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Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #434

So The Game Got Cancelled

Contents: 

 

This Week's Tips Summarized 

So The Game Got Cancelled

  1. Consider What Was Going To Happen Tonight
  2. Take Stock Of The Involved Players
  3. Review The Rules Of The Game
  4. Review The Rules Of Another Game
  5. Remember, There Is A Life Aside From Gaming

For Your Game: 100 Medieval Careers

Gamemaster Tips Summarized 

  1. Cornstarch Clay
  2. Roleplaying Currency
  3. OSRIC New Version
  4. Gaming Recipes

Latest Posts @ CampaignMastery.com 

  1. 7 Gamefull Uses for Campaign Coins
  2. Distilled Cultural Essence Part 3

Johnn Four's GM Guide Books

Unlimited Freelancer

If you are looking to break into the RPG industry and make money freelance writing, then you should check out the new eBook, The Unlimited Freelancer. Though I've been writing professionally for 10 years, I bought the book and have been learning a lot that is going to go straight to my bottom line.

The book is 200 pages full of tips and advice. It discusses in detail how to set-up a freelance business, how to automate a lot of stuff so you can claw out more time for writing, the best business models, how to build a team for the larger projects, and more.

Check it out if you want to make money freelancing. The advice is directly applicable to writing for the RPG industry.

- Johnn Four, February 2009

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A Brief Word From Johnn 

Carnus Campaign Journal: A New Rift

We played session #11 in our D&D 4E campaign on Thursday and a new rift opened in the game, this time between the PCs and the lord of a small town a day away from the city of Carnus.

After failing to broker a deal between Lord Padraig of Winterhaven and their own Lord, Falroth, the PCs set out to return home to Carnus. At the halfway point back the group stumbles onto a cart with a broken cage, a broken wheel and a halfling girl fending off a zombie with a spear. The PCs quickly jump to her aid and learn her father has gone after a bear that escaped from its cage.

A short distance into the forest the characters spot the bear being attacked by four gravehounds; the halfling dad lies at the bear's feet, unconscious or dead. As soon as the group attacks the undead dogs the halfling quits playing dead, jumps up and joins the battle! He also offers the PCs half his payment if they help recapture the bear and bring it to Carnus alive.

Soon all the gravehounds have been dispatched, but the problem of capturing the bear remains. It's the ranger to the rescue though, as his Sinatra-like voice soon croons the bear into cooperating.

The problem of the broken cart remains. In the world of Carnus, arcane magic is illegal. So, while some party members distract the halflings, the mage quickly mends the broken wheel with arcane energy. When the halfling father turns back and sees his suddenly fixed wheel, he blinks, then sets to work on fixing the cage as if nothing strange happened.

This is very interesting to me as the DM, because the halfling now undoubtedly knows there's a spellcaster in the group. When he gets back to Carnus what will he do with this knowledge? Even if he does nothing, there's an open loop now with an NPC wandering around out there who has potentially dangerous knowledge of the PCs....

With cart in tow, the journey back to Carnus resumes, but suddenly the group's horses, leant to them by Lord Falroth, take ill. They've been poisoned! While the ranger comes to the rescue just in time with an herbal remedy, the group pins blame on Lord Padraig, who has become enemy #1 in their minds now.

Upon returning to Carnus, the PCs debrief Lord Falroth and name Lord Padraig as the culprit for nearly killing his horses (though there is no evidence to support this). With no agreement reached between the lords by the PCs either, it looks like a second rift has opened in the world. The first rift - to the Shadowfell - continues to spew undead out like an EasyBake Oven, and now there's conflict between two lords in the land.

A Song of Fire and Ice RPG

George R. R. Martin fans will be pleased to know an RPG based on his best-selling Song of Fire and Ice series is being crafted by the capable folks at Green Ronin. I'm not sure when the release date is, but I can't wait to see how it turns out.

A group of friends and I played the Game of Thrones board game a few weeks ago. It's my fifth time playing it. And it's my fifth loss. :) The game plays like a cross between Risk and Diplomacy, and it's a lot of fun. If you haven't tried it yet, see if you can squeeze into a game at your Friendly Local Game Store or game convention.

Sci-Fi RPG Pick

Thanks again to everyone who sent in their recommendations for what sci-fi RPG I should gamemaster this year. I have a review copy of a book coming to me soon, which I'll throw into the mix, and then make a final decision. Quite a few readers let me know about the Dark Heresy and Blue Planet RPGs as well, making my decision even more difficult. Thanks!

I've been reading a lot of sci-fi books lately, and they've been getting me even more excited to start my first sci-fi RPG campaign. Currently, I have The Reality Dysfunction by Peter Hamilton on the go. It's good space opera and I recommend checking it out.

I hope to make a sci-fi RPG decision soon and will let you know when it happens.

Enjoy this week's issue. Try to get some game time in before Issue #435!

Cheers,

Johnn Four,
johnn@roleplayingtips.com

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So The Game Got Cancelled  

By Darren Blair

It's game night. You've been looking toward to it all week. You've got your dice and materials ready to go; all you need to do is confirm the time and location.

When you do start calling around, however, you find out you're the only one who can make it. Ted just got promoted and is busy at work. Frank just had to bail his brother out of jail. Sadie's car broke down. And Jim's caught whatever was going around.

So what to do? You've got your schedule free for a few hours, and yet now you've got nothing to pass the time. Or do you? Here are a few things that you can do.

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1. Consider What Was Going To Happen Tonight 

Don't consider the cancellation as a downer; consider it a reprieve. You've got another few days to go over what was planned for the next session.

Maybe you can reconsider what you were looking to do? Alternatively, something new might come to mind that you didn't have time to think about before the game.

GMs: This is the time to double-check your proposed plan for the session. If it was to be a battle, you can look at whether your planned encounter is actually appropriate for the party. This can involve not only enemy strength (too strong / too weak?) but also how it'll actually fit into the campaign and what could come out of it.

If it was to be role-playing, then you've got time to consider how the NPCs you'll be running would normally act and react to the party. Remember, your NPCs have motivations and such just like the PCs.

Players: This is the time to verify your plans for the session. The GM should have hinted at what will take place in the next session, and so you can use this to your advantage.

If you're going into combat, consider what your party's proposed strategy is and whether or not you think it's a good idea; you've now got more time to talk it over with the other players before the session.

If you'll be role-playing, now's the time to weigh what your character wants vs. what you yourself know to be best for the party. This will make for better role-playing and will allow you to consider how to work things to the party's advantage.

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2. Take Stock Of The Involved Players 

If your campaign were as simple as "there's the enemy; kill them," then it would have fallen apart by now. In addition to the PCs, there's often a plethora of NPCs inhabiting the campaign world.

You've got the NPCs who deal directly with the party, the NPCs who work in the background and influence things, and the NPCs that could be considered prime movers in the campaign.

GMs: Start big, think small. As part of your world-building process, you should have already identified the prime movers for the campaign. From there, you should have determined how they'll be the prime movers and why.

After that, you've got the intermediaries between them and the party, if any. Then you've also got the specific NPCs who will be attached to the party before finally arriving at the commoners / grunts who are milling about.

Not only should you review them to ensure they're realistic, you should also stop to consider how they would react to whatever is going on around them. This will help you consider paths to take and inspire side-arcs.

For example, suppose the town blacksmith is in league with the thieves' guild. While he'd normally be more than glad to sell weapons and armor to the party, if the party is busy cracking down on said thieves' guild then the blacksmith will have to weigh the money he's making from the party against the possibility of waking up dead when the guild retaliates.

The blacksmith might split the difference by selling the party defective gear; he'll still get the money, but he could honestly tell the guild that he was trying to sabotage the party's efforts.

The party will then be in the position of having gear that mysteriously and spontaneously fails on them, something that could leave them in a bind.

Players: Start small, think big. While your character might just be another cog in the machine, said character must be a pretty important cog for everything to be taking place around them. As such, even if the character does operate solo, what they do will affect other people and other events.

This means you should periodically review your character: their established history and personality, and what's going on around them.

While flat characters can make for more challenging role- play, you've got to weigh that against the situation the character is in and the rest of the party (if any).

If you've got the XP, consider picking up a few new skills, feats, or traits to better round out your character, keeping an eye to what has been happening and the party's collective strengths and weaknesses.

For example, the party gun nut could consider picking up skill points in Gunsmith and another such technical fields so they can fix their own weapons; this will make the character more independent and frees up the burden on the party techie. The party techie, in turn, could pick up skill in hand-to-hand combat or pistols so the party gun nut isn't always having to provide security.

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3. Review The Rules Of The Game 

At the heart of each game system is a set of rules. You've got rules for how to build the world, rules for how to create characters, rules for combat, rules for equipment, and rules to cover everything else.

On top of that, some games will publish errata lists or even new sets of rules on a periodic basis, and so what was valid or invalid today might just be different tomorrow.

GMs: Here's an opportunity to brush up on the rules of the game, especially ones that seem to cause pain points during gameplay. If you jump-started the campaign, here is your chance to also become familiar with the core manuals and any errata for the rules.

Players: Just because the GM is running the show doesn't mean you aren't responsible for knowing how things work. If possible, try to review the core rules of the game for yourself. Not only will this save time on arguments, but it will also allow you to recognize when the GM or another player has made a mistake that needs to be corrected. It can also help you spot GMs or players who are abusing the rules for their own gain.

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4. Review The Rules Of Another Game 

As cool as whatever game you happen to be playing might be, it's not the only one out there. You've got everything from Apples to Apples to Warhammer 40K, and it's a safe bet the average gamer will have played multiple games and multiple formats of games.

GMs: One of the fastest ways for a party to fall apart is if players grow bored with the main campaign. A solution is to periodically play a new game.

The simplest answer would be to spend an evening doing party games like Apples to Apples or Uno. A more complicated answer would be to set up another campaign in a different game, such as running Battletech and Dungeons & Dragons simultaneously.

In the process of learning these rules, you can also see where more experienced players are coming from and maybe even find a few ideas to borrow for your campaign.

Players: There's a good chance the rest of the people in your group, especially the GM, will be familiar with other games and gaming systems. While experience isn't something that can be replicated, if you take the time to understand the games they've played you might get some insight into the way they think and play. And if you're in a situation where few (or no one) in your group has played other games, this could give you an opportunity to share.

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5. Remember, There Is A Life Aside From Gaming 

Take a few moments to consider how much time you spend on gaming. Is it just a few minutes a week outside the session? Then yeah; go ahead and tinker with things. Is the session the be-all, end-all of your week? Then perhaps you should consider doing something else.

Take a walk. Watch a movie. Read a book. Write. Curse out your internet service provider like you've been meaning to do. Just don't sit around and mope.

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For Your Game: 100 Medieval Careers

By Scott Schimmel, with permission, from: http://abutterflydreaming.com/2009/02/06/100-medieval-careers/

Presented below are 100 jobs NPCs in your game-world might have. This list helps with creating those random NPCs -- pick a job, then add a name, race, gender, and a quirk or two.

I've broken them down into broad categories in case you want to go old school and turn it into multiple subtables to randomly roll on. If you're taking that approach, note that the Working Class and Scoundrels and the Underclass categories should be most common in the typical medieval- European-style game worlds, followed by Professionals, Entertainers, and Martial, with Learned and Lesser Nobility being least common.

Learned

  1. Academic - a scholar or sage; astrologer, cartographer, historian, philosopher
  2. Architect - a master builder
  3. Ascetic - a hermit or wandering monk
  4. Barber - a doctor, surgeon, bloodletter, dentist, and haircutter
  5. Barrister - a lawyer
  6. Bureaucrat - a local functionary, servant to a more powerful political figure
  7. Engineer - a builder of roads, bridges, castles, fortifications, and siege engines
  8. Herald - an announcer and deliverer of news on behalf of a lord
  9. Monk/Nun - a lay cleric devoted to prayer and spirituality
  10. Scribe - skilled in taking dictation or copying documents

Lesser Nobility

  1. Adventurer - a minor scion of a noble house who's chosen to wander the world
  2. Dilettante - a minor scion of a noble house who dabbles in various interests
  3. Diplomat - a representative of his house in dealings with other noble houses
  4. Knight - a well-trained warrior, skilled with sword and lance
  5. Minister - a political figure appointed by the ruler to govern a specific area or to oversee a domain; also lesser but important officials, such as a reeve or judge
  6. Page - a very young noble beginning his training to be a knight
  7. Squire - a young noble progressing on the path to knighthood, perhaps herself a capable warrior

Professionals

  1. Armorer
  2. Artist - a painter of portraits
  3. Baker
  4. Blacksmith
  5. Bookbinder
  6. Bowyer
  7. Brewer - a maker of beer and ale
  8. Bricklayer - a laborer skilled in the building of walls and ducts
  9. Butcher
  10. Candlemaker or Chandler
  11. Carpenter - an elite tradesman, skilled in math as well as woodworking
  12. Cartwright - a maker and repairer of carts and wagons
  13. Clothier - a garment-maker
  14. Cobbler or Shoemaker - makes and mends shoes
  15. Cook
  16. Cooper - a barrel-maker
  17. Dyer - a maker of inks, paints, dyes, and stains
  18. Engraver
  19. Furrier
  20. Glassblower
  21. Goldsmith or Silversmith
  22. Hatter
  23. Innkeeper or Tavern-keeper
  24. Jeweler
  25. Joiner - a maker of furniture
  26. Leatherworker
  27. Locksmith
  28. Mason
  29. Merchant
  30. Moneylender
  31. Potter
  32. Shipwright - a builder of ships
  33. Tax Collector
  34. Tinker - a traveling craftsman who repairs tin pots and other small items, often also a peddler
  35. Torturer
  36. Trader - by land or by sea
  37. Vintner - a maker of wines
  38. Weaver

The Working Class

  1. Boatman - travel by lake or river
  2. Coachman - driver of a coach
  3. Farmer
  4. Fisherman
  5. Gravedigger
  6. Groom - one who tends animals
  7. Herdsman - a keeper of livestock
  8. Hunter or Trapper
  9. Messenger
  10. Miller
  11. Miner
  12. Painter or Limner
  13. Peddler - an itinerant merchant of goods
  14. Ratcatcher
  15. Sailor
  16. Seamstress
  17. Servant - maid, butler, attendant, steward, etc.
  18. Stevedore - one who loads and unloads goods from sailing ships or caravan

Martial

  1. Bodyguard
  2. Bounty Hunter
  3. Forester - a ranger or game warden, often empowered to act as law enforcement within the forest
  4. Gatekeeper or Toll Keeper
  5. Jailer
  6. Mercenary or Soldier
  7. Watchman

Scoundrels and the Underclass

  1. Bandit, Mugger, or Thug - steals by force; often part of a gang of thieves
  2. Beggar
  3. Burglar - steals by breaking and entering
  4. Fence - finds buyers for stolen goods, may serve as a pawnbroker
  5. Gambler
  6. Pickpocket or Cutpurse - steals by stealth
  7. Procurer - streetwise specialists in finding whatever their client might be looking for
  8. Prostitute
  9. Slaver
  10. Smuggler - moves stolen or illegal goods
  11. Wanderer - a "barbarian" nomad, drifter, or rover

Entertainers

  1. Acrobat
  2. Actor
  3. Clown
  4. Dancer
  5. Fortune-teller - might well have real power in a fantasy world
  6. Juggler
  7. Minstrel
  8. Prestidigitator - stage magician
  9. Storyteller

[Comment from Johnn: thanks for the great list, Scott! Readers, if you liked this resource you might find the City Places list [txt] useful as well ]

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Gamemaster Tips 

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

1. Cornstarch Clay 

From: dahgda

The idea for using clay for minis and terrain is a great one - the only downside is it needs a kiln to harden properly. An alternative is to make cornstarch clay, which is self- setting and is easily molded like real clay. A friend of mine even made a life-sized tree out of it, though he did have an internal skeleton for support. Cornstarch clay takes color well, and when done is easily painted for details.

Basic recipe for cornstarch clay.

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2. Roleplaying Currency 

From: Eric Garcia

I'm a GM running my first full campaign; the system is 4th Edition. I wanted to figure out a method to reward players for roleplaying. I've never been a fan of the GM being the one who decides who was the best roleplayer in a session, or why different people deserve different amounts of XP.

I've seen where people vote at the end on who they thought played well, but sometimes memories of interesting events get lost during the session. Also, I decided that players would all receive the same XP to represent that what they're doing is as a party, not as individuals.

So I've come up with a system that lets everyone have immediate feedback on who they thought played well. It would work just as well for bonus XP, but I'm using it a little differently.

Each player, as well as the GM, has a supply of tokens. I'm using dice beads in a number of colors. The number they have isn't important, so long as a player can give out as many as he likes. Every time a person thinks someone else did something well, he gives that other person one (or more) of his tokens. Players can't give themselves tokens.

At the end of the session, the tokens that were given out are counted up and recorded before being returned to the original players. Each player and the GM has one "share" of the final reward which is distributed among their tokens. A player gets points based on the number of tokens received from a player divided by the total number of tokens that player gave out.

For example, let's say that, as the GM of a campaign with three players, I give out 10 of my tokens in a session: 5 to Player A, 3 to Player B, and 2 to Player C. So Player A would get 5/10, or 0.5 of my points; Player B gets 0.3 points, and Player C gets 0.2 points, adding up to my 1 full share. (A spreadsheet can make the math easier.)

In comparison, if Player A only gave out 1 token to Player B, Player B would get the full amount of Player A's points. So right now, Player A has 0.5 points, Player B has 1.3 points, and Player C has 0.2 points. Player B's and Player C's tokens would be calculated the same way, and the end results would be added up and ranked.

The nice part of the system is that, because it doesn't matter how many tokens a player gives out or why, each player can have their own standards on how much to reward different events. I might give out 1 token for a funny joke, but 3 tokens for a character giving a two-minute motivational speech.

Another player might give out a token for someone who has an impressive tactic in battle that swings the fight in the party's advantage. And since the amount isn't fixed, people won't hold back tokens earlier to reward people later, or ever feel they "wasted" a token when they give one away.

This system could easily be used to give out bonus XP, or any other reward. It's also been adapted by my players to reward tactics, so if a player is at his best in combat, that player is included in the final tally.

Some players even give tokens to the GM. I haven't figured out what to do with these yet besides knowing what the players liked, but that's still valuable knowledge.

In my campaign, I'm giving out a separate set of tokens based on the results which I'm calling Roleplaying Currency for now. The players can spend this in different amounts to do things like add a +1 to a natural die roll, reroll a die, refresh an encounter power, and other things.

It's a reflection that the efforts the players put into making their characters more interesting come through when they need them the most. I've also put a cap on how much Currency a player can have so that players are always spending it and wanting to earn more.

I'm not sure if it's too complicated. But for me, it does everything I want with regards to rewarding players for keeping the session interesting. Everyone has an equal vote, which I prefer (although the GM could easily give himself more "shares" to make his input worth more).

The players like the system, because it allows them to show other players what they liked during the session right away, whether it was a particular line, a good move in combat, an interesting use of a skill, or even a well-timed joke. And by showing what people like in the sessions, it encourages more of the same.

[Comment from Johnn: great tip Eric. I like how points in your system are based on a ratio of how many were received versus how many were given out. A similar concept has appeared in the e-zine previously - Pocket Points. Visit these links for more info:

Roleplaying Tips Issue #93

Roleplaying Tips Issue #262 ]

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3. OSRIC New Version 

From: Robert Blezard

The newest version of OSRIC is now out. It's a completely free PDF that recreates first edition D&D using the Open Game License as its baseline.

 

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4. Gaming Recipes 

From: Sonja Johnson

If you're a fan of Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels, there are several dozen sources for recipes replicating foods from that setting - which in turn could add a nice touch of flavor (pun intended!) to the game.

I tend to feed my game group the standard chips-and-soda type fare most of the time, but when the holidays approach, I get a lot more creative, and they benefit. At a recent game, the characters were taking part in a sporting tournament and a grand feast.

In addition to their various exploits on the field of honor, I served them some "Faire food" as well. This included some mystery meat (chicken fried steak, basically, but in small pieces) and fried dough.

The fried dough is:

  • one egg
  • half a cup of flour
  • some spice blend (I use Zatarain's Creole but you could use anything including Old Bay)
  • about half a cup of milk

Mix well till you have a batter, and fry in oil.

It's very fatty and can be quite salty as well, but it's remarkably close to what history indicates might have been served back in the Middle Ages.

I've also done tarts, which really are just tiny pies. These days you can find tart tins and tart shells at stores, and making tarts is just like making pie except you split the filling; you don't even have to change whatever recipe you like to use.

Having food on a stick is fun, but another flavorful way to get the medieval feel is to use trencher bread - again you can find various hearty breads in the mega-marts, which will do nicely.

I'd say focaccia bread works well if you're putting something like slices of meat on top. Day-old French bread or pumpernickel works well for thick stews.

You can serve soups in bread, but unless that bread is rock hard you're going to want a bowl under it! And really, any simple meal is "period" as it were for fantasy gaming purposes - soup and stew and roast beast have been around for eons.

For modern games, consider the setting. In a post- apocalyptic survivor setting you might have roasted mystery meat on sticks, and in a sci-fi setting you might have elegant food, which might not work well with gaming table manners.

If you and your group are OK with something formal, it's easy to simply label everything on a "menu" and use futuristic names. "Gordian lichen and Martian bat eyes" is just iceberg lettuce with grape tomatoes, but it sure sounds alien!

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Latest Posts @ CampaignMastery.com: 

Campaign Mastery is the official blog of the Roleplaying Tips E-zine. It's a great way to get more GMing advice and to chat with me and other readers about GMing. Here is a quick summary of what's new.

  1. 7 Gamefull Uses for Campaign Coins
    Tips and ideas on how to use the Campaign Coins product in your games.
  2. Distilled Cultural Essence - Part 3 of 4: Expressing a different society, Section 2
    Mike continues his awesome series for game masters serious about world building.

* * *

Be sure to subscribe to the blog to get the latest updates sent to you:

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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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