Don’t Give it To ‘Em! Seven Ways to Improve Role Playing by Managing UberToys

From Joel Stottlemire

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0602

A Brief Word From Johnn

The Evil Conspiracy That Killed My Cleric

The following reveals a dark conspiracy between two of my fellow players and my GM to remove my cleric from the game before he even had a chance to cast a single Bless or Summon Water.

It’s a new campaign run by my friend, Colin. I open Hero Lab, make a cleric, and send it to Colin for approval. I also tell him my plan for the cleric in gameplay. And this is my first Big Mistake – never reveal things to the GM.

Colin responds with change suggestions to my PC. The group is min/max, and I don’t have time to hunt down all the possible +1s, so I ask Colin to supply me with a revised PC that’s to his satisfaction. This is my second Big Mistake – never surrender control of your character.

The PC I get back from my GM’s “tweaks” is very different. So different he’s not even a cleric. He’s an inquisitor.

I email fellow players Jeff and Jason for help building my cleric to group specifications. Sure, they said.

Again, I not only don’t get a min/max’d cleric back but I get a completely different character.

Fine. I get the hint. I’ll play the inquisitor.

I show up to the session and lo and behold, but what do I find is none other than Jeff playing my cleric!

What the hell, I ask.

Oh, just a mix-up. Haha. Weak laughs through slitted eyes. I spot dice clenched tight in white-knuckled hands.

Then the conspiracy unravels. Halfway through the session Jeff lets slip he knew my plans for my cleric. Plans I had only told one other person in the entire world. That person being…the GM.

So now the truth finally comes out. GM tells the players, “Don’t let Johnn play the cleric. He’s got this plan.” Players nudge, nudge, and wink. I get blocked, cut out, tossed a mere inquisitor.

Ok, fine. I’m onto you. The Inquisition is on!

Now I ask you, dear reader and fellow GM, was I treated fairly? Did I deserve a whole conspiracy thrown at me just to forestall my simple little plan? I’ll let you weigh the facts and decide. I’m sure you’ll agree with me.

Oh, what was the plan, you ask?

Simple. My cleric has Cure Light Wounds. After years of study, service and supplication, I can now channel the power of my most generous god, and heal 1d8+1 damage a few times each day. Essential for dungeon delvers risking their lives.

And when a fellow party member – a brother to me – makes a healing plea, the healing auction commences.

My much-valued party members bid on the spell, and highest bidder wins. I then cast the spell and channel all the energy my god deigns to offer me that moment into the winner.

And the winner simply pays me their winning bid per hit point healed.

This is a fast and most democratic way to handle party healing. There’s no favoritism or even judgement on my part. It’s affordable and accessible to all party members.

And for this small service I wanted to generously offer to my fellow delvers, I was conspired against. And at the top of this terrible, mean and evil-hearted conspiracy is the Game Master.

Should’ve known. Lessons learned.

Now excuse me, I’ve got an Inquisition to run. A small little Inquisition I call… The Reckoning.

Don’t Give it To ‘Em! Seven Ways to Improve Role Playing by Managing UberToys

An over-abundance of powerful toys in your campaigns takes the creativity and spark out of your players. You get an overpowered party that blasts, shoots and hacks through situations without doing any real role playing.

That’s boring and frustrating. It’s kind of hard to advance the story line when your party is just a blender with legs.

Here are seven tips how to regulate the toys already in game, remove the toys, or create “toy light” playing sessions


The least disruptive way to bring powerful toys in line is to give them unexpected consequences.

Maybe there’s a rip in the fabric of space time that causes lightning discharges every time the power is activated. Maybe the local deities have agreed they don’t like humans playing God with their toys and have started unleashing demons on overzealous toy users.


Switch your game up by having your party get gassed, stunned or teleported off without all their cool stuff.

What a shock when they overpower the guard only to find they now have to find their way out of the pirate prison with nothing but their wits and a bit of rope.

You’ll have to go a little easy on them, but you will definitely see sparks. You can always give them their stuff back later.

Disenchanting Rust Monster

True story. My GM decided we had gotten too powerful and hit us with a disenchanting rust monster. Imagine my surprise when my critical hit not only damaged my weapon but broke its enchantment. Ike!

That didn’t actually work out too well for the GM. It was only a few hours after all our toys had been disnechantingrusticated that we met a full grown green dragon. So much for our party.

Still, if your party is too powerful and you just need to get some goodies out of their hands, steal, break or disenchantrusticate them away.

Game Where There Are No Cool Toys

Hands down, the best single session game I ever played was a retelling of the first Aliens movie running on a modified version of the old Top Secret SI rules.

We’d all seen the movie. We all knew we were going to die. Seven working stiffs with no weapons versus a perfect killing machine. It was like trying to fight off Jaws with a toothbrush. What a night!

We invented new weapons, rewired the ship, tried to sacrifice each other to the alien, and died with nasty, bloody chunks missing from our bodies. It is strange to say, but playing a “doomed to die” scenario really gets inventive play out of people.

Make The Toys Expensive To Use

Sure, a shoulder-fired, full bore plasma cannon is a great weapon, but chronic ammunition shortages will keep your players from overusing it. Same for magic items.

“Charges” can seem like a real pain to track, but they do put a nice limit on players who are over eager to use the ability.

I saw this done well with a genetically modified alien species. Yes, they could fire bladed exoskeleton bolts as a natural weapon, but it cost them energy in the form of constitution points. The GM made the players get fatally hungry if they overused the weapon.

Make Toys Unwelcome

Nothing like a good diplomatic mission inside the embassy to take the flame thrower out of a guy. There are plenty of environments in any role playing setting where big guns just aren’t welcome.

Playing in medieval Europe? Send your party to the Vatican. On Mars? How about Corporate HQ?

Getting them wrapped up in a mission in a naturally limiting environment will definitely get them out of the hack and slash.

When All Else Fails, Outgun Them

You are the lord of this tiny universe. If the ninja T-Rexes don’t impress them, fire up the trans warp torpedoes. Once the party figures out you are coming after them with fire power they can’t match, they’ll start moving sideways.

If they’re not used to getting out-gunned, it may take them a bit to get the hint they need to get creative. But hey, everyone needs to practice filling out those character sheets from time to time.

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The most powerful item I ever had was the all-seeing orb thing I stole from a fellow PC. The better role playing happened when he (a powerful wizard) called me out in front of the whole party. Hehe.

Whether you’re in the stars or the local dungeon, consider a little toy management so you can find out what your player characters are really made of.

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Joel Stottlemire is the Chief Editor of the Dryden Experiment and co-author of Dryden RP, a free Science Fiction Role Playing Game set in the Dryden Universe.

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

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

Tip 1. Use Scrabble For Character Names

I’ve been playing a “Scrabble look-alike” game online a lot. I notice as I rearrange the letters I come up with some pretty interesting names.

If a person has a Scrabble game at home, they can do the same thing by drawing tiles out of the bag to see what they come up with and rearranging them on the rack (the physical racks hold 9 letters at a time).

As you come up with interesting names, write then down for NPCs. Don’t like what you get? Keep some tiles and return the others to the bag and redraw until you have names that sound good for your campaign.

Tip 2. Finishing Campaigns

In a recent post on the Game Master Tips G+ page, Marcus Burggraf kicked off a nice conversation with this post:

There is something I realized just a few days ago. In all of my 20 Years if GMing I have only finished two campaigns!

I have only been playing with a single group of players all this time, but we never played weekly, usually once a month, often less. That of course was part of the crux because most campaigns just fizzled out after 12-18 months.

This led me to some soul searching and I realized the biggest issues where probably the following, in no particular order:

1) Too Subtle Plots

Players could not really dig into the plot because by the time game day came around no one remembered what happened. Subtle hints I let drop were seen during the session, but forgotten afterwards.

2) Boredom With The Campaign

I have so many campaigns or rather worlds I want to play in, I just can’t keep up interest for more then 10 sessions at most. After all, that is usually one year of play time!

3) No Planned Ending

Probably the biggy. I have a great idea for a start and single encounters, but as I usually wing it with no planned ending.

4) Too Many Sessions Before A Big Goal Is Reached

At the moment, some of my players and myself prep an online campaign. We might be able to play bi-weekly. This time I want to make sure I have my ducks in a row and the campaign actually finishes. Therefore I am working on a single plot, an arc of about ten 2-3 hour sessions. And I need an ending.

What To Do?

First off question: Does anyone have similar issues? How did you solve them? Coming up with an ending is hard for me because I want the decisions of the players to steer the campaign somewhat.

Second question: Any useful articles or books to get my ass in gear? I recently read “Play Dirty” and it was a kick to the balls for my GMing, made me rethink a lot of things on how I run the session itself. Looking for something similar for campaign planning.

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As it turned out, Marcus was not alone. Many campaigns never end…they just fizzle out. His four points rang true for many of us. The offered advice included:

Johnn Four: I’ve been planning endings now for awhile. I keep them fluid.

For example, last campaign I pictured a crazy all-out battle raging across the entire city, gods flying in from the heavens (and hells and abyss) and the PCs chasing through the streets after the villain. As the campaign evolved, I just kept re-imagining possible endings.

The final ending didn’t solidify in terms of my planning until a couple sessions before. But it ended up having several elements I’d been hoping for all along.

By not forcing outcomes, and rolling with developments, my experience is you can still picture cool endings and have them happen.

Daniel T. Beckmand: There is a theory you should plan a goal, but not the middle ground.

So say you want the ending to be about invading creatures from the far realm. Well, then start using aberrations and let them encounter a few mad cults and other stuff.

Then it’s up to the players to choose how they wish to act with the info.

It also helps with foreshadowing.

Mark Falkenberg: Since Savage Worlds 1st Edition and the many Plot Point Campaigns for this rules system, I have played through (from beginning to end) really A LOT of those PPCs.

They combine the best traits of story-driven, plot-oriented campaigns, and free-form, open, character-centered campaigns.

The Events for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (MHR) are structured in a similar way. And even the “age-old” Classic Traveller campaign “The Traveller Adventure” has a similar structure.

Instead of starting an open campaign and hoping for the best, I prefer the plot-point structure. That allows me and my groups to actually play a campaign that is custom-tailored to my players’ characters AND still structured along a dramatic plot with an achievable end.

Michael Christensen had a lot to say on the topic, but here are the high points:

Too subtle plots are especially problematic…I have learned it is okay to have BIG NEON SIGN clues. Players get frustrated when they can’t figure out what’s going on.

One of my hurdles is not playing regularly. I tried to send out emails right after a session, right before a session, and sometimes an extra between sessions. I try to encourage player world building and roleplay between sessions via email, have players read a summary at the start of new session.

I try to focus on story and NPC agendas, and how to move those along. If I know an NPC’s agenda, I can more easily adjust his/her actions according to how events are unfolding, because I know the goal that is being worked towards.

I will also let the world continue with events and agendas I have set up, even if the players skip past them somehow. This will create future events they can meddle with instead.

Robert Rydlo pointed to this article on, saying, “This should give you a defined structure and a defined showdown within a campaign length of ~6 to 8 sessions.”

How To Create Blockbuster Box Office Hits With Your Players

Finally, Marcus commented to say he had found the 5×5 method from Dave at Critical Hits and was going to give it a try: The 5×5 Method.