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From Artifact to Tale: How One Idea Can Lead to Many More

We discuss how one little ring can inspire so much more (which will of course be no surprise to hobbits).

Ah, the Queen Pothos Ring. Inspired by a pothos plant that sat on my writing desk while I worked on the Tales of Xadia Game Handbook, it is perhaps the most innocuous of the magical artifacts we have included in the books. But like many subtle ideas, I like to think it can give way to a world of adventure. So today, I’d like to discuss how one little ring can inspire so much more (which will of course be no surprise to hobbits).

Free Association

The handiest writing tool in my belt is free association – knowing that the next associated idea you think of may be just as good as the last. When you get stuck writing, just look back at the last thing you wrote and see if any words make new ones pop in your head. Pop, you say, Dan of ten seconds ago? That makes me think of the buttery smell of popcorn! That’s all there is to it.

Free association’s sister skill is improvisation. Few things help me play a TTRPG like improv techniques. Once designed mostly for theater and live comedy, their tenets have been broken down into veritable life skills, and anyone who has seen a comedy movie in the last 20 years has probably witnessed their share of it. The improv version of free-association is “yes and,” which means “yes” your idea is good, “and” I’m adding onto it.

If you can wrap your head around these two ideas, I think you’re ready to spin a story out of anything, be you Narrator or Player Character! Narrators will do a little of both since they will be both writing and playing, players will be focusing more on the improv angle.

Small Beginnings

The Queen Pothos Ring has Earth magic in it to be sure, so it is no ordinary ring. But as it is wooden, small, and easily hidden from view one might not think it as grandiose as a sword or a gem. Far from true! By giving one the ability to breathe through tiny leaves in their fingers, a person could hide in a variety of places, with all but a few green leaves hidden from sight.

  • Imagine a character who is desperate to listen in on a world-changing conversation. Now they can hide buried under sand, only to emerge when the coast is clear, then sneak farther down a beach to hear an old elf’s secret. The journey to locate the ring and then use it, that is a tale.
  • Another character might have heard the ring is buried in the forest, and only a Blossom-Backed Dragon hiding in a grove of peonies knows the ring is buried. Finding the dragon and then the ring? There is a tale.
  • Yet another character, this one a thief, selfishly wants to use the ring to breathe. Particularly when they are robbing a Skywing elf who sucks the air out of the throat of anyone who dares approach his hidden sanctuary.
  • A small Durenian child wants to win a carnival’s breath-holding competition so that he may win a mysterious dancing bee as his prize. He finds the ring amongst a pile of cheap rings in a resale shop.

Think of a time a character has wanted to generally deceive, hide, or otherwise lean on the powers of the ring. This could be a Narrator or Player Character! That motivation could carry them across the sea or deep into a forest.

If something this small can change someone’s fate, imagine what something even more dramatically magic could do! Or rather, imagine the value of a single intangible secret, and how valuable that might be. Each can lead anywhere, you need only write down some beginnings of ideas and be ready to improvise the rest!

For more on this artifact (as well as some more improv tips) make sure to check out the Tales of Xadia Game Handbook!

Inspiration for Your Table

Cortex is many worlds in one! If you subscribe to the Tales of Xadia newsletter you can learn all about it, or watch our YouTube and Twitch channels for some playthroughs of our tales

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