Q&A With Johnn Four
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #300
- Q&A With Johnn Four
- What started Roleplaying Tips?
- What motivates you to keep going? Is it self-sustaining?
- What’s the current readership?
- How long does it take to publish an issue? What does it involve?
- Will you be doing any more contests?
- What topics will the e-zine be covering in the future?
- How do I contribute to the e-zine?
- How much mail do you get a week? Do you answer it all?
- What games are you playing now?
- How much is advertising in Roleplaying Tips Weekly?
- Have you ever thought of putting forums up at roleplayingtips.com?
- I’m starting my own campaign world. Is it best to start small and work your way up or start big and work your way down?
- OGL and ePublishing have really opened the field for small RPG publishers. What are the long-term effects (good and bad) on the industry?
- D&D still seems to be the most popular RPG. Is this due to or in spite of the OGL?
- By default, the OGL has promoted d20 as a “standard set” of mechanics and rules, not only for fantasy, but other genres as well–can we expect to see the number of generic RPGs and supplements increase as a result, or will fantasy continue to be the lion’s share of d20?
- What resources would be recommended to improve adventure design for experienced game masters?
- How can an adventure designer or game master maximize player choice and minimize railroading in event-based adventures (in comparison to site-based adventures)?
- How can an adventure designer or game master incite players convincingly to undertake quests without mercenary compensation, for good aligned characters, but instead based on morality and genuine heroism?
- A Brief Word From Johnn
- Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters
Q&A With Johnn Four
I didn’t imagine Roleplaying Tips Weekly would reach 300 issues when I first started it six years ago, but here we are and it’s been a wonderful experience. I’ve met gamers from around the world and made many new friends, virtually as well as in person. The advice you have sent over the years has improved my campaigns and GMing, and I think it’s been helpful for subscribers as well.
Roleplaying games is an awesome hobby to have, and I’m always amazed at how generous you folks are at sharing your tips and volunteering your time to keep this publication hitting Inboxes and browsers each week.
GMing is like a hobby within the hobby, a game on its own. Writing, planning, preparing, organizing. Refereeing, storytelling, hosting, public speaking. Learning rules, teaching, tactics, drawing maps, design. LOL. That’s quite a list of things we do!
Many folks have natural talent for doing some or all of these things well. However, if you’re like me, you need to work at it, GM over and over again, before things start to roll (groan). All of the tasks and activities above are skills. This means they can be taught, learned and improved over time. It also means there are good practices, best practices, and bad practices. That’s what the e-zine is about: spreading your advice and tips so GMs can improve their skills over time.
A skilled GM is a happy and confident GM, which helps you and your players have more fun at every game!
I had asked in a previous issue for questions you’d like me to answer in this special issue to celebrate #300. Here they are, along with my rambling responses.
What started Roleplaying Tips?
In the mid 90s, two friends and I wanted to somehow make a living working with RPGs (hi Chris & Django!). We formed a company called The Art of Roleplaying and decided to try our hands at publishing a module. While the module didn’t get too far off the ground, an offshoot of our research was newsletters.
When our company disbanded, I chose to continue along the newsletter route. After a month of deliberation, I registered roleplayingtips.com and sent out issue #1 to Chris, Django, and 9 other victims. 🙂
The newsletter was, is, and will continue to be free, so it wasn’t likely to earn a million gold pieces and allow me to retire in an opulent tower in Waterdeep, but it has opened many doors for me over the years, the ultimate of which was my dream job with my awesome, current employer, BioWare. http://www.bioware.com
Nothing beats sound planning, but sometimes having a “build it and they will come mentality” or “just do it” motto works out, like it did for me. If you’re keen on getting RPG related work, I’d vote for starting today by doing something, learning, re-trying, and adding in some sound planning as soon as you’re able–but just get started now.
What motivates you to keep going? Is it self-sustaining?
I GM every week now (knock on wood). So, I learn a lot from publishing each issue as I read over the tips and applying them. I continue striving to be the best GM I can. Over the past few years, a new parameter has entered the picture: real life. Gone are my sweet slacker years, sigh. Now I’m challenged with juggling demands on a number of fronts, and I look to the e-zine to help me keep games running every seven days, and to help my friends and I enjoy each session.
Is it self-sustaining? If by “it” you mean my motivation, then yes, I guess it is. I play many games and types of games. However, I keep coming back to tabletop RPGs and GMing because I find it the most challenging and rewarding. So, as long as I GM, and as long as I have time, I want to continue with the e zine to keep the tips flowing, to learn, and to share what I learn about smacking down groups of uppity adventurers, er, having a good time with my friends.
What’s the current readership?
Let me check.
My listhost provides me with an on-demand report. They also scrub the list weekly (if e-mails hard or soft bounce a certain number of times–8 I believe–they are removed from the subscriber list). That subscriber count therefore constitutes only active and functioning addresses.
For the online issues, there are about 6,000 weekly readers.
For the RSS feeds, there are about 1,000 subscribers.
So, all told, there are 20,000 folks in the RoleplayingTips.com community!
How long does it take to publish an issue? What does it involve?
Issues are a pleasure to put together. Thanks to your tips, feedback, and contributions, I get a lot of good stuff that I use when I GM. I also enjoy reading, editing, writing, and working on a computer, so the time tends to sail by.
There are now two editors who provide critical help with formatting and editing (thanks very much Leslie and Isaac!), and an HTML guru who HTMLizes issues and RSS for the site (thanks Steve). The previous editor, Scot Newbury, helped a lot in refining the publication process as well.
So, in a typical week:
- Receive e-mails, respond to each one, sort tips. 5 hours
- Assemble issue for editing. 0.5 hoursEdit issue. 3 hours
- Edit pass #2. 2 hours
- Format final version. 1 hour
Total: 10 hours a week, give or take.
- Contests. 10-15 hours.
- Supplemental issues. 10 hours.
These days, time is tight. Thanks to Ike and Leslie, the e- zine is getting the editing attention it deserves. In 2004/2005, it was iffy at various points whether the e-zine could continue. I think 2005 saw the most unplanned missed weeks to date (3 or 4, iirc). It looks like things are back on track though. Whew.
Will you be doing any more contests?
Yes. I enjoy running contests, especially ones that end up creating valuable content for the community, like the monster tips, encounter hooks, organizations, and quests contests, to name a few.
RPG companies have been quite generous with supplying prizes (and next time you spot their products as prizes in a contest, please check them out if they look interesting to you, to show your support). And readers have responded with great entries.
I’m always looking for contest ideas. If you have one, please do send it in. Maybe I need to run a contest about contest ideas, lol.
What topics will the e-zine be covering in the future?
One of the most important things I have learned from publishing this e-zine is to never promise the future. 🙂 Plans somehow always change, and I end up leaving a trail of broken promises. For example, I still have not sorted, edited, and published the Green Dragon Bloodbath tips from years ago, nor have I followed up on a few promised topics, such as Core Stories.
That said, I’d like to see articles on planning and design, plot hooks, intrigue campaigns, roleplaying, and combat. I owe one reader some tips on war, as well.
After a recent conversation about the future with my past and present editors (a tense conversation? groan), I’ll also be revisiting certain topics from the archives: adding new tips, refreshing the old ones, and updating some. For the longest time, I was worried that covering previous topics would generate a lot of yawns from you, but the core topics, such as encounters, plot hooks, villains, organization, and so on, are worth revisiting, reminding about, and adding to.
Feedback on every issue is always welcome, as are topic requests.
How do I contribute to the e-zine?
Just send me an e-mail. [email protected]
You supply the tip or article, and we’ll supply the editing and formatting. Some topics and tips are not suitable for the e-zine, and if you’re worried about the topic you have in mind, feel free to ping me. Also, if English is not your native tongue, don’t worry; Leslie, Ike, and I would be happy to tweak things. It’s the information that counts and is most valuable to readers.
How much mail do you get a week? Do you answer it all?
I get between 50 and 100 questions, bits of feedback, and general e-mails a week, and I answer them all. I try to respond in a timely manner, but some weeks are brutal and I fall behind. I always eventually catch up though. I do worry about missing e-mails due to spam filtering though. So, if you sent me an e mail and did not get a response, I wasn’t snubbing you, it just got lost or never arrived, sorry. Please re-send.
I only get about 2-3 tips e-mailed in a week these days. This is way down from a couple of years ago when I would get 8-12. I’m not sure if people are more pressed for time, are self-conscious about sending something in, or are worried the tip has been published before.
I’d be very happy if more reader tips were submitted. I’m happy to publish good advice, common sense tips (even if they seem obvious), links to cool resources, lessons learned, fun tactics, and so on, even if they’ve been published before. Your voice will convey the information in a new way, and it’s always good to be reminded of things. And don’t worry about editing–we’ve got your back on that, er, front.
What games are you playing now?
For roleplaying games, I’m GMing two D&D 3.5 campaigns: an Eberron campaign, and a Temple of Elemental Evil classic game updated for 3.5.
My Birthright campaign ended January 9 in a total party kill. The PCs faced a group of tough foes, suffered some bad luck, and a tricky tactical situation got the best of them. It was sad to see a 1.5-year campaign end, but there’s a happy aboleth out there buying a round for his minions and receiving a plaque from the Villains Against Heroes society.
After the TPK, we chatted and voted to dive into the Temple of Elemental Evil. The PCs have just ventured into the moathouse where the bandit base is rumoured to be. It’s looking like the Temple is gearing up for another successful action adventure campaign. We also play a lot of board games. Last night we played Tigris and Euphrates where I lost to a first time player. Oh the shame! Other board game favourites are Catan et. al., Puerto Rico, Titan, and Alhambra. I recently purchased Twilight Imperium and can’t wait to try that out.
In the computer game world, last year my wife and I completed D&D Heroes and both Baldur’s Gates for the Xbox. We’re about midway through X-Men Legends, and have just started Crystal Chronicles. Over the Christmas holidays, I got Civilization IV and Star Wars Battlefront II.
I’m always up for a nerdy word game of Scrabble or Boggle, too. 🙂
How much is advertising in Roleplaying Tips Weekly?
I don’t want to use this issue to pimp ads, heh, so feel free to e-mail me directly for rates. Rates are very reasonable though. Thanks for your interest!
Have you ever thought of putting forums up at roleplayingtips.com?
Yes, I’ve always wanted to. I haven’t though for a couple of reasons. First is time. I feel if there are forums at my site, I should be visiting often and contributing. Publishing the e-zine always gets top priority, and that’s left no time for forum activities.
Second is feature set. I haven’t found a forum script that fills my needs list and most of my wants list. That’s probably changed in the past couple of years though, as more upgrades to existing scripts and new scripts get released.
I’m starting my own campaign world. Is it best to start small and work your way up or start big and work your way down?
Both. Heh. I find when designing worlds you make several round-trips. You might start with a village concept, but soon start to ponder kings, pantheons, calendars, and coins. Then you return to the village again, create some more, and wander into flora and fauna, history, and culture. Then it’s back to the village and the region in which it dwells for NPCs, monsters, and adventures. Repeat. Forever.
I tend to put world building activity into two camps: for fun and for game sessions. Some folks enjoy writing and designing worlds as a hobby on its own. They might apply their results to their games, but they could also have fun without the game component. The other camp needs a milieu in which to run adventures and plots, so they design what’s needed and move on, revisiting world design to fill gaps as the campaign evolves. There are bits of both camps in most of us, and if you lean one way, that will affect your approach.
I lean more toward the game session camp. I use these tips to get a good grasp of where adventures will take place:
Reflecting on past campaigns, I’ve started most with a village sketched out, and worked out from there, so I guess that reveals a bottom-up preference. However, I’ve also placed a lot of campaigns in Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, and other published settings, and have had material on hand if I needed it.
As for what’s best, it depends on your strengths and weaknesses. I prefer bottom-up because I need some place tangible for the PCs to start in, and if time is short, I’d rather know about community politics and adventure locations than planet diameter and historical deity conflicts—though I ultimately do get to those things if the campaign lasts long enough.
Maybe the best approach is to estimate available planning time before next session, judge adventure scope, and know yourself so you can design enough to be able to GM with confidence. If you have little time, design the bottom end first. If your adventure has a world-spanning scope, you’ll need to design more of the big picture. If not knowing the big picture worries you, then design that so you can move on.
OGL and ePublishing have really opened the field for small RPG publishers. What are the long-term effects (good and bad) on the industry?
In the past, there was pretty strict control over D&D, and fan projects and commercial endeavours were not allowed. I feel this stifled a lot of creativity and expansion opportunities for D&D.
Nowadays, there’s a simple and legal way you can publish fan projects and commercial products for D&D using the Open Gaming License and the various system reference documents, such as d20. Wizards of the Coast has made it easy to create cool and fun stuff for D&D.
I’m not an expert on the RPG industry, though I am an avid consumer of it, and I feel the OGL and ePublishing are hugely beneficial. They create a common knowledge base so players don’t have to learn dozens of different rules systems, which makes licensing a fun playing and viable business option (Conan by Mongoose Publishing, and Game of Thrones by Sword & Sorcery, for example).
OGL and ePublishing also create a layer in the RPG biz for folks to experiment and learn. Every industry needs a way to inject new ideas that can percolate up to the major players who are risk-adverse, otherwise all we get are sequels and stagnation.
They also provide a channel for new people without a long resume or a whole lot of experience to enter the industry.
A big danger is added instability and unprofessionalism, which hurts the consumer. If a glut of new products is unleashed on the market, for example, times will get lean for your favourite businesses, and you can only hope they will be managed well enough to ride things through. Also, self-publishing introduces a lot of lower tier product on the market, and if we get burned on a few purchases we’ll tighten our wallets to the detriment of new, quality offerings.
These are just dangers, though, and not meant to deter you from pursuing open source and OGL business models. I think the OGL is great, as are most of the RPG products I’ve purchased over the years.
D&D still seems to be the most popular RPG. Is this due to or in spite of the OGL?
Hmmm, tough question. Ryan Dancey and other industry experts would be your best bet to get a good answer. For my two cents, I feel D&D has an established level of mindshare, one that has managed so far to be handed down to the new generation of gamers.
I also think that D&D 3.5 is a well-designed game system. It has warts, and everybody is entitled to their opinions and preferences, but I find D&D consistently enables me to host a fun time for myself and my friends every game night.
As to how OGL has influenced D&D’s popularity, I’m not sure because I’m not privy to sales figures, but I think introducing people’s favourite movies, books, stories, and characters to the tabletop game realm has helped bring in many new players.
I also read somewhere that a majority of gamers don’t buy D&D products beyond the core books. So, this might indicate D&D is successful despite the OGL. I don’t believe that, though. All the cool OGL materials and GM aides out there provide a vista of options for gamers, and I think this helps the hobby a lot.
By default, the OGL has promoted d20 as a “standard set” of mechanics and rules, not only for fantasy, but other genres as well–can we expect to see the number of generic RPGs and supplements increase as a result, or will fantasy continue to be the lion’s share of d20?
Wow, another tough question. I think fantasy will dominate, though I noticed lots of great d20 Modern stuff was released last year (RPGObjects.com), in addition to the material for non-fantasy intellectual properties, such as Babylon 5 and Starship Troopers by Mongoose Publishing.
I go to book stores, though, and see the shelf space given to fantasy versus other speculative fiction genres, and that might be a clue as to the near future for gaming genres. Then there’s World of Warcraft with 5.5 million subscribers and growing. That’s gotta trickle down into tabletop gaming genre choice one way or another.
What resources would be recommended to improve adventure design for experienced game masters?
Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering
Has active forums. Even though the site is geared toward D&D, general GMing threads of all kinds are welcome.
Treasure Tables blog
A growing number of good tips here.
My book, NPC Essentials <cough>
The Writer’s Journey. Good stuff about story elements.
Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting. Great book introduced to me by my friend Jared.
Actual Play forum at The Forge
How can an adventure designer or game master maximize player choice and minimize railroading in event-based adventures (in comparison to site-based adventures)?
This sounds like a great topic for a future, dedicated issue! Thanks.
A couple of quick tips for now though:
- Reduce dependencies. Most encounters have dependencies– things that have to be present, have already happened, or are about to happen. To minimize railroading, minimize encounter dependency. This lets you react to player choices better and requires less steering on your part.
- Know the rules. The more familiar you are with the constructs your rules create (NPCs, monsters, traps, treasure, and so on) the more it sets you free to focus on plot and consequences of player choices.
For example, if you are freaked out that the PCs might pick a fight with a certain NPC because you have no idea what his stats are and you aren’t comfortable with making them up on the fly, then you’ll consciously or sub-consciously start steering play away from that situation. If the players resist and continue to try for confrontation, then you’ll try harder to steer.
However, if you were familiar enough with the rules to whip up the NPC’s stats on the fly, or you had resources organized so you could look some up or copy some, then you would resist less–unless the NPC was required for a special campaign purpose, in which case see the tip above about dependencies. 🙂
- Craft flexible triggers. Create encounters so that you can introduce them in the greatest possible number of ways, locations, and events. This is related to limiting dependencies.
- Try to have fun gaming with the flow. If you are always thinking in the future and choosing optimal outcomes for present situations, you might be guilty of steering things too much in the direction you want. Instead, try to have fun in the moment. Picture in your head what’s going on right now in-game. Imagine the details, the NPCs, the critters, the conflicts, what’s at stake, the scenery, the props, and so on.
Don’t try to arrange things in your mind to fit a certain outcome. Instead, focus on what’s happening now and try to describe details, actions, and consequences as they emerge, and then ride with things. This can be difficult to do and might change the way you approach adventure preparation in the future, but it can be rewarding and fun.
How can an adventure designer or game master incite players convincingly to undertake quests without mercenary compensation, for good aligned characters, but instead based on morality and genuine heroism?
Players and characters.
Chat with your players to see if that’s what they’re interested in. I don’t feel you can slyly GM the players into changing their styles and desires. There are a few exceptions, such as by creating three dimensional NPCs to encourage roleplaying and more plot consideration, but usually your players won’t get the hint, will resent being manipulated, or won’t change.
So, ping your players and ask them if they’re open to the idea. Ask them to work with you as you take your games into different realms and styles. Check in with them often, such as between sessions or half way through sessions, to see if they like how things are going and to get suggestions for improvement.
Characters are frequently an untapped gold mine for establishing character and player motivation. In the resource books about story I mentioned in a previous tip, the authors place a lot of value in character. Same goes for RPGs. Help players flesh out their characters. If they add enough fun details, the characters will take on lives of their own, and hopefully the players will follow.
No need to write a novel, just create an outline of the PC’s history. Use race, class, and age as great starting points. Consider skills, training, ability scores, and special abilities and how those have affected the PC.
Try to inject at least one failure, one victory, and one villain into each PC’s backstory. These items, by the way, are great things other PCs can have in common to create a realistic party formation hook.
It’s boring playing a flawless character. It’s like trying to roleplay a mannequin. Work with the player to establish virtues and flaws, though avoid linking these with game rules (bonuses and penalties) so the players can focus just on the fun of gaming a certain personality.
In a game system like D&D, which has no flaws system (unless you use the option from Unearthed Arcana), feel free to borrow ideas for flaws from other systems, such as GURPS or Ars Magica.
Work with each player to create one or more strong, short term goals for the PC, plus one or more long term goals. Hook each goal into a personality trait or background story element to ground them into the character’s reality. Goals that are just there for no real reason, like clouds skidding by, won’t stick and will soon be forgotten.
Eliminate “Adventurer” from Your World and Vocabulary
After several years of GMing, it wasn’t until Forgotten Realms that I had a game world officially acknowledge adventuring as a profession. This is great fun, but I’ve found it counteracts styles where you want a more serious tone.
Your mileage might vary, but try to implement a milieu where people are thoroughly integrated into their communities. NPCs should have jobs, families, property (land and/or belongings), and social circles. People who wander without steady income or homes are rare (and shunned). People who dive into caves and diddle with monsters are insane. Then place the PCs in this environment, and use backstory and personality to tie them into their communities. Then introduce your conflict, which rips them out of normal life and sets them on a perilous path fraught with intrigue, danger, reward, and so on.
You want to encourage the players to play a character, not themselves. This is part of the game, and a game in itself. If you can help players craft characters that they can imagine and see as being different from themselves, and they understand why those differences exist, then you might succeed in helping your group make choices for reasons other than seeking instanced treasure chests.
Give yourself a pat on the back. I feel GMs are the glue that holds our beloved hobby together. Players are very important too, but GMs are the ones who often have the drive to get and keep groups together, gaming, and having a good time.
This e-zine has reached a tremendous milestone because of all your support, tips, and advice. Thank you very much! Hopefully Roleplaying Tips Weekly continues to be a useful GMing tool for the community. Your feedback, tips, and ideas are always welcome and appreciated!
A Brief Word From Johnn
A Great TiddlyWiki Campaign Example
Here’s the campaign site that first got me interested in TiddlyWikis. With Bruce’s permission, here’s the link:
The introduction in this week’s article covers what I’d say here about this milestone. Hopefully you find the Q&A interesting.
Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters
Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!
1″ Tiles Make Great Minis Markers
The groups I play with have used various markers for enemy critters when it comes time to do battle, from dice to painted minis to chocolate kisses (these last were fun because you got to eat what you killed) but this weekend our GM brought something new: little ceramic bathroom tiles. They were just under an inch to a side, so they fit nicely inside the battlemap grid, and he used the same wet erase markers we use for the map to mark damage and status effects right on the tiles, which easily wiped off when the battle was done. Best of all, our GM said 50 of them cost him roughly $2 at the local hardware store.
Another Use For Dance/Perform Skill
From Peter G.
In RPT #288 there was a short tip on using the Perform skill in a variety of ways. I’d like to add this idea.
Historically, one of the major social events was dancing. Characters trying to break into society, whether nobility or rich merchant circles, will probably attend social events where they will be expected to dance with the big wigs. A group that fails to learn to dance may find that they are no longer invited to events (really bad) or are not invited to dance with the movers and shakers and their spouses.
Outside of the actual social event, the effects could also be significant. Other adventure parties are given the opportunities to assist various groups in exploring or guarding things. They will find that getting land for a stronghold will be harder, or the land will be further away from civilization. They will have to pay more for goods instead of getting a friends discount.
Ten Foot Wiki
From Roman Gheesling
Just read the latest issue of RPT and saw your mention of TiddlyWiki as an RPG tool. Well, there’s someone already ahead of you on that–Ten Foot Wiki is a TiddlyWiki customized for RPGs. You can find it at
From Morgan Davies
Play a spellcaster. In all my days I’ve never played a primary spellcaster, until recently. This has given me chances to use my cunning and forced me to prepare. I’ve found this enjoyable, and every time something ridiculously fun is pulled off it has the chance to become one of those classic moments your D&D group refers back to.
Get a grappling hook. Something my current character never goes without is a grappling hook. It’s useful to be able to hear your opponent coming, rise up into the shadows, and drop down behind them for a sneak attack or to move on unnoticed.
Ever fight a large opponent? Try climbing all over it, stabbing it where it’s weaker, and hopefully where it can’t reach you. I’ve done this against a dragon, where it resorted to throwing itself into walls and icy waterfalls to dislodge its smaller opponents, and against a giant who wounded himself by hitting his back with his club over and over again.
This trap requires magic, but it’s still very effective. I’ll describe the way I used it on my PCs.
The PCs walk out onto a circular walkway 25 feet up from the bottom of a circular room, with five cultists around a pentagram in the bottom. There is rope set nearby, and unless they can teleport the PCs will have to climb down to confront the cultists (this is a quest). In one minute of being on the weakened platform, or when a PC starts climbing, the bottom of the room will fill with fog (Obscuring Mist) and the platform will collapse. The cultists have escaped and barred the door with 3 heavy steel bars. After a few seconds, fireballs or similar spells will begin cascading into the pit from above (the cultists), and the PCs will have to find an escape.
A spot check will reveal the compromised structural integrity of the walkway, while a second spot check will reveal a hidden door. Spice it up however you want, but the basic trap is pretty deadly for the unprepared and unaware PC.
Climate For Fantasy World-Builders
I’ve written up a summary of a pretty standard system used by climatologists, with some subtle mods for roleplaying games. Perhaps the world builders who read your list would be interested? The write-up can be found at:
Speeding Up Combat (D&D 3.5)
From Kurt “Telas” Schneider
- Find out what’s eating the time. Assign one player the task of identifying what takes so long, and have him time the rounds for you.
- Use initiative cards, and a scratch pad for critter hit points. The init card should have the critical combat and skill information, including a short tactical primer. I used The Game Mechanics init cards, but now go with a friend’s spreadsheet for encounters. Frankly, almost everything is on computer for me these days.
- (This one’s potentially controversial, so take it slowly and play it by ear.) Introduce a time limit for the players and for yourself. A minute or so at first, but make it shorter as your players get more efficient. The character has six seconds to decide and act; a player should not dally for much more than that (after all, he’s got everyone else’s turn to think about his actions). This is not to say that six seconds should be a hard-and-fast rule; but it is something to think about.
GM judgements, skill checks, descriptions, clarifications, and such have to take place to get the player the right information, and shouldn’t count against him. But if the player hesitates and considers for too long, have his character delay his action. Trust me, you will not have many unintentional delays after the first one or two. This rule goes for the GM as well. You should know what the NPCs and critters will be doing before their turn comes up.
- Know the environment, tactics, and abilities of the NPCs and critters. Make brief notes if you have to. I use YoYoDyne’s “Monster 3.5” to create a custom-template HTML file of each critter, then pull all the pertinent ones up in Firefox tabs, along with a copy of the Hypertext d20 SRD. For planned encounters, I have the tactics and environment planned out, including simple contingency plans.
Hypertext d20 SRD
- Know the abilities of the PCs, so they don’t have to look something up mid-combat. Don’t become their rulebook, but don’t force them to remember which book had the information mid-combat.
- Simplify the combat structure as much as possible. If that means all the mooks have to go on the same initiative, and none of them have exotic abilities, so be it.