Simple Acting Tips

From Danny East

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0415

A Brief Word From Johnn

Our Third Session of the New Campaign

We played again Thursday, hopefully getting back into our bi-weekly rhythm after a spotty spring and summer. In Session #2 we nearly had 2 TPKs, but the group managed to squeak out alive during the replay of a kobold ambush.

What’s tricky with the new D&D edition is the need for coordinated team play. Fights are no longer toe to-toe grinds. Monsters and PCs are designed to fill different niches, such as mobility, counter-mobility, wall, artillery, and so on. With specialization comes the need for teamwork, which is great.

Well, great for the DM, because he can keep everything in his head. For a group of players, though, who each only control one piece on the battlefield, it can get confusing, chaotic, and even frustrating.

The solution is either elaborate planning or communication. Planning informs each group member of their role, responsibilities, and actions in a whole menu of situations. This keeps everyone coordinated, like a close-knit parade of murderous mimes.

Planning is difficult. It takes a long time to figure out all the details. Plus, many players prefer to wing-it and don’t like to follow a rigid path.

Communication allows players to react to new events and for less-structured play than the planned approach. However, unless they have a common language of codes, hand signals, or protocols, talking things over takes time, can be loud, and is difficult over distances (from the PCs’ point of view).

Weighing both options, I suggest DMs encourage communication, and to overlook realism issues, such as distance, volume, time taken, and omniscient party awareness. Planning rarely works out, and most of the plans I’ve seen don’t last past the first round of combat. That means wasted time and frustration. Forcing players to clip their talk to 6 second bursts, to only speak to nearby PCs, and to not provide friendly suggestions reduces the fun factor.

It’s better that players learn to communicate with each other, like a team, than to force them to act independently, in silence, and risk more character deaths at the hands of tough, specialized D&D 4E foes.

A great compromise might be to ask everyone to only speak in-character during battles. So, no modern words, no game rules jargon, and with personality.

Have a gaming-full week!


Johnn Four
[email protected]

Simple Acting Tips

Unless you’re Stephen Hawking, there is no reason to avoid acting in your role playing. There is a huge difference between acting in a Vampyre LARP vs. acting in a Warhammer game, but the acting is still there. It’s part of the magic.

The following simple tips can help you with role play acting, making each session more fun than before.

  • Use this trick if you’re trying to speak as a character whose voice is at a different pitch than your own: Hum for a few moments at the pitch in which you want to speak before you begin talking.

This will naturally raise or lower the pitch in your own voice. It will not be a dramatic difference, but it will be a difference you will both hear and feel. Not sounding like yourself will also help you to get into character better.

  • Use different accents for each race. For more details, read the tip on accents and cultures entitled “You Are Not Mel Blanc” from issue #394.

  • Most of the really dramatic scenes in movies happen either when an actor is screaming or whispering. Try whispering.

Not only does it add a sense of drama to whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish, but your players will have to lean forward and stop fiddling just to hear you. You’ll have their complete attention. It’d be a good time to sell the plot. Or Amway.

  • Remember that creepy, loud guy at the bus depot who smelled real bad and wouldn’t stop asking everyone if they had seen “Hellboy?” Just pretend you’re him, and change the words around. Or pretend you’re Old Man Jenkins, the History teacher with a lisp.

Take someone from real life who has specific quirks and impersonate them as a PC or NPC.

  • Speaking of Mr. Jenkins, here’s a good tip to help work on your stage fright and confidence. Remember when all your classmates had to take turns at the podium talking about Egypt or the Panama Canal or the Roman Empire? Remember how much you cared about how well they spoke?

Yeah, that’s about how much your friends care about how well you do with your acting. So relax, and have a good time. You’re probably a lot better than you think you are, and once you start to enjoy acting more, it’ll be that much better.

[Comment from Johnn: Great tip Danny. This is so true. We groan every time a Scottish dwarf rolls up to the table, but we love it anyway. And even the player with the ever- switching accent proves to us he’s engaged with the game and gets regular pocket points for it.]
  • Use props. Mr. T is known for his necklaces. Charlie Chaplin is known for his cane. Tom Selleck is known for his mustache.

What is your PC or NPC known for? If they smoke, let a cigarette (hopefully fake) dangle from the corner of your mouth. If they’re a gambler, go ahead and spin a coin between your fingers.

  • Gesture. If acting as a lawyer, point with your pen. A politician might point with her glasses; a police officer might tap his notebook; an annoyed or frustrated man will rub his eyes.

Nervous people play with their hands. Liars look away. Angry people lean forward across the desk at the DMV, throw their registration papers down, and yell, “I paid my taxes!”

  • If you plan on giving a soliloquy or long speech during your game, go on and plan ahead. Write it down if you wish, just don’t read from cards or memorize a speech.

Instead, figure out a few good lines you’d like use and memorize those. When the time comes for your acting to shine, you’ll be able to stay in character while discussing things, and bring the conversation or speech around to the few good lines you’ve memorized.

This way, you won’t have to memorize a ton of material, and you’ll be less likely to mess up the few things you did memorize.

  • Remember Lovecraft? One of the reasons his writing was so good was the realism he put into the characters and setting. He made it real.

Next time you’re having trouble getting into character, go ahead and make up some facts. Want to be an angry dwarf? Go through your Grudge Book and pick one or two grudges to get riled up about.

Want to play a vampire with a true fear of the cross? Imagine all the nightmares you’ve had about light emanating from churches the way it does from the sun.

Make up a story of how, as a young orc, you saw your own family slaughtered by a group of self-proclaimed heroes purging the land of evil.

Once you’ve decided on a fact or two about your character, really let that feed into your acting. If it feels real to you, it’ll feel real to your audience.

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The most important tip for better acting is to relax and have fun. The reason we role play is to have fun. If you’ve become a good enough actor to enjoy it more than before, you’re winning.

Acting isn’t new to you, either. Remember when you were a kid and you had to jump on the furniture because the floor was lava? Acting is just external pretending.

Monthly Musing of the Chatty DM: Understanding, Using And Subverting Tropes In RPGs

Roleplaying adventures are a form of narrative entertainment. As such, they share common elements with movies and TV shows, as well as graphic and classic novels. Some elements are obvious, like characters, background, plots, and action scenes.

There is also a lesser-known type of element common to these forms of stories. These are tropes, and learning to use them (or subvert them) can make writing an otherwise-ordinary adventure stand out and become a very satisfying experience.

What is a Trope?

A trope is a narrative “figure of speech,” shorthand for some concept the audience will recognize and understand instantly. Above all, a trope is a convention. It can be a plot trick, a setup, a narrative structure, a character type, a linguistic idiom. It’s like leadership (or porn): hard to define yet you know it when you see it.

There are a lot of tropes out there, many of which you probably already know about without knowing about it.

For example, in a fantasy story, there often is a Dark Lord (trope) amassing an army of Evil Monsters (trope) to take over the world (again). There’s also often a clueless ‘chosen one’ (trope) surrounded by a band of Heroes (trope) who end up defeating the Dark Lord.

What’s a Cliche?

A cliche is an overused trope that ends up becoming intrusive or too obvious. It distracts the audience rather than serving as shorthand.

When the audience groans, the trope has become a cliche.

Examples of cliches in fiction:

  • “Nooooooooooooooo!”
  • The evil laugh
  • Fruit carts and panes of glass in chase scenes
  • “Luke, I am your father.”
  • The ethnic comic relief
  • “It’s quiet…too quiet.”

Tropes in RPGs

Tropes work just as well (if not better) in RPGs, because the audience controls the main protagonists. Since tropes are shortcuts, this can allow a GM to elicit a reaction from players while spending limited effort.

Cliches also have their use in RPGs; they aren’t inherently bad. They can be a useful tool for introducing new players to the game, as they bring familiar territory into an otherwise unfamiliar game, facilitating participation.

All adventures (published or homemade) already use tropes liberally because writers steal/borrow ideas all the time, consciously or not. It’s the careful and conscious choosing of tropes to elicit an emotional response from players that add value to your adventure.

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The Two Fundamental Rules of RPGs

The Rule of Fun

Games must be fun to play. Sure, we like pretty graphics and a good plot, but the fun’s the main thing. If they’re fun, a lot of incongruities can be forgiven. Go ahead, try to explain why the yellow circle loves dots and why the ghosts are out to get him, or why the frog needs to get across the road. You can’t. Doesn’t matter. Just replace “pretty graphics” by “cool mechanics” and the definition applies perfectly to tabletop RPGs.

A lot of shortcuts are made in the mechanics and premises of an RPG to make it fun. The Rule of Fun should also be applied by GMs to everything in the game, from choice of game to character generation, the color of dice, the miniatures players choose, the adventure used, etc.

With regards to adventure preparation, I suggest you apply the Rule of Fun whenever you think of adding a challenge (a fight, a trap, or a skill roll) by asking yourself, “Will playing this out be fun?”

If the answer is no or “probably not, but it’s logical” you need to rethink your design choice. Rolling a climb check to climb a tree to see the advancing enemy troops 50 miles away is not all that fun. Climbing it to avoid a horde of berserking goblins has a better chance of hitting the fun mark.

Try to apply the Rule of Fun to any instance of travel, investigations, or NPC interactions. It will make a game session better. (Hint: random encounters, unless everyone wants them, are not usually fun.)

The Rule of Cool

The limit of the Willing Suspension Of Disbelief for a given element is directly proportional to its degree of coolness. Stated another way, all but the most pedantic of viewers will forgive liberties with reality so long as the result is wicked sweet and/or awesome. This applies to the audience in general, as there will naturally be a different threshold for each individual in the group.

To transpose to RPG terms: your players will put up with almost any illogical or wobbly plot devices or encounters as long as things get cool enough for them.

A GM’s efforts should be not so much on far-reaching world building and tight, nitpicking-proof plot lines. They should go all out for encounters and roleplaying that will swamp players in coolness.

For example, think about combat on ice bridges, negotiating the release of prisoners in a flooding underground prison, or hopping from floating islands to pieces of flying ruins to catch the thieves of the Star Jewel of Radnia.

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Adapting Tropes to RPGs

With the Rules of Fun and Cool in mind, the idea in creating adventures or campaigns is not to copy a whole movie or novel in game form. The trick is to extract the tropes you found cool and engaging and import them into your game.

Since tropes are easily recognized, players will pick up on them and start building expectations. A useful technique then is subverting the trope by having it go in the opposite direction of what players expect. If you mix and match straight and subverted tropes, you will be able to elicit stronger reactions from player which will lead to more satisfactory involvement in the adventure.

For example, if you want to recreate some of the feeling of the Star Wars movies in your games, you can deconstruct the series in the tropes you liked best (this is my personal list):

  • Dark Tower (Death Star)
  • Power Glows: Lightsabers
  • Mystic Ninja: Jedi
  • Badass Villain: Darths
  • Face Heel Turn: Darth Vader
  • Empire vs. Rebels
  • The Chosen One: Anakin/Luke
  • Kung Fu geezer: Yoda
  • I am your father: Cliche!

The idea is to borrow a few tropes and build an adventure around them.

You could build a world where an Evil Empire threatens a small coalition of planets/states (rebel equivalent). Players are young Spiritual Knights (Jedis) in a monastery, being trained by an irascible old Crone (Subverted Geezer) who looks to be a few hours shy of croaking.

The Empire has an order of evil Hell-knights (Subverted Jedi) powered by pure hatred and led by an ancient pupil of the Crone (Badass Villain). They trash the monastery and kidnap the crone. The party finds a prophecy that talks of the Five Nascent Stars (The Chosen Ones) chasing away the darkness and guess that it’s them.

They track the Hell-knights back to their “Invincible” Citadel of Woe (Dark Tower). They infiltrate it and battle through mooks and a few Hell-knights. As they enter the cell compound, they come face to face with Granny Sensei kicking Hell-knight butt saying, “What took you so long?”

Then the Badass appears, gets a tongue lashing by the Crone; he goes mad and says, “shut up mom” (Subverted “I am your father”) and the final fight starts. Near death, the Badass implores his mother and she turns against the PCs (Subverted Heel Face turn).


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You liked this article? Head over to Chatty DM’s blog for more RPG posts on a wide variety of subjects. He’s got plenty to say!

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Interview with Yax of

From Danny East

I was testing out my newest metal detector on a South Pacific beach over the weekend, and saw what I first thought to be a giant lobster on a boogie board. Closer inspection showed that it was a smallish red dragon, cutting through the waves to impress the tanned beauties.

I took a seat to pick though my findings (mostly bottle caps and fillings) next to a man with a laptop and a pina colada on a coaster. Turns out it was Yax, of, and he answered a few questions for me.

Danny: For how long have you been working on

Yax: I started on a whim July 15th 2007 – I wrote 5 articles that evening I believe – and launched the site July 17th. “Launch” meaning I bugged my friends and kept asking them to read what I’d written.

Danny: You seem to have a pretty intimate relationship with Expy. Do the ladies get jealous?

Yax: The ladies are jealous. Very Jealous. They all want to be with Expy!

Danny: You’ve hinted at a previous career as an athlete. That doesn’t seem to fit with the web monkey/D&D persona. How did that happen?

Yax: Well, it all started with dropping out of college, which left me with a lot of free time. I picked up footbag (commonly known as hacky sack) and went with the flow. I played pretty much full-time for six years, made no money doing so, then went back to school and graduated.

Here’s a video from 2005, about one year after I stopped competing:

Danny: Did your parents really name you “Yax?” Is it short for something, or is it more of a form of onomatopoeia, like Gollum?

Yax: That’s a nickname my sister gave me to tease me. Turns out I couldn’t even spell my own name when I was younger, and “Yax” was born.

Danny: Of all the characters you’ve played, which is your favorite?

Yax: A manipulative Prince of Amber.

Danny: What is your favored method of killing a PC?

Yax: Death by Red Dragon, of course. With being ripped apart and eaten by Trolls a close second.

Danny: Pizza and beer, linguini and “Red Wine” on coasters, hot dogs and soda, or sushi and tea?

Yax: You know, I get teased a lot about the fake red wine on coasters, but you shouldn’t judge before you try it. And I’m pretty sure nobody ever drank fake red wine on coasters. So there. Now that that’s settled, I’ll go with pizza and beer!

Danny: has been growing faster than the weeds in my lawn. How do you keep up with it?

Yax: I don’t keep up! When I’m pooped I just don’t do anything. When I’m low on energy I just reply to email. Most of the time I have a buffer of pre-written articles and I have gone as long as 2 weeks without touching the site.

It also helps there are many other great RPG websites out there:,,, There’s plenty of new content every day on the web for everyone to get a quick RPG fix.

Danny: Any major projects we can look forward to?

Yax: A newsletter about RPGs in general, with in-depth articles. Dungeon Mastering’s light D&D entertainment recipe sometimes keeps me from going all out on my ideas.

Danny: Any major projects we shouldn’t look forward to?

Yax: The White Dragon joke generator. I announced it at least twice, but I think I gave up on that one.

Danny: How much would you charge to come to my house and DM?

Yax: I would like to say it’s free, but I’d get scolded by Expy. He always wants more coins.

By the way, one thing really bothers me about living with a red dragon: Expy always takes my jar of pennies and loose change and pours it all out in a corner of the house, then he sits on his new “treasure hoard.” It’s cute the first time, but it gets old really quick.

Danny: Do you practice what you preach about no prep DMing?

Yax: Yes. My prep sessions are usually less than an hour for a four-hour game. The only long prep sessions I do are campaign planning, just before and after the first game.

Danny: You are obviously trying to profit from How is that coming along? Think you’ll ever make enough to do it full time?

Yax: I never thought I’d work on Dungeon Mastering this long! I work with internet marketing geniuses, so I decided to put a few of their tricks to the test. Rumor has it that blogs are great marketing tools. I launched the web site to see what the blogging hoopla was about.

I love learning about web traffic, search engines, marketing, etc. When you think about it, it’s like a strategy/simulation computer game, complete with numbers, graphs, setbacks, and strategies. But if you figure out the game and beat it, you get more than short-lived gratification.

Danny: How many fingers am I holding up right now?

Yax: There’s an old Red Dragon saying that goes: “I’m watching you, not your fingers. Be afraid.”

Danny: Really?

Yax: Yep.

Danny: Describe for us your dream environment (food, music, atmosphere) for a session of D&D.

Yax: The best games happen in basements! No music. Dim lighting.

Food comes after the game if possible – preferably pizza.

Danny: How much input does Expy have on the website content?

Yax: Well, there’s a big announcement coming up about this. I can’t say much for now.

Danny: What does Expy do for fun?

Yax: The usual: terrorizing neighbors, burning down villages, telling white dragon jokes.

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This is when Expy returned to the beach, kicked sand in my face, and took my bottle caps. I ran off, embarrassed, to cry behind the port-a-potty. I am proud to say, though, that I survived an encounter with a red dragon.

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have some GM advice you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Gamer Talk

From Logan Horsford

I wanted to let you know that in addition to our usual ‘live play’ stuff, we’ve started doing something we call ‘gamer talk’. Basically, folks just sit around discussing gaming. This sounded to me to be right up your alley.

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My Friends Won’t Let Me GM

From Johnn

A reader wrote in with this question:

“Hey, me and my group recently started playing DnD, so none of us have much experience. Our DM is a cool guy, who has played before, just not as a DM. I want to have a try at DMing, mainly because I have a ton of ideas, but I don’t think anybody in our group would necessarily agree to me doing so. Have any tips on how I can persuade them to let me try for a day?”

I wrote back:

First, these tips might be of interest:

(Convention gaming is a lot like running a one-shot type game.)

You might persuade them by saying you’ve been reading tips on how to DM and DMing one-shots. If you plan on using a published adventure, you might also mention that.

Another tactic is to prepare your adventure and have it ready on a moment’s notice. Then, if a session is about to be cancelled, you could offer to DM your one-shot.

Another idea might be to ask if anyone wants to play with you as DM on another day of the week. A smaller group is easier to DM anyway, and the players can report back to your main group that your session was okay, thus giving you enough cred to offer to DM the whole group.

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Dragonroots Premiere Issue

From RC

Dragonroots Issue #1 is now available. The first issue features previews, GM advice and other articles, game material, and more.

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Recent Past Campaigns

From Mike Bourke

There is a campaign type I haven’t seen represented in the e-zine before: recent past. This campaign has all the benefits of a modern campaign, plus the benefit of having a lot of reference material.

For example, I started running my superhero campaign in the early 80s and set it in 1970. My super heroes campaign is 4 colour, very much The Avengers in style. It’s typical of the comics of the era in a lot of ways as well. There are occasional diversions into space opera (big cosmic or gritty) but they are very much the exceptions.

I just use a “snapshot” of the 1970s, which lets the PCs make a significant contribution to events in the world. Furthermore, as more characters are created, their origins and back stories slowly transform the state of events at the time of the snapshot into an alternate world. There are all the benefits of a common reference, and the scope to make changes.

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D&D 4E Tools

From Johnn

Check out Ian Toltz’s site for a collection of awesome D&D 4E tools, such as the D&D 4th Edition Random Encounter Generator, Power Tracker, Monster Maker, and Treasure Trove.

Scripts – Asmor