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Opportunity Actions: National Geographic Is Your Friend!

Given the hubbub lately over the impending end of Dungeon and Dragon magazines as compiled issues, there’s a void being left behind. Where can we truly go for great content, all in one place, that isn’t just a series of web articles that now have the luxury of being able to change the amount and consistency of updates? There is something out there for us that is regularly published, both on the web and in print, full of good information that can be used. They Even put out an absurd amount of videos. My source? National Geographic.

Now, since many of us (myself included) don’t have a National Geographic subscription, I’m  going to five stories I find on NatGeo’s (that’s what the cool kids call it) website, and show how each could be used with precious little adaptation in a game. These same rules will apply to any article the National Geographic folks supply to us gamers who know their real agenda: to supply us with campaign goodies.

Be sure to click on each heading for the article in question.

Ancient Transylvania Rich in Gold

This story tells of gold relics left behind by the ancient Dacians. There are a few stand-out facts for me:

  • The relics are shaped like snakes,
  • They are incredibly heavy, weighing in at just over 2 lbs., and
  • These pieces might be dedicated to the only god of the Dacians, Zalmoxis.

What I Would Do With This Information

This, like most of what we’ll see further down, is fantastic source material. I immediately (as could be expected) went for the Yuan-Ti, and the facts in this article really support the move strongly. The Yuan-Ti are a snake-centric race. Thier origins predate much of what an adventuring party would be familiar with. Heavy artifacts could be wielded by stronger Yuan-Ti, like Abominations, as ceremonial gear. In Forgotten Realms, Yuan-Ti worship Merrshaulk, a singular snake-like being.

OK, we’re already doing great things here. Now, to insert this into a campaign. A town unearths a few golden bangles in serpentine shapes. These adornments are far too unwieldy to be worn by average people, even less so in everyday use. It’s not long before ‘snake people’ show up, and abduct townsfolk in an attempt to hold them for ransom. The PCs are asked to rescue the victims, and rid the town of this menace.

By itself, this could be a VERY cool launching point for your paragon tier.

New Aurora Pictures

Image property of National Geographic

Here we have some new pictures of the famed Aurora Borealis. These pictures, taken earlier this month in Norway, are beautiful in their own right, but, of course, they are ripe for our usage.

What I Would Do With This

What speaks to me as a DM is their strong spectral feel. I can see these being used as part of setting handouts or visual aids when there’s a steady flow of magical power or something similar. Instead of being some conditional weather phenomenon, these pictures can represent a power that envelopes a region, laying out a feel for an entire campaign.

Even better, there are links to more aurora pictures in the description. I’d grab those, and with enough poking around, I could set up a good standing library of reference photos.

Scientists Make Rain In The Desert

Unlike the title suggests, this piece is not actually about scientists making it rain, but controversy surrounding a particular group’s claims of making it rain in the deserts of Abu Dhabi. There so far has been no clear evidence to support these claims.

What I Would Do With This

Let’s say for a second that the scientists actually did produce rain in the desert. Now, instead of scientists, let’s say the scientists are arcanists who might not be entirely aware of what they’re doing. So now, a desert settlement is seeing abnormal weather. The magic-users who are causing this think they’re doing everyone a favor, but a local cadre of druids are portending disaster. If these weather patterns are not stopped, a great calamity similar to one that formed the desert will occur, swallowing every sign of civilization and killing every innocent person in the area. Try to keep the PCs from solving that dilemma.

Pterosaurs Laid Soft Eggs

According to this article and the evidence it presents, pterosaur eggs were soft, pourous affairs, not unlike the eggs of turtles. Here we also get insights into some other pterosaur features, all of which I find incredibly fascinating.

What I Would Do With This

Players, this one’s for you. Dragonborn are one of those races that begs to be fooled with. Any little detail that sets your character apart, either as a feature of setting or a detail particular to one character, will make your character that much more a character you’ll enjoy playing.

Among other features of this article, you could say your dragonborn (or dragonborn in general) hatched without parental contact, like a turtle, with a lack of family connection that makes your character seem more alien. Perhaps you have a crest that you can use to descibe your character’s mood, giving you another layer of depth.

Yellowstone Volcano Has Bulged

In this article, It is being said that Yellowstone Park’s supervolcano is swelling, causing the whole area to bulge as much as 10 inches in some places.

What I Would Do With This

The article itself doesn’t offer too much in terms of interesting story elements. What I did find useful is that ample opportunity was taken to describe the bulge as a deep breath. Imagine a location where the ground shifts because a very large creature lives just beneath the surface. The ground moves as much as it does because the creature is about to awaken from a century-long hibernation, threatening the stability of the whole area. Tarrasque, perhaps?


Anyhow, to sum up: National Geographic has been at this a LOOOONG time. There’s material there going back decades, and I’d venture a guess that there’s very little they produce that *couldn’t* be brought into a game. At the top of every article, there’s even a “Weird” tab, where you can find articles that include (and I’ll leave the gaming applications up to you):

Since these stories are all based in the real world, each has a gravity that makes it believeable. Tweak the details to suit your game world, and you’re cooking with dragon fire.

Does anyone else agree? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Watch your threatened squares, or at least your gold rectangles. (Cue well-known musical tag.)


The Opportunist (a.k.a Seamus) has been playing D&D and/or some other form of RPG for the last 24 years. For the past two years he has been at the head of the table, behind a screen, in the role of the DM. He began at Cub Scout Camp, played through high school, and still enjoys gaming today. Seamus is a graphic designer by day, a devoted husband and father of two all the time, and an all around good guy. That is, until you get him behind the DMing screen, then he can be a nightmare (in a good way, no, really!).

2 Responses to “Opportunity Actions: National Geographic Is Your Friend!”

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