6 More Ways To Use E-Mail To Help Your Game

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0039

A Brief Word From Johnn

The votes are in and here are the results from issue #37’s question: What should I do with the readers’ tips that you are kindly sending me and are piling up in my Inbox?

  1. 16% Post the tips to a special web page on the RoleplayingTips.com site.
  2. 39% Send a Special “Readers’ Tips” Edition of the newsletter once in awhile in addition to the weekly issue.
  3. 32% Add them to the newsletter and make it longer.
  4. 7% Set up a forum/discussion board on the RoleplayingTips.com web site.
  5. 6% Other suggestions welcome.

Thanks to all of you for your input. I’m going to do both b) and c) in moderation: a longer newsletter every so often, and a special edition once in awhile. I have a strict ‘No Spam’ policy so the Special Edition is completely voluntary. If you do not wish to receive it just let me know.

And keep sending your GM tips in. Tips readers and I are finding them valuable!

A reader sent in this great feedback to me recently: “I think the tips summary [at the top] is a waste of space, I’m going to read the whole letter anyway =P It “spoils the surprise” of what arcane knowledge lies below.”

Do you agree? If you have a brief moment, let me know with a blank e-mail:

Yes! [email protected]: The Tips Summary is not necessary.

No!  [email protected]: Do not remove the Tips Summary.

I’m always keen on hearing your opinions and learning how to improve the newsletter’s layout.

Cheers, Johnn

Johnn Four
[email protected]

Eavesdrop On Player Discussions

From Richard Garner

Our Metalface game deals with humans trapped in robot bodies. This allows certain characters to directly communicate with other characters without anyone else hearing a word. Most of the time this is secret information that, if the other players were to know about, would alter their tactics. So we use e-mail to allow the characters to communicate information or messages to each other.

[Johnn: Thanks for the tip Richard. GMs, if your players use e-mail to discuss your games between sessions, then ask them to cc: you in each e-mail they send. This way you can gather ideas, make plans and learn more about your players and their characters.

Most players will not have a problem with this. Some players may say no however, because they are worried that you will use any and all information against them. If this is true then don’t push the issue. If it isn’t true, let them know the reasons for your request and that you have only the best of intentions.

When reading the player e-mails, pay special attention to:

  • “wish” requests (“I wish we had a lot of money so we could afford to…”)
  • speculations (“Maybe that old man we met is really…”)
  • opinions (“That last scene was great”)

Each of those items are clues about where you can take your campaign next to help your players have more fun.]

Deal With Private, One-On-One Events Away From The Table

There are a number of events that need one-on-one time between the player and GM to resolve. Try to deal with them away from the game table so that the other players do not need to wait for you two to finish.E-mail is great for this scenario because it’s one-to-one and you can store the e-mails for later reference.Examples of (somewhat strange) one-on-one situations that can be roleplayed well by e-mail (or ICQ or chat for that matter):

  • Dream sequences
  • Ethereal, astral or otherworldly encounters
  • Life after death
  • Hallucinations
  • Lengthy or complex illusions
  • Intuitions
  • Insanity

Polls, Surveys, Questionnaires

I have used e-mail polls, surveys & questionnaires many times in my campaigns with great success. They can help you learn and plan between sessions.If you could ask your players anything about your game and GMing, what would it be?E-mail allows your players to respond to these types of questions privately and comfortably. Players are often more forthcoming using e-mail as well, so you will have better success at getting honest answers to tough questions.

Survey question examples:

  • Critique your GMing style & skills
    Keep an open mind and a desire to improve when reading the replies!
  • Feedback on how the last session went
    Don’t be afraid to reply back and request more details to clarify various players’ answers
  • What do the players like about their characters?
    Use as future plot hooks & story ideas
  • Give theories about various mysteries in your campaign
    Gives you ideas & suggestions

From Richard Garner

We use a service (which we are about to drop) that has offered a nice little feature called “polls.” With polls, players and non-players can secretly vote on the outcome of certain NPCs or other events in the campaign. This helps me see what people want and plan out future sessions much better. For example, we have an NPC who is leading the group. He’s displayed all types of characteristics; self- doubt, humor, rudeness, confidence… etc. I have established a poll to allow people to vote on what should become of him. Most people have suggested that he be damaged beyond repair and left behind. So, guess what’s going to happen to him in our next session? I’ve found this gets others interested in the game and wanting to play as well.

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Ask Players To Contribute

From Lyn Rhaevenwhicke

I’m part of an online freeform RP group called Winds Of Change and we keep an online newsletter. Each player can subscribe, and the players themselves send in the updates, which are integrated into the newsletter and sent out daily. This keeps our players informed on the happenings in and around the WOC world, as well as the condition of their surroundings (i.e.: If a tornado rips through the area, it’d be nice if everyone knew instead of just thinking that it’s all pristine and perfect the next day.)[Johnn: also, this is a great tip if you are open to player contributions to your world. For example, if a player has a character who comes from a far-off land, ask him to send you descriptions and information of that land. If you like the ideas add them into your campaign setting.Other examples of player contributions by e-mail:

  • Character’s favorite tavern
  • PC’s guild details, entry rules, fees, famous members…
  • Family description: family tree, careers & wealth levels of various relatives, infamous relatives…]
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Send News Headlines As Plot Hooks

From Pete Schneider

One thing I’ve done with e-mail is to send out news headlines. This not only allowed me to plant clues and background information, but also gave me the chance to establish a campaign feel, and introduce important NPCs.[Johnn: an excellent way to sew plot hooks into your game and save time. By just sending the news headlines you do not need to come up with the details right away and, if you invite questions from players, you may get an idea of which hook they’ll pursue.]

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Use On-Line Services

From Rowan Dunch

Hi Johnn,

This is my first issue of roleplaying tips – I certainly like it so far!One recent innovation that I have used, both as a player and as DM, is to create a mailing list at one of the free listservers (I use http://www.egroups.com/). This makes it easy to share vital information with all concerned at once, and probably most importantly, serves as a publicly accessible archive of campaign history. In the list that I participate in as a player, the majority of the traffic actually comes from the players as we struggle to come to grips with the various plots and enemies arrayed against us.

From Mark W. Bruce

One thing that comes to my mind, since it is a tool that I use extensively in my campaigns, is the importance of a web club, such as eGroups.com. Not only does it allow a DM to use e-mail items, it allows for online chat with players, posting of news items on the message board, polls, file storage, calendars for planning your games ahead of time and much more.My players and I have been using eGroups since last winter, and it has helped our games tremendously. We only get together every two weeks due to our differing schedules, and the eGroups site allows us to remain in touch for game (and non-game) issues, and allows me to distribute files and information to individuals or the group as a whole. It is a most valuable tool!

From James Bell

A key feature that we’re offering [at http://www.fierydragon.com] is the use of private message boards for campaign communication.

A DM can register his or her campaign with our message board administrator and list which people will be able to access their private message board. The sign up is free, and you can post anytime and include image files. We’re trying to encourage taking care of the little details via the net, and save the juicy rpg adventures for the gaming table (we all have those memories of spending 2 hours buying equipment before the adventure!!) —

[Johnn: James’ suggestion of using a message board for image files is a good one. Making graphics that you’ve scanned or found on the internet available on-line would be a great addition to your campaign. Players then have 24/7 access to all sorts of important information.

For example, you could post:

  • An NPC photo/picture gallery
  • Monster gallery
  • Maps (i.e. use your paint program to add on journey & route information taken by the PCs during the campaign, along with key historical event/encounter locations)]

E-mail is also a handy way to deliver additional NPC information to your players. For example, a pre-game e-mail sent out a couple of days earlier in which a henchman gets into a bar fight might demonstrate what pushes this NPC’s buttons without having the PC’s either bail out the henchman or discover the hard way he is sensitive about this or that.

Once, before an expert NPC gave the information sought by PC’s, I sent out an e-mail in which the sage got into a controversial debate with the local high priest.

Especially long speeches, conversations where the PC’s don’t take part, or anything that would take up more time at the gaming table than it might be worth, are all good candidates for an e-mail in between game sessions.

I also recommend handing out experience points through e- mail, since you have a moment to calculate the points after the adventure, and no one has a good idea of what everyone else got.

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E-mail is a great tool for helping you save time and manage your campaign. I hope you find a way to use it in your campaign. And let me know if you employ e-mail in other great ways than those mentioned here.

Have more fun at every game!

Johnn Four
[email protected]

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

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

Easy Mood Lighting For Atmosphere

From Russell Spickelmier

Here are some tips that have worked for my two groups. Maybe they’ll work for yours.

I was looking for a unusual effect for a major villain of a 3 year campaign. He had a specific piece of music and a nice miniature but so did several other lesser villains. As an experiment, I loaded the track lighting with green light bulbs. Whenever the big villain appeared in a scene I’d turn on the green light and play out the encounter. I’d only use the green lights for that specific character so as to reinforce the relationship. From then on the “green light” serves as a signature of the villain as well as a visual cue to the players that things have just gotten very serious.

That instance worked so well that I and my fellow two GMs expanded on it. The color range is limited but here is what we’ve done so far.

  • Blue Bulbs:
    Give a nice feel for underground, outer space or under water.
  • Black Light:
    Good for places where things are not as they should be like alien worlds/dimensions. Conversely, we like to cut out fluorescent paper into signs and squares for windows, then paste them on simple cardboard boxes to represent the neon lit streets of a modern or cyberpunk city. Fluorescent paint can be used for graffiti. Black light bulbs get very hot very fast, so take some time to secure them from tipping and take the time to warn the players not to burn themselves.
  • Red Bulbs:
    Set a Dantean underworld, volcanic caldera or turn them on during a vehicular battle to denote alert status or on emergency power. That last one has been a real favorite.
  • Green Bulbs:
    We use them for a specific purpose like the aforementioned “villain’s signature”, for specific types of encounters like ethereal undead or radioactivity. Whenever we use these we try to space encounters so that the effect doesn’t become routine and undramatic.
  • Orange Bulbs:
    Like using red bulbs, though orange seems to work better for fire. Lends a nice sense of urgency to a scene.

Finally, on rare occasion, we’ve used several colors in succession to add a sense of time. Specifically, the PCs were searching for a vampire’s lair during the daylight (normal lighting). As the daylight ebbed we switched to an orange bulb for sunset. Then as night fell we put in a blue. The ebb reinforced a gradual “turning of the tables”.

There are several places to find color lighting. Hardware stores usually have several varieties but can be too expensive. We usually find what we want for a reasonable price at music stores or party supply places.

Hope these work out as well for you as they have for us.

Note: We make a point to install a dimmer switch set to about 30% on the room’s primary/regular lighting which allows for the colored lighting to retain effect while providing light for navigating to the phone, kitchen, bathroom etc.

[Johnn: thanks for the bright ideas Russell!]