How To Multi-Task Better During Your Games: 5 Tips – Part II

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0064

  1. Use Game Aids Where Possible
  2. Keep Yourself Fresh & In Top Shape
  3. Have Your Players Help You With The Work Load
  4. Don’t Work With Group Plans, Work With Individual Actions
  5. Use Time Efficiently

Readers’ Tips Summarized

  1. Reduce Your Need To Multi-Task
  2. 3 Multi-Tasking Tips
  3. Establish A Chain Of Command
  4. GM Sources Of Inspiration: History Books
  5. 7 Great Game Master & Campaign Tips

A Brief Word From Johnn

Referral Contest Winners

Well, I tabulated all the referral contest entries, grabbed a d30 and lined up my 15 figurine witnesses for the roll: a hill giant, 10 orcs, 4 goblins and a wizard.

On my first roll, the wizard said the die was cocked. On the second, the dice rolled off the end of table. On the third, one of the goblins said the dice landed outside of the “official rolling area”. On the fourth, another goblin piped up and said the GM touched the dice before it settled, so the roll didn’t count.

The fifth roll landed in my drink. On the sixth roll all the orcs yelled “jinx”. And on the seventh toss, I rolled a 30–but there weren’t thirty referrals and everybody was distracted in an argument over the orc jinx, so I quietly picked the dice up and re-rolled. LOL.

Seriously though, I did use a d30 and here are the two winners of the referral contest:

$30 Gift Certificate: Maxime L. [Arkmyr@…] $20 Gift Certificate: Christopher V. [chrisv…>

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest and a warm welcome to all new subscribers!

Warm regards,

Johnn Four
[email protected]

How To Multi-Task Better During Your Games: 5 Tips – Part II

Use Game Aids Where Possible

See Tips #1-6 in last week’s issue: RPT#63 – How To Multi-Task Better During Your Games: 6 Tips, Part IUse gaming aids to track stuff so that you’ve got more mental room. Here are some old Readers’ Tips plus a couple of new ones from DarkeChilde and myself:

  • My latest discovery is the common cribbage card game board. It’s awesome for tracking numbers like rounds, spell durations, monster hit points, etc. And crib boards have coloured pegs and rows to help identify what it is you’re tracking.Plus, the holes are numbered and grouped by 5’s for rapid counting. And you can use the back row, normally used to count the number of games won, to track things like monster deaths, when upcoming monsters/NPCs will enter the scene, etc.I picked up a travel crib board for $3 at a local drug store. Highly recommended!
  • Figures and maps can help track locations of PCs, NPCs, monsters and items so you don’t have to remember this stuff.
  • Get oddly coloured paper, cut down to 1/3 or 1/4 page size, and use for notes in the game–that way, if the players send you a note, you can find it. Create a colour coding system to differentiate between note types (i.e. GM notes, player notes, to do notes, monster statistic notes, treasure notes…).
  • Keep a few clipboards around–one for the map of the adventure, one for the paper that you keep notes on, and one with a party summary of stats you need from the players.
  • Use copy stands–the things you get to hold books and papers upright and open–to keep a few books open to important pages and easily available while you play.You can also use plastic or cardboard magazine holders to keep your books handy, but out of the way, during the game.
  • Use bookmarks, post-it notes or post-it flags in your rules books and modules to mark pages for quick reference during play.
  • Photocopy the map of the dungeon, and use different colored pens and highlighters to mark:
    • PC progress
    • Where waiting NPCs/monsters are
    • Traps and features
    • Doors that haven’t been opened yet…

Keep Yourself Fresh & In Top Shape

Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean doing 100 push-ups before the game (though regular exercise is wonderful for mental clarity). I mean doing things *during* the game that will keep you fresh and alert:

  • Take a 5 minute break every 60 minutes
  • Eat healthy food (sweet snacks tend to dumb you down after the sugar crash)
  • Stretch and relax your muscles
  • Breathe (people tend to breathe shallowly, which reduces oxygen flow to the brain; try taking a few deep breaths every half hour–post a note on your GM screen as a reminder)
  • Step outside once in awhile
  • Stand up and move around as you GM
  • Clean up the table area, as well as your GM area, periodically during the session.
  • Break up encounter types (i.e. don’t plan 3 combats in a row, put some humourous or roleplaying encounters in- between; or don’t plan 3 intense roleplaying encounters in a row, put some action encounters in between, etc.)
  • Moderate tension (take a break from tense encounters to let everyone relax and gear up for the next tense moment)
  • Drink lots water and avoid sweet juices and pop

Have Your Players Help You With The Work Load

The more help your players can provide, without ruining their own enjoyment of the game, the more you can get done as a GM. Here are some lightweight things your players can do to help:

  • Rules research
  • PC-to-PC discussions: insist players talk to each other in-character and encourage them to roleplay character disagreements, planning, etc. This keeps them busy for short periods and gives you time to do other things.
  • PC action-results descriptions. For example, during combat, I encourage my players to describe the effects their blows and special moves have on foes, especially killing blows. This takes some of the creative responsibility off my shoulders. And the players really get into the descriptions.I also often let them describe their own wounds and wound locations. i.e. “Cyrn, you are hit and painfully wounded with a strong slash of the orc’s sword. Take 11 points of damage. Where did you get hit, and how badly are you hurt?”Your group’s mileage may vary, but I find my players rise to the challenge and do not take advantage of this method; they assign themselves credible wounds based on damage done with good, non-gory descriptions.You can use this technique to share a lot of your description load for:
    • Character Skill use
    • PC special ability use
    • Effects of conflict (whether it be armed combat or a clever exchange of words)
    • Effects of magic, technology, equipment use
  • Tracking: players can track calendars, numbers, initiative, etc. for you.
  • Cleaning, serving food, maintaining the game area.

Don’t Work With Group Plans, Work With Individual Actions

I used to have the group present to me their action plan for a major task and then spend time and effort weighing all the options, calculating effects, determining success, etc.Nowadays, I often have the players discuss their plan amongst themselves until they’re ready. Then, I start initiative and resolve everything one PC action at a time.This suits my style of GMing because I can tackle things in a realistic way on a micro scale. I just have monsters and NPCs react or counter-act accordingly to each round’s actions.

The big picture takes care of itself.I also find that this method encourages better PC planning and teamwork. Plans tend to go awry when it’s chunked down to individual and individually-controlled actions. And all the PCs have to clearly understand their role in order for the plan to work.However, if it suits your story, pacing, game play, etc. to deal with a party plan on a bigger scale then I still do that. Doing things on a round-by-round basis can be time consuming.

And it’s often easier to just say “your plan (does/doesn’t) work and here’s what happens…..what do you do now?”But, working with individual actions, rather than group plans, can often help you multi-task by breaking things into smaller, more manageable pieces.

Use Time Efficiently

Use any opportunity that you can to take care of follow-up items, take a break, or think about the bigger picture:

  • When PCs argue. Let them go on for a couple of minutes before bringing them back on track.
  • When players are planning things, let them plan at liesure until you’re all caught up, and then give them a deadline to reach a decision to get things moving again.
  • When play needs to pause because of a rules clarification, a player has temporarily left the room, etc.
  • While the group has stopped to eat
  • As players are arriving for the session
  • As players are leaving the session/packing up

Next Week’s Tip Request

A reader sent me this email after Issue #58’s tips about finding players for your game

RPT#64 – How To Multi-Task Better During Your Games: 5 Tips Part II:

“I’ve looked all over for some advice/tips and such to bringing new players into a game and keeping them interested but haven’t found any. I thought you might know where I could find some or at least use this as a suggestion for future tips/references.”
– Finmenagon the Headshrinking Bard

Another subscriber asked:

“So here is another little request, or maybe a plea. I am trying to promote roleplaying as a valid hobby…any suggestions for demos, promotion, or anything else? Perhaps a little plea in the tips? Any help would be appreciated. Thanks! Keep those tips coming.”

So, can you think of any ways to introduce new people to our favorite hobby? Send your tips and ideas to [email protected]


Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

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

Reduce Your Need To Multi-Task

From Kate Manchester

Ways to reduce your need to multi-task:

  1. “Railroad” your PCs. Keep the characters together and doing the same thing at all costs.
  2. Avoid combat situations. If combat becomes necessary, have the players roll initiative and make them wait until their initiative comes up.
  3. Avoid discussing administrative issues during the game. Ask prior to starting if anyone has out of character issues, such as spell lists or experience point expenditures and add that if there isn’t, the issues won’t be discussed again until the next break.

Some Multi-Tasking Tips:

  1. Don’t wait for players to decide. If they’re taking too long to mull over their action, move on to another player. Come back to the indecisive one later.
  2. Pass notes to the players. If one decides they want to examine a statue while the others search the room, give the info on the statue only to that player.
  3. Make sure your notes are legible and readable at a glance. Write brief statements in large, clear handwriting so you need only quickly glance at your notes. For example, an encounter with an innkeeper might be written as this: Innkeeper – Dirty, always busy, moans about the bandit attacks. This way you know how he looks and what he’s supposed to impart.
  4. Be organized. You can’t deal with the requests of players quickly if you’re flipping through your notes for some tidbit of information.
  5. Remember to breathe. You don’t want to pass out from lack of oxygen…
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3 Multi-Tasking Tips

From Logan H.

  1. [re: multi-tasking] The skill can be learned, but in general slow, ponderous, meditative people will be resentful at being forced to be ‘go go go!’ type GM’s.
  2. Give each player 10 seconds [on their turn to act] during combat.
  3. You don’t have time to be as polite – stress to the players that you think they as people are great though. Otherwise you will have no players soon. (“I think you are great Pete but you need to focus cause you are off topic and wasting the groups time.”)
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Establish A Chain Of Command

From Alex Bender

Follow the Chain of Command.

While this tip rarely works for small 2-8 player games, I’ve run games at cons and for LARPS that have exceeded this number easily. I’ve found that for those games, the IC [In- Character] chain of command can significantly aid in the method and my ability to multitask. This method also encouraged the characters to Role-play what they wanted to do without just saying: “I want so-in-so to do this.”

I took all requests from “squad-leaders” or “representatives.” These players knew the best way to contact me about the requested information, or how to declare the given action. Also, since the characters worked in these groups, I could handle each group as it occurred. In the end cutting the amount of actual information I had to process at any given time, while still maximizing the opportunity to move on with the storyline.

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GM Sources Of Inspiration: History Books

From Chris Gale

This isn’t necessarily as entertaining as fantasy/Sci-fi novels, but I went to the public library and started doing research on the Vikings, Romans, the Celts, et cetera. It was a great source of information that I’m filing away for a future campaign.

For instance, Viking Kings were often buried in ships along with material possessions and other people (I’m unclear as to whether all the people died at once — by coincidence — or if there was something more macabre going on).

Instead of a dungeon or tomb, you have the players searching for a burial mound. Provide a way to enter the ship and viola, you have a very different gaming scenario.

The books have great pictures of period armor, weapons and coins. In addition, you get a sense for societal structure and can incorporate those differences from one population to the other: not everyone has to live in a castle or hobbit hole.

They also provide names. I find this a constant source of stress when creating NPC’s. Harald Bluetooth was one of my personal favorites.

Thanks for providing tips and a forum to share ideas.

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7 Great Game Master & Campaign Tips

From Mitchem Dean Jones

  1. When I start a new campaign I have a theme….not just kill stuff or puzzles or the like.Some examples: dark ages oriental campaign focused on internal struggles, a futuristic super power game whose theme was just plain volatile, a space opera in which the PC’s were a rock group, like New Kids on the Block, who had lots of debts prior to getting out of the business and so they became bounty hunters…that game is focused on the past coming back to them…sometimes good, sometimes bad, always funny.One thing I like to do before the players start making characters is to make up a name for the campaign and a kinda movie trailer to set the mood of the campaign and to spark interest.Then I sit down with the players character sheets and their history and start to makeup side plot lines for the individual players. I always have “merits and flaws” for the characters that they don’t know about.There should always be unknowns for the players. The characters are the stars of the show and should be treated as such…..spend time on them, bring them to life.
  2. I love the dramatic in roll playing games, it’s so much better than kill, save money, buy better sword, kill more…One thing you can do for coming up with dramatic plots is to imagine the scene, huge, colorful, full of life, heart wrenching or funny. Then figure out how to get there.Example: In my oriental campaign a PC has fallen in love with one of the NPC’s. Well, I was thinking that a very dramatic scene would be for her to die tending his wounds and forgetting her own, so I made it happen.She [the NPC] had this one flirtatious thing she would do….well just before she died she performed the flirtatious maneuver so that I could keep it fresh in the player’s head. Then the PC passed out in the NPC’s arms from blood loss and the NPC died of her own wounds.
  3. To keep consistent description I base my words on some of my favorite authors. Right before the game I’ll read some of Terry Brooks, or some such, so that I have an idea of how the author would describe the scene. Once I have chosen an author to base the description in the game on, I’ll never switch.
  4. I had a problem with combat description until I decided to just go wild….enthusiasm on the GM’s part was all it took. Before, my explanation of combat had the same words as I use now, but I said them as if the PC had just fixed a tractor or some mundane task.
  5. Bring the PC’s stats into the game. If the character has a huge intelligence then have him solve puzzles in his sleep that would take the other PC’s days to figure out. The same with charisma….too many times I have seen players sink their charisma in favor of a higher str or dex thinking that it wouldn’t matter. Well it should.
  6. Another little tip: insta-NPC: I took a small flip top notebook and just went crazy on the pages: each page had physical, mental, social, and beauty ratings of 1-10. Also a few adjectives describing personality, a couple of quirks, social status and money. The stats and descriptions are so general that they work for any system and any setting. All you do is flip through the book, stop when your thumb wants to, look at the page and there’s a NPC for the story.
  7. Pacing: I like fast pacing. I start the PCs as peons and give lots of exp. per session to work them up fast, after a while they become darn powerful and then you get to use the fun stuff that you’ve had sitting on the back burner for so long. This also lets the player build the PC from ground level and have a better understanding of where the PC came from but still have fun with the big stuff.Well thank you for everything your doing for the role- playing hobby. I hope some of this is useful. Take care and happy gaming!