Have you ever used the discovery of an old book or journal to help tell a D&D adventure’s ongoing story? This week Ben explains how a great role playing bookstore encounter accidentally turned into a brand new game accessory. One that can actually help the DM convey new story clues, monster sightings, and side quests to its game group. Let’s turn the next page together.
During a town re-stock, the party’s wizard vigorously questioned the proprietor of Thunderspire’s House of Books. Our spell caster was eager to find any information on the mysterious Winterbole forest (their campaign’s next destination). He dangled several rare monster parts and pieces from previous party kills as trade bait. What magical store owner could possibly resist such a barter?
Once again, exceptional role playing led to some DM improvisation which in turn produced an old, tattered journal (originally left to die on one of the shop’s endless bookshelves). This personal diary of sorts was so beat up that an inordinate amount of studying is required to decipher all its mysterious contents. Still, with a little persistence and wisdom, the party’s wizard can slowly reveal helpful clues surrounding a rather unknown yet dangerous place.
Pretty neat, ey? As the DM, Ben absolutely loves the idea of creating a new page for each game session that ties old plot points and NPC encounters with possible upcoming events. It’s sorta akin to Indiana Jones using his dad’s old journal to locate the Holy Grail. And think of all the creative fun you can have as the DM along the way. Ben is licking his chops at this extended storytelling opportunities.
Individual journal pages will have all sorts of graphic effects to demonstrate their age and encrypted content. Visual examples may include:
- Water spots
- Hot wax
- Crinkled pages
- Spilled ink spots
- Burn marks
- Little clumps of indecipherable, blurred text
- Faded or torn pages
- Drawings/sketches of any relevant items
- Blood droplets
Our first page is going use faded text to convey the Wizard’s deciphering challenge. We hope to do more effects and journal page styles in future page iterations.
Our first journal entry is going to reveal an important clue about an elven NPC the party first encountered at the Half-moon Inn. One of the party members mistakenly took him for a young child and whisked him away right before a rousing game of Duck, Dodge and Perry was about to begin. It turns out this person was no boy. On the contrary! Fineas is an accomplished marksman of Winterbole forest and now seeks revenge on the party for such public humiliation.
Fineas’ fumes will not fade quietly. He’s at a much higher level (level 10 elite) than our 8th level party. Even a party of six could have a tough time beating this stealthy solo enemy. Still, every Goliath has its David. There is a weakness. Our temperamental elven foe is highly susceptible to poison. Not just any poison though – one that is gathered from the wet soil of a rare mushroom.
But how on earth would our party know such a deadly secret? Why the Winterbole Journal of course. The first deciphered page reveals clues of the Gooly-wog cave where these special shrooms bloom. A tattered journal page reveals a legendary forest killer and the rare fungi that can bring him down. Turns out it’s not the mushroom but the condensation from it that creates the actual poison.
If that volatile liquid is placed on an arrow tip or somehow injected into the elven marksman’s bloodstream, the fatal reaction (ongoing 25) is difficult to stop (save ends, DC 19).
This is yet another home-brewed NPC in the game. Ben absolutely loves taking unscripted role playing events and turning them into future storyline characters and quests. The second he saw one of the players ridicule that tiny elf, he knew a gritty plotline was afoot.
Ben gave our killer a nearly slam dunk hit (+17) and high damage (1d10+16) to really bring home the monster’s heavy hitter-ness. Sticking him with that poison is key to bringing him down fast before his vicious arrows pierce too many targets. Ben also made his range relatively easy to stay in play by doing a simple recharge (3-6) on the Archer’s Escape encounter power.
The DM didn’t want Fineas’ personal weapon to unbalance the party stats so he added a fun home brew trait to the mix called Bow Bomb. Once Fineas is dead, the party ranger will naturally crave the fallen foe’s bow. He will notice how hard it is to get the weapon out of the corpse’s hands. As soon as he does, it’s like a ticking bomb is activated. The group will get a snap reaction chance (insight or arcane skill check) to realize what is happening and then if successful, get a new chance to save for half damage on the sudden blast. Regardless, the bow goes the way of the Fineas and is destroyed.
We intentionally designed the journal have small bits of text be unreadable. The DM will occasionally slip the player translated sentences during the game. Here’s the journal’s first entry of text in its entirety:
Seek the Gooly-wog, Never stop looking.
An indistinguishable cave sits within a canopy of sky-reaching trees. Two yellow dots mark the spot. A large toad-like beast protects your prize. You will never pass through Winterbole without getting your hands dirty.
Winterbole Forest rains arrows of death down on passersby.
Be wary of the wooded marksman whose infantile looks are dangerously deceitful. He strikes without warning but with deadly accuracy. His bow is his bond. His pride fuels his anger and actions.
This goliath in sheep’s clothing carries a rare weakness. Seek the cave of the Gooly-wog and the simple fungi that grows nearby. The plant itself holds not the dagger for it is the simple liquid cascading from the mushroom which holds the true vehicle of death.
Deliver the rare fluid with enough force and you just might be able to bring down this nearly unbeatable “boy”.
Ben is an explain-by-example-kinda-guy. So if this particular scenario isn’t up to par, please consider the bigger picture and still try incorporating a lost journal into your own game. As the DM, you will feel a small sense of relief as you now have a fun new avenue to relay critical campaign clues.
Questions to Ponder: Have you ever used an old journal in your ongoing campaign? Got any other diary page effects we could use? What did you think of our elven NPC? Got any other fun traits or monster stat twist ideas?