February 10, 2016

Job-Posting Board

My biggest DMing secret, and the single tool which most breathes life into my campaign worlds, while allowing me to move the plot forward, and give my players a healthy balance of choice, is the humble, yet powerful, Job-Posting Board.

Choose Your Own Adventure 

To understand how I use the job posting board, it's important to understand how I DM. When writing adventures, I compile a list of short quests and adventures, which can be tied together to form a larger narrative through the NPCs and factions that occupy them. I generally expect these adventures to be short enough that the players can knock out two of them in a given session. I like this system because it frees me from the burden of railroading, and means I always have a spare adventure on hand.

My players love reading the job-posting board. It works like this: there's ten to twelve plot hooks dressed up as 'Help Wanted' ads, published in the local tavern, which in turn point to three to four quests. It shouldn't be obvious what the quests are asking for, and it shouldn't be obvious that any two of the job postings will lead to the same quest. And the postings should always have an interesting hook.

Sometimes my players will decide to do different quests, splitting the party while trying to pursue two at one time. These sessions are a blast of cutaways between the two halves of the party, as they struggle to deal with the evolving situation that emerges when two quests intersect. Once, they even ended up working for different NPC factions on the same quest.

Slice of Life 

But quest hooks aren't the only thing on the board. There's help wanted ads for actual jobs, like moving rocks around a construction site or becoming a chef at a local eatery. There's personal ads like 'missed connections' and trinkets and nick-knacks for sale. There's even posters for traveling minstrels and acting troupes.

Everything on the job posting board that doesn't point to a quest points to the world. The postings are funny real-world references, jabs at the players themselves, terrible puns, and reminders of previous sessions. It gives your players a chance to catch up in the campaign world, and gives them a concrete reason to do so: they need to wade through the world to get to the jobs. And if they misjudge, things can go slightly wrong. I'll never forget the time that the party barbarian labored in an iron mine for a day, thinking that he would stumble into a quest of his own, while the rest of the party tracked a dangerous creature through the streets.

A Practical Example

Here's a snippet from a job posting board used in one of my games. Hopefully, it gives you an idea of how to implement them for fun and profit. If an ad actually leads to a quest, a note referring me back to the quest is included in brackets at the end, though this note is not presented to the players.

● Flight Club Test Pilots Needed! [Quest: Around the World in 80 Days]

● Freemen may try their mettle at the Fighting Pits. Show your strength! Test your valor!

● Advertisement: Kobold Force is playing a concert tomorrow night

● Bulletin: The Southpaw Killer Has Struck Again!
Lock your kids indoors and report anything suspicious!

● The sudden appearance of Goblins in the west is becoming a larger menace. The city guard is seeking able-bodied warriors, fighters and Arcanists to eliminate this threat to our lives. Contact the Captain of the Guard for more details. [Quest: Son of Sand]

● Chimneysweeps sought for the Foundry District Chimneysweep Guild. Apply at the common guildhouse in the Foundry District.

● Wanted: Four or more adventurers willing to explore recently discovered ruins and return any valuable artifacts. Payment negotiable. May include some hazards. [Quest: Identity Theft]

● Mining mage sought. Duties include: make flameless lights, locate ore veins by divining rod, treat blacklung, ward or warn against cave-ins, and detect intrusion by denizens of the underdark.

● Needed: Carter to bring stones to the castle.

● Tavern keep required at the Three Billed Duck . Expect late nights, cleaning duties, and troublesome customers. Experience preferred.

● Needed: Bodyparts. Do YOU have bodyparts? I need bodyparts. Human bodyparts? Monster bodyparts? Other bodyparts? It doesn't really matter to me as long as you sell me your bodyparts. Contact Hasselus Meddlit in the upper district for more info.

● Tutor Wanted: Baron Nemo seeks instructor learned in the scholarly and martial arts to tutor his son/daughter. References required. If interested and qualified, present self and references to Seneschal Finnegan at Shadowkeep.

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  1. I wanted to add that this particular job posting board is one the Finger and I used in a real campaign. I always used to think the job board was kind of a cop-out. "Where are my interesting quest-givers?" I would wonder. This board in particular showed me the benefits of such an open-ended device. For one thing, we as murder-hobos have the choice of what we want to do. Ever the mercenaries, we went after the Southpaw Killer (a terrifying quest that nearly party-wiped us).

    Another aspect of the job posting board that DMs must keep in mind is that it has very good potential to distract players from any ongoing story as they attempt to go back and do all the quests, which, again, is what we tried to do. This can be a plus though, if you want players to have the impression that their choices matter and have impact in the world.

    While we were working on the "main story", we passed up a job to clear out a bunch of undead threatening a city, putting it on the back burner and vowing to come back. But in the real world, job opportunities don't wait around for you. We came back to that town to find that the city was razed. If we'd helped the city out, a lot of people would still be alive, but we would have lost the trail of the guy we were tracking down at the time.

    1. Yeah, I really like the effect this would have. The closest my friends and I have done is a Bounty Board with wanted criminals on it, so we had some choice there, but this looks much more fun! The (not so) mundane non-combat options still look like something many players would love to check out, and they'd be great RP experiences. A Kobold band? Have some fun casting spells in a mine? Don't mind if I do!

    2. Kobold Force was a running gag in that campaign. They were a bunch of bards who used magic to create lights and sound for their concerts, and their mascot/drummer was just an ordinary kobold. I think we actually ended up doing a quest for them at some point.

  2. My old campaign was like this, but with different often contradictory "job" lists in different parts of town/guilds

  3. Love this.. wondered about it derailing campaigns too. How does this work for parties who like epic quests? Seems like it would derail them.

    1. If you wanted to present this as part of an epic quest, you need only tie the posted jobs into larger crises, either explicitly (IE, this problem is caused by the Wolf Lich) or implicitly (IE you have discovered that this plot was hatched by the nefarious Wolf Lich). To keep players on task for the large quest of the campaign, it's the DMs job to design the posted quests to point to a larger super-quest.

      Basically, if the players just decide to do odd-jobs for a small town, at least one of the problems might have been caused by the big-bad's evil lieutenant. They have control over choosing the quest, not the twists and turns it takes.