Make The Mundane Tasks In Gaming Fun And Playable

Before I had a lot of GM experience I would sometimes encounter game sessions that did not go so well. Sometimes sessions were spectacular…but there were always those sessions where it seemed like the players were not as interested, the adventures were not as fun, and the challenges just didn’t do it. It just wasn’t entertaining!

As I got better, I realized a few things about these game sessions:

  • When I got bored, the players got bored.
  • The best sessions were the ones where something memorable happened. For example, a boss battle, some kind of confrontation, a mystery developed.
  • The sessions where everything seemed to drop out of the middle were usually the ones in the in-between stages of the story.

For example, the battle at the castle would go great, but when it came time for the PCs to travel to the capitol (one week’s travel away), game play would get tedious.

The problem was these in-between sessions usually went too fast. In an effort to get the players to the next scheduled confrontation, I would shuffle them from place to place quickly. This left the game play boring and caused us to miss out on a lot of detail.

A lot of GMs focus on the intense, big things: the battles, the clanging of the swords, the fire coming out of the dragon’s nostrils. But these quiet sessions, when there are not hordes of orcs to fight, are the ones that give you the opportunity to explore detail in a finer and grittier sense.

In a recent session in our game, the players had just gone through several roadblocks to find some treasure they sought. In addition to traveling several days through the mountains on horseback, they also:

  • Fought a horde of goblins.
  • Raided the goblin cave, finding an even bigger horde of goblins.
  • Got stalked and attacked by a pack of large, magical wolves.
  • Found the treasure cave, swam through a murky stream to find a hidden passage, and crawled through the mud into the cavernous treasure room.
  • Upon entering the room, they were greeted by a wall of spider web…and were attacked by two giant spiders who could wield moderate-level magic. One of the players got caught in the web, and the others had to save her from being spun up and eaten!
  • Fell off the cliff they were trying to climb down on their way home. If it were not for the party druid and her magical healing spells, they might have had a rough time of it!

Well, the high point was over. The treasure was found (a magical sword that held the presence of a once powerful wizard). But now what?

Back when I was an inexperienced GM, I might have asked “what do you want to do now?” However, having been here before, and seeing how game play can go downhill fast after an adventure, I explained some of the following. All of them were facts, but they were facts the players would probably not have noticed on their own.

  • The PCs had killed a lot of goblins, and the goblin blood all over their clothes was starting to smell like rotten food.
  • The characters were full of mud, their clothes were in tatters, and they had worse body odor than an orc in a blacksmith shop.
  • Neither they, nor their horses, had eaten or drank water in about 24 hours, so they were on the verge of falling over from fatigue.
  • I pointed out the party ranger was almost out of arrows, the druid was almost out of darts, and the entire party needed new clothing. Theirs was completely ruined.

All of these things were true, but they are sometimes not the first things we think about while running a campaign.

Well, there was a small trading village about a day’s ride from the PCs’ location, and they decided to head that way for new clothing, weapon upgrades and possibly a bath!

Once the characters entered the city, I again tried to take a mundane task and turn it into something interesting. When the ranger went to the general trading post to sell wolf pelts he had taken from their battle with the wolves, the shop owner was utterly repulsed and half angry the ranger even dared to come in! Why? Take your pick:

  • The ranger had not bathed in a week.
  • He was wearing smelly, dirty, foul smelling leather armor over tattered, blood stained, muddy clothing.
  • He was trading un-tanned pelts. He just skinned the animals. Therefore, the pelts reeked of dead animal flesh. The store owner told him “You should pay ME, just to dispose of these nasty pelts for you!”

Here is another example. When the half-orc barbarian sought out the inn to try and scrounge up a bath the woman behind the inn counter was utterly repulsed at the sight of him and ordered him out of her establishment. He proceeded to buy clothes and a bar of soap at the trading post, and made his way to the river to bathe. Well, this was another mundane task, so I decided to throw something interesting in.

When he rounded the corner, he spotted a female halfling sitting on a rock, dangling her feet in the water. She did not even come up to his waist, and she was dressed like a rogue. She struck up a conversation with him that went something like this…

Halfling: “So, you taking a bath in the river?”

Half-orc: “Ya”

Halfling: “Why don’t you take a bath in the inn?”

Half-orc: “Uh, the inn keeper told me to leave.”

Halfling turns up her nose. “You are going to smell like fish after bathing in this river.”

Half-orc: “Well, I smell like death right now…I figure fish is something to aspire to!”

Halfling: “Well, don’t mind me. But since you mentioned you are headed south, I was wondering if you might be interested in hiring someone with my talents?”

The players got a good laugh out of this, and after a meeting, they decided to hire the halfling. They now have an NPC with them who has talents no-one else in the group possesses. Something positive came out of it, and it was not even planned. Just spur of the moment.

To finish off my article, here are some tips to make mundane tasks memorable and interesting.

* Take your time. Do not rush through the session. Add realism and detail. Make sure you are completely done with a task before rushing onto the next thing.

* Take a moment, at least once per session, to point out some obvious things the group might not notice. For example, do they smell bad? Are they out of gun powder? Is the fighter’s shield damaged from that troll’s club? Do they need food? Do they need a haircut?

  • Introduce a new and interesting NPC at least once per session. This could be an old guy sitting in the tavern, a halfling rogue by the river or a mysterious wizard who asks them if they need any healing potions.

Sometimes they will just nod their head and go their separate ways, but you never know when you might be able to use this NPC to great effect. Perhaps the players will invite the character to join their party or do some sort of business with him?

  • Throw curve balls in there once in awhile. Make them easy to avoid, but make them tempting. For example, maybe the elven handmaiden takes a fancy to the group’s ranger, or maybe there is a cute wolf pup for sale outside a local trading store. The PCs might not even care…but maybe they will!
  • If there are NPCs traveling with the PCs, stir up some conversation. Perhaps the druid NPC did not approve of the way the wizard PC used a fireball to take out a helpless enemy after the battle. Perhaps the druid even begins insulting the wizard, and cursing his arcane magic, calling it a “bag of cheap tricks.”
  • Another provocative tactic is to make NPCs throw racial slurs at the PCs. Some examples might include an inn keeper that does not approve of them “half orc folk,” or how that human princess does not trust the “pointy eared ones.”
  • Explain things that happen in detail. Instead of the shopkeeper “taking the money and handing over the hardtack,” you might say, “the shop keeper, eyeing the ranger one more time, reluctantly took the money and half-tossed the hardtack back at the PC, murmuring something about how he needed a bath and a shave…”
  • When the party travels long distances by horseback, do not just fast forward to the next day. Throw some things in there. Maybe they come across an abandoned cabin, meet a group of fishermen or get stalked by a pack of wolves. Maybe a horse steps into a groundhog hole or bandits try to hold them up. Maybe they find an abandoned wagon beside the road, only to find a cursed necklace in it that (they learn later) brings bad luck.

Remember a few simple rules.

  • Slow down
  • Pay attention to detail
  • Enjoy every moment of the session
  • Do not miss a single opportunity to make the game memorable
  • Find epic gaming in the mundane. Use well-played normalness to make battles seem all the more intense and awesome. If the PCs are used to fishing and haggling with traders (and enjoying it) then having a group of evil paladins attacking them with katanas will seem intense!