Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Three Ways to Make Your Locations Pop!

Nothing spices up a run-down witch's hut like a giant turtle!

In this gamemaster's opinion, there are few things more satisfying than having your players say, "hey remember that time when..." before spiraling off into wild tales of past adventures that exist only in your GM notes and now the memories of your players. When these things happen, you've done something right. You've spun memory and enjoyment out of nothing! But what is the recipe for those moments? What makes one thing stick in the minds of your players while others fade away?

During the month of September, is hosting an RPG blog carnival all about location. In the spirit of these festivities, I would now like to offer up three easy to implement tips for making memory-sticking locations that your players will delightfully ruminate on for years to come like so much brain-cud. Mmm... delicious fantasy brain cud...


1. Give your location one unique feature and milk it for all its worth. This is a great way to reinforce the fantastic, and/or add a bit of history to your location. Perhaps the royal throne room has an enormous dragon skull mounted at one end. Perhaps an otherwise ordinary and dull tavern is decorated inside and out with giant crab claws. Perhaps a town is known for raising pigs that can sniff out magical reagents in the nearby swamps. I used all of these examples in my game to good effect. The wonderful thing about picking one unique element like the above examples, is that it immediately leads to questions like "why is it like that?" which can then quickly be developed into further detail about the setting or the NPCs associated with it. Even if left unanswered for the time being, such questions might spark your PCs to seek out the answers, or even offer up some of their own!

2. Add levels. Don't let your location be flat, let it rise! Nothing is duller than yet another 8x8 room no matter how interesting the monsters. Balconies, cliffsides, bridges and pits all present tactical opportunities during combat encounters. If your players are hesitant to seize on such opportunities, let your bad guys show them just how much of a tactical advantage these things present! A charging dire bear is frightening. A charging dire bear on an ice bridge over a windy chasm is something your players wont soon forget!

3. Link the location to the NPCs that use it! Ask yourself, who lives here? Why did they choose this place? What role did they have in it's construction or configuration? What do they know that nobody else does? In the tavern with the crab claws, the owner had a peg leg and collected all the claws. You can bet there's a story there! Linking the NPCs to a site can also be used to change up the normal rules of engagement. A blue dragon might live in a lair with an ornate metal inlay in the floor. Rather than firing his breath weapon in a straight line, he can pump it into the floor to the dismay of anyone touching the metal. The only thing more memorable than a great location is a great location with a great NPC that makes it even more dynamic.

These are certainly not the only things that can make a location pop, but if you are looking to create memorable encounters, keeping these three quick tips in mind can lead to locations that the players will come back to time and time again... at least in conversation.


  1. Replies
    1. You may remember it from such other blog carnivals as the 2013 April A to Z! ;)

    2. Good post Geoff and yea, yep, day eight of A-Z! That was 26 days of WOW!

      Missing those maps though. You were on fire! I know you said you were done for a while after the A-Z and then the marriage thing, but I need more maps. More I say!

      Don't let those pens dry out.

    3. You know, I've actually been thinking about those maps lately. A couple weeks ago, I started toying with colorizing one of the A to Z drawings, for my make it Monday, but I got bogged down in Photoshop layer messiness.

      Unfortunately, though the wedding is over, my weekends really haven't slowed down yet. The wife and I FINALLY got our home office straightened up last weekend, which means my drawing and craft space is finally accessible, so hopefully I can get back to the drawing board... literally.

  2. Enough talk. More maps! LOL JK Good to hear you are settling in. I just sent a link to your blog, with a note about the April archive twice in the last two days. Great stuff!

  3. Great point about elevation. It can really add depth.


Follow by Email