Ship Quirks, GM Tip Exchange, 20 Children Encounters

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0668

A Brief Word From Johnn

Game of Thrones a Great Game

How do you be a gracious winner? I’m not sure, because we played the Game of Thrones board game Friday three times, and I became King of Westeros each time. And I rubbed it in until my friends were ready to flip the table. My favourite NPCs know how to gloat well. And I got the opportunity to practice it so often that night my NPCs are now Level 15 Gloaters.

Game of Thrones a well-balanced game with no luck factors. Well, it’s bad luck if you don’t ally with me. (That’s another +1 gloat XP btw.)

If you play with equals, then it’s a constant struggle to earn your victory points and hold them. I did not have any of those problems (+1 gloat), and my victories came so quickly we could fit three into one evening (only 2 XP away from Gloat Level 16 now.)

Because I had so much opportunity to sit back and relax while on the fast track to the crown (+1) I started studying the game board. It’s beautiful art. And it’s fantastic world building. One thing I noticed was how well the image and name suited each location in the game. At the top of the world it’s a tough, cold place to endure a life. The art is white then a barren brown, rocky and wooded. Names evoke the danger of the region, such as Castle Black, Winterfell, and the Shivering Sea.

As we move south the land stays harsh, rocky, and cool. It’s filled with places like Ironman’s Bay, The Fingers, Seaguard, and Pyke.

As we keep travelling, we enter more temperate areas and places like The Golden Sound, The Mountains of the Moon, and Dragonstone.

At the far south of the land now, it’s warm and beautiful. And it’s filled with places such as Storm’s End, Yronwood, Sunspear, and Starfall.

We progress from the hard and frozen north to the lush and bountiful south, and the regional terrains and names reflect this progression. Yet, the theme of danger permeates every place name too. Widow’s Watch has a the same edge of grit as the Salt Shore.

If you are looking for a great example of world building, and how to name things to evoke aspects of your setting while staying on a theme, study the game board for Game of Thrones.

There’s talk of a rematch now. There will always be usurpers to the throne. If you have any tips on winning this game to send to my friends, drop me a note. (Boom, Level 16 unlocked.)

3 Line NPCs Book Cover

Thanks to Sophia Brandt at the Die Heart blog for taking time to review my GM utility book, 3 Line NPCs.

She’s given it a 4/5 with these callouts:

  • a great & universal method of creating broad-strokes NPCs, not so much for detailed antagonists etc.
  • good tips for using and incorporating NPCs into your game
  • useful tables and generators
  • pre-made 450 NPCs for fantasy (not other genres) which vary in quality
  • NPCs are not sorted in any way (villains, allies or something like that)
  • especially useful for vanilla fantasy sandboxes D&D-style
  • a 60-day-money-back promise by the author!
  • only available as PDF, no print version
  • good value for this price, makes prep easier and adds flavor to your game

You can read the full review at 3 Line Npcs.

Have a great week and try to fit some gaming into your busy life.



Thanks to Roleplaying Tips’ awesome new Patrons: Jon Mattison and Jeffrey Taylor Hurley.

Ship Quirks & Plot Seeds

From Jesse C Cohoon

Sometimes I encounter ships in published adventure that don’t have enough details to make them interesting. So I’ve created some lists of ideas to help tide me over. Maybe you’ll find them useful for your games as well.

Six Ship Purposes

First, consider why the vessel was commissioned or built. That decision raises a few question to help you add more detail and flavour.

  1. Entertainment: What features make it viable for that? Does it have an entertainment deck complete with a stage for performers? A swimming pool? A gambling area? A shuffleboard deck? A video lounge?
  2. War: Is it built for spying on the enemy, for making quick strafing attacks, or is it the fleet’s core, heavily armored with large cannons but slow moving?
  3. Prison: What is being locked away and why is it so dangerous it can’t be let out?
  4. Harvester: If it exists to gather needed materials what is it gathering and why? Why is a ship an ideal method of transport?
  5. Transport: What type of material support is it carrying? Food? Rebuilding teams for aid? Medicine to stop the plague?
  6. Exploration: What is it exploring and why? Is it trying to get treasure from exotic locales? Discover more of the world, galaxy, or universe for the sake of knowledge?

Twenty Ship Plot Seeds

Ships don’t always have to be waiting at the dock. Put them in dynamic situations.

  1. The Pretorian, drilling for oil far beneath the ocean floor, has somehow opened up an intra-dimensional rift. Cthulhu-esque creatures are spilling out, attacking the rig and endangering the lives of those aboard. It’s up to the crew to figure out how to close the rift and get back to the business of drilling for oil.
  2. A working-dog-driven paddleboat, appropriately named the Dog Paddle, is going up and down the river to promote awareness of the abuse of working animals. While dogs power the boat, they are well treated, cared for, and loved as pets.
  3. The fear-powered spaceship, the Terror, has appeared in the skies over Earth. Its yellow-ringed Sinestro Corps crew are hoping for a glut of power as they frighten earth’s populace. They will then spread that despair throughout the universe.
  4. The gnomish clockwork steam engine dirigible, the Kelpos, is exploring new areas of the world. The crew is a mix of races with a variety of skills, headed up by Jefan Grazbel, the ship’s main engineer. Unbeknownst to them, the ship’s arrival has upset delicate negotiations between neighboring barbarian tribes of difference races, each thinking the other has summoned outside help in the form of the airship. If the crew doesn’t straighten out the inhabitants, the fragile peace will dissolve into complete war.
  5. The Kanamits’ energy-powered flying saucer the Servitor sails through the vast emptiness of space. It is an exploration and food gathering vessel come to Earth to harvest…humanity. Will mankind fight back against the aliens who ended many of Earth’s greatest woes and take up their technology? Or will they become another entrée for the Kanamits?
  6. A space faring race made up of various catlike peoples has landed in an area similar to ancient Egypt to mine cats eye stones to fuel their pyramid-shaped spaceships. To do this they set themselves up as gods and enslave the natives to do their bidding. Unfortunately, after many years of oppression, a slave uprising is in the works.
  7. The interconnected mass of sailing ships of the People of the Dust on the Silt Sea drift aimlessly, seeking treasure from ships whose crews have died and risen as undead. Their victims are none too happy their ships are ransacked and their rest disturbed by trespassers.
  8. The Baleck, a D’deridex-class Imperial Romulan Warbird powered by an artificial quantum singularity reactor, is patrolling in the Neutral Zone during a relatively peaceful time when it receives a distress call from the Imperial Klingon Ship the Ch’Tongu. The crew needs to decide whether or not the distress signal is a trap to cause an intergalactic incident or genuine request for aid.
  9. A mysterious 14th century galley ship is piloted by the original crew, cursed by the sea witch Marian the Soul-Taker never to die. Her crew seeks to find a way to end their curse without spreading their ailment to those who cross their path.
  10. The nuclear-powered submarine, the Destiny’s Manifest, is exploring the Marianas Trench when its crew discovers a new species of fish. As they go deeper and deeper they are pushing the marine craft past its safety limits.
  11. Galactus’ cosmic energy-powered Worldship, the Taa II, is approaching earth with The Devourer of Worlds on it. What can our heroes do to dissuade him from sating his hunger using the planet Earth as a snack?
  12. The dilithium crystal-powered USS Firedrake, NCC-787543, has received word of a medical plague in the Dagnius System which they happen to have ability to replicate the cure for. Unfortunately, to reach the system in time to put their replicators to use they’ll have to violate the Federation’s directive and exceed warp 5.
  13. A group of space pirates called the Dark Force pillages worlds from their ship the Penumbra, capturing other races to be made into slaves. Their real purpose is much more sinister…to take the life force of their slaves and sell it to the highest bidders for crom, the universal currency.
  14. China developed an experimental cold fusion ship that can travel at sub-light speeds as a high orbit vehicle, move three times faster on water than any other ship and twice as fast when submerged. It can descend to depths of 100,000 fathoms without pressure damage or decompression problems. It’s also undetectable through radar. American spies have stolen the ship and are attempting to get it into American waters where they’ll be protected and this new technology can be analyzed.
  15. The sentient wood-powered elven airship the Laurëa Mallorn sails atop the trees of their homeland with feathery extensions that grasp the treetops gently, gliding it forward. Its crew is having an enjoyable day when in the distance the see smoke. They must reach the source before the whole forest burns down, destroying their homeland.
  16. The long-dead crew of the Viking longship, the Protector, return to life when someone desecrates and robs their burial grounds. They seek out the transgressors and punish them for their audacity.
  17. The volcano-powered dwarven flying mountain fortress the Incorruptible patrols their lands for trouble and acts as a strategic meeting point for all of the generals of their land-based fortresses. An enemy has gotten aboard and the crew must defend it from being taken over.
  18. An interstellar traveling city-ship called the Kutox carries the remnants of the Frenis as they flee the evil life form called Droggs, whose eons-long war has driven all but a few of the ancient magical race to extinction.
  19. The air elemental-powered military airship, the Turbine, overlooks the city-state of Quaymire and carries its ruler. The populace isn’t happy with the dictatorship and is planning ways to bring it down.
  20. An intergalactic spaceship containing a race of peacekeepers, the Treaty, has come to Earth to try to get man to listen to the cause of peace. Will their efforts fall on deaf ears during times of war?

Thirty Ship Quirks

Make each ship a little different by adding a small quality.

  1. Alive: it thinks but only has unintelligent (plantlike) or animalistic instincts, and the ship’s crew often serves more as handlers than as pilots.
  2. Sentient: can think and communicate talk intelligently.
  3. Healing: the ship can heal itself through means technological, organic, or magical.
  4. Slow weapons: it takes a long time to charge weapons for firing
  5. Fragile: the ship is easily damaged.
  6. Fast: this ship is speedy because of fuel type, special engine, or construction.
  7. Intermittent: ship only functions when it wants to.
  8. Old: outdated technology, peeling paint, leaks, prone to breakdowns.
  9. Constant maintenance: works well when properly maintained, but this takes up much of the crew’s time.
  10. Unusual controls: untrained pilots will have a difficult (or impossible) time piloting the ship.
  11. Odd odor: when inside the ship, it has an unusual odor that you can’t quite place.
  12. Signature presence: the ship is always known by some telltale sign – exhaust, leakage, something that causes others to know it has been there.
  13. Heavily armored: the ship has more armor than others of the same type.
  14. Adaptable: the ship is designed to handle the roughest of conditions.
  15. Slow: the ship slogs along steadily, but makes up for it in passenger, storage, or weapons capacity.
  16. Cramped quarters: the ship’s other features take priority over crew comfort.
  17. Weird fuel source: the ship can’t simply go to the corner gas station and get a fill up. You need something special or even dangerous to make it work.
  18. Standard design: anyone with a schematic of the ship can hack into it and cause it to do things the crew doesn’t want it to do.
  19. Cloaking: The ship can disguise itself as another type of ship or become invisible.
  20. Military Carrier: carries military vessels that can launch from it while in transit.
  21. Drifting: the ship has no real means of propulsion, relying on the environment to move it.
  22. Juking: the ship is harder to target accurately because it doesn’t stay put.
  23. Transformer: the ship can change to another form such as a giant robot or an animal, possibly combining with others to create a larger form.
  24. Experimental: the ship has new, untested technology.
  25. Unidentified: it has no name or registration.
  26. Unusual construction: ship is made from non-standard material such as ice, fire, special polymers, or cloth.
  27. Difficult to fix: if damaged the ship takes many hours of repair or special materials to fix properly.
  28. Unusual propulsion: the ship is powered by animals, clockwork, solar power, chemical reactions, or energy directly obtained through life forms drive it.
  29. Magical: there’s magical protection or other attribute built into the ship itself.
  30. Sturdy: hard to bring down or immobilize due to its multiple backup systems, engines, or weapons, and it might need to be destroyed in combat a section at a time.

GM Tip Exchange

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

Create a GM Screen From Old CD Cases

CD Case GM Screen

[Editor: I spotted Ted’s cool CD case GM screen idea and had to share it with you. In the thread Ted created, a couple other people added some great ideas as well. Below is a quick compilation of Ted’s original tip and the additional ideas.]

Ted Arlauskas via the Game Master Tips Community

I’m loving my new CD case GM screen I recently made. I was inspired by a post from +Enrique Bertran over at When I saw his low-profile screen I knew that was exactly what I wanted. For the longest time I haven’t used a traditional GM screen because I’ve always felt that having a large-ish screen between me and the players was too much of a barrier to conversation. This small, short CD case screen does exactly what I need it to do – hide my die rolls and maps without getting in the way otherwise.

CD Case GM Screen
CD Case GM Screen

Here’s a link to NewbieDM’s screen that inspired me: My homebrew 5e DM Screen

And the one that inspired him:

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From Devon Apple

I made some double sided inserts with pix on the outside and generic NPC/scene description tips on the inside. Some of the paper was too loose, though.

Thinking about laminating them so they are more rigid.

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From Jared Christopherson

I’m totally going to do this and I’m wondering about possibly doing a double decker. Making it two cases high. I know that defeats the purpose of the screen being shorter, but I like this idea for shorter & taller screens too. I’ll share when I’m done. I want to do it right this moment!

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Cheap and Effective Magnetic Battle Mats

From Arndt Meyer

After our group tried and failed to do away with battle mats entirely I had the idea to build a more practical miniature battle mat. The result came out so handy and cheap that I wanted to share the idea and complete instructions with you and your readers.

How to Build

Steel sheet and clipboard

I purchased a thin letter-sized galvanized steel sheet at the local hardware store and a clipboard with cover. I cut the steel sheet with a jig saw to nicely fit onto the clipboard. If you don’t have a jig saw or a comparable cutter, many stores offer to cut the sheets for you. Smoothen the edges to avoid injury! Glue it or clip it. I preferred clipping, because the extra space next to the clip is a good place for storing the magnetic gaming pieces when drawing or changing the maps.


At home I had a bunch of very small neodymium disc magnets of about 5 x 1.5 mm (3/16″ diameter x 1/16″ thick). These can be purchased for a few cents apiece, for example here.

Note that neodymium magnets are no toys for small kids, and in some countries are considered so dangerous there may be restrictions to buy them! You should also keep them away from electronic devices and credit cards.

Put the printed map on the clipboard and you are ready to play. Read below on painting the magnets. Use graph paper to draw maps spontaneously. You can also use overhead film, dry markers, and printed grids/hexes of any size. Or print the grid on overhead film and place over other maps and images. 7 to 10 mm grids work pretty good for 5mm magnets. Make sure to put all magnets onto the board with the same polarity to prevent them from sticking together.


Steel sheet (~ $3) + clipboard (~ $5) + magnets (~ $2 for more than 10 pieces) + paint/overhead film (free?!) = ~ $10

Further Considerations

You can choose other magnet sizes if it fits your needs better, but thinner magnets become difficult to handle, and thicker magnets are stronger and may not fit under the clipboard cover.

Instead of using a clipboard you can use the bare steel sheet or glue it onto a board. You might even want to cover your entire gaming table with it. For our group the clipboard proved practical because we often change locations. You can stop in the middle of an encounter, just close the cover, and you have all magnets safe in their positions. The cover also protects other stuff in my backpack from the magnets and it has a pocket for character sheets and further maps.

Finally, we started the campaign without battle mats because we wanted to shift the focus from the table to our fantasy. The clipboard allows the GM to only show the map briefly when we need to clarify our positions and take it away whenever he wishes. It might also prove useful for a GM who wants his own secret battle mat in addition to a regular battle mat.

Painting the Magnets

First, we just used a fine permanent marker and drew small symbols or numbers on the magnets or painted them. That worked for a while, but often the paint wears off. My solution was nail polish. If you don’t have any, someone you know will almost certainly have many nice colors available.

Place the magnets onto the steel sheet for painting (use the backside, or protect it with paper or film). Again, make sure to paint all magnets on the board with the same polarity to prevent them from sticking together.

I coated the magnets in reddish colors for players and companions, and bluish colors for monsters. After drying I drew symbols on the magnets with black varnish and a fine brush. A toothpick and some patience and practice will do if you don’t have a fine brush. You can finish with clear nail polish as a protective layer.

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Using Players to Build Your World

From Remy Monsen

I have found getting my players involved in any kind of word-building or campaign background is difficult at best.

So I decided to let the players help create the world by playing the game.

The history of my world is divided into several major ages. My group and I are playing our first campaign in it so there is lot not yet written. Instead of telling the players of the past, I let them create it using a different set of characters.

I first used this when the characters needed to find a certain legendary magical weapon to slay a foe. As they entered the tomb of the hero who wielded the weapon previously, I suddenly switched track and started to describe a different scene. The players were confused until I told them to create new characters.

We then continued on with an adventure taking place in an earlier age where the players had a major hand in the forging of the weapon, basically creating it as they wanted. Time constraints and the need to actually adventure in this timeline to get components ensured the final power level of the weapon was appropriate. The more powerful abilities were also associated with a more difficult adventure path.

I plan to continue using this to allow the players to be present at certain important historical events in my campaign, where they will have the opportunity to influence the outcome.

Since we play AD&D 2nd Edition I decided the historic characters would be dragons. I used the Council of Wyrms rules but ignored the setting. This allows for characters with a long lifespan who can experience multiple historic events. They are also quite powerful, serving as a contrast to the main part of the campaign.

My players seems to enjoy this quite a bit so far, and I love seeing how the players actually partake in creating the history of the world. Since I do love a bit of dramatic effect I did not tell the players about anything of this beforehand. I think that sudden reveal mid-game worked well.

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Quick Tips for Smoother GMing Online

From An Online GM

re: RPT#663: Choosing the Right Virtual Tabletop

I’ve been using Roll20 and Google Hangouts for about a year and a half now. I learned the basics in a couple of hours, still learning the cool stuff, and I have made some wonderful friends out of the random strangers that I’ve gamed with.

I’ve only had two problems with Roll20: coordinating game times across time zones and a little minor online stalking from former or potential players. Neither is the fault of the system.

I would recommend a post of game rules in the private forum, stickied. If I had done that, I could have saved myself a lot of aggravation from a problem player. A no-PvP game with alignment restrictions and a player that brags about his PvP count and breaks alignment to play a restricted alignment simply do not mix.

I would also recommend a separate email and Skype account dedicated to gaming until you can trust the person. I didn’t, and had to disable Facebook when I didn’t want to be found because I used the same email and someone couldn’t accept being dropped, even though I carefully phrased my goodbye message to be that of my game not fitting his play style.

I kinda liked the 33% rule [Editor: see RPT #633]. I don’t use it personally. If the players come up with a crazy idea I try to accommodate it. It’s well known in my games that the more they can make me laugh the more likely their crazy plans will succeed. But I do use random chance for other stuff and I have the players roll it for me. It can get funny when the players try to beat each other out for a chance to try and get a favorable result.

I’ve found using backgrounds can be tricky. A lot of players have been burnt. They used to submit backgrounds and a former GM or two has viciously used it against their characters, and now they’re skittish. Frankly it’s a lot easier to run a few games not taking backgrounds into account, and then using the shared background that has been created in those sessions. That is when I usually get something for a background from people, because I have demonstrated I’m not going to kill off everyone their characters care about or something like that.

Something that helps me is a random table that gives a little something special tied to a mini-background. In my system of choice, there are dozens of skills. So I tied getting extra skills to a background, like working for a fisherman and getting fishing, swimming, and sailing. It’s an option, it occasionally has some crazy results, no one has turned it down yet, and the backgrounds are inventive.

If you’re still taking suggestions for future topics, I have more.

How do you build trust from the first moment? To me trust is essential. If I’m going to successfully referee, the players have to trust me. I recently had a potential player suggest essentially minor god characters. Turns out his previous GM would kill normal level characters the first session on a consistent basis. I got him down to something reasonable, but it took two months to get there.

Kinda related, how do you rebuild trust after a botched call? Everyone but the affected player agreed with my decision, but in hindsight a lesser action would have had a chance to correct the problem (not a guarantee though). The player chewed me out for months and played every character stupid because he was afraid of another character retirement. I apologized repeatedly, told him I tried to learn from my mistake. Nothing worked. We had to part ways, because I couldn’t take being told every night how I was doing everything wrong and then have the conversation go right back to how he was asked to retire a character and how wrong I was then.

Table: Twenty Children Encounters

From Phil Nicholls

Children are everywhere. With their small hands, beady eyes, and penchant for recklessness, they can be just as good a source of encounters or subplots as any other NPC. Here is a list of twenty situations involving children for your use as flavour or plot hooks.

  • A child wants to prove their worth and challenges PC to a fight.
  • A group of children chasing a rat rush at the PCs. The rat hides on a PC.
  • A crying child suddenly grabs PC around the knees and bursts into tears.
  • Children are singing a “traditional” song with clues to the PCs’ current quest.
  • Two children roll in the mud fighting at the feet of the PCs.
  • A flock of urchins follow the PCs offering their services as guides.
  • A silent child stares at a PC and follows them everywhere.
  • A child asks the PCs to help find a lost pig, leading to a muddy pig chase.
  • Children loudly sing rude songs about the PCs.
  • A terrified child up a tall tree needs the PCs’ help.
  • A swarm of children running in the street are a tripping hazard.
  • Children throw acorns at the heroes, loudly scoring points for each hit.
  • A water fight drenches a PC.
  • A child asks the PCs for help in a game of hide-and-seek.
  • A child hands a PC a package then flees.
  • A child claiming to be a prince begs the PCs for help evading his stepmother.
  • An apprentice is in tears after a beating from his master.
  • A child with a stick demands to join the PCs on an adventure.
  • An insistent child wants a stirring tale of derring-do.
  • A child recognizes a PC as a long-lost family member.