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Throw A Bounty Board At Your Players (Not Literally)

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Life happenings caused two of my players to miss a session. We moved on with the rest of the group, but the main plot mission had them interacting with a big player in the world and being teleported to another location far far away. We ran a small session with just the two players who were missing from the main game, and it went about as well as expected with only one religious cult springing up in the wake of their actions. The side game was fun, but I had a heck of a time getting the two players to buy into the plot without the rest of the group there. I didn’t really want to explore deep character plotlines without the whole group there to support and be the audience for the PC plotlines to explore. Later, I realized the perfect solution to the conundrum of player buy-in for side missions – The Bounty Board.

Translating The Bounty Board From Video Games

 Later, I realized the perfect solution to the conundrum of player buy-in for side missions – The Bounty Board.  
After the game I was thinking that it would have been great if my players had the option of picking up a side quest that they wanted to do for that session, the same way I was selecting the quick missions I wanted to undertake from the Bounty Board in the video game I was currently playing. They could look through the available side quests that weren’t tied to the main story, grab the one or two that looked like they were promising and fun, and I could run the mini-scenario with the few notes I had on them. The more I thought about it, the more I realized this would be a cool tool for when we needed a fallback game, plus it is a pretty simple idea to integrate.

How To Integrate A Bounty Board Into Your Game

The Hidden Beauty Of The Bounty Board Concept

The Bounty Board concept is an element that is very meta to the game, and this puts it in the unique position of being able to generate a lot of player buy-in from the get go. Because there are multiple options, the choice is in the players hands as to what kind of mission they are going to pursue. If they’re feeling more social, they’ll pursue the one that has a lead in to dealing with the child of nobles who ran away to be with their forbidden love. If they just want to kill some things, they’ll pick the one that has monster hunting or eliminating the 9th street toughs. This creates a large amount of player buy-in without you having to lift a finger to make it happen. They chose the side quest and you run it.

Just deliver on what you promise in the listed bounty mission. Some surprises and twists are fine, but if you promise monster killing in a side mission it shouldn’t turn into a political intrigue game half-way through the one-shot. Chances are if you are using this concept to fill in the gaps because some players are missing, the mission chosen fits the play style of the players who are present.  They’ve already bought in to the core concept.

Another hidden beauty of the Bounty Board as a way for players to choose their missions is that the initial buy-in means you don’t have to spend as much time sowing seeds to lead the players into it and trying to make it feel “unique”. “Eliminate a group of Orcs plaguing the roads” type of missions are pretty standard for fantasy style games, and if you have reason to run one, you often have to give players a reason to care about something that is so common. If they’ve bought into that concept because they chose it off the Bounty Board, then you don’t have to spend as much effort making it seem like a unique and worthy mission to fit in with the story. Instead, you can focus on elements that actually make it unique like the personality of the lead Orc or the incredible labyrinth of traps they have set up around their camp and the tactical fight you planned – the elements the players will actually interact with in pursuit of completing their goal.

I’m going to whip out the Bounty Board for my group during their next game to let them know that a lighter session or side session is more in their hands. What do you do when you’re missing players or you need a break from the main story? Do you use modular options like this? As a player, do you find yourself wanting to jump into side missions during a game?

13 Comments (Open | Close)

13 Comments To "Throw A Bounty Board At Your Players (Not Literally)"

#1 Comment By Silveressa On April 13, 2016 @ 9:02 am

Brilliant concept, and can be easily adapted to pretty much any setting , although if running it as a flashback scene I would be a little cautious about letting players use the flashback scene to meta game inventory additions to their current sheet they wouldn’t otherwise have handy in their current location. (I.e “I should have some shackles, a wand of fireballs, and those half dozen healing potions in my pack now even though we’re in the middle of a jungle weeks from civilization because we bought/stole/looted them during the bounty hunting mission last month.”)

Depending on the inventory items they can significantly alter the challenge of the current adventure. (Shackles not so much, healing potions or a wand of fireballs? yeah.)

(An easy work around would be to let players know up front any gear they purchase/steal/loot during a flashback is subject to GM approval for permanency, otherwise they should assume they sold since then for nearly the same price they bought it for and give them the standard market value for the items; but I’m not sure how well that would work with some groups.)

GM’s should also decide upfront how they plan to handle the exp from bounty board missions if only some of the group is participating in them, since over time that extra BB exp can cause level imbalances if only the participating players earn the exp. (I plan to just assume the missing PC’s did something else off camera to earn a similar amount of exp so the bounty board remains a fun option to run when we have missing players without it leaving the missing PC’s under leveled for current/future adventures.)

#2 Comment By John Arcadian On April 14, 2016 @ 8:24 am

Thanks! Dealing with how it changes inventory and experience from a flashback game can have its issues. thinking bout it now, it could also be a way to allow some Deus-ex-machina player driven experiences. If the players were to spend plot points, fate points, inspiration, or some other game altering form of meta-currency to get “the enchanted silver weapon needed to kill the magical beast”, you could play the next session as a job from the “bounty board” that let them get the weapon. The EXP wouldn’t necessarily transfer over from the flashback, but in some games that won’t be as big as an issue as in others.

#3 Comment By Razjah On April 13, 2016 @ 3:45 pm

I like this idea as a fill-in. I also think that this can be very handy for gauging a campaign or your players’ interest in the game. If your players are always asking for the board something may be off. However, this can also help break up a campaign and keep player interest. Some players love hacking and slashing, but are still down for an intrigue game. Between the machinations of the nobles or corporations a bounty board providing a way to clear out groups of orcs or the barrens. I really like this idea.

I also like that you can easily run a campaign this way with the party all being members of an organization that uses the board.

#4 Comment By John Arcadian On April 14, 2016 @ 8:26 am

Very true! If they’re always asking for a different type of adventure, then you know that is more in line with what they want to happen. Keeping it around works as a communication channel for them guiding overall play-style.

#5 Comment By Johnn Four – roleplayingtips.com On April 13, 2016 @ 9:42 pm

I like the tip about using a physical prop. Nice.

#6 Comment By John Arcadian On April 14, 2016 @ 8:28 am

Physical props make everything better, IMHO. Even if they aren’t key to the type of game, they focus players in on the imaginary world you are creating.

#7 Comment By NikMak On April 14, 2016 @ 5:50 am

I quite like this idea, and giving the players the initial say but Im not sure how many players would go for it – I suspect the majority of my players would turn their nose up any sort of ‘bounty hunter’ role (with one or two notable exceptions!)

what is your successful hit rate with this idea? will the whole group buy into it? also given me an idea for another gnome stew article – will get on writing it up straight away!

#8 Comment By Razjah On April 14, 2016 @ 7:47 am

If players don’t like the bounty hunter idea this can easily be re-skinned or re-flavored. Are the PCs all agents in a holy church of light? Here are prayers to the Lady of the Light/petitions for aid.

Guild members (guild from Elder Scrolls style)? Here are a collection or rumors and tasks that need be to investigated or handled; do you feel like helping the archmage of the tower of the moon or would you rather investigate the reports of wererats in the city sewers.

Members of a special investigation team? Here are the open cases the department has. Help chase down a lead on the drug smugglers or see if you can get some cooperation from the 18th Street Jackals on what happened at the bank (its their turf, someone in their group knows something).

#9 Comment By Scott Martin On April 14, 2016 @ 10:01 am

In a way, the bounty board concept comes up in the second chapter of Lost Mines of Phandelver, around Phandalin. As you talk to the locals, they mention various problems that need solving–some immediately around the town and others that require a few day’s trek and search. Some are pure treasure hunting, while others are restore trade/do good type missions.

#10 Comment By John Arcadian On April 14, 2016 @ 10:06 am

I’ve been playing that campaign and the DM for it provides us little printed slips with the quests on it. It does have a similar motif and probably seeded some of this idea in my head. I also like the Lost Mines of Phandelver model for managing a town.

#11 Comment By Kingslayer On April 14, 2016 @ 9:54 am

Very cool idea. Wish I’d thought of it! I’ll definitely be adding this in some way or form to my current campaign.

This may be a good way to Demo a new game for your group too. Have three or four little bounty missions ready for them to choose from. I’d think you could give enough flavor and context to your players to help them decide if they want to play the game or not, even with the bounties they DIDN’T choose.

So they chose to clear the road of orcs and “turn it in” to the city guard. But they could have cleared the zombies out for the church or escorted a caravan for the large brewery in town. This informs the party about some of the things going on without spending a lot of time detailing that church or brewery (unless they decided to do that bounty).

It will also give them a small taste of roleplaying and combat etc. without having to build a larger adventure.

#12 Comment By Angela Murray On April 14, 2016 @ 1:01 pm

I’ve been replaying the entire Dragon Age series where this concept is used in a couple of places, specifically the Chanter’s Board for the Chantry.

I think I might try something like this for the next campaign I organize. It’ll force me to attempt a slightly more sandboxy style of game while still letting me craft plot points the players might be interested in. I’m not always a fan of sandbox games, but I appreciate the concept behind them.

#13 Comment By Bronze Dog On May 24, 2016 @ 12:57 pm

I had a newbie DM try his hand at improvisation after being cautioned about railroading in the previous session, and he did a pretty well. We had a large group of irregular players, so he gave us a job board that session. It was a good way to deal with the issue of team makeup: Absent players were presumably doing their own odd jobs, and we got to pick out what interested us.

I think I could work it into my Changeling game. Even powerful Changelings can’t do everything because some have to maintain a semblance of a normal life in the mortal world. Simply having a job board in the freehold can be a hook. Even if the players don’t take the job itself, they might want to investigate why it was posted, if it sounds suspicious or part of an intriguer’s plot. Or just simple curiosity, since the fae world often runs on strange, seemingly arbitrary tasks: “Why does this woman want a misprinted baseball card? Is she trying to buy something at the Goblin Market with it? Is she fighting some member of the Gentry who’s got typos as a bane?”