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Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #500

Top 100 City Encounters and Plots - Part 1



This Week's Tips Summarized 

Top 100 City Encounters and Plots - Part 1

  1. Top 100 City Encounters and Plots - Part 1

Game Master Tips & Tricks

  1. Links To Laws
  2. Obstacle Course Ideas
  3. Extra XP For The Trailer
  4. Link: Play By Forum Games
  5. Link: Virtual Gametable Software

RPG Reviews

  1. Agents Of The Crown
  2. Wrack & Rune
  3. High Valor

Johnn Four's GM Guide Books


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A Brief Word From Johnn 


I started the newsletter in November 1999 as a way to help everyone, including myself, become a better game master. That year we were plagued with Y2K panic, Windows 98 was released, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released and Napster launched.

In the RPG world, D&D fans eagerly consumed each issue of Dragon magazine to learn more about the upcoming release of 3rd Edition. Also, 7th Sea, Aberrant, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, Lejendary Adventures and Nobilis were released, among others. (Source: RPG Encyclopedia: 1999)

In my world, I was just leaving the banking industry and starting a new career making websites; my friends and I were playing a lot of D&D, Ars Magica and a bit of Rolemaster; and I was living in an apartment so small I was renting storage for my boxes of RPG books and other books.

The newsletter would not have hit the 500 mark without your tips and feedback over the years. While the game industry has changed a lot since 1999, running a great game has not, and your experience and submissions have helped me and GMs around the world become better at their beloved craft. I hope you continue to send in and share your tips and ideas.

Roleplaying Tips also owes a debt of gratitude to the many volunteers who have helped write and edit the newsletter, plus maintain the website, over the years. Thanks to Scott, Steve, Hannah, John, David, Erin, Gavin, Leslie, Isaac, Ria and many others for your help. (I hate doing name lists because I always miss someone - if that's you, my apologies, I blame the tinfoil breakfast cereal I eat every day.)

What's in store for RPT in the future? Good question. No big changes are planned, except one - I am taking the newsletter bi-weekly again, as various projects and life duties encroach on time I'd use for the newsletter more and more. I am currently experimenting with a new RPG Reviews column - thanks to everyone who sent in positive and negative feedback about this; more feedback is welcome. The website has remained unchanged since 2000, and I'd like to make some improvements on that. I plan on continuing with contests and the For Your Game column.

Reader Tips will either be phased out or have a sporadic presence as submissions have basically stopped coming in. That's a shame as it was a favourite part of the newsletter for me. I'm open to ideas on how to generate more, but I think blogs, forums and other venues compete for tipsters' attention and writing. Contests are a good way to generate tips, but I like the random one-off tips from readers that used to pour in back in the day. Perhaps prizes might generate more submissions, or making tip requests.

I'm toying with the idea of doing interviews with GMs to draw out more GMing advice and wisdom. If you are interested in being interviewed, drop me a note.

The RPT blog, that I write with Mike Bourke, has been a tremendous success, so that will continue. And I have just finished writing a new ebook that will be released soon, and have started on another, so if you have liked my works in the past I hope you'll enjoy what's coming up.

Since issue #1, approximately 2,160,035 words have been written, edited and published in the newsletter. There have been approximately 6,500 tips. The newsletter currently enjoys 5,313 email subscribers, 3,300 RSS subscribers, and about 20,000 monthly unique website visitors.

That comes to about 30,000 of us trying to become better GMs! To all of you, I say have more fun at every game by being the best GM you can. I hope you stick with me for another 500 issues.

Download All 500 Issues, Plain Text

You can grab all the issues since #1, in plain text format just like they were published, in a single zipped file.

Get some gaming done this week!


Johnn Four,

Campaign Mastery

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Core Rules

The House of Blue Men

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Top 100 City Encounters and Plots - Part 1  

Over 720 entries were submitted to the City Encounters contest. That smashes my goal of 500 to celebrate that many issues - thanks to everyone who entered! Winners have been contacted and prizes distributed.

All entries will be available for download soon. In the meantime, I have sifted through and picked 100 entries that I thought were excellent or that tickled my fancy.

This week, I offer you part 1 - the first 50 entries in my Top 100. I hope you find these useful for your campaigns.

  1. The town guard think the party's mage is responsible for a magical duel fought atop the cathedral roof last night. Can the party find the real culprit before they are hunted down themselves? Do they dare, knowing that the criminal dispatched his last opponent with a frighteningly high level spell?
  2. The party is taken aside to the guardhouse upon first entering the city. They are told the guard captain wants to speak with them. When the captain arrives, he attempts to shake down the party under pain of death.
  3. A woman falls into the street from the second story window in front of the party and dies on impact. Soon after, a PC notices a hooded figure skillfully dropping, uninjured, from another second story window facing into the alley. The figure quickly disappears into a maze of side streets.
  4. The party is invited to a manor by an important socialite for a potential job opportunity. When they arrive, they are told to wait in an empty room. Soon after entering the room, the party realizes they are locked in with a magical ward.
  5. The party stops to witness a funeral procession for a crime lord. Soon after passing, the party hears an explosion and sees a gigantic smoking fireball rise into the sky a block away.
  6. In need of food and shelter from the elements (or from enemies), the characters come to a ruined tower full of revelling adventurers. But the Rules of the House say no one may enter until they have entertained the rabble with a rousing tale.
  7. As you step out of the tavern, a disheveled girl smashes into you. "Wilkenson's dog is loose again!" she exclaims as she attempts to hide behind you. You turn back in the direction she came to see a metal construct resembling a dog charging toward you.
  8. The PCs spot a pregnant woman walking through the bazaar. As she passes the baker's stall she quickly grabs a loaf of bread and keeps walking, favouring one of the PCs with a wink as she goes. Is she a thief or the wife of the store owner?
  9. The PCs are resting in their inn room when suddenly the door bursts open. A well-armed man with weapon drawn storms in and says, "Don't move, I've...crap, wrong room." The intruder then quickly exits.
  10. The PCs find the item they have been seeking in the marketplace. As the purchase is completed and they are about to leave, a stranger rushes up to the merchant shouting, "I know you have it Balthasar, and I want my back now!"
  11. The inhabitants of a large building start a war against an identical neighboring building. At the beginning it's because they are accused of stealing their water, but in fact they have held many petty grudges for years and this way they can vent them out violently. The party is hired by fearful authorities to stop the revolt that threatens to scale into a civil war, but one of the tenants in the rebel building is a PC's distant relative. Does the party intervene impartially, risking a family feud or do they help the relative exact revenge against his neighbors?
  12. The party is mistaken by a wealthy man as carriage caretakers in a shantytown neighborhood. He hands them money to protect his vehicle. The legitimate caretakers challenge the PCs and try to steal the wealthy wagon. Does the party protect the rich man's vehicle or do they leave the locals to do as they please, risking later persecution by the noble client?
  13. 13. The PCs arrive at the inn and find a large group (at least three times their number) of mercenaries leaving for the jail where they plan to execute all the prisoners. The party is connected to one of the inmates (an old, recurrent, but not particularly hated enemy, maybe they put him behind bars in the first place) and wishes him to remain alive for some reason. Do they face the killers, race to save the prisoner first, warn the prisoners or set them all free?
  14. The city has a zoo filled with wondrous and dangerous creatures brought from far places. Just recently, some of the creatures escaped and now there is a royal reward for recovering the rare animals unharmed. How can this be done?
  15. A sector of the city lies under quarantine after an outbreak of a mysterious fever. The party is being kept inside, and one of its members is starting to show symptoms of the illness. Do they try to escape, risking further contagion, or do they try to find a cure from the inside?
  16. The PCs are being chased by a criminal party through the streets of a city that celebrates its anniversary with improvised shows over plazas. They get caught in the middle of a show, in front of a demanding audience. The only way the mob will let them leave is by doing a successful artistic performance.
  17. A gypsy intercepts the most charismatic member of the party and tells him of a vision she had. She predicts the party member will find a beautiful person in this city and it will be the love of his life. She provides no further details. Later on, a beautiful person flirts with the character.
  18. One member of the party is seen carrying an exotic weapon and the authority of the local museum is told about it. This museum curator has been an adventurer and masters some kind of whip weapon. He prepares an ambush to steal the exotic weapon, yelling at the PCs on sight, "That belongs in a museum!"
  19. The Tourist. The PCs have messed up (possibly been framed) in the eyes of the King and have been apprehended. The King will release the party, if they allow a wealthy, influential and obese merchant to come along on a dungeon delve, where there are sure to be many tight spaces.
  20. Medieval Proliferation. Two blacksmiths are in competition to create better melee weapons for the King's army and only one can win the contract. One of the blacksmiths approaches the PCs to try the weapons and plead their virtues to the King. He also claims his competitors are playing dirty.
  21. Kindergarten Magic. Street urchins are rumored to have special powers. A representative of the Magicians Guild approaches your party to investigate. In reality, they are learning magic from an unknown source. The children have less inhibition and magical control, but have much more mana and capability of replenishing mana, making them dangerous magic users.
  22. As the PCs turn a corner, a law enforcement officer slams into them at breakneck speed. As they help him up, they notice he is covered in blood with grievous wounds. As he dies in their arms, he begs them to find his wife and relay his sincerest love and apologies.
  23. "Psst, do you want to buy a crystal ball that really works? It's cheap!" says a shady character while sneaking up on the PCs from an alley. The price really is cheap, and you might even lead the PCs to believe the ball works when they try to use it for petty things, but it is unreliable, maybe even cursed. And the big problem is that one or more groups of NPCs badly want this crystal ball.
  24. The PCs witness a break-in at a shop. If they intervene, then right at the end of the encounter the shop owner shows up and accuses the PCs of breaking in and causing damage in his shop. He immediately calls for the guard.
  25. The party runs over or mortally injures a shepherd's goat by accident. After apologizing, the shepherd starts demanding money equivalent to three or four times what the goat's value is. Then, as things settle down, another shepherd comes up and displays another goat injured. City guards start to show an interest in the event as well....
  26. A merchant discovers the PCs are buying something and comes to give them a more expensive offer for something of lesser quality. However, the merchant insists this is a good deal as his cousin works for the town hall and will cause great grief to the party if they refuse his offer.
  27. Two speeding coaches collide, leaving a bloody scene and angry families. The road is blocked, and the guards seem disinterested in assisting with either clearing the road or arbitrating between the families.
  28. Townspeople come up to the party and blame them for the local infestation of evil. If the PCs weren't there, so the argument goes, the evil would go elsewhere. A crowd gathers in support of their fellow citizens.
  29. There is but one accepted religion in town. What about the party cleric who serves what is here deemed a false god?
  30. Young lovers have taken the PCs' room as refuge to meet in. They are sought after by families that do not approve.
  31. Injustice breaks out as revolution against a tyrant. The PCs are there to see the first flames, and may play a pivotal role in either supporting or crushing the uprising.
  32. A fast ship in the bay is bombarding the helpless port with siege engines. It's out of range for the locals to deal with, and possibly not alone.
  33. The PCs hear shrieks from a dark alley where a young maiden just went. Under the full moon, she is painfully turning into a werewolf for the first time.
  34. There have long been rumours of the cemetery being desecrated by someone stealing the corpses. One night the PCs chance upon the necromancer walking home with newly animated undead.
  35. One or more PCs are short-changed by a merchant who considers himself untouchable. Whether he truly is....
  36. An NPC seeks the protection of the PCs. To grant it makes her enemies the PCs' enemies, and gives them the responsibility to protect a high-profile, fragile person who can't or won't leave town.
  37. PCs are marked by a guild of thieves or assassins for a contest. Low-skill, would-be guild members keep targeting the party with attempts on their health or goods.
  38. The spoiled child of a noble finds a PC has something he just *has to have*. The noble's staff does what it can to acquire it, by nearly any means necessary.
  39. The appearance of the PCs breaks the balance of a cold war between two rival mages. Each wishes their support to destroy the other, and fears that the other is successful in recruiting the PCs.
  40. A string of building construction accidents has occurred lately throughout the city. Fortunately, no one's been seriously hurt, but the accidents are increasing in size and damage. The local guild has put up flyers asking for help in solving their problem.
  41. As the PCs walk across a bridge over the river that cuts through town, they notice a couple of young boys standing near the edge of the bridge. They each have a large rock in their hands, and are watching one of the approaching river boats with smiles on their faces. As the boat gets closer, one of the boys raises his rock as if he is going to drop it.
  42. While travelling down by the docks, a ship captain waves the PCs over to talk. He's in a bind, he explains, saying that some of his dock workers didn't show up for work and he has a lot of cargo to load onto his ship so he can make the tide. The captain and crew look disreputable, and nervous, but he is willing to pay well for the work.
  43. The PCs come upon a sobbing woman holding a teenage boy who looks to have been severely beaten. If the PCs ask the woman if they can help, she explains her youngest son was beaten up by a gang of toughs. Of more immediate danger though, is that her oldest son has gone off to exact revenge on them, and she's afraid of what they will do to him.
  44. Down the dimly lit alley, two guards can be seen beating a kneeling man. One rips a coin purse from the kneeling man's belt and says, "Don't be late next month, old man."
  45. Storm clouds hang heavy, and thick cold rain pounds down as it has for hours. Gutters gurgle, and the sewers moan as if carrying some great weight. From a drain, a swarm of thousands of black rats burst out and charge the PCs.
  46. As the PCs are travelling from one district to another they are confronted by a traffic jam. A building has fallen in and the umber hulk responsible is hiding, waiting for a snack to move near it.
  47. The PCs are hired as security for the auction of a mysterious artifact. While stopping repeated theft and auction-rigging attempts, they eventually learn of its evil nature and have to debate breaking their contract and destroying the thing while getting away with it.
  48. Someone falls out the window of a high building. It wasn't suicide as he had his hands and feet bound together and three large sacks of gold tied around his neck. What will be more important, the murder or the money?
  49. A rich man walks through a bad part of town with obvious riches and money. If mugged, he gives it willingly. He has been doing this for the last three days.
  50. A small animal brushes past the PCs as they walk along a dock. After it jumps into the water, a group of sailors rushes onto the dock, firing crossbows and flinging harpoons at the ripples the animal left in the water. While the sailors curse and fire the last few missiles they have, one of the PCs notices the animal left a muddy gem on the top of her shoe.

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Game Master Tips & Tricks 

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

1. Links To Laws 

via the GMMastery Yahoo! Group

From Randal:

Hamurabi's Code of Laws

I found this interesting and educational. I particularly like rule 5.

It seems like the laws were fairly balanced back then. And this is Bronze Age stuff. Has anyone done something similar to this for their game world?

The thing I found balanced was the inter-class laws. Kill a man and you will be killed. Knock out someone's teeth and your teeth will be knocked out. Build a house and it collapses and kills someone, then you will be killed. Very strict.

I think it is important to give your different cultures some different laws. For example, the city of Ren is a merchant society. Almost everything is allowed and every crime is associated with a fine. If you can't pay the fine then they amputate parts of the body or sell you into servitude. Kill someone and you can buy down your punishment. In this city money is king.

But in T'Aarn, crimes are met with imprisonment, hard labor, amputation, and death. Very few fines are levied and you can't buy your way out of punishment. This goes back to the injustices caused by the wealthy.

In the Empire of Endrak, women have few rights, non-humans are slaves, humans can be indentured, and the rich can offer one of their slaves to take their place for punishment. Thus, death is the most common punishment. They are also over-crowded and terrified of another slave revolt. There are secret police who go from town to town to listen for anti-imperial rumblings and search for heresies against the God-King.

The Phylinx, cat folk, don't have structured laws, but have a chieftain court to deliberate and issue punishment. Much of their law is based on survival. Endanger the group and you are likely to be banished or sent on a quest of redemption. Kill someone in a fair fight and you might be praised as a warrior. Murder someone and your belongings will be seized and you will be branded and banished.

Most of the time these things hover around in the background and don't affect the game. But sometimes the law comes into play so you might as well have a concept of how it works in your city/campaign.

From Garry Stahl

Atlas of Law

[Comment from Johnn: I think settings are critical to RPG and important tools for GMs, and the biggest trap is not designing a setting for game use. Most GMs run a setting as trivia, looking to use details and novelty to improve gameplay. Instead, they should look at the setting as a way to create interesting campaign, adventure and encounter crucibles.

Laws are a great example of setting design for gameplay. In my Riddleport game, for example, it is illegal to harm the property of mages who are members of the Order of Cyphers. If you steal, damage or destroy a mage's property (and a mage's health and body are considered his property - but not his soul) you are struck down and brought to trial by the Order.

This has made a huge difference in how the PCs handle encounters with mage NPCs. And on the flip side, NPCs treat the PC mage with a great deal of respect, or at least, they do not attack him or steal his stuff. :)

In this case, a setting element was designed with gameplay in mind.

So, I think GMs should work on their settings a lot - but not to build a mountain of trivia - rather, to have some interesting effect on gameplay for short term (encounter) or long term (campaign) consequences.]

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2. Obstacle Course Ideas 

From Josh

re: Roleplaying Tips Issue #335

In response to Jerry's obstacle course request, every once in awhile I run PCs through things like this. A fun tactic is to include the entire party, but to divide them up and to only allow them to fulfill specific functions.

So, maybe the best climber will climb the wall, but the best archer takes on the role of firing arrows for him to grab so that he can climb. Then, the group's fighter must defend the archer from a pack of wild dogs, and the group's spell caster must keep the fighter alive with healing spells.

In a team effort like this, everyone must do their part. If the climber is too slow, the fighter and archer will die. But, if the healer fails to keep the fighter alive, the climber has no chance to reach the top, etc.

You could apply this teamwork principle as a climax to a series of regular obstacles to make it more intense. Maybe the PCs have been chased by the wild dogs through the entire course, which is why the fighter would need to keep the archer alive at the end. This would also give a dire sense of urgency to the group, especially if the fighter was not allowed to use lethal weapons, only wooden batons or something of that nature.

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3. Extra XP For The Trailer 

From Andrew "BlueNinja" Tripp

With my last group, I was running a game in a TV episodic format. At the end of every episode, there would be a vote among the players of which character did the most to advance the storyline, did the best job of staying in character, or just plain added the most fun to the episode. The winner received an extra 1XP (White Wolf system), and the opportunity to script out the trailer for next week's episode.

Since all the player scripting the trailer got was a hint, trailers seldom had anything to do with the actual events of the episode it was supposed to portray, but it helped encourage creativity. Depending on the format of the game, you could call it a trailer, a back-cover synopsis, a cutscene, etc.

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4. Link: Play By Forum Games 

From Andrew "BlueNinja" Tripp

For players looking for games, especially super-hero games, is a play-by-forum-post site. Our most popular games right now are Aberrant, Mutants and Masterminds and BESM, but there's over half a dozen game systems and two dozen games looking for more players.

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5. Link: Virtual Gametable Software 

From Johnn Four

RPT reader Allison emailed me this question:

Hey! I have recently moved 2 hours from my gaming group, and have no way to keep the campaign going other than with the help of the internet. Do you know of any instant messenger type software that has a dice roller and other useful things built in?

Here was my response:

You have some great options. Each has a bit of a learning curve, so I suggest checking each out briefly, picking one, and sticking with it at least three hours before deciding. Sometimes it just takes awhile to learn how to do the basics before software's potential opens up for you.

There are others. Looks for a links page at the Battlegrounds site for a killer list of more software.

Alternatively, you can use IM software like Skype, and a separate online dice roller. But, I like the software above, with their added features.

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RPG Reviews 

Agents Of The Crown (3 out of 5) 

Review by Mike Bourke

I co-referee a Pulp Campaign, and am soon to start a super hero campaign set in a mid-21st century British Empire, so I was looking at this product from a number of perspectives.

Unfortunately, it was deficient for all of these purposes save one: if you are running any sort of pulp or modern campaign, you *will* get ideas from the content here. As a source of inspiration, it's quite excellent.

In all other areas, including that of its stated purpose, it falls short; sometimes by just a little, sometimes by a quite substantial margin. Perhaps the most serious flaw comes in the paragraphs devoted to the politics of the Victorian Government, where the author states "this is too complicated to summarise here." I'm sorry, that just doesn't cut it. What IS there is well-done but insufficient and inadequate.

Much to my surprise, the first chapter, on the origins of the characters in this game setting, proved to be the most useful and inspirational. I had expected it to be either the fourth chapter, the background on the Victorian Era, or the fifth, which offers a number of NPCs to build scenarios around, as both allies and antagonists.

There's plenty of value here for anyone running a pulp-style game, but overall I was disappointed. Don't expect to run it from this source book and the basic rules alone - you will need a lot of additional reference and research - there's a somewhat short starting point in the bibliography.

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Wrack & Rune (Faster Monkey Games) (4.5 out of 5) 

Review by Mike Bourke

This is a fun, well-thought-out little adventure. Although it is designed for Labyrinth Lord, and described as being compatible only with "older editions" of D&D, it will work with any D&D-related fantasy game. I would happily run it for D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder, and expect that it will also work for 4e.

The module itself is practically a masterclass in logical scenario creation. It starts by setting up a situation in which the PCs have a time limit and a puzzle to solve. It then gives the DM information about the setting of that puzzle, and deals with the process of investigation in the sequence that PCs will logically encounter them. It then gives the GM the solution to the mystery, so that he can put subsequent encounters and information in context.

A series of connections leads from the starting point to encounters that in turn provide the different pieces of the solution, but getting them will need more than combat skills; it will require roleplay and a bit of nous on the part of the players. None of it feels unnatural or forced, and that is a lot harder to pull off than most people think.

The details of these solution points - and a possible side quest - then lead to the solution to the mystery, but the PCs problems have only just started; acting on it will seriously challenge the creativity and battle skills of the players. So there's something in this module for everyone.

Only a couple of minor problems make this module less than perfect. The solution to the final problem seems a little anticlimactic, which is a bit of a let-down, since it falls just when you would expect it to ramp up for a big finish. This can easily be fixed with a little creativity on the part of the GM, but the solution implies a third part to the adventure, drawing on various elements that are mentioned in the published material.

The second problem is that the scenario contains a number of rambling speeches from a slightly senile old woman, but no real suggestion about how to make the resulting segues plausible. It would have been nice to at least have the bones of a narrative thread to follow; this part of the module gives the impression that it has been written by someone who has never had a conversation with someone in that condition, and the result is superficial and rings false. To avoid undermining this critical element of the adventure, the GM will have to create these narrative structures themselves.

Despite these flaws, which suggest that actually playing this adventure will require a little extra prep time, this remains a better-written module than many I've read. That is why those flaws are so jarring - because the rest is so well-done. Is it worth the asking price? Before I read it, I was dubious. Now, I answer: absolutely!

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High Valor (3.5 out of 5)  

Review by Nick Deane

High Valor is a fantasy roleplaying game set in the world of Aeia, a fairly standard fantasy world based (like so many others) on medieval Europe. Beasts and monsters haunt the wilderness between towns and villages, and the demonic Fane- Lords seek the corruption and downfall of man. The characters are heroes who will encounter, and hopefully thwart, such evils.

At 140 pages the rulebook is a respectable size, with 41 pages focusing on the setting background and 26 pages for the game master's section. Character creation takes up 23 pages while the basic mechanics take up a total of 5 pages. Artwork is black and white, and complements the layout and feel of the book quite nicely.

Character generation is relatively simple. The first step is to pick your character's race - Dvegr (dwarves), Fomoradgh (beastmen who rejected the Fane-Lords who created them), Human, Sidda (fey elves) and Sidhain (magic-tainted humans).

The next step is to pick your character's Traits, abilities which give bonuses to related checks depending upon their rank.

The third step is picking a profession, which means adding more Traits to the character sheet.

Then you allocate dice to your Feat Pools, which are High Valor's closest equivalents to fixed attributes. Each Feat Pool - Valor, Faith and Will - starts with 1 dice and five additional dice to divide between them.

Finally, the payer chooses a Challenge for his character - a weakness or flaw that will bedevil the character throughout the campaign, such as Lancelot's forbidden love for Guinevere in the Arthurian legends.

Game mechanics are straightforward. The player rolls a number of ten-sided dice equal to the relevant Feat Pool, takes the highest roll and adds the bonus for up to two Traits which apply to the situation. If the highest roll is a 10 then the next highest roll is added to the total.

Traits are merely names or descriptions - it is up to the player or Teller (as the game master is known in High Valour) to apply them to checks they feel are relevant. The target number is determined by the difficulty of the task, ranging from Lesser to Legendary. Overall, the game mechanics are quite simple but encourage players to look for ways to apply their character's most advantageous Traits to a situation.

This leads into probably my biggest gripe with High Valor - the combat system doesn't make the grade. While I firmly believe there's more to roleplaying than simple hack 'n' slash in a fantasy RPG, battles are an integral component. The combat system for High Valor simply gives a rank from Lesser to Legendary representing how capable an opponent is, which applies to all Traits - attack defence, even interaction skills. The rank determines the target number to defeat the creature in one hit, however the combat rules state that instead of going for a one-shot kill you can try a series of rolls at a lower level, just like wearing down a creature's hit points in AD&D.

The big problem is that there are no guidelines for how many of these lesser rolls you have to succeed at to win the battle, or if they actually weaken your opponent before you reach the magic killing number. That is a major failure in my book. The fact that the monsters of each challenge level are effectively identical only makes this deficiency even more glaringly conspicuous.

Despite the failure of the combat system there is a lot of good stuff in High Valor. One of the things I liked most about this game, which I feel will also be of great help to game masters, is the level of supporting material. The beginning introduction lists a wide variety of possible themes and goals for a High Valor campaign, from hunting monsters to gaining renown - not just 'kill things and take their stuff.'

Each race is given a list of sample names to pick from, but the authors have also listed the languages those names derive from, so players can do a little research of their own to have a wider pool of names to choose from. The chapter on the world setting covers a wide range of topics, giving an overview of a number of locations as well as such details as types of coins and common herbs. Finally, the chapter on game mastering gives a lot of excellent advice about game mastering any roleplaying game, not just High Valor. Printing this chapter separately and giving it out to new or inexperienced GMs would be a great way to boost their confidence and avoid many beginner's mistakes.

To sum up, High Valor is a very straightforward and simple fantasy RPG with an interesting setting and encouragement throughout the book to role-play rather than roll-play. The authors have obviously put quite a deal of effort into the product, as shown by the quality of presentation and the fluff text. Even with the flaws in the combat system I'd give this game a 3.5 out of 5. If those problems are fixed I'd have no hesitation in giving High Valor a 4 out of 5.

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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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