Trick or Treat – October 2011 RPG Blog Carnival

The topic for this month’s RPG Blog Carnival is Making Loot Part of the Plot being hosted by Campaign Mastery. For more details about the RPG Blog Carnival visit the archive of past blog carnivals over at Nevermeet Press.

October is a container of time which brings us Halloween every year. Halloween has become a holiday where kids dress up in costumes and scour their neighborhoods for candy in a ritual known as “Trick or Treat’ing“.  This is essentially the same as an RPG ‘dungeon crawl‘.

Both of these focus on fun and loot. So we’ll do the same.

Disclaimer: I am going to assume you have gone trick or treating at least once. If you have not, you should close your web browser and make arrangements for the upcoming holiday.

The power of loot compels you

Trick or Treaters make assumptions about the street ahead of them based on their what they get at the start of a street and the perceived amount of activity.  If a street starts with little or no candy, they might skip to the next street. If an area looks inactive, they will pass over it.
Players will make similar assumptions in a game.  Players will investigate an area more ardently if they think there is something to find and an area will be more intriguing if they find something. I played in a game that derailed from the plot entirely because the players pursued particularly rich goblins rather than follow the plot hooks. Don’t underestimate the compulsion of shiny objects.

Telegraphing with trinkets

In my youth I had the pleasure of scouring some neighborhoods that really got into Halloween. I would wager this was an effect of active community organizations. I encountered neighborhood sections that all handed out “healthy candy” like boxed raisins, sections that had games/activities like at a festival, sections that were “christian-friendly“, sections focused on vampires, sections where candy giving seemed competitive, and so on. As a singularity event something like that can pique interest, but the running theme ended up being pretty fun, even if it wasn’t something I’d normally enjoy.

Loot can be used similarly to introduce or reinforce a theme. Include magic mushrooms in the loot for every encounter leading up to a myconid adventure. Give the party some spidersilk gear or scrolls of levitation in preparation for a series of vertical challenges. Make all treasure include something preserved while exploring a sprawling tomb or pyramid. Something like this can get playing interested in the actual content of their loot (not just its value) or have them anticipating what is coming up.

Tricks aren’t just for kids

Ever had rock candy? How about a rock instead of candy? Pranks and tricks are one of those things that terrorize parents, but can still be fun. Sure there are malicious pranks like razor blade apples, but there are also harmless ones like a guy pretending to be a scarecrow.

Dungeon crawls are notorious for their cursed items, such that some groups cast identify on items multiple times before using anything. You can however have fun with tricks without having to resort to cursed items. On a quest for a powerful magical McGuffin, the players could encounter repeated Gnomish Knock-offs. The players might even start collecting Holly Avengers while helping a Paladin search for their church’s lost relic. Instead of finding standard treasure, other goods can be a surprise leading to more adventure. Players might be sent to recover the lost Jewel of the Nile, or the treasure trove of a warlord is actually mostly livestock, human and beast alike, requiring slightly more thought as to how to split the loot.

Looting your treasured childhood memories

Some things that were awesome when we were younger, are still awesome. Halloween is one of those things that will always be awesome regardless of age. The magic lantern you found might belong to Jack and he wants it back. The weapon room full of wooden weapons might get overlooked before anyone realizes whats at stake. There are plenty of ways that you can mirror this and other Halloween customs in your games. Just don’t be afraid to borrow or convert from your own adventures.

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3 Responses to Trick or Treat – October 2011 RPG Blog Carnival

  1. Nice post, but I have to correct you on one major point: the October Blog Carnival is being hosted by Campaign Mastery http://www.campaignmastery.com , not Tower Of The Archmage!

  2. Great stuff. I’ve never made the connection between trick-or-treating and dungeon crawling, but you are absolutely right… not just in-game, but the act of roleplaying can be seen as a form of dressing up in costume.

    It scares me how well trick-or-treating behaviour maps out onto dungeon crawling activities (maybe that just says something about human decision making). When you don’t get the expected loot there is a definite desire for retribution (egging a house or wiping out a tribe of orcs) – and like you said, expected treats define the pattern of exploration, When I was a kid there was a house a few streets away that always gave out cans of pop on Halloween (the owner must have worked for Coca-Cola or something), we would plan our route so we could stop there at least twice for a refreshing drink – it reminds me a a certain fountain my party found in Undermountain that could heal the drinker once a day :)

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