6 GM Organisation Tips

From Johnn Four

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0225

A Brief Word From Johnn

List Generation Project #2 And Contest

List Project #1: Roleplaying Locations was very successful. Hopefully everyone got some use out of the ideas the Tips community generated. It’s time now for List Project #2–and there are prizes this time too!

“Roleplaying Plots and Quest Ideas”

The last two issues have discussed tips on crafting roleplaying oriented plots, missions, and encounters. They’ve discussed things in a fairly abstract way though, so now it’s time to get specific.

Send in your roleplaying (as opposed to combat) plot, mission, and quest ideas. Multiple entries in single or multiple emails are welcome to increase your winning chances. There’s no minimum or maximum length, but please try to follow this format:

Title: ___________
Description: ___________
GM Notes: ___________

For example:

Title: The Druid’s Comeuppance

Description: A druid in the region is blackmailing villages. He has planted a virulent weed in all the fields. Farmers, despite trying every known trick and technique, cannot rid themselves of the thorny plant that grows quickly and can choke a crop to death in a few short weeks. The druid keeps the plant at bay in exchange for expensive wine, delicious cheeses, fine cloths, and other goods produced by the communities.

Despite many complaints, the lord of the region does not believe the druid is responsible and thinks he is merely asking for just payment in return for his important weeding service.

The farmers of one afflicted village have pooled their coin together and wish to hire the PCs to snare the druid in a trap. They want the PCs to lure the druid to the lord’s city and have him reveal his evil-doings in front of the lord so that the village finally gets some justice–and permanent relief from the weeds and the blackmail payments.

GM Notes: The druid has a family in the city whom he hasn’t spoken with in years. The farmers do not know this, but this information might be gleaned by parleying with the druid and could be used to draw him to the city. The druid wants an easy, comfortable life and has lost his desire to serve nature. Another approach the PCs could take is to get the druid excited and motivated about nature again, so he’ll go back to his old life and stop bothering the farmers.

The contest ends midnight July 3rd. The 8 prizes up for grabs are:

Regardless of who wins the contest, everybody will win when the plots and quests are published in the ezine for all GMs to enjoy.

Email your entries to:  [email protected]

Good luck!

10,000 Random Magical Effects

In my recent list of List Generation Project ideas, there was an item for wild and chaos magic effects. Well, one reader wrote in about a PDF he had with 10,000–yes, 10k– random magic effects. I contacted the PDF author, Orrex, and he kindly agreed to let me distribute the file, free of charge to you. Thanks Orrex (and thanks for the tip Dan Wells).

So, without further ado, here are 10,000 magic effects (840KB).


Johnn Four,
[email protected]

6 GM Organisation Tips

It’s been a long, long time since you and I shared tips on game master organisation. You know, tips on managing paperwork, stationery, GM binders, figs, game table preparation, and such. There was a period there in the pre- #100 issue era where this category was discussed regularly. However, after covering all the main topics and receiving tips that kept treading old ground, I decided to put the category to rest. Who knows, maybe all the possible tips have been published? Heh–not likely.

This week I thought I’d revisit a few organisation and game table related tips. Most of these have appeared in previous issues, a couple have not. Since the topic has had two plus years’ rest, I’m hoping these will stir up new tips from you to share in future issues.

Every GM has their own organisation style. Some show up with only a head full of ideas and the clothes on their backs. Others show up with three totes full of books, several fig cases, a pocket protector full of sharpened pencils, a pound of dice, and a pound of pretzels . Most of you will fall somewhere in between.

I don’t believe every possible organisation tip has been unearthed. If you think of any while reading this issue, please click the reply button. Don’t worry about checking to see if the tip has already been published or your grammar. I’ll do the checks and editing. Besides, good tips should be repeated because we all fall (back?) into bad habits and organisational procrastination.

Flag Your Books With Post-Its

Sometimes the table of contents or index isn’t enough. You want to specially mark certain pages and areas of your gaming books and magazines for fast look-up. You want to note certain areas as interesting or important for future reference. You want to mark where the best tables and charts are.A great way to do this is to flag your materials with Post- It Notes. Bookmarks tend to slip down into the book or fall out.

The mysterious sticky stuff (which doesn’t taste good, btw) keeps your flags visible and glue to the pages without harming the paper or removing the print.A neat trick is to cut a pad of Notes into strips. Scissors will do the trick. First, divide a pad into smaller pads to a size that your scissors can cut through. Then cut from top to bottom in a width size according that meets your preference. I like 1/4 size because that size of strip gives me a bit of labelling room while being small enough that I can fit a lot down the edge of the book. Cut starting at the sticky end to avoid bunching.

You can also buy Post-It Flags if your scissors have been confiscated:

These are cool because the sticky part is transparent, so the flags won’t cover up your text.

Ok, here’s where the obsessive GM in me kicks in.

Consider these additional book flagging options:

  • Colour coding. Use colours consistently to denote the different types of content you’re flagging. For example:
    • blue: tables and charts
    • green: NPCs and monsters
    • red: items and equipment
    • yellow: everything else
  • Positional coding. Every book has three open edges. Consistently flag one type of content along a particular edge. For example:
    • top: chapters and sections
    • right: important or interesting text
    • bottom: tables and charts

Use A Pencil Holder At The Game Table

Bringing extra pens and pencils to the game is always a good idea. Coloured pencils are fun too, especially if you have an artist or doodler in your group. These, in addition to markers, crayons, erasers, and other things, can clutter up the playing area.A good solution is to keep a pencil holder at the game table.Someday, when I get my lazy butt out of the computer chair, I’d like to build a multi-use pencil holder.

I have a couple of designs in mind. The first is a simple box with a short “foot” sticking out at the bottom that has a slot in it. I’d make two and slip my GM screen in the feet slots. My screen is forever falling over (because I often pick it up or move it out of the way for a minute) and pencil holder stabilizers might be a multi-tasking answer.

The second design would be a long, thin holder with feet on either side. The feet would provide stability. The holder would be narrow because finding the pencil buried in the middle of a cup is annoying. The long, narrow arrangement would make all the pencils accessible. The slot on one side’s foot would hold my GM screen or chart-of-the-moment. The other side’s slot would hold player hand-outs and display pieces.

Clip Books That Won’t Stay Open

Use an industrial paper clip to keep damaged books, poorly bound books, magazines, or books that weren’t designed to lay flat, open for you at the game table or for when you’re planning.

Pick The Most Accessible Spot At The Table

Scout out the game table before you pick your seat. Getting to the session early, among other benefits, lets you get your pick of spots. Using your GM trump card to hijack a player’s seat is always an option too. ? Just be respectful and mumble something about an experience point bonus. If they move, thank them and give them their bonus experience point.Anyway, if you like to wander while you GM, then pick a seat that’s accessible.

Choose a chair that’ll be easy to maneuver and a location that’ll let you get up and down without disrupting players.Another accessibility issue might be laptop cords and Internet cable. Spot where the outlets are and choose a nearby seat so players who fail their reflex save or balance check won’t trip over your equipment.

Window Shop For Totes

Next time your wife or girlfriend requires your presence at a department store, you can assuage the horror by taking a stroll down the totes and storage aisle.We’ve chatted about totes before.

They’re a great option for organising your gaming stuff:

  • Storing and protecting books
  • Toting books to game sessions
  • Fig and minis storage

When we go camping, I’ll bring whatever books I want to read in a tote. Nothing beats a weatherproof container in the great outdoors.

So, next time you’re browsing the totes, check out all the different shapes, sizes, lid configurations, and options. Consider the corners (square cornered totes store more books), locking mechanism, loaded weight, portability, and carry-ability.

Of course, no one would be crazy enough to consider a colour-coded tote system would they? Such as yellow for session books, blue for game world books, green for modules, light blue for rules books, and red for loose papers and such. Oh, and dark green for magazines. I didn’t think so– that would be insane.

Consider Getting A Filing Cabinet

Filing cabinets are an awesome route to go if you have a lot of lose paper notes. They’re not too expensive either. In the top drawer, you put your receipts, warranty papers, tax stuff, and other similar, less important documents.And the bottom drawer–well, you stake this out for your important stuff, such as maps, session notes, NPC sheets, and ideas.

Better yet, put the gaming stuff in the top drawer in case of flood. :)Since moving recently, I’ve partially cleaned out my filing cabinet and have reclaimed some space for gaming papers. I can’t wait to start filing! Anyone have some filing cabinet tips?

NEW Sci-Fi Gaming Terrain Available in July!

*** SEE advanced photos NOW at the website! ***
* ALSO, Message Boards and Photo Galleries * News

Dwarven Forge


They are BACK! New updated version of the Pound O’ Dice from Chessex. Now contains a complete set of 7 dice set along with the usual assortment of a bazillion random dice.

So, which weighs more: a pound of feathers or a pound of dice?


Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

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

Encouraging Player Cooperation

From Katrina Middelburg-Creswell

In the campaign I was running, my players were driving me and each other crazy. They all seemed to think they were playing a single-player computer game and were so intent on gathering the most loot for their own characters that play sessions were beginning to approximate all-out anarchy. The idea of working for the group instead of for themselves was anathema. As a result, the party never got anywhere and the players were at each others’ throats — in and out of game – – regularly.

At my wit’s end, I tried a last-ditch effort to save this party of egocentric maniacs from themselves. At the beginning of the next session, I handed out 3 X 5 cards, one to each player, with a “secret” assignment written on them, along with an XP amount. I then explained that once the DM (me) decided that the character had completed the assignment satisfactorily, they would be awarded the XP and given a new assignment.

Partial completion could lead to a partial award, left up to the DM’s discretion. If the assignment did not remain a secret, I would dock that same XP amount from either the person who spilled the beans, or the one who peeked, or both. Also I explained that the assignments were secondary to the main plot of the game.

Here are a few examples of the kind of assignments I handed out during that campaign:

  • “Use your rogue skills to benefit the party (not just yourself) 5 times.”
  • “Character X has information about your long-lost relative. Befriend her and extract the information.”
  • “Serve as a peacemaker in 3 party disputes.”
  • “Use your high Diplomacy skills to bring character Y into higher esteem in the party.”
  • “Use your spells to give the party (not just yourself) a distinct advantage in 3 combat situations.”
  • “You are very strong and character Z is weak. Protect him like a bodyguard during the next three playing sessions.”

To my amazement, this simple trick really worked! The players were fascinated with the idea of the secret assignments, and found the XP awards enough of an incentive that they began to shape up and show a large amount of teamwork.

At first, of course, only because of the nature of the assignments I gave them, but as the campaign developed, they saw through their experiences that working together was more effective, and generally more fun, than each individual player trying to go his or her own way. Once that happened, I changed the assignments, making them more focused on roleplaying and character history, and less focused on trying to keep peace in the group.

I’ve continued to use the “secret assignments” ever since in all my campaigns. They can easily be tailored to help you please different types of players in a campaign (by giving some people more combat-oriented assignments and others more character-oriented assignments), or to effect a little more control about the always apparently random decision-making process of players. (“The buried treasure from the last pirating trip you went on is hidden in the city of Tarsk. Go there and pick it up.”)

Every player loves to have the DM give his or her character individualized attention, and I’ve found this to be a great way to do it without taking away from the group’s progress and enjoyment.

Hope this will be useful for the DMs out there!

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Overact NPC Traits

From Brent D. Wisdom

In my last gaming session our players came across and elderly man that constantly blinked. This was a trait that I could act out and I did. Every time this NPC would talk I would blink repeatedly. I didn’t just tell my players that he was blinking .I did it and they got the point. My players won’t forget that NPC, and when they encounter him again and my eyes start blinking rapidly, they will know just who it is.

The point here is to get into character. Don’t just write down characteristics, mention them once, and then forget it. Use them. Hey, this is roleplaying, play the role. You as a GM have the hardest job because you play so many characters, which is why you need to be prepared.

Know your NPCs. Develop those that are major NPCs and keep the minors simple. Put your improvisational acting skills to the test. Know your character and exploit their traits, which will make them unique.

One of the major keys that I have found is to overact. Overacting is great because it will draw a definite line between you as the GM and you as a NPC. Now your players won’t say, “Is that Slim Pickins the thief, or are you talking as the GM?” Obviously, there are times that you don’t need to be jovial and your emphasis is being quiet, but overact that also. Be extra quiet, or whatever the case may be, but be sure to make the distinction. Let your players know it is the NPC speaking and not you as the GM.

Don’t hold back, get into character, play the role, and overact. You will find that your players will enjoy the gaming session more and your timid players may even break out of their stagnant roles and roleplay a bit.

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Honey, I Shrunk and Transplaced the PCs

From Bill Korsak

I have used this method in various games and it always seems to work, whatever the setting. This works best for a continuing game rather than a convention event. Have the villain du jour cast the spell/ritual/mad experiment to have the characters swap bodies. So this means that the person’s mind is in an unfamiliar body. Use IQ or INT tests to figure out if they can access their new body’s abilities. The players also get to use the PC’s character sheet. And, just to make things that much more interesting, shrink them down to 1 or 2 inches. Then let the hilarity ensue.

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The Dodgy GM

From Ian Winterbottom

Here’s one idea for GMs when Roleplaying. DODGE. Avoid actually committing yourself where possible because, as they say when reading you your rights, “Anything you say may be held in evidence against you.” This doesn’t mean you can be evasive or worse, uncommunicative. You’re your players’ eyes and ears and their other senses too. Just be careful, and where you can, prepare what you’re going to say beforehand.

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Medieval Replicas Catalog

From Charlie Bell

For those running medieval-milieu games, a good resource would be a catalog from Museum Replicas Limited. This company sells replica medieval and Renaissance weapons and armor, plus period clothing and other items. They have an illustrated catalog available. It’s nice to be able to point to a photograph and say, “my character’s wearing/wielding something like that.”

For historical purists like myself, they have weight and dimensions listed for most of the weaponry as well. I use the catalog just about every session in my D&D game.