A Highly Effective Gm Self-Improvement Tool: Setting Roleplaying Goals

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0055

  1. Split Your Goals Into 3 Categories
  2. Make A Wish List
  3. Prioritize Your Wish List A, B, C, D
  4. Pick Your Top 5 Goals
  5. Divide Your #1 Goal For Each Category Into Small Tasks
  6. Make Deadlines
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A Brief Word From Johnn

Happy New Year!

Since 1996 I’ve set personal roleplaying goals at the end of December, and had a lot of success doing it. I’ve tried a couple of goal setting different methods over the years and now use the process discussed in this week’s issue because it’s fun and easy.

I highly recommend putting some time in organizing how you’d like to improve or change your GMing over the next 12 months. And, being a new year, you’ve got a clean slate and a great opportunity to start.

On another note, does your game world’s cultures celebrate a new year or a changing of the seasons? Festivals, solemn ceremonies, a day of rest, strange customs, boring speeches… If not, take a lesson from our own world and borrow a few ideas.

Next week’s issue is back on the regular Monday schedule. See you then!

Johnn Four
[email protected]

A Highly Effective Gm Self-Improvement Tool: Setting Roleplaying Goals

Split Your Goals Into 3 Categories

The first thing I did was to split my goals into 3 distinct categories:

  1. Roleplaying Group Goals, such as:
    • Frequency of sessions
    • Group organization
    • Player management and development
    • Character advancement (could be a Campaign goal too)
  2. Roleplaying Campaign Goals:
    • How can you make your sessions, adventures and stories even better?
  3. Game Master Self-Improvement Goals, such as:
    • Creating compelling stories
    • Planning more effectively
    • Better NPCs

Dividing things up this way helped me organize my thoughts better. “Roleplaying” and “GMing” are such broad categories, in my mind, that I’ve found it hard to focus on goal setting in the past. It’s like staring at a blank sheet of paper and having to write an essay on anything–a sure recipe for writer’s block.

Also, I find that I’m more effective at achieving goals when I can attack from several different “fronts”. Rather than having one big list of goals and tackling one goal at a time, I now have three smaller goals lists and will simultaneously tackle one goal from each. Progress will be a little slower, but I’m improving in three areas at once.

You can lump all your goals into one list, choose more categories or choose different categories. Whatever suits your style.

Make A Wish List

Next, doing one category at a time, I made a list of all the things I’d like to improve or change. I didn’t worry about the “how’s” or “if’s”, I just wrote ideas out and didn’t judge them.

To get my brain moving, I wrote down the following questions at the top of a page, and used one page per category:

  1. Group goals: “How often would I like to play this year, where would I like to see my players’ characters by the end of 2001, and how can I make sure this happens?”
  2. Campaign goals: “What are 20 things I can do to make my current D&D campaign amazing and compelling to my players?”
  3. GM goals: “How can I take my GMing to the next level?”

So, take a few minutes to sit down and think of all the things you’d like to change or improve about your roleplaying hobby, and feel free to use questions to start the ideas flowing.

Prioritize Your Wish List A, B, C, D

Now that you have a bunch of potential goals down on paper, you want to make sure that you focus on the most important ones first:

  • Goals which will have the most dramatic impact on your game
  • Goals which will have a significant impact on your game and will require little effort for you to achieve
  • Goals which will be a lot of fun for you to do and you want to get started on right away.

So, go through your lists and prioritize your goals from:
A – most important, to
D – least important

Pick Your Top 5 Goals

For each category you have, re-write your goals into Top 5 lists. Go through your A goals and decide which A goal is the most important. Then choose your next most important A group goal, etc.

If there’s still room in your Top 5 and you’ve finished with your A group, go to your B goals and choose the most important ones from that group. Then your C group and, finally, your D group, until you have created a Top 5 goal list for each of your categories.

Divide Your #1 Goal For Each Category Into Small Tasks

For each of your categories, take your top goal and figure out what actions you need to take in order to achieve it. Make a list of all the things you can do to succeed at your goal.

This list then becomes your To Do list.

Try to keep all of your To Do’s down to 15 minutes or less. For large tasks, break them down into smaller and smaller chunks until you have 5-15 minutes items.

I find that small tasks are much less daunting to tackle than big ones. And this means you won’t want to procrastinate as much.

And, you can choose a small task or two from each of your categories to perform daily so that you end up accomplishing a lot on several “fronts” over the course of a week, month and year.

Small tasks are very easy to fit into your day, between commercials, standing in line-ups, etc. as well.

Make Deadlines

We’re almost done.

For each task on your To Do list(s), put a deadline beside it. When will you get that thing done by?

Be sure not to overload your days with tasks. It’s better to consistently do one small task from each of your lists every day than to try to cram a whole bunch of tasks into a single day or weekend. Although I do use evenings and weekends to get several tasks done, I consider these “bonuses” which then help me beat my deadlines.

Deadlines help motivate you and help you better balance your roleplaying projects to your life’s demands.

Your goal’s deadline, then, is the same as the deadline of the goal’s last task. i.e. if the final task needs to be done by March 31st, then your goal’s completion date becomes March 31st.

If that deadline looks too far away or too close, change the deadlines on your tasks. There’s no unknowns for you anymore–you know exactly what you have got to do, so use your To Do list as a road map and plan your itinerary carefully.

Once you achieve a goal, give yourself a hearty pat on the back! Then tackle the next goal on your Top 5 list, break it down into small To Do’s and set deadlines.


If you follow these 6 steps, what you end up doing is carefully planning out and achieving roleplaying success with a minimum of effort.

First, you start by deciding what is most important to you. You make one or more wish lists then prioritize them in two quick steps designed to minimize angst and indecision.

Then you pick your #1 goals and break them down into a series of small, manageable steps.

Finally, you commit to taking these steps by setting personal deadlines.

You’ll find, as I do, that focusing on one small task at a time is very easy and a lot of fun. You’ll look back a week later and be amazed at your progress. A month will go by and you’ll stop and be excited about how far you’ve come.

Assume that achieving your top goals is possible this year. Look at your Top 5 list. Stop for a moment and imagine what it will be like to have met those 5 goals a year from now. Will it make a difference to you, your group and your hobby? If so, then I strongly urge you to start planning today!

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

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

Building Tension, Using Literature For Inspiration

Building Tension

From Juan J. Cuellar

A great way to build tension is using dreams and nightmares, and of course, not letting the player know if what he just dreamed was true or false. Maybe dreaming of a killing and waking up covered in blood, things like that.

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Building Tension II

From Aaron

In response to your request for our own tension builders in a campaign [from Issues #33 & 34], I think I shall throw in my two cents.

There is an element of tension thoroughly intertwined with surprise. For example, if you see the monster down the passageway, you know he’s there and you then choose to fight the battle.

On the other hand, if your party turns a corner and BOOM! their worst nightmare pops out right in front of them, the frantic “What am I going to do!?” creates tension and excitement simultaneously.

Similarly, if the players are searching in a forest for a known killer, and let’s say they know it has four legs and has gorged people’s stomachs with what looks like vicious bites. All of a sudden, the breeze stops… A misty, indefinite tension should quickly slip into the hearts of all the players (and this will be reflected in the actions of their characters).

As they ponder the latest mystery, a tree branch drops from above only 10 feet in front of them… And suddenly the last member of the party is surprised from behind by a flying, four-legged monstrosity! The sheer excitement and on-the-edge suspense will definitely inject tension into the atmosphere of the players.

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Using Literature For Inspiration

From Sam Brown

I was just reading through the Roleplaying Tips Weekly archives. I noticed no mention of the great Niccoli Machiavelli amongst the Villain Ideas. His book “The Prince” defines many villainous (and some not quite so villainous) ways of usurping and keeping princely power. These can be used as powerful villain-developing guidelines by a clever GM.

Example using The Prince:

A City is ruled by a Prince who has ignored many of the rules of proper governance. A villain sees this weakness, and decides to take over. He deduces that the best way to acquire power over the City is by inviting the Prince and his allies to a “Party” and making sure they never leave alive.

The PCs are tasked with either preventing the massacre and/or preventing the Villain from solidifying his ill- gotten position after the “Party”…Of course, the best way for PCs to do that may end up being THE VERY SAME TACTIC!…ouch, coups really bite!