You Can Always Say “Thanks!”

From Bill Collins

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0208

A Brief Word From Johnn

Shorter Article Format This Week

This week I feature a gaming etiquette article from Bill Collins. While I liked the content, I felt it might be a little short as the feature article. Once I plunked it in though, I thought it might be a great change. Sometimes, one wants a quick read of good content rather than a long essay. It was definitely quicker to edit and publish!

Sometimes unsubscribers let me know that they felt the ezine was too long. Also, Paul C. let me know ages ago that long issues are a huge pain to deal with due to his particular application’s limits.

Anyway, if you have any thoughts on ezine length, feel free to send me bricks, bouquets, or rants.

Emails Up To Date

I’ve caught up on 90% of my emails now (except for a few article edits). If you haven’t received a reply on an email please re-send as your correspondence might have been filtered. For example, at the height of the MyDoom breakout, I was receiving 100+ infected emails per hour. I continue to receive about 5 an hour. Your email might have accidentally been axed during this chaotic time.

Conan RPG?

I loved Mongoose’s Slaine d20 RPG and am wondering if anyone has picked up the new Conan RPG? If so, what do you think of it? What’s new and different from the standard d20 rules?


Johnn Four,
[email protected]

You Can Always Say “Thanks!”

Let’s face it, we all like to be appreciated. RPGs involve a lot of common effort. How often do you acknowledge the efforts of players, hosts and GMs? Following are a few ideas on how you can show your appreciation.

Thank The Host

  1. Do you play in a game shop? How many other stores let you sit around for hours? Game store owners are unique and frequently make little money, so every little bit goes a long way to keeping those doors open. Always, always, always thank the owner or store rep and remember to clean up after yourself. The best way to say thanks is to buy a product from them.
  2. Do you play on campus, in a mall, or some other public place? If there’s a contact that you have to go through to sign out the space, be gracious and grateful. That keeps the space open for you. If you used the space all year, send a short, handwritten thank you note to the person. Since nobody ever thanks them, they’ll appreciate it. You might even get consideration over another group if there’s ever a conflict.
  3. If you’re not in either of those two places, you’re probably in someone’s home. They’ve graciously opened their doors to let you visit. One or both of your hosts may be gamer, but there’s still wear and tear on their chairs, floors, stove/microwave, and bathroom fixtures. A thanks after each and every game goes a long way. If you want to go a step above and beyond, offer to help clean up. Wash down the table. Do the dishes. Take out the trash. These little considerations mean a lot to someone cleaning up the debris of 4-10 people.

Acknowledge The Players

How many times does your Game Master say something special out of game about the players? When they do, don’t you feel special? GMs, if you remember to occasionally say thanks to your players for their efforts, they’ll feel special. There are lots of out-of-game ways. A short note, a small gift of dice or a miniature might be a good way to show that you appreciate them.By now, you’re asking yourself “for what?”

Well, there are roles that players can fill:

  1. Webmaster. If you have someone maintaining your site, that’s a fair amount of work.
  2. Moderator. Using an email list is great. If you aren’t the mod, someone else has to deal with it.
  3. Mapper/Notetaker. Got a player who keeps a journal? That’s an independent record of the game. Is there someone who always marks up the whiteboard for you and helps out?
  4. Welcome Wagon. Some games have lots of new players. Anyone who helps introduce them and sets them up takes a load off your shoulders.
  5. Rules Dude. (Nope, not Rules Lawyer.) If you’re real lucky, there’s someone who sits at your table who can be counted on to look up and remember important rules regardless of whether it’s a monster or PC who benefits. These people save you time.

Remember The GM

This part comes last, but it’s the most important. A GM takes time out of their month to set up an exciting and entertaining adventure for you. They’re willing to create for a group of people who all demand their attention anywhere from once a month to once a week. They do it with a smile (hopefully), and they give lots of time for your enjoyment. All you have to do is show up. So what can you do?

  1. Be on time!
  2. Read what they write. Be appreciative.
  3. Be cooperative and offer to help out when you can.
  4. Say thanks! Any time it seems appreciated.

Think about this: A game suddenly shuts down. You may be disappointed, but how about the GM who put their heart and soul into the game? It’s always nice to be appreciated. At the end of the campaign, try to find some way to show your thanks.

A little courtesy goes a long way. Good gaming everyone!


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More Thoughts On Bards

From Goblin Samurai

I have to say, I’ve always found the character type of bard a little contrived – until I saw a Knight’s Tale. That is what a bard should do.

Instruments are a little hackneyed, but inspiring greatness and crowd approval through brilliant words somehow rings true. So what should a bard do in a dungeon, in combat, in a market place, or whenever?

He should inspire greatness. Have the bard player run an active sports commentary on combats. Double the amount he can inspire greatness, but require him to entertain the entire roleplaying group – that way everyone wins. (Though if it gets too annoying tell him to take a break). This may even cross over with another proposed tips set – how to keep combat descriptions fresh round after round.

In a marketplace, tournament, or other role-playing scene, he shouldn’t take center stage, but should back up the person taking center stage – a much harder role and more rewarding for all.

For instance, the heavyset mercenary should be doing the intimidating. The bard can either run the good-cop/bad-cop routine, or back-up the merc’s threats by outlandish embellishment. Allow the character with the highest intimidate skill to make the roll, and the lower skill to make the assist – regardless of who actually balls up their fist.

Plus, allow the bard to “inspire greatness” for good measure. The same concept applies to any situation where members of the party are interacting with outsiders – be it trading goods, arguing the law, or running from it, or goading bad guys into or out of a fight.

Of course, the bard should get his chance to shine like any other character, but there are opportunities for all characters and especially bards to play support roles from down stage.

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More Thoughts On Bards II

From Jesse Cohoon

Some possible bard activities:

  • Tame a savage beast
  • “Cast” a sleep spell
  • Shatter crystalline objects (or stone with the right pitch)
  • Reveal illusions
  • Adjust NPC/ monster reactions to party members
  • Confusion
  • Eerie music to create fear and uncertainty

Some possible bard roles:

  • Negotiator, peacemaker, or peacekeeper
  • Jack-of-all-trades and master of none
  • Fool
  • Knowledge seeker
  • Sage
  • Newsgatherer, newsgiver
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Use Conan Books For Names

From Tony

A brief tip for people struggling to name their characters. I recently bought a copy of Conan The Swordsman (De Camp, Carter, Nyberg). The last few pages of the book are dedicated to names used in the various Conan novels and short stories. Many Tips subscribers have probably read this book, but for those that have not and sometimes struggle to find a decent PC/NPC name, give it a try.

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Thoughts On Game Consistency While Winging It

From Shanti

I love your publication. I was recently reading through your archives and came across your Maintaining Game Consistency While Winging It articles and had some comments.

I used to prepare complicated plots with many twists and turns. Unfortunately, my players always seemed to go contrary to my plans and I was forced to come up with hastily thought up tid-bits of drama that frequently ran into consistency problems. However, in my desperate groping for the next scene, I would often remember unrelated material that I had been thinking about earlier and convert a basic idea into something much more detailed. Over the years I have developed this into a method of achieving both game consistency AND winging it.

I look at the big picture instead of trying to fill in all the details. By knowing all the big facts (economy, politics, motivations of powerful NPCs) about a place it becomes easy to come up with the details. Rather than creating a series of encounters from A to B to C (which characters will invariably stray from), I seed the entire area with interesting places, people, and events.

Some are related directly to the adventure and are placed wherever they need to be for the story to continue. Others are only linked in a very peripheral way or are part of the back-story. But most are just random bits of intriguing inspiration for later.

For instance, among the dozen or so things I may have put onto the local encounter map, I could place a deep trench in the forest to act as a way to guide the player’s movement. Just drawing a jagged line or writing “trench” is enough to make it exist in my mind and the world and that’s as much as I’ll need to do during my preparation.

Once the game starts, simply remembering that there is a trench running through the forest provides me with a location to bring into an NPC’s conversation and influence other events. Maybe a talkative NPC knew someone who fell in the trench years ago or they have heard strange sounds issuing from it at night. But what happens when the characters go to investigate the trench? Answer: the best thing that comes to you at the time after taking into account the characters’ needs, the players’ moods, and your own shade of sadism.

The point is that there is something interesting for the players to investigate on the fly with no preparation on your part. I once came up with an entire subterranean society because a character wanted to find out if there was anything under the local sewer system. Instead of knowing there wasn’t, because it wasn’t in my plans, I went ahead and started visualizing and describing what lay beneath. It turned into an entire story arc. Most of what happened that adventure was all stream of consciousness based on several pre-created facts.

So, when I use the term winging it, it’s not for lack of preparation. Rather, it is the level of focus. I put a lot of energy into creating the big picture: maps, details of kingdoms, regional politics, and such, while leaving local details to inspiration and character synergy. I have found the seemingly unrelated connectivity of events that grow out of a good gaming session to be almost supernatural and very interesting to witness as it unfolds.

I think it was Michael Angelo who said that he finds a stone’s inner shape and simply carves away the excess. We could all do with a little of the master in our methods.

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Cool D&D Basics Powerpoint

From j0nny_5

I’ve always loved your mailings. I made this PowerPoint file to ease my new players into Dungeons and Dragons. I thought you might like it. Feel free to distribute it. [Johnn: I’ve posted jOnny_5’s pps file at the Tips site: DND_Basics]

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Tip On Managing Campaign Time

From Rick Herron

re: RPT#187 – My Experience on The Picture Side of The Screen: 6 Tips for Players

I have one card stock sheet with the entire yearly calendar printed between both sides – for my world that’s 8 months of 5 ten-day weeks (a total of 400 days), using the table feature in Word. I put a checkmark in the box to represent the current day. At the top, I have a spot to mark the current year and also the year the campaign started.

On the bottom four rows of each side I have an hour number and a minute number that get used only when needing to track those (that half-day trip to the hill giant’s cave would be a good example).

The minute number is used in situations where timing somewhat critical, but not in encounter situations (trying to socially waylay the court clerk at the right time so as to distract him while your party members sneak into his office to steal important documents).

Of course, to keep track of combat (or any important encounter), I have a separate encounter sheet.

With this system, the speed of time passing is based solely on what happens – based either on the PCs’ choice of what they do, or the amount of time that passes between important situations.

Some evenings in my game might cover seven minutes game time, especially if there are several small encounters, or even less time if there is one huge encounter that takes the entire session (that’s rare though). Other times, three weeks can pass in one gaming session, especially if the group is travelling long distances, and manage to avoid encounters of any length (this is rare too).

As a reminder to myself, I have a note above the 1st hour number to do a weather check and I use a modified version of the weather chart from the PHB to work by rolling a few dice. [Johnn: Rick sent me three MS Word docs as part of his tip:

  • His campaign calendar
  • A weather generation and effects document
  • A simple initiative organizer worksheet

Thanks Rick!

You can get all three files zipped here: Rick Heron Files ]

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Build An Adventure From Monster Guts

From Kelvin Goh

Just finished another really odd episode of Samurai Jack, and I realized that you can build an entire world from the innards of a beast! Especially if the beast is gargantuan.

The example in SJ was the innards of a dragon. Turns out that this dragon had a bit of indigestion and Jack had to go down its gullet to clear out the obstructions. Anyway, by taking the basic human anatomy and expanding it to suit a dragon, the animators came up with some really funky landscapes:

  1. Esophagus down to stomach – a straight drop down. Think really, really steep cliff. Lined with wavering cillia (tiny hairs) for convenient handholds – that is, if you can keep your grip with all that mucus being secreted.
  2. Stomach – basically a giant pool of acid. Enuff said.
  3. Duodenum – Fluid filled cavity. Hold your breath or else! The duodenum is alkali in nature, so breathing in that fluid, or even being immersed in it, isn’t going to do you any good. Alkalis can be just as caustic as acid.
  4. Intestines – basically a very large, complicated maze, with many tiny openings you’d have to squeeze through.
  5. Rectum – um, don’t really want to go into this, but imagine the stench!

The thing to remember is that guts are populated by flora and fauna. In humans, these range from bacilli to macrophages (hunter-killer cells). So, the animators took that and expanded it into a dragonesque thing: mosquito-like bugs that help clean out the dragon’s intestines prove a danger (think flightless stirges), bubble-like amoeba that act as macrophages (think caustic slimes or jellies), and so on.

We can take this basic premise and fit it to our fantasy world quite easily. Avoiding dragons, imagine going down the gullet of an ancient kraken (giant squid).

This requires a bit of knowledge: it is a cephalopod, and the characteristics are as follows:

  1. 3 hearts
  2. Blue blood
  3. Chameleonic functions, including change of body shape and texture
  4. Invertebrate
  5. Well-developed senses, e.g. sight, smell, vibration- sensing
  6. Decoy smoke screen
  7. Possible luminescence

Now, how do we adapt this to our needs?

  1. 3 hearts – crushing chambers. Also, entrances to the bloodstream, which is rigorously guarded by the body’s defense mechanism.
  2. Blood – hold your breath!
  3. Chameleonic functions – what happens during a change? For instance, if the skin darkens, that means that the kraken has released huge quantities of melanin (to colour its skin). This will reduce visibility, and worse, it would also expand its blood vessels close to the skin to ‘flush’ the melanin into the skin tissue. i.e. anyone there would be caught in a massive deluge of biochemicals.
  4. Invertebrate – no bones, the body is completely pliable. So what happens to the poor sod caught in the wrong place when the kraken squeezes through a really tight opening?
  5. Luminescence – when the kraken lights up (in dark waters, for example), it’ll be like being in a room full of 150 watt light bulbs all going off at the same time, all around. Characters would immediately be blinded, and the effects would last for a while – anyone who’s experienced snow blindness will get the general idea. Imagine trying to fight off marauding macrophages when you can’t see!

Also, we need to consider bodily flora and fauna. There’ll be white blood cells, platelets (clotting devices), pigment cells, digestive cells…the list goes on and on! Take your pick – the sky’s the limit! Who’s to say that blood cells don’t pass by each other occasionally to exchange remarks – “hey, dude, blood cell X3251 got the boot!” “Yeah, I heard! The marrow really didn’t like him!” “Damned, what a way to go!”

None of this is mentioned in the Monster Manual, but with some research, you can fully flesh out an entire world inside a monster. I admit that this approach isn’t for everybody since it takes an awful lot of time to research out the body functions. Also, the fact that one needs some specialized knowledge of anatomy will put many folks off.

But for those with perseverance, you’ll have crafted an amazingly unique world for your players.

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Moon Phase – GM Screen Tip

From David Ackermann

re: RPT#180 – The Potential Of The GM’s Screen

To give you an example, I’ve stuck a picture of the sun to a clothes peg and sat the peg on the top edge of my screen. During the character’s day, I move the sun-peg along the top of my screen to give the players a very rough idea as to how far though the day they are.

Cool idea! I thought of an improvement: stick a picture of the moon on the backside of the screen. Once the sun goes down in-game, flip the peg and move it slowly back in the other direction as the PCs progress through the night.

Further option: instead of gluing the moon to the peg directly, use a small clear plastic envelope, such as those used to protect business cards, corporate ID cards, etc. (or cut from the inside of an old wallet). Then you can swap out the picture to indicate the current phase of the moon – very useful if you have weres in your campaign.