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In my experience (that is mostly on D&D, not SW), it is the players that determine which NPCs are memorable or not. Your role as a GM is mostly to notice which NPCs they like more, and find out why they like it. In general terms, you should remember that the NPC roles are to complement the party abilities, not to overshadow them (that would be the mary ...


1

It is important to bear in mind what makes the PCs different from the NPCs, aside from the obvious fact of player vs non-player. In short, the PCs are the protagonists, and the NPCs aren't. In my games, even if the PCs don't start out in this position, and even if the plot does not take on epic world-spanning dimensions, the PCs are Luke Skywalkers, the ...


1

I tend to run a good number of one shot games, so I have quite a bit of experience with it. A known setting or genre It helps a lot if you start with a setting or genre the players are familiar with. For this reason, in the US at least, superhero games are pretty easy to use and pick up and play - most people are familiar with superheroes and the genre ...


1

Play the NPCs as characters. Give them motivations, goals, principles, and so on. Not every NPC has to be very detailed, but you should be able to make up something on the spot to give depth to NPCs. Be ready to take notes - maybe on the spot, you have a secondary character say that they're a refugee from the valley to the east - write it down. Make the ...


2

MOP Every NPC needs a mop. Motivation: Why is the character here in the story? What motivates them to act? Objective: What does the character want to accomplish as a goal in the story? What is the character's overriding goal they must achieve? Personality: How the character acts as well as their personal appearance. These three traits help define an ...


1

Keep it simple. Avoid a long, complex series of events; that's not to say it cannot be witty, but try to avoid convoluted solutions. Keep it focused. Aim for depth, not breadth. There is no need to explain every aspect of the world and all of its politics. Explain in detail the setting the characters are in. Try to keep details that do not add to the ...


0

NPCs are a myth! Try GM controlled Characters. These are your characters, make them and play them as such. NPCs, truly minor characters, such as shopkeepers, barmaids and the man pushing a broom in the warehouse you are breaking into, can simply be a one line entry in your notes. However, people the Player Characters interact with regularly, such as ...


2

The beginning of an adventure is usually the hardest part to write. Obviously "you're all in a tavern..." is cliche, but the truth is that a lot of introductory adventures are no better. "You all get a letter from a nobleman that wasn't previously in your backstory." "You're all hired by a group that has no reason to know about you." The end result of all of ...


2

I recommend getting Paizos "Flip-Mat." They're $14 and can be used with dry erase or wet erase. Other similar products also exist, such as Battlemat by Chessex. You can also make your own using a sheet of acrylic from the hardware store and the patience to draw a 1" grid on it (on the underside, so you can draw scenes on the other). Ask the players to state ...


2

What I used to do: My battlemap was one of the old ones that we marked on with water soluble markers and had a 1" square grid superimposed on it. The players' figures were always on the map whether there was anything going on or not. When something arose that became a game scene, a quick sketch of the markers outlined where they were -- be it pub, ...


4

I typically use non-combat mapping to help show the relative distances between things and the players. This is typically done using a "You are here" dot for the players and simple lines for relevant features. I even use notations on the map to denote distances given the map is often "not to scale". This means that I still build for a combat, but the players ...


0

One of my friends suggested that I should create a template for the journal and have the same sections happening every issue. The sections that he did mention... Summary of last session action. Upcoming conflict that is happening at the start of next session. World events News of organizations that the players are connected to.


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All play does happen in scenes, intentional or not. According to Fate Core A scene is a unit of game time…during which the players try to achieve a goal or otherwise accomplish something significant…[o]nce the action shifts to a new goal, moves to a new place related to that goal, or jumps in time, you’re in the next scene. —Defining Scenes Even ...


1

If your setting is a "living world" how would the villagers themselves solve it? They would probably hire an other group of better than good adventurers to fight the PCs. Introduce this other group that is trying to hunt them down and let them show they are "Über good".


0

My favorite non-mapped solution of a dungeon may be of interest. The players find out when they enter that the place is enchanted by some god or demon and they are actually now on a different plane of reality where some spells may have a different effect. (Teleportation will for example always lead to the same room [it's a panic room, a safe space — ...


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There is a potential solution in the item description itself, particularly if there is a spellcaster with a grudge against the party. A staff of the magi gives the wielder spell resistance 23. If this is willingly lowered, however, the staff can also be used to absorb arcane spell energy directed at its wielder, as a rod of absorption does. Unlike ...


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It sounds like they're having trouble because they can't figure out where the plot is. Their actions make it clear they would like to fight chaos, but in the absence of chaos to fight, they're filling time by lining their own pockets. You've already made some progress toward the solution by giving them criminal organizations to destroy. It sounds like they ...


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Make it into an artifact that needs to be developed to use its full power. Previous users were high enough level that they could use all its powers at once but the magic user is too low level to access all its abilities. Then the magic user needs training to access its power.


-2

Another take on what do the PC's know about the item: The Staff of the Magi is charged. Suppose it has only one or two charges left?


0

I’m looking for some techniques to remind them in-game that the world is not ending tomorrow. Arrange some way for them to have part of the villain's plan. Not it all, of course, but enough info that they roughly know where the "now loading doom" bar is. This way you can both chill and hurry up as you see fit. When they start to worry too much about ...


2

Fronts Dungeon World (descended from Apocalypse World, but with an SRD freely available) has a successful mechanism for doing just this. It's called Fronts. Fronts represent impending badness, following the ethos of *World games, where danger is announced before it manifests. Fronts and dangers are described better by the SRD than I can manage here: ...


11

Actually, I happen to be in a similar situation as you. My group has played games that vary in pace from Shadowrun games where we spend three real time weeks (one session per week) planning for a single run, to Pathfinder games where we clear a new dungeon every session. Right now, we're playing a D&D 5e game set in a Dying Earth styled setting in ...


-2

A left-field approach, inspired by the hard-funnest puzzle I've ever tackled: run them through a fractal maze1. Fractal Mazes A fractal maze contains entire copies of itself as subsets of itself, as one might suspect. I'm not suggesting you actually design one in-game and by DM fiat manage the inevitable conflicts in spatial scale; you can use one to be ...


3

Consider a grid such as this one: Numbers represent a fight/trap/obstacle the party will have to overcome while navigating the maze. Numbers with a letter represent a harder version of the encounter (harder/more enemies, higher skill DCs for traps/obstacles, etc.); the farther the letter is into the alphabet, the harder the encounter gets (so B is harder ...


2

I recommend using a deck of playing cards and having events assigned to card types, suits, evens or odds. It depends on how complex you want the maze. Here's an example of a D&D 5e maze I just ran my party through. As they moved through this maze, the path behind them would be obscured by a magical fog that was impenetrable. If they attempted to enter ...


1

First turn the Maze into a list of results from the maze that players might want. you can do this ahead of time or just ask players what an ideal(but still reasonable) trip through the maze might look like. An example list follows: We find the exit We remember the way back quickly We find some treasure We avoid fighting monsters We don't fall into any ...


-5

I would just make that item break after single use (because it is too complicated for their low skill level), and then introduce a quest of fixing it which they can complete once they reach a certain level adequate for having that item.


41

Make it be cursed. A very powerful item will make many adventuring parties suspicious, but if yours are just happy to go forward using it, they are in for a surprise. I would pick an "interesting" curse that makes them wary of using it but still leaves them (technically) with the option to do so. For example, every charge used could alert some extraplanar ...


1

Admit your mistake and replace it with something proper. Sure you can do stuff with it in-game but it was an out-of game mistake to begin with so fix it that way too.


1

A maze is mathematically a graph; the nodes are where interesting things can happen and the edges are paths between the nodes. Something interesting means: A decision between edges (paths) A monster A trap A trick A treasure A combination of the above. Nodes can be small or large. A 4 way intersection of 5 foot corridors is a small node, a 500 x 500 ...


1

Take your dice. And roll them. Make a simple chart like you would see for making enchanted gear as a player. set your 100 die parameters: 0-10: simple traps 0-20: oblivious monsters(eating talking not paying attn) And so on and so on Set your simple 0-10 parameters: 1 pit fall 2 dart from wall And so on and so on As for the pc's adventuring set a ...


-5

I would say the staff is old and brittle upon further study on it. As you could easily hook them with the "brilliance seems dulled" or an "off aura is sensed". And when they check the staff put a low perception check and a moderatley high craft or appraise check on it. The perception will tell them its damaged as the appraise can enlighten them as to how ...


-2

Similar to the responses by Erik and MrLemon; A powerful individual, the owner of the item, could materialise or otherwise show up dramatically in an unexpected location and explain that they were set-up to steal it intentionally. They were (unbeknownst to them at the time) hired as a Tiger Team to pen-test where it was stored. That way the owner doesn't ...


-3

What do the PCs actually know about the staff? Did you say "it's a Staff of the Magi, here are its powers?" If not, you could retcon it to be a lesser sort of item, with some similar powers, but more suited to the characters' level.


5

I would let things run the natural course. So ask yourself the following question: is someone going to miss the Staff? The person who put it there, other people who were trying to break the vault? If the answer is yes, then you have someone searching for the PCs, which may want to take it back from them by good or evil means. Someone with a crazy vault and ...


42

The Brinks Job, The Italian Job, Willow, or Charlie Varrick? the players worked their way through a series of fiendish traps into a high security vault, where they recovered a Staff of the Magi. Your low level PC's broke into a secure storage site and stole something extremely valuable. Hollywood is packed with this trope, a big heist and the ... uh ...


0

I would also suggest working the Artifact into a small story arc, where they get to unleash its true powers against opponents that they would otherwise not be able to handle. Then, at the end of the arc have the Artifact leave them, either by sacrificing it to save the day or by having a powerful entity or the Artifact itself say that now that they fulfilled ...


78

While a lot of the other answers are perfectly valid and good ideas, I'd like to offer an alternative solution that hasn't been mentioned yet which can also work in some situations: deal with the problem out-of-game, not through DM fiat, but rather through admitting you made a mistake. DMs shouldn't be expected to be infallible. If you can explain to your ...


3

As a slight twist on the other suggestions, you can have a good guy turn up and say that it is his staff and it was stolen from him. He will offer the players rewards (and I agree prestige, relations, favours, etc is better than gold) if they return his stolen property to him. He can provide proof that it is his of some sort, which could be as simple as a ...


114

Reward the PCs with attention A group of level 2 PCs with a staff of the magi will soon find that everyone wants it. Many of these will be bad guys, but a few of them will be good guys. The GM can reward the PCs for their superior play by having the good guys contact the PCs and offer to take the staff off their hands for their own safety (instead of, for ...


10

Have someone powerful show up and trade it with them for multiple other, less powerful items. Make it clear that the powerful person wants to trade because he is a good guy, not because he feels that he and the party are on equal footing. Let him both explain that his trade of the major item for 10 minor ones is fair and better for the party, since they'll ...


0

From experience in OD&D and AD&D 1st Ed., one of the best ways to deal with this general problem (not specific to Staff of the Magi, which has surely changed since I last dealt with one) is to let the party begin to be overrun with people (and monsters) trying to steal the overpowered item from them. They can either use up charges they can't replace ...


1

Prior to my use of in medias res as a campaign start, I took time to develop the characters with the players. We discussed back stories and even picked equipment. The players were familiar with their characters. The game began with, "You have all been slaves of the hobgoblin king for many years. Your only possession is your loincloth. A mighty swordsman ...


1

There are already several great answers. I will only add some highlights from my experience that demonstrate successful use of in medias res. In medias res is a tool I have used many times at gaming conventions. You normally have a four hour slot, so you don't have the luxury of slowly building a story arc amidst an organically growing group of ...


3

You can abstract a labyrinth into a list of possible approaches, and their stages, requirements, and results. In this way, you can choose what you want the results of different approaches to be like. As just one possible example of this, perhaps you want the labyrinth to be a test of spiritual fortitude, and you anticipate the following approaches: If a ...


2

I don’t think you need a map for an interesting maze any more than you need a map of a city for engaging urban adventures or a map of a forest for a successful survival scenario. If you already have a good source of tension (“run for your life”, “race to the treasure”, “no stone left unturned”, “find exit or die”), you can narrate the maze the same way you ...


-3

What do you mean you can't run a silly Chthulhu plot? Please consult IOU (Illuminati "You are not cleared to know what the O stands for" University), also from Gurps. An ancient tome of evil that speaks with the voice of Dr. Ruth and advises the players to do unspeakable things to improve their sex lives? An object that warps the very fabric of reality by ...


5

As a D&D 4e DM, I was seriously thrown out of my (at the time) habitual game preparation techniques because of the emphasis that 4e put on challenging and balanced encounters instead of "there are two goblins on this room" that would probably be solved by the initiative check. So, quickly I found out that preparing a full maze and let people explore as I ...


1

First off I'd think about, what are rolls for: Decide conflicts, that can't be decided otherwise. Determine if a PC is able to do something. Decide how good/bad something ends. In your case it's about a conflict and the questions is: can it be decided otherwise? If a monster tries to intimidate or seduce a PC and the player decides that his PC fails for ...


8

As a DM, this is how I handle it: Pick an arbitrary DC, based on what the PLAYER was last doing. For instance, if the player is confronting the NPC because he's bored and wants a fight, then the DC to intimidate him might be 12. If it's because he's desperate to save his dying sister, then he's a lot more motivated and harder to intimidate - so maybe an ...



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