7 Great Gming Tips From Your Fellow Readers

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0035

A Brief Word From Johnn

It’s vacation time again in the Four household. We’re headed off for two weeks to do some camping & fishing. That’s why this week’s issue is early.

Your next issue will be August 14th–a little over two weeks from now. My apologies for skipping a week. I’ll be thinking of you as I float peacefully on a lake, pole over one side of the boat, legs over the other, basking in the sun and dreaming roleplaying dreams…

This week I thought I’d pass along some of the great tips other readers have sent in. I really appreciate the time you take to send in your tips and I’m happy to share them so everyone will benefit.

Yours truly,

Johnn Four
[email protected]

Use Poker Chips To Track Points

As a GM, I had a bit of a hard time keeping up with my players’ “spendable attributes”. Be it mana, willpower, gnosis, or blood points, it got to be a small task for me to remind my players that they needed to check off what they had spent. They did not fail to check on purpose all of the time. In the middle of an intense session these things happen; but it became clear we needed a new system.I therefore brought poker chips to the table. This did three things right away, one *very* unexpected:

  • First, it was easy to see who declared what. As most spendable attributes need to be declared before an action or roll, this gave us a good record as to what was spent.
  • Two, I could easily see who had what left. This completely put an end to a “problem gamer” who was not always fully truthful about such things.
  • And the third “unexpected” benefit was that these “points” became more precious to the players. They suddenly had hard currency that represented the attributes, and when that dwindled down to a few measly chips, a small bit of tension appeared as they realized that they were running out of luck, power, or what have you.

-Alan Williams

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Use A Timer To Create Tension

In the [last] issue you are covering tension and asked for feedback. I have one suggestion. I have used it once and it worked extremely well. I had a noble figure (King, Queen, Prince, etc.) captured and put in a tent village. The captors established a very rigid scouting or patrolling schedule to look for the expected pursuit. To create tension I used a kitchen timer and set it for 25 minutes. It took some experimenting to get the right length of time, but I eventually found 25 minutes was plenty.

Each time the timer went off that meant one of the patrols was crossing a certain section of the campground. If the PCs were in same the area as the timer’s area it caused tons of tension. Quite effective.

– Paul Jurgens

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Add NPCs to the Party & Use Them As Plot Hooks

When I am DM, GM, whathaveyou, I incorporate a lot of NPCs active in the quest. It’s a habit. They follow the players’ decisions a lot of the time, so the players don’t just coast through the quest. The NPCs are loyal until the players are going away from my quest, anyway. Then I sometimes make a particular NPC just go off on his or her own to tackle whatever problem there may be. Then the players have to decide whether they are going to let the NPC go off on his or her own, most probably to their death, or go after them.


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Use a Love Interest To Create Tension

One thing I didn’t see mentioned was the age old “bone-of- contention” : love. It may not be “politically correct” to incorporate love (or just simple lust) into a game, but when done correctly it certainly adds tension, especially if you have the enemy NPC get the object of the PC’s affection. It adds not only tension, but also gives the PC a chance to roleplay an unusual event.

If you tie the love interest into some tangible reward (family influence, large bank account, etc) then the loss of that love interest is much more palpable.AND, if you have the love express interest in more than one PC in a party, the tension increases throughout the game and makes for some very interesting nights.

-Casey V. Dare

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A Great Example of Creating Tension: Roleplaying & Contests

Here’s the setting. A mid to high level ranger player character, known as Sir Brion, Defender of Loch Dragon, is present when an older ranger dies. As his life fades, his blood running into the ground, this older NPC ranger, Sir Brendan, Defender of St. Malo, passes on the holy relic Axe of Hurn to Sir Brion. Weeks later, a high-level NPC ranger, Sir Drennen, Defender of the Perilous Forest, hears about this and thinks the axe is in the wrong hands – it should be his. He stews in his forest all winter, unable to travel and confront the younger Brion.

So spring comes. As soon as he is able, the bitter old ranger leaves his woods and heads to where the player characters are wintering at Loch Dragon. The two meet and there is instant sparks flying in the initial polite but strained conversations – as roleplayed between me as DM and a long time player. The new players present could tell something was up, but didn’t know the details.During the break before dinner, Brion explains about the death of his mentor Brendan, the Axe and the tension.

The new PCs understand what is at stake – the relic Axe of Sharpness and personal honor.Dinner comes – roleplayed from start to finish without breaking character. There is a little banter before the Sir Drennen begins to challenge Brion. The animosity is evident. The other PCs sit quiet, letting these two figures find their own way. The player and I act out every move, every facial expression. We pound on tables, scowl, raise our voices at each other. At one point I think I stood up angrily.

Drennen questions Brion’s merit as a ranger. Questions his prowess and courage for watching his mentor die. Questions his worth to hold the Axe.Brion explains the circumstances of the tragic and heroic death of the old, veteran Brendan. He explains the loss he feels and what it felt like to watch Brendan die. He would give up the axe to bring the man back. He questions Drennen’s honor in coming and questioning the decision made by a senior, respected ranger.

At times the verbal conflict threatens to get physical as one or the other comes close to crossing that line. But nothing like this happens – the two are both on the same “team,” after all. And could be friends under different circumstances.

The issue is settled when Drennen challenges Brion to a series of tests – done that night by the light of the moon. The victor blessed by Hurn to hold the Axe, the loser giving up all claim. Brion agrees and we play out the series of challenges.

After the session ended, one of the new players said to me “that was the most intense game I’ve ever been in.” And I had to agree with him – the tension in the air was thick enough to cut with a spoon. I hope I can recapture that role-playing glory again someday!

-Derrick Sloan

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Seperating the Players Can Be Very Exciting

Hello, here’s one tension tip often overlooked by many GMs. Though very difficult to pull off effectively, if it is pulled off it will add a totally new dimension to the game….Simply separate the players.If a portion of the players go off in another direction to check something out, or the group gets split up for some reason, then send them into separate rooms and roleplay their groups separately.

This can cause strong tension as neither group knows exactly what the other is doing. It is also great for slipping in possible traitor story lines as the main party doesn’t have a clue as to what went on in the other room.Again it is difficult to pull off and requires patient players, but if timed right and used infrequently enough not to detract from the game it can totally change the feel of the game.


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NPC Names Resource

We were sifting through your archive and found a reference to character name suggestions….A while ago, we discovered a site that has over 400,000 (!) names, sorted into various geographic and cultural categories. Most of them are real, but the site accepts names from anyone, since their main purpose is to perform a “Name Analysis” to discover the effects of the name on your life…The site is at Kabalarian Philosophy

-Riina and Gareth

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Thank you again, everyone, for your fantastic tips!

Have any tips to share? Send them along to: feedback@johnn4admin

Have more fun at every game!

Johnn Four
[email protected]