The Care and Feeding of Your GM

From Eric FitzMedrud

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0485

A Brief Word from Hannah

Personal Sidequests

I’ve been playing through Dragon Age again, paying more attention to my party members. I really like the personal side quests each have. You have to interact with them quite a bit to get to the quest, so it’s as if the quest itself is a reward. Sometimes you get good items, but mostly you get their eternal gratitude.

I think this could be great in a campaign, especially a location-based one. Pick a couple of NPCs the party interacts with frequently, and give them personal side quests.

These aren’t “Hey heroes, solve my problems for me!” kinds of things, but rather, personal matters the NPC won’t bring up without a lot of interaction, and might not even ask the heroes to intervene in.

This has a number of benefits. It makes your NPCs appear real. They’re not just walking quest-givers; they’re people with personal lives and problems of their own. It encourages your players to interact with NPCs more once they catch on. And it gives you more side quests your players can choose to take, giving them control over their destinies.

The reward could be xp and loot, the NPC’s favor, discounts from a merchant, or better information from a contact.

The key is not to get too attached to any of these side quests. Since they require personal investment and luck on the players’ part, it’s likely not all of them will be discovered.

Cool Things from the Blogosphere

There are a few things of interest going on right now I think you should know about.

Thing one: Nevermet Press, the innovative crowd-sourcing publisher, is gearing up to run their first contest. An artist draws a monster, people write flavorful descriptions of it, and the crowd picks who gets to collaborate with the artist on the final product. This could mean glory, acclaim, prizes, and seeing your name in print, but at the very least it’ll be fun.

You can find the initial information about it here:

Thing two: Bloggers NewbieDM and Sarah Darkmagic have teamed up to offer Downloadable Delves, a place to find free D&D 4e adventures. The offerings are a little scanty right now, so that’s where you come in – make some stuff! And bookmark it for later, so when it’s chock full of awesome adventures, you can download them.

Here it is: Downloadable Delve

Finally, a quick shameless plug: I, in my guise as Chaotic Shiny Productions, have free stuff for you.

The Damager is a small standalone program that rolls damage dice for you, then describes your attack based on weapon or power type and amount of damage dealt. It’s a great jumping- off point for creative descriptions, or an easy way to mail it in on those days when you can’t manage better than “He hits you with his sword.” It also has a generic die-roller, just in case.

Here’s the Damager: Chaotic Shiny Productions Damager

And because you like lists of ten things, here are ten maps for you – five player maps and five DM maps of five unique regions: Chaotic Shiny Productions 10maps

The Care and Feeding of Your GM

Game Master Feature Article

There is a lot of material out there about managing gaming groups, helping players get what they want, helping the players have fun, and fulfilling players’ wishes.

However, I only know of just one article that tells players how to meet the GM’s needs or how to increase the GM’s enjoyment.

To the GMs: I say we try to put more of the responsibility for a positive gaming experience on the players. I say we share our needs too. Give this article to your players so they can think (just a little) about how to serve your needs at the table.

To the players: It is time to step up. It is your responsibility to conduct the care and feeding of your GM. The rewards for that maintenance may include an enjoyable experience for you, a continuous gaming experience uninterrupted by GM burnout, and increased dedication by the GM to the richness of your gaming experience.

There are some ways roleplaying games can mechanically become more like the MMORPGs, but there are ways that pen and paper roleplaying games will always be different from those computer games. The most important difference is the interactive narrative gaming algorithm denoted by the title “GM.”

Unlike the MMORPG, for which the minimum required maintenance is auto-deducted monthly as your subscription fee, a GM requires slightly more care and feeding.

At a maximum, your full involvement in an MMORPG includes participation in a guild. Here you might find similarity with the GM when your guild leader shares the GM’s group functions of planner and arbiter.

However, the GM role is not fully present in the guild leader role. The GM buys a lot of material and spends a lot of time in preparation. For every adventure he thinks about how much players will enjoy the game, how to bring character skills to the forefront, and how players will meet their goals.

There is no one at the computer game development company checking these things for you. Even if your guild leader is thinking about these things, he or she doesn’t have the same control over the raid content as the GM.

For a GM, even when using a module, he or she is likely to feel responsible for your enjoyment because:

“I could have changed that.”

“I could have left that out.”

“I could have put something in to make that section more fun.”

“I should have read that more closely.”

“I ran that monster incorrectly.”

Here are ways players can help the GM enjoy being on the other side of the GM screen.

Gaming Is Not The GM Against You

Unless the GM is poor, their first goal is to make you happy. GMs obsess over making players happy. If you think the GM’s goal is to torture you and your characters, it is time to leave the game.

If the GM wants to make you happy, and yet something happens at the table that isn’t making you happy, please consider the following possibilities:

Possibility: The GM is trying to make dramatic tension but the tension here exceeds my limits of enjoyment.

Resolution: I should tell the GM what it is about this situation’s tension I don’t like. For example, I need to tell the GM that I don’t like it if children are harmed in the game world but otherwise can handle the same things happening to adults.

Possibility: The GM didn’t mean to do this and is going to fix it ASAP or give me and the other players a chance to fix it.

Resolution: Wait for the end of the scene, encounter, or mission for the tide to turn. If things aren’t resolved and your dissatisfaction lingers move to another possibility.

 Possibility: The GM made a mistake and doesn’t realize it yet.

Resolution: Ask, nicely. Don’t just ask, “Are you sure it can fly?” Ask instead, “Are you sure it can fly? Because I don’t think there is a thing we can do to defend ourselves against it if it can fly.”

A nice way to ask a GM if they made a mistake is to take the path of humility. “I’m sorry, I must be missing something here. I’m sure you mean for us to have some solution to this puzzle with our skills or information we’re supposed to know, but I just can’t think of what it is.” Add humility and optimism for bonus points.

Possibility: My conditions for enjoyment and the GM’s understanding of my goals for enjoyment are different.

Resolution: Ask the GM what they were trying to do with an encounter or scenario. When you hear something from the GM that doesn’t mesh with what you or another player want, don’t just say that it doesn’t bring you gaming enjoyment.

Instead, try to share what does generate enjoyment for you. If the GM was generating enjoyment in the scenario for another player and it didn’t float your boat, share that, but also recognize the GM has a balancing act to do and your turn should come around eventually.

Possibility: I’m missing something or didn’t hear something, and got myself into this mess on my own. Now I want it to end.

Resolution: This recently happened to one of my players. I went carefully through the process of describing the terrain. I said, “Everyone is clear about this right?” and no one asked any questions and all I saw were nodding heads.

Once combat started on that terrain, one of my players grew angry when he started taking actions affected by the terrain and felt I hadn’t adequately described the terrain before his actions.

Once I explained that everyone else at the table understood and that I had explained everything, he did a pretty good job of calming down, getting a new clear description of the terrain, and then generating ideas for getting out of the situation.

The key here was that he accepted his mistake, asked for clarification, and then worked on getting out of the situation thus increasing his enjoyment.

Satisfy The GM’s Needs

What makes a GM happy? Ask your GM to find out for sure. Here is a top 5 list of things that make me happy when I GM:

  • Expressions of thanks, enjoyment, or appreciation from the players. If it was an adequate session, thank your GM.

If you enjoyed it more than that, tell your GM what you liked specifically. “I liked that the bad guy got away. Even though it was frustrating in the moment, it’s just going to make it that much sweeter when we finally get him.”

“I liked the chance to roleplay my dedication to my deity.”

“I had fun with that negotiation.”

The more specific players are, the more that positive reinforcement will encourage that kind of thing in subsequent sessions.

Player investment in the campaign.

– Read the GM’s bad writing about the world, remember some details, and ask questions.
– Complete homework assignments on time.
– Turn in lists of new items, character backgrounds or character concepts
– Take notes and send them to the group
– Bring food
– Keep an ongoing loot or clue list, type it up, and send it to the group including the GM
– Be available for sessions

Maintain player and character cohesion.

Some groups might tolerate character versus character or player versus player conflict. But in my group it increases my enjoyment when a player makes an in character combat decision that is less than optimal and doesn’t get ragged on for it.

If another player makes a mistake that hurts your character, play up the drama of it, play out a fabulous death or wounding scene. Congratulate or thank another player for their contribution to the game.

Help another player get over a frustrating in-game event, bring them up to speed if they stepped away from the table for a minute, or help the players stay focused on the goal in the present instead of blaming for things in the past.

Honesty and forthrightness.

Few things frustrate me more than when a player points out a GM’s mistake that favored the players and then gets yelled at by the other players. When everyone is responsible for making sure the rules are followed, everyone learns, and everyone benefits from the consistency.

Input from players about rules is important to me because there are so many rules. I’m not a rules lawyer, I just play one when I’m behind the GM screen. When a player asks for a broken feat knowing it is broken to see if I will allow it that frustrates me.

We’re in this together, and the players each bring a different set of skills to the table. I rely on those skills to supplement mine. Positive contributions to the game from a player, such as “I wouldn’t allow that feat if I were a GM,” “Just so you know I purchased this magic item and it

has these abilities,” or “I don’t think that rule works that way” are vital contributions.

I’m describing not just honesty, but also forthrightness. Telling the truth and also volunteering information to the GM to help him manage the multiple dimensions of the game for everyone.

Investment in your character.

Don’t just write on your character sheet “Loves hot chili peppers” and never bring it up again, waiting passively for the GM to create a story hook that includes your beloved chili peppers.

Instead, when you arrive in a new country, tell the GM your character is going to the market to see if they have any exotic chili peppers.

When you have a disadvantage, roleplay it even if it hurts your character. One thing I used to do as a player is bringing a “To Do List” for each session.

For example, talk to contact X, roleplay my quirk today, don’t forget special ability Y.

This helps keep the world dynamic and interesting, gives the GM a lot of hooks for new stories, and forces the GM to create NPCs that can match the character depth you are working with.

Of the things above that make me happy, three of the five are interpersonal. Only two are gaming related. Roleplaying, like every other human endeavor, is more about relationships than anything else.

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Co-Create the World

Many players underestimate the power of their influence on the world. Either they presume the GM has pre-written the outcome, or they presume the players have to accept things the way they are.

I’ve already suggested the first and easiest way to try to get enjoyment out of the game is to talk to the GM and tell him what you want. However, there is another way to enhance enjoyment for all: create what you want in the game. If you are invested in the campaign and invested in your character, then you have power in the narrative.

Never assume the NPC cannot be turned, forced, or cajoled to agree with you. Never assume you have to go into the dark tunnel that looks like a trap. In an MMORPG those things are fixed more often than not; but in roleplaying, you never know what is fixed and what isn’t.

You never know what secret motives the minion might have, so instead of just turning her over to the police, why not try chatting. What would happen if you just waited at the mouth of the cave instead of charging into a dungeon crawl? What happens if you ask the minion how she got into a life of crime?

I don’t know what happens, and your GM may not know what happens either, but if you try to breathe life into the world by responding with depth, you will co-create the world with your GM.

This will help your GM feel like the world building and maintenance work was worth it, and they will want to keep GMing for you. In that sense, you should view the world as a toy the GM created for you to play with.

Respect The GM’s Artistic Creation

You don’t have to like the creation, but be nice about it. Players in my games have sometimes casually commented that “GM created race X sucks.” Subjectively, that might be true, but there might be more tactful ways to say it.

All the hours I spent writing up that race, their background, history, and motives, and weaving them into the world mean that I’m a little attached to them. With negative player feedback I’m going to minimize that race’s role in the world because the players aren’t responding to them well.

That’s fine. I tell myself during world creation I need to maintain some non-attachment about it because the world will be different once the players touch it. On the other hand, I don’t like it when my creation is outright insulted.

The positive side of this is to share with the GM when something goes well or when something in the world is cool. One of my players called me after my last session and said, “That was straight up *&^% ery,” which was his way of saying, “That was very dramatic, unexpected, and I enjoyed myself.” Maybe that loses something in the translation but you get the idea.

Ultimately, player, it is your job to make sure the GM stays where he or she is, safely behind the GM screen. If you don’t consider the GM’s enjoyment (a little bit), and how you contribute to it, you may one day find yourself without a GM, and the other players may nominate you for the GM seat.

And wouldn’t that be scary?

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Related links and tips:

Managing game groups

Helping players get what they want.

Making Challenges That Players Love To Beat

Fulfilling player wishes

Handling GM burnout

Gamer Burnout – Both GM and Player

9 Symptoms Of GM Burn-Out: Avoiding GM Burn-Out Part I — RPT#130

8 Tips For Recovering From GM Burn-Out: GM Burn-Out Tips Part II — RPT#131

Managing your campaign world

Maintaining Your GM

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Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

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

Game Up Your Guilds

From Bryan Howard

I believe guilds get little attention in most games and are only used as a hindrance and a way to lighten the PCs’ purses of their hard won gold. Guilds have existed throughout much of history and should have more attention paid to them.

Whether it is a simple potters’ guild to a fighter or thieves’ guild, PCs and NPCs should want to be in their appropriate guild. Being a member of a guild is a plus, not a punishment.

Make choosing a guild a quandary. “This mage guild teaches you how to cast spells without using material components, but this one teaches gem attuning and how to store spells in gems. Then this other one teaches you how to cast spells with just a focus item. I can’t decide which to apply to.”

Also, guilds are great for adventure hooks. Requests to steal or retrieve a stolen item, ensure a package arrives to its intended destination, or fight in a guild war.

Just as there are benefits, there should be negatives. Yes, you can learn to cast spells without using components, but your training takes half again as long and you are forbidden to use a magic item that recreates a spell effect.

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Virtual Tabletop Gaming Tips

From Killian

Some people run a virtual tabletop as just a mapping tool to know where players and enemies are in a real game. Others use them just to have a map for an online game, while the actual playing is done over a voice chat software like Skype or Ventrilo.

I use them as a surrogate game table, with myself DMing from the midwest United States, and other players ranging from tornado alley out to the east coast. All functions are kept in-game, except the character sheets, which are put together on the site Myth weavers. Rolls, scene descriptions, in- character turns, and everything else is done using the program functions.

Text doesn’t fade. You can take advantage of that. If you need to hop away from the computer to do something that won’t take long, it’s not something the game needs to be paused, or even distracted, for.

As long as you communicate through the in-program chat, whatever your group has said will still be there on the screen waiting for you. With proper timing, nobody even needs to know you were gone.

In Maptool there’s a chat log save function. If you have a problem keeping things straight or remembering to take notes, as long as you save the log at the end of every game, you have an adventure transcript right there.

Forgot who the NPC the party is working for? No problem. Just open the appropriate log and find his name. As a player, forgot to write down what that awesome magical item the DM gave you did? No problem, open the log, skim back through, and no need to distract anyone about it.

As a roleplaying-heavy DM, this is an extremely useful way to make sure every little adlib and new story idea doesn’t contradict anything. A quick skim through old sessions and you can be sure that the new ideas you have fit with the old stuff you’ve put into play.

If it comes down to needing to retcon something, as horrible as that can be for a campaign, the sting is lessened by making it clear exactly what changed, virtually to the letter.

Keep an out of character room, be it through an instant messenger program or a free chatroom service. Half the fun of a game is the social aspect, but it’s easy to get bogged down and off track if your party’s joke cracking has pushed the last relevant character post off the game screen. Players can end up not even knowing it’s their turn to act. The ability to keep in-character and out of character talk separate means a lot less distraction.

While it seems like it would be awesome to hand create every minute detail of a map, it’s unnecessary. The ability to build custom maps is wonderful, but keep it simple, and keep reuse in mind for at least a few areas.

My players have been heading up and down the same river for several sessions, and it’s simply a river with a pebbly bank, trees on one side, and a road and a bunch of bushes on the other. This little map has been reused every time they’re traveling, and no one’s batted an eye. There’s no reason to recreate a new river map every time, and by keeping it simple and un-customized, it can be used over and over.

If you’re planning a special encounter, then it would be best to customize a map, but the simpler and more reusable a map, the less lag from so many different areas, and the less setup time you have to use mapping.

Vision blocking layers when properly executed are awesome. Stick to straight and simple lines though, unless you want your entire map to die in horror and lag.

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Differentiating Multiple Monsters

From Mike Bourke

In response to the question about distinguishing multiple creatures of the same type, the simplest answer would seem to be using a poker chip as a stand, and sandwiching a small strip of Post-It Note between so just a small stub is showing. Write the monster number on the stub.

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Easy Place Names

From Mark L. Chance

Peruse the telephone directory for easy place names. Lots of street names can be used for any given genre.

For example, a quick look at Houston’s directory turns up these streets: Timberside, Mellowgrove, Horse Cave, Shadow Lake, and Jade Cove.

To me, those sound like great names for a hamlet of lumberjacks, a druid commune, a bandit hideout, a haunted lake, and the site of the pagoda housing a school for evil monks.

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10 Flavorful Wines For Your Game

From Magus from Strolen’s Citadel with permission

Some Thoughts on Race and Wine

Humans are likely to be the most prodigious producers of wine, being the race most commonly associated with mass agriculture. Most of the wine for sale or in circulation will be human made.

Elves would make better wines, having greater experience and delicate senses, but would always fall behind humans in that their wine is produced via horticulture rather than agriculture. They let the grapes grow where they will, rather than creating vineyards.

Dwarves, long time ale and beer drinkers, would remain so. Grapes don’t grow well in mountainous terrain. Orcs and goblins would likely have wine as well, but rather than organized efforts, each clan, tribe, or band would have a few members who know how to make some stout home-brew.


This is a popular wine, foremost coming from the Ermengarde valley in Nahalast prefecture. It is a ripe and full bodied wine that is best served chilled. This wine is a status symbol among the gentry and the nobility, and serves as the baseline of what is acceptable in polite company and what is plebian wine.


The elves cultivate grapes in the open meadows of the Ferginwaithe forest, and ferment a potent wine from it. The entire process is handled, from picking to bottling, by the elfin women of the forest. The grapes, renowned for their dusky color, produce a sweet and slightly musky pink wine.

Turhin Red

Turhin is cheap, made from whatever grapes are left from the pickings in the Turhino river vineyards. This includes grapes rejected for other wines and wild grapes.

Given the size of the region, a large amount of this wine is made every year and sold only in wooden casks to taverns, brothels, and slum hostels. It is of uniformly poor quality.

Creustold Red

This wine is made from the fermented juices of the creuse, a fist sized red citrus fruit. It is known for strong citrus taste and palate cleansing ability. It cuts through the most persistent fish oils, overly spiced cuisines, and the like.

It is seldom consumed by itself, but is popular on fish, served with runny cheeses, or taken as an eye opener first thing in the morning.

Daidaugh Wildwine

An expensive wine with a complex taste, Daidaugh is made only from wild grapes found growing around the druidic copse at Daidaugh Hill. Very few bottles are made and most are consumed by the druids themselves. The few that are sold command a hefty price on the market due to scarcity.

d’lil Auflaque

Elves are not known for making cheap wines, and d’lil Auflaque is as close as they get. This wine is a mixture of whatever is left from the casking and bottling for the year. It is blended, usually spiced with a blend of aromatic herbs, and bottled. It isn’t a bad wine, but is considered sub-par, even when compared to some human vintages.


This is reviled by elves and friends of the forest as it is aged in oaken barrels made from treefolk. The wine itself is mellow and nutty. It is an expensive wine, since the winery only has a few barrels that can properly age it. The rest of the wine, which is similar in taste, sells much cheaper as simple Rhoh Red.


Adat is a blood red wine made by the orcs of the Lynnian steppe from the fruit of the Ada tree, a fruit much like a pomegranate, but larger. The wine is syrupy and slightly adhesive. Orcs drink it in large amounts, and sometimes use it as a flammable weapon, throwing burning bladders of the wine at wooden defenses and squads of human infantry. If cut with water, Adat makes a palatable beverage.


This wine is grown along the Pol river in the Keethian highlands, an area of fog and damp mornings. The vintners are mostly half-elven, and have preserved a blend of human industry and elfin pragmatism to produce several dozen acres of vineyard.

The large pearl red grapes make for a delicate and savory wine, and bottled in a round-shaped bottle, a distinctive vintage. The wine commands a high price, but is generally considered a top vintage that isn’t among the super-rare varieties.

Rast-Apple Cider

Ciders are made from apples or pears, but are essentially still wines. Rast-Apple cider, made from a peculiar golden apple, is a popular if expensive beverage. It is good for easing illness of the stomach and gut as well as never leaving a hangover. To ensure the cider is legitimate, a single seed is left in the bottom of the bottle.

Want more wines? Read 30 Wines at Strolen’s Citadel.