While working on the upcoming Brick by Brick: Floors product (follow-up to Brick by Brick: Doors), I stumbled across a strange idea. If context is so important for everything in a game encounter, do we sometimes need some sort of inspiration to determine how the PCs have come to a particular place?
Arriving at a particular location can happen through any number of methods. Usually those methods are dictated by the PCs themselves and their movements in the world. A GM might drop any number of hints, suggestions, or invitations to nudge them in a particular direction, but ultimately (in my own games anyway) the decisions is the players’ as it should be.
But that shouldn’t prevent a GM or DM from planning some contingencies or having some ideas in place. In fact, a GM might have numerous ideas on how a party might get to a key location in their world and plan accordingly. Or they might just react to the PCs on the spur of the moment.
Writing encounters and setting up locations however, it’s good to offer some clear ideas on how the PCs might come to a given place. Regardless of the place itself, how the PCs arrive can offer some intriguing story possibilities to tantalize a GM’s creativity pretty quickly.
Let’s talk about a few of those possibilities…
You Got Here How?
Even before your PCs set foot in a particular map or location, they came from somewhere else with a particular agenda. Though the encounter that brings them here may have certain rules of engagement, it’s often helpful to consider how your PCs came to a place to set the stage. Determining the PCs reason for being there can often open up possibilities you may not consider otherwise.
Also, as your PCs are exploring other locations you may be preparing for their eventual arrival in other places. If you plant the seeds in other adventures, your players will often demand that their PCs head to particular places to resolve loose ends and plot threads from earlier in the story.
Here are just a few of the possible reasons the PCs have arrived at a particular destination:
- Travel – The road can be long and treacherous. Having places to rest along the way can be advantageous and other travelers before you will likely have left marks, clearings, or even structures to provide shelter, emergency rations, and safety. The sounds of battle or a scream in the woods can lure parties from their relative safety into the wild. Hastily scrawled notes or cryptic messages can also draw your PCs where you want them to go.
- Rumor – A well-placed mention of the site of an abandoned castle, a temple, or even a homestead might be enough to tempt an expedition to the middle of nowhere. The thought of a forgotten treasure lost for years may sweeten the pot.
- Map – Treasure maps are tried and true methods of drawing a party into a bit of intrigue. Or a map hinting at undiscovered wonders or lost civilizations.
- Prophecy – Who can resist a prophecy about their characters? Some crone in a tent might carelessly announce that a particular character needs to be ready for the “man at the three trees who will offer death” or the thought that a PC will soon discover a great treasure in an uncharted territory can plant the seeds for that character to be seeking any signs – no matter how trivial – to satisfy the prophecy or avoid it.
- Trail – Hunting trails. Animal trails. Tracking criminals or monsters. The PCs are often following trails into the unknown and those trails branch frequently. Take a wrong turn and you never know what you might find waiting…
- Capture – Though you probably don’t want to do it often, you can sometimes get away with kidnapping the PCs or ambushing them or even magically transporting them somewhere they weren’t planning to go and letting them find their way out. Perhaps a TPK can simply turn into a reason to strip them of belongings, dump them in a cell, then wake them up a few days later.
- Rescue – Fair maidens. Children. Nobility. They all seem to be kidnapped quite frequently and be in need of rescue. Ransom notes, trails, interrogations – all can be easily used to get the PCs to discover a hidden hideout or safe house where the target is stashed.
What’s your favorite way to get the PCs to a particular place? Care to share any examples from your own campaigns?