6 Quick Game Master Organization Tips

From Johnn Four and Hannah Lipsky

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0412

A Brief Word From Johnn

NPC Contest Update

First my vacation, and now Gen Con is delaying the NPC

Contest wrap-up, but we’re getting closer. I’m coordinating with Chatty DM and will be contacting the prize winners soon.

I Finally Finished Chung Kuo: The Middle Kingdom

David Wingrove wrote a sci-fi series in the 90s that begins with the novel Chung Kuo: The Middle Kingdom.

Chung Kuo

I picked it up at the Granville Street Bookstore in Vancouver in 1991. I have tried reading it 3 times, getting a little further into the book each time (at least, according to the dog-eared pages I stumble across), but never past the 100 page mark.

Something about the book made it difficult for me to read further. However, I started the book again at page one a couple months ago, and while on vacation I finally finished it. 17 years after starting it, I’m done. It feels more like a major victory than just reading a book.

This time around I enjoyed the novel a lot. It focuses more on characters than on setting, and there are some great ideas in it for near-future campaigns and NPCs for any game. I’ll let Wikipedia brief you on what the plot is about, and before I begin #2 in the series, I’m going to bask in my victory of persistence for a few months.

Game Master Links Now Readers Tips

A quick admin update: I’m rolling the links you folks send me into Reader Tips due to frequent overlap and to speed up e-zine creation. Feedback on the e-zine’s format and layout are always appreciated and replied to.

Have a game-full week.


Johnn Four
[email protected]

6 Quick Game Master Organization Tips

While players battle orcs and goblins, GMs face a far more fearsome foe: disorganization. Here are a few quick tips on keeping your game and your gaming stuff organized.

Laminate Your Maps

I mentioned this tip in Issue #358. Gamer Printshop is an inexpensive way to get your maps laminated:

I find laminated maps easier to use because I’m not as worried about ripping or harming them. Things you can do with maps protected by lamination:

  • Write on them with wet erase marker. During long overland voyages, I’ll draw dotted lines to track where the PCs go. This is a useful log to have. I’ll also draw dots along the path and dates and key events or encounters. Once the campaign is over, I wash the maps off and they’re ready for the next group of travelers.
  • Post-It Flags. To make finding maps easier, stick colour- coded Post-It Notes or Flags to one edge. Blue flags to indicate Forgotten Realms, red for Greyhawk, green for Ptolus, for example. You can also use flags to mark important or hard-to-spot locations on maps.
  • Hang them like posters. Clips and other poster hanging methods let you put maps up on walls for group display.
  • Battlemaps. Find tokens to scale with the map to represent PCs and their foes and you can use the maps as battlemaps. Some maps are built to the scale of miniatures for this specific purpose. Lamination lets you use dry erase markers to note additional info or draw additional details.
  • Roll them up. Map tubes are a great way to store laminated maps. I put all my maps together, rather than keep them with their book, and store them in tubes.

Note that maps still fade in the sun, even if laminated.

Turn them backside-up when not in use.

Create A Landing Strip

The Unclutterer website advises having a landing strip near your front door so you can disgorge the accumulated items from your pockets, and whatever you are carrying. It’s a fast and easy way to unload and sort.

The Landing Strip

The same tip works well for post-session clean-up. If you GM in a shared or common area of your residence, then you need to clean up the table and area after each game session.

However, you might be tired after the game and don’t feel like cleaning. You might have an appointment and need to leave quickly. You might need to go to sleep right away because you have an early morning.

Based on the Unclutterer’s tip, create a place where you can quickly move game materials like minis, dice, notes, binders, books, and maps. Dump your gaming stuff in this place each time and sort it out later, or have this place be where you quickly and easily sort everything.

You might have a fifty cent basket ready for dice and minis, a couple of magazine holders ready for books, a hanging file folder eager to receive loose pieces of paper, and so on.

You could also have a small garbage can waiting to bring to the table so you can quickly fire in all the garbage. Also, a plastic bag or two are handy for recyclable cans and bottles. Here’s a Lifehacker tip on how to store plastic bags quickly and easily:

Got bags? Make a plastic bag keeper

Poker Chip Hit Point Counters

A couple of readers ages ago let me know about these great mini poker chips (thanks!):


They are 1 inch in diameter and numbered. This makes them perfect for use as counters. I ordered a couple of boxes for $6 and think they’re great.

For example, we stack them under minis on the battlemat to record current damage done to foes. I also have a tray of them behind my screen and use them for round, duration, and major foe damage counters.

Use Duo-Tangs

The GM binder is a typical place to store notes and paper information. Recently, I’ve started using duo tangs or small portfolios. You can get a bunch of them for the same price as a binder, and they take up far less width.

They are perfect for storing batches of papers that don’t get removed or added to often. For example, player guides, completed sections of game world information, printouts of rules, and custom charts.

A couple weeks ago I went through a box of old campaign binders on a quest to free up some empty ones. It was easy to remove the useless papers and condense notes I wanted to keep for nostalgia or ideas in duo-tangs. I freed up 6 1″ inch binders and replaced them with 1 inch of duo-tangs.

Customized Shortcut Icons

I organize a lot of my gaming information digitally, and view it on my laptop rather than printing it. I’ve found that custom shortcut icons can be a big help during play.

I create a temporary folder on my desktop, and fill it with shortcuts to files I think I’ll need in the upcoming session. Then, I’ll change the icons of groups of files based on what I need them for. I use the ones that come with the computer, rather than creating my own, so some interpretation is required.

For example, I used the sheet of paper with the big red A icon for city guards in the town of Aldren. The tree icon was for their forest-based rebel opponents. When I needed stats for a guard or a rebel in play, I didn’t even have to read filenames – I just clicked on a red or green icon.

The way to change shortcut icons, at least in Windows XP, is to right-click on the file and select Properties. Under the Shortcut tab, click on Change Icon.

You should be presented with a set of colorful, mostly computer-related icons. Be creative and you can find something to represent just about any force in your game world. If you use music tracks in your game, shortcuts can work for those, too.

Pencils for All

I’ve been reading a lot of discussions lately about things to do if you don’t have any minis. One common solution is to draw out the battle map on graph paper.

The problem with this is that the GM has to erase and redraw everyone’s position every action of every round, which considerably slows things down.

The solution to this is simple: pencils for all! Everyone can be in charge of erasing and redrawing their own character. If the GM is trusting, players can also take the jobs of circling or otherwise indicating the effects of their powers on monsters, and crossing out or erasing any monsters their character has just slain.

This solution also applies to markers and pens, in the case of whiteboards and dry-erase boards.

What’s Your Favorite RPG? Wushu

From Grant Howitt

I’ll come out and say it – in most standard RPGs, combat (or, indeed, conflict) can be pretty boring. Take D20 for example – it is often the best option both in and out of character to hit the goblin with your axe over and over, until one of you dies. Usually the goblin.

Roleplaying games have vibrant, exciting characters and settings that often don’t bother too much with realism, but their combat rules can be slow and awkward to use past hitting that damn goblin again.

Wushu is an excellent game for anyone who tried to run along a banister to kick that goblin in its sneering face and knock it down a flight of stairs, but was disappointed when their GM stated that a) they’ll need a tumble check, b) the goblin’s not close enough to the stairs, and c) it would do more damage to bring the axe into play.

In Wushu, that goblin gets kicked in the face. He also flies down the stairs and the character strikes a dramatic pose on the banister, then hurls the throwing axe into the support rope on the chandelier that crashes to the ground and wipes out the other five goblins who had just rushed into the room.

Wushu is a rules-light system with one important difference from most roleplaying games – The Principle of Narrative Truth. If anyone – player or GM – says that something happens, it happens. The only exception is if the GM doesn’t think it fits with the tone of the game, and the player is asked to change their action appropriately.

The character sheet is small enough to fit on a cigarette paper (we’ve tested this) and all abilities are freeform -“Two-Fisted Justice,” “Art of War,” “Devilishly Handsome,” “Sneering Necromancer,” and so on.

Resolution comes from rolling a certain number of dice under the rating of your ability. The number of dice is determined by the number of actions you describe in your round – so where “I hit the goblin with my axe” is one die, “I grab the goblin by the scruff of the neck, headbutt him, and hurl him into a group of his allies” is three dice.

There are no penalties on what you describe. Describing your character leaping off a balcony into the mobsters’ car (through the sunroof) and kicking their faces off gains the same amount of dice as hiding on that balcony, firing blindly over the rail, and furiously radioing for help.

It is, then, a perfect way of handling situations that would normally be slowed down by the rules needed to accurately portray them – super heroes, anime, or (the sample setting) The Matrix.

It has also been put to great use in games where a consensual reality separate from the real world affects the characters, or in games where characters have mixed abilities and power levels. A werewolf vampire cyborg mage is, statistically, as dangerous as an unarmed child.

Seeing as characters are no longer defined by their powers or equipment – there are no rules for either – it all comes down to personality.

It’s not faultless, but then again, no game is. The lack of depth makes it difficult to sustain long-term play, especially as there is no mechanical system for experience points (“characters start off badass, and stay that way,” states the text) and it is prone to a certain silliness given the players’ ability to do anything. These can generally be avoided through solid GMing, though, and regularly changing setting and characters can keep the gamefresh.

Wushu, then: awesome, exhausting, and ridiculously adaptable. I’m running a game tonight after our Esoterrorists campaign ended, and the characters are becoming pirates off of the Japanese coast. They may well discover the mecha hidden under the sea and battle great Cthulhu; I haven’t decided yet.

Wushu is available online for free at the author’s website.


Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have some GM advice you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Creating New Cleric Domains (D&D 3.5)

From Scrael

In D&D 3.5, Domains are extensions of a god’s portfolio upon the mortal planes. Each mortal has access to a piece of what makes that god exist. As such, Domains are themed spell lists that come with a specialized power that helps a cleric serve a god better. Domains usually come with a couple of house developer (and house DM) rules for creation.

Developers generally followed these guidelines

  • Domain spells all must have a common theme. For example, the Domain of Death has spells that all deal with creating death, undeath, and outright slaying creatures.
  • Domains get access to higher level spells at lower levels occasionally, if they match the theme of the domain especially well.
  • Domain powers allow one use if it is a bonus to a roll or access to a greater power (e.g. the Strength Domain’s bonus to strength) or multiple uses per day if it is a specialized power of limited use (e.g. the Elemental Domain’s ability to turn or rebuke elementals).

With these guidelines, drawing up a power and a spell list should be a bit easier, although it can be daunting. To help this process out, let’s make a Domain together.

The Domain is called the Domain of Dissolve. It revolves around deities that are primal and want to eat, consume, and reduce the world back into the pure energies that made it. It focuses on the themes of Acid, Consumption, and Absorption.

Domain of Dissolve Power – A Cleric of the Domain of Dissolve can choose one of the following powers:

  • Three times per day plus his/her charisma modifier they may cast the Acid Splash spell as a cleric of their level.
  • Twice per day they may reduce the hardness of any material they touch by their character level.
  • Once per day may, as a touch attack, they may absorb 1d6 HP/caster level from a living target – a Fortitude save (DC:10+Cha Mod+Half of Character Level) reduces this damage by half.

Spell List

  1. Burning Hands (Acid Damage)
  2. Soften Earth and Stone
  3. Fireball (Acid Damage)
  4. Enervation
  5. Acid Fog
  6. Harm
  7. Disintegrate
  8. Shout, Greater (Acid Damage)
  9. Horrid Wilting

And there we have it, the Domain of Dissolve. Each spell complements the theme of the Domain and builds upon what it means to be a cleric with access to these powers, which destroy both objects and beings, and ultimately reduce objects to lower states of existence.

This domain and Destruction might be close in theme, but they have different plans entirely, and execute them much differently.

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One Shot Idea – Let Players Play Future Villains

From Sébastien Boily

re: http://www.roleplayingtips.com/readissue.php?number=396

I want to send you some feedback on a wonderful tips about starting a campaign with an unrelated one shot adventure!

Recently, I decided to end a one-and-a-half-year-long campaign, and it was the first time I actually did so; in the past we would stop playing for a while with hopes to continue later, but always ended up starting new characters or playing a different system

This idea also comes from your tips and I thank you. My players liked that the game ended well. I also told them right away that the next week was going to be a one shot- adventure to introduce the next D&D campaign.

First, they all had some complaints about the one shot. Out of five players, one chose not to play the next campaign because he is about to move out of town, one chose not to play the one shot, and one could not be there for the one shot, though he would have liked to.

So I ended up with two players in a one shot designed for five players (I had seven characters prepared for them) but I decided to play it anyway.

Characters were about 70% designed; they needed to choose the name, roll Hit Points, and place skill points (I had the number of points already calculated for them).

I had designed a short background for each of them with questions that the player had to answer before we started, such has how does he feel about this, why did he do that in his past.

For example, one of the characters (an adept) had been thrown out of both a temple and a mage academy, so I asked the player to write down what he did.

One thing I did to make sure they would not want to keep on playing that campaign is building the characters they were going to use in a way they would not want to keep: I used NPC classes from the GM manual such has adept, warrior, commoner, etc.

The idea of the one shot was to have the players play the first recurrent bad guys they will encounter: a group of brigands made of people who had not planned to be brigands.

For example:

  • A farmer who had a bad harvest and needs to feed his family.
  • An orphan who has fled a big city because of his many, but small, crimes.
  • A hunter who has had a bad time finding good prey, since many farmers turned hunter because of the bad harvests.
  • An adept disinherited by his family because of his failure.
  • A city guard under suspicion for the murder of his wife and her lover.

Those brigands were Robin Hood-like, stealing from the rich most of the time. In the coming game, the rich will be the patron/employer of the PCs, who will hire them to help him get rid of the brigands and secure his caravans. I guess you can see the big picture.

What I like is that now they know the bad guys’ background, even if their PCs won’t. This hopefully will have them think twice before killing in cold blood the poor farmer brigand who does this to feed his four children, and is trying to buy a cure for his oldest son who was bitten by a strange spider a week ago and hasn’t woke up since.

Also, I introduced the future employer as a bad guy for the brigands, but the brigand chief (not a PC in the one shot) has some links of jealousy with this guy. All things they will learn in time.

Having only two of the four players that will play the campaign was a good thing. I can bet that next time I do a one shot adventure all players will try to be there, since it gave them so many clues and things to talk about.

Finally, the one shot gave me a chance to introduce new house rules and try new things without risk of interfering with the main campaign.

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Holiday Adventure Idea: Celebration of the Kitchen Wall

From Sean Holland

Holiday Description:

Annual festival held on the Winter Solstice in the Halfling Free City of Jervonia, celebrating the defeat of the surprise attack by troops sent by Duke of Zarant during the longest night of the year several hundred years ago.

The Duke of Zarant once ruled Jervonia, but it broke away to become a free city, and the Duke lead a force of mercenaries on a night time raid to reclaim the city. The attack was thwarted by a guard who spotted the raiders sent to scale the walls and open the town gates, the alarm was raised and the citizens fought alongside the militia to drive off the Duke’s men.

A halfling matron, whose house was built into the city wall near the main gate, and mother of twelve children, grabbed her cauldron of hot soup and poured it over the walls to help drive off the attackers. This is celebrated by having pies in the shape of a cauldron with crystalized fruit cut to resemble vegetables inside during the festival.

Holiday Encounter Ideas:

  • The Dukes of Zarant have not forgotten the humiliation inflicted on their house years ago. The new Duke intents to start his reign by recapturing the Free City. To this end, he has had his agents hire bands of bandits and brigands, which has lead to increased theft and drunken fights leading up to the celebration. The Duke has brought a cadre of his best knights with him and he intends to ‘rescue’ the city from the bandits, who will attack during the celebration, and then proclaim his rule as protector of the city.
  • The characters, as non-halflings, are pressed into playing the role of the ‘evil Duke’ and his mercenaries during the comic re-enactment of the attack which form part of the festival.
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GURPS Religions And The Mythopoets Manual

From Dariel Quiogue

re: http://www.roleplayingtips.com/readissue.php?number=313

My compliments To Tim Van Der Hout for a really nice article in issue #313 – Putting The Gods Back In Their Place! His tips should help a lot with world building and injecting more flavor into anyone’s fantasy world, and the way he wrote it is very easy to digest.

For GMs interested in more detail on building myths and religions, I found GURPS Religions and the Mythopoets Manual full of great ideas.


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UltraCorps: New Recruits Open Beta

From Johnn

UltraCorps is a classic game with renewed life. It’s a turn- based MMO of space exploration and combat. Starting with a single planet, you expand your empire to other worlds while your foes try to do the same. While this game is not an RPG, I thought there might be a few folks who’d be interested in checking out this old school classic.

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Free d20 Modern Setting: Dreamwalker Revised

From ModernMichael

I’m always looking at new campaign settings for D&D and d20 Modern to keep things fresh and provide ideas for existing campaigns. I found one recently called DreamWalker Revised that allows you to get creative with the d20 modern system.

Characters in this setting gain the ability to traverse the land of dreams, and any dream can be completely different from another. By spending mana, characters can alter parts of the dream world to create weapons, complete objectives, and ultimately, destroy an infestation that causes the host to fall into depression.

With so many in-game possibilities, I recommend any gaming group give it a shot and break free of the barriers that surround so many campaigns.

Print version available free at RPGNow.com:


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Online Tools & Generators: Exalted, Scion, Car Chases, Warhammer, And More

From James McMurray

I’ve been a reader for a long time now and recently have started creating online tools to help me handle mundane tasks, like naming and breathing life into NPCs, getting scenery for spontaneous car chases, and some specific tools for Scion and Warhammer Fantasy.


The tools are:

  • Modern Car Chase Scenery
  • Manses for Exalted
  • NPCs, including names, personalities, and occupations
  • Modern weight table so you know how much that armored truck weighs
  • Interactive Battle Wheel for Scion and Exalted
  • Dice roller for Scion and Exalted
  • Pantheon filter for Scion to show which deities are associated with which traits
  • Warhammer Fantasy crit roller including a couple of optional critical hit charts used by a bunch of people from the BL Publishing forums
  • Tabbed quick reference sheet for scion to help avoid flipping through the books