Getting Player Feedback

From Mike Bourke, Sydney, Australia

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0305

A Brief Word From Leslie

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Leslie Holm
eisel at

Getting Player Feedback

Players should impact the direction and content of the campaign. However, good feedback can be hard to find. Some players are uncomfortable criticizing the GM, who puts more work into the campaign than anyone else. Others prefer to wait and see where the GM is going. Some have trouble articulating exactly what is right and wrong, what they like or dislike.

In addition, some referees don’t take criticism well—the amount of effort they invest in a campaign tends to make them defensive.

What’s needed is a mechanism for generating positive feedback to the referee:

  • Feedback that helps him direct his efforts and steer the campaign in the direction the players want.
  • Feedback that’s not focused on what’s already happened, but on what’s going to happen next.

This article is intended to provide such a mechanism.

Ask For An NPC List

Ask each player to list 3-5 NPCs they want to see more of in the campaign. These NPCs can be existing ones identified by name, or can be new ones identified by role.

With each, there should be a line or two of commentary about what part the NPC would play in the campaign. This could be the villain that everyone loves to hate, a girlfriend’s ex- boyfriend, or a mysterious vizier who keeps popping up and leaving significant-sounding riddles for the PCs to solve.

For example, one player once suggested to me it was about time another player’s PC married his girlfriend. Everyone had lots of fun when the girlfriend trapped the PC into proposing.

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Ask For Sub-Plots

For Their PC

Ask each player to list 3-5 short-term subplots they would like _their character_ to be involved with. One of my players once wanted to lose his favorite fishing lure and spend the whole session searching for it. I used the idea as a plot hook, leading into a little story of obsession and how far someone would go in pursuit of something most people would consider trivial, in this case, a fishing contest.

For Another Character

Also ask each player to list 1 or 2 short-term subplots they would like to see _another character_ be involved with. The other character could be a PC or an NPC. One of my characters once suggested that a billion-year-old artificial intelligence NPC had had a lot of time to muse, and that a book of philosophy by him might be worth reading.

Through a number of subplots, that book (the first of 25 volumes of about 10,000 pages each) was eventually published and became the foundation of a new cult, which then became the superhero team’s primary source of income for a time, raising a whole slew of thorny issues for the players to resolve when certain passages were misinterpreted.

How _did_the characters feel about taking money derived from a cult who practiced kidnapping and brainwashing? And if they put a stop to it, where would the team’s financing come from?

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Ask For Plot Arcs

Ask each player to list 1 or 2 long-term plots they would like the whole group to be involved with. This could be anything from stepping up the war against drugs to overthrowing the evil king. It should be something that will have long-term repercussions for the PCs and the game world.

Ask For Boundaries

Ask each player for 1 or 2 things they _don’t_ want to have happen to their characters. These should ignore the obvious – most players don’t want their characters killed, for example. Is there a direction that the players definitely don’t want to go in, a merry-go-round that they definitely want to get off?

Resolving Contradictory Plot Ideas

Once the GM receives this input, he can start integrating player requests with existing plans. The result is a more equitable balance between GMs and players in the future of the campaign – and no hurt feelings to contend with.

Of course, there is always the risk of contradictory requests. Resolving these is not as difficult as it may appear. There are, in general, three types of contradictions to be considered:

  1. NPC development
  2. Campaign style
  3. Plot focus

NPC Development

Two types of possible contradiction spring to mind. The first relates to NPC involvement, where one player wants to see more of a given NPC and another wants less.

This often indicates the NPC’s personality is not sufficiently developed, or the NPC’s plot involvement is monotonous. The NPC’s full range is not being shown, or it doesn’t have enough range to reveal.

Resolution: have the NPC focus on the character of the player who requested to see more of him, and in a different way to what has been seen thus far.

For example, there might be an overbearing, overzealous general who is perpetually jumping to conclusions and acting hastily. One player might find these antics amusing, another might be tired of the same thing happening time after time. Having the overzealous general begin a romantic pursuit of the character whose player was amused changes the NPC’s role in the campaign, and focuses the NPC on the player who wants to see more of him, while at the same time giving the player who wanted to see less of the NPC reduced interaction.

The other type of contradiction occurs when one player suggests such an NPC role change while another player wants things to remain the same.

This is not a contradiction–the NPC should be able to do both at the same time. If he can’t, the NPC will have to come to terms with two mutually exclusive desires, just as a PC (or a real person) would. The result will be character development that keeps the NPC fresh and interesting.

It’s worth noting that, when two plot suggestions are unrelated, the referee can generate lots of entertainment for all concerned by arranging matters so there _is_ a contradiction. It’s even more fun if that contradiction is in what a PC wants, rather than an NPC.

For example, you have player who wants to highlight his PC’s obsession with protecting of woman and small children? Introduce an 8-year old evil genius. Will the PC let him escape, or rescue him if required? How will the other PCs and NPCs react? How will the evil genius react?

Campaign Style

These contradictions are more significant, at least on the surface. For example, one player wants more puzzles, one wants more combat. Perhaps one player wants longer plotlines while another wants shorter ones and more, final resolutions.

Like the NPC contradictions we looked at, resolve campaign style contradictions through creative combinations and mixes.

For example, you could resolve the first contradiction mentioned by introducing monsters where one character has to puzzle out how to defeat the enemy while others keep it busy. Simply adding a conflict to puzzle situations—with some time critical element to the puzzle so that it can’t be ignored while the enemy is dealt with–would keep both players happy.

The potential solution to the other example is using episodic scenarios, each of which leads to a new problem, and, hence, a next scenario. This format has been around since the adventure serials of the 1930s. Go watch the Indiana Jones movies, or the Babylon-5 TV series, for ways of implementing the combination.

Plot Focus

These are the most difficult contradictions to resolve. For example, one character wants to get more involved with thwarting the drug trade, while another wants more deep- space adventures.

They are also the most provocative of creativity on the part of the referee. Once again, the requests are not incompatible; the actual problem lies in the assumptions at the root of the implementation of the two requests. Identify the assumptions that are in conflict and the rest takes care of itself, with effort and ingenuity.

Resolving the example problem requires identifying the key assumptions in conflict–that the drug trade is a terrestrial problem, and deep space adventures aren’t. To implement both, link the drug trade to a deep-space situation, which could be an X-Files-like conspiracy with the drug trade being used to soften humanity up, or to funnel wealth off-planet, or whatever.

Perhaps the reason law enforcement efforts against the drug trade have been unsuccessful is because department funds are needed to finance a secret war against would be alien invaders.

Resolve the assumptions and you suddenly have substantial plotlines jumping out at you.

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

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

Campaign Newsletter Example

From Allyson Y.

I’ve created an in-character newsletter to enhance plotlines. This can take many forms. For instance, if the characters take action that affects their world, it will be in the paper. If the mayor of the city is involved with vampires, the paper might report how oddly the mayor is acting, etc.

All the latest vamp news is in code, and it has articles about the Red Cross worried about blood shortages, and the increase in Caitiff and thin-blooded vampires.

Here’s a copy, with the code below, so you can see what I’m talking about (Word 1.3 MB).

304 Newsletter Example

Sith Karamel is a Malkavian that the PCs had come into contact with. “Club” is the Succubus Club, an infamous vampire club that White Wolf wrote about.

Blood Money Code

Camarilla: good guys
Prince: Prince Charming
Primogen: Seven Dwarves
Brujah: punks
Ventrue: stockbrokers
Tremere: wizards
Toreador: artists
Malkavian: loonies
Gangrel: riffraff
Nosferatu: rats
Sabbat: bad guys
Lasombra: Shadows
Assamite: assassins
Independents: undecideds
Salubri: tri-views
Humans: Doggy Bags
Clanless: Orphans
Thin-blooded: Water babies
Book of Nod: Bible
Gehenna: Armageddon
Golconda: heaven
Diablerization: eating
Infernalists: satan worshippers
Auspex: ESP
Potence: Superman strength
Presence: charisma
Fortitude: toughitude
Thaumaturgy: magic

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Online Names Resource

From Webmaster

I came across your website and thought our site might be of interest to you and your site visitors in thinking of names for RPG characters: Think! Baby Names

Baby names resource on the origin, meaning, and popularity of first names.

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Buy Low/Sell High – Mechanics For Trade in RPGs

From Mike Bourke

Some time ago, I was a player in a Traveller campaign in which trade became the vehicle used to carry us from adventure to adventure, i.e., buying things in place “x” and selling them in place “y” for a profit. Much to the group’s surprise, we found that there were no game mechanics for handling this relatively mundane pursuit.

I resolved to write some simple rules when, looking into how other game systems had handled this, I found that no system had rules for this.

The link below is to the rules I wrote. While they were intended for use with Traveller, they are generic in nature and can be adapted to deal with any game system and any setting. Substitute words like “Country” or “City” or “Village” for “Planet” or “Star System.”

The general practice is still buying low, moving the goods to somewhere where you think you can get a better price, and trying to sell them. Anyone who has an RPG where players try to buy and sell things- even things they have looted from dungeon hoards–will hopefully find them useful.

Trade In Traveller:

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Teach ‘Em Young

From Leslie Holm

When my children turned 9 or 10, I introduced them to roleplaying. They could read and write, and understood, to a degree, the different races and classes and what to do in different situations. I still had to help them figure out what dice to roll each time, and when they could use bonuses and other intricacies of Dungeons and Dragons. Way back then, that was our only choice for roleplaying.

The times, they are ‘a changin’. The 2 and 3 year olds who are under my feet all day are now learning to roleplay. Did I hear a chorus of ‘impossible’? Not at all. Remember the old ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books? Any fairy tale or children’s book can become an adventure in making choices and roleplaying different situations.

Try it with Hansel and Gretel. Read aloud as far as the father abandoning the children into the woods. Then put down the book, and ask your young charges, “Behind you is the trail of bread crumbs you left, which will guide you back home. Ahead you see a path, leading to a house made all of gingerbread and candy. Where do you want to go?” The children make a choice (obviously the gingerbread house), and a consequence of their action is that the birds eat up all the breadcrumbs, leaving the kids without a trail home. They have just learned that for every action, there is a reaction.

Sometimes you can diverge so far from the story, you will find yourself creating a whole new one, based on choices and decisions your children have made. You are now the GM to your children’s characters. As they grow older, you can begin to introduce dice. Start small, with 1d4. Explain that there is a different consequence depending on which number they roll. If it’s a one, they will stick to the breadcrumb path. A 2 will lead them to the gingerbread house. Rolling a 3 leads them in a totally different direction, and a 4 brings a new character to talk to them.

Once they’ve mastered narrative roleplaying, teach them how to create their own characters. Have them choose their favorite character in a book? Decide what makes that a special character to them, and have them incorporate some of those traits into their own.

Now as you roleplay with your children, with a book or without, teach them how to make decisions based on the character traits they’ve developed. Your 5-year-old likes Snow White because she’s pretty and kind to the dwarves. Now she must use kindness in different situations. When she meets the queen masquerading as an old woman, your child’s character must treat her kindly, even though the child knows the old woman is evil.

It won’t be long before your little one is creating characters who can get out of familiar situations, but then don’t we all create characters who are as powerful as possible?

As the child progresses in each of the steps, add more and more rules to the mix. By the time you have teenagers, you’ll have ensured you always have someone to game with—at least until they find their own cyberpunk gaming group, and leave you behind with your D&D.

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Immersive Session Starts

From Dave McKay


To immerse players at the beginning of a session we do the following:

  1. After the socializing and visiting, I call that the session is beginning.
  2. I ask the players to recap to the group the last session’s events as they remember them. Most of my players keep a character journal of sorts and they will use this, quoting from their writings. This can be quite entertaining and engaging, especially if a player writes well enough to fit the character.

    As an example, we have a self-absorbed, somewhat egotistical bard. The player’s journal captures this and we all enjoy listening to “Sigurd the Magnificent” and his take on events. Having players keep their own journals is a great way for them to keep involved and maintaining a character memory.
  3. We have a house rule that involves something known as “Campaign Points.” I can award these to PCs who maintain journals and contribute to a good session start. I do not award these on writing ability or story telling–it is the effort I like.
  4. I have made several CDs of gaming music. By playing these the players also know that the session is underway.

As far as the dilemma of a player not being able to attend a session, our house rule is that we will continue with that PC taking part with their actions dictated by how the PC has acted in the past with similar situations. This is another reason why I find it beneficial to award experience and try to get other administrative working completed to date at the end of a session. If this is going to be more than one player unavailable, we will usually cancel the session.

Upon returning the next session, if the player wanted to cover something from the missed session I allow them to go back in time to cover that, but only if it would not affect any outcome to date.

A good example would be some background activity that was possible while the party was in a particular town, such as purchasing a new item, researching some legend or lore, etc. Often, the player will make me aware of this in advance so it is covered in moot.

If there are rolls to be made by the player, we can do that immediately after the session, in between, or just prior to beginning the session.

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Fractal Props

From Dominique Michaud

You want a new look for those big, freaking bugs?

Your high-elves are extravagant jewellers? Why not show some samples like this:

You want to show what the elaborate, stained glass windows of the church looks like? Take a look a this picture:

Your characters are traveling to the plane of water and you want to show them what the trip looks like? This animation may help you:

You might find other images useful here as props:

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Sample Tarot Readings For Games

From Lea H.


Since the tip I sent on using tarot readings for enhancing games, I have published three of them in my blog. They are specifically for the ICON games that Mystic Station Designs is running at ICON 25.

You can see them here:

Lady Kena’s Journal (2nd entry, Mar 22, 2006)

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Use Balance For Height Considerations

From W. Kent Taylor


I’m writing to make a suggestion to include in David Newland’s “Exploring Underground” tip. He only mentioned hazards of the footing variety. Having visited a few caverns in the Shennadoah Valley of Virginia, I felt the hazards of head clearance should also be mentioned.

I smacked my head a couple of times on low ceilings, and I’m 5’11”! Too, I wasn’t wearing a helm or anything of the sort that would’ve increased my effective height by a inch or two. Of course, there would be an even larger increase in effective height if a helm has a crest (horns, animal figure, or similar adornments).

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Use Chess Sets For Minis

From Simon & Tess Moore

Figures: Some say they are the biz, but they are a complete pain in the neck for RPG clubs. They are costly and a hassle to cart around. We managed to find a solution with a basic chess set. A travel chess set packs up without a snag, the board becomes a battle mat, and the pawns can pass for basic creatures.

Books in laptop bags: Yep, most people have a laptop bag of some sort. Unpack all your computer stuff, and bingo, you can fit about 4 rule books. Velcro straps stop them moving about. Lots of pockets for your Palm/PDA, dice, and adventure materials.

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Dice and Diceless: One Designer’s Radical Opinion

From Mischa D. Krilov


I’m pretty sure that Vitenka meant to find Erick Wujcik’s article, “Dice and Diceless: One Designer’s Radical Opinion” as hosted on the Forge.