If you like RPGs, you’re probably used to them causing you some serious pain in the wallet. When a good hardback book can easily cost $50, miniatures cost a fortune and you have an unhealthy dice habit, it can be a trying hobby. Dollar store DM is an effort to get real value in your RPG out of cheap stuff from dollar stores and other cheap places.
Today, I’m looking at a current trendy toy, the fidget spinner. While these are popular, they will be cheap, and different designs are currently plentiful. Picking one of these up is super easy online or at tons of shop, and can cost only a dollar or two. Now, how the hell can one be useful in an RPG? Simple.
DM: “You enter the room, and in the centre a colossal stone pillar is surrounded by three huge stones mounted on a collar around the pillar. A faint grinding noise can be heard and the collar is turning very slowly around the pillar. On the floor, three large stones lie on the floor. Atop each a huge rune is inscribed. On the other side of the room, a huge stone door has an inscription four circles, three larger ones arranged around a smaller central one. A faint glow, rapidly fading, emanates from the outer circles.”
Put the spinner down on your map or table and describe the room to players. Here you have a simple puzzle for them to complete. The spinner needs to be put into the right position. There are only three possible positions with a single spinner, so it is a pretty simple puzzle. The players could simply rotate it into all three positions and see what happens. Therefore, we need something to give the puzzle a bit more meat. Let’s look at some possibilities.
The PCs basically need to move the spinner into the correct position. In my initial description this is based on the three arms of the spinner matching up with the runes on the floor. This can take a couple of forms. It can be a one-to-one match, where only one of the three needs to match. It can also be that all three need to match. This is up to the DM/GM, and only become clear to the players after some investigation.
A simple way to add complexity is to add more runes. For more, maybe the room has huge great stacks of circular rune stones that can be placed in the floor and used with the spinner. Maybe the runes on the spinners arms can be changed and the players need to interact with both sets. Maybe they are plain stones with a small pot of chalk next to them, and the correct runes/shapes/words must be marked on the stones manually. Even small increases in the number of runes the players have to work with exponentially increases the number of possibilities.
Each time the players move the spinner into a position, something should happen. If your runes or symbols are animal shapes, release a plague of that creature on them. If they’re elements of magic, have a randomly concocted spell of those elements unleashed on them. Spring a trap, make an ominous sound in the distance, open a secret compartment with a rotting corpse in it. Give the players something that stops them just trying out every possibility.
Always a classic way of challenging players and getting them thinking and talking. These can be related to the runes on the floor, which being alterable means almost any riddle can be used. There are lots of great books and websites on riddles. Perhaps we’ll do a post on them in the future.
The spinner is incredible heavy and difficult to move, so the PCs need to do a strength check of some sort each time they want to move it. Another alternative would be that they need to use some sort of level/mechanism to get it moving. This could be some levers lying around in the room, or nearby in another room. This room can be locked, hard to reach or full of monsters if you want that to be a source of difficulty.
Adding a time limit is always a good way to spice up a puzzle. Monsters are trying to beat the door down behind them, spikes are descending from the ceiling or poison gas is seeping in through holes in the wall. Or one of a million other things. Adding a sense of urgency will get the players moving. This timer could be in-game using a counter for rounds, or could be a real-world timer for the players to solve a puzzle
A three-armed fidget spinner is basically a D3. Stick some numbers on it and away you go.
Buying a fidget spinner
These things are everywhere right now, but here’s some Amazon links in case you’re thirsting for one after reading this and want it to just show up on your doorstep.
Plain & simple – it’s black, it has three arms, it costs $6.
Glow in the dark – creepy, and cheapy.
Skull & Crossbones – This one is price at $16, but come on, it’s a skull and crossbones! It also has four points, which immediately make for a harder puzzle.
There are literally hundreds of possible options out there, so have a browse.
We’d love to hear if you do use this in one of your games, or if you have more ideas for how it could be employed at the table. We’re big Twitter users and we love talking RPGs in general, so come find us. We also produce PDFs for RPGs which are available over on DriveThruRPG.