Getting the Band Together with Meeting Montages

Montages are great for traveling. And for prison breaks. But there are other kinds of montages.

One great use of a montage is to transform all the individual PCs into a group with built in connections. It’s pretty simple, at the start of the first play session, go around the table and have every play help the player next to them. Let’s look at two examples.

Here’s an example from The Tower in the Mist:

Tower in the Mist - 13th Age - Dread Unicorn GamesMeeting Montage

Explain that the players are going to do some group storytelling to create a little shared backstory. Go around the table, letting each player tell of a problem and a solution. Turn to the first player:

“Introduce your character. Tell us what you look like, what you are wearing, and anything about your character you’d like to share. Then describe a time you got into terrible trouble, and the player to your left saved you. Don’t say how, just say the trouble.

When it’s the next player’s turn, say:

“Tell us how you saved the player to your right. There’s no dice roll, just make stuff up. You can use your one unique thing, backgrounds, race, class, or anything at all. Then introduce yourself, telling us what you look like, what you are wearing, and anything else you want to share. Finally, describe the time you got into terrible trouble and the player to your left saved you. Don’t say how, just say the trouble.

As the players go around the table, make notes of anything in their stories you might want to incorporate into this or future adventures. When you get to the last player, they will be saved by the first player, thus completing the montage.


5thlogo-transHere’s an example from The Gray World. In this example, the montage is doing double duty: connecting the PCs to each other, and connecting them to Old Man Gray, a central NPC in the adventure.

As soon as the montage ends, you start the first scene of the adventure, one where the people around the PCs all die a terrible death. Players are certain to wonder, could Old Man Gray be connected? Which is what you want.

Meeting Montage

Explain that the players are going to do some group storytelling to create a little shared backstory. Go around the table, letting each player tell of a problem and a solution. Turn to the first player:

“Introduce your character. Tell us what you look like, what you are wearing, and anything about your character you’d like to share. Then describe a time Old Man Gray got into terrible trouble and you tried to help him, but nothing worked until the player to your left solved the problem. Don’t say how, just say the trouble.

When it’s the next player’s turn, say:

“Tell us how you came to the player to your right’s aid and helped Old Man Gray. There’s no dice roll, just make stuff up. You can use your background, skills, race, class, or anything at all. Then introduce yourself, telling us what you look like, what you are wearing, and anything else you want to share. Finally, describe the time Old Man Gray got into terrible trouble again and everything you tried couldn’t help him until the player to your left solved the problem. Don’t say how, just say the trouble.

As the players go around the table, make notes of anything in their stories you might want to incorporate into this or future adventures. When you get to the last player, Old Man Gray’s problem will be solved by the first player, thus completing the montage.

Death for Breakfast

After the montage, tell the characters they are having a free breakfast at the Gnome’s Head Inn. Old Man Gray is paying as a reward for all the help the group has given him. Other tables are full of soldiers, hunters, and farmers. The serving girl comes over with a hot skillet.

Read Aloud or Paraphrase:

The serving girl brings down a hot skillet of sizzling sausages that smell like heaven. As you are about to dig in, she turns and says “Not again.”

Everyone else in the inn collapses to the flagstone floor, eyes bugging out and hands twitching. Out of their mouths writhe pallid white vines that sprout pale flowers. Their chests burst open, as more vines erupt out of their bodies. Only you and the serving girl are unaffected.

What do you do?


So, traveling, prison breaks, and meetups. There are more. What other uses do you get out of montages?

Don’t forget to visit our 5E Kickstarter: The Gods Have Spoken.

 

The Old Gods

A full write-up of the Old Gods can be found in Gods and Icons for the 13th Age roleplaying game, and The Gods Have Spoken, for fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons, Kickstarting until January 30th.

The Old Gods are perfect for Druids and Rangers, and anyone who wants to follow wild gods steeped in the power of nature. Elves and people who live in wild places are often drawn to the Old Gods. You can add these gods to your own world, or just grab the bits and pieces that work for you.

worldtree_justinmacauley

The World Tree: Argir in the roots, the Sparrow and the Vixen in the branches, and the Ladies circling the tree.

The Old Gods are all that’s left of an ancient system of worship that once spanned this part of the world. The iconography of the Old Gods—particularly the wheel and the idea of life’s circle—is well-known throughout the region. Some of these gods and their cults have remained alive through old stories and rituals. Other cults have been resurrected by people disaffected by local rulers. The oldest variants of worship involve animal sacrifice and the use of psychotropic drugs to produce visions. Newer variants have taken the form of mystery cults and healing centers.

The ritual calendar of the Old Gods is still widely used. This ritual calendar dates from the creation of the world, and governs life events. Many people in the region use the calendar without much reference, sadly, to the culture that created it.

Followers of the Old Gods

Human

Our people and our gods once covered the land like stars in the sky. Due to great crimes committed in past ages, our power is now hidden. The wilderness shelters us and the cities of the invaders hide us. Our lives are not easy, but our songs and clans live on. When this terrible age ends, we shall be ready for the next.

Half-Orc

I left the shelter of the deep forest for the gold of the cities. Now the Sparrow and the Fox protect me as I share my take with my guild-mates.

blue-aoife-2

Inspired Inspiration in 5E

inspirationInspiration is one of my favorite parts of Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons. It works great as written, but I’m going to steal an idea from Lex Starwalker and show how to use inspiration for group storytelling.

Normally, you can spend inspiration to gain advantage to an attack, saving throw, or ability check. That still works.

However, you can also spend inspiration to make up something in the game world. It might be a detail that works with your background or skills. It could be a clue, a secret passage, or a one use item like a level-appropriate potion or a scroll.

For example, Qua the cleric is down on spells, but has inspiration. “I’m spending my inspiration to search that pile of skulls and find a potion of greater healing.”

Or Kay the paladin is desperate to find the Lady Vonya. “I spend my inspiration and look at the track and find a clue.” At this point, as the GM, you improvise a clue, “It’s a scrap of parchment. In Lady Vonya’s hand it reads ‘we leave the Black Tower, our captors driving us west. Ahead lie the glass caverns. If any shall find this, send help.'”

Or Troik the bard just want another spotlight moment. “I’m spending my inspiration to have the farmers in from their fields for a local holiday. The village is full of people in good cheer. If only a very handsome someone just happened by to provide it. I tune up my lute.”

Obviously, it’s up to the GM to stop player abuse. Advantage is a great boon, but not a wish (or even a fireball). Spending inspiration might push over an apple cart during a chase scene, but will not push a combatant off a cliff.

Ask yourself:

  • Is it overpowered, like the effects of a powerful spell? Or something small, along the lines of a cantrip?
  • Does it break the story? If you are just starting a three session murder mystery, inspiration can’t give away the culprit. It could point to information “Barkeep Barlo hears all sorts of things…”
  • Does it take the fun out of the adventure? Some players try to play it safe all the time. And you want thrills, so don’t let the players nurf the exciting bits.
  • Does it open up a new fun avenue for adventure? Don’t be afraid to improvise and go with player ideas that make the game fun. Sure, you had your own fun encounter directly ahead of them, but if they say they found a secret passage, improvise something fun in the passage. If they never see your planned encounter, you can reuse it in a future adventure.

Emperor RolandThe cool thing about this for players is that it gives them a chance to improvise outside of their character powers. They get to do a little shared world-building.

And for the GM, it’s another way for your players to surprise you, forcing you to improvise and keep the fun going. I don’t know about you, but I like to be surprised by my players.

Have you tried something like this? How does it work for you?


Don’t forget to visit our 5E Kickstarter: The Gods Have Spoken.

Travel Montages in 5E

OK, you’re the GM, and it’s time for your players to move from A to B. It might take hours, days, or even months in game time, but you don’t want to roleplay every single incident that takes place on the road. “You see a puddle in the road, what do you do?” “Um, we walk around it?”

mountain-road-free-clip-artYou can handwave the entire journey, and just cut to “You arrive in Plotville, everyone seems tense.”

However, that makes it feel like teleporting. Which is great if the party actually teleports, but if you want to make travel memorable, yet not take more than a few minutes at the table, you can use a travel montage.

A montage in a roleplaying game is when you go around the table, and everyone makes something up in a collaborative fashion. It’s often a time to set the dice aside and show how cool the characters are without worrying about initiative order and skill checks.

(I first ran into montages in the 13th Age roleplaying game. And I put a travel montage into The Sun Below: Sleeping Lady, a Numenera adventure. The concept is system independent.)

Here’s how it works. You (as the GM), point at one player. I like to pick someone good at improvisation. “Stace, describe a problem that stops the group’s travel. It can be anything, a flood, robbers, a three headed giant, just come up with a problem, not the solution. Your party will get by, because” (then point to the next person sitting clockwise at the table) “Jer will solve it. Don’t say how.”

After the problem has been described, turn to the next character. “Jer, how do you get the party past this obstacle? You can use your background, your class powers (which won’t be used up), or anything. This is your time to shine. Jer, what do you do?”

We allow pretty much any solution to work. We do steer the player away from things that break the mood we’re going for. Silly is great in some games, not in others. Remember the player doesn’t have to roll dice, so talking their way past robbers, jumping over a chasm, building a raft, and so on, just works.

inspirationOption: Inspiration

At our table, we’ll give each player inspiration once they tell us how they solved the problem. Some GMs use less inspiration than we do, so if this feels excessive in your game, just ignore it.

Back to the Montage

Once Jer has solved the problem, we’ll ask him to come up with a new problem for the next character to solve, going around the table clockwise. Everyone makes up a problem, and everyone makes up a solution. Once the first player solves her problem, the montage is done. Now, instead of three sessions micro-managing the travel, or handwaving the entire journey, the players have a memorable experience, each character will shine, and only a few minutes have past at the table.


Don’t forget to visit our 5E Kickstarter: The Gods Have Spoken.