How To Multi-Task Better During Your Games: 6 Tips – Part I

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0063

  1. Learn To Multi-Task
  2. Understand What Things You Need To Track In-Game
  3. Learn To Divide Your Attention
  4. Acknowledge Players Quickly & Briefly In Mid-Stride
  5. Prioritize Your Attention
  6. Use Notes

Readers’ Tips Summarized

  1. Money Tokens Tip & Request
  2. Subscriber Author Book Plug: Heather Grove
  3. Subscriber Author Book Plug: Martin J Dougherty
  4. Re-Use Old Game Material For New Campaigns
  5. Use Song Lyrics For Inspiration

A Brief Word From Johnn

Referral Contest A d30 Roll — Only 6 Days Left

Last week I announced a referral contest and the chance to win a US$30 or US$20 gift certificate from our sponsor, to buy some roleplaying goodies. I would like to thank you for the great referrals that came in!

I also mentioned I’d be randomly determining the winner by rolling dice. The good news for you is that, if I were to roll for the winner today, I could use a d30–which means all entrants have great odds of winning!

So, there’s just 6 days left to enter (plug, plug, lol). Email me for contest & prize details, or read last week’s issue on-line to get the scoop:
[email protected]
RPT#62 – 9 Ways You Can Use Fiction Books As A Gm Tool

Thanks again for your referrals.


Johnn Four
[email protected]

How To Multi-Task Better During Your Games: 6 Tips – Part I

Learn To Multi-Task

Jerod Shuford sent in several excellent tips to me a while ago, but one really caught my eye: #5 Learn To Multi-Task. Here’s his introduction to multi-tasking, in his own words:”I think one of the biggest things that separate beginning DM’s from experienced DM’s is an ability to split your attention between people.

People are not going to talk in turn and a DM has to learn to give every conversation in the room a part of your attention so you know what is going on everywhere.”I never thought about it before, but he’s right. Multi- tasking is a crucial skill for game masters:

  • Makes game play go faster and more smoothly
  • More can be accomplished in a session (i.e. more of the story gets told)
  • Players get to do more, are kept focused and have more fun
  • You have more fun (it’s a rush doing 6 things at once)
  • The less stressed-out you get, the better GM you become

Understand What Things You Need To Track In-Game

A good tip is to first consciously understand all the important stuff you should track while GMing.

Here’s a partial list:

  • Handling multiple player requests at once
  • Tracking current events
  • Tracking background events
  • Keeping the big picture in mind
  • Effects & consequences of PC, NPC, monster actions
  • Tracking where the PCs are
  • What’s around the PCs and in contact with them directly
  • What might notice them by their actions
  • Tracking player interactions (i.e. who’s having fun, who’s not, who’s being quiet and needs a nudge…)
  • Tracking character interactions (i.e. clues for future roleplaying tensions, story ideas…)
  • Keeping players & characters on track and paying attention
  • Game rules
  • Game pacing
  • Real time and session pacing

Whew! That’s quite a list. And your list will be different than mine because your group goals, player needs, campaign style, game rules, etc. will be different.

Here are some things which should not be important to track:

  • Where your dice are (have players use their own)
  • Where your notes are (be organized)
  • Where stuff is (keep the game table clean)
  • Who’s getting along (try to build a harmonious group, or split antagonistic players apart)
  • Basic rules (learn them well, or keep an expert by your side)
  • Outside distractions (i.e. phone, guests, food delivery)
  • Character abilities (the players should be responsible for understanding those rules)

The important thing is to make a list of what you think is important to track and to review it frequently. That way you will consciously learn what’s important to track and make it a habit. You might also bring this list to your game session (pin it to your GM screen?) as a reminder.

Learn To Divide Your Attention

More good advice from Jerod:”Paying attention is key. You’re going to hear it unless your players are whispering for some reason–you just have to learn to process it. You may be talking to a player about something as two others are formulating a plan. You paying most of your attention to the former and part of your attention to the latter will keep you from having to listen as they explain the whole plan they’ve come up with.”Dividing your attention is a great skill to manage, but a hard skill to teach or explain.

Ever heard the expression “if you want to get something done, give it to a busy person”? It’s true. And I think it applies to game mastering as well. Try to keep busy and do more–it may help you divide your attention better and keep- it-all-together.Another example, when I go hiking, I often run the way back down. Even over treacherous terrain–it’s easier than taking it slow and careful. I feel this is because your speed and momentum carry you forward and keep your step light.

You step on a tipsy rock but you’re already past it before you can twist your ankle.Also, hurtling down a twisty, rocky path gets the adrenaline going, keeps you intensely focused and therefore more able to go fast. Can anybody back me up on this?I feel this is also true with GMing. If you’re slow, tedious and thoughtful, then you’ll be less able to multi-task (completely opposite mental states).

Don’t get me wrong though, being a more meditative GM isn’t necessarily a bad thing–especially when you’re doing it for effect/mood/pacing purposes. But, when five players all want your attention at the same time, I believe you are better able to handle them when you’re hurtling downhill than when you’re choosing each step with careful consideration.

So, as an experiment in trying to learn how to divide your attention better, trying GMing *faster*. Talk faster, move more quickly, think faster, get more stuff done in less time. Go, go, go! I know this works for me, and if you try this, let me know how it goes–I’d hate to think I gave out bad advice! [email protected]

Acknowledge Players Quickly & Briefly In Mid-Stride

From Jerod

“Also, players will often talk about something to each other and then just turn to you and say ‘Is that alright?’ If you can just turn and nod instead of having to hear it all again, it saves a lot of time.Last, take interruptions in stride. If you’re talking to someone about something and another player spouts out ‘I’ve got the spells I’ve memorized today written down when you want them’, just nod and go on and get them later.

This kind of thing is key to smooth game play and smooth game play is one of the major keys to immersing your characters in the world.”Awesome advice. The key is to briefly acknowledge the player, mentally slot it for follow-up, and carry on.

You can acknowledge players in a couple of different ways:

  • Make brief eye contact and nod at them
  • Point your finger at them briefly (or give them a thumb’s up)–you can even do this while talking to another player at the same time, so this technique is particularly effective.
  • Raise a single finger to the player as a sign for them to pause because you’re just finishing up with the current player you’re talking to, and you can get to them very soon.
  • Look at the player and say “got it.” Then quickly return to what you were doing.
  • If you are able to process what the player just said, and it requires a dice roll, then without looking at the player, just hold up the kind of dice you want them to roll. Or simply hand them the dice you want them to roll. This keeps things moving nicely.

Acknowledging players is very important. It satisfies their need for being heard. It stops them from continually attempting to get your attention about the same thing–they know you’ve heard them. And it allows them to move on to their next thing–you don’t become a bottleneck for players’ thoughts and plans.

One thing though, you’ve got to hold up your end of the bargain. If you say you’ll get back to a player, then you have to do so. If you acknowledge their request, then you must remember it and get back to it. Failing to do this will erode player confidence in you and they’ll either feel frustrated, or they’ll follow-up more adamantly with you– requiring even more of your attention.

Prioritize Your Attention

After you’ve acknowledged a player, mentally prioritize that item. Get back to the most important or most pressing stuff first. Doing this keeps the game moving.I can think of a specific example from last week’s session. The PCs were ambushed by orcs. A lot of stuff was happening. One player stopped to loot a body and got my attention. I briefly acknowledge him and moved on. Mentally, I slotted the action resolution far down my list because I knew that there wasn’t anything important on the body.

There were more important actions to resolve to keep the combat going.So, after a minute, I simply said to the player that there wasn’t anything important on the body that would be useful right at this moment. I also let the player know I’d get him a detailed list when things calmed down. The player was satisfied with that, and things proceeded well.I can’t stress this enough though: you’ve got to live up to your promises.

When players feel confident that you *will* get back to them later about less important stuff, they can move on with peace of mind and enjoy the game. They will let you off the hook without complaint.

Use Notes

My mother always used to tell me “if you can’t remember something, write it down.” She also used to say “writing things down improves your memory.”I think she was right. On both accounts.So, make notes while GMing to help you multi-task.

Specifically, write out:

  • Things you need to follow-up on
  • Items you need to remember (i.e. spell durations for spells currently in effect, NPC names…)
  • Good ideas for the future (i.e. story ideas, character development ideas, tricks…)
  • Current numbers and statistics

Feel free to enlist your players to help with this too. Ask them to write out their action on a post-it note and hand it to you. This saves you time, keeps things moving and frees up your mind all at the same time.

I often use templates to help with note-taking. I keep a treasure list on one sheet, ideas on another, etc. Lately, I’ve been using index cards, and assigning one to each character/player. I just make notes about treasure, curses, follow-up items, etc. on each specific PC’s card.

Lists are another easy method of taking notes. Keep things point form and use indentation to show relationships between items. And divide your paper into 2 or more columns to fit more stuff on a page; plus use both sides so that you have less paper to track.

And some good advice from DarkeChilde:
“Don’t be afraid to throw away the notes. Get rid of excess paper!”

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

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

Money Tokens Tip & Request

From Bas Lubbersen

I have been using paper money coins for D&D, they help a lot for paying small things. Players love flipping over a coin when paying for a beer.

Now I would like to replace my paper icons with plastic ones, and have finally found a professional store for tokens, mostly used to pay consumptions:

Problem is, I would like them in 4 colors (Brown, Gray, Yellow, White) or (Copper, Silver, Gold, Plat), but I need to take 5000 per color. I would have 20000 tokens. Now my players wouldn’t mind (treasure for them!) but my wife would, and I would be stuck with a bill of $1000 (also not nice).

So I thought, maybe there are more GM’s out there that would like a small bag with these chips. If I could find 19 other GM’s that would want a bag with 1000 tokens, 250 in each color, that were all willing to pay $50 for it, then I would be willing to make the order and send it out.

Any thoughts/suggestions by the rest of the Roleplaying Tips users? Email me at [email protected]. [Johnn: I’m trying hard to keep the ezine focused on tips and prevent it from becoming an announcement/classified list, but the coins are cool…and a good tip!

I don’t know Bas personally, and to cover my end of things, I feel I need to disclaim any ties with him–so you’re on your own with this offer. But, I can say Bas has always responded promptly and professionally to my email follow-ups about this issue, and he is a subscriber, so that counts for something, doesn’t it? ]

Subscriber Author Book Plug: Heather Grove

Last October an electronic anthology came out called “Brainbox: the Real Horror.” It’s a bunch of horror short stories, together with nonfiction snippets on the inspiration behind the stories – where the authors got their ideas. I was lucky enough to get a story published in this anthology. I think it was a little outclassed, honestly.

There’s some amazing stuff in there by authors I really like, such as P.D. Cacek’s “Rituals.” An amazing number of the stories have been nominated for Stoker Awards, as has the anthology as a whole. Having read the whole thing, I think many of the stories in there could inspire some fantastic RPG plots – as could some of the nonfiction bits!

The editor put up an informational page at:

The book can be bought from the publisher at:

Or it can be found at Amazon: Brainbox : The Real Horror

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Subscriber Author Book Plug: Martin J Dougherty

From [email protected]

After Johnn’s comments last time about using books as a GM tool, I thought I might give a couple of examples. And plug my books into the bargain, of course…. You can find my books on Amazon (search under Martin J Dougherty) or direct from the publishers.

My first print novel, Behind the Throne, is a political/military thriller set in a magic-poor world. As a GM tool it would be primarily useful to demonstrate weapons use, sieges and open battle in a fantasy world (in the real world I’m a military historian, swordsman and martial artist – and it shows). Behind the throne is available from

My second novel, The Eye of Glory, is set in Gary Gygax’s Lejendary Earth and is thus useful to describe parts of that world. The action takes place in some easily-liftable locations (the Fighting Chance Inn, the backstreets of Kerinstye, Riverhead Castle etc). And again, passages would be useful to demonstrate fighting modes to a player. The Eye of Glory is due for release any day by Hekaforge Productions…

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Re-Use Old Game Material For New Campaigns

From Dan M.

re: Using fiction books as a GM tool, RPT#62 – 9 Ways You Can Use Fiction Books As A Gm Tool

Another thing to mention is the use of materials from other (older) games for new campaigns.

I am running a D&D3e campaign but the characters are in Belfalas, a province of Gondor in Middle Earth, having been shipwrecked there.

I am using the materials I.C.E. put out years ago and it is working great. I’m using the time as suggested in the module (over 1300 years before War of the Rings) and am giving only translations and nicknames for people and places. For example, I’m calling Dol Amroth “The Prince’s City” and although they have met Saruman the White (who is still an agent of Good at the time but who did take quite an interest in one of the player’s rings until he could examine it closely…) they know him only as “The Skilled Man” (one of Saruman’s nicknames.)

So, cross your game materials in addition to your books. It can be fun and rewarding.

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Use Song Lyrics For Inspiration

From Petter S.

Issue 62 was about how to use fiction as a GM tool. Needless to say, movies and all kind of stories can be used in this way.

I have discovered recently that also song lyrics can inspire in a great way. They often deal with a single issue or event which can be used as a theme or an encounter and few will recognise the source of inspiration.

As an example, my latest Changeling adventure had Puff The Magic Dragon as the main character. From the lyrics I got the way in which he dies, an encounter where the players have to talk him into giving them a ride across a sea, the theme of how the world affects him and I also added his evil drug addicted twin brother..

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Use Pictures As Props

From Mike B.

Hey Johnn,

They say a picture is worth a thousand words…

  1. Need some treasure? Go through all those junk mail catalogs/antique auction brochures and cut out the interesting pictures of “antique” items / jewelry / fancy rugs / furniture / art. Then use them as treasure for your party. When they rake in a big haul, or find something unusual, you can show them this picture, or simply hand it out and let them try to guess what the item is worth or what it is.
  2. As I am going through old travel magazines or Natl. Geographic, I often see pictures of places and I try to think where that would be in my campaign world. So why not cut out those pictures and put them in a file for use when the PCs are in that area?