Prevent Player Disagreements With This Quick RPG Campaign Survey

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0672

A Brief Word From Johnn

Wow, a very busy week. In addition to the day job of Web Analytics and PPC, and producing the newsletter and products for Roleplaying Tips, I got a second job. It’s a freelance/contract gig where I’m creating digital strategy for a burgeoning six figure business. I’m helping them increase traffic, subscribers, and sales with paid advertising, SEO, social media, web analytics, and data analysis.

This is the kind of work I hope to be doing full time in the future, so I’m very happy to get a foot in the freelance door doing this. (Here’s my LinkedIn profile if you ever want to connect or just say hi to me over there.)

I also fit a session in on Friday. Based on reader suggestions, I’ve moved campaign logs to the end of the newsletter. If you want to hear about the latest escapades of the Murder Hobos, scroll to the end of this newsletter.

Ok, I’m off to play volleyball for a couple hours, so I’ll sign off and get on with this week’s tips.

Get some gaming done this week!


Thanks to Roleplaying Tips’ awesome new Patrons: Thalia, Blake Brock, Paul Quarles, Trevor Lomas, Pierre Parent, Twila Price, and Sam Commadeur!

Prevent Player Disagreements With This Quick RPG Campaign Survey

How To Stave Off Conflict By Managing Player Expectations At Campaign Start

From John Large

Players and GMs bring their own ideas, desires, and personalities to the table. This causes game friction when we have different expectations of each other and the game. To prevent intra-party conflict, use a short survey to understand what type of game your players want you to run. This survey also helps identify potential player vs. player conflicts ahead of time so you can deal with them proactively.

Another benefit of running a survey is it gets players thinking about the bigger picture. Often we get trapped in our own skulls. A survey gets players thinking about each other and the ongoing success of the game.

There are longer surveys available online, such as the Same Page Tool one on Campaign Mastery, and one from RPT#184. However, today’s tip is to use a short survey to get everyone thinking about each other and communicating. Exhaustive surveys feel like work and put players off, so start with a quick survey and see how it goes. You can always break out the big survey if you want to delve deeper.

Note, you can use today’s survey mid-campaign too. It’s great for re-aligning players, and as mentioned, getting them to think beyond themselves.

Survey Questions

GM Section

The first section of the survey contains questions for you before the survey is passed on. This gives you an opportunity to make sure players understand the type of game you are preparing and that they are interested in playing it.

  • Genre of Campaign
  • System being used
  • Style of Game
  • Linear/sandbox style of game
  • Proposed length of campaign
  • Frequency of game sessions
  • Proposed day/time/location of game

Player Section

The second half of the survey should be filled in by players. This gives them a chance to tell you what they are looking for from the game and react to the information you provided.

  • Are you able to attend sessions regularly as detailed in the GM section?
    • If not then how often are you likely to miss sessions?
    • What would be your preferred method of handling your character when absent?
      • Have them in the background not doing much.
      • Have them written out for a session.
      • Have another PC take over roleplaying them.
      • Have the GM take over roleplaying them.
  • What rules systems are you most interested in using?
  • Do you prefer PCs to act together as a group?
  • Are you comfortable with PVP?
  • What level of character intra-party conflict are you comfortable with?
  • What amount of combat vs. roleplaying do you prefer?
  • Do you prefer your game realistic or cinematic?
  • What sort of characters do you prefer to play?
  • What sort of adventures/stories do you prefer?
  • What would you prefer as the overall theme/goal of a campaign?
  • How do you feel about player investment in a game?
  • Do you object to your responses to this survey being discussed by the group?
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Getting The Surveys To Your Players

You have several options:

Print a copy for each one of them, hand them out, and collect them before the first session.

Email players the form.

Create a shared document online (using Dropbox, Google Drive, wiki, etc.) for each player and then send them a link using email or social media.

If your players do not mind their responses being seen publicly then you can post the questions on a Facebook group or Google+ Community and have your players answer them there.

Google also has a utility called Google Forms where you can produce surveys.

Similarly, you could create a formal survey using Survey Monkey.

What To Do When You Have Responses

Keep an open mind concerning your players’ responses. Do not take their personal preferences as a slight against your GMing ability or an attempt to block any ideas you might have had about the game that you are planning to run. This is difficult. For instance, if you had your heart set on running a gritty noir detective game and most of the players want to run a light-hearted fantasy romp.

You asked the players to give you some honest answers, now it’s time to apply the information you gained. If your players are comfortable discussing their answers as a group, sit down together and go through the responses to make sure you have a clear understanding of their gaming wants and needs. It’s easy to misinterpret written text, so it’s a good idea to make sure you understand what your players were trying to say.

Once you’re clear on what players want and expect, look for areas of potential disagreement between players. If one player prefers to play evil characters and another person had said they definitely do not want to see such characters in the game, you could be heading for trouble. There’s no fool-proof way to deal with this, but a good start is to see if a compromise can be reached between the disagreeing parties.

Perhaps player 1 doesn’t object to evil characters wholesale but only certain courses of action taken by them. If player 2 portrays a character who is ostensibly evil but has their own code of conduct, this might help solve the disagreement. Alternatively, player 2 might be persuaded to play a character who leans towards the dark side but is not fully committed to the cause of evil, or who has redeeming features.

When brokering a peace between opposing viewpoints, make sure you keep players involved. After all, they will have to live with the compromise as much as you. Approach your players directly: “so what would make you comfortable with player 2 running an evil character?”

If no form of compromise is reachable, consider whether these two players are capable of playing in the same group together. If not, it might be a better course of action to have one of the players leave the group now than to have them exit the game halfway through because of inter-group conflict. This can be a difficult situation to manage, especially if the group are close friends, but that difficulty pales in comparison to open conflict after the game has started.


You now have a new tool to gain information and start conversations with and between your players. Use it to make sure everyone involved understands what they’re getting into, to reduce the likelihood of conflict, and ultimately get more out of the time you dedicate to gaming. Good luck!

GM Tip Exchange

Tips shared by your fellow readers to help your GMing. Have a tip to share? Just hit reply. Thanks!

Rituals of the Table

[Comment from Johnn: This interesting question case up during an Adventure Building Workshop discussion. Do you have your own table rituals? If so, I’d love to hear them.]


There is a moment at each game night, where, by method or mistake, we manage to quit lollygagging and start rolling dice. Rarely does it arise beyond an insipid, “Alright, last time our adventurers did such and such a thing at such and such a place.” How uninspired! I am interested in dramatizing this moment.

I ask of you, how does your group demarcate real play from the mundane passage of time? What bookends signify the solemn ascension and cessation of Wednesday evening into what constitutes game night?

Perhaps the clang of a bell or gong, a ritual chant or oath among members, a gesture or motion, the raising of a glass together, or even a party theme song. Do you use such cues at your table? If so, how do you signify the beginning and end of game time?

Quantum Bunny

Well, in my table, we have a schedule.

As we all work and have many compromises, we established our playtimes on Sundays from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. (With an additional time for experience awarding and feedback).

The GM usually gives the players between half an hour (an hour at max) to chat, relax, eat snacks, and get comfortable. The GM uses that time to prepare everything he will need to GM.

If 5:00 p.m. has arrived and the GM hasn’t started already, we usually start to rant and yell “GM! We are ready! Whenever you want.”

Normally, once the GM is almost ready, he announces it with a “Is everyone ready? We begin in 5 min.”

To start the session and get our attention, the GM plays some introduction music, raises the volume, and starts recalling the last episode, trying to sound enthusiastic and doing some acting in the recalling, as if it were a T.V. show.

To end the session, he ends it with a cliffhanger in the way of “You are slowly opening the hatch, only to discover something so monstrous and horrible… …that will be revealed on our next session! Time for experience points!”

P.S. In my case, when I start a new campaign, I play the intro of “Twenty century Fox” or “Tristar pictures”, to make them feel as if a movie is about to begin. Last time I even played a recording of a “Dolby sound test”.

To keep that energy, I always begin the first scene with the players doing something interesting, like walking through the woods covered in mist or sailing on a ship amidst a storm. As I describe this scene, I start asking questions regarding what does each PC is doing or what other interesting things do they want to add to the scene. As I do this, I interrupt myself to describe a fake “initial credits rolling”, in which I call the players name, followed by their PC names, as if they were the actors of a movie. For example, “Chris Jackson as Ardon the Dwarf”.

If done right, you will have your players eating right from your hands. Just allow me give you a few advice:

Never, ever fall in disbelief. Avoid thinking doing this is silly. The first times your players might giggle or give you teasing smiles. That’s okay, they are not used to it, but on the inside they are truly enjoying it.

The evidence that players are enjoying this is they’ll begin to be proactive and take away control from you. Let yourself go. What players say is more important than what you describe. Add some strokes to what a shy player says if he needs some help.

Even if one of your players says something like, “Oh yes, yes! And meanwhile I’m chopping the heads of some undead that are trying to board the ship,” and you hadn’t planned an encounter like that, let it happen, let players help you make this initial painting as long as they don’t do something disruptive. Don’t even roll. In this first scene everything is automatic success. Just like in the first scene of any movie the heroes rarely fail.

Don’t let a PC steal the spotlight. Try to distribute it as evenly as possible. If a character has already done something cool, but he wants to do another thing arguing it is part of the same action, don’t hesitate to say, “Okay, you will get to do that, but first let’s give a chance to Player 2 to describe what PC 2 is doing.”

Phil Nicholls

My game seems to be a variant of Quantum Bunny’s methods.

After the initial chatting I begin by thanking the players for coming, note the next game date, then work through the character rewards and any new game issues I want to discuss. This covers any group matters such as arranging the future dates or planning an interlude game. This process establishes we are playing a game, but the story has yet to begin.

Once all the administrative tasks are complete, I announce the title of the current session. Then I read a “Previously in Sigil” section, which brings the players up to speed on the current story. Then we are off, playing the game.

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Index-Card Adventure Building

From Mike Downey

After all these years, I’m still loving the tips and insights!

I have an idea I’d like to share with you. It stems from the idea I found in The Lazy Dungeon Master by Michael Shea, of using 3×5 index cards to build adventures. I was working with the idea and wanted to write out some NPCs, but floundered while organizing my thoughts on the cards. Eventually, I came up with the acronym, S.P.A.R.E.S., which kind of ties in with NPCs being spare characters.

Each letter gets only one line, except for the last “S”, and breaks down like this:

S = Stats. HP, AC, attack bonus, highest and lowest attribute stats.

P = Personality. How the NPC acts and any quirks.

A = Appearance. General features, and anything special, like a tattoo or missing ear.

R = Reaction (to the PCs). Scale of 1 to 10. 1 meaning wants to kill the PCs and 10 being the opposite. There’s also room to put a short “why” statement.

E = Equipment. Only one line, remember? Short & sweet.

S = Story. What’s the NPC’s story, current goals and motivations, as related to the initial encounter with the PCs. This can take up the rest of the page on the index card.

On the top line of the card, I put the NPC’s name (in CAPS), race, class and level. With that, I still have the whole other side of the index card to put “going forward” notes and what develops when the PCs interact with the NPC.

With the SPARES structure, I can quickly and easily create NPCs, whether during my session planning time or in-game at the table. This works great for humanoid or monster NPCs. And I now have a small collection of NPC cards that I can use and re-use.

Hope you like the idea.

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Better Roleplaying With Reference Cards

From Joe Collins

I’ve recently gone from sporadic playing on both sides of the screen to exclusively being a player (just a circumstance thing rather than an active choice). I’ve been lucky enough to fall into one of those truly excellent groups where we’re all (more often than not) on the same wavelength.

I only say this as a bit of background as I find that the time I’m not prepping to GM I try to use prepping to be a player. I don’t know if you’ve touched on this much and apologies if you have, but I usually turn up with reference cards of notes and reminders exactly as I do when GM-ing. This is a new thing for me and works great, but I wondered if this was other players’ experience? Or have I accidentally stumbled on a really good idea?

[Comment from Johnn: Joe’s question led me to ask for more information about his reference cards. He was kind enough to give a great breakdown on the game he plays in and how he improves himself as a player.]

A bit of background:

  • We play a weekly/bi-weekly five hour session. If the story allows, players can also play mini-side quests in between full-group sessions and these are usually just a couple of hours each.
  • We are awarded group XP only (as in, everyone gets exactly the same XP regardless) and this is based on how many hours of play there have been rather than for killing bad guys and nicking their stuff. We also get bonuses to this group XP for in-character session logs and other related pages.
  • Individual rewards for ‘doing stuff’ come in the form of Bennies that can be used during play.

The result of this is that the need to be constantly pushing the adventure forward (rather than the collective story of our characters) is removed. We enjoy a lot of character development – this involves both in-game PC and NPC interactions but also happens through the session logs. The latter have moved from “this happened, then this happened…” to explorations of how our characters actually feel about stuff and what they’re thinking about.

It also means all the NPCs are more “real” than in most games that I’ve played.

Now reading that back it all sounds very touchy-feely in a weird cultish way. All I can say is, it isn’t. I’ve been roleplaying since 1978 and consider myself a bit of a grognard but can say the last time I had this much fun roleplaying was probably in high school, many years ago. We still get up to the usual Murder Hobo stuff, there’s just more depth to our down-time and the Murder Hoboing we do is often more emotionally charged as it’s hard-wired into our characters’ lives.

So here’s the deal. Left to improvising all our interactions, the easiest thing to do is to fall to goofing around. Those ace in-jokes a tight group develops over time have lives of their own and crave the limelight as much as any player. Whilst fun, they can detract from an emotionally charged scene. As one of the worst offenders I wanted a way to keep myself on track and so fell onto an old GM-ing technique – reference cards.

I keep rough notes throughout each session (to help write my session log) and these help with the reference cards for the next session.

First, I write a card for each of the PCs and major NPCs. These just have the character’s name and a word or phrase that sums up how my character feels about them at the start of the new session – this can also be a summary of something I need to discuss with them. These are often abstract – as an example from last session for the two PCs and one of the main NPCs in the party-main at the moment I simply had faith, hope, and love.

  • Faith for the peasant character who dreams of being a noble. My character wanted to tell them we’re better than nobles because we’re adventurers and that they should have faith in themselves rather than trying to emulate the nobility.
  • Hope for the quietest PC who is the most likely one in the group to become a true hero as they are chivalrous rather than boozy hobos like the rest of the party – they can bring hope to the people by the example they set.
  • Love for the widower who fears betraying his departed wife’s memory despite the many years he’s spent alone – this has come to light because of the amorous attentions of another character both characters want to pursue but the widower’s guilt keeps getting in the way.

I also write a card for any of the other actions I want my character to perform – visiting his temple, or commissioning a fancy weapon with our ill-gotten treasure, or even just walking the streets of a new city to familiarize myself with its layout should we need to leave in a hurry.

Finally, I write a card for each main plot point. These probably have the most written on them as they stick around until the plot point is resolved, so I add stuff as it becomes important. Included on these are things we know and actions I want to take. They can be the name of a place or character or mystery (like body of the wizard found hanging in the upper market) so I can just grab them when each plot point pops up.

For example, the GM says, “and here’s General Gammerung…” and I just grab the good general’s card and have a quick scan of what it says. Now we all know the NPCs in the campaigns we inhabit, so this might sounds like the crutch of a forgetful man, but you’d be surprised how much stuff the GM has to remind players about when you start paying attention!

Before each session I take half an hour to read through everyone’s logs (these can include several NPC logs the GM writes too) just to get a feel for where we’re all at, and then read through my cards so they are at the forefront of my mind. It helps me understand my character a bit more (I shy from saying “get into character” as it’s not that deep) and reminds me of stuff that I want to say or do during the session.

The result is whenever the GM asks “what are you doing?” I always have a suggestion if the group doesn’t come up with anything, thus helping the GM to “un-stall” us when we’re at a loss. It means I’m far less likely to lead the way into silliness – instead of always going for the quick gag when hanging out with another PC I can grab their card and have something meaningful to discuss with them.

I haven’t tried this in a more conventional Murder-Hobo D&D style game, but I most certainly will when the opportunity presents itself. Just having a prompt card to remind me of how my PC interacts with another PC or NPC rather than with their player or the GM helps keep things on track, and I can see their value in more intrigue-based adventures. In a hack-and-slash, dungeon/hex crawl? Probably less so.

[Johnn: RPT readers, do you have any tips to share for improving yourself as a player? If so, please drop me a note.]

Table: 1d6 Random Wasteland Saints

There are strangers from other times and places out in the wastelands. Some call them prophets or saints. These wanderers are part of the wasteland landscape and from time to time can be encountered deep within deserts and wastelands. Some say these individuals are hold-overs from before the time of the ancients and others claim they are beings from other universes and places. Adventurers who have encountered these beings are often changed forever. Here are 1d6 of these weird individuals with powers and abilities far beyond the pale of mortal mankind.

Cauglili The Prophet Of Eyes

This being wanders the wastelands with the abilities of a 6th level cleric and scribe. She has the bearing of a noble woman of some ancient and distant royal court of some ancient and bygone age. She tends the mutated and injured in the name of peace. There is a 40% chance she may identify and give information about relics and ancient artifacts. Three times per day she can heal the blind at the cost of one of the eyes of those healed. She put these eyes into a tank of preserving fluid at her side that will be used to bargain with powers from beyond the world for visions and prophecies for villages under her guidance.

Caurgurimmirc The Finder of Lost Ruins

This saint wanders from town to town collecting information about local legends and stories about legendary places. He often uses these to coordinate with adventurers and freebooters under his influence. He sells this information for the price of a year off of the life of the adventurer. These years are used to add time to those who have been the victims of vicious and evil mutants with level draining abilities and life leech mutations.

Caurgurimmirc always has the appearance of a favorite uncle or relative of those talking with him. There are those who insist he has the appearance of an alien demonic lizard and is not to be trusted.

Dulin The Wise and Scandalous

This being has the reputation of that of a saint who collects sins of the wasteland by healing the corruption of chaos with the power of his mind. But there is a terrible price as the adventurer will suffer 1d6 ruminations of their lives. Dulin can take these away if the party does him a mission and favor before the new moon.

Enamilauglal The Servant of the Cracked Moon

This being wanders the wastelands collecting legends and scraps of the cracked moon from the ancient times. He is a 7th level wizard and scholar who knows the secrets of space flight and the sacred artifacts associated with it. He will advise and council those who wish to know the secrets of the stars. He can also heal damage and mutation caused by alien demonic powers from beyond the pale of the wastelands for three boons and a mission. He has the bearing of an adventurer and nobleman along with eyes the colour of the moon goddess, his patron.

Itulae The Mad

This saint is given over to the blessings of mutation and changes appearance every five hours as his flesh runs like hot wax on a summer’s day. He can unleash a blast of pure chaos every three hours, and can identify any genetic disorder or mutation on sight alone. He can and will offer advice on curing the mutation and its root cause. For him to treat any mutation will require a mission on the PC’s part. They will also have to endure his endless tirades on the blessings of mutation and chaos.

Lkotullilra The Wisdom’s End

This wandering prophet loves to give advice on relics and treasure, she has the ability to identify and operate any treasure or relic brought in to her possession. She can heal serious wounds with a touch every three hours. Once a week she can raise the dead as per the spell. She will ask a major mission of the characters but will supply provisions and some relics from her rather large flock. She is often given to strange prophecies once per week, but these will require a major relic on the PCs’ part to impart her wisdom and advice upon a party.

Murder Hobos S2E2: War Brews

We kick off the session with the party healing from the big fight against the bone naga and her air elemental allies. The group explores two remaining areas, recover the druid’s stolen possessions, and discover a gargoyle statue with religious overtones. Perhaps some kind of earth elemental holy cave.

The Red Hand Hobgoblins

The Hobos then head back to town. Along the way they find a platoon of Red Hand hobgoblins and a hill giant assaulting a camp of Blue Diamond guards and a Blue Diamond wizard. The PCs cautiously approach, then decide to wade into the fray. With help from the wizard, the group emerges victorious, though the battle nearly killed the barbarian.

As the fight ends, the wizard casts a fly spell, flies over the PCs and waves thanks, then heads straight to town at full speed. Only two Blue Diamond guards survived, and they fled mid-way through the fight. This leaves the PCs to clean up the mess, er, loot their foes.

The group prepares a cart and horse full of weapons and armour abandoned by the Blue Diamond camp, loads up the hobgoblin loot, and makes it back to town. They clean up and head to the Blue Diamond compound, which is now fortified with a tall palisade of fresh cut trees and a trench dug around it.

Blue Diamond Negotiation

They speak with Khemed Mostana, Blue Diamond leader, and Welax, the wizard they helped that morning in the scrub. A deal is brokered for the return of the cart, horse, and goods, plus sale of various items the party does not want, and the PCs acquire a pair of magic rings and several potions. Welax was about to offer another magic item for sale, but Khemed gives him a curt signal to not reveal it. The rogue gets curious about this and takes a sly look – some kind of boring leather cap. Hmmph.

Also, as a favour to the Blue Diamond, the group agrees to find the two coward guards who fled the battle and bring them back to Khemed.

The hobos then head to the Sleeping Giant Inn. They exchange the hill giant head they took after the battle for free drinks. However, before they begin carousing in earnest, Belinos the cleric finds them and says there’s urgent business to attend. Several locals have come to the Lathander shrine the cleric PC has set up in town and are asking for his aid. A farmer has gone missing, as has a shepherd boy. Also, something out there is decapitating animals. And two nights ago three miners disappeared while heading to a ruined tower. Last, the Townmaster wants to see the party about a bit of work.

Kiss My Ring

Sighing heavily, the Hobos finish their drinks and decide to hit the Townmaster first. Well, not literally. But I wouldn’t put it past them – they did murder the corrupt previous Townmaster, bury his body in his back yard, and then steal 500 gold pieces from his house.

The group knocks heavily. Opening the door is a gnome in half plate armour and bristling with weapons. He wears a red cloak. Behind him sit the Townmaster flanked by two more Red Cloaks – a dwarven cleric with death god trappings, and Almax, a past murderous companion of Malchor the fighter.

The gnome leans on a short bow made of bone and some kind of wet and bloody sinew. He raises one hand adorned by a magic gold ring and demands the barbarian kiss his ring to gain admittance. The barbarian refuses and tries to brush by the gnome knight, but he is blocked by the foul creature. A fight almost breaks out, but surprisingly, it’s Malchor who makes peace by kissing the ring and slobbering saliva and mucous all over the gnome’s hand in the process.

The gnome appears not to take insult at the disgusting treatment and lets Malchor past. The gnome then turns back to the barbarian and holds his snot-dripping hand out for Kriv to kiss next.

Kriv refuses, and soon it’s just Roscoe and Malchor inside with the Townmaster and her Red Cloak allies. She asks the Hobos to find two rogues who have stolen an arms shipment. The PCs agree and leave. The Blue Diamond are arming up, and the Townmaster and Red Cloaks are arming up. War is brewing!

Crazy Miner And His Giant Constrictor Snake

The party decides to find Norman, the missing farmer first. They head out on the Triboar Trail and find the farm about a quarter candlemark outside Phandalin. The farm looks peaceful. But soon the PCs discover a headless zombie standing in front of a cave nearby. That’s when the crazy warrior and his giant constrictor snake attack.

As the battle rages, the Hobos are caught by surprise as a wight attacks through the cave wall and absorbs some of the druid’s life force. Beset by zombies, skeletons, a wight, a warrior, and a giant constrictor snake in a cave, it is a grim melee. Eventually it comes down to wight vs. Hobos. The creature retreats to another cave where three prisoners lie bound and gagged. One of the prisoners is Norman.

The wight immediately kills one of the prisoners – a miner. But before the wight can slay the others, he is magically dragged back by the druid where the party pummel it into incorporeal mush. The PCs save Norman and a grateful miner, who scurries away.

Norman and his wife are tearfully reunited back in Phandalin, which makes Belenos happy. The hobos want to return to drinking, but there’s more work ahead: some arms thieves, a pair of cowards, a sheep killer, and three missing miners.

We call the session there and make plans to play again in two weeks.

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Last campaign log I forgot to give a thanks to Dyson’s Dodecahedron whose map I used for the bone naga cave. I also used two quick adventures by Tim Shorts – one for the Trent the Troll encounter and one this session for the crazy miner & wight cave.

Overall, the session went well. Four players this time, as the wizard’s player called in sick. The party seems to be enjoying the small quests and getting to know the locals.

I heard one player wondering what the overall mission or goal for the party was. War is possibly brewing in town, and I have yet to lay down some planned plot threads, so the overall plot is revealing itself slower than I’d like. Hopefully next session the players see the major conflicts in the sandbox and feel like there are several exciting options to choose from.

I also had the D&D 5E Princes of Apocalypse book on the table. Some of the players seemed quite excited by that. So I’m reading it this week as a possible adventure to run concurrently with the other stuff I’ve got brewing. If I can incorporate the current region and the adventure looks fun, I might spin it up and weave it into current plots.