Using Limericks To Spice Things Up

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0079

  1. Hold A Contest
  2. Make Them A Villain Quirk
  3. Use Them To Give Clues
  4. Limerick Key #1: Metre
  5. Limerick Key #2: Rhyme
  6. Limerick Key #3: The Opening Line
  7. Give Your Limericks A Twist At The End
  8. Read Your Limerick Out Loud

Readers’ Tips Summarized

  1. Cheap Miniatures Tip
  2. More Cheap Miniatures
  3. An Absentee Player Tip
  4. Use Wheeled Shelves For Your Books At The Game Table
  5. Use Scotch Tape To Protect Character Sheets

A Brief Word From Johnn

Limericks Tips

There once were some tips about limericks,
To show that they’re more than just gimmicks.
But try as he might,
Johnn could only prove right,
That they’re nothing but silly GM tricks!

I’ll Be Switching To A Professional List Service

I’ve switched to a professional list service,, and if all goes well, this will be the last issue sent using my current, overloaded system. What this means is that the email headers will change, and the list name will change in the subject line to “RoleplayingTipsWeekly”.

I’m letting you know in advance so you can re-configure your filters, and also to help you troubleshoot in case next week’s issue doesn’t wind up in your Inbox.

If all goes well, #80 will be sent using the new service.

Free Game Info Organizer Software

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been using PC software called MyInfo. It’s an information organizer with two windows–the left one holds your table of contents that you build as you go, and the right one contains your data.

I used to use other software, but it was ad supported and glitchy, and I’ve found MyInfo to be stable, and it’s 100% ad free.

I have several files going now. One holds all the roleplaying tips that I receive by email, ICQ, from the web site, etc., grouped by category, sub category, sub-sub category and so on. Another file holds my campaign info, and another holds all of my game world info.

The table of contents is built in a tree-like structure (using plus and minus signs, and indenting), and you can collapse sections quickly until you need them again.

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And it’s 100% free–it’s not shareware and doesn’t expire. Just download and use.

This is turning into a lengthy tip, so I’ll cut it short and urge you to check out the screen shots at: Key MyInfo Features

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Johnn Four
[email protected]

Using Limericks To Spice Things Up

Hold A Contest

A limerick contest is a lot of fun and is an activity that can involve the whole group because they’re fairly simple to come up with on short notice. Also, contests can be long or short encounters, fill-ins or the main event, and therefore quite a flexible GM tool.First, figure out the circumstances and rules of the contest. Is it one side versus another? Teams? Every man for himself? The first two options are better for groups who can work well together.

The third option is best if your group tends to fracture during such events (the aggressive player takes control, the loud player drowns others’ ideas out, the quiet player picks up the rulebook and begins reading….).Then, figure out the rules of the contest (who wins and why?), and number of limericks required for your NPCs (5 NPCs in a best-of-three contest = 15 limericks).Next, spend a few minutes preparing the limericks that your NPCs will use during the contest.

Write your own (highly recommended) or download a bunch from the internet. Tweak any limericks to the genre and campaign area you’re playing in (“There once was an ogre would couldn’t spell…”, or “There once was a Jedi would couldn’t spell…”).It’s also a good idea to have extra limericks on hand, so you have choices during the contest. I found, at the last minute, during the game when I held a contest in my campaign that I didn’t like some of the limericks I chose. Fortunately, I had extras on hand and used them instead.

Some options for contests include:

  • Dueling bards
  • Banquet entertainment (perhaps one limerick per table)
  • One side begins the limerick, the other side finishes it
  • A surreal encounter with fey or alien folk
  • A dungeon puzzle or riddle

Play up to the participant’s intelligence and creativity as well. Dumb contestants, like ogres, will struggle with their limericks and you can make them come up with hilarious failures. Save the best limericks for the smartest NPCs.

And think about the judges as well. In my contest I established a peer judging system. All the players and NPCs could each cast one vote. Some of the NPCs were biased against certain PCs, some were bribable, and others always thought their own limericks were the best, no matter what. Lots of roleplaying opportunities!

Finally, figure out what the reward will be. Why would the players try hard to come up with the best limericks?

Make Them A Villain Quirk

You can turn limericks into an interesting, humorous, or annoying villain quirk. Perhaps the villain uses limericks as for greetings, parting words, or as a nervous habit. The degree to which the villain uses limericks will determine its annoyance level. ;)If you have a limericking villain, be sure to have several limericks prepared beforehand.

Also, try to personalise the verses to the PCs, and make them as insulting, derogatory, or defamatory as possible. For example, take each PC’s name and rhyme it with some unflattering things. Or, insult a character’s hometown, class/job/career, family, or appearance.

Use Them To Give Clues

Clues can be easily inserted into limericks: locations, names, key words and phrases, instructions, and so on, and it’s a lot of fun making them for this purpose, if you are so inclined.First, make a list of clues to encode within your verses. Next, ask who would possibly know of the clues and take the time to hide them in verse. And also answer the question of why they would use the limerick format.

Armed now with a solid backstory, you should figure out how you will spread the limericks out over the course of the adventure. It wouldn’t be as fun, for example, if all the limericks were bound into a single book, and therefore all the clues could be figured out at once. Look for a way to spread them out:

  • A series of personal correspondences
  • A re-appearing newspaper classified ad
  • The source has been broken up into pieces (i.e. book torn apart)
  • The limericks are trapped in the memories of a madman who occasionally speaks them aloud
  • Scavenger hunt format which is actually a villainous trap

Limerick Key #1: Metre

The first key to creating good limericks is to learn the general metre, or rhythm, that they use. Here is a typical one, where “BUM” represents an accented or emphasized word/syllable:ba da BUM ba da BUM ba da BUM
ba da BUM ba da BUM ba da BUM
ba da BUM ba da BUM
ba da BUM ba da BUM
ba da BUM ba da BUM ba da BUMThere ONCE was a DRAGON in a CAVE
Who REMEMbered and NEVer FORGAVE
He SENT them ALL to their GRAVES

Limerick Key #2: Rhyme

Rhymes are critical to limericks, and at least half of the fun. Make sure that lines 1, 2, and 5 all rhyme, or at least half-rhyme.Line 1: A snotty goblin named Crunch
Line 2: Got he thinks a real good hunch
Line 3: To rob a big orc
Line 4: With a dinner fork
Line 5: And now his new name is lunchWhen I make limericks, I’ll often work out the three rhyming words first, then fill out the rest of their lines. Then I’ll finish the verse off by creating the two middle rhyming lines, #3 & #4.If you can’t think of a rhyme for one of the lines, here’s a trick I use. Mentally run through the alphabet, starting with A. As you think of each letter, be ready for any rhyming words that start with that letter to pop into your head. Sometimes I’ll go through the alphabet two or three times before a word comes to mind. This doesn’t always work though, so keep your thesaurus nearby just in case.

Limerick Key #3: The Opening Line

The opening line is the most important when creating a limerick. It sets the cadence and the rhyme. It also answers the who, what, when and/or where, and sets up the punch line at the end.The classic first line is to use it to identify a character, as in “There once was a king named Hugh…” or “A naughty werewolf named Ned…”. Use this first line formula to start your limericks until you are comfortable with the format.

Give Your Limericks A Twist At The End

I think the most important line, from a listener’s standpoint, is the last line. It’s equivalent to the punch line of a joke, and if it falls flat then the whole limerick is ruined.The last line should be clever, like a mini plot twist, and it should come as a surprise to the listener. One method to twist a limerick is to switch the last rhyme with another word creating a double entendre.Another word of warning: an obvious opening rhyme can give everything away before the end–so choose it carefully.

Read Your Limerick Out Loud

The best way to test your limericks is to read them out loud. Your ear will instantly pick up bad rhythm or rhyme, and you will also notice whether the limerick lacks punch at the end.

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Tips Request: “Running Cities”

(“NPC Voices” will be appearing soon, thanks for all the tips submissions.)

An upcoming issue will be dealing with running city campaigns or adventures, based on a number of tips requests from the Topics contest and a recent reader’s regular tip request. This is a big topic though, so I need help from you in narrowing it down.

What kind of city tips would you like to see? What problems/difficulties do you run into while GMing a city adventure (regardless of genre or game system) that we could all gang up on and help you with?

Also, if you have any city tips, generic or specific, please send them on in.

Send your tips to: [email protected]


Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

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

Cheap Miniatures Tip

From Clayton R.

I’ve only be Dming for a little over a year now. Before then my friends and I were really into collectable trading card games like Magic. When we started playing RPGs, we realized that we were all sitting on a hoard of potential miniatures – our thousands of outdated, useless cards.

Using the cards we can almost always find the one card with a picture that epitomizes the PC, NPC, or nameless baddie. I make stands for the cards simply by cutting off half of the flavor text, then I make a slit in the bottom middle of the card and slide the piece I cut off into it and voila, instant card stand.

If you don’t have any cards to do this with, it is very easy to get some: either find someone who has played the card games for a while, or go to a shop that sells them. Believe me, you can get outdated, obsolete cards for next to nothing because the owner of the cards has nothing to do with them and will be happy just to get rid of them.

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More Cheap Miniatures

From Dave M.

I’d been making my own minis for years, using clipart, and then I discovered MicroTactix. They make downloadable PDF files of printable miniature characters and settings. They’re very inexpensive, and the models are actually 3-D! They have fantasy, scifi, western, modern, and other cool stuff.

They also recently released a color version of their dungeon tiles, and they’re gorgeous! Wow, I can’t believe it. It makes me want to play fantasy again, just to use their accessories.

Check ’em out at

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An Absentee Player Tip

From Sean H.

In regards to Issues #70 & #71, “How To Deal With Absentee Players”:

RPT#70 – How To Deal With Absentee Players, Part I

RPT#76 – How To Deal With Absentee Players, Part II

I forgot to mention our way of discouraging absenteeism.

If a player cancels on Gaming Night with less than a full week’s notice for the G.M. to plan around… it is customary for him to buy pizza for the entire group the following week.

It seems simple, but it’s amazingly effective. We all understand that things come up that one can’t avoid, but this *will* guarantee a decrease in the “I’m tired and just don’t feel like leaving the house after work” syndrome and also lessens the pain of the players that *did* show up.

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Use Wheeled Shelves For Your Books At The Game Table

From Cheryl

[In regards to Issue #69, “Putting Together The Ultimate DM Binder” and Issue #57 “6 Ways To Perfect Your Gaming Environment” ]

Since we play at my house, all the DnD books, magazines, binders, etc. are on two 4-shelf metal racks with wheels. The core rule books are on the top shelf of one of the racks and get wheeled or carried to where I plan on running the session from that night, which is usually in the kitchen.

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Use Scotch Tape To Protect Character Sheets

From Erin

[In regards to Reader’s Tip #4, Issue #78, “I’ve been using plastic sheet protectors for my maps…” RPT#78 – GM Schizophrenia: Tips For Holding Conversations Between Multiple NPCs ]

There’s an easier, cheaper way to do this. Use Scotch invisible tape (the kind that looks frosted, not the crystal clear kind) and regular pencils (mechanical works best, but it’s not necessary). The tape protects the page and makes it easier to erase. You can also put it where ever you need it.