The Sticky GM – Locations – pt2

This is part two of a series. You can read part one here [The Sticky GM part 1]

The first few posts in this series are just going to be an outpouring of ideas. They will get beaten into shape later.

Today I am going to write about Blue notes, which are going to be locations.

What is a location?

What I mean by that is how much detail do you actually need at any one time? Most players are not going to retain pages and pages of setting lore if you read it out to them in some sages monologue. You will be lucky if they remember the name of the last city they stayed at, even if they burnt it to the ground. You are generally better off drip-feeding pieces of setting lore to them as and when it makes the most impact.

The same is true about describing locations. If you launch into a monologue about the architecture of the sultan’s palace, you cannot expect your players to remember which minaret was larger, the one on the left or the one on the right. A note that says “The kingdom the north is ruled by barbarian tribes. They ride white bears and their raids across the border are notorious.” That the players are likely to remember.

You could reduce the regional map down to just two or more places that the main road will take your characters. Most characters in a fantasy setting will probably have only scanty knowledge of global politics and even how far away places are. You could use a blue sticky note for every major junction in a planned journey. One each note is a description on the options and just a line or nugget of information from the character perspective about the place. ‘There is a fork in the road here, the northern route leads to “Rappen”, a major naval port city, the south continue to “Phitz”, where the Templars were last heard of’. You can add a few words to describe the junction.

You can punctuate a journey with little pieces of lore like this. Maybe there are two or three ways to get to Rappen. This time the characters head straight to Phitz but coming back the take a detour. These little notes give you opportunities. You can drop in little facts. You can suggest changes in topography and culture. You also get a half-way house between hand waving away the entire journey and only interrupting it with random encounters and important encounters. If every time you say “You are two days into your journey when…” your players are going to be immediately on the alert and their characters are grabbing for their weapons.

These waypoint notes help disguise the impending wandering monster attack, amongst rustic villages, river crossings, bridges and signposts.

Zooming In

Your characters are in a temple to an ancient god. In this instance I would treat the altar as a location, you can be pretty sure the characters are going to go there. The entrance to the crypt is another location. The big ritual circle on the floor is another location. Create a note for each location. The characters and even the players are not going to think of the entire temple, as a whole, they are going to focus on the specifics.

A fully detail description of the temple is going to be less easy to use if your characters split up to examine different parts. The thief is examining the door to the crypt, the wizard is scrutinizing the ritual circle, the cleric is at the altar, and so on. Three separate notes are easier to keep track of, than scanning up and down a page of description when you need to find the difficulty to pick a lock or the inscription on the floor.

Imagine you had come up with a particularly dastardly trap to go on a lock. You write up the trap on its own sticky note. Right now that trap is on the door to the crypt. The scene plays out and before the thief gets to even examine the lock the fighter kicks the door in. In this case you can keep your trap, the players know nothing of it. You can recycle it again on another lock. Just move the post-it back into your GM file and bring it out again when you need it.

The rule here is: Everything that the players or characters will focus on is a discrete location and should be on its own note.

PinPoint Process

If you haven’t read all of these posts you many not have caught how this all fits together. By creating just the parts you really need, you create spotlights on where the action takes place. Each sticky note is a pin prick of light that you can shine on your players. The beauty of the entire process is that every single thing you prepare for your game, will get used. Not necessarily in the order you expected or even where you expected. Nothing will go to waste.

The GM is playing the game as well as the players, you deserve just as much fun. Making the GM do a load of prep that never gets used is actually unfair. Forcing the players to follow a railroad is unfair on them as role-playing is all about free agency. Being able to lay down your locations in front of the players means that they can go where they want, when they want and the world will unfold before them. For the GM it means their time is not wasted preparing things that will never happen, places that will never be visited, mysteries that will never be solved.

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