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Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #494

Maximize The Use Of PC Histories



This Week's Tips Summarized 

Maximize The Use Of PC Histories

Maximize The Use Of PC Histories

Hear No Evil

Game Master Tips & Tricks

  1. How To Create Magnetic Minis
  2. Pick Pocket Generator
  3. Cheaters Tips

Johnn Four's GM Guide Books

1 on 1 Adventures #14 PDF Now Available!

1 on 1 Adventures #14: A Sickness in Silverton, designed for a Druid, level 3-5, is now available in PDF and will hit stores in July! A grave illness has befallen the little folk of Silverton, and only the town drunk and a Dwarven prospector have avoided the debilitating malaise. Do you have the wits and will to uncover the source of this sinister sickness?

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A Brief Word From Johnn 

Gary Gygax Memorial Fund

RPT reader Dave C. sent me this email, which I thought I`d pass along to you:

Hey! Thanks as always for the tips. I was wondering if you knew of this link to E. Gary Gygax's memorial..

Gary Gygax Memorial Fund

There is a place for people to leave testimonials of what he (and RPGs) have meant to them. The goal is a memorial in a park with a gaming table to play at and show respects.

Thanks for the heads-up Dave.

iPads Experiment Went Well Last Game

One of my players, Jeff, has an iPad and we tried a little experiment last game session. Using the free app Dropbox that lets you share files between iPads, computers, and other devices, I would move images as needed into a folder. I'd let Jeff know a new image was available and he would open it up in his iPad to show the group.

This worked a lot better for me because I use a laptop at the table and it's a pain turning the laptop screen around to show-and-tell my group images and handouts (is it still a player handout when it's on a computer screen and all you're really handing out is photons?).

With the iPad being so portable, yet with a great-sized screen, Jeff could show others the images or just pass the iPad around the table.

For images, I used scenery ones to set the scene for various outdoor encounters we had, and NPC ones for critters and NPCs met and fought. It was easy selecting the images and them moving them to Dropbox for Jeff to display.

A neat thing Jeff did near the end of the session was leave the iPad upright, using the easel mode of his iPad case, and keep the picture of the dryad the PCs were parleying with up for the whole encounter. It was a constant visual reminder of who and what the characters were dealing with.

All in all, a great experiment that went well.

Have a great week. Please try to GM a game!


Johnn Four,

Campaign Mastery

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Now in Print! The Kobold Guide to Game Design Vol. 3

Our best-selling series continues in both print and pdf! The Kobold Guide to Game Design Volume III: Tools & Techniques offers more than 15 essays by an all-star lineup of industry veterans including Wolfgang Baur, Rob Heinsoo, Monte Cook and Ed Greenwood.

The Kobold Guide to Game Design series is a great resource for budding designers and GMs who want to take their campaigns to the next level. Get yours today and start designing!

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Maximize The Use Of PC Histories  

Maximize The Use Of PC Histories

by Kate Manchester

PC Histories are one of the most ignored parts of a character sheet, but for a GM, it can prove to be one of the most vital. Here are some ways to get the most value from a PC's biography.

1. Require A Background

Require all characters to have a background story. It can be long or short (preferably long) and in any format they choose. For my own campaigns, I require players to justify some or all of their PC's advantages or flaws in their background. If the PC has a 3 point Enemy, I want to know how they managed to piss someone off that badly.

If you want to give the players a questionnaire. It can include (but shouldn't be limited to) the following:

  • Character name?
  • Street Name, Nickname or Alias?
  • Who are their parents? Are they alive or dead? Do they have any siblings (alive or dead)?
  • Where does the PC's family currently reside?
  • Where was the PC born?
  • Where does the PC live? What is their place like?
  • PC's quirks and habits?

* PC's short term goals? Long term?

So for example, if I were to complete the questionnaire for my Shadowrun character:

Name: Kimiko Shinju

Street Name or Alias: Kim or Kimmie

Who are their parents? Shinju Kosaku & Shinju Myume

Are they alive or dead? Alive when she last saw them three years ago.

What do they do? Dad is a scientist working for Ares. Mom is a traditional housewife

Do they have any siblings (alive or dead)? No.

Where does the PC's family currently reside?Ares Arcology in Seattle.

Where was the PC born (if different from above)? See above. However, if she returned, she'd be arrested.

Where does the PC live? What is their place like? She has a 'hidey hole' in Yakuza territory and a nice apartment in the former SoDo district of Seattle.

PC's quirks/habits? She hates to eat dinner alone.

PC's short term goals? Build her list of contacts and get the next job.

Long term? Make enough money to retire before shadowrunning kills her.

2. Review And Look For Inconsistencies

Once you have the PC's history, look it over. If there are inconsistencies between your campaign world and the PC's history, either gently inform the player of this (most players won't be too broken up if you ask them change the name of a person or place) or make changes to your campaign notes.

Feel free to make friendly suggestions about their history to help enhance your campaign, enhance the character, or add connections to the other characters in the game.

3. Mine The History

Now that you've gotten a history and possibly a questionnaire about your campaign's PCs, how do you go about using this information? Here are a few ways:

Getting the party together for the first time

This is one of the most difficult parts of starting any campaign. How exactly do you get a group of PCs working together for a common goal? One way is through connections.

For example, in Shadowrun, Contacts are a vital part of any character's arsenal. One contact shared by all the members of the party could well be the impetus to bring a team together. Another way is through common threads in the PCs' histories (either coincidental or planned by you).

Bringing in a new PC

One of the biggest hurdles in introducing a new PC into an existing campaign is why the PC came to this place and joined up with the party. As the Storyteller of a Play by Post game, probably the most frequent question I get is "how do I bring my PC into the game?"

Part of my solution is that I require my players to submit a history along with their character sheet. Once I look it over, I usually can come up with some suggestions for their opening post (who they're going to see, where the character is going, etc.) and chat with them over IM about it.

Using the history to find commonalities and links between PCs helps develop more realistic reasons for a new PC to join a party than simply, "Joe is playing John Doe, so we're going to invite John Doe to join the group."

Enhancing player investment in a character

Ever play an RPG at a convention with pregenerated characters and have one of your fellow players decide to do something stupid, like picking a fight with a beholder or blowing up the ship?

This often happens because the player hasn't invested any time and effort into the character. They have no stake in the character's survival, so why not let them get killed? When you make a player write up a background for their character, they are investing time, effort and possibly even emotion into this character. This investment decreases the likelihood they won't care if something bad happens to the character and can reduce the likelihood the PC will do something stupid and potentially lethal.

Furthering goals

By studying the back stories of the PCs, you get an idea of where the players want to take their characters. Knowing the PCs' goals also helps you better tailor adventures to the PCs.

Back stories also help you achieve your own campaign goals. By knowing where the players want to go, you can decide what direction you want to take your campaign and what you (and your players) want to achieve during the course of the campaign.

Campaign creation

A character's back story can reveal friends, relatives and enemies. Use these ideas to flesh out the character's hometown, create a recurring villain, or an old high school buddy with access to the evidence locker at the local police station.

But a history isn't just about who the character knew. It's also about where they're from. If you're running short on place names, feel free to mine character histories for creating locations.

For example, after not getting the name of the closest city that I needed to finish my character's history, I simply came up with the names myself. To my surprise, the party actually had to head back to the very city I'd created.

Similarly, if a character's history mentions an ancestral home, sword, etc., feel free to make it part of your campaign. It'll save you work, and your players will appreciate having contributed to your campaign even if it's in some small way.

Adventures and plot hooks

PC backgrounds are a gold mine of plot hooks. As an added bonus, when you use pieces of a PC's history, it helps encourage that player's involvement in the game. After all, players don't typically throw boring things into their history; they usually include them in hopes the GM might see fit to use them.

For example, a party contains Lodar, a fighter who is really the son of a deposed (and despised) king travelling in disguise. The party may soon find itself the target of attacks. It can also make for some interesting drama and conflict when this fact is revealed.

You can go home again

Have the PCs travel to a character's hometown. The other PCs can meet his parents (who will likely have embarrassing pictures or stories to tell), his old friends (who might buy the PC drinks and talk about old times), and his enemies (who might well try to kill them).


If the PCs have something in common with each other or with the NPCs, it can often enhance those relationships. For example, I had a PC come to Portland from New Orleans. I decided that he and the current Toreador Primogen made the trip to Portland together and were allies.

4. Make Histories Dynamic

Realize that a character's history is dynamic. It can evolve and become more fleshed out over time as the player spends more time with the PC.

For example, I've had a character history that started out with the vague reasoning of her transfer away from her native Chicago due to a family dispute. I elaborated on it by deciding the dispute was with her mother and sisters over breaking her engagement (she and her fiancee had different ideas about her working outside the home).

In addition, as the campaign progresses, the characters develop a shared history. As GM, you should keep track of this as part of your notes. You want to give your PCs a 'blast from the past' by sending them back to a town or bringing back an NPC.

Keep in mind, though, that as the campaign progresses and characters leave or die, the blast from the past will have less relevance and impact on the PCs, and your players may well have forgotten too.

* * *

A character's history is a gold mine of information. It may take a little work to mine the nuggets, but the rewards are worth it.

For further information on this subject, check out the following articles:

How To Work With Crummy Character Backgrounds

6/666 Tips For GMing An Evil Group

Lessons from the LARP

Creating Basic Character Personalities

Character Questionnaires Tips & Techniques, Part I

Character Questionnaires Tips & Techniques, Part II

Roleplaying Tips Weekly Supplemental #5 "The Character Questionnaire" [TXT]

Players, Meet Your Characters

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Fantasy Wars

Strategy, tuned-based fantasy video game (PC) 4 Stars/5

The great orc chieftain and conqueror Ugraum, incited by the cruel shamans, gathers a huge horde to invade the land of humans. Only a small, but experienced army of general Pfeil is able to fight against the powerful enemy. However, the sides in this confrontation don't know this is all just part of an evil plot of the dark powers.

"By far one of the greats for employing strategy in a fantasy universe. Maps are enormous and require the player make decisions in ways that make the player feel they are personally part of the action. Also, I love the many different upgrades that are available to you that are not often available in games of this type (i.e. armor piercing arrows, faster boots, armor upgrades, ballistas, etc.). I have been a strategy-buff most of my life, and by far this game has been one of the most challenging that I have played since my C and C days." - eagle123

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Hear No Evil 

By Tyco Kaine

Every adventure has to have a bad guy. Usually you're going to have more than one. A whole bunch of bad guys, crooks, thugs and traitors all ready to shiv your heroes up proper good at the slightest provocation. However, there's no need to have evil characters.

There is a tendency, particularly in fantasy settings, to lean strongly towards the Evil Overlord of Doom archetype when creating villains. Much like in Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, the enemy is a dark lord of vast power who lives in a tower and commands armies of doom. They have an alignment that says Evil on it. They are evil for the sake of being evil. They probably have "I'm Evil and I'm good at it" sewn into their socks.

In many cases the Evil Overlord, let's call him Boris, is left just like that. He's just a big puddle of unspecified evil with a pile of powerful abilities and a vague hatred of anything living. While this does provide a campaign with a fixed target for the heroes to battle towards, it also makes a static, uninteresting target. Boris is powerful but nebulous.

There are ways to make Boris more interesting and more rounded. Provide him with history. Where did he come from? How did he get his power? Why does he need to kill every living thing in the known universe? What's the point?

Next, ask "Why?"

"So, you want to kill all living things? Why?"

"Because I'm an Evil Overlord and that's what Evil Overlords do!"


"Because they're Evil!"


When you start to dig you'll find the reasons don't stack up in a meaningful way. As it stands, the only thing that compels Boris to ransack the world and kill everything is the motto on his socks. He's doing it because he's Evil. Well, that's not good enough. That's no reason to do anything. Seriously, taking over the world and killing everyone is a lot of effort, you're going to need a good reason.

Yet, Boris must want to do something terrible to the world. The plot demands it! If Boris isn't doing something terrible then what are the heroes going to do? Sit and chew on their toenails? Learn Cribbage?

Since it turns out that arbitrarily wanting to destroy the whole world is silly, let's get focused. For the heroes to want to stop him, Boris only has to threaten their part of the world, not all of it. This gives the possibility of a more human enemy, like Ulric and his Naidir warriors in Legend.

So Boris is a foreigner, a lord and hero to his people. It just so happens he wants to take over the kingdom where the heroes live. Now that Boris is a conqueror rather than a demon lord he has motivations of a more understandable nature. Conquest, riches and the pride of his people; these drive him onward. He also has weaknesses of a human nature too. He needs an heir to his throne and he must keep his people happy. Also, if you took another page out of legend, he could have a traitorous brother trying to make himself king back home.

But, for all his humanity, Boris is still the bad guy. So let's fix that too. The kingdom he seeks to invade, the place where your heroes are living, has a part to play in this as well. The King, let's call him John, has been less that perfect himself.

Unbeknownst to the heroes, or even to the Council of Lords, King John has been a naughty boy. John was worried that Boris' armies were getting restless and that soon he would march them over the pass and attack the kingdom. Although the kingdom is far stronger than Boris' horde of savages, John could not afford a drawn out war. After all, he is trying to broker an allegiance with Prince Markus against the Danes and all that beer doesn't come cheap.

Obviously, he didn't know that there was civil war afoot between Boris and his brother Klaus or he would have just left them to it. However, he did discover that Boris' beautiful young wife, Larissa, was travelling by ship from her homeland in the west to join her husband and, in a fit of stupidity unmatched since the attack on Peal Harbour, he decided to capture the young queen to use as a defence against Boris' perceived aggression. Sadly for John, and the heroes, Boris found this version of "best defence is a strong offence" as slightly too offensive. Boris, despite being a war mongering savage, is deeply in love with Larissa.

This presents Boris with a problem. He cannot enter the kingdom of John to get his bride back without falling prey to John's men. He cannot invade the kingdom with his restless armies while Klaus is sharpening his knife ready to stab him in the back the moment he turns. So what does he do? What can he do? Well, he goes to the Witch of the North and asks for her help. He asks her to help him save his love. The Witch of the North is a kindly old biddy who sees that Boris has been wronged, so she grants him a boon.

"Should any man stand between you and your love and be cut down, he shall join you and fight, beyond death, until you and your love are reunited."

So, now any man Boris must kill in his quest to save Queen Larissa will rise as undead and join his quest. Boris thinks this is both terrible and unnatural, but it is the favour of the Witch; he cannot turn down her offer. He knows without it he will not rescue his bride. He agrees. At that moment, your bad guy is born.

The thing to notice is that Boris has his reasons. He is not completely evil. It would be easy enough to write the history in such a way that he was seen as the good guy(1). However, from the perspective of the heroes, he will seem the evil overlord just the same.

Marching across the mountain pass, raising the dead as he comes, he will be the evil they are ready to fight. The difference? Boris has a clear goal, and when the truth comes out regarding what happened, there will be questions to ask and things to consider.

Will King John, in a follow-up to his previous stupidity, kill poor Larissa and doom the kingdom to undead servitude forever(2)? Will they discover that returning Larissa to her husband will destroy the army? If they discover the truth, will they have mercy for Boris once his army is defeated? And what of King John? Is he not the real villain of the piece? What happens when people find out this was all his fault?

There's a good chance, about three quarters through the campaign, the heroes can be convinced to join Boris and take on King John to save the Kingdom and the Bride(3).

I like to think that truly evil characters are rare. As a GM, the best bad guys you can play are those you can identify with. You need to be able to act on their behalf to make sure they behave in a meaningful and considered way. They don't kill and eat people for no reason(4).

To identify with your bad guy you must turn the tables and make a good guy out of them. Tell their story and find out why they want to cause your heroes trouble. All the quirks you discover while making a bad guy into a good guy serve to populate the story with twists, hooks and details that would otherwise be hard to invent.

If your players are anything like mine, they want to defeat the enemy through intelligence, cunning and good play, as well as through rolling dice and smashing heads. The act of personalizing your enemies makes them possible to figure out.

When the players find out why the bad guy does what he does they can better plot their own counters. They can decide how they might defeat or divert their enemy. They can take the lead and carve their own plot. They will think of things you didn't and follow them to places you'd not considered. But, because you know the motivations, desires and constraints of their enemy, you are in a strong position to react to their plans in an honest, believable way.

The joy of this approach is that if Boris looks like he is being defeated too easily, rather than just making him tougher in some arbitrary way to create a challenge you can expand your reach and explore the other characters that populate the bad guy's version of the story.

Boris, for example, has a beautiful young wife, Larissa. What's her story? Where is her family? Maybe they are a bigger threat? And speaking of family, what of Klaus? What is he doing while all the zombie nonsense is going on? And the Witch of the North? She helped Boris out of a sense of Justice, but what else is she up to? When Boris is defeated, will they go looking for her to prevent this happening again? How does the crotchety old biddy react to being hunted down by righteous heroes?

On the other hand, the players may never discover the truth behind all the motivations of your bad guys - but that doesn't matter. You don't need to crowbar these people into the game if they are not needed. They serve to colour the judgement of your bad guy, even if they are never mentioned they can do that just as well.

(1) In Sláine - The Horned God, the good guys have The Cauldron of Blood that brings dead warriors back to fight the sea demons. If you wrote that from the other side, it'd look pretty evil.

(2) If this happens you still have a get-out clause. You can send the heroes to negotiate with the Witch of the North to end the curse. Of course, by "negotiate with", the heroes will undoubtedly mean "murder." But that's ok, she's a witch, right?

(3) Or more devious still, one of the heroes could fall in love with Queen Larissa and seek to protect her from the 'Evil' overlord. There's a bunch of interesting options there, no? Although, to be fair, most players don't allow their heroes to do soppy things like falling in love. Either because they're afraid the GM will take advantage (which, as a GM, I can't see why(5)) or because the character is little more than a collection of numbers that desires only XP and Gold. precious...

(4) That's not to say they don't kill and eat people. But you must know why. It's the why that makes the character interesting. If they just kill and eat people because you wanted them to do something shocking and evil, it demeans that character. It makes them less accountable. They are not evil. They are just insane. That's fine in bit part characters that exist only to be killed, but it makes for a poor nemesis.

(5) Mwhahahahahahhahahaha! Ahem. Right. I think I've found the evil overlord you were looking for....

* * *

Tyco Kaine is an artist, musician, astronaut, writer, ninja, pirate and World Champion Games Master. He invented the Sending of Eight role playing system and the colour blue and has been carefully refining them both ever since. His blog, Way of the Fluid GM, can be found here:

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Game Master Tips & Tricks 

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

1. How To Create Magnetic Minis 

From Sean Hexed


Another good magnet trick for figure bases is to use little neodymium disc magnets. (Those super strong silver colored ones.) I super glue them in the hollow bottoms of plastic figure bases and then fill in the rest of the space with 5 minute epoxy.

Most craft stores have them, but may not have the tiny size. I get them on ebay, but has a great selection on their site. They came recommended from a friend.

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2. Pick Pocket Generator 

From Jenny Trawick

One of my players was a rogue who wanted to pick somebody's pocket every time I turned around. It was getting nerve wracking to improvise something interesting for him every time.

I believe it was your newsletter that was pimping the Abulafia Random Generator at around that time - or perhaps I learned of it elsewhere? At any rate, to keep this pickpocket thing interesting, I used that engine to create some random people and line their pockets with interesting things.

It proved to be hugely useful in my game. The random people generated weren't even necessarily pick pocket targets, by the end of it. They were individuals to flesh out a crowd, with items in their pockets giving me springboards to improvise their stories from. The streets of the urban setting were crowded with citizens the characters could interact with - and all of my players, by then, were paying attention to the crowd! A lot of these NPCs became important to the plot.

There have been a few changes to the generator made by other people participating in the wiki, but by and large, the generator is pretty much as I originally made it.

Here's the direct link: Pick Pocket Generator

And here's a random sampling of what it produces:


You see 5 possible marks:

  1. You may be able to make off with a foreign-looking pouch from a simple-minded exterminator. (It contains a legal document entitling the bearer to a sum of money to be collected from Gifted Assassin of the Duchal Chalice, a ring with 1 brass key(s), and several rough drafts of a love letter.)
  2. You may be able to nab a new purse from a public-spirited merchant. (It contains a small bag of gold dust, a silver key, and several vials of rare poison.)
  3. You may be able to purloin a calico pouch from a shrewish visitor. (It contains an enchanted diamond, a cloth cap, and a book (The Lexicon of Cults ).)
  4. You may be able to swipe a silk-lined backpack from a sneezing spy. (It contains 14 coins of a foreign denomination, 2 freshwater pearls, a small box of breath mints, and an amulet indicating membership in an organization or society (Cursed Alliance of Exalted Deans).)
  5. You may be able to seize a backpack from a competent miracle worker. (It contains 17 gold coins, a bag of almonds, and a charm against thieves.)


(Hmm...if that merchant is so public-spirited, what *does* he have planned for that poison...?)

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3. Cheaters Tips 

From: Loz Newman

I've had cheaters amongst my players before. The easiest solutions I've ever found:

  • You suspect "fudged" rolls, and dubious rules-following? Recruit some help.
    1. Closely study the cheater's PC stats and powers. Know his powers and skills at least as well as him.
    2. Put him next to the player who is the closest thing you have to a Rules Lawyer. Preferably between *two* Rules Lawyers.
    Before the game, in private, give the Rules Lawyer(s) instructions to surveil the cheater's actions. This helps keep the Rules Lawyers occupied, too.

    I used this once on a player suspected of cheating who was just having the most incredible lucky streak I've ever seen. Every scenario for two months, he averaged five critical hits per eight rolls. Plus the odd critical failure, too. Wow.
  • You suspect loaded dice?

    Swap your dice for theirs.
  • You suspect "forgetting" to cross off used spells/items?

    Use spell/potion-chits, in your handwriting, that have to be handed in and destroyed by the GM to take effect.

Don't let cheaters ever have "tap-backs", "do-overs", "Oops, I forget to mention..." "Didn't you hear me say that...?" "But my character would NEVER forget to...." or other means of escaping the consequences of their acts or rewriting history. They'll try to snarl up things into a confused ball of maybes, no-we-didn'ts, I/he-didn't-say-thats, so they can exploit. Avoid this.

And if you get 50% of the group cheating and mutually reinforcing? Shut the campaign down and wait for them to go away. Invite the honest players to continue the campaign with other honest players replacing the unregretted departed players.

Above all: Stay calm. Don't let cheaters spoil *anything*.

From Jonas Dorn

Scott writes:

"The last thing a game master desires is to directly confront the player and outright say, I know you're cheating."

This is the big problem. Yes, it is absolutely necessary to publicly explain the rules of the GM at some point, preferably in the beginning. But after that, the GM has to be a leader and talk to the cheater about cheating. In private and in person. It is difficult and it is uncomfortable, but these experiences are why GMing can help make you a better team leader at work.

When the GM confronts the player, there are a few rules that should be observed:

  • Always be polite and factual. "You are a ...." has never ever led to a better dialogue.
  • Be able to back up your claims. Sadly, not all cheaters will be contrite when you confront them.
  • Try to leave the player a way out. Say: "I noticed that you have problems with keeping track of your spells/potions/bonuses. For the game experience, it is important that you get these things right. Is there a way I, or another player, can help you with that?".

    This allows the cheater to change their behavior while saving face. If you start with "You cheat! You have used your supposedly 10 spells on your wand at least 15 times!", the cheater will feel cornered and instinctively start denying. Also notice that the good sentences do not start with 'you'.
  • Say only as little as necessary. You are uncomfortable, but if you start rambling, it makes it likely that you say things you'll regret. Also, don't apologize. There's no need to apologize for wanting fairness and justice.
  • Be prepared to pull the plug. If the cheater blatantly lies in your face, or threatens you, or calls you names, it is better to continue playing without the cheater. The reason you worked up your courage to confront the player was that you wanted the cheating to stop. If it doesn't look like the cheating will stop, it doesn't look like you'll keep having fun playing with the player.

From Mike Glanville

Hi, Johnn.

The way I handle cheaters in my game group is to first lay down some standards at the table.

Now, this is just what I do and is not meant to convey what I think others should do, but this has worked well for me.

  1. All die rolls must be made in a designated area where everyone can see them, including the GM's rolls. Let the Dice Fall Where They May.

    This one has been controversial among my fellow GMs because they think some rolls ought to be done behind the screen. However, I suggest doing this because one of the reasons people cheat is because they don't have any confidence in the impartiality of the GM himself, even if he fudges a die roll in the favor of the players.

    However, players like something concrete they can count on, and one of those things is the sanctity of die rolls. By playing by the same rules that the players must abide by, you establish that sanctity and create an example for the other players to follow.

    All dice are rolled in an area near the center of the table, and the player to the left of you (or right, whoever is closer) has to read off the result.
  2. All dice must be approved for use by the GM.

    My rule of thumb is simple; if I can't read it from anywhere on the table, it's not allowed for use. Dice must be clearly marked and legible, preferably in English (I've known people to bring Japanese dice to the table).

    Also, they can't be so big that they don't roll well, or be made of a material that might damage the table. All dice also have to have the correct shape. For example, d4s have to be shaped like a pyramid, d6s have to be shaped as cubes, and so on.

    This was a tough one to swallow for my players, as their dice can be rather personal to them. However, I pointed out that the USGA and the PGA have standards for golf clubs, balls, shoes and apparel, so why shouldn't a GM set down standards on what dice are approved for play at the table for his game?
  3. The GM reserves the right to invalidate any die roll for any reason.

    This is the corollary of the rule that the GM is always right. If a player rolls a die in such a way that the result is in dispute, I have him roll it again. If, for some reason, the die result is still in dispute, then I invalidate the whole roll and rule it a failure, or at the minimums if it is damage.

    I once had a player who just couldn't keep his dice on the table when he rolled, hoping in his own way to roll them off the table and read the results on the floor as he picked them up. I have a rather draconian rule that states if the dice are ever rolled off the table, they do not count and the whole roll is ruled a failure or the minimums of damage.

By imposing some standards to start with, and enforcing them, you will seriously curtail cheating by demonstrating that you consider die results to be sacred and you're not going to tolerate any chicanery from the players.

I've still had players cheat and I have caught them. Invariably, their characters end up dying because of the automatic failures and minimum damages I apply. And then afterward I have a talk with them. But usually the loss of a character is all that is needed to rein them in.

There are other forms of cheating than mere dice fudging, though. Sometimes, in an effort to cover the bases, a player will have his character do odd things just in case something bad were to happen.

I've had players swallow magical rings each and every day in the event they might get captured and have to use their ring to escape.

A player in a Traveller game was so neurotic that his character would wear his environment suit even on a world with a perfectly breathable and temperate atmosphere for not only the protective benefits but also because he could conceal more weapons on his person.

Such things are examples of bad role-playing, and the best thing to do is to use the world against them. The GM who ran the Traveller game would detain the neurotic player and have him strip-searched on account of his obviously suspicious behavior of wearing a spacesuit on a perfectly habitable world.

I would often give my ring-swallowing players a case of dysentery and blood in their stools (-2 HP/Day, and -1 to Poison Saves) from the havoc of swallowing magical jewelry.

Character creation is another matter. I'm sure many GMs have had munchkins hand in characters with no ability score lower than 15, claiming it's all legitimate. or this, I do take pains to carefully monitor character creation, and I also monitor character advancement by photocopying character sheets.

It helps to also have other players who won't tolerate cheating. Again, if you enforce the rules of the table as you've set down, there shouldn't be too many problems.

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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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