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Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #410

 

Managing Your Group

Contents: 

 

This Week's Tips Summarized 

Managing Your Group

  1. Player and Character E-mail
  2. Productive Competition
  3. Managing Finances
  4. Dispersion of Duties
  5. Table Control

What's Your Favorite RPG?  

Readers' Tips Summarized 

  1. Player Character Quiz
  2. How I Organize My GMing
  3. 5 Room Dungeon Index
  4. RPG Music Suggestions
  5. How Often Do I Play D&D?

Johnn Four's GM Guide Books

Lose The Eraser With Turn Watcher

Turn Watcher(tm) is an easy to use Initiative and Effect Tracker for table-top RPG dungeon masters. It tracks spells and other effects, alerting you when those effects expire, automates temporary hit points and hit point boosts, tracks PCs, NPCs and monsters easily during combat rounds, and handles delayed and readied actions in a snap. Use it to perform secret Spot and Listen checks and even Will saves on your players without them being the wiser. Download your copy today!

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A Brief Word From Johnn 

On Vacation - Next Issue Will Be August 10

I'm taking a couple weeks off from the e-zine and might dare to venture out into the sun. Next issue will be the week of August 10, assuming my tinfoil hat protects me well enough. Spoon!

NPC Contest Winner Selections Delayed

Due to a bit of overtime at work recently, I have not finished organizing all the one sentence NPC contest entries for random winner selection yet. I hope to get on that soon after my vacation (mid-August). So, don't despair because you haven't received a winning e-mail yet. :) I'll let you know in this e-zine once all the winners have been notified.

I hope you're having a great summer - and doing some GMing!

Cheers,

Johnn Four,
johnn@roleplayingtips.com

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Johnn Recommends GM Aid: 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them

This book has been on my GM Aids bookshelf since I first bought it years ago. It covers 20 fundamental plots that recur through all fiction - with analysis and examples. Each plot includes a three-act structure for using the plot, as well as a checklist to guide you through development. As one reviewer calls it, 20 Master Plots is like a cookbook for plotting, which makes this an excellent aid for game masters.

In addition to the 20 plots, it has chapters on Deep Structure (themes), Triangles (character interaction), and final advice in the last chapter, Parting Shots.

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Managing Your Group  

By Danny East

Group management is a tedious and daunting GMing task. When can everyone meet? Who's driving whom? Are we going to play at Mark's? Jamie's apartment? My neighbor's basement? If everyone plays at Gary's, then Josh can't go because he's allergic to cats.

We'll play at Bill's, then. Oh, wait. We can't all park at Bill's. We'll drive together, so it's just a couple of cars. Except that Gary has to drive separately because he has to leave early, so there's not going to be enough room for all our cars. Ah crap. Forget it. If anyone wants to come over we can watch some Futurama.

Sound familiar? You're not alone. Planning and managing a player group is the complicated, literary version of the old canoe riddle.

Why do we get together to game? The laughs, adventure, and desire to argue over forgotten rules, while noteworthy, are nothing compared to the camaraderie we feel those evenings. That's why we have the fun we do.

So, how to increase this camaraderie with the goal of keeping it relevant to the game is going to be one of the aims here. There are three major theories in Group Management: Mass Communication, Player Involvement, and Table Control.

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1. Player and Character E-mail 

There are a number of websites that cater to group communication, many of which are directly aimed at the gaming industry. I recommend spending the time to do a bit of research. Some might be better than others for what you're doing.

The group I play with uses Gmail, offered by Google. It's fabulous. We each have our own role playing related e-mail address in addition to our regular Gmail address, and we have it set up so that all addresses and aliases are accessed through the same password. For example, roleplayingname@gmail is accessed by realpersonname@gmail.com.

What makes this so exciting is that when Joe checks his regular e-mail, he can also see there is game-related e-mail waiting for him. This not only gives the playing group that special feeling of being a select member, but, when used to its potential, it also alleviates a dramatic proportion of scheduling confusion.

When I send a mass e-mail to my players, they are able to not only communicate with each other specifically through their player mail, but they are also able to add dates and times directly to their Google Calendar by just letting Gmail handle it. It's very easy, and I do suggest you try this.

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2. Productive Competition 

Another fine aspect the bountiful genre of table top role playing has to offer is the arguing. Admit it. You love it. Ever wonder why that is? It's the competition.

Being right is always fun. Especially when it means one of your closest friends is wrong. :) That's also why we end up looking for competition within the game. Ever have feats of strength amongst the characters while the GM is busy looking up rules? It happens. Joke contests at the tavern? They're easy enough to roleplay.

What's my point? What the heck does this have to do with Group Management?

Proper management, as you can easily find by watching almost any corporate team-building DVD, primarily involves the manager (GM) properly motivating their team (players) to do what's right for the overall good of the company (campaign).

Many companies institute a reward system for this. It's called "Employee of the Month." Though yours truly has never pawed such a title, I still implement its alter ego into our sessions: Player of the Game.

We all pitched in some funds and bought ourselves a fancy tavern-style mug that we had engraved with "Gamers Group Player of the Game." This chalice is rewarded to the MVP of the session, as voted by the players (GM decides ties). They are allowed use of this divine drinking device until the end of the next session, when it passes hands.

This forces the reigning champ to come to the session to hand off their prize, and makes everyone else jealous for a few hours. Not only that, but eyeballing a tangible trophy being hefted to an adversary's prideful face makes you want it something real bad.

And that, my good reader, is motivation for some of the smoothest and best role playing you'll ever bear witness to.

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3. Managing Finances 

All of this is a lot easier to do with proper financial backing. I know what you're thinking: "The new seats in my Bentley were expensive enough, now you expect me to pay for something free?" Well don't worry; I'm going to tell you how to make it easier.

Try collecting annual and monthly membership fees. I suggest a $20 annual fee due in June (opposite Christmas) and $5 a month.

A five dollar monthly fee is the equivalent of giving up a vending machine soda once a week. If you have six in your group and the host never pays the monthly, it will add up to over four hundred dollars a year. Wow. That should pay for dice and books and miniatures and doodads and gadgets.

I would never suggest this payment as a prerequisite to playing. But it does buy convention tickets and gas for road trips.

I also suggest dedicating everyone's recyclables to the cause, as well as having fund raisers. Nothing quite so exciting as bikini car washes or bake sales, but something realistic and functional.

Used DVDs and books aren't worth much, but the combined value of six players' used and unwanted goods could be a pretty piggy bank, including money from selling the less- used role playing books.

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4. Dispersion of Duties 

This may be the most functional tool to quality player management: dispersion of duties. Everyone wants to feel useful, so let them!

Dedicate specific jobs and titles to the players in your group and you'd be amazed about how much smoother and more fun everything is.

The Treasurer will handle the group's funds, ensuring that none gets lost and that it all goes to good use. The Librarian will keep track who has what books (I highly suggest group ownership) and what's needed. The Secretary maintains communication; the Historian keeps track of campaigns.

This is good for the more dedicated players you might have in your group, and of course, titles might switch hands throughout. We like to have new players in new roles for every campaign, thereby giving everyone a chance at each position.

This might seem a bit harsh, but once started it can be a true pleasure. It gives everyone a chance at the actual production of the evening. When everyone has a stake in the final output of any system, that system will be run with much more pride and dedication than otherwise.

Remember this: you work really hard to produce a good game, and you can expect everyone else with an actual job to put in as much as you do. Wouldn't that be nice?

But what can be done about the more subtle difficulties? Those last minute conundrums? The meat, rice, and vegetables are all fine; but it's the spices that make the meal. I'm talking about the snacks and accessories.

Each member of the group is given a task to carry out in preparation for the big evening. One player comes to the show with chips and dip, another with home baked cookies.

We are an older group, and two members each bring either a bottle of wine or variety pack of beer. Be forewarned, however: more than a drink or two will lower anyone's charisma, and our designated driver is rewarded with experience points, as is the hosting player.

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5. Table Control 

Now that we've covered two of the issues related to Group Management - Communication and Involvement - let's move onto the third: Table Control. We'll investigate how to keep your players from LARPing at the table, and how to persuade them to pay attention to the dice and move the story along.

There are more than enough ways to keep players busy during the gaming session, but the internet and television are more distracters than motivators. There should always be an activity to keep everyone involved and moving, but try to keep it relevant to the theme.

Crossword puzzles, word searches, and word scrambles can be found online and offer a way for the players to remain engaged while still not losing that feeling of being part of the game. Hide clues to treasure hordes in a word scramble, or make the crossword puzzle act as a layover for a dungeon map if you're incarcerated and have nothing else to do.

Try to leave some relevant information lying around the table. The Castle Guide is good thumbing material, as are sword and armor catalogs. Want them to role play while waiting? Suggest that they go to the local tavern and have a joke telling contest, with one of them acting as judge.

Popsicle sticks and glue have been happily invited guests at many a table. Crayons and a cheap coloring book will bring a few laughs and keep everyone sitting down.

Try this one: have an NPC hire the party to open up a restaurant and let them discuss what to serve, how they run the layout, where to get the meat and veggies from, what kind of beer to serve and who will act as bouncer. Side quests? How about looking for some red dragon pepper flakes.

The key to keeping everyone happy and coming back for more is to keep them in the mood and at the table. You will never control all of the distractions, but limiting those distractions and providing healthy, game-related options are a must.

They may not be actively rolling at the time, but if you're running a pirate campaign and a few of your players are looking through the Pirateology book or old nautical maps, then they're still in the proper mood and will be "there" when needed. There should be no OFF button at the table.

* * *

It is our hope these guidelines will inspire you to keep faith in your party and try to jazz it up enough to keep them coming back to the table.

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What's Your Favorite RPG? Savage Worlds 

From: Telas

My current gamer crush is Savage Worlds, for many reasons:

  • It's only $10 for the core rules (Savage Worlds Explorer's Edition). That and a few pages of addendum particular to your campaign are literally all you need to run the system.
  • It's a point build, classless, level-less system, which includes some aspects of personality as part of chargen.
  • I am not good at the GNS model, but I find far fewer clashes between Savage Worlds and reality than I do between D&D and reality.
  • Game prep time is minimized. The GM once came up with an entire session's gaming, including basic maps, stat blocks, and all, while we showed newbies how to gen characters (about 20 minutes). It only takes about 5 minutes to gen a character, once you've gotten the hang of it.
  • Character growth is linear, not exponential. You can achieve powerful characters, but it takes a while getting there. You can create complex characters, or "get your crunch on" by trying to min-max the Ultimate Warrior.
  • There is no "fixed" genre or world, but there are plenty of settings out there, from prehistoric times to advanced space opera. I've considered running a "time cops" millennium-jumping game using this system.
  • The Test Drive is free.
  • Many of the conversions are free.

Savagepedia: The Unofficial Savage Worlds Wiki

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Readers' Tips Of The Week: 

Have some GM advice you'd like to share? E-mail it to johnn@roleplayingtips.com - thanks!

1. Player Character Quiz 

From: Don Foley

Hi Johnn,

I really like your e-zine. I am a new user and have read about half of the archives. I have something that I found helpful in my game and thought I would share it. If you have already covered something like this, I apologize.

I found this more helpful than I expected. One player who I thought would send witty one liners of little use, ended up sending me many paragraphs of insightful, helpful dialogue that will better my game.

I sent all the players of my 7th Sea game the following email text. I would suggest sending a questionnaire maybe every six months or so, just to make sure you are on track.

Hi,

Here is a chance to earn some extra experience points in the 7th Sea game. I will award between 1 and 5 free experience based on your answers to the following questions. If I get one sentence answers expect few experience points; however, if I get well thought out, helpful paragraphs, expect 5 experience.

Note: These questions are in regards to Don's game sessions only, and should be sent to me privately; do not use reply all.

  1. What was the best game session you can remember? Why was it so memorable? Could it be replicated or was it just one of those things that can never happen again?
  2. What was the worst game session you can remember? What was the reason it was bad? Could it be avoided, or was it just a bad night?
  3. Is the game balanced? Is there too much of one thing, and not enough of another? What makes the perfect balance, in your opinion?
  4. The game seems to be on course in a certain direction. Are you happy with where the game is heading, or would you rather see its course change?
  5. In your opinion, how could the game be better? Give good details. Suck up answers like, "It's perfect oh master!!" will garner no free experience points. :)

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2. How I Organize My GMing 

From: Kenneth Gauck

I have a binder with commonly referred to rules, tables, and lists photocopied inside. These go next to my homemade encounter tables, expanded skill lists, and any notes I have taken for the campaign or the game system.

Specific adventures go in a different binder, or a folder with three-hole clasps. There are some days I think I need to memorize the NPC reaction table.

I like to keep an up-to-date copy of player character sheets, but mostly I rely on index cards that include basic stats, primary weapon, and a list of skills.

Players are generally pretty good about keeping track of their own spells and other bookkeeping duties, but I like to be able to roll secret skills checks and refer to to-hit modifiers myself.

So basic PC data, along with party NPCs, are on white note cards. Using a highlighter, I can color the name according to PC, henchmen, or common contact. Colored note cards hold enemy, rival, or specific encounter NPCs for use during an adventure.

As I said, full copies of player character sheets are also kept. They go in my campaign binder. The campaign binder includes all the data I have invented about a particular setting, including place description, political connections, history, genealogy, legends, rumors, unique magical items, encounter tables, and so forth.

A separate binder includes all the homemade rules I have for that game system including new spells, expanded skill lists, large scale combat, and things I would export to another setting.

Duo-tang folders are used for discreet adventures.

Highlighters and colored pens and pencils are used to color code all kinds of things throughout the game materials.

From the color of binders - every game system has its own color (those who GM many systems would have to group them, since there are only five colors in most major brands of binders), to using yellow to identify the player characters in all my notes.

On one day I might come with readings on yellow, white, and pink cardstock, or with highlighting around the edges. I know that the yellow page concerns information that the players already know. It could be nothing more than rulings on what had been decided at the end of last game session.

"Borak's armor is now repaired, Thiubalt has earned 18 gold pieces entertaining in the tavern," and so on. It could be significantly longer if players told me they were doing research. "The requirements of the potion you investigated..."

If information is to be divided I try to print two on a page and cut them in half (or less if you just repaired your armor).

If the faux-warrior who is really a thief checked in with his thieves guild, pawned items picked from his party-mates, converted gold and silver to gems, and had his ring magically identified, that would obviously be a page for his eyes only.

The white sheet might be a history of some ruin which I will read if the players ask some knowledgeable person. Otherwise, I might consult the rumors table.

The red sheet might be the speech of the vile wizard Xankripas before he leaves the players to be feasted on by ghouls.

When it's time for the wizard's speech, I want to find it easily, but I may not want to carry my folder around with all its encounter information. This way I can get up, be a little theatrical, and know what Xankripas says without worrying about an eagle-eyed player seeing that ghouls have 24 HP apiece, or that Xankripas has a ring of protection from fire.

My players may not rifle through my stuff when I leave the room, but I don't want to tempt them either by putting secrets in plain view.

Every magic item is marked with blue. Spells are in blue, and identifying a character as a magical class is blue. So color is used so that I can quickly identify what is what, answer questions as quickly as I can, and generally aid my multi-tasking.

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3. 5 Room Dungeon Index 

From: CyberSavant

Here is an index of all the 5 Room Dungeons published earlier this year. The index contains dungeon title, author, and a brief summary. Hopefully this is a useful tool for GMs looking for a quick adventure to run.

5 Room Dungeon Index [RTF]

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4. RPG Music Suggestions 

From: impClaw

I've seen discussions about music in roleplaying games often now, so I'll just post my recommendations (most of them are cinematic music):

Background Music: - Movie & Game Soundtracks (Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Half Life, Final Fantasy, Vampire: Bloodlines & Redemption, Fable, 300) - Anime Soundtracks (Kawai Kenji makes good horror music) - Midnight Syndicate - Nox Arcana - E.S Posthumus - Future World Music - Immediate Music - X-Ray Dog - Loreena Mckennitt

Also searching around for local LARP bands (people playing at LARP Events) have proven useful for me, since most of them have CDs recorded that you can purchase.

Sound Effects: - BBC Sound Effects Library - Sony Sound Effect Archive - Sound Ideas Sound Effects - Silent Hill Soundtracks contain some good sound effects

These are just some. I'm always on search for more....

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5. How Often Do I Play D&D? 

From: Dave S.

Hey Johnn!

I recently tried to calculate how often my gaming group plays D&D. It seems like some campaigns and/or groups are able to meet at the gaming table more often, and I'm a minor stats nerd, so I thought this would be interesting. I wrote down all of the session dates for several campaigns and graphed them, to compare play frequency and play duration.

After looking at the numbers I tried to see if anyone else had done something like this. Unfortunately, my internet searches didn't turn up much. I thought I might send this to your e-zine to get the word out: have any of your readers ever tracked how often or how long they play?

I put a copy of my methods and results online.

Comments and critiques are welcome! If anyone else has tracked something like this I'd love to hear from them.

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Johnn Four's GM Guide Books 

In addition to writing and publishing this e-zine, I have written several GM tips and advice books to inspire your games and to make GMing easier and fun:

Inns, Taverns, and Restaurants - new

How to design, map, and GM fresh encounters for RPG's most popular locales. Includes campaign and NPC advice as well, plus several generators and tables

Adventure Essentials: Holidays

Advice and tips for designing compelling holidays that not only expand your game world but provide endless natural encounter, adventure, and campaign hooks.

GM Mastery: NPC Essentials

Critically acclaimed and multiple award-winning guide to crafting, roleplaying, and GMing three dimensional NPCs for any game system and genre. This book will make a difference to your GMing.

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