Sunday, November 20, 2011

Triggered Player Notes

I've never used this, don't know how useful it would be, but as I was falling asleep last night I thought of giving a player a sealed envelope with "Open When __________" written on top.  So let's think about the possibilities.  What could be the triggers?
  • Open when you next score a critical
  • when you next critically miss
  • next session
  • when you are at half-hp or less
  • when a spell is cast on you
  • when I ask you to make a save
  • when I ask you to roll any dice
  • when another player is hurt
  • when you're in water
Let's pause there and think about some reasons you might do this.  Because with the last one I realized you could set up some real tension for a player-- should they seek out water or desperately avoid it-- if you make the triggers something they have control over.  And that's a great meta reason.  But what are some possible in-game reasons for the sealed message?
  • the pc is cursed
  • has lycanthropy
  • will go berserk
  • is suffering hallucinations
  • has a magical ailment
  • has a regular disease which will start manifesting itself (maybe this obscures the causes-- my critical miss game me the black pox!?)
  • something about prophecy, or foretelling
  • maybe they fulfilled some aspect of a legend
  • maybe it's a tricksy way of introducing an adventure hook (the open next session, for example, tell about a specific merchant that seeks the player out)
  • they have learned a new ability
  • a newly found magic item will manifest itself
  • maybe a tricksy way of adding a plot complication ("open if attacked at night" could reveal the info that npc Bob is not in his bed, where is he?)
Okay, I also thought last night of printing a pocketmod with taped together pages.  The cover would be a trigger, the first page the info revealed, the second page would be an additional trigger, and so on.Why?  I don't know it just seems like it would be incredibly intriguing.  You could make something happen based on player choices, but shrouded in mystery.  Maybe the little booklet is for spell research-- "Open page if you spend more then 2000gp", or "Open page if you fail to maintain your experiment with 1000gp per session."  Or maybe this could be an abstracted way to deal with an npc relationship that isn't really the focus of the whole party, maybe a romance.


  1. This is completely awesome, and I'm stealing it for my game. Next cursed - or secretly awesome - magic item is coming with a sealed note.

  2. delightful - and giving the player the chance to trigger it deliberately makes it so much better than those "extra mission briefing" moments in How To Host A Murder dinners...

    ...also reminds me of the Worst Case Survival Manual and David Sedaris' When You Are Engulfed In Flames as a fund of potentially lifesaving or potentially damning insights. Shall I cast The Fortunate Punishment or finally open the mystery package?

    Open if you go below 0 HP.
    Open if you lose a level.
    Open the next session you are here and Kevin isn't.
    Open if you and the DM know that you died "off stage."

  3. I'll be using this in my game. Thanks.

    I was just yesterday thinking about the Strategic Review article with an exchange of sealed envelopes for solo play.

    You could also give an envelope to player A that says "open when player B finds a gem." The envelope could even contain a random table, so the referee won't know the outcome.

  4. I have nothing to add other than this is a brilliant idea. Very creative!

  5. Awesome idea. Our gaming group has always enjoyed the game notes, even though we've fallen out of the habit.

    One session was run almost completely via notes:

  6. Cracking idea - will definitely give this a go. Need to think of some good/surprising/shocking things to go behind the trigger.

  7. I can only echo - wonderful stuff and I look forward to using this idea in my games. Thanks Telecanter.

  8. I like this a lot. I think, when I next DM, I'll use it for prophecies. The player gets the sealed envelope and a cryptic, ambiguous clue, and they can try and figure out whether they want to trigger it or not. On the other hand, maybe that loses some of the mysterious effect of having the contents completely unknown.

  9. awesome idea, i will definitely use this! :)

  10. Thanks everyone. I'm stoked when a crew as smart and creative as you all like something I post.

    @richard: "Open the next session you are here and Kevin isn't" This points toward all kinds of meta possibilities, pushing it toward a party game if you wanted to go that far: "open if someone at the table says the phrase 'were're screwed'", "open if someone roll the dice off the table," etc.

    @Paul: I did a solo envelope dungeon a loooong time ago for my old DM. I used an old X a day calendar (word? joke? can't remember) that had a little graph grid that was perfect fro drawing room floor plans, then info and choices on the back. I think I went through a whole box of the little envelopes.

    I really like the idea of something in the envelope the DM doesn't know. I realize that we should probably craft the options and then select one blindly to slip into the envelope. Although, if players didn't mind getting involved creatively, them put things in an envelope that the DM doesn't know about could be kooky fun too.

    @john: That makes me think of prophecies as cards players might choose to play: "you will win a victory in combat" as something they would decide when best to have the prophecy "come true." I think actually wrote about handling fortune telling this way, come to think of it.

  11. @Telecanter: Zak S. did something similar in Vornheim. His are mostly ambiguous and either the player or the DM can choose to trigger it. That's pretty cool, but I really like the uncertainty of your method. "If Croesus crosses the Halys, a mighty empire will fall."

  12. This is great idea - we used to pre-roll all the scrolls on small slips of paper and then put them in an old cookie jar. When somebody got a scroll as part of the treasure picks - they got to pick thier scroll!

    What was especially for folks is they also know that there were some unique spells in the mix. So everyone was always hoping for one of those!


  13. Pulling from a cookie jar just sounds like badass fun. I might have to post about it to bring to people's attention.

  14. This could also be done in online games with a .zip or .rar file that contains your text and or image files for the message inside. Slap a password on it, and at the right time a player can request the password to open it.