  4. Godchecker
  5. Slow Grilled Dragon (Beef) Ribs

Johnn Four's GM Guide Books

Advanced Adventures #8 Now Available!

Advanced Adventures #8: The Seven Shrines of Nav'k-qar is now available in stores and as a PDF at e-stores. Pick up this OSRIC(tm) module designed for 6-8 adventurers of level 8-12 and explore the lost temple of the dread toad god!

The Seven Shrines of Nav'k-Qar at Expeditious Retreat Press

The Seven Shrines of Nav'k-Qar at at Your Games Now

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A Brief Word From Johnn 

My Group Relishes Their First Smash and Bash

Last game session the PCs' patron, Lord Falroth, asked them to visit a poor old potter two blocks down the road. It seems the bowl-maker owed Falroth a bit of money, and the characters were to either collect it or "send a message."

The group suits up, walks down to the little shop, and barges in. The 60+ year-old potter has been extremely busy with his kiln, of late, for there are hundreds of bowls, cups and urns lining numerous rickety shelves, all packed tight in a small space. He must be working hard to sell enough to pay off his debt.

The PCs have to squeeze themselves in between the shelves, and the dragonborn mercenary nearly knocks over several items just by walking around. There's a door to the back, and the ranger quickly scoots around to the rear alley and covers it in case the destitute, feeble old shopkeeper tries to make a break for it.

The mage does the talking. With a charisma of 10 - the highest amongst the PCs - his natural talents always help the DM craft interesting new encounters. Questions are barked out like attacks. The answers aren't good enough. Threats fly. The old man starts begging. The group closes in.

In desperation, the potter offer the thugs a small, beautiful urn with delicate decoration and says he'll have the money soon. How much do you owe? 5000 gold. The PCs look around the shop astounded that the man in rags could owe so much. The potter starts edging for the rear door, offering his prize urn in exchange for his life.

That's when the ranger confronts the old man in the back alley. Trapped, the potter panics and throws the urn to the ground. It shatters and mists gather in the air over the pieces. The mists solidify into a dangerous cave bear that attacks the PCs!

As the PCs fight the bear, pottery is smashed and sundered, creating dangerous shrapnel and painful footing. In the end, the pottery rendered more wounds than the bear. The potter almost dies from the flying shards, but the mage manages to drag him to the safety of street, bloodied and sobbing.

Magic is illegal in the city of Carnus. And the potter was too poor to have been able to buy such a potent relic on the black market, unless that's where the 5,000 gold went. The PCs discuss the mystery while merrily smashing every last piece of pottery in the shop as their message to the hysterical shopkeep.

Satisfied, the PCs raid the money box and search for any valuables amongst the destruction. Then they toss the potter back in his shop and write a warning in coal on the wall: "Pay your debts!"

The group leaves, a job well done. Looks like there's a new gang in town. I hope the PCs don't learn what the locals are calling them.

The Ultimate Gaming Vacation

Yax at is offering a crazy gaming vacation-in-Hawaii deal. He will be your dungeon master for 10 days of D&D, and promises to bring your PC from 1st level to 30th in that time. On top of that, he guarantees beach time every day.

Gaming marathon in Hawaii! That's awesome. I've never heard of this being done, but if I had the vacation time I'd go.

Have a game-full week.


Johnn Four,


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Are you considering making money with RPGs?

A question from Johnn

Last week I called out a new eBook called the Ultimate Freelancer for people interested in making money doing freelance writing. I bought the book and saw its immediate value to anyone looking to write for roleplaying companies or start their own RPG enterprise.

I especially saw the guide's value to new bloggers because so many blogs fizzle out in their early days. The Unlimited Freelancer is all about making the business end of freelancing as easy as possible so you can focus on content creation.

Did you check the eBook out? If so, drop me a note as I'd like to hear your thoughts on it. I'm curious if any Roleplaying Tips readers are looking at freelance writing as a way to supplement their income during the recession we're in. Maybe I should post a poll somewhere.

Are you thinking of freelancing? If you already freelance, do you have any tips to share?

In case you missed it last week, The Ultimate Freelancer is 200 pages full of tips and advice. It discusses in detail how to set-up a freelance business, how to automate a lot of stuff so you can claw out more time for writing, the best business models, how to build a team for the larger projects, and other similar topics.

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Treasure Siphons  

A guest article by Roleplaying Tips Editor Hannah L.

Imagine this: your players have just slain the Mighty Dragon Silverclaw and burst into his treasure-room to find a horde of gold, gems, and priceless artifacts. But they don't bicker over the loot, or begin scribbling down totals on their character sheets, or even start looking up equipment prices.

Instead, your cleric exclaims, "Those rubies are just what our temple's new altar needs to be finished!" The rogue begins looking for jewelry that his lady-love will appreciate, while the wizard searches for just the right scroll to donate to the school where he learned magic. The fighter begins calculating how many crossbows she can now buy for the town guard of her impoverished home village.

The PCs come away with a few helpful artifacts, and some gold. But better than that, the cleric's mentor praises her generosity, the rogue's girlfriend promises to be his and his alone, the wizard's school names a new classroom after him, and the fighter's village elders write to tell her they were able to fend off an attack of kobolds thanks to the weapons she purchased for them.

Getting the players involved with the game world is difficult, but rewarding. An often overlooked aspect of this involvement is finances. NPCs from the characters' backgrounds don't just need rescuing; sometimes, they need money.

Such characters or organizations can act as "treasure siphons," receiving a portion of the loot that would otherwise go towards buffing up the characters.

This not only strengthens PCs' ties to the world in which they live, but allows the DM to give out more treasure than normal, safe in the knowledge that it won't massively overpower the party. Everyone loves huge hordes of treasure, and with treasure siphons, such hordes can be a lot more common without wrecking game balance.

Given how hard it is to get players involved, even when it isn't costing them money, just how to do you about creating treasure siphons?

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1. In-Character Encouragement 

Sometimes, players will set up treasure siphon situations on their own. Maybe the fighter started adventuring because it was the only way to raise enough money to save the family farm. If that's the case, it stands to reason that a portion of the character's loot will be sent home on a regular basis.

Of course, many players won't see it this way. Their end goal is to save the farm, but that will happen later, once the campaign is over and they've amassed a godlike amount of treasure. Sending anything home before then likely won't occur to them.

Some letters from the family about how hard the harvest has been since the PC went adventuring might be all it takes to encourage the player to consider more of an installment plan.

If this fails, an immediate threat might be in order - the local baron has decided there's something amiss with the family's tax payments, and will take the farm by force unless he's paid 30 gold by the next full moon.

Such a sum is a huge amount for a poor farming family, but much less significant to an adventurer. Sending the first stack of coins home might clue the player in that perhaps that's the sort of thing they should be doing more often.

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2. Reward Generosity 

As soon as the player has parted with their hard-earned treasure, have an immediate reaction. The family writes back that they were not only able to save the farm, but had enough silver left over to purchase some new equipment.

You can even throw in incentives to continue the generosity. The family's new-found wealth caught the eye of a local lord, and the PC's younger brother now has permission to court the lord's beautiful daughter - assuming, of course, that the cash keeps flowing.

You can always compensate the PCs for the donation of treasure with more tangible benefits. The cleric's temple, thrilled with her gift of rubies for the altar, equips her with an enchanted cloak and some holy water.

I would caution against having direct rewards too often. The purpose of a treasure siphon is to reduce the impact of loot in mechanical terms while increasing its impact in roleplaying terms. If players know that giving up gold will get them something else, they'll treat it like every other trade-off in the game: as something to be maximized.

Instead, the players should be encouraged to donate treasure to worthy causes because it's something their characters would do. They are, after all, the heroes, and what's more heroic than facing down death to earn some gold not for yourself, but for the rebuilding of the local orphanage?

While it might sometimes make a good plot hook to have the shipment of gold to astray, I would suggest not doing it too often. Players aren't going to want to send away money if they know they'll have to go chasing after bandits every other time they do so.

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3. Out-of-Character Encouragement 

Parting with treasure is not a concept that comes easily to most gamers. It's not likely that one of your players will incorporate a treasure siphon into their backstory on their own. While you might be able to turn a backstory element into a treasure siphon, even that can sometimes fail. What's a GM to do?

Talk to the players out of character. It's great if you can do this before the campaign, to make sure everyone starts out with treasure siphon in their background.

This can also work just fine mid-campaign. Your players have probably interacted with several people or organizations by this point; simply suggest that a donation might be in order.

At first, the players might not think this is a great idea. A good way to start is by reassuring them this will not reduce their net amount of treasure. If they were receiving X amount of treasure before, they will now be receiving X + Y treasure, with the expectation that Y treasure goes somewhere other than in the PCs' inventories.

This can be difficult to enforce, and that is why this isn't for all groups. If your players mainly play for the joy of killing things and taking their stuff, treasure siphons will not work.

If your players enjoy finding a balance between diving into piles of gold and forming meaningful relationships with NPCs, then treasure siphons are perfect.

Treasure siphons work best when tied closely with the characters' motivations. They also work much better when the whole party is involved in some way. If treasure gets divided equally, but one character is sending half their share away to support the family farm, that's hardly fair.

You can encourage the players to keep PCs' financial obligations in mind while apportioning the loot. Or, you can try to arrange it so that every PC has somewhere to send their money. This can be done individually, or as a group.

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4. Group Obligations 

The party is adventuring together, so it makes sense that they would have a common cause. If everyone has reason to donate gold and artifacts, then it will be a lot easier to come up with a fair way of dividing up spoils.

Here are some possible treasure siphons that would apply to a whole group:

  • All the PCs are from the same impoverished village, and are all doing their part to help strengthen it. Weapons, gold, and spells all are welcome, and the party will forever be hailed as hometown heroes.
  • The party has a debt that must be paid off. Perhaps it's property damage from previous adventures, or maybe the reason they're adventuring is they were indentured to begin with and must work to buy their freedom.
  • The party all belongs to the same school, temple, or guild. This organization might have dues, or perhaps the PCs simply feel a strong tie to their alma mater, and wish to encourage its growth with regular donations.
  • The party hopes to improve the world. If they fund their local gnome alchemist, he'll come up with a way to magically purify the town's water supply, and other such mundane benefits. He might even occasionally give the PCs some interesting toys to play with.
  • Rather than working for a wealthy patron, the PCs are patrons themselves. They support a local theatre or museum, and are rewarded with the satisfaction of knowing they've helped enrich the local culture. As a side benefit, there's always the chance one of the theatre's bards will immortalize the party in song.

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5. Individual Obligations 

Many parties don't have backgrounds that are intertwined with each other, so it can be hard to find a common interest towards which they can all contribute their treasure.

No problem; individual treasure siphons, while perhaps trickier to manage mathematically, are even easier to set up plot-wise.

All of the examples for groups work well with individuals. In addition, there are a lot of other directions to go:

  • Someone back home is in dire straights. This might be the family farm, or it could be a relative with a gambling problem, or a childhood friend who once saved the PC's life and is now down on his luck.
  • A power-hungry character probably isn't interested in philanthropy, but she just might want to make regular donations to an up-and-coming political party.
  • A PC's young nephew wants to become an adventurer, too, but that means buying armour and weapons and maybe even a horse. All those things are expensive, so what's a doting aunt to do?
  • Similar to the above, a PC might have an apprentice who needs to be outfitted with gear, and given the occasional gift on holidays.
  • The roving fighter is promised to his sweetheart back home. Absence might make the heart grow fonder, but it probably won't make the girl's parents grow fonder as they watch their daughter's marriage prospects wane with every passing moon. A gift of gold and jewelry now and then will go a long way towards reassuring the parents of the absent suitor's seriousness.
  • The traveling ranger doesn't have to worry about a sweetheart going astray, but that's because he's married. His wife and kids will, of course, expect some financial support from the absent father figure.

* * *

The key is that treasure siphons should be something the PCs enjoy devoting resources to; something they can accomplish. Being defrauded by a blackmailer or paying the King's burdensome taxes might lighten the PCs' pockets, but they'll hardly give them a sense of accomplishment.

A good treasure siphon takes a specific kind of treasure, something the PC can keep an eye out for, and be excited to find. There are routine, intangible rewards to contributing, and occasional tangible rewards. And best of all, the PC is now much more tied to the game world, and concerned about something other than just himself, his companions, and whatever cause they're fighting for at the time.

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For Your Game: 10 Pocket Dimensions for Supers and Modern Horror 

By Aramax, with permission from Strolen's Citadel.

  1. Shangri-La

    Located in a remote section of Tibet, Shangri-La is a paradise with a dark side. The dimension consists of a large Tibetan village surrounded by farms and sheep. The village is filled with temples and homes with only a few shops. The residents are immortal, happy, and free from the stresses of modern society.

    The villagers manifest various superhuman abilities. Many of the monks possess supernatural abilities with martial arts and can pass some of these secrets to the PCs. Other Monks can speak with the dead. Some others can heal and (depending on the campaign) raise the dead.

    On the outskirts of the dimension are passages to Hell and the land of the dead - keep out.

    More correctly called Shamballa.
  2. Jake the Road

    A 30 mile stretch of old US highway 66 in Arizona that is sentient. If you travel the whole 30 miles in a US-made red convertible at exactly 66.6 miles an hour you will cross onto Jake.

    The road will at first give you normal exits (usually Barstow and San Bernadino). Later it will give you exotic exits (Paris or Tokyo).

    Then the fun comes. Canals of Mars. The Roman Senate. The Battle of New Orleans. Wherever and whenever you want to go. As Jake becomes used to you he can tailor exits for where you want to go.

    (This is my version of Danny the Street from DC comics - I strongly advise checking out the wikipedia listing.)
  3. Realm of the Othermen

    This is the realm of where the neandertals disappeared to. It is a primal forest of mammoths and saber-toothed tigers. The neandertals hate and fear humans. Beware their powerful shaman. It is entered through a portal in a Ukrainian forest.
  4. Wilde Berkeley

    One too many acid trips in a dorm room in Berkeley caused a mini dimension to form. The realm looks like an LSD version of the campus. Filled with pink elephants and talking fire hydrants, it is entered by doing acid in just the right dorm room. Beware of bad trips!
  5. The Hole of Moscow

    Similar to Wilde Berkeley, The Hole was formed by the KGB's experiments with drugs, ESP and Black Magic. It is a dark realm of shadows and thoughts given bodies. Not as trippy as Wilde, but dangerous from the hostility it was born of. Entered through the Moscow Subway.
  6. Tesla's Micro Universe

    When the great inventor Tesla died his soul ended up forming a workshop just outside reality. It is filled with incredible inventions and many electrical devices. Unhappy with the unwanted visitors, he has littered the place with killer robots and electrical death traps. If you brave the dangers, fabulous devices can be found.
  7. Worm Hole Experiments

    Scientists experimenting with worm holes created several small permanent holes that shift from place to place and are able to randomly enter the pockets on this list. The experiments were abandoned after several of their attempts at exploration ended in TPK.
  8. True Salem

    The truth of the Salem witch trials was they were witches - but only one of them was evil and deserved her fate. The innocent witches became trapped in a realm created by their suffering. Slowly, they drew their persecutors into the realm with them. Now they are all burning over and over. They need to face their deaths and to be released.
  9. Croatoan

    In 1587 an English colony vanished from Roanoke Island. Known as the Lost Colony, they are trapped in a dimensional hell of their own making. A religious leader arose among them and said he could lead them to paradise - all they had to do was trust him and perform one little human sacrifice.

    Desperate and starving, the settlers agreed and newborn Virginia Dare was sacrificed. The leader used the energy to open a portal to a pocket dimension.

    The dimension appears as a small English colony circa 1600. The leader, still alive, controls and manipulates the poor, suffering inhabitants.
  10. Aleister Crowley's Retreat

    This occultist did not die in 1947, but passed on to his private little dimension. When he was on Earth, some people called him the "wickedest man alive." He continues in isolation, dragging people in for magical experimentation, drug use, and chess.

Want more? Get 20 more pocket dimensions.

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Gamemaster Tips 

Have some GM advice you'd like to share? E-mail it to - thanks!

1. Critical Thinking Exercise: Hunger Pangs 

From: Darren Blair

When it comes to being a GM, sometimes it can seem hard to come up with things that can challenge a party. Make it insufficiently challenging or seemingly not worth their time, and your party can lose interest. Make it too hard, and you've got angry players. So what can you do? Get them where their characters will feel it: their stomachs.

It's a simple situation, something that frequently happens in the real world: for whatever reason, although the characters have access to sufficient water, they have only a limited amount of food and must make it last a full day.

In a military setting, it could be that the players have gone too far ahead of their supply lines and must make one of their rations last three meals instead of one.

A disaster setting could have it that the characters' food stores have been wiped out and they're left with what little they could scavenge. Any setting at all could have the characters be so poor they can't afford much.

For you, the GM, your task is simple: put together the menu. Make it small enough that at first glance it looks like it would only last a single meal, but large enough that a clever player or a character with some sort of cooking or domestic training could indeed make it last.

The players have the task of trying to ensure their characters have at least a moderately full belly.

As an example, a character in a modern-day or sci-fi setting could receive the following inside a military ration:

  • beef and cheese burrito
  • seasoned rice (rice with corn, pepper pieces, and seasoning)
  • cake piece
  • strawberry spread
  • two packets of bullion mix
  • packet of lemonade mix
  • two pieces of gum

On the surface, this looks like a meal someone might order at a Mexican-themed restaurant. With a little creativity, however, a person could make three full meals out of it. For breakfast, the character could have a pastry made from the cake and spread. They could heat up one packet of bullion mix and have that in place of coffee.

Lunch could be the burrito and lemonade. Dinner could be a thin yet warming soup from the other bullion mix packet and the rice. The character can have a piece of gum between meals to help suppress any hunger pangs.

Thus, with a little clever thinking, disaster is averted. Not only will the character be fed for a while, but you can award the player experience points for creative thinking and role-playing.

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2. Managing Character Equipment 

From: Chad Samuels

Hi Johnn,

From reading your readers tips on props I thought I would share similar use for index cards. In my one-on-one games the PCs have their own binder for character information, photos, maps, and copies of rules.

The pages are held in by 8-1.2 X 11 sleeves for protection. One added bonus is for game stats that change during a session these sleeves take dry erase marker, so you can adjust as you go. The dry erase does rub off easily, so you need to be careful and make a quick note at the end of the evening or risk losing your current stats.

What is different, though, is how we handle equipment. In the binder we have placed the nine-slot trading card holders. Each item a character has is written on half an index card and placed in a card slot.

With it you can place any important information about the item activation codes or rules how the item works, and appraised value. In the case of magical items you can place any description of the item on the front - like an old rusty ring - and on the back write what the item actually does - ring of invisibility, 2 charges.

I also keep actual values on the back as well to help in barter/bargain rolls. This information ends up being covered from the player as you place item cards back to back. As PCs learn more about the item you can replace it with an updated card.

Consumable items are removed and handed to the GM. For items that come in quantities or have a number of uses, I draw circles that can be filled in - and yes, you can use dry erase marker to temporarily fill them in for the evening.

This system also allows you to organize your equipment to make it easier to find. I use the blank side of the index card and write on it in highlighter equipment locations such as in backpack, on horse, potions bag, or at home. I use a highlighter so the location card stands out.

Finally, because each item has a card, it allows for the GM in high pressure situations to require the PC find the item and remove it from the sleeve to be able to use it in time. For example, finding a potion in a potion bag during round of combat. Time the PC six seconds. and if he or she fails, the action takes two rounds.

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3. Running Henchmen in Combat 

From: Chad Samuels

I run a one-on-one campaign that is mostly NPCs traveling as a party. I run the NPCs myself using personality and skills to decide what each one would do in combat - common sense. I am reaching a point where the party will soon have followers. It is my intention to do the following regarding henchman:

Each round a PC or NPC will give direction to the henchman. Then, as a free action, I will have the PC roll a command skill check. If the check is successful the henchman will follow the command to the best of their ability.

If the command is vague, I give a little latitude to alter their actions as long as it fits the basic structure of the command. If the roll fails then I will have the henchman act on his own accord using personality and skill sets dictate what they will do.

The henchman executing the action will act last unless someone in the party defers their initiative. This is because the party are the heroes and they are the ones to "excel and rock it out."

For speed of combat I preset henchman initiative so they go in the same order each time. Since I am in a one-on-one game, I currently have a binder with the NPC character sheets organized in order of initiative. This way I can give an NPC action then flip to the next to keep things flowing and not get papers all over the table. In this case I would simply add the henchmen in order after the NPCs.

I hope these thoughts help.

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4. Godchecker 

From: Mike Bourke

A net resource every GM and player should know about.

"We have more gods than you can shake a stick at. Godchecker's Mythology Encyclopedia currently features over 2,850 deities. Browse the pantheons of the world, explore ancient myths, and discover gods of everything from Fertility to Fluff with the fully searchable Holy Database Of All Known Gods."

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5. Slow Grilled Dragon (Beef) Ribs 

From: Jason Sandeman

"After a thousand years, the mighty dragon has fallen to our swords and magic. The old reptile's meat is tough after all that time. Cook it this way, and you will have a meal you will speak of to your grandchildren!" ~ Salibass, Dragon Hunter of Yuth'as

These ribs have a long marinating time, (up to a day before). However, a slow cooking process will render melt- in-your-mouth ribs. Since dragon meat is in short supply these days, we will use the next best thing - beef ribs.

Makes enough for a medium sized gaming group, including the GM. (Serves 6)

  • 2 kg (4.5 lbs) beef shortribs
  • 125 mL (1/2 cup) soy sauce
  • 75 g (1/3 cup) sugar
  • 45 mL (3 tablespoons) sherry
  • 1 pear, cored and roughly chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 scallions chopped
  • 30 mL (2 tablespoons) sesame oil
  • 30 mL (2 tablespoons) roasted sesame seeds
  • 2 g (1/2 teaspoon) fresh grated ginger
  1. Remove papery membrane from the back of the beef ribs with a sharp knife and towel.
  2. Dissolve sugar, soy sauce and sherry in a bowl.
  3. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
  4. Pour over meat; marinate 3 hours to overnight.
  5. Preheat oven to 150°C (300°F).
  6. Place ribs in casserole dish, pour marinade over top. (Marinade should come to over halfway point in meat. If necessary, add more water.)
  7. Cover with wax paper and aluminium foil.
  8. Bake in oven for two to three hours, checking to see that the liquid level remains halfway covering the meat. (Add more liquid if necessary.)
  9. Once bones start to break free of meat, the ribs are done.
  10. Remove from the oven and re-cover with foil. Rest for 10 minutes to allow the meat's juices to relax.
  11. Serve hot with steamed rice.

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Johnn Four's GM Guide Books 

In addition to writing and publishing this e-zine, I have written several GM tips and advice books to inspire your games and to make GMing easier and fun:

Inns, Taverns, and Restaurants - new

How to design, map, and GM fresh encounters for RPG's most popular locales. Includes campaign and NPC advice as well, plus several generators and tables

Adventure Essentials: Holidays

Advice and tips for designing compelling holidays that not only expand your game world but provide endless natural encounter, adventure, and campaign hooks.

GM Mastery: NPC Essentials

Critically acclaimed and multiple award-winning guide to crafting, roleplaying, and GMing three dimensional NPCs for any game system and genre. This book will make a difference to your GMing.

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