Minis Tactics: 24 Tips For Cunning Mini Management

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0538

A Brief Word From Johnn

An Awesome Method For Init

I stumbled onto this tip last week. Check out how one GM uses clothespins for simple and effective initiative management:

Kingdom Events Table

In RPT#530, Michael Garcia gave us some great kingdom events spread out over four seasons for campaign inspiration.

Another reader, Geoff, asked me over the holidays if he could lay the events out on a web page for easier reading. I said sure!

And here’s the result:

Great job!

How Was 2011 For You?

Did you have a good year? Got any plans for 2012? Gonna kick butt this year?

During the Christmas break I did my regular annual review and next-year planning. I made a few tweaks to the process this time to consolidate a couple different planning tools I’ve got going.

Then I thought this info might be useful to others, so I created an ebook about it, called Your 2012 Level Up Plan.

Yax and I just sent the ebook for free to all Gamer Lifestyle members.

However, if you are interested, you can get it too. If you want 2012 to be a big year for you, this ebook will guide you through figuring out how to achieve that.

Just signup on the home page for the strategies report, and the 2012 Level Up Plan ebook will also be emailed to you:

I hope you can shoehorn some gaming into this week. Remember that play is important in life, too.

Minis Tactics: 24 Tips For Cunning Mini Management

Last year I held a contest for minis tips and lots of entries poured in. Out of your great ideas, five categories emerged.

We’ve already covered one of the categories, minis for frugal gamers, in issues #515 and #516:

And tips non-tactical use of minis, plus flying and invisible minis, appeared in last issue. Minis In Sessions – 20 Tips (Tactical and Story) Text Version.

Today, we offer the penultimate category: Tactical Gaming.

Minis In Sessions: Tactical Gaming

1. Assign a player to handle all things mini-related at the table. You can dictate the movement of minis to the player, and have them place any markers that you need.

Having this Marker Monkey makes combat go faster since you don’t have to reach or move around the table to take care of these things yourself.

2. Encourage players to look for two similar or identical minis to represent their character.

Use one for the map and combat.

Use the other on an initiative score board beside the map. This gives everyone a great visual of whose turn it is and who’s next.

3. When designing encounters, look at the miniature collection prior to writing out the material. Use what currently exists in the field rather than what you wish you had.

4. Use miniatures from different companies to represent different breeds of the same race.

For example, Warhammer dwarves tend to be thicker and bulkier than normal dwarves, while Otherworld miniatures is known for their pig-faced orcs.

5. If you play at a game store, see if they have terrain and props they use for war games like Warhammer Fantasy. Ask if you can use them when those games are not going on.

6. Use the corners from Dwarven Forge tiles on a battlemat to designate borders of rooms.

7. When a player rolls a crit, I take all of the minion and standard monster minis off the board and place them on my shuffleboard tabletop.

The player gets to slide his d20 down the table. Out of all the minis he knocks off the board, one of his choice is down.

8. Lights Miniatures! Action! If you have control of the room lighting I recommend killing most of the lights and just having a desk lamp directly shining on the combat area. It helps focus everyone’s attention on the action when using minis.

9. Make sure the area you use is clean and free from liquids or anything fragile. Moving minis around multiplies the chance of accidents.

10. Toy cars I: I play an espionage type of game and use small toy cars for chases.

11. Toy cars II: My area has a large, magnetic whiteboard I bought from a pawn shop. On the board I draw the map of the area, including buildings, guards, machine gun nests and so on.

When players attempt to infiltrate the area using a vehicle, I use toy cars with magnets glued on the bottom. The cars stick on the whiteboard well to give a nice top-down view.

12. Laser pointer I: A common item in wargaming circles, it can apply in mini games to easily determine line of sight between two targets if there’s a lot of 3D terrain blocking the view.

Good for quickly resolving those “can my character see the enemy from where they’re standing?” questions. Also helps GMs point out things on the battlemat they can’t reach.

13. Laser pointer II: We usually game in places where everybody isn’t always sitting at the map. Using a laser pointer allows you to specify your action from a distance.

I once bought a bunch of cheap laser pointers from a 99 cent store. You know you’re living in the future when you can buy a freakin’ laser for buck!

14. If you want more depth in mini combat, instead of using 1″ squares for movement, use a tape measure. I borrowed this from my Warhammer days and I love making 3D terrain.

Be prepared, it will complicate combat. But it has so many interaction possibilities it is worth it for my group. Sometimes it is easier to create unique situations when you see it.

15. Scare’em I: Have meta gaming players? Leave a couple tough looking minis by your area (just outside your DM screen if you use one). I used a couple trolls for a low level game and it kept my players on edge for the entire session.

I never used the figs in game or commented on them, but they had the effect I wanted. Consider figs such as undead, beholders, dragons and giants.

16. Scare’em II: My players often fall into the trap of thinking minis on the table equal a combat encounter. I have started a campaign or two with a score of minis on the table.

The PCs fear for their level-one lives only to realize the crowd of minis is mostly scenery, and part of a role-playing scene instead of a combat encounter.

17. Scare’em III: Make your players paranoid by using miniatures to represent objects that are not really monsters.

My favorite is using Infernal Armor (from the Demonweb expansion) as statues. Your players will spend time dancing around, trying to avoid waking what they assume to be their enemies.

18. Scare’em IV: I like to mess with my players’ heads and put a large or powerful mini on the sidelines, not to be used, but just to see how long the players will hold out before using their dailies.

I also like to use a mini that would normally be a minion and make it a powerful solo or have a powerful solo or controller masquerade as one of its lackeys. Goal: mess up the meta-gamers.

19. For those that use the 1″ grid and Pathfinder or D&D 3.5 rules, get some area templates.

My favorite are the Steel Sqwire ones you can get from Paizo. Never again argue whether “20 foot radius” effects that one square over there. Another option is to build templates with pipe cleaners. Paizo.

20. A great way to determine line-of-sight when using minis is to use ID badge holders (they cost less than a dollar).

The retracting string lets you stretch the line as far as your character can shoot, without having to worry about a tangled string in your dice bag.

21. When players defeat a monster, I knock down the mini and keep it there. It represents difficult terrain (you try fighting while standing on a dead ogre!).

This is also helpful for bad guys who can heal their allies or raise them as undead.

It also allows a clever creature to play possum and get a surprise on the PCs (or just try to escape later).

22. I use paper minis often, especially for minions. When one of these bad guys goes down, I remove the base and lay the paper figure on the board where they fell.

They are now considered difficult terrain. Bodies just don’t disappear from my encounters.

23. I use dice to represent objects and mcguffins in the room when I don’t have a figure for the appropriate item. This allows me to see when they get caught in area effects and such.

If they are trying to retrieve the crystal unicorn of truth and love, then they’d better watch what they do with burst effects.

However, don’t do this on a regular basis, because players will know the important objects from the mundane ones.

24. Sometimes it’s fun to have 3D terrain to show the players just how little their characters can see. All they need to do is lower their heads and look over the mini’s shoulder.

Could they really see this troll in the bushes or that army behind those rocks? What actually is in their line of sight?

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The final part of this series comes soon. GMs who suffer with condition and status-marking overload will get a lot of value from these tips. Stay tuned!

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Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

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

How To GM Beginners

From Paul Wilson

[In response to a Reader Tip Request from Ben in RPT#533.]

Remember K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid).

New players have a steep learning curve. And not just for one thing, but for multiple aspects of role playing.

They have to learn not just the rules of the game (the mechanics), but they also have to learn:

  • How to role play (this is hard – just try and describe what role playing is in just 1 or 2 sentences)
  • The terminology of role play (beyond the terminology of the particular system you are playing)
  • The game mythos (who and what are all the characters, factions and other parts that make up the game world)
  • The appropriate and expected actions with the world and within your GMing style (e.g., is it appropriate for the characters to try and con any and all NPCs they meet)

And many more.

When designing the first adventure for the group, try to keep these things in mind.

When a computer game development company makes a game, they provide a tutorial, and will include all these things in that tutorial.

(If you need an example of how they do this, replay a tutorial of a game you have and look for these different aspects of the tutorial – most good game tutorials will have these things in them).

So, when designing the first adventure (or even first few adventures), use the tutorial approach. Introduce these aspects in a way that allows the players to learn just a bit at a time and don’t overwhelm them trying to explain it all at once.

Also, give the players a sense of security.

Have the first few NPCs they meet be trustworthy. Later on, you can introduce NPCs that will try to double-cross the PCs (if that is part of your game – and even have the trustworthy NPCs the players first meet as victims of this double crossing if or when it occurs).

Basically, build from the familiar to the unfamiliar. Use tutorials to introduce new concepts of gaming, and use security and trust as a safe place for the players to get comfortable with their characters and the game system.

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More Advice On How How To GM Beginners

From Darren Hansen

I’d suggest staying clear of any game that deals with players fighting a never ending battle with sanity and the forces of evil. COC is a great game, but I think it’s not really the setting (rules aside) for novices.

Find out what they want to do. Get them all together at the same time and ask them, if we were to play a game, what would we want to DO in the game?

Car chases, exploring the unknown, fighting zombies, aliens, super villains?

There are a number of questionnaires on the web you can use as references, but shy away from anything formal for now.

You want to spool their minds up to get ready to make the jump into gaming. Find out if any of them play video games, and what games they’ve played and really liked. Movies, TV shows. Get an idea of their interests and you can probably find the game to run for them.

Start small. Run an episode of Scooby-Doo. Write up enough characters for each player to have 2. Avoid gender references or names, give them a description instead.

“Popular Kid”, “The Hungry Friend”, “Danger Prone”, “Bookworm.”

Then let everyone draw them at random. They assign gender and name, and then they play them. You can literally steal the plot right out of Scooby-Doo or Burn Notice, or anything. You want a straight forward mystery or adventure: “Here’s the ring, Mount Doom is that way.” Then let them run wild.

Systems with one die type are good for beginners, unless you think they’d enjoy fiddling with assorted dice. D6 are easy to get at the Dollar Store, so you wont have to drop any serious expense for something until you’re sure the roots are solid and you know the players are hooked.

West End Games has a number of free D6 engine material on

You could also fake it. Success/Fail systems, a skill list lifted from a free RPG you think you might move to and you have yourself a game engine good enough for some light RP.

If you’re right and your players are more interested in RP than combat, that could work for you. Boil combat down to a single roll. If the player wins they describe the fight, if the enemy wins you describe it.

The Leverage RPG might be good, since it’s very loose and lends itself to the players guiding the story. Granted, it’s not free. It uses an archetype system for character development, and the first adventure is tied into character development.

D20 Microlite is a trimmed down version of the D20 engine. I have not played it, but it’s got a good following with a lot of setting and source materials on the web.

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Android Apps For Game Masters

Thanks to Tom Zunder, Maya Montgomery and Roy Dunigan

A good set of apps for Pathfinder.

The Pathfinder Compendium is great for spells, especially when you don’t own all the little side books. It needs to be updated a bit, but it still is great.

Pocket Tabletop RPG Helper

Various RPG apps: RPG Tools.

Various D&D apps: Dungeons and Dragons.

The GURPS calculator

Dice Roller is awesome if you’re doing six rolls in a row:

Spellbook for D&D 3.5 starts out as a free download with the basic spells categorized by character class. It is a decent, if not spectacular, quick reference to D&D 3.5 spells.

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New GM Advice

Campaign Mastery Blog

What’s new at the blog of Johnn Four and Mike Bourke:

The Foundation Of Averages: Psychohistory and RPG Rules – Campaign Mastery Blog

2011 In Review For Johnn

The Nuances of computer use in a simulated world

The Season Of Optimism A look at the concept of a celebration within a game: The Season Of Optimism.

Taking everyman skills to the next level: The Absence of an Alibi