Get Motive, Means and Madness All In One Shot
Session Zero is that ONE chance for the DM to get everyone in on their story. How do you get this right? Here is a brief one-minute read for making it happen.
- Matching Backgrounds: The players survived a few great events TOGETHER - ask them what that is. Saw a demon lord walk through town? Given seven large spare / shed scales from a shape-changed dragon? Fought an old grizzled-retired orc as a kid-gang and made him leave town for good? What?
- Matching Motives: The wizard has a magic item formula-pattern that will be great on the fighter’s weapon or armour. The rogue has a map to that lost Wonky The Wizard’s tower thought lost a century and a half ago. The fighter overheard details from gang members at his bar - they will be shipping the illicit goods in a weeks time - midnight at the third dock, seventh peer… if only he knew a rogue to translate the rest of the Thieves Kant!
- Matching Adventures: The top two set the entire tone, plan and pace of the entire game - they co operatively enjoy the contributions each makes to the group. No one writes up a Special Snowflake background of ten pages. No one shows up with a blank sheet of paper asking ‘how do you play and why are we here?’ They are in this together because they have all explained to you why they are here and what they are going to do with your time.
But how is this done? Run them through some rooms.
Throw Some Dice At A Sheet Of Paper = Game On!
It's time to share the secrets behind making a dungeon in minutes. After reviewing decades of Lore of Yore, I made a 7-Die ultimate guide to share my best tips to help you make amazing dungeons.
Ingredients - Game in Minutes, Please (G.i.M.P):
- Dice: the traditional set of seven D&D dice (d4, d6, d8, d10, other d10, d12 & d20)
- Character sheets: players have choice of up to Ten Basic Characters (six ability scores, class, race & gear - ready to read / plans to play)
- Paper & Pencil: any piece of paper (with enough space for the dice to roll) will do - some prefer graph paper, but a standard 8"x11" or even foolscap is perfectly fine.
That's it. You are ready to cook! Baking time, five minutes.
- Gently throw the dice at the paper - some end up on the floor? Toss less hard.
- Draw Boxes: a different size rectangle-box around each of these dice - 'small box' should be bigger than a thumb-print / a 'big box' is smaller than a fist-print.
- Draw in lines (two lines that are close and sort of parallel make tubes) semi-randomly connecting all the boxes together. If you want, put in an extra tube or two that connects different boxes or even have it wander off.
You now have a complete dungeon. But what is in it?
Each location has a different type of room determined by whatever the die rolled. You can use the roll you got on the paper for all the charts or roll again.
The Main Entrance / Grand Exit / Next Level - rolling d4
- Flight of stairs. Extra-options: narrows, widens, railings, open face, nifty landing
- Go Right In OR Door-like Closure. Options: portcullis - bars - gate - double door - secret door(s) - ramp
- Artsy &/or Curvy: Spiral - curved - switchback (multiple alternating flights)
- Drop: Shaft - elevator - bridge - drawbridge - double helix - dumbwaiter - rails system - trapdoor
But who or what awaits at this egress / entrance / exit / level-game changer?
- Guarded by a THEME monster! See Monster Type, the d20 room
- Guarded Remotely / Previously: Scouts, moat monster, dudes with bows in trees, sky monster, chameleon-hidden-camouflage, sentry-scout-out-house, troll-toll bridge, etc.
- Trap: spring trap (blades, arrows, spikes), pit trap (capture-trapping then fills with sand &/or water /
- Locked door: May need to add a door.
Friend In Need - Your d6
- Prisoners: captured spies of a race-species of one of the party, a known friend to the party, torture chambers, held for ransom, traitors to their own,
- My enemy's enemy:
- Slaves: 'allies' because of consequences.
- Untamed / unbroken monster: meant to be an ally, but hasn't happened... yet.
- Zoo / pets / circus: creatures meant to be entertaining / not meant for combat.
- 'Livestock' creatures: Possibly sentient beings kept as fodder for monsters or enemy populace
This Changes Everything - A d8
- A Giant Map: Floor / of floor tiles, engraved, large carpet. Wall / fresco, mural, Art: gigantic tapestry. Mosaic / anywhere. On armour that interlinks (group of shields). a reveals where a treasure, McGuffin, weapon-in-storage,
- The Plan: overheard discussion &/or battle-table reveals where the next big strike will be
- Evil Servants of Some Greater Evil: revealed in statues, shrine other.
- Important Stolen Thing - Stored here in this very room: possibly it looks harmless or is complex, needs special fuel / sacrifice / expensive component / ritual
- Locked down Horror: mindless beasts released, disease bottled up, geyser of oozes - something that was left by a previous owner of this dungeon was not meant to see the light of day - kept here.
- Diary Revelation: Deep Dark Secret of one or more pivotal-key enemy person(s)
- Discovery: the bad guys are being deceived by a leader-in-disguise for some ulterior motive
The Rote - d10 - The Usual / Grindable Grunts
- troops: ready for combat or combat training.
- fallow: troops that are eating, sleeping or otherwise armed & armoured - but not in tactical formation.
- sleeping: troops not prepared with armour, arms &/or tactics (gear nearby).
- non combattants: old, very young, pregnant, sick, wounded.
- entertained / event: possibly armed - light or 'show' weapons & armour. Ready with tactics.
- farming: non-military with light gear ('farming tools')
- tradespersons: may have weapons & armour / may be retired military ('blacksmith'), trade pending.
- troop transfer: troops from another location, another garrison, or changing tasks.
- religious ritual, event, speech &/or guest:
- relevant crafting (weapons, clothing, study-research, combat practice)
Allied Monster - d10 -
- big yet stupid ally:
- group of visitors:
- quasi-predictable / well-placed monster:
- broken in & broken
- release in case of emergency!
- mind controlled
- reclaimed ally that went good and then bad again
Unusual Ally / Reluctant Enemy - d10 (00)
- brutes of war trained to fight / burnt out, wounded, recognize a mark on PCs that suggest that they are friends.
- competition animals meant to look good or race
- creatures gladiatorial: fight one another or matched individually or against teams
- massive 'dire' or giant versions of common yet edible animals - large spiders, mutant lobsters, chicken-dinosaur hybrids, massive deer,
- outright dangerous animal like an alligator or hippopotamus... or trout with a bad attitude
- tragically twisted versions of humanoids / still fight but not otherwise functional in their society
- chained &/or tortured monsters that function as traps - for anyone that ends up there
- chattel servants that can also defend, albeit meekly & weakly
- traps that are sentient, learn or extensively complicated
- twisted, converted, fallen or tempted
Tricks, Traps & Other Tight-Spot Trepidation - d12
- You Drop - pit, pit with cover or lid, chute, slide, slippery slope-stairs,
- Things drop on you: any of the piercing, slashing or bludgeoning stuff.
- Things move you or to you: floor changes location, floor changes texture or slope or even colour.
- Things move you - at a vulnerable or difficult spot into yet more danger: into spikes, flow of element (wind, water, fire, sand), flow of objects (bones, parts, blades, iron spheres, caltrops).
- traps that capture &/or reduce options - doors close, walls slide into place, cage bars drop, silence magic, darkness, flash of blinding light, loud deafening-stunning noise, doors close-lock, sand. Mist, grass or shadows covers feet and legs / cover for possible problem, monster or other trap. water prevents jumping or movement
- traps that root / slow - frost, net, sleep, poison-intoxication (drunk, confused, inebriate, medicate), web or oozes)
- traps that warn, summon &/or give enemy resources (e.g. fire for fire dragons or fire giants or iron golems or 'poison' for green dragons and undead or frost molds that suck up heat etc.)
- partial or complete destruction damage sequence of room, zone or area kicks off.
- distraction: invaders believe minor inconvenience happened but greater problem is developing elsewhere
- forces a deal or negotiation &/or blackmail: danger revealed as possible threat to ally, punishment or 'death trap' / negations forced / conditions given. 'Surrender your weapons or this random innocent suffers [consequence(s)]'
- combo, roll here twice on a d10
- combo, roll twice - with this roll, add yet another option!
Wide, Far Reaching, Pivotal Problem: Change In The Roost - d12
- monstrous: invasion-threat of small number / individual yet powerful monsters.
- civil disagreement / strife / strike / inside war / power change
- diplomatic tension: friends or enemies changing stance rapidly, unilaterally &/or unexpectedly.
- McGuffin lost, stolen &/or missing - or needs to be destroyed (& soon).
- death of valued-valuable: friend, ally, pet, McGuffin - or even important enemy of enemy
- scandal, dishonour, discredit, ruinous revelation triggering 1. or 2. or 3. or 7. or 9.
- Great Event: new leadership, rare observed situation (eclipse), birth of new world order or person
- Discovery! Weal or Woe - must send adventurer-team / explorers / experts to deal with or investigate
- War / invasion: ranged plans to defeat &/or destroy adversary - brand-new &/or ancient - close &/or far.
- McGuffin: item that is gained, found or revealed to be a local Game Changer / resource tipper.
- Rivalry: similar group / underdog vs. ruling champion / competition.
- something from the Big List of Adventuring Ideas - these are fun but not so simple.
d20 - Monster Type & motivation style / reason you kill them:
- Aberration - fear maker but not monger: confusion; unexpected & alien intelligence
- Beasts - feral / diseased / wild / swarm (small) - some are large-dire but not monstrous (??)
- Celestial - Judgemental - You Are NOT Worthy / Cleanse anything unclean / Gain power for implementing-enforcing the seven heavenly virtues.
- Construct - unfeeling, strict rules, robotic, minimalistic. Mute.
- Dragon - arrogance, pride, vanity, sloth, gluttony, envy, greed - six of seven deadly sins... but not 'lust' so much. Even 'good' metallic ones are deeply 'sinful'
- Elemental - Four Elements: Sanguine (air / curious-skeptical sylphs), Phlegmatic (water / inspired nymph), Choleric (fire / salamander),Melancholic (earth / industry-gnome)
- Fae - 'Elf' unpredictable + 'Elemental' moody + Immortal / Immoral
- Fiend - 'What Could Possibly Go Wrong'. Also hungers for suffering... of anyone, even self &/or 'allies'. Beyond trust &/or faith - even if the deal goes well.
- Giant - antisocial &/or resents visitors. Resents small, puny, short and insignificant lives.
- Monstrosity - like 'beast' but much bigger / sometimes has wild magic
- Ooze - sneaky - fits under doors / silent / slippery. Always hungry, always mindless, never reasonable.
- Plant - weedlike creepy & resents cutbacks. Paranoid with fire. Distrusts & resents cultured civilization (hypocritically: 'if elves do it, it is very good - but otherwise society is BAD')
- Undead - you become one of them / reek of undeath-unnatural.
- Humanoid - Dwarf - 'All Work & No Play'. Resents disorderly action &/or thinking.
- Humanoid - Elf - decadent, chaotic, sarcastic, distracted &/or flip-flighty.
- Humanoid - goblin - 'Too Many Secrets' - scheming, plotting &/or nefarious
- Humanoid - orc - 'Break Everything' - excessively aggressive-social
- Humanoid - Monster (goblin, orc, grimlock, kuo toa)
- Humanoid with half beast part(s): (centaur, minotaur, harpy, bullywug, mermaid, kenku, tabaxi, tortle, etc.) - is as beast's worst traits.
- Magical / cursed / mix: roll twice and pick one you like... or both and mix it up.