5 Things Driving Across the Country Taught Me About DMing

From Hannah Lipsky

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0497

A Brief Word from Johnn

Two Sentence City Encounter Contest Ends Next Week

To celebrate upcoming Issue #500 for Roleplaying Tips we’re holding a contest: two sentence city encounters. To enter, send in city encounter seeds and ideas 1-3 sentences long. Each encounter should contain some conflict to make it interesting to play. For example:

A shadow demon is summoned to assassinate a bard during a performance. The bard sings of the mistakes, ineptness and evil deeds of the PCs. Do they intervene when the attack happens?

What Can You Win?

NBOS software. Winners pick which product they receive.

Kobold Guide to Game Design. Winners decide if they want volume 1, 2, or the just released volume 3. (PDF)

GM Mastery books. Take your pick of Inn Essentials, Holiday Essentials or NPC Essentials. (PDF)

Left Hand of God novel.

The Dark Fate RPG is a new prize as well.

Dungeonaday.com one month memberships – A Little History Lesson Of Best Steroids

All told, there are 20 prizes up for grabs.

Multiple entries are welcome, and each give you more chance to be randomly drawn for a prize.

And thanks to Trechriron for the support by posting about the contest online at various sites!

Email entries now to [email protected]

News: “My First Gen Con” Series and Contest at KQ

Until the end of July, RPT sponsor Kobold Quarterly is running a series of guest posts by well-known people in the games industry, writing on the topic “My First Gen Con.”

They are also running a contest where you send your “My First Gen Con” story in 300 words or less. The author of the best entry as judged by the Kobold staff will win $100 in credit at the Kobold Quarterly booth at Gen Con Indy 2010, and $50 spending money at the Con! (You must visit our booth at this year’s Con to receive your prizes.)

Deadline for entry is July 20. More details:

5 Things Driving Across the Country Taught Me About DMing

You might have noticed that I haven’t been around for the past couple months. That’s because I’ve been in the process of uprooting my entire life and moving it from one edge of the continent to the other.

I did this in the most relaxing way possible, by which I mean taking five days to drive a Honda Civic with a friend and all of our worldy possessions in it across the country.

Never one to let a few months of turmoil keep me from thinking about gaming, I’ve compiled a list of experiences from my drive that you can apply to your campaign.

Four Backup Plans is Not Enough

I have the good fortune of having friends all across the country, and wasn’t planning on staying in any hotels during the course of my drive. This plan was strongest in the Denver area, where I know five different people. I made plans in advance with one of them, and let a couple of the others know I might be nearby. What could go wrong?

As it turns out, five different things. Two friends were out of town, one had other guests, and the other two were unavailable for other reasons. Well, at least there’s plenty of hotels around. Right?

Wrong. There was a huge marathon in Boulder the next day, and every room in every hotel in a 50-mile radius was booked. It took us another couple hours of driving north – over pitch black mountain roads – to find a place to stay.

What did this teach me about DMing? That even the things the PCs most rely on should occasionally fail.

Maybe a trusted informant is out of town when they need his information. Someone else has borrowed the scrolls from the library. There’s been a run on healing potions and the alchemist is clean out until the next shipment in a month.

Perhaps the PCs can even face the same situation I did, and come into town weary from dungeon crawling only to discover that there’s a grand tournament taking place and every inn is full. They’ll have to camp outside the city walls, or press on to a nearby village.

Ohio is a Police State

We were driving on Memorial Day Weekend and had been warned that local cops and state troopers would be out in force. This prediction held true in Ohio, where we counted over 20 officers, but then declined sharply in the neighboring states.

There were only a handful of police in Kansas, and none at all by the time we got to Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. In fact, the law in Utah appeared to be that all vehicles must exceed the posted limit by at least 10 miles per hour at all times.

Aside from avoiding Utah next time you take a road trip (going that fast in twisty canyons is not as fun as it sounds), how is this helpful for you?

Town guards are usually either a tiny footnote in the background, or part of the main plot. Why not use them to bring towns to life? Whenever the PCs approach a city, figure out or roll for how many guards they are and how much petty crime there is.

One town might have guards on every corner, while another could have rampant pickpockets and con artists and nary a guard in sight. Even if there’s nothing special for the party to investigate – no fascist baron in the first town, nor corrupt mayor in the second – it’ll still make the place a little more interesting.

Your Prices May Vary

Gas prices. Need I say more? Cringe-worthy in some states and jaw-droopingly low in others, they’re always worth paying attention to.

Why not have something similar in your game? Maybe healing potions have been going up in price lately, but you can still find them cheaply in some areas. Perhaps the same is true of ale, or grain for horses, or anything else the party will have to stock up on regularly.

Get some dice – at least one Fudge die with the +, – and blank will work great – and roll them whenever the party comes to a new town. Say, +/-1d6 gold to the price of a potion, or +/-1d10 silver to the cost of a barrel of ale.

Your players will learn to be on the lookout for lower prices, and buy as much as they can when they find them.

The same sort of thing might even apply to lodging – a good inn in a cheap city might cost less than a cot in a filthy hovel in the nation’s expensive capitol.

Vary Your Supplies

I love root beer. Since I’ve mostly given up on caffeine, it’s one of the few carbonated beverages I can still drink. And no one really dislikes it. So when it was time to load up the cooler for our trip, we filled it with root beer. We drove through a lot of dry regions, so we were sipping drinks almost constantly.

You can probably see where this is heading. After five days of drinking root beer nonstop, I was sick of it.

Even the grittiest of campaigns that track every detail of rations and encumbrance probably don’t take into account how annoying it is to eat and drink the same things day after day.

There’s a couple of ways you could use this in your game. If it fits your campaign, you could apply some sort of penalty if the party stocks up on nothing but the cheapest, blandest hardtack it can find. But a perhaps more interesting way to handle it would be in the reactions of NPCs.

Isolated villages might not have much use for gold, but prize what to them are rare and exotic foods that the PCs picked up farther back in their travels. Likewise, the local brew of a small mining community might not cost much more than water while in the mountains, but be more valuable than silver to people living on the plains.

It’s not about the quality – it’s about tasting something different.

Murphy’s Law of Weapon Transportation

I own a lot of swords. While most of my friends think this is awesome, most people who aren’t my friends usually respond with confusion or alarm. That’s why I kept my swords hidden during the drive.

Then we got to a hotel and had to move our stuff into our room. I walked from the parking lot to the room carrying my backpack, and no one was around. Carried my clothes and some small items of furniture, and no one was there.

But the trip where I was just barely hanging onto my short sword and had a bundle of larger swords under my other arm? Yeah, that’s when the maid was leaving the room next to ours.

The same thing happened moving into our apartment. Clothes, furniture, computers, and the parking lot and hallway are dead. Falchion over one shoulder and escrima sticks in my other hand? Several families with small children passed me on the way to the elevator.

Melee weapons might be more common in the time periods during which most campaigns are set, but the average PC still carries a lot more armament than is typical.

If Murphy’s Law of Weapon Transportation applies to your PCs, the times when they least intend to cause trouble are going to be the occasions on which the most alarmed civilians will take note of them.

Walking casually on the way to the market? Surely someone with that much weaponry intends on robbing it. Trying to gain entrance to a gated city? The gate exists exactly to keep that sort of suspicious ruffian out. Hoping to offer aid to a stranded merchant caravan? Yeah, that’s just what the bandits who were outfitted exactly like you said they were doing, too.

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Comment from Johnn: By the fact you wrote this article, Hannah, we can assume you completed your trip successfully. Congrats on the migration. It sounds like you levelled up a bit and took a few ranks in Philosophy (Cynicism). 🙂

Town status and events is a neat idea. Varying prices, product shortages, missing services. Sounds like a good topic for a future RPT contest. It would be cool to have a table of 100 Town Events to help make the setting just a bit different each time the PCs hit town, or stay in town for more than a few days.

My Riddleport city campaign, for example, could use some setting-based conditions to keep the day-to day interesting on another level.

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Reader Tip Request

Car Chase Tips & Rules

Do you know of a simple way to run a generic car chase? I know Spycraft has a decent way, but it is more or less specific to that RPG. I’m looking for something that can work in CoC, Hero, Spirit of the Century, or whatever.

Richard Silver

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Richard, you can find some car chase tips at http://www.roleplayingtips.com/readissue.php?number=335

However, it’s been years since that topic came up, so let’s ask if anyone has more tips or generic rules.

Readers, if you have any car chase tips or rules, send’em to [email protected]


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10 Bottles of Wine For Your Game

From Magus of the Citadel

Wine is an old beverage, only younger than beer and water in terms of human history. Wine just needs fruit, water and yeast, as well as a little time to ferment. Raw wine, that hasn’t been aged, is called grappa and is usually cheap to get and of poor quality.

Most wines derive their name from the location where they are grown, such as Porte, Burgundy, and Marsala. While it is a common notion that wine is only made of grapes, wine can be made of any sugar laden fruit. In the southern United States, wine can be found made from strawberries, peaches, blueberries, and less than commonly known grapes such as the muscadine and scuppernog.

Some Thoughts on Race and Wine

Humans are likely to be the most prodigious producers of wine, being the race most commonly associated with mass agriculture. Most of the wine for sale or in circulation will be human made.

Elves would make better wines, having greater experience and delicate senses, but would always fall behind humans in that their wine is produced via horticulture rather than agriculture. They let the grapes grow where they will, rather than creating vineyards.

Dwarves, long time ale and beer drinkers, would remain so. Grapes don’t grow well in mountainous terrain.

Orcs and goblins would likely have wine as well, but rather than organized efforts, each clan, tribe, or band would have a few members who know how to make some stout home-brew.

Quick Wine Basics

The standard wine bottle (a rather modern notion) is just shy of 1/5th of a gallon, or one liter. The dimple in the bottom of the bottle is called the punt and has been given a variety of reasons for existing, ranging from the technique used to blow glass bottles, to strengthening the bottle, to being used as a guide by servants, pointing with a thumb inside of the punt.

Bottle Sizes:

  • Piccolo – quarter-liter
  • Demi – half liter
  • Standard – 1 liter
  • Magnum – 1.5 liter
  • Double-Magnum 3 liters
  • Imperial – 6 liters
  • Sovereign – 25 liters

There are a large variety of other bottle sizes, such as the 20 liter Solomon, the 12 liter Balthazar, and the 9 liter Salmanazar. All of these bottle sizes are named for biblical kings and such, and would fit rather awkwardly in a standard genre fantasy game. As such, I only included the generic named sizes. The Demi and Piccolo (half and small, respectively) are easy enough to rename into another in game language. A Demi could be a Halflinger, or a Hobbit, and the Piccolo could be a Kobolder or some-such.

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10 Wines


This is a popular wine, foremost coming from the Ermengarde valley in Nahalast prefecture. It is a ripe and full bodied wine best served slightly chilled. This wine is seen as a status symbol of sorts among the gentry and the nobility, and serves as the baseline of what is acceptable in polite company, and what is plebian wine.

Turhin Red

Turhin is a cheap wine made from whatever grapes are left from the pickings in the Turhino river vineyards. This includes the grapes that were rejected for other wines, wild grapes, and anything else that might be dumped into the mixture. Given the size of the region, a large amount of this wine is made every year, and sold only in wooden casks. Generally, it is sold to taverns, brothels, and slum hostels and is of uniformly poor quality.

Daidaugh Wildwine

An expensive wine with a complex taste, Daidaugh is made only from wild grapes found growing around the druidic copse at Daidaugh Hill. Very few bottles are made and most are consumed by the druids themselves, but the few that are sold command a hefty price on the market due to scarcity.


This wine is generally reviled by elves and friends of the forest as it is aged in oaken barrels made from treefolk. The wine itself is mellow and nutty. It is an expensive wine since the winery only has a few barrels that can properly age the wine. The rest of the wine, which is similar in taste, sells much cheaper and is simple Rhoh Red.


This blood red wine is made by the orcs of the Lynnian steppe from the fruit of the Ada tree, a fruit much like a pomegranate, but somewhat larger. The wine itself is almost syrupy in consistency, and slightly adhesive. Orcs drink it in large amounts, and sometimes use it as a flammable weapon, throwing burning bladders of it at wooden defenses and squads of human infantry. If cut with water, Adat makes a palatable beverage.

Rast-Apple Cider

Ciders are all made from apples or pears, but are essentially still wines. Rast-Apple cider, made from a peculiar golden apple, is a popular if expensive beverage. It is good for easing illness of the stomach and gut as well as never leaving a hangover. To ensure that the cider is legitimate, a single seed is left in the bottom of the bottle.

Darkim Black

A red wine so rich and opulent that it is almost black in color, Darkim is the preferred wine of tieflings and darkling kindred. The grapes are watered with a mixture of blood and water, and fertilized with ground bone. The plants are thick and lush, the wine is fragrant and a pleasure to drink. In most regions, Darkim is considered an illegal good and is confiscated and destroyed, and Darkim vineyards tend to be put to the torch when found.

Ilta Lynath

Often called the wine of bards, Ilta Lynath is made with extra potency, and after quaffing several glasses, even the most lead-tongued bumbler feels moved to sing and recite epic poetry. While the elves generally record this in their multi-volume books of prose, most human ramblings are quickly forgotten or become popular tavern songs. The wine itself is a passably good red wine with a smooth velvet finish and a warm citrus aftertaste.

T’puuli Hastras

A sacred wine, the elves only make seven bottles of it a year. The vintage is made exclusively by a single master vintner, each given as a gift to an elfin lord or lady. The wine is considered the height of wine making, and in the rare instances when a bottle reaches the open market, the price is astounding. This has happened twice before. The first time the bottle sold for close to 3200 pieces of gold, and disappeared into a lord’s wine cellar. The second time, the bottle was sold, stolen, resold, and then six dozen bottles of counterfeit was discovered.

Kalakhammer Honeywine

One of the few wines made by dwarves, Kalakhammer is made from honey, cardamon and blueberries. The pale blue beverage has a potent spicy flavor and is more of an experiment among the Kalakhammer clans than a major consumable. They export most of the wine; the principle buyers being jaded humans looking for something different.

Get 30 more wines at Strolen’s Citadel: 30 Bottles of Wine

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Reader Tips

WWII Supers Campaign Ideas

In RPT #496 I posted a tip request from a reader looking for help starting up a WWII alternate history super hero campaign. Here are how your fellow readers responded. http://www.roleplayingtips.com/readissue.php?number=496#request

10 Campaign Ideas

From Jerry McWaters

Idea 1: Have the party hunt for artifacts or gold treasure in Egypt or Romania, since Romania has massive gold mines. This could bring in Vampire/Werewolf into the game if he already has the material or necromancers bringing undead to deal with the intruders.

Idea 2: What if Hitler is an immortal and he is actually Machiavelli or Napoleon in disguise? And the party finds something related to the truth. Hitler was obsessed with the occult.

Idea 3: PCs help the Resistance fight against any of the three factions. Just loot Star Wars, change the Empire to #3, make it land-based, and there is plenty of stuff there and the players won’t know about it.

Idea 4: Shake it all up. The party members are actually German patriots believing their government is right. And they are fighting to stop invaders. In their minds, the US would be terrorists.

Idea 5: Japan creates first WWII armored suits (mechs).

Always fun!

Idea 6: “The Dirty Dozen” but PCs are unknown to the majority of the military. How to do their job without our boys thinking they are the enemy, and not killing our boys when they target the supers?

Idea 7: Look through comics and make the Avengers/Justice League any group of a WWII movie.

Idea 8: D-Day with German supers and possible Japanese allies awaiting at Omaha beach.

Idea 9: Keep the villain non-super, just a regular government official. Lots scarier, plus possibility of enemy supers defecting to escape forced enlistment.

Idea 10: CIA is operating sooner. How would they respond to a supers agenda? Could use X-Men story lines there.

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Use the Godlike RPG

From Mark of the Pixie

I would strongly advise Sean to check out “Godlike“, a great WWII supers game.

Even if you don’t use their system (which is quite nice), they have a lot of stuff which helps set tone and atmosphere for a WWII supers game.

[Comment from Johnn: Good call, Mark. That reminds me of Dennis Detwiller’s 12 World War II GMing Tips — RPT#171 ]
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Three Villains

From Klydesdale

I usually played (mostly DM) for a superhero themed game and this request is right up my ally. Though my heroes were modern time (year 2000), I would send them to the past on occasion, so I feel that some of my ideas and villains here would work for Sean.

The Langolier

One of the biggest villains that I had, which really wasn’t a villain to my heroes, but kinda “Grey” neutral, is a woman genius who was immortal.

Her name was The Langolier (yes, I liked the name from that Stephen King movie). She was originally born in the 1600’s France and was brought up in a socialite and royal environment. She has that sophisticated, superior attitude and air about her and speaks in a thick French accent. She wears elegant dresses, has long blonde hair, and is thin and beautiful.

She is immortal, doesn’t age, and after the French Revolution she left France and escaped to Germany. She called it home, in exile from her family estate outside of Paris. She continued to develop her social skills, learned many languages, sword play, fencing, education, science, engineering, etc.

She helped Germany when they went to war, created weapons, tanks, planes, machine guns. She was a Nazi in WW2, developing many of the zany war machines that came out of that war. She was not publicly given credit, as women were not regarded with that level of respect, but she worked for Hitler in the background, advising many high Nazis. Her goal was to aid the Nazis in taking over France, which they did with her help. Revenge for the French Revolution and driving her out so many years ago.

She is power hungry, but has a much bigger ego. Most PCs can goad her by verbally attacking her stature in society, her upbringing, her intelligence, etc. She is the type to come after the PCs directly without henchmen, using many gadgets she invented to fight them. She does have Nazi SS henchmen she commands, but they usually do menial tasks she does not have time for.

Sean will have to adjust Langolier for his version of his game. As with mine, it followed our current timeline and the Nazis lost the war. In my game, Langolier is a war criminal my heroes are after and run into sometimes. She’s now trying to re-start the Nazi movement, with modern technology. Robots, lasers, rockets, cloning Hitler, engineered super soldiers of true Aryan blood, etc.

Red Guard

Another villain I have is the Red Guard. Similar to Iron Man, a Soviet soldier in a mechanical suit that was used in the Soviet campaign against Germany in WW2. But unlike Ironman, this suit is big, bulky, rusty, red, has a sickle and hammer crest on the front, and a rocket pack on the back that trails black sickening coal smoke when he flies.

The suit looks terribly scary. And it’s meant to be that way. It has a lot of weapons on it: tank-killer cannons, missiles, machine guns. Imagine if the Russians make a T34 tank into a suit of armor for a man; this would be it, and then made it scary as all hell!

The voice is heavily mechanized as he doesn’t reveal his face to talk, just a speaker (booming, distant like a propaganda speaker on a tower). He speaks with a thick Russian accent, and for added terror, when he flies around, he can emit an air raid siren to terrify people on the ground.

The armor is thick and hard, and it was meant to be involved in heavy tank battles with the Nazis. He is slow, and it will take time for him to power the suit on, or to recharge/refuel it.

Die Kriegerin

Another villain I had, which was discovered and created by The Langolier, is called Die Kriegerin (The Warrior Woman). She is the spirit of a Valkyrie in the body of a specially chosen German woman.

The Langolier found some old Norse Mythos texts and a shrine on how to imbue the spirit of a Norse God into a mortal and set-up the experiment. (Presumably to do this to herself to have godly power, but she wanted to test this out first on someone else. She’s not stupid! LOL.)

A German girl was chosen, who was as pure Aryan as possible for generations and generations, was a virgin, blond hair, blue eyed, etc. The ceremony took place and the girl was imbued with massive power from the heavens.

Once all the fire and explosions of mystical energy subsided, there stood a woman, not a young girl, standing around 8 feet tall, athletic, muscular, toned and beautiful, wearing golden armour and a sword around her waist. She spoke only in Nordic (which Langolier knew and could also speak), and found that it was the spirit of a Valkyrie that joined this body, not a god.

But still, this worked out well for the Langolier, as Die Kriegerin is motivated by death and gathering souls for Valhalla, and would use her Valkyrie powers to accomplish this. Being told of the war (from Langolier’s Point of View of course), Die Kriegerin was more than happy, honour bound and dedicated to assist her Nordic Germanic people in repelling the “evil” single Christian god invaders of the fatherland.

She is strong, her sword emits a powerful energy beam, and her Valkyrie Armour is indestructible as it comes from Valhalla and forged by gods. She will become weak after prolonged fighting, as it is a weakness in the human body she is fused into. But she will only need to rest to regain her strength. She is totally devoted to Germany as it’s a northern country similar to Norway, so trying to negotiate or reason with her will not be successful.

In my game timeline, the allies were aware of Die Kriegerin’s presence and spend a lot of effort to kill her. The Battleship Bismarck was her flagship, and was sailing to France to pick her up to transport her to attack America, which is why England was so determined to destroy Bismarck during WW2.

Other big campaigns, tank battles and air wars were launched when the allies found her leading a German army and tried to destroy her. The war with Germany turned to the allies when, on a massive air campaign, they successfully bombed her unconscious and captured her. With Die Kriegerin no longer able to aid Germany, they eventually lost the war. She remains in captivity in suspended animation hidden somewhere in a deep dark bunker to keep her knocked out as the allies and the modern world do not want her released ever again.

Hope this helps. Good luck!

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5 WWII Myths

From Max N.

My letter will sound a bit offensive, but I am trying to tone it down. As a Russian I am offended by Sean’s suggestion of running a campaign where the Soviet Union is part of the Axis.

To be more constructive, I suggest every DM out there trying to run a WWII campaign should read the following cracked.com article: The 5 Most Widely Believed WWII Facts (That Are Bullshit).

Still, I wish Sean luck with his game and I hope I didn’t sound to angry or trollish. WWII with supers is a great idea if done right.

Thank you,

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A Russian and a Roleplayer Get Player Input, Figure Out Campaign Style

From Rob Corrina

The setting you came up with sounds extraordinarily worthy of a campaign. I hesitate to give specific suggestions since I am ignorant as to your aesthetics and sensibilities.

I will say that, if you plan to run the players as a team, then I recommend letting them pick from a list of jobs, such as leader, pilot, etc. I have had success with this.

Also, if you need fodder for the campaign, I think you should poll your players, perhaps one on one. I think surprise is over-rated. You never know what ideas your players might throw in, but every idea opens doors.

I think you might also want to decide what narrative your campaign is most similar to. Is it filled with spies, intrigue and coups like Frank Herbert’s Dune? Are the heroes’ noble intentions and plans for revenge doomed to failure and death as seen in the works of Frank Miller? This might be a good area to poll your players about.

You may want to alter some rules to fit the narrative you decide on. For example, the A-team was taken prisoner in almost every episode; you may have a rule that if the team losses a certain percentage of their hit points or armor points that they automatically get captured. (Queue daring escape music.)

Also consider the culture of this world and its war. Why is no enemy killing the players when they are weakened, knocked out, or trying to surrender? Are the players also expected to give quarter to any enemy who asks for it? Is there some sort of exchange? i.e. ‘These guys let me live last time.’ In a nutshell the world should have its own morals.