GTM #206 - Tricks of the Game Trade - Tip #13
by Jon Leitheusser

~ Stir Up The Pot ~

Coming up with new challenges for your players can be difficult. In addition, for the players, overcoming those challenges can be tricky. That’s why it’s important to have the right tool for the job you want to do — whether you’re talking about your role as Game Master or as a player. With that in mind, this month’s column talks about changing things up on your players, ways for them to deal with those changes, and information about some books and supplements offered in this month’s GTM that can make gaming more fun and interesting.

~ Environment and Equipment ~

One way to surprise your players with something new and different is to take them out of their element, quite literally. With this in mind, Paizo’s new Pathfinder campaign setting, Aquatic Adventures, might fit the bill. Heroes readily explore above and below ground, and even extraplanar, but rarely do they venture underwater. That’s probably because it’s easier to envision what dungeons, dark streets, and even other worlds look like, because they usually have terra firma to walk on. That’s not true beneath the waves.

When you change the setting to something truly aquatic, you challenge the way players interact with their environment. They’ll encounter problems they’ve never had to contend with, such as how to breathe, to eat, to travel, and to fight, plus, they’ll be faced with monsters and other threats they’ve never seen before. All the knowledge they’ve gathered on solid footing won’t help them in the deep.

In addition, because adventurers rarely go under water, GMs likely haven’t given that part of their setting much thought. Thankfully, Aquatic Adventures tackles that for you. There are cities and nations under the sea, populated by merfolk, sahuagin, and other creatures rarely encountered above water. Unsurprisingly, there’s also a lot of lost treasure, strange locations, and more for characters to explore.

While the heroes are exploring, they’ll run into new situations that call for specialized equipment. That’s where the Pathfinder Adventurer’s Armory 2 comes in handy. Players usually love new gadgets and equipment, so this second installment in Paizo’s popular Adventurer’s Armory series with its new weapons, armor, gear, tool kits, alchemical supplies, and other equipment should give your players plenty to consider.

What’s most interesting is that it includes some new rules for elements like improvised tools, ways to modify your weapons and armor, and how to construct assistants, which sounds like they could be a lot of fun and offer characters like alchemists and wizards some interesting options.

~ Change Up the Adversaries ~

Many fantasy campaigns concentrate on dungeon crawls or treks through the wilderness to provide adventure for the player characters. But you can spice up your game by changing the sorts of villains the characters have to deal with, and cults are excellent thorns in adventurer’s sides. These organizations make for sinister adversaries because they’re brimming with rabid zealots driven to achieve some mad or nefarious goal. Cults offer varying degrees of challenges— members can range from petty thugs and ruffians, to high priests and even demons, making it possible for them to threaten the PCs from the beginning of their careers until their inevitable retirement. They can be encountered almost anywhere, from the back alleys or high halls of the largest cities, to the dankest dungeons or most densely foliaged wilderness. There’s no limit where a cult can fester.

As mentioned previously, creating a cult with a strong theme and good motivation isn’t easy. Thus, Kobold Press’ Demon Cults & Secret Societies sheds light on 13 uniquely menacing cults to crash your party. Available for both 5th Edition and Pathfinder, Demon Cults & Secret Societies is the perfect toolkit for creating a new campaign or changing the focus of your game. If you’ve had your players’ characters exploring dungeons for the last few levels, maybe it’s time to take them into the city to fight an insidious cult bent on summoning foul creatures to help them take over the world! Variety is the spice of life, after all.

~ Eye Strain ~

If you’re one of the many people who’ve picked up The Dark Eye, a roleplaying game that originates from Germany and has been around for decades, you may be interested in a new tool (see how it ties into the theme?) for Game Masters, The Dark Eye: GM Screen & Tavern Guide. Like all GM screens, this one has a lot of important tables, charts, and other reference material printed on it, so instead of spending your time looking up this modifier or that rule, you can glance at your screen and keep the game moving.

In addition, the screen includes a sizable booklet (48-pages) to make the ever-important staple of fantasy games—taverns—come to life! Three inns and taverns are offered as examples, with full-color maps, descriptions, locations, residents, patrons, and everything else you need to simply erect ‘em into your campaign with minimal effort. In addition, the booklet includes rules for various pub games, sample goods, rules for bar brawls, the effects of drinks from the Aventurian setting, and even more tools to help you create more unique and interesting taverns of your own. Even if you’re not a GM for The Dark Eye, it sounds like this GM screen and booklet contains a lot of great information.

~ Take It To the Tabletop ~

One of the main focuses of this column is how to make the game easier for Game Masters to come up with ideas, adversaries, and adventures to challenge and entertain their friends. With the offerings in this month’s GTM, there are a number of books and supplements designed to do just that, with the added bonus of some great new treats for the players.

Jon Leitheusser is a writer, editor, and game developer. He published the Dork Tower comic book, was the HeroClix game designer for years, was a content designer for Champions Online and Neverwinter, was the Mutants & Masterminds game developer for Green Ronin from 2008 to 2016, and freelances for a number of different companies. He cut his gaming teeth on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and still games twice a week with his friends online or in person.