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Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #442

Choosing Your Next Science Fiction RPG: Reader Recommendations

Contents: 

 

This Week's Tips Summarized 

Choosing Your Next Science Fiction RPG: Reader Recommendations

  1. Choosing Your Next Science Fiction RPG: Reader Recommendations

Gamemaster Tips Summarized

  1. Integrating a New Player in Three Steps
  2. A Lawful Good Deed for the Day
  3. Tips for a New Sci-Fi Group
  4. Staying Focused...And The Best Session Notes You Could Ever Desire
  5. Arkham Horror Tip Also Great For RPGs
  6. Reader Request: Rousing Passive Players

Latest Posts @ CampaignMastery.com 

  • Ask The GMs: Pacing Your Campaign
  • Ask The GMs: Weather, Not Climate
  • This Means War! Making huge armies practical (Parts 1-5 of 6)

Johnn Four's GM Guide Books

Free Dice from Kobold Quarterly

Kobold Quarterly is giving away hundreds of sets of free Q-Workshop dice. These are Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, Elven, Runic and other dice sets that retail for over $18. You can get your own set of FREE dice and a subscription to the best RPG magazine on the market, for as little as $16. That includes a full year of articles for 4th Edition D&D, Pathfinder, and 3rd Edition OGL gaming! To get your free dice, just visit koboldquarterly.com and subscribe to either the PDF-only or the print+PDF edition - whichever is more convenient to you.

Remember: this offer is limited to the dice on hand - and when they're gone, they are GONE.

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A Brief Word From Johnn 

Obsidian Portal and Epic Words Reviews Posted

At the website two reviews each have been posted for online RPG campaign services Obsidian Portal and Epic Words. Swing on over to learn more about organizing your tabletop games online with these sites.

Do Legend of the Five Rings Books Have Good Fluff?

Do you know much about the clan books for the L5R RPG (any edition)? They've always interested me, but I haven't flipped through any. I'm wondering if they might have some great world- and culture-building materials. Or, are they pure rules and crunch?

Magic Items Hooks Contest Over

Thanks to everyone who entered the magic item hooks contest. I'll be drawing winners and contacting them soon, and then announcing them in an upcoming issue of the e-zine.

Have a great week full of gaming.

Cheers,

Johnn Four,
johnn@roleplayingtips.com

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Advanced Adventures in Stock!

Expeditious Retreat Press has all your old-school needs covered with Advanced Adventures, modules compatible with the world's most popular fantasy role-playing game! Pick up your copy at XRP's online store or stop by your FLGS to buy new 1E material for the first time in decades. Don't forget Old-School Gazettes at YourGamesNow.com, the e-site with the largest selection of OSRIC(tm) material!

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Choosing Your Next Science Fiction RPG: Reader Recommendations   

In Issue #428 I polled you to help me figure out what science fiction RPG I should try as my next game. Here is the original request:

What Sci-Fi RPG Should I Play Next Year?

My D&D campaign is slowly forming a plot, and our gaming schedule is as regular as a bowl of All Bran now, which is awesome. So, I'm now casting my sensor array at 2009 with a desire to get some sci-fi gaming in on the side.

At Amazon, there are a few candidates I'm considering:

First, I'd like to thank you for making a hard decision more difficult. :) Not only did you make all my candidates sound so interesting that they should be my top pick, but you introduced compelling new suggestions to add to my list of choices. Grrrr.

I've made my choice, which I announce at the end of this section. In the meantime, I thought there might be other GMs out there thinking about starting up a sci-fi RPG for a short run or ongoing campaign. So, I've pasted below several of the comments I received from my request. If you are thinking about sci-fi RPGs, hopefully you'll find them interesting and helpful.

Transhuman Space

Transhuman Space impresses me as the choice for gritty, hard-sf gaming with a well-built backdrop. Transhuman Space is near future and speculations in science and technology magazines or web sites are more relevant.

- Bill Crumb

Dark Heresy

Have you considered Dark Heresy (set in the Warhammer 40K universe)? The PCs are a group of acolytes hand-picked by a member of the Imperial Inquisition to peer into the dark corners of the Imperium, hunting down heresy, mutation, and all the other threats that seek to topple the Imperium of Man and set the galaxy aflame.

They even provide lovely, open-ended plot potential in the Tyrant Star; it could be nearly anything - the ruined ship of the C'Tan known as the Nightbringer; the herald of the coming birth of the Eldar God of Death, whose destiny is to destroy the Chaos God Slaanesh; a star in the warp, tainted and corrupted by Chaos; or nearly anything else you could imagine for it.

It's an interesting read, if nothing else, and has quite novel ideas, although the rule system needs a little tweaking.

- Kassil the Erratic

You wrote in Issue #428 that you were looking for a gritty sci-fi setting, that didn't require a lot of technical knowledge? I recommend Warhammer 40K for that, as technology, while plentiful, is only just understood by most and many don't even know _why_ things do work.

The Dark Heresy source book provides rules, though I personally find them clunky and recommend Savage Worlds (Explorer's Edition) using the mechanics as-is and re-flavouring as needed.

- Philip Harboe

Blue Planet

I've been toying with the idea of running Blue Planet. This has a lower-tech feel and is set on an ocean planet that mankind traveled to by way of a wormhole. It has quite a frontier feel to it, with strains of native resistance fighting, ecoterrorism, megacorporate espionage, Wild West, Firefly, Waterworld...it's quite a gumbo. I think it's pretty cool. It's out of print, but should still be available, probably at a discount.

- Randy Shipp

Hi Johnn, if you're unfamiliar with it I can't recommend Blue Planet V2 highly enough. One of the most well- considered and original game premises and campaign worlds I have ever seen (and I have seen a lot) and an intuitive game system.

Blue Planet V2 Reviewl

- Kirk Hone

Burning Empires, Burning Wheel

Hey Johnn,

I can't speak to Burning Empires directly, but Burning Wheel (the fantasy RPG from the same developer, using the same basic rules system), is hands-down my favorite RPG of all time. No need to worry about world-building either - that's taken care of in the first session. And for that matter, session prep for my first Burning Wheel game averaged 30 minutes. Total.

Transhuman Space is also a fantastic setting. I've spent quite a bit of time chatting with my roleplaying buddies about the possibilities of adapting Transhuman Space fluff to Burning Wheel mechanics.

- Zach Donovan

I have not seen Burning Empires, but I have played Burning Wheel with Luke Crane. He is a high energy guy and a joy to play with. Burning Wheel includes Duel of Wits - a battle system done by verbal sparring.

You can find the download for it on this page.

It's different but exciting. You go three rounds in a verbal fight. You have 7 types of "attacks" but you can't reuse any in the following rounds. The other players may choose to become involved and add dice to the end result.

- Darryl Hodgson

Traveller, Transhuman Space, Burning Empires

Traveller. Which edition? I personally enjoy "classic" traveller (reprints by Far Future Enterprises) and GURPS Traveller (which uses the same system as Transhuman Space and has a 4TH Edition GURPS update called Interstellar Wars). I've also heard that Mongoose's Version of Traveller is very good and has had 5 printings in less than a year!

"Classic" has simple rules that might be ideal for your group. GURPS Traveller has a simple system that has the option to use lots of different add-ons from other GURPS books to modify the game as you see fit, but the combat is _very_ realistic, which turns off some groups. I know little about Mongoose's Traveller, but it's been given many rave reviews.

Transhuman Space is a very good setting with lots of great additional details supplied by supplement books. Interesting stuff, such as underseas adventure on Earth and other worlds' moons, human genetic modifications, Memes, cybershells (AI with 'robot' bodies), and bioroids. (The 3RD Edition stuff is very inexpensive on the Steve Jackson Games Warehouse 23 site.)

There is also a 4TH Edition GURPS updated Print On Demand version of the game called Transhuman Space Changing Times. It's my personal favorite of the two because 4TH edition GURPS changed a LOT of the problems I had with the rules in 3RD Edition. The only catch is that the 3RD edition is a "POWERED BY GURPS" product, which includes in the base THS book the GURPS Lite rules needed to play the game, whereas the 4TH edition version requires you either download the 4TH edition GURPS Lite rules or purchase the core GURPS 4TH Edition book to play it.

I also like Burning Empires very much. It use the wonderful Burning Wheel rules, which emphasise group dynamics, beliefs fueling characters's actions, and shared storytelling, along with gritty fighting rules and rules that make social interaction just as risky, gritty and important as combat. Burning Empires then and adds mass battles, world and universe creation, alien creation, starship combat, and a host of other critical scifi things, with the same attention to detail, story and characters that Luke Crane put into the original game.

I recommend Burning Empires if you'd like to play a system where the entire group has a say in what direction the story goes and how the universe/worlds are structured, and if the GM would like to do more storytelling and less worrying about fiddly little things in the system background/rules.

I think you'd enjoy the entire system if you give it a try. The other great thing is the amount of help the Burning Wheel community and the creator himself are willing to give _anyone_ who is interested in the system. It's the system I'm currently running two games with (One Burning Empires game and one Burning Wheel game.)

www.burningwheel.com

At first, both "Burning" games were a hard sell to my group of friends. Burning Wheel plays a little differently than most people who have played things like D&D are used to. (It uses a simple dice pool mechanic. Shadowrun and WOD players have an easier time adapting to the rules.) It also gives players a little more control over things than some people are used to, and it frees up the GM from some of the more boring and repetitive tasks you see happening in most games. (Let it Ride, One Test and the "Yes" Rule really keep the game moving at a quick pace.) "Call On" traits, Circles and advantages give the player an edge that helps them shape the game in subtle ways. The GM has (besides the usual things) disadvantages that provide an appropriate negative element to hinder the players.

- James Browning

Dear Johnn,

Before you start what sort of gritty are you interested in? Are we talking Blade Runner dark and gritty, where the personalities are crushed under technological monstrosities, and big questions are asked about individuals? Or are we talking gritty, soft space fiction with a dramatic flair in your stories like Babylon 5 or Aliens, where the technology is in the background but the focus is on the grand acts of the players? Normally, people want a middle ground, but unfortunately the problem with scifi is few systems are designed to cover both ends.

Let me suggest you should first choose a system you think you will like to use, determine what types of stories you want to tell, and then choose a world to play in. In scifi, the problem is that normally these three points don't come in the same package.

Traveller, for example, has a brilliant system for creating worlds, detailing economic systems and even the planetary orbits, but it does have a uniquely hard system to use with character creation. It is great for telling the stories of interplanetary adventures and works well on the large scale, but stories about people are normally less effective because it is so well designed for the big canvas.

Transhuman Space, however, has a good, basic world set and gives you more than enough space to maneuver. It has a good rules set as it uses the newest edition of the GURPS rules, but it is the writing that stands out. Transhuman Space has the most options of the three, a good character list, plus good equipment, but this might be a distraction when creating stories depending upon what the stories involve. This has, unfortunately, only been briefly undertaken, so it lacks much depth.

Burning Empires has an interesting but not very deep setting. While its system is different, its mechanics don't lend themselves to many of my favorite story types to GM, however, its cooperative competitive approach can help a lot in play.

If you are after a gritty world, Transhuman Space is probably the most appropriate as it can be set at any level you want, but this means it doesn't help you tell any stories specifically. The setting provides a fairly good overview, but is probably not as in-depth as you need as it doesn't quantify or provide strong archetypes to provide villains for you.

Traveller is the most appropriate for the creation of stories about exploration, but it does have a problem with scaling alien beings, so you need to study the quite complex rules before play and keep the stories appropriate to the setting.

Burning Empires is the least "flexible" of the games and should be played as is. Unfortunately, if it doesn't fit your group there isn't the flexibility to make it fit.

Of the three options, I would use Transhuman Space because of the ability to choose so many alternative solutions and stories, but the setting is not one I would use myself. I'd use something like Blue Planet as the setting with Transhuman or even Cyberpunk as the rules set.

- Warwick Brown

Traveller

I say Traveller. I played it back in the 70s when it came out, and into the 80s, and had a lot of fun with it. I've looked at the core rulebook that Mongoose has put out, and it has all of the old style Traveller feel, while still being updated with modern roleplaying improvements. I only wish I could afford to buy it all...and then have time to play it... sigh. Stupid adulthood. ;-)

- Ian McKinney

Serenity, Battlestar Galactica, Alternity

Hi Johnn,

I just thought I'd pass along my suggestions for a sci-fi RPG your group might enjoy.

If you are a fan of the TV show FireFly (and continuing movie Serenity) I'd recommended the Serenity RPG.

It's a nice combination of wild west meets space and has a little of everything from action to drama. The grittiness is there too in that a lot of people still ride horses, use revolvers, etc., and the frontier is pretty grim and wild.

It uses the Cortex rule system, which handles the sci-fi genre well, can be learned inside an hour, and can make for a nice change from whatever rule system you traditionally use. It's also a nice setting to use for players used to fantasy in that it's not over-the-top high tech, and still has a lot of familiar themes (low tech border towns, caravans) but still techy enough to have a good space feeling.

The second game I'd recommend is the Battlestar Galactica RPG.

It's based off the popular TV show and also uses the Cortex rule system, making it easy to pick up and play inside of a couple hours. It offers a lot of high tech sci-fi with the gritty "survival at all costs" feel of the TV series and has a lot to offer to fans of the series or anyone who likes a desperate, post-war saga space campaign.

The third and final series I recommend is Alternity and their setting campaign, Star Drive: alternityrpg.net, Wikipedia.

While it might be officially discontinued, it's still excellent sci-fi game system, and the prices for the PDFs are only $5.00 a piece.

The system is fast and balanced, capturing the feel of sci- fi adventure without being overbearing or over-complicated.

The Star Drive setting is gritty and realistic, offering a good mix of technology, colonized and unexplored regions, and uses all the races and weapons featured in the Alternity GM & Player's guides, making it an easy combination.

- Jenette Downing

Serenity

In answer to your request about sci-fi gaming (and tangentially a system that uses plot points to good effect) is the Serenity RPG, based on the film of the same name and in turn of the TV series Firefly. I don't know how familiar you are with Firefly, but it is a space western, with slugthrowers and lasers, horses and spaceships, and it follows the story of a smuggler captain (think: Han Solo) and his ensemble crew through their various adventures.

The system can provide gritty and hard-core gaming, the film and TV show provide a good deal of easy-to-absorb background, and the book has more. There is not much in the way or ready to run campaigns, but there is now an expansion available. The character creation system is enjoyable, and the rules (though some things could do with a tweak) are pretty straightforward to pick up.

- Johnn: I misplaced the name of the reader who sent this in. My apologies! Email me if it was you and I'll correct this.

Traveller, Star Wars

My group had good success with GURPS 4E Traveller: Interstellar Wars awhile back. We played in one of the interbellum periods - right after the Vilani nuked Earth - as traders/troubleshooters. It can be played with the two core GURPS books and the ISW book.

Right now we're playing Star Wars Saga Edition (WotC). The Dawn of Defiance campaign (free on the WotC website) is pretty good, though I'm modifying it heavily with my own ideas and with some great message board suggestions. Can be played just fine with only the core book, but The Force Unleashed and Scum & Villainy are great sourcebooks to have alongside. Ships of the Galaxy and Threats of the Galaxy are helpful too.

The Dawn of Defiance campaign

At some point soon we're going to be playing Serenity using GURPS and converted materials from the Serenity RPG (Margaret Weis Productions). Also on the agenda (someday, so many games, so little time) is a GURPS Infinite Worlds campaign, or at least a one-shot. Not so much space opera but the setting looks cool nonetheless.

- Michael Arrington

Metascape

I play Metascape. It's a fantasy-space-opera style game, but it has a pre-generated setting and lots of detail. Downside: the system is quirky and difficult for a GM to get used to. However, it encourages ad-libbing and GMing on the fly, and it's easy on the players.

www.mentalwinds.com

My Metascape game is chronicled at: here.

- Andrew Gould

HARP SF

HARP SF is planned for release in 2009. Gamma version is already available at ICE's online store. You can check it out here.

The product is written by Nicholas Caldwell, author of College of Magics (HARP) and editor for The Guild Companion, along with many other credits. It's a great product.

- Thom Jones

Babylon 5

I would recommend Babylon 5 the RPG. You can get most of the sourcebooks second-hand through Amazon quite cheaply, and they have a detailed world that's big enough to encompass just about anything you want to throw at it. Even better, the sourcebooks are extremely tightly bound to the 5-season TV show and Telemovies, so if you are ever unclear on the significance of something, or its look-and-feel, or whatever, you have an alternative reference source at hand. It also contains enough science elements built into the system to achieve the hand-holding you were looking for.

- Mike Bourke

Sufficiently Advanced

A suggestion - Sufficiently Advanced.

Sufficiently Advanced at RPG Now

It's a story oriented system and it can get gritty. The system can also accommodate time scales of years and a variety of conflicts. It has a default pair of bad guys (The Cognitive Union, Darwinians) and several other factions that can be tweaked to become bad guys without a lot of effort. There is also fan support at the wiki forum including some factions I've adapted as opposition.

- Trey Palmer

Johnn's Science Fiction RPG Pick

Dark Heresy was quite compelling to me, but when I found out a player in my group was a huge fan, I asked him to GM it for me. So, I'm going to play in a Dark Heresy game this year, which means I can try out a different game for GMing.

Recently, the kind folks at Alpha Omega sent me their RPG for review. It looks like an awesome sci-fi game. However, it lacked one aspect that I was craving for my GMing, which was starships. Alpha Omega has an excellent concept, but is mostly Earth-based, so it wasn't going to scratch my spaceship itch.

Fortunately, the same player who'll be GMing me in a Dark Heresy game later this year is also going to learn the rules and GM me in a short Alpha Omega adventure. Thanks Pat!

You can learn more about the Alpha Omega RPG here.

So, what RPG will I take a whack at GMing? Transhuman Space. It seems to have the flavour I'm after, and I've GM'd GURPS a little before (3rd Ed.) so I can bring that knowledge in to help with the learning curve.

I was sorely tempted to try Burning Empires and Traveller, but the local solar system setting of Transhuman Space has me quite excited.

Best case scenario is, of course, that they add four more hours to each day so I have time to GM everything on my wishlist. :)

It'll be a bit while I read the book and brush up on GURPS 4E, but once the game gets going I'll let you know how it goes.

- Johnn

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World Builder's Resource: 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.

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Gamemaster Tips 

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

1. Integrating a New Player in Three Steps 

From: Brent P. Newhall,
www.brentnewhall.com

So, you have your role-playing group. You all know each other. Everything's going swimmingly. Then, the dreaded event occurs: someone new wants to join.

What do you do? Besides explaining the common administrative details surrounding where you meet and how often, you have to introduce the newbie to the group's unique internal dynamics. Every group is different, and it can take awhile for a new player to understand all those little social details, especially things like what the group expects from players.

So, how do you make a new player comfortable, and help him to be a good member of the group?

There are three papers I give new players, one per week (I don't want to overwhelm newbies with too much new information). Social policies come in the first week, followed by general role-playing advice, followed by the background sheet. I'll explain each one in some detail in this article.

During the first week, I actually give the player two things: a page describing the current campaign world and the background story, and a page describing our social policies. The world description is the same thing I give all the players when we start a new campaign, so that's just a matter of running off another copy of the information I've already typed up. In it, I describe the world the players are playing in, and any specific background information they know for this particular campaign.

It's the social policies that I want to focus on first. This is a simple document explaining our ground rules. In some detail. Things like:

  • Our cell phone policy (set to vibrate or off, and don't answer during games unless it's an emergency)
  • What's expected of a player if he has to excuse himself temporarily
  • What we do if someone runs to the bathroom (or is otherwise occupied) and something happens to their character
  • Length of time a player can consult the rules during their turn before we all get antsy and move on to the next player
  • Who keeps character sheets
  • Food and drink expectations: if you're not hosting, bring your favorite snack

Why write all this down and distribute it? Because otherwise, new players have to learn all these ground rules through observation and osmosis, which can take many sessions. This way, they learn much more quickly, and everyone is clear on unacceptable behavior.

Writing down all this in stark black-and-white might look harsh. In practice, I've found players don't take it that way. They actually welcome a coherent, understandable list of expected (and unacceptable) behavior.

Just before the new player's second session, I give him the Role-playing Advice for Players page. This is an article by "Master Harper Dazrin" I stumbled across a couple of years ago, and edited slightly; it's an excellent reminder of several principles of roleplaying:

  • Take on the persona of your character (and what that means)
  • Create the way you respond to your fellow players' characters
  • Feel free to take pieces from characters you've seen in movies or read in books
  • Your character's personality can change during the course of the story

Your "new" player might have been playing tabletop RPGs for years, of course. Does he still need this page? Maybe not, but I'd give it to him anyway. It's a great reminder of the fundamentals, and perhaps more importantly, it communicates what you expect. If your players know that you prize good role-playing, they'll feel uncomfortable slacking off.

On the new player's third session, I hand out the Background Sheet. This is pulled from another article I stumbled upon, called The Page of Three. It asks the player to identify a number of things about that player's character:

  • Three things the character does particularly well (that aren't necessarily represented by system skills or traits, so players shouldn't list whatever skill in which they have the most points)
  • Three things the character does poorly (ditto)
  • Three beliefs your character holds
  • Three instinctive mannerisms
  • Three emotional attachments
  • Three allies
  • Three enemies
  • The character's family
  • Why the character left his or her loved ones to become an adventurer (or whatever it is that he or she does)
  • Why the character chose his or her profession or class
  • The character's one burning desire

The Page of Three, Roleplaying Tips Issue #440

Sounds like a lot, but if the player's thought out his or her character in detail, this should take little time for the player to complete. I ask the player to either fill it out now, or take it home and fill it out before the next session.

Why do I do this comparatively late? Shouldn't the player have fleshed out her character by now? In reality, most of my players haven't gone into this much detail about their characters. It takes a few sessions to get a good feel for a character, and it's often better to leave background details undefined for a while.

Once that's done, the new player is comfortable with our group's ground rules and roleplaying expectations, and has a very fleshed-out character. And we're ready to go!

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2. A Lawful Good Deed for the Day 

From: Loz Newman

Players: your characters aren't just bundles of combat stats and magic objects. They're living, breathing people heir to all the distractions and character tics of mortal flesh.

So why not make a mental note to have your character do one minor alignment-driven act per game-day? Nothing major, just something to add a touch more flavour to their personality.

A few examples:

A Paladin gives a few coppers to a charming child.

A Priest bestows a smile and a few kind words on someone exhibiting behaviour he approves of.

A Thief filches a fruit from a stall just for the pleasure of giving it to a beggar.

A Mage casts a cantrip to help out a struggling housewife as he passes by.

Of course, there are always Evil aligned PCs who'll do minor acts of cruelty to spread more fear and loathing....

The advantage for the GMs in all this? Your world gets more detail for free (well, in return for a minute spent describing and handling the minor encounter). Your players get to flesh out their characters, reinforce their alignments, and feel good all at the same time.

And for those who think small deeds can't cause great avalanches of effects, I recommend you read The Curse of Chalion by Lois Bujold McMaster. You could have some fun feeding the effects back into your campaigns ("don't I know you from somewhere?"). Maybe some Player Characters got their start on the Glory Road from a similar minor act of kindness? You can have some fun with this....

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3. Tips for a New Sci-Fi Group 

From: Katana Geldar

I started the Star Wars Saga role playing as my friends and I wanted to play, and I managed to "get it" first so I was made GM.

What tips do you have for groups when everyone is new to roleplaying?

Reply from Johnn:

Hi Katana,

Here are some tips that might help:

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4. Staying Focused...And The Best Session Notes You Could Ever Desire 

From: Brandon Echols

My biggest problem as a GM has been keeping players interested and focused on the game when the action is not currently centered around their character. Some players are better at staying involved than others, but everyone's attention wanders from time to time. This problem is especially prevalent when a party is split.

When confronted with such a situation, I have done two things that have been so beneficial to our group that I had to share them.

  1. 1) Let the players know when they're not needed for a few minutes.

    If a character or portion of the group gets involved in something the GM knows will take longer than five or ten minutes to resolve, it helps to tell the remainder of people at the table to take a few minutes to do some "bookkeeping."

    Updating character sheets, formulating future plans (quietly, please, while we're playing) and researching the next feat or special ability they gain upon leveling up can easily take up a few minutes of time.

    More importantly though, such activities keep the players focused on the game, and not on external influences that could derail their mood. For groups that do a lot of in- depth roleplaying - like ours - staying "focused" is a godsend. This builds in a little bit of out-of-game time that is still centered on the game itself. Plus, they stay on-edge and ready for the GM to shift back to them at any moment.
  2. Dividing up the work of note-taking.

    We award individual experience points, and notes always help this, because the GM can instantly refer to the Official Session Minutes and throw XP down from the mountain. The problem is I hate taking notes.

    When focusing on running the game, I always leave things out and we have to go through the "hey, what about when" discussions at the end of the session. It's not good to ask one player to take notes, because their playing ability -and their XP-earning potential - suffers.

    Our solution is to make each player responsible for their own character's notes, and the GM responsible for his own notes.

    This has several benefits:
    • Keeps players busy during the aforementioned down times.
    • People love talking about themselves. You get much more personalized, accurate accounts this way.
    • It creates a character-specific campaign journal.
    • I award bits of bonus XP for creative note-taking...and XP rewards motivate players to take better, more entertaining notes. Players begin to note all kinds of things they would normally forget, thus drawing them further into their characters and allowing even more focus on the game. 10 XP for "Threw a saltshaker at Tarastus because he's a moron" instead of 0 XP for "threw a saltshaker" encourages more thinking from the perspective of their character.
    • Reading individual notes at the session's end and immediately rewarding 10 XP for "Talking with the shady guy in the corner..." or 25 XP for "Stealing the room keys" causes players to see a positive benefit to even the smallest of actions, potentially. This causes them to be more pro-active in-game.

Taken together, I've had my "keep them interested" woes totally eliminated. Also, it has allowed my own note-taking as a GM to be much more helpful, as I no longer have to sort through all the player-specific stuff buried in my notes.

Bonus tip: keeping a copy of each player's notes and reading them over later can reveal plot hooks that you never knew you created. Capitalize on these for some of the most character-centered adventures possible.

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5. Arkham Horror Tip Also Great For RPGs 

From: Gordon Vincent

re: Roleplaying Tips Issue #440

I think you put your finger right on the source of your low rating when you noted that players at your table were playing reactively. The place where our gamers turned the corner on this game, both in terms of fun and effectiveness, was when one of our players used the upkeep phase to discuss what we and each of the rest of us were going to do that turn. We began to act as a group, rather than a bunch of individual players.

We also began to think in terms of our role at that game: who was our gate diver, who would collect items for the rest of us, who could best use a thing we'd found, etc. This meant each player's turn became interesting, because that player's success or failure was a factor in our own.

We also found, curiously, a higher rate of success when playing random characters than when choosing them, I think in part because that forced us to work together as an ensemble, rather playing as individual stars.

Anyway, I hope you'll give it another try, and get more enjoyment out of a game which is, for us, one more in a long line of good games from Fantasy Flight (with which I have no business connection, btw). Happy gaming!

[Comment from Johnn: thanks for the tip, Gordon. Your teamwork advice is also excellent for players, methinks. Regardless of game system, it might be a good idea for game masters to help their groups by suggesting they coordinate on good tactics and party roles.

For example, a group might want to consciously pick their spokesman when dealing with authority, rather than default to the chattiest player. Likewise, a group might want to scout out foes and plan attack strategies rather than just wait for the call for initiative rolls.]

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6. Reader Request: Rousing Passive Players 

From: Mike

Hey Johnn,

So I'm looking for some input/ideas. I am currently wrapping up a story arc in DnD 3.5 with my characters. A tiny bit of back story, which is important, is the game takes place in Eberron and the world has been covered in a Blight that has basically turned the world into a standard Survival Horror setting. Magic is dampened and sometimes doesn't work at all, heals are only half as powerful, or sometimes don't work at all. Resurrection only has a 25% chance of working, etc. The world has been destroyed. Civilization has retreated into strongholds or caves, monsters are stronger and more plentiful.

The characters are about to end the Blight. The curse that has befallen the world will be vanquished (though this will lead into a bigger plot later on). People will come out of their hidey-holes, civilization will start to rebuild.

The characters, once this is done, will be level 12. I'm planning on forwarding the game 1 year into the future after the Blight ends to speed up transition of the rebuilding of society, but there will still be much that needs to be done in one year.

The characters are going to be renowned and will encounter both positive and negative effects from healing the world.

Some ideas I have for adventures are:

  • An old villain they didn't finish off resurfaces to be a pain and seek revenge.
  • Working on encounters and ideas from characters' back- stories and history.
  • Religious and criminal organizations try to recruit, fight, or put a bounty on players.
  • The King of Breland died during the Blight and his two sons are both claiming to have the right to the throne and are trying to get the party to back their campaign/war effort to take the throne. Also, a third man enters in and tries to persuade the party they have right to the throne because of all the work they have done in saving the world (this actually feeds into a larger plot of weakening the kingdoms and destabilizing everything).
  • The main villain has dispatched five resurrected villainous heroes to deal with the party. They will be reoccurring villains.

So this leads me to my issue. My group is pretty laid back, and except for one, not the most extroverted group. I've had groups that, when I put them in a town, go crazy and come up with adventures almost on their own, or cause large amounts of trouble. This group doesn't do that. When I put them into a town, they sit there in sort of static haze, and I've done things, hooks and whatnot, to get them moving forward.

I'm wondering if people have some suggestions on other plot hooks for this level that are realistic (it has been quite awhile since I have ran a game that has gotten to this high of a level), and ideas for getting people to get out of their shells.

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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.

Ask The GMs: Pacing Your Campaign
How do you pace a campaign? How do you know if you're giving too much or too little in experience and treasure? And how do you get the PCs to explore more than the local area?

Ask The GMs: Weather, Not Climate
How do you give your campaign realistic weather without overloading the GM with Admin tasks?

This Means War! Making huge armies practical (Parts 1-5 of 6)
How to referee a war in an RPG. Not one that happens in some distant country, or a neighbouring city, but up close and personal - so close the PCs can touch it. And not some small skirmish on the fringes - thousands of troops in conflict, maybe tens or hundreds of thousands.

 

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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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