Nik Naks 3


The third installment of the thrilling Nik Naks serial! Nik Naks are extra ingredients that can be added to any gaming campaign. These won't be found in the Player's Handbook on in the Dungeon Master's Guide II. They're homegrown, homemade -- they spring from the DM's mind just like Athena did from the forehead of Zeus. This time around, we cover the Timeline, the Travelogue, and The Seven Degrees of Ferranifer. Who? Read on!

As a friendly reminder... Nik Naks are extra ingredients that can be added to any gaming campaign. These won't be found in the Player's Handbook on in the Dungeon Master's Guide II. They're homegrown, homemade -- they spring from the DM's mind just like Athena did from the forehead of Zeus. Browse around and you'll find two previous articles (Pt. 2 and Pt. 1) that cover some other Nik Naks my group uses. Here's some more.

#8 Timeline

The purpose of The Timeline is to give the players a sense of history...

The Timeline is just that. It's a timeline that gives an overview of everything that has happened to the characters since the campaign began. It is similar to Nik Nak #3, The Recap, but is broader in scope. Whereas The Recap only covers the events of a particular game, The Timeline glosses over every game and then places their events on the in-game calendar. The purpose of The Timeline is to give the players a sense of history regarding their characters and the game and to give them some perspective on when events occurred relative to the current game.

My current AD&D campaign started in August of 1996. It's been going for nearly 10 years, real time. At first, the players had no issue remembering when something happened within the context of the game. If they defended Skull Outpost on the 4th game and then got kidnapped by neogi on the 6th game, they had a pretty good idea on when these events occurred within in the game.

As the years go by, we humans tend to forget when certain things happened. An email recap of a game might help one remember the events of a single game, but years later it doesn't do much to help a player put those events into a chronology.

The Timeline solves that issue.

If it takes us six months, real time, to cover two weeks of game time, my players are likely to forget some of the details of what happened to their characters. Sure, it was only 2 weeks ago for the characters, but it was six months for the players. In the game world, it's not likely that the Rune Reader would have forgotten about reading the Mystery Journal two weeks ago. The player, however, might have forgotten that his Rune Reader did such a thing because, again, that was six months ago. But, if the player has a handy timeline to reference, then he can refresh himself on recent events as they relate to the game.

The Timeline, like any Nik Nak, can be tailored to the needs of the players and the DM. My version of The Timeline assumes a 52 week year with seven days to the week. Thus, on my Timeline, the first game occurred on Day 1, Week 1, Year 1. The second game was on Day 6, Week 1, Year 1, and the third was on Day 1, Week 4, Year 1. And so it goes.

Since my player's travel the planes (a la Planescape), I use a generic Year 1 rather than DR 1358 or CY 576. I do keep track of what year it is on Toril and what year it is on Krynn, but I don't worry about their calendars so much. I mostly only worry about what day it is on The Timeline.

The Timeline is a simple tool that accomplishes a lot. One, it gives the players a sense of persepective to when events within the game occur. We don't have to guess that it was six weeks between the Skull Outopost ordeal and the neogi capture. They can look at The Timeline and know for a fact that it was six weeks in between. Two, The Timeline provides consistency within the game. More to the point, it (obviously) provides chronology. Plus, there's something about having the events recorded that makes the whole thing seem more authentic. Rather than have to try and guess about what happened at Skull Outpost, a player can reference The Timeline and just know.

#9 Travelogue

The Travelogue... is a list of everywhere the players have been.

The Travelogue is something of a work in progress for me. Nik Nak #2 involves Guest Stars...a list of folks (NPC's) who have been encountered in the games. The Travelogue is similiar, but it is for places rather than people.

As I've mentioned, my campaign is heavy on planar travel. At first, the players are going to remember every place they've been and what the story and situation is. But, as the case is with The Timeline, people start to forget things over time. Did we actually go to the Elemental Plane of Fire? Or was that the 4th Layer of Baator?

The Travelogue can be used to solve that issue. Simply put, it's a list of everywhere the players have been; if used in conjunction with The Timeline, then you can note where and when the players went to The Plane of Ooze. But, even without The Timeline, the Travelogue can be used as a friendly reminder of what places have been explroed.

My Travelogue doesn't exist as a single text, but rather a combination of texts. I have a "star chart" that shows the relative location of each world. Another chart shows the travel times between worlds for Route X. A different chart shows how the worlds are connected in terms of portals (and what keys are needed to activate the portals). And yet another chart is simply a list of where the players have been and the basic lowdown of that world.

For example, I can reference my charts and know that Moloch has an outpost on the Elemental Plane of fire that has six portals to six other hideouts. The Travelogue will tell the players that this is the place where they rescued the harem girl Sundew and it will tell them that the portal to the world of Sanctuary requires a bloody knife to activate.

#10 The Seven Degrees of Ferranifer true villain fashion, they all had their own agenda...

This one is actually a Nik Nak that one of my players came up with. About two years ago, people time, the cast of villains nearly tripled when the players discovered a schism amongst the ranks of The Undead. No longer was Orcus the only chief of the, there seemed to be half a dozen or more. And, in true villain fashion, they all had their own agenda and they were all playing each other against one another.

Since I had worked on the details of this schism and gone through it over and over, I had it all pretty straight in my head. But, some of my players were confused. And rightly so -- having six candidates for Lord of the Undead was, in hindsight, a bit much.

So one night, one of my players brought a canvass-sized piece of paper and we drew out the relationships between all the villains with notes as to who was scheming against whom. One player called it The Seven Degrees of Ferranifer as a tribute to The Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon and to Ferranifer, a vampire scion who was involved in the mix.

The chart proved to be useful in keeping track of all the infernal politicking. The chart would show that Acererak meant to betray Orcus. The chart would show that Orcus and Moloch had no common agenda. The chart would show that the githyanki seemed to be involved in everyone's affairs. The chart would show that the neogi had no true allies. And so forth.

Well, folks, that's another wrap for the Nik Nak report. I'll be sure to keep ya'll in the loop when I get more developed and fleshed out. Hopefully some of these will be useful to some of you out there. Hopefully, some of you are already using these.

And, remember...Nik Naks...ya gotta love 'em.

I like it, RG. The Timeline is a particularly good idea. I use a calendar to keep track of the date in my campaigns, but it never occurred to me to write a précis of each game's events on it.

And the seven degrees of Ferranifer: very funny.

Good article, good read. Thanks!

good ideas, RG, keep it going (or moderators, keep releasing the articles).

Hm...the Seven Degrees seem like they'd only be needed by people with really detailed and convulted plots...not to say that's bad, as far as I'm concerned those are the best kind of plots, and having six factions of warrring undead is inherently better than having just five, but, well, some people are just Okay, you guys are Light, and they're Dark, and you fight. The only strife among the Darkies comes when the Dark Lord kills his liutenant for failing to capture the character party.
I guess I'd say that one should strive to NEED the Seven Degrees, because if you do, it's clear you're doing something well.
Unless you do draw up the Degrees and it turns out your plot is nonsensical, and it just wasn't immediately clear because there was enough intrigue to mask the underlying nonsense.

The other two would fit into any campaign - even if the players haven't yet forgotten, or if they don't really need to remember, it still gives a nice sens eof accomplishment to see all that written down on paper.

I think your Seven Degrees of Ferranifer is brilliant. Personally, when I develop a campaign I try to build a wheel with spokes around every single one of my PC's... then list NPC's who will be allies, rivals, villains (to kill & be killed), and nemesises, nemesi, nemes...(You get the point) who are almost unkillable & who grow in power along with my PC's. The PC's always drive the game... But, I've found that one PC's ally makes a great nemesis/rival for another PC.
It always makes more for greater Game depth as well as fun in-game tension. It also provides a foundation for game after game after game when you're looking for plot or inspiration because the players constantly change things or come up with new ideas of your own. Your NPC's will then be able to benefit or suffer because of the PC's actions so it makes for growth on their part as well.
Then throw in your sporadic light hearted fun dungeoncrawl game or two and before you know it you've got a full blown campaign that's run for 3 years and *33* levels-- and great memories to be had by all...

Wow...33 levels after 3 years? My players would be jealous. My highest leveled guy is at 17...and it's taken him 7 years to get that far!!!

You're right about how it's nice to see these things written down on paper. There's something immortalizing about documentation...

The 7 Degrees eventually became a necessity for both me and the players. There a pretty healthy web of deceit in my, we definately needed a scorecard to keep it straight. I'm one of those guys who thinks that any bad guy who deserves a name also deserves an agenda -- don't bother to give Admril Motti a name if he doesn't have a personality / goal, ya know?

then list NPC's who will be allies, rivals, villains (to kill & be killed), and nemesises, nemesi, nemes...(You get the point)

Sure, sure. Don't hurt yourself. ;)

a bit off-topic here, but it's now taken us around 8 months to get to level 4 (just) - is that fast?
Anyway, now we're scrapping the campaign and starting a new one....except for one guy (the psycho mage, if you recall my earlier tales) who wouldn't give up his character, so we had to through loops to find a way to put his character into the new campaign...
a pyromaniac mage running around ancient egypt...:P

Personally...I think 4 levels in 8 months is a decent pace. Not too fast, not too slow.

You're brilliant, you know that? I'm gonna use that third one in one of my campaigns. Or at least I'm going to try.


I'm not a rare flower
Nor am I a shiny treasure box
I'm just your average gamer girl
Who has a bit of power

I GM for the boys
I write up a set of rules
To make sure they keep a reign
On all their spiffy toys