I have had to work with as few as 4 NPCs for an entire event before. Because of this, I have had to adapt my events and behavior to be able to make those NPCs streach. I want to write a series of articles about entertaining a LOT of PCs with VERY FEW NPCs. So, without further ado, here is the first of my “Doing a lot with a little” articles.
I have to say, I LOVE putting treasure chests out for players to find in my game. First thing on Saturday Morning, I send out the first NPC awake to set out treasure chests throughout the camp.
These are SO USEFUL to game-flow, and to breaking up the monotony of down-time. If your players know that there are treasure chests out in the camp, they will be more likely to move away from your inn (tavern, main hang-out area, whatever) and adventure. It also makes your players more able to entertain themselves, but still feel like they are interacting with the game world.
Get Them Out of Town
Often I hear complaints about PCs, and how they just congregate and don’t go out and look for adventure. This shackles a GM, because you can’t really put out random encounter monsters, because there are no PCs to encounter! If the PCs just hang out in town, you have two options for mod structure: attack town, or hook a mod. You can’t just have players run into bandits, thieves, kidnappers or Jehovah’s Witnesses in the middle of the forest, because no one goes out to wander.
This is where treasure chests and randomly growing components come in handy. If your players know that they will be rewarded when they leave town, then they are more likely to go wandering.
And because players are greedy, they will be more likely to go out in small groups, so that they don’t have to share treasure. These groups are great to kidnap or just attack.
Make Them Entertain Themselves
You can get players out of town, and have them entertain themselves with this Easter Egg hunt. It gives them something to do so that they are not bored!
You can also make the chests varying levels of difficulty. Some can be trapped, some can be locked, and some can be enchanted. You can make it so that it is a suspenseful crap-shoot when they open a chest!
Absolutely make use of the GM’s best friend in this case: Dominate. Have one chest shoot out poison darts that drive the target mad with rage. Now, now only are the players out in the woods on their own steam, but they are in the middle of a fight for their lives against one of their allies.
This keeps them entertained with ZERO NPC involvement.
I have seen games with really intricate ceremony components, a large portion of which were tagged flowers. They used fake flowers with tags attached, and would put the flowers all over the camp first thing in the morning. This was amazing to interact with, because you could go for a walk and come back with a bouquet of flowers that gave you power and earned you gold.
If your game cannot afford the fake flowers, or your staff does not have the time to attach tags to all of them, treasure chests are your friend. You just put your item tags (printed ones are common) into the chests and hide them about the game.
Remember: you don’t want to make them too difficult to find for two reasons:
1: It is disappointing for players if they can’t find them.
2: You have to go find them at the end of the event.
If you don’t have the money to buy wooden treasure chests, I have a few tips about how to make really budget treasure chests. Sometimes when you look at your budget, seeing your expensive treasure boxes get destroyed by rain is disheartening. Thus: look into alternate ways to make them that cost little to no money.
Having budget treasure chests is good, because they can get destroyed by weather and not set you back too much money.
And, as my last suggestion: give your players a place where they can drop off your treasure chests. Make it REALLY easy for them, or else you will never see your boxes again!