Readers Write In

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0280

A Brief Word From Johnn

Thunderbird Working Well

I switched from Outlook late last year after another round of trying to recover corrupted data. After checking out various applications, I finally opted for Thunderbird. It’s been nearly a year of using it, and I’m glad to report it’s working well for me.

  • E-mail is stored in plain text files: safer and more reliable, in my mind, than a proprietary format.
  • Spam filtering is working well. After I realized that I should be marking _every_ spam e-mail as such, the filtering became very accurate. I now only see a dozen or so spams in my Inbox each day, with the other few hundred shuffled off to a Junk folder with almost no false positives.
  • Good folder management and e-mail searching.

There are more features and whatnot, but that’s a high level view of successes for me. Thunderbird is open source and free:

Click here to download Mozilla Firefox

D&D For Idiots

Check out this humorous article at GameSpy titled, “PlanetFargo: Dungeons & Dragons Made Simple”. (Thanks for the link, Colin.)

PlanetFargo: Dungeons & Dragons Made Simple

Get some gaming in this week!


Johnn Four,
[email protected]

Several readers have written in with feedback about last issue’s Forum Gaming topic and to reply to my question about what ya’ll are playin’ these days. Below are their e-mails, plus a few tips sent to me as well.


From Larry

Just wanted to let you know that the Shadowrun Forums has a section for online games that’s fairly active and accepts any game and anyone, assuming it falls under the ToS.

And the games are in this section: Welcome to the Shadows: Shadowrun Forums.

Cheers, and thanks for the great newsletter!

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Helm’s Deep From

From Rob Miller

We are always looking for new players at Helm’s Deep.

Helm’s Deep RPG Network

Most of the gaming threads are hidden from public view as several publishers playtest here, or the games have adult content, or the group feels more comfortable. There are a couple that are publicly visible, but that is group choice. The GMs and Admins/Mods are very welcoming and will happily give you lurker status to a game if you ask and if there aren’t other factors, such as being underage for an “adult content” game.

I am currently running an Action! System game of Three Musketeers, but as it is coming close to finishing, I will be looking for players for an Exalted game. There are a few systems being played here and most are announced publicly.

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D&D Gaming

From Lee-Anne

In the last issue, you requested links to forums for game play. I’ve gamed at Woldian Games, which runs a set of a dozen or so D&D campaigns all set in the same homebrew world. The games are long-running, the DM and player base are high quality, and the system of rotating DMs through the different campaigns keeps play fresh. The campaign source material documented online is extensive, rich, and of professional quality.

All that is great, but I think the biggest strengths of the Wold are the welcoming community and the friendly family atmosphere.

Jerry recruits new players when spots come free in the various games or when they open a new game. It’s best to contact him to find out if there are spaces available.

Woldian Games

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PBeM Central

From Walt Snider Jr.

I’ve been a longtime reader and am glad to be able to lend a hand for once. I run forums at and have four games up at the moment, each hidden (at the option of each DM) for privacy, and I have enough space and bandwidth to host several more. I don’t run ads/popups/spam, and I backup the forums every 2 weeks and have a friend who runs a game there that’s an admin in case of my absence.

The address is:

I’m creating a new forum for new games where people can announce their new games and request forums to be created for them.

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From KM

Shadowrun game, set in Seattle.

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World of Darkness, Mage

From KM

World of Darkness Crossover game, set in Batman’s Gotham.

Mage game set in Phoenix, AZ.

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Play By Post: HARP, Rolemaster, Call of Cthulhu, RuneQuest, Steve Jackson Games, Paranoia, Ars Magica

From Tim de Groot

In your most recent newsletter you asked your recipients to notify you of PbP (play by post) sites out there. I am currently having a good time at:

Real Role Playing

RPGRM (RPG Resource Masters) describes itself as, “This is a free Play by Post (PbP) roleplaying site for HARP, Rolemaster, Call of Cthulhu, RuneQuest, Steve Jackson Games, and any other non-d20 game you want to bring along. We have an active and vibrant community, developing roleplaying ideas, adventures, worlds and generally having fun. So if you prefer to have Roleplaying as your emphasis rather than ruleplaying, come along and have some fun.”

It doesn’t focus on d20 because there are already a lot of sites for those who like d20. I am running a Paranoia game there and participate in a HARP game and an Ars Magica game. The site has a lot of good people as members, and I enjoy spending a lot of time there.

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D&D, Star Wars, White Wolf, d20 Modern, Superheroes, Mafia

From Steve

Roleplaying Games Network is an excellent source for message board role playing. Check it out! [Johnn: If you have more Forum Gaming links, feel free to send them on in and I’ll spread the word in the e-zine.]

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Feedback About Online/Message Board Gaming

re: Roleplaying Tips Issue #277

I’d like to call attention to a point in last week’s article.

From Eric “Eustacio” OlsonJohnn,

b) Do Not Invalidate Another Player’s Posts
You must never directly invalidate what someone else has said. For example:
Character A: “That’s a nice hat you’re wearing.” Character B: “I’m not wearing a hat.”
B cannot deny the existence of the hat once A has mentioned it. If B does not wish to be wearing a hat, they will have to get rid it somehow. For example, an acceptable reaction (if B is a mage) would be:
Character A: “That’s a nice hat you’re wearing.” Character B: Snapping his fingers and saying, in a loud voice, “Grizlo!”
This causes the hat to vanish, at which point he replies, “What hat? I’m not wearing a hat.”

I highly disagree with his manner for dealing with such a situation. It is considered impolite for a player to assume anything about another character that is not stated directly, either in the thread or in their description. If the description says ‘Character B wears a hat almost all the time’, then unless Character B in the thread shows he isn’t wearing it, that’s a fair assumption.

However, as a GM, I would side with the player of Character B there, though B should be stating it OOC saying, “My character isn’t wearing a hat. Please edit your post to reflect that.” While no, you shouldn’t invalidate what is already going on (night becomes day suddenly, they’re in the middle of a lake now), you cannot assign another PC items, clothing, and so on, out of the blue. It boils down to being a minor form of godmodding, but godmodding nonetheless.

Keep up the excellent work on the newsletter and I look forward to the next one!

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From Nathaniel Olsen aka Commando

Sledge Thanks for the tips as usual. I thought I should point something out. In every one of these roleplaying setups there should be a character description available. If someone states your character is now dressed differently than described, then this person is now controlling your character. This is in violation. Denying the hat would be the appropriate action because either the person posting does not understand this simple rule or is deliberately being difficult. In either case, try to correct the person in-character:

Character B: “You been into the gaffers brew again? I’m not wearing a hat.”

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AOL Chat Tips

re: Roleplaying Tips #278

From Nicholas Lou

As a former AOL RPer for freeform chat, I can offer a few more tips for conventions of RP within those chatrooms.

  1. The rolling command is actually roll-dice2-sides20 for a 2d20 roll. Change it as you need it (roll-dice#-sides#) and you’ll never have to use dice again. (Of course, I’ve always preferred to have my own set. Call it superstition, but they’ve yet to kill a character of mine.)[Johnn: thanks also to BladedEdge123, Jen, and Gaehl the Wandering Druid for sending in similar tips.]
  2. The conventions of text we used to use in roleplay were :: :: for actions as opposed to spoken text (though simply putting spoken words in quotes works as well.), using (( )) for OOC, and most interestingly, using { } for telepathic, whispered, or otherwise stealthed words. I’ve also heard [ ] used for more global sounds, such as loudspeakers, booming noises, and so forth.
  3. For ease, I suggest having each player choose a font color, allowing you to quickly recognize which person is speaking or acting.

What Are You Playing Currently?

In a recent issue, I asked you what you were playing. I had two, evil reasons for the question. First, I wanted to know if you are all playing D&D these days or if other game systems are earning your time. I’ve published a few articles of late with strong, D&D-centric themes, and was worried non-D&D gamers would gouge out their eyes (hopefully you found a nugget or two that applied to your game). Second, I’m always keen to learn about new games from the folks who play them (as opposed to learning about them from Press Releases and product blurbs).

Here were some of the responses I received.

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From Rich F., Honolulu

Just about to restart a Spacemaster campaign. A bunch of us “old guys” restarted a game we began 2 years ago, then real life interrupted our play. I’m 38 and most of the guys I’ve been playing with were the ones I played with when I was 15. Relivin’ a little of our youth I guess.

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Pirates Homebrew, Star-Wars PBeM

From Foxfire

I’m really excited. I started GMing this summer. One is a homebrew (Sahon) with a passel of rogue pirates. So far so good, but it has taken a *lot* more research on my part because the players have gone somewhere totally unexpected. Of course. At least it’s a PBeM, so I have a chance to catch myself before looking too stupid.

Everything I’m playing is Fantasy-Medieval Homebrew play by email! One is a second-generation campaign (Tyragon). The first generation ran for 5 years. Oh, there is the one Star Wars (post ‘Revenge’) PBeM. It’s exciting as I’ve never played anything sci-fi before. And lastly, there’s a game “X-Marks” that is a play by post. It’s been fun and also a new experience.

Thanks for doing such a great job helping out game master newcomers like me!

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D&D, Gama World

From David Moore

D&D (3.0/3.5 combo). Two games in these rules, one run by me, and one by a friend – we switch off every three months.

Gamma World d20. This is an on again off again game that we play for fun when I can get enough people together. Each game is like a convention game, so if players miss the previous session, they don’t have to worry about coming in at the mid-point of the adventure, or missing the end.

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Dragon Warriors

From Mark Standen

Ever since I started playing, it has only ever been Dragon Warriors. I have tried D&D, Warhammer, and Judge Dread, but I couldn’t get into them.

So, I have been playing on and off for about 16 years now. DW is limited in a way; with the level the monsters are after a certain point it gets easy. So, my brother and I created new monsters, weapons, and spells, and we updated existing monsters to make them tougher. [Johnn: Here’s the scoop on Dragon Warriors. ]

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From Alex

Since you asked what the upcoming RPing looks like, I figured I’d chime in. As with you, it seems that over the next month we’ll be starting at least 1 of 2 campaigns for the group. One that I am running, Werewolf, is going to be different than what my players are normally used to being that it will be in a Post-Apocalypse time frame.

I’m still working on the exact details, but I’m presently focusing on the nature of the national and international economies and what would happen to the Garou tribes as the mix of high and low tech becomes prevalent and the spirit world has been visited to the masses once more. At this point, it’s looking like Werewolf, but with a mix between Rifts and ShadowRun.

The challenge for me is that I’m really stretching and trying to look beyond the setting/metaplot provided by the books by White Wolf. There are a lot more things to think about since it’s more like writing my own campaign world than just running in someone else’s sandbox. The RPG Tips Encyclopedia that I downloaded has really helped. Next up is to find a better way to organize all the data that I’ve been compiling.

It’s fun and exciting since it’s been a couple years since I last run, so I can feel the “RP muscles” flexing again, they’re just sore. *g*

Have a good one.

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DragonRaid, Star Frontiers

From Dan Knight

Well, as September rolls around, we will be starting our fourth adventure for DragonRaid, entitled The Vulturian’s Tower. I believe my young players will relish the chance to face *another* dragon. Actually, this is only their second dragon encounter. But, to enter this tower enclosed in a keep, they must travel through wild lands, cross a small bridge over a deep chasm, and enter the keep while avoiding my precious “little” nasty.

Also, my nine year old son has been begging to play an RPG with his ol’ dad. So, I thought I might dust off the Star Frontiers game and fire up the ion engines and take it out for another spin with a new generation.

By the way, do you know of any RPG games/materials that are good for kids between 8 and 12?

Happy gaming to you as well….

Monster Geographica: Forest now available!

Expeditious Retreat Press proudly presents Monster Geographica: Forest, the third book in the Monster Geographica Series. Packed with 200 monsters from the woodlands arranged by challenge rating, Monster Geographica: Forest is available in PDF and at your FLGS. Stop by or and pick up your copy of the PDF along with the previous titles in the line.

Roleplaying Tips GM Encyclopedia – Updated!
BEST GAME AID – Gen Con Gold ENnie Winner 2004

Need advice fast? Inbox full? Hard Drive crashed? Missing valuable Roleplaying Tips issues? Fear not!

5 years, 250 issues, 3220 tips, all sorted for you by Issue#, Tip Topic, Type Of Tip, and more. For information, screenshots, and ordering info click here:

Roleplaying Tips GM Encyclopedia at RPG Shop

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks

Time Travel As Prophecy

From Art Dahm

re: Roleplaying Tips Issue #277

After reading the article on Prophets and Prophecy, I was reminded of the TV show Babylon 5. In that show, the alien Minbari believed in a 1000 year old prophecy that an ancient evil race, called the Shadows, would return. How did a science fiction television show justify a prophecy that would prove to be true without resorting to magic? Through time travel. One of the characters from the time the show takes place travels back in time 1000 years to warn the Minbari after witnessing the return of the Shadows firsthand.

One problem with using time travel as prophecy is that the prediction of the future becomes fact and not prophecy, removing any uncertainty.

Part of the show’s tension comes from the fact that because of the Minbari’s beliefs, the time traveler couldn’t reveal who he was or that he was from the future. Therefore, he was unable to produce any concrete proof of his predictions and was not believed by everybody. Also, over the course of 1000 years, his prophecies became legends and even fewer people believed them to be true when it came time to act upon them. Additionally, during the course of the series, several factions attempt to distort or suppress the prophecies to further their own political agendas.

When designing a prophecy based on time travel, keep in mind at which point the time traveler left his or her time. In Babylon 5, the prophecy was that the Shadows would return – not that they would be defeated or that they would destroy everyone. The time traveler left his time before the return of the Shadows was resolved, so he had no knowledge of the outcome.

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5 Tips for Satisfying Players

From Petrus Theron

Here are some principles I have based my GMing technique on (it’s an artful science!) to avoid pitfalls and has kept my players interested for the last five years:

  1. Nothing is free. Players have to work hard for every little thing they get. This applies particularly to gold and other cash-equivalent objects they can buy. Once you have handed over an “insignificant” bag of gold, it is a lot harder to take that gold away without destroying your great game. The more players have to work for something, the more they will appreciate it, but don’t go overboard! If they want a room for the night, force them to be creative, but don’t make them beg for it. This will encourage good role- playing. Remember, the more generous you are, the less valuable your goodwill becomes.
  2. Be Consistent. Don’t make a player work to get something small done and the next session hand it over wrapped in paper and string. Nothing shatters a PC’s reality like an inconsistent game-world where dragons abound one day, and hardly exist during the next. Players get used to being treated like royalty, so don’t expect them to be happy when they have to haggle hard with the blacksmith. However, if they are conditioned to having to count their coins to buy food, they’ll be less aghast at harder puzzles and more likely to solve them.
  3. Role-playing is the main ingredient, not combat. Combat is fun, especially for players, but I get bored by combat easily, and when I get bored, I bore my players. I try to keep my combat localized to key scenes, especially at higher levels. When my group of five level 6 players meets a group of 10 goblins, I just say, “You easily defeat the gang of goblins,” and save a lot of time that would be spent deciding a pre-determined outcome.
  4. Quirks give character. Try and give _every_ NPC your players meet a quirk. This helps them remember that NPC, and it validates that NPC’s actions and worth in the game. Your players will hardly remember “Joe the blacksmith” unless he has big knuckled hands that look like they can easily crush a player’s skull.
  5. My game is based on a gigantic reward system. Every good action, regardless of its magnitude, is rewarded. But, a reward is ineffective if no sacrifice was made to gain it. Don’t give gifts, unless you are feeling generous.
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Gaming Music: Grim Fandango

From Kai

Here is a site where you can download the Grim Fandango soundtrack. It would be perfect for a suave RPG or scene, or just for listening to.

Grim Fandango

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Keeping Track of Information

From The Hawk

Not too long ago, the weekly read (which is -great- by the way) had an advertisement for a piece of software called MyInfo by Milenix software. I had a look at it, and it looks like pretty good stuff, but fifty dollars is kind of steep for a lot of us.

This got me to thinking, and I came up with something that is, so far, working out pretty well. It takes some work to get up and running, but the pieces are all free.

The idea is to get a message board up and running. To do this, you need the Apache web server [ APACHE ], [ My SQL ], [ PHP ], and almost any message board software. I use SMF 1.0.5 from Simple Machines [ Simple Machines ] for a variety of reasons, but the biggest were the calendar and ease of use.

With this setup, things can be posted and kept track of in almost any way you can think of, and if you put it on the web, then it is accessible to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. In addition, through the use of groups and permissions, you can even set things so that only certain people can see certain information. Attachments can be posted too, so things like maps, portraits, and ‘parchments’ can be put out for all to see without too much trouble.

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Tri-Axe Chat Software (PC, Free)

From Tim McNeil

Another good chat program for gaming is the Tri-Axe D&D chat. Its features include the full range of dice from d4- d20, a board for drawing maps and whatnot on, and private messaging. The GM has a few neat tricks as well, including the ability to hide their dice rolls and change their display name depending on the situation. It is totally free, and can be downloaded from:

Tri-Axe D&D chat

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Star Wars Tip

From Ryan McHargue

Here is a tip that my group has adopted for our latest game. We are playing Star Wars, but we are using much of what the Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) came up with. A few of the additions we have incorporated is that Force users don’t have to be Jedi or Sith. There are other groups that have learned how to use the Force. They might not have the same resources the Jedi have to devote to training and the like, but their are other force-using groups out there. We have also taken the same focus on cybernetics and added in the easier use of them as well as the armor and weapons (including melee weapons). I don’t know if you have played KOTOR, but it is probably up there with Empire.

The other thing we have strived to do is add ship designs other than the YT-1300 that West End gave us. “We hates it….” We have added in the Ebon Hawk and some of our own designs.

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Because A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words….

From Dr. Nik

Carnage 21

Recently, I have become more involved with using my FlickR account. In exploring the site and looking around, I found the ability to search for any photos and tags you might be interested in.

Flickr Photos

Do a search for Castle, Costume, or San Francisco, and you will find a great selection of pix you can use to enhance your gaming and player experience. I have even found pictures that would make great character shots. Once on the results page, you can sort by “Most Interesting”. There are some enhanced clustering search features as well.

I have found excellent pictures of ruins, castles, pyramids, and locations that otherwise might be difficult to find. There are pictures for just about anything you can imagine on there, and doing a quick search with a few creative words will bring you to images you can then explore and use for your game. Often times, to be fair, I ask if it’s ok I use them for a game, and I have never been turned down.

Expand and Enjoy!

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Small Threats

From Roy Dunigan

Why is there an assumption that all natural creatures encountered are of the giant type? Whether they are giant spiders, lizards, slug, or whatever, fantasy roleplaying and literature is required to have some giant form of an everyday creature. No doubt, a giant spider is much more scary than a tiny spider that is easily dispatched by an adventurer’s boot.

However, consider that, in the real world, some small spiders are quite dangerous. For example, the brown recluse spider. It’s small and rather slow for a spider, but its bite is potentially lethal. Over the course of a few days, the bite of the brown recluse causes necrosis of the poisoned tissues. This sort of bite, while easily cured by a simple healing spell in most fantasy worlds, could cause substantial inconvenience to a PC if such healing spells are unavailable.

Spiders aren’t the only tiny danger in our world. There is a lethal caterpillar found in Brazil. The stone fish and lionfish are armed with venom. The gila monster is the world’s only venomous lizard. In great numbers, red velvet ants are rumored to be able to kill cattle. The bite of the komodo dragon carries a lethal dose of bacterial infection. The list goes on.

The point is animals don’t necessarily need to be of the giant variety to be dangerous. Most often players don’t consider the consequences of walking face first into the web of a small spider other than the inconvenience of getting webbing in their beard. But if that small spider carries an extraordinary bite, the PC might be in for more than is first realized. Some roleplaying creature compendium books even reference small threats, such as hornet nests, but not many GMs I know use them.

Research various dangerous real-world creatures and gain ideas for encounters. Below are some links to sites referencing some of the examples I sited above.

Brown Recluse Spider
Stone Fish
Red Velvet Ant or “Cow Killer”