The tendency to find meaning in the partially-known is called apophenia: finding meaning or patterns where none exist (from dailywritingtips.com). This is one of our most powerful tools as improvisational storytellers. It's also a great trick for game session prep!
I often use random generators to help spark ideas or seed stories. It works everytime - my brain gets a set of unconnected prompts and then jumps through hoops to bring them together into something cohesive.
Anything can be a 'random generator'. You can pluck things from your existing collection. Let's try it today using some magic item cards from Night Owl Odysseys (I got these beauties in their December magic item pack).
Three words jump out at me right away: Queen, Usurper, and Stolen.
I can already imagine a plot filled with royal betrayal and conspiracy against the throne. I'm thinking this story's tension should revolve around a usurper who has deposed the kingdom's ruling power. The goal for players will be to return what was lost - in this case restore the rightful heir to the throne.
The setting will be a frozen region. The icy themes on these cards pushes us in that direction. The Cloak belonged to a Frost Queen's Herald. The ring can cast Hail Storm and Cold Snap. The candle flame resembles the northern lights, and evokes a cold winter's night.
With a rough plot setup, and a setting, we now need some characters. Again, these items do most of the work. A reading of the cards reveals these likely characters:
- The Usurper - Some foreign power has taken the throne. They wear the Ring of the Usurper, a crown of great magic now cursed by their evil soul.
- The Queen - The rightful ruler must be the Frost Giant Queen who gifted her trusted herald a precious wolf-fur cloak.
- The Queen's Herald - Wearer of the cloak that was given, the herald is forever loyal. They are a ranger who knows the region better than anyone.
- Kertasnikir - Maker of the magic candle, and many other wondrous artifacts. Kertasnikir once served as the royal mage but has not been seen in years.
With plot, setting, items, and characters, I'm ready to sketch out an adventure. It begins with the players stranded in an icy cabin a mere 2 days ride from Vargholm castle. They have been summoned to the castle by a close friend. Their friend has warned them of a powerful invader and hinted that they are in serious danger. But there is a problem - unnatural winter storms have brought darkness and ice to the lands around the castle. Travel has become impossible, and no one goes outside after dark for fear of freezing.
As the players huddle up in their cabin, the storms billowing outside, the door slams open. A stranger wearing a white wolven cloak enters and introduces themselves as the queen's herald. The herald relays the true scope of the danger and offers great rewards if they can help their deposed queen. The herald also bears a viable path through the storm - knowledge of the region and Kertasnikir's magic candle.
The first encounters would center around the trip through the dark winter storms to the castle. The players would have to overcome a variety of wilderness challenges, with a risk of getting lost and freezing to death. A climactic moment would involve a narrow bridge of ice with monsters in pursuit, their only source of light provided by the 10-foot haze of Kertasnikir's candle.
These ideas are just a beginning, but it is remarkable how much we have to work with after using only 3 magic item cards as prompts. Let's be grateful for our affliction. May we never find a cure for our apophenia.
Highlight: Trilemma's One Page Dungeons
I only left myself 20 minutes to prepare for game night last Friday. Every month I swear I won't do that again, and every month I do it again. Thankfully, I discovered my new favourite source for one-shots and dungeons.
Trilemma adventures creates all sorts of cool stuff, but the highlight is his finely illustrated one-page dungeons. They are gorgeous and well designed, evoking a strong sense of layout and dungeon theme. I instantly bought the hardcover book.
Thankfully you don't have to spend any money or wait on the mail like me. Michael has generously released many free dungeons you can delve right now. Thanks Michael!
Hack: Ask your customers what's stopping them
Recently LegendKeeper switched to a free trial model. We believe that making LegendKeeper easier to try is important. You want to make sure that a worldbuilding app feels right for you before investing too much time, money, and energy.
As part of this, we are now seeing lots of people try it, with only some of them becoming paid subscribers. This is totally normal - it's a funnel.
There are tons of tactics we could employ here to get more subscribers. But we decided to start by better understanding the problem. The next step was simple. So simple, that many people overlook this - we just asked people what stopped them.
I gathered a list of people who had recently ended their trial, and who had actually used the app a bit, and I sent them a personal email asking what prevented them from subscribing. I've learned a ton already, and now I won't waste time on tactics that are addressing the wrong problems.
A couple insights from this hack:
- If you create a funnel with stages of mutual trust building, you will have a chance to talk to people and learn. I see too many creators just post a product page on social media then get stuck wondering why they aren't getting sales.
- You can literally just ask people things. It works.
Thanks for reading!
I recently wrote a personal piece on the LegendKeeper newsletter about how I built a writing habit. I'm really proud of it, and people told me it was especially good.
I've gotten a bigger response to this newsletter than I expected. So now I have an unusually big stack of Loot (eg. free stuff) I can potentially share here. Do you want me to send emails for that stuff or just post it on the website? I originally said this thing would come once a month so I'm worried about swarming people's inboxes. Please reply with your thoughts if you have a minute 😄
Here are the large resolution images of the magic item cards from Night Owl Odysseys.