Monday, September 27, 2021

More Cheap Tricks

I once wrote a list of ten quick, cheap tricks a DM can use in their games. Here's 20 more. Please please please turn this into a trend and write some cheap tricks, publish them on your blog, and send them to me. I will link them at the bottom.

Tip 21: subscribe to r/artefactporn

  1. Old modules used to have treasure maps as common loot, and this is a great idea. Remember to do this every time. Put it on your checklist.
  2. Players are engaged by puzzles, even really simple ones. If you put your treasure map on nine tablets and make the easiest possible jigsaw puzzle, the five seconds spent realizing that they need to arrange the map so the features line up will with time spent happily.
  3. Put things under stairs. It makes sense, it's memorable, and players will stop thinking of stairs as warp pads to the next map.
  4. Color-code things. Brass key? Goes in the brass lock. Goes back to point 2.
  5. Ask players spooky questions in combat. When they fight a giant snake, ask if they're looking in its eyes. They'll be all "oh damn, I guess not."
  6. Small tweaks to the monsters of an area can do a lot for mood. Got a dungeon full of undead? Drape them in plants. Got a dungeon full of goblins? Give them birds or copper armor or woodworking talent or or or
  7. Put noncombatant camp followers in the dungeon. Gives the PCs someone to talk to, technically aligned against them but full of useful information and possible persuadable.
  8. Everybody has a family. Give NPCs filial connections to each other. Have widows of dungeon massacres put bounties on the party. Have the family of dead party members assist their old friends.
  9. Trick players into doing your work for you. Give them dungeons to defend. Let them make up NPCs. When you don't know how to make a ruling, ask them to do it for you, and use it.
  10. Put a lever in your dungeon somewhere. A PC will probably pull it, and then you can have something wild happen.
  11. When designing traps and mechanisms, rely on the simplest possible engineering. It will be easier for you to describe and for the players to visualize.
  12. Sometimes, the biggest possible animal is scarier than a supernaturally giant animal.
  13. Sometimes, a lot of small animals are scarier than a really big animal.
  14. Tell the players to be reckless, in a light and challenging way. Tell them to pull that lever. 
  15. Flags, symbols, and badges are cool. Give your bad guy a badge.
  16. Something with multiple names is cool. Give important people and places epithets, nicknames, courtesy names, and true names.
  17. Marriage is a great reward for completing an adventure. "Thanks for returning the Orb of Auremis, would you like to have me as an ally and my handsome son as a cool minion/spouse you buy gifts for and all sorts of plot hooks?"
  18. Think of all the cool stuff we have now that we didn't have five hundred years ago, like eCigs and motorcycles, and find ways to translate them to your game's milieu. Maintain the cool factor.
  19. Make up plausible vocabulary and never acknowledge it.
  20. People like poring over long lists of equipment with the costs attached. Make one of those up or steal them from somewhere, not because its functional but because people like it.
Again, please give me your cheap tricks. I want to read them!
SunderedWorldDM has 30 tips!
Chloe has 10!
CosmicOrrery has 35!
evilscientist has 10!


  1. It can be hard to roleplay a really wise and intelligent character. So cheat. While the players are interacting with the wise NPC, ask your player OOC questions about their plans and motivations. Then, back IC, tell them that the wise NPC has a knowing twinkle in their eye. Don't have them actively use the info! The know that you know that they know, and they are wise enough to leave you in peace... for now

  2. When your players explore a brand new area of the map, ask them to name the weird flora and fauna. Don't give it a name yourself! Let them be the discoverers, and bring the name of the critter back to civilisation.

    Once they have given it a new name, change all your notes to match it. Don't be like Spwack and accidentally use the name *you* gave it, because then the magic is lost. Wah wah.

    1. That's a good idea. I name this comment Chester.

  3. Let your players think they're smart. When they find that sword with a large gem in the pommel, and say "this is a noble's sword!?!" Tell them how they now notice a crest on the blade to an unknown realm/family. The adventure will write itself.

  4. Awesome, gonna write up a couple of my own :)

    Next, we need cheap tricks for PLAYERS!

    1. here we go...

  5. It took me more than a year, but I wrote some cheap tricks, too.