Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Using Rory's Storycubes in D&D

This past November at Gamehole Con I played a game of Original D&D with former Dragon Magazine editor Tim Kask. During our time together we played through his zany adventure that pitted us against giant squirrels and provided unexpected answers to biology questions (I wish we'd known that ants have a dufour gland that will secrete a chemicals that will attract other ants BEFORE we decided to hack to pieces a lone member of the colony). Afterwards, Tim took some time to talk about his approach to DMing at conventions and what helps him get his creative juices flowing. Before we parted, he insisted that Rory's Story Cubes are a key tool for any DM who needs help improvising ideas for an adventure, NPCs, or brainstorming in general.

Me with Tim Kask at Gamehole Con 2017

What are Rory's Story Cubes?

Rory's Story Cubes are six-sided dice that have various images printed on each facing. The cubes were originally created by Rory O'Connor and Anita Murphy through their work as creativity trainers and to help adults with problem solving. They are now used by adults and children alike to generate ideas for use in storytelling, language development and other educational purposes. They are also a wonderful resource and tool for gamemasters to use in their tabletop roleplaying games.

How to use Rory's Story Cubes in D&D

Last minute session prep: 

Its Friday night and its been a long week. You scheduled a D&D session and everyone is coming over in 45 minutes and you have no plan. No problem; pull out your Rory's Story Cubes and let the dice decide where the story will go. Lay out your dice sequentially and let your improvisation skills interpret the cubes as story beats.

Or you could take a different approach to laying out your story. Identify one cube (or several) to frame the central conflict of your session. Pull out another to help you develop an antagonist. Use another to help you determine the setting. Maybe another helps you to brainstorm an NPC that will be useful to the party. The possibilities for coming up with wacky and fun game sessions on the fly is endless.

Character Introductions

I did a one-shot adventure of the Death House adventure from Curse of Strahd and everyone was using pre-generated characters. In order to bring some life to the backgrounds, I had all of the characters begin the session telling their stories around the campfire. I gave each player 3 dice to help them tell the beginning, middle and end of their most notable adventure to date. Some of the stories were funny, some were confusing, and some I even integrated into the session to help the players have a stronger emotional investment in the session. This worked so well that I have used this technique multiple times since and my players love it.

Critical Hits and Misses

Natural 20s and 1s are great opportunities to allow some surreal and gonzo elements to creep into your game. I try not to take my games too seriously and love it when wacky events bring some levity into the session. Rory's Story Cubes are a great tool for describing what comes next. Give one or more a roll and allow them to give you the jumping off point you need to lay out the sequence of events that occurs after a lucky/unlucky roll.

Where to start?

My first set of story cubes was the Fantasia set and was what I primarily utilize during my sessions. I also have found that the Voyages themed set has some great images that work for D&D themed stories. If you have other applications for story cubes, the original set is quite versatile and worth taking a look at (especially if you have kids...these will provide quite a bit of entertainment even outside of a gaming environment).

Do you have experiences using Rory's Story Cubes in your gaming sessions? Leave a comment and tell me your story!

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  1. I just picked up the voyages set today and started rolling three at a time and writing down plothooks and character backgrounds. One such idea: Stories have surfaced of a sea monster attacking ships. In reality, it is gnome pirates piloting a submarine powered by water elementals.

  2. "We all live in a gnomish submarine..." That sounds awesome! I think the voyages set will be my next purchase :)


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