Three things from Batman Begins

Yesterday after a long and frustrating week, I decided to watch Batman Begins. After it was finished, I wanted to hang out in that world a bit longer, so here’s some stuff for your D&D game inspired by things from that movie that you won’t find on a utility belt.

NightCafe, “Batman brooding.”

Plot point: Approaching, unstoppable danger

In the movie, Ras has a machine that vaporises the water supply, turning the haluconagen filled water into a gas. The machine is travelling along the train system, vaporising the water below it as it goes. Massive amounts of chaos is happening. Once it gets to Wayne Tower – the centre of Gotham, and coincidentally the central water reserve below Wayne Tower – it’ll knock the pressure so high the entire city will be engulfed in the gas.

A version of this plot point is actually already in Rime of the Frostmaiden. It was very good and very tense there! Other versions you can do:

  • A series of dams are set to explode on a timer. (Why not all at once? Maybe fear is the villains motive, rather than simply killing everyone. Maybe it’s a ransom thing.)
  • A curse is spreading through the city. The good news is that there are bridges and guards keeping the blighted in quarentine in certains parts of the city, but every once in a while someone scared townsfolk manage to break through and continue to spread the curse.
  • A slander – an outright lie – about the group (or the group’s patron) is slowly making its way around the country. If enough people hear it, it won’t matter what the truth is. Getting their reputation back will always be mared. Proving the slander as a falsehood is a key way to resolve the whole thing, but doing so takes time. Maybe shutting people up is the first step?

The key bits of this plot point are: 1) the threat must have already started. The damage its causing is obvious. It can’t be allowed to go on. 2) There is a way to stem to the flow, and doing so will mean fewer impacted lives. Focusing here migth mean the actual villain has a chance to escape. 3) There’s a way to stop the villain, and end the whole thing, but in the meanwhile lots of people will be affected before that happens.

Contacts: Making connections

After writing about contacts before, I’m pleased to see that they’re such a big deal in Demon City too, which I just received.

The Tech Guy. Lucius Fox. Has access to tonnes of gadgets and is more than happy to share them with their Character Contact. Knows what tools are needed for a particular job. Keeps his ear to the ground for other interesting tech that is cropping up. Unfortuntaely: their not exactly his gadgets to be giving out, so he has to have some measure of care and getting their returned is crucial. Others know about The Tech Guy’s ability and inventory and will try to make moves for it. Keeping Lucius as a Contact will require side missions to keep him safe.

The Bent Officer. Arnold Flass (Gordon’s partner.) He’s got a dark side, but he’s not bad. He takes bribes because everyone takes bribes. Why lose out on the money? Because of that, he often knows where he’s been told not to be which may be of use to his Character Contact. He’ll do his job and arrest the little guys, and turn the other way when it’s just common sense to do so. Unfortunately: he only ever knows enough to get the Character started on their investigation. The actual Bad Guys don’t share anything with him. He’s also prone being blackmailed by the mobsters, and he may need help getting out of those situations.

The Sherpa. Alfred. As close as family to their Character Contact and loves them enough to buy into whatever their current passions are. They’ll do their best to mind matters whilst the Player is away, collect them when they’re left for dead, and make a nice smoothy. Unfortunately: they’re not a fighter, nor are they particularly strong. Their loyalty to the Character often puts them in situations they can’t handle and need to be rescued from. Their dedication to the Character’s safety might also at some point be prioritised above the player’s objectives.

Feat: Why Do We Fall?

Why Do We Fall?

Gain the Restless Endurance (Half-Orc) trait.

In addition, when you use this trait make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. On a success, you’re hard as fuck and gain (10 + Con modifier) temporary hit points which vanish in 1 minute.

In addition, when you use this trait make a DC 15 Intimidation (Con) check. On a success, you’re cool as fuck and the creature that triggered the trait is Frightened of you until the end of your next round.

The missing things from D&D: Contacts

Character creation in a lot of RPGs get you to think about a background for your character, and almost all of those, including D&D, get you to think about your ties to the world. The Background in D&D comes with a few questions which prompt this: what was the event which made you a folk hero? what made your turn your back on civilisation?

However, very few of those 5e backgrounds prompt you to think about specific people, with names.

Sources of information

In Call of Cthulhu, when you pick your occupation it specifically calls out the contacts you might have made during the course of your work. As a game based around investigation, and rarely brute force, having Barry from the Legal Team as a friend (or even just colleague) gives the player an avenue to turn to when they’re desperately struggling to find the next stepping stone. Finding new contacts is an actively part of the game too – the gunsmith isn’t just a person to sell you guns, but a name you should write down because you’ll need their expertise when it comes to tracking down the owner of a recently sold gun.

When creating a Shadowrun character, you can allot some of your starting attribute points to making new contacts. This isn’t quite a one-to-one relationship, but you can either pick a new spell or add a new contact. Similar to Cthulhu, Shadowrun is all about planning a heist and tracking down information, so it’s not surprising there are such systems around making a network of sources.

Finding a new contact can be as powerful as finding a magic item in Faerun. In Shadow of the Demonlord’s core rule book, this is specifically called out. Being introduced to the High Cultist might be the reward for an entire quest chain. Demonlord doesn’t put as much effort into this as some other systems, but it does include some prompts to be thought about when adding a new NPC.

Having this potential source of information doesn’t necessarily give the players a superpower; the DM still controls if what these sources know. This type of thinking – around if you’ve accidentally made your players too powerful – is counter-productive to fun. Instead, consider it another way for you to feed plot to the players when their wheels start spinning.

Family

There are far too many orphaned and unattached adventurers in the world. Too often there are no ties to their home. Even total losers have at least a cousin they have some affinity for.

At the beginning on my Maze of the Blue Medusa campaign, I asked the players why do you owe this kenku a favour? Despite coming with ideas about their character, there was no prep time for this, and they had to improvise something on the spot. I’m certain that’s the first time some of them had thought about the fact that their father needed some falsified documents, or that they were still living in their parents basement.

My main aim with getting the answer to this was to find ways that the characters were tied to the world, so I could wrap the plot around it when needed. It just so happened that along the way we learned about some of their family, and some of them become NPCs that the characters cared for. “Well, we can’t do the ritual in my home… what if someone bad happens and it affects my mum?” This isn’t just about role play (which a certain type of player is uneasy around) – it’s sometimes key to plot.