Horror Halloween or Cyberspace
I’ve had three choices for my D&D session this week:
- Introduce new mechanics for cyberspace-hacking.
- Have one of the players take over as DM for a one-shot Halloween party.
- Run a Halloween / horror-themed side-quest in our current story.
I picked #2 early on, but that player couldn’t attend last week and we haven’t had much contact, so I’m prepping to take the reins either way. Spoilers: I’m going with #3: Horror side-quest. I’d like to give context for all these choices though. I’ll start with the one likely to be a big deal later:
1. Cyber-Hacking / Cyberspace:
The Norship setting is my attempt to mash together sci-fi with fantasy, in what I hope is a “clever” way. We’ll see if that pans out. There’s a cyberpunk element in the mashup itself: Cybernetic modifications merge tech into bodies in a holistic, transformative way. Individuals (and especially Apparata) become something else through these changes. For some characters they can interface into the setting’s varied computing networks. So cyber-hacking has the potential to be a central element of my game.
I’ve tried to include hacking, first as a sort of mini-game with a series of hack tests which I tossed out after two sessions (too boring and time-consuming). Since then I’ve had players roll skill tests, using “Arcana” in place of a tech-knowledge skill. I asked each player to choose a tech specialty and applied that as a bonus proficiency (only two players chose “hacking” over other technical skills). Rolling skill tests is part of tried-and-true 5E, but I’m not thrilled with the way it plays in this case. Hacking cries out for its own game-mechanics that integrate into the flow of the game, but are also on their own layer.
So I’m working on that. By working I mean brooding. Ultimately this week my own (non-cyber-enchanced) brain was distracted with other plans. I will definitely revisit the hacking topic again soon.
2. Halloween One-Shot:
Following someone else’s plan would be a nice change for me, I’ve been on the DM side of the table for awhile. It would be nice to portray a full player-character. A part of me hopes they keep the one-shot within The Norship setting but that could be awkward: I have kept much of the lore close, releasing details to my players on-a-need-to-know basis (which is a nifty way to reveal a world around the characters, but that’s a whole other topic).
I’d enjoy something classic like Strahd or set in Forgotten Realms or somesuch. Halloween is a perfect time for one-shots.
3. The Horror Side-Quest:
I have a loose system for side-quests, which goes like this:
- Introduce a new, unexpected place or goal, right from where the players left last session. It’s the perfect time to pivot the direction. Maybe they find a secret door (I’ve done this) or are approached by a notable NPC with an imperative and immediate quest.
- Toss in an all-new temporary big-bad. One that is either adjacent in plot-or-faction to the existing big-bad(s) or has its own entirely unique agenda. A key part: This must be a foe the party can defeat with their current resources, or throughout the course of this session. I already branch my main story, so I wouldn’t want ongoing confusion.
- Treat it like a one-shot (even if it ends up lasting more than one session). It’s own bubble, contained.
This formula may seem mind-numbingly obvious, but I was honestly terrible with side-quests until I wrote this down. I should have picked up the natural flow of things as a player, before I started DM’ing last year, but nope. That’s a complement towards my DMs, I got so wrapped up in their stories I never thought to look behind the curtain. It’s rare for me to not think like a designer, but D&D is one of the few games I get so immersed as a player.
I wish modules had better advice for side-quests and that includes some of the 5E officially published adventures. That’s a whole other article and one I’m not sure whether I’ll write unless I start up a module-critique section to this blog. To be fair, I felt like an untalented hack of a DM while running those: I’m just not great at adventures-by-the-book. An aside, I recently took a look at Waterdeep: Dragon Quest and that looks fabulously well-written and designed: I bet that would be an exception.
With my 3-piece plan for side-questing: My big-bad is borrowing elements from a popular homebrew creature with some nasty horror-inducing abilities. I’ll let you in on the details after it plays out.
I’d love to hear what people think of this glance into my weekly process: juggling my design and my weekly session– but this where I mention I have no comment system on this blog. I do want input and feedback, I’d just rather build a community with tools designed for that. I’m setting up a Discord server which I’ll link soon, plus I’m considering other options (Reddit? MeWe? A Facebook group?). Meanwhile, I am on Twitter and you can reply to my link there for this post “Horror Halloween or Cyberspace”, if you wish.