This is written up for D&D/Pathfinder, but could work for any system with some tweaking. It’s a way to turn your session history into a Beowulf-style saga of deeds, or to create a Jaynestown-style exaggeration of past activities when the PCs return to a location. It works best for a traveling group of PCs with no fixed agenda other than doing great deeds and building their legend.

Writing the Saga

At the end of every session, the players should summarize their activities. Ideally, each player picks one interesting thing that happened that session as a result of the party’s activities (this action doesn’t have to have been performed by the PC suggesting it; just pick the most interesting actions). These are the deeds that the characters will be remembered for in song.

Depending on the style of your campaign and the interest your players have in making poetry, you might encourage them to form these details into a stanza of iambic pentameter, two haikus, or something of similar length. The goal is to boil the events down into an iconic format that the players will remember easily, and limiting the available syllables helps this end.

Once the players have roughed out a stanza, have each player pick one of the following adjectives to apply (players can pick the same one twice):

  • Brave
  • Clever
  • Stalwart
  • Uncanny
  • Wise

If the GM feels like any of those adjectives is not supported by the text of the stanza, revise the text to exaggerate until it qualifies. The legends the characters are known for might not be entirely true.

On the saga sheet, track the totals of each adjective in two sets: Established and Pending.

You can move points from the Pending list to the Established total by succeeding at a Perform check after a week of performances of the saga. (You can hire a bard to do this for you if none of the party members are performers.) The result of the Perform check -10 is the maximum possible total for any adjective. For example, the party has Brave 20 (5 pending) and Clever 15 (3 pending). The Perform check result is 32, changing the totals to Brave 22 (3 pending) and Clever 18 (0 pending).

Using the Saga

You can add the total of an adjective divided by five as a bonus to any social rolls to convince someone (who knows who you are and knows of the saga) of something related to the adjective. For example, if you have 22 Brave, all party members get a +4 to rolls to convince others that they are brave. This is intended to be fudged somewhat, so the players can get the bonus by calling upon their legend and working it in, no matter how tangentially, to the topic at hand in true declaiming saga hero style (“Are you saying that I am not brave? That could be the only reason you would not want to join with my forces in glorious battle, because you think I am a coward that would desert you! Know that I shall lead us to death or glory!”).

Additionally, for every 10 points (rounded down, as usual) in an adjective, the party gains “points” of that adjective that refresh at the beginning of the session and can be used for various ends:

  • Brave: Reroll a failed Strength-based (attack, skill, or raw ability) roll, Charisma-based roll to influence animals (Handle Animal and Wild Empathy), or failed save vs. Fear. Turn a successful attack roll against a superior (higher CR) opponent into a critical threat.
  • Clever: Reroll a failed Dexterity-based (attack, skill, raw ability, or Reflex save) roll or failed Bluff or Disguise check. Produce a small, non-magical item with a GP value equal or less than the party’s Clever total that isn’t listed on any equipment sheets but could help with the current situation.
  • Stalwart: Reroll a failed Fortitude save or any other failed roll related to endurance or surviving in hostile environments. Reduce the damage from an attack by your character level (after damage is announced but before you deduct HP).
  • Uncanny: Reroll a failed Intelligence-based (skill or raw ability) roll or failed Intimidate or Use Magic Device check. Force an opponent to reroll a successful save against an Arcane effect.
  • Wise: Reroll a failed Wisdom-Based (skill, raw ability, or Will save) roll or failed Diplomacy check. Force an opponent to reroll a successful save against a Divine effect.

For example, the party with Brave 22 and Clever 18 can use two of the Brave benefits above and one or the Clever benefits above per session.

Any player may claim any of these benefits (though usual table etiquette should prevail to keep some players from too often using more than their share).

Protecting the Saga

Either as a sideline to the normal course of adventuring or as the primary means by which the party hears about adventures (GM’s preference), communities will send to the player characters for aid based on the strength of their saga adjectives. The GM can choose whether to target a quality randomly, or pick one that matches an adventure idea/module the GM has already. A rough guideline is:

  • Brave: The community is plagued by a mighty but (they think) easily understood threat, usually a single powerful creature like a dragon or a giant that has slain all townsfolk that tried to stop it, no matter how prepared they were.
  • Clever: The community is plagued by a threat that comes at them sideways, possibly through stealth or with the backing of the law. If the threat would come at them honorably, they think they might be able to stop it (they may be wrong), but because it won’t fight fair they need someone who can cancel its advantage.
  • Stalwart: The community is plagued by an overwhelming force of smaller foes, such as a horde of goblins. With just a handful of them, the town wouldn’t be worried, but they need someone able to throw off a whole army and/or help them withstand a siege of evil.
  • Uncanny: The community has no idea what it is facing: strange creatures or magic threats beyond the knowledge of the townsfolk. The threat could be powerful or weak but mysterious; the townsfolk simply know that it is outside of their experience and dangerous. Simply unraveling the mystery saves face (turning it into a threat of another quality which the PCs are then free to declare is a job for more-specialized heroes; but if the PCs can deal with it, so much the better).
  • Wise: The community is being attacked by undead, demons, or something else that is dangerous both for its power and ability to corrupt the defenders of good. Even Brave or Stalwart men might be vulnerable to its power, so the community must turn to wise men who can resist.

The average CR for the adventure is equal to half the adjective’s total. The party with Brave 22 and Clever 18 will get invitations to deal with level 11 Brave adventures and level 9 Clever adventures.

The party initially hears simply the broadest terms of the adjective in question (“South Kingsford has put out a call for Brave heroes, and asked for you by name!”). At this point, the party can choose to ignore the call with no loss of face (“Send our regrets, but we have already made promises that we must keep soon.”). However, if the party refuses several adventures for a single adjective in a row, it might count as a loss of face.

If the party journeys to the location, they get to hear the town’s spiel about the problem. At that point, if they choose to abandon the task, or fail it, they will lose face (likely with an Unferth around who challenges them to not punk out on the task). Losing face means that the party must choose a whole stanza to wipe out that includes at least one point in the adjective in question. That passage of the saga is now lost to history, and the players lose all the points that stanza awarded. For example, a party chooses to abandon a Brave adventure, and chooses to lose a stanza with Brave x1, Stalwart x1, and Clever x2. The party loses one point in Brave and Stalwart and two points in Clever from the running total. Ultimately, players that over-focus on one quality may find their legend quickly getting away from their ability to sustain it.

GMs should regularly do calls to adventure at the end of a session (rather than prepping a scenario that the players might refuse before even hearing out). If the GM thinks that the scenario in question is difficult enough that the players will have a decent chance of refusing it even with the loss of face, that might be done at the end of the session too. The goal is to avoid over-prepping, while maintaining the players’ agency to choose where they want to adventure.