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Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #426

9 DM Tools and Integrating Them Into Your Games



This Week's Tips Summarized 

9 DM Tools and Integrating Them Into Your Games

  1. Battle Maps
  2. The Big DM Bag
  3. Tokens (Red Beads)
  4. Giveaways
  5. DM Binder
  6. Initiative Cards
  7. Effect Cards
  8. Name Tags
  9. The One-Minute Timer

Readers Tips Request: Cook Your Own Rat on a Stick + Recipe Request

Readers' Tips Summarized 

  1. Provide Fewer Details to Speed Searching
  2. City Building - Use Layered Districts
  3. NPC Monikers for TableSmith
  4. Calendar Template

Johnn Four's GM Guide Books

Lose The Eraser With Turn Watcher

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

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A Brief Word From Johnn 

Interested in Reviewing Helix the RPG?

Helix: The Post Apocalypse, High-Tech, Fantasy, Western Role Playing Game is a big name for a game. In it, you take the role of a Wastelands denizen. You play Cyber Mystics, Code Slingers, Gun Jacks and Gun Jills, Average Joes and Plain Janes in an age of cowboys, high noon duels, saloons, and magic.

Unfortunately, I have several reviews to do in my queue already, and I don't have the time to read and play this RPG to share my thoughts with Roleplaying Tips subscribers. However, HelixRPG staff Adam, Gloria, and William have generously offered a free PDF of the game to a Tips reader who would like to write a review for the e-zine.

If you have the time and are interested, drop me a note and I'll hook you up. This sounds like a fun game, and you can find more about it at: and Corrections

re: Roleplaying Tips Issue #424

Staff at sent along an e-mail correcting a Readers Tip from 424. (Thanks Edward.) Here are the details:

"I wanted to inform you the information for and is outdated. no longer hosts a chat center. They've built a directory of free sites and are concentrating their efforts on it. If your visitors are looking to advertise free RPGame sites, they have sections specifically for that purpose.

Cybatrons Free Network offers many free services: member owned and managed ad-free feature rich forums and X7chats, discussion groups, message boards, HTML posting, member and forum webpage webspace, profiles, signatures, email, private messaging, and more.

Hangin Out Forums is a free RPGaming website. They offer free hosting for member owned and operated ad-free phpbb2 forums, message boards, and X7chat rooms. They also host an RPGlossary, built and maintained by members of various associated websites. Does your game need a home? Ask about having it hosted at RPGworlds. This website is a proud member of the Cybatrons Free Network, and is donation and sponsor supported.

I hope this information will be of help to you and your visitors."

Word of Caution on Gun Props from Kevin B.

I received this excellent and wise cautionary note from a Tips reader this week. Please heed his advice.

"Just about all of the advice contained in the Roleplaying Tips email is harmless and adds flavor to gameplay. However, I feel it necessary to bring to your attention some advice that I read in the recent weekly tip email, Roleplaying Tips Weekly #425: More Props:

"If you're running a modern game and don't have any guns around the house, there are still plenty of prop options. Even if you don't participate in shooting sports, you can usually go to a local range and ask for a handful of spent shell casings."

Being someone who has been around guns all of my life, in addition to teaching gun safety courses, these words alarmed me. The majority of gun accidents happen with people who thought the guns they had in their hands were unloaded. You should never use a real firearm as any kind of prop for a game or anything else! This is extremely dangerous and could result in injury or even death.

If you need a prop that looks like a gun, use a plastic toy gun. Even then, make sure it really is a toy, as some plastic gun replicas can resemble the real thing. Nowadays, it's harder to find toy guns that resemble the real thing for the very reason that they don't want children and adults to equate a harmless toy gun with the real thing as well as eliminate the instances of using plastic guns to commit crime.

As for the spent shell casings, those are perfectly ok as long as they _are_ spent and not live rounds. Even if a round is live the likelihood of it going off if you drop it or ding it is next to nothing, but why take the chance?

Have a great week.


Johnn Four,


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9 DM Tools and Integrating Them Into Your Games  

A guest article by Brent P. Newhall

It's weird. I like to live a simple life of relatively few possessions, but I find myself with an alarmingly large number of DM accessories. Besides all the books, I have miniatures, red beads, rusted keys, laminated maps, 3-ring binders, name tags, an egg timer, and all sorts of little pieces of paper.

But I use all of them in my games, and my games are more fun and memorable because of them. Here's how:

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1. Battle Maps 

I carry three battle maps in my Big DM Bag (more on that later). Two maps are on card stock, and the third is a flexible, roll-up battle map with 1" squares on one side and hexes on the other.

I also - and this is important - bought a pack of six differently-colored wet erase markers.

I use the maps for combat, for non-combat encounters in which location is important (such as a room full of traps), and to quickly sketch out larger areas for the players. "Okay, the city is here, and the mountains are over here, with the woods between them here, and you're going along this road...". They make great public scratch paper, and are the first things I roll out, in the center of the table. They are our signal an adventure will soon begin.

What's important about the marker colors? My players respond strongly to a map where the walls are drawn in black, the pool of water is blue, and the three sarcophagi are brown. Color brings the map to life.

And why do I keep three maps? For large dungeon exploration, I quickly run out of space on one map. But I don't necessarily want to erase it; the players may well come back to this area of the dungeon. So I'll pull out another map and start drawing on it.

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2. The Big DM Bag 

My groups don't play at my house. As such, I keep all my DMing materials in a big duffel bag. This has been a great blessing. I'd still use my Big DM Bag even if everyone played at my house. All my DMing materials are in one (relatively) small place, easy to access and update.

My DM bag contains:

  • DM binder
  • Character sheets
  • Player's Handbook
  • Battle maps
  • Wet erase markers in many colors
  • Tokens (small red beads)
  • Name tags
  • Mechanical pencils
  • Miniatures
  • A big bag of ugly dice, for players who forget to bring theirs
  • A small, portable speaker that plugs into my iPod
  • Blank index cards and a note pad for scratch notes
  • A one-minute egg timer
  • A tin of coins, useful as temporary counters
  • The DM's Mug (crucial)

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3. Tokens (Red Beads) 

I use small, semi-clear, red plastic "stones" as tokens. When playing a game that uses any sort of action points or tokens, they're great - they fit into any era of gaming. I keep them in the small plastic tube they came in, and hand them out at the beginning of the game.

I made sure they look nothing like anybody else's gaming materials. My players know to give them back at the end of the night.

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4. Giveaways 

The more I GM, the more stuff I give away.

My players love to get physical representations of their in- game loot and special objects. Why wouldn't they? So I keep my eyes peeled for neat objects, especially at second-hand antique shops, county fairs, and odd little stores. I have old keys, little carved statues, gems, shells, pewter rings, and a pendant, among others. Most of them cost a few dollars at most, and I gradually build a collection.

Since I'm always writing new adventures and campaigns, I can easily find ways to work those into the game. But you can do it in a published adventure, too. The shells - all circular coral - might be tokens of a cult, always kept on their person. That's easy to work in; just include it as part of the next civilized human the players kill. The pewter rings might be used only by certain nobles to verify their identity; very useful, if you can get one. One statue might be a magical artifact, kept deep in the next temple the players explore, that glows whenever dragons' blood is nearby and steadies the blade of whoever holds it.

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5. DM Binder 

As with most DMs, I keep a 3-ring DM binder. However, I also use this as my DM screen. All my notes stay inside the binder, and I can quickly flip to any page.

I've also learned the knack of printing double-sided, and I use thick printer paper. As a result, I need very little table space, and I'm not constantly shuffling papers around.

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6. Initiative Cards 

I printed out my own D&D initiative cards, which contain a few very basic fields: Character Name, Initiative, Total HP, Current HP, Bloodied HP, AC, and attack (to-roll and damage). These take up the top half of each card; the bottom half contains any extra, important information (such as useful spells or items carried).

I've filled out cards for each player-character, and before each session I fill out cards for each creature in the fight (including pre-rolled initiative!). I also keep a bunch of blank ones on hand if I want to add an extra creature or three while playing.

When combat begins and players announce their initiative, I write that down on each initiative card, then put all the cards in initiative order. I then flip through the cards and announce each player's turn as it comes up. Boom!

I also keep track of HP on these cards. As a result, I usually only have two things behind my DM binder: initiative cards and dice.

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7. Effect Cards 

I printed out a set of D&D 4th Edition effect cards; they've been a big hit. Each card names an effect ("Slowed," "Grabbed," "Deaf," etc.) in big letters, then lists the specific rule effects that occur as a result. Each effect card is folded in half and placed in front of the affected player, as a placard.

So, when a character is marked or slowed, I just put the appropriate effect card in front of him or her. No more "Oh, I forgot she's slowed" or "Now what does 'marked' mean again?" moments.

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8. Name Tags 

At the beginning of every session, I toss out a few name tags, and everyone's encouraged to write the name of their *character* on a name tag and wear it. This helps us to remember the characters' names, especially in a larger, rambunctious group like mine.

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9. The One-Minute Timer 

We've had a few players spend many minutes trying to decide what to do when their turn came up in combat. So, I instituted a light-hearted One Minute Rule. If a player's turn comes up in combat, and they're not ready, I put out a small, one-minute egg timer. If they haven't decided on their action when the sand runs out, we move on to the next player. Once the first player has decided on his or her action, they can do it once the current player's done.

We don't permanently change the player's initiative order. I've found that just implementing the one minute rule keeps players on the ball.

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Dragon Dice for Christmas

Every gamer can use more dice. Limited Edition Dragon Bones sets come in a painted metal box, contain 7 dragon bone dice, and are available in variety of colours. A nice, expensive gift for your players or DM.

Pictures and information (affiliate link):

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Readers Tips Request: Cook Your Own Rat on a Stick - And Recipe Request 

From: Steve B.


In going through some old, long forgotten files, I just found this one from the Judges Guild:

Quoted from the website:

Cook Your Own Rat on a Stick

While sorting through the Judges Guild archives I, your humble Webmaster, unearthed the following recipe. After a bit of research and some help from a reader I found out that the author was Pixie Bledsaw, who also drew some of the first art in the early days of Judges Guild. Clearly a very creative lady!

I should warn you that I haven't actually tried this recipe yet. It looks very tasty, however. It is basically cheese- stuffed meatloaf, and the mere thought of that is making me want to abandon my computer and head for the nearest kitchen. I'll report further when I have a chance to cook up some.


  • 1 to 1-1/2 lbs. ground beef
  • 1/2 cup finely crushed cheddar cheese crackers
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 lb. cheese (Colby, Colby Cheddar, or Jack Colby)
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 cup barbecue sauce
  • 8 wooden meat skewers or equivalent
  • For optional tails:
    • 4 pieces spaghetti
    • red food coloring


  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Cut cheese into half-inch cubes. Impale cheese cubes on skewers, dividing cheese cubes evenly among skewers.
  • In large bowl, mix beef, egg, cracker crumbs, and pepper. If mixture doesn't stick together well, add 2 tablespoons milk.
  • Divide mixture into 8 sections.
  • Press each section flat until 1/2 inch thick.
  • Wrap each stick of cheese in a section of meat. Make sure there are no holes or cracks in the meat that would let the cheese leak out while baking.
  • Shape top end of meat "rat" into a point.
  • Optional tails:
    • Fill a small saucepan with water and add four drops of red food coloring. Bring to a boil.
    • Break 4 sticks of spaghetti in half. Place spaghetti in water, leaving one end out of water.
    • When spaghetti has softened and turned pink, remove from water.
    • Using unsoftened end, insert 1 piece of spaghetti into round end of "rat."
    • Drape soft end of spaghetti around handle of stick.
  • Place rats on baking sheet. (One with sides.)
  • Dribble honey over rats.
  • Pour barbecue sauce over rats
  • Bake 30 minutes at 400 degrees F, basting and turning occasionally.
  • Serve to hungry gamers.

Do Tips readers have any favorite gaming recipes? If so, I would love to see them in future e-zine issues.

* * *

Thanks for the request Steve. If anyone has a great recipe for game sessions, send 'em on in to me at [email protected]


Readers' Tips Of The Week: 

Have some GM advice you'd like to share? E-mail it to - thanks!

1. Provide Fewer Details to Speed Searching 

From: Joe D.


I have a suggestion to all GMs who play extensively with PCs who take up too much game time searching. Do not give extra description. When a PC looks into a room, only say what he sees in a glance.

For example, a PC enters a room with a three-drawer desk in the north corner, a bed on a frame on the west wall, and a window above the bed. Telling the PC there are three drawers in the desk will make him want to search everything in them to an extreme extent. Instead, inform the player there is a desk, a bed, and a window. He will search the desk, but he won't over-search and eat up precious game time.

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2. City Building - Use Layered Districts 

From: S├ębastien Boily

re: Roleplaying Tips Issue #418

In Issue #418 you gave tips about creating city districts to give cities better structure and divide them into more manageable chunks. This is an idea I've been using for awhile and I thought you might like to have a wider view of the concept.

First, do not limit yourself with districts and the like. Here are a few other larger concepts adding to those you suggested:

  • Layers
  • Floors
  • Levels
  • Branches
  • Clouds
  • Building types
  • Departments

For example, my campaign has a huge, elven tree city where layers of branches act just like districts. Layers of a branch go like this, from top to bottom:

  • The King, castle, and his direct family
  • Nobles, highest ranking military officers, highly wealthy merchants
  • High priest and temple along with druids
  • Giant eagle trainers with nests (trainers are well respected among elven people)
  • Low rank military officers and soldiers
  • Commoners, shops, inns, fletchers, etc.
  • Grounds below the tree: non-elven residents and blacksmiths

In my campaign there are two trees: one ruled by a King (the one described above) and the other by druids where you have a druid circle at the top instead of the King.

Districts can be used to define clearly the social class. When my players discovered that giant eagles and their trainers where living higher up in the huge tree, they immediately understood that the elven people valued and respected this group more than their own soldiers. That powerful realization set the table for the whole elven culture in my world.

Other ideas that work pretty well:

  • Hill Dwarves

    The deepest are the richest or more important for the society. The King is at the bottom. Farmers are just below the ground in hillside houses. Diggers, miners, soldiers, blacksmiths, etc. are important, so they live down below at different depths.
  • Mountainside (Birdman City)

    The birdmen have a mountainside city with stairs dug inside for ground dwellers to walk up to the top levels. Again, at the top, you have the King, but at the mountain top there are shrines and temple for their gods. (They believe the King is no greater than the gods.) At a certain floor you have the hatcheries for the youngest and eggs. Shop are at the ground level.

    This idea can be stretched to any kind of setting. In a ShadowRun game I used this concept for the big bad Corporation main building.

    Accountants had levels 1 to 5. Levels 6 to 10 were dealers. The villain and his guards where at the top. Below the ground were secret research quarters, military labs, etc. that again acted as districts.

    Another futuristic example is the famous Midgard in Final Fantasy VII where city districts are in numbers that correspond to Mako Reactors.

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3. NPC Monikers For TableSmith 

From: Erin Smale

Note from Johnn:

Erin Smale, designer of the Chimera RPG, sent me a data file for TableSmith to generate random NPC monikers and nicknames. TableSimth is free software for Windows, and it's one of my all time favourite DMing aides. If you haven't tried it and you run Windows, be sure to check it out.

Download TableSmith

TableSmith Yahoo! group:

Erin's NPC Monikers data file [ZIP]

Copy Erin's uncompressed ChimeraRPG folder into your TableSmith Tables directory, and then select ChimeraRPG from the Categories & Tables drop-down when you run the TableSmith program.

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4. Calendar Template 

From: Chad Samuels

Hi Johnn,

Here is a drop and use calendar for GMs. It does not contain holidays, so people can fill in their needs. The year has 16 months and 480 days. Weeks are divided up into five days for two reasons:

  1. 480 is divisible by 5, so there will be no staggering of days from year to year. Just print out a new calendar and go.
  2. In some settings, this calendar means a lot of the work required doesn't take a break every 6 or 7 days. All work and no play is a problem, so the solution is to add plenty of holidays and festivals. Some can run multiple days at a time. You can also place equinoxes and solstices wherever you want.

Word format

Word Perfect format

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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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