Games Within Games: Adding More Play To Your TTRPG Game

Text reads: Games Within GamesAdding More Play To Your TTRPG Game
Whether fighting to hold one’s grip on the rotting planks of a collapse bridge, fighting for dear life against terrible fiends, or locked in a tense debate which could decide the fate of the realm, TTRPGs often place its characters (and by extension, the Game Master and players at the table) in life of death situations.  Much like in the real world, the repeated stress of these difficult encounters can have an affect on us over time.  Thankfully, the solution can also be found in the real world.  We simply need to blow off some steam!  Sure, we can (and should) find ways to bond and unwind between sessions with our fellow comrades.  But, there’s no reason why we cannot also build some stress relief into the game sessions we all play together!

Today, I’d like to suggest some ways in which we as Game Masters can implement more fun into our games.  If you’ve arrived as a player, feel free to read along as well!  Perhaps you may see something you can suggest to your table at your next game.

Note:  It’s important to know your players at the table, and whether adding some levity would benefit the game.  For some players, finishing an encounter with a treacherous dragon only to be met with a carnival or circus at the next village may take them out of the game!

Practical Jokes

An easy way to lighten the mood at the table is to play some in session pranks or jokes at the players expense.  These should be harmless, silly, and serve to temporarily and mildly inconvenience the party.  The goal here isn’t to frustrate the players at the table, but to provide them with something they can laugh about in the moment, and reference later.

Joker from a deck of cards
Photo Credit: Canva Images

For an example, I have used a slightly modified encounter from this reddit discussion and titled it “The Sweeper”. The players were intrigued to encounter a rare monster hunter in the tavern, only to wind up as the butt of a joke.  As consolation, the tavern keeper gave each player a free round.

Tabletop and/or Betting Games

Should you want to move a step further (or should you be concerned the party might get a little stabby once they realized they’ve been tricked), you can implement some tabletop games to your fantasy setting.  The plus side, you already have a pretty good idea that your players enjoy tabletop games (TTRPGs, am I right?), and there’s nothing in the rule books stating that you couldn’t add existing games into your world.  Board, card, and dice games are common tabletop games, and include such classics Poker, Chess, Backgammon, and countless others.  If borrowing from the real world isn’t your thing, however, you could always take inspiration from other Game Masters, from TTRPG content creators, or even invent your own games to play!

Deck of Cards
Picture Credit: Variant J

For a specific example, check out the free PDF containing betting game Hoarding Dragons from TTRPG content creator Uri Lifshitz

Another added benefit of these games is as an additional means for your players to amass (or offload) large quantities of wealth.  Gold, gemstones, magic items, or even land can all be wagered on a game of chance. You’d be surprised at the number of players that are excited to flex their skill proficiencies to win (or cheat) their way through a high stakes poker game, especially if they could win enough riches to buy a lair, or other expensive token.  And there are even a number of plot hooks or encounters that could be triggered by a lucky (or equally unlucky) roll of the dice!

Crafts and Tradeskills

Some TTRPGs (such as Dungeons & Dragons) provide a plethora of crafting or trade proficiencies.  Sadly, these same games may not provide a similar wealth of opportunities for players to use said abilities.  In some cases, it is up to us as Game Masters to encourage our party to make use of these talents.

Blacksmith working on forging an ax
Picture Credit: Canva Images

Sure, brewing a barrel of fine ale or drawing up a detailed map of an otherwise uncharted region of the world may not seem like an act of heroics, but that isn’t to say that a player character wouldn’t want to do so for other reasons!  The notoriety, respect, or even acquired wealth that accompanies such endeavors could benefit the player or party in unexpected ways.  As with the tabletop games, crafts and hobbies can also be a way to hook the party into a new adventure.  Imagine the repercussions if an alchemist accidentally creates an incredibly potent new healing potion!

Sports and Competitions

For the players who may not want to gamble or a trade, we can add some feats of strength, skill, or games of wit. These can be as simple as a series of skill checks, or as complex as a GM has the time (and desire) to design.  Again, there are several real world examples we can pull from.  Sports that translate well into most TTRPGs include Soccer (or Football for those of us literally anywhere else on Earth), Golf, and Horse racing.

Two sets of legs chasing a soccer ball
Picture Credit: Canva Images

If you’re looking instead to implement skill competitions, the options really open up.  The primary attributes in Dungeons and Dragons, for example, can each be used to demonstrate a player’s superiority in a given skill.  For example, Strength based characters are likely going to be proficient in Athletics, and would therefore do well with feats of strength and physical prowess.  Arm wrestling, hammer toss, and the long jump are all examples of great skill checks for these characters.  Characters with a high score in Constitution can compete in the local tavern drinking contest, or why not have them outlast opponents in a boiling hot spring? Finally, a character with a high level of intelligence could participate in trivia challenges, puzzle leagues, or even memory games.

Much like the other options on this list, players love having an opportunity to flex the skills they have chosen for their characters.  Adding a monetary incentive (or even just bragging rights) will only sweeten the pot.

What Do You Find Fun?

If the examples above aren’t quite piquing your interest, there’s always a simple way to drum up some of your own.  Just ask yourself, “What do I like to do when I’m not playing this TTRPG?” If the answer doesn’t immediately translate into your game, you may need to extract the core elements and reinvent it to fit your game.  Sure, your high fantasy TTRPG may not be able to incorporate Formula 1 racing, but perhaps there are some enterprising miners that have set up a dual track, high stakes minecart racing circuit through the mining system.

As I stated above, TTRPG characters generally have it rough.  Some players prefer the gritty, the world is against us atmosphere and don’t want to see the atmosphere shift.  However, for many of us, an opportunity to lighten the mood can make a big difference over the course of a long term adventure.  I hope the examples above can provide a starting point from which you can run with!  Just be sure there are others running to provide an adequate challenge!

You may also like: Cultured Creatives: Performance Art.

How do you lighten up your TTRPG sessions? Let us know in the comments below!


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