Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #486
Roll-Play And Role-Play
Readers respond to a tips request on how to add panache
to dice rolls and results.
This Week's Tips Summarized
Roll-Play And Role-Play
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A Brief Word From Johnn
Would you climb a four storey ladder to get to a gaming
These links come from WJ Walton via the CAR-PGa email list.
If you have trouble getting your game logistics figured out,
just see what U.S. Navy RPGers have to go through.
"Finding people to play with, and places to play was the
most interesting aspect of playing on board ship. For a
while we played up in the mezzanine of the hangar deck...we
had to climb a ladder 4 stories or so, and doing so while
carrying our bags/briefcases full of manuals/dice/character
sheets. We looked like a geek Special Forces team moving to
higher ground positions!" Gaming In Remote Locations: The U.S. Navy
"When we first deployed, we didn't have anywhere to play.
Finding a storage room three decks down from where we
worked, we would sit on boxes of paper and roll dice into
box lids, playing Kobolds Ate my Baby, as well as a few
sessions of Ravenloft."
My Take on Gaming in Remote Locations: The U.S. Navy
The Blade Itself a great book
Taking RPT reader Pat up on his review of this book, I
devoured The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie this week. It
was just the type of fantasy I was looking for, with a bit
more grit than the grander stuff I'm seeing on bookshelves
these days. Thanks Pat!
I think I'll be scooping a couple ideas from the book for my
campaign, as well. Named NPCs, for example. If you are Named
in Abercrombie's world, you have a deadly reputation, are
often a leader, and command respect and fear in others. I'm
looking for ways to include this in my Pathfinder campaign
in a way that merges rules and descriptive aspects. Just
like the theme of this week's tips.
Perhaps Named NPCs gain +2 on social rolls and are the only
ones qualified to be lieutenants for the crime lords who
rule the PCs' city. Maybe they also receive 1 fate dice,
which is a re-roll at any time, likely when facing death.
It's a small thing, but enough to hook more flavour on as
the campaign develops, perhaps.
What do you think? If you had Named NPCs in your game, what
benefits would they receive?
Riddleport campaign surges on
Speaking of my Pathfinder game, we just played session #4
two days ago, and the campaign is going strong.
In this campaign, the neutral and evil NPCs are tricky. They
all have an angle. For example, one PC is a pit fighter who
wants to make it into the big leagues someday. He acquired
an agent - rather, the agent acquired him - to arrange
The first match, agent Halcos ordered the Crixus the PC to
take a fall. What a dilemma. Money or glory? Crixus ended up
crushing his opponent in 12 seconds. Halcos was none too
happy, so he hatched a new plan.
In pit fight number two, last session, Halcos unexpectedly
announced during the fighter introductions in the ring that
the winner gets to keep all the loser's equipment. This was
after two jerk GM moves.
First was allowing full equipment in this particular fight.
Second was hiding the opponent, known as The Executioner
(based on his day job, not his ring persona, oddly enough)
until seconds before the fight started. Turns out The
Executioner fights with loin cloth, hood and a mundane
spiked club. Crixus was fully equipped, including magic
items. The stakes were high.
It took Crixus twelve seconds to crush The Executioner,
unfortunately. So the PC is now the proud owner of a loin
cloth, hood and spiked club. At least he bet on himself and
won a few gold guilders.
For the pit fighting we've set up as a side plot in the
campaign, there are three leagues: The Rounds - dirty street
fighting, The Pits - a serious league of professionals, and
The Arena - where epic battles against monsters and heroes
take place. Crixus someday hopes to fight in The Arena.
To that end, he fired Halcos and has a new manager. A snag
might be the manager is a powerful devil. We'll see if this
propels Crixus into great conflicts.
Have a game-full week!
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Roll-Play And Role-Play
Thanks to everyone who responded to the Reader Tip Request
in Issue #471. Roleplaying Tips asked:
How do you use ROLL-playing to add to the fun of the ROLE-
playing aspect of your game? Let players describe critical
hits in detail? Ask players to explain why their character
failed when they botch a skill check?
On the flip side, how do you use ROLE-playing to affect your
ROLL-playing? Bonuses to attacks that are especially
cinematic? Free background skills if it fits the character's
And here is what your fellow readers had to say:
Plan For And Reward Roleplaying
From Maggie Smith
Hey, Johnn. This is a topic especially close to my heart, so
I figured I'd weigh in. With a group of almost entirely new
tabletop players, I found there was an over-emphasis on ROLL
playing in the first couple of sessions.
The players didn't seem as interested in the non-encounter
parts of the story. During combat they focused entirely on
the powers and numbers. It was especially important to me to
flesh this out because my only experienced player is one of
those who keeps repeating the mantra that 4th edition is
like a video game, and I wanted to prove otherwise.
The first thing I did was plan a session with a lot of
ROLEplaying. It was a combination of clean-up from one
adventure and exposition from another, and I let them know I
wanted more flavor than usual.
I think it's hard to get away from the stereotype of casting
magic missile into the darkness, so they had been reluctant
to do anything that might be too literal. As a rule, we're
not a very serious group. Lots of drinking and metajoking
They surprised me with how they embraced it, though. As a
somewhat new DM, the players put me through my paces, asking
for elaborate descriptions of NPCs' actions (including a
raise dead ritual) and making me ad lib a lot more than I'm
They were equally committed, spending a lot of time
interacting with the environment and developing their
characters. When the session wrapped up, we realized there
had been no combat and only one skill challenge in the 8 or
so hours we'd been playing. That was a huge change.
The second thing I did was take tips you've published
previously and incorporated them into my game. I made a deck
of instant reward cards (using godeckyourself.com) with an
emphasis on combat roleplaying. An attack bonus for
describing the way you line up an arrow, a damage bonus for
describing the force with which you swing your axe, combat
advantage for the whole party because of the inspiring words
you use to rally your allies.
I also have other little bonuses, like if they take time to
describe setting up camp and foraging a meal, I might give a
small skill bonus for being exceptionally rested and
nourished. I have one that gives a diplomacy bonus for the
next entire day if a player does something selfless in
combat to help another player. I brainstormed situations
that might come up and what a logical reward would be, and
put it on a card.
I bought color coded popsicle sticks (I wasn't committed
enough for the weighted foam tokens) and let them pass those
out to reward each other for roleplaying, offering a bonus
in the next session to the person with the most sticks at
the end. This was a great tip, because it took a lot of the
burden off me and empowered the players.
Another tip, that I took from Gabe over at Penny Arcade,
ended up having an unexpected bonus for roleplaying. I made
a deck of random treasure, including about half wish list
items and half trash loot. Things like rat skulls, goblin
fingers, exotic feathers, toy wands, etc.
The players took these items and put them to good use. In
the last session, the party was fighting a dire rat and the
rogue took out the rat skull and crushed it in his hand to
intimidate the creature. It was one of those great moments
when I realized that they finally figured out that balance,
and that you don't have to take yourself too seriously to
get into the game.
Character Development Through Actions
From Adrian Young
We found that as we played less frequently (once a week
fortnightly has become four to five hours once a month) the
players became more interested in advancing the story and
mission ahead of fleshing out the scene. The sense of "we
accomplished heaps tonite" meant the character was developed
in terms of his actions.
PC actions, or the way characters behaved (and the results
they achieved through rolling dice), had become the role-
playing component of the game.
The same still applies in our current fantasy campaign.
When PCs are created, we have one line for a Descriptive
Profile ("= Role"). Aside from class and race, the rest of
the two page character sheet is for Traits, Skills,
Experience, Notes, and Equipment ("=Roll"). Notes includes
an adventure log for role-playing recall.
For better or worse, it works for us. Perhaps this is just
the natural order of things for the time poor and "I want it
now" RPG groups out there.
Look For Win-Win Conditions
From Anthony Hart-Jones
As a DM, this was always one of the topics that got to me; I
have always been a roleplayer, coming from a theatre
background and storytelling, while my group was more keen
on the mechanics and the numbers.
They were not min-maxing for the best statistics, but they
did make it clear that my idiosyncrasies, such as dying
monologues, were just delaying the looting and the XP.
Since they were a Dungeons & Dragons group, the system let
me add elements of both, but it often seemed like I was
giving them combat to stop them getting bored, and that they
were sitting through my ill-advised character dialogue and
fluff just because they knew that combat would follow later.
True concordance came from changing the system, though.
I picked up an out of print system called 7th Sea and
started to see the use of situational bonuses. Quite simply,
reckless heroism gave them bonuses, and so they started
thinking of their characters' character rather than
They leapt from windows onto moving carriages and slid down
bannister-rails into combat. Where even XP bribes had
failed, I found that combat modifiers excited them.
In some ways it is a little heavy-handed, but I found that
offering a bonus for throwing themselves into their
characters made a difference; characterisation was
quantifiable and so it was fun even to a roll-player.
I think the key is in balance. As a GM, my enjoyment has
always been from telling a story well, but that means making
it fun for the players. For a while, we compromised, then we
found the win-win conditions where we could all have fun.
Seek Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering
From Dave Schaefer
I was going to say that the canonical advice here is
"Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering" by Robin Laws, but RPT
is no stranger to that book.
Previous callouts to Robin Laws:
Make Roll Results Cinematic
From Andrew Glenn
How do you use roll-playing to add to the fun of your game?
I use the players to roll for random encounters in dungeons
and the wilderness, and once even got someone to roll for
the number of wolves that a vampire summoned. That adds to
the pressure and makes everyone groan or cheer when the dice
stops moving. In the case of the vampire, the player had to
roll 3d6 and managed to bring in 15 wolves against the
party. They still go on about that dice roll.
Also, although I don't have a formalised fumble system, if a
player (or monster) makes an attack roll and gets a 1 or a 2
then they have to roll again. If it's low again, say 1 to 5,
then bad things happen. Nothing too serious, just enough to
make them shake their heads and give everyone a laugh. We
had a barbarian in the party who kept throwing his
greatswords away purely because of this. The one he lost in
the marsh was my favourite.
From Kyle Berger
I've seen players and GMs do exactly what you are
describing, usually without even being conscious they are
doing it. One awesome way of dealing with natural 1s on
something such as a knowledge check is to give the player
the correct factual information, but interpreted
This was the rule for one campaign I was a part of, and it
made for interesting role-playing. One time a knowledge
history check was failed and the player learned about an
important historical figure that was as nasty as Hitler in
many ways, but the player was convinced initially that this
figure was someone to be looked up to. This lead to
interesting conversations amongst the local population, who
vilified this individual.
In ways like this, roll-playing can add a layer of
uncertainty that doesn't derail one's plans entirely; if you
fail, you still get the information you need, just in a more
interesting way that adds color instead of frustration.
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1. For Your Game: 10 Cool Inn Themes
From Inns & Taverns Essentials
- Tree house. The place is inside or on top of a large,
ancient tree. Think Dragonlance or of various movies that
have featured this theme.
- Famous chef. The business's reputation for fine food is
overshadowed only by the fame of its chef. Perhaps the chef
is incredibly rude, which amuses patrons, or maybe the chef
is of unusual race or has a legendary history.
- Jungle. Boiling water pumps perpetual steam and heat into
the common area. Vines and creepers, small trees, strange
birds, and exotic animals bring the jungle to patrons.
- Monsters on the menu. If adventurers can kill it and
bring it back, this place will cook it and serve it up.
- A tent. Everything in the place can be packed up and
ready to travel within two hours. Nothing is permanent or
fixed in place, which sometimes makes it hard to keep the
weather out. Perhaps the owner moves on when business slows,
he follows a circuit of annual fairs and festivals, or he is
a fugitive just trying to make an honest gold piece.
- Birds. The business is themed after birds and flying
creatures of all kinds, and even allows wild birds to nest
in the rafters and fly around patrons. Some birds are in
cages, but none are ever on the menu. An employee runs a
nice side business supplying quality and unusual quills to
- Horror. Unless pressed, most locals won't tell strangers
the business is known as the last stop before people
disappear. They figure if travelers and visitors keep the
supply up, then they'll be safe in their homes. In truth,
maybe the owner is part of an underground escape network who
prefers locals don't stick their noses in his business, or
perhaps the owner has a curse or horrific need for bodies.
- End of the line. The place is a slum. It's infested with
vermin, smells horrible, and serves putrid food and drink.
Yet, all know only those without hope go there, probably to
die, and that it is the end of the line.
- Good. Only those with good alignment are welcome. Perhaps
magical detection is employed, in secret or out in the open,
to weed out evil. The reputation alone keeps most evil-
aligned folk away. This premise sets up some interesting
plots and encounters with those who can mask their alignment
or are powerful enough they don't care.
- Sex appeal. The business is popular these days because
word is spreading of a voluptuous dancer who does five shows
a night. Men from all over the community are falling in love
with her. Angry wives and girl friends claim she uses magic
to entrap her male audiences. Regardless, while the owner
rakes in the money, there is growing unrest and tension as
men begin to fight over her and spouses begin to plot.
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Johnn Four's GM Guide Books
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