I Like The Way You Move

From Pahl Millirons

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0219

A Brief Word From Johnn

This Week’s Article

Well, this week’s article must set a record for shortest length. However, I think it’s a case of quality over quantity. While some game systems, such as GURPS, allow GMs to make exact travel rate calculations, most do not. We’re stuck with pausing the game and scratching our heads, or making gut instinct calls to the possible detriment of consistency and plausibility.

This week, Pahl presents a simple formula, that you might want to print out or write on a Post-It, along with baseline information to help you make fairly accurate snap decisions. I hope you find the information useful.

Thanks to the succinctness of the article (I suppose Pahl and I could have fluffed out the article quite a bit with filler words, but why waste your time and the bandwidth?), I can fit a few more Readers’ Tips in this week’s issue as well! Thanks for the article Pahl.

List Generation Begins

This week the first list generation project begins. A couple of issues ago I made a call-out for list, chart, and table requests and got many great replies. Now the fun part begins–creating the lists!

Let’s see how the response for the next couple of list projects goes. Everyone is busy these days, including myself, and some lists will appeal to some GMs more than others. If you have some ideas though, even if it’s a single entry, just hit your reply button and send–I’ll take care of the editing and sorting. If list generation submissions are few, I’ll know it’s an unpopular ezine feature and we’ll just move on, no harm done.

Following, in no particular order, is a fairly complete list of table and list generation ideas I received. Hopefully we can flesh each of these out in the future!

  • Original Dungeon/Quest Ideas
  • Reasons For Abandoned Dungeons To Exist
  • “Fluff” Type News Items
  • “Unique” Magical Items
  • Traps, Simple Non-Magical
  • Traps, Complex Non-Magical
  • Traps, Magical
  • Magical Components And Their Special Effects
  • Game World Hooks And Suggestions
  • A Random Encounter Chart For High-Speed Car Chases
  • Adventure Hooks/Ideas For A Medieval Urban Fantasy Setting
  • Adventure Hooks/Ideas For A Modern Urban Fantasy Setting
  • Basic Plots
  • Believable Reasons For A Mid-Game Alignment Switch
  • Character Concepts
  • City, Town, And Hamlet Names By Earth-Type Culture
  • Cool Settings For Combat
  • Creation Myths For A Fantasy World
  • NPC First And Last Names By Earth-Type Culture
  • NPC First And Last Names, Fantasy
  • Games Of Chance
  • Interesting Plants, Herbs, And Flora
  • Items And Equipment
  • Lists Of Likely Prepared Spells By Spellcaster Class And Level (Game Specific)
  • Nation Concepts (Culture, Government Style, Basic History)
  • Non-Combat Quests
  • NPC Goals
  • NPC Occupations
  • NPC Secrets
  • Plausible Reasons For Mid-Game PC Class Changes/Additions
  • Plot Twists
  • Puzzles
  • Riddles
  • Sources For Good/Interesting Historical Synopses
  • Tavern Names
  • Things People Have In Their Bags/Purses/Pockets
  • Town Concepts And Town Quirks
  • Unique Creatures
  • Unusual Settings For Roleplaying Encounters
  • What Not To Do For Us New At DMing


Johnn Four,
[email protected]

I Like The Way You Move

DDG Games

So, just how long does it take for a carrier pigeon to deliver a message? How far could the modron squad travel in a day? Can the PCs rollerblade to the arena in time to stop the bomb? Time and distance questions like these constantly plague GMs, regardless of genre. Now you can answer that and many more queries using the relatively simple formula outlined below.

The secret to rapid movement and travel calculations is in determining how fast something can move in six seconds. Once you have this figure, you can work out its feet per minute, miles per hour, and miles per day.

So, how fast does something move in six seconds? Well, I’ve taken care of that for you. Using reference materials, research, and a little experimentation of my own, I’ve determined how fast the following creatures and vehicles move in six seconds.

Creature Or Vehicle – Base Distance Moved Per 6 Seconds

Insect, small flying (i.e. bumble bee) – 40 ft.
Insect, small walking (i.e. beetle) – 3 ft.
Insect, large flying (i.e. locust, giant bee) – 60 ft.
Insect, large walking – 4 ft.
Dog, small – 40 ft.
Dog, large – 40 ft.
Horse – 40 ft.
Human, small (i.e. gnome, dwarf, goblin) – 20 ft.
Human – 30 ft.
Tiger – 40 ft.
Elephant – 40 ft.
Tyrannosaurus Rex – 40 ft.
Bird, small (raven) – 40 ft.
Bird, medium (hawk) – 60 ft.
Bird, large (osprey) – 60 ft.
Bird, humongous (roc) – 80 ft.

Skateboard – 60 ft.
Rollerblades – 60 ft.
Bicycle – 80 ft.
Cart or wagon – 20 ft.

Rowboat – 15 ft.
Galley – 40 ft.
Schooner – 20 ft.

The Formula

Using the above information, you can now apply a formula that will tell you approximately how far the subject creature or vehicle can travel.

Feet per minute: Base Distance x 10

Miles per hour: Base Distance / 10

Miles per day: Base Distance / 2.5

These rates are based on average travel times with regular rest or refueling periods. Adjust these figures any way you like to account for reduced rest, forced marches, rushed pace, and so on.

For example, a walking human (Base Rate 30) will travel 300 feet in a minute, 3 miles per hour, and 12 miles per day. A roc will fly 800 feet in a minute, 8 miles in an hour, and 32 miles in a day.

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Pahl Millirons is the source behind the Theocracy of Veil Campaign Setting, due out in Fall 2004. See his recent contribution to Dungeon Dwellers Guild Games’ Cleft in Twain, coming soon. DDG Games


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A Magical Society:
Ecology and Culture Now Available

Create, map, and develop your world in 9 fully illustrated steps with this 160-page world-building tool. Following in the footsteps of A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe, this supplement provides real world phenomena for a fantasy game. For sale at local game stores, www.exp.citymax.com, and in PDF form at RPGnow.com

Build Your World. Better. www.exp.citymax.com

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

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

LIST GENERATION PROJECT #1: Interesting Roleplaying Locations

Let’s create a big list of cool location settings for roleplaying type encounters. Not every meeting with the King needs to be in the throne room. Not every merchant encounter must take place in a shop. Let’s whip up some alternative locales to spice up our next game session!

To get the ideas flowing, here are a few examples of roleplaying type encounters. [Thanks for the ideas Palmer!]

What are some interesting places in which the following encounters could take place?

  • Meeting with employer, boss, patron
  • Confrontation with villain
  • Confrontation with villain’s lieutenant
  • Investigation – Q&A with an NPC
  • An interrogation
  • A party, feast, or dance
  • A seduction
  • Job interview
  • Meeting with smugglers
  • Meeting with people in disguise
  • Meeting with local authorities (i.e. police, guards)
  • An intelligent animal walks through the character’s camp

And here are some location ideas to get us started:

  1. Sleazy back alley
  2. Pantry
  3. Kitchen
  4. Wine cellar
  5. Storm cellar
  6. Sewer
  7. River bank
  8. Secluded clearing in the woods
  9. Dark corner of the tavern
  10. Aboard a ship
  11. On a pier
  12. Stable
  13. In a warehouse
  14. Isolated cave
  15. Abandoned mine
  16. Cabin in the woods
  17. Brothel
  18. Casino
  19. Racetrack
  20. your ideas here….

Now it’s your turn. What interesting locations and settings for roleplaying encounters can you think of? Send your ideas to: [email protected]

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Employ Paranoia Rolls

From Mark Johnston

Almost all game systems have a simple way for PCs to lie to NPCs, and most have a way for PCs to detect when an NPC is lying to them. But what do you do with paranoid players who suspect every NPC of lying? If you just tell the players, “He’s telling the truth,” every time you roll dice, they’ll know you’re lying.

Here’s a solution: every time a player asks, “Is he lying to me?” and the NPC is telling the truth, silently give the player a Paranoia Point and roll some dice. It looks like you’re really checking to see of the PC detects a lie.

Then, if the die roll is less than the player’s accumulated Paranoia Points, you tell the player that the NPC is lying when he’s not. Of course, players never know how many Paranoia Points they have, or possibly even that they exist. This throws a real wrench in their gears and they’ll be paranoid about you more than the NPCs, which is the way it should be. ?

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NPC Personality Matrix Tool

From Manuel Ebert

Here’s a quick’n’dirty tool for NPC creation. Herewith you do not create a NPC by his job or clothing but by his mentality. Roll 4d10 and mark your results on following table:

             1                 10
Introverted  - - - - - - - - - -  Extroverted
Peaceful     - - - - - - - - - -  Aggressive
Altruistic   - - - - - - - - - -  Profit-oriented
Dumb         - - - - - - - - - -  Intellectual

Next, note all values below 3 and greater than 8 and select one of them, but not the most extreme. Not using the extreme value helps you avoid cliche characters.

The value you pick determines his Profession.

Introverted      -> Hermit, Monk
Extroverted      -> Bard
Peaceful         -> Priest, Healer, Diplomat
Aggressive       -> Warrior, Assassin
Altruistic       -> Grandma, Priest
Profit-oriented  -> Merchant, Thief
Dumb             -> Peasant, Shepherd
Intellectual     -> Alchemist, Priest

Now, look on his personality matrix again and you’ll know how the NPC reacts in conversations, when provoked, and in other situations.

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Expanding World View Via Big Picture Details

From Robert FV

This is by no means a new or original idea, but it has helped my modern day “street level” supers game immensely. I used to focus my games just on the PCs’ actions and immediate “local” world, while pretty much ignoring the goings-on in the rest of the world except where they were directly relevant. This helped me keep the focus on the PCs and not confuse them with irrelevant rumors and details -the relevant rumors and red herrings kept them busy enough!

I felt that this gave me more control over the game world and made it simpler to maintain continuity over time. Plus, it’s hard enough to find time for all the relevant details. Why bog down my planning time and the group’s playing time with extraneous details?

To this point, my narrow focus worked well, but I always felt something was missing in the campaign: the rest of the world! It felt like ONLY the PCs mattered and there was no greater relevance to anything.

So, I began to incorporate details about happenings in the world beyond the daily lives of the PCs. I did this in the form of news items, rumors on the street, and events witnessed by the PCs themselves. The information included world events, local politics and events, news of other adventuring groups, etc. I also began sending them out of town more often to incorporate more geographical locations and settings.

I soon found that the world began to take on a life of its own. Suddenly, there was a greater context within which the PCs’ actions had an impact. For example, by adding a news blurb about an NPC superhero team in the next city, the players began to realize that they weren’t alone in the good fight, and it allowed me to make big “crime sprees” even bigger.

Sure, the PCs were always assisting federal agencies and local police in the past, but now they were hearing of other groups doing the same. I created an NPC group to handle larger, cosmic-scale events, and another group, of similar power-level to the PCs, who handled the same kinds of down- to-earth problems that the PCs did.

Now the PCs are in awe of the cosmic-scale team’s exploits. They hear about the other street-level team’s defeats and successes. Real-world international events make headlines in the game world. Most of them have no bearing whatsoever on the game, but it heightens the realism and adds depth. The game world is richer, more complex, and more interesting in general.

Like I said, this is probably nothing big to many GMs, but if you’re like me – the type who wants the game world to be small, cozy, and comfortable – then you may want to consider opening the “windows” and letting in some fresh air. Sometimes it’s good to blow away the staleness.

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Use Your Vacation Wisely

From Roger N.

When you are on holidays make sure you take your campaign notebook with you. I’ve just recently returned from Spain and while there made notes like the following:

  • Mountains – Aitana, Xorta, Coll de Rattas
  • Waterfalls – Fonts de Algar
  • Towns – Benissa, Benimantell
  • Castles – Castile de Guadalest

From these names, a quick internet search yields pictures and data that can be incorporated into your campaigns. Also, try to research why places are named as they are. For example, the names of the two towns above come from Moorish backgrounds as Beni is traditionally a Moorish name starter.

Make notes of unusual features as well. Throughout southern Spain, hills and mountains are covered with abandoned farming terraces. Most of these were built 1000 years ago by slaves who worked for the Moors. The huge expanse of farm land was required to feed the Moorish love of fruit and vegetables. Simple things like this can add a lot of flavour to any campaign.

One last thing I discovered is the use of a palm tree. During the Moorish period of Spain, if a house had a palm tree outside it was a sign that visitors were always welcome. Imagine putting such an item outside every inn or carving a palm symbol into the door – adds flavour doesn’t it!

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Top Ten Things Your Berserker Would Never Say

From http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/3120/

  1. If this wasn’t such a nice inn, I’d kick your ass.
  2. Do these boots go with this tunic?
  3. Sometimes, I just want to be held.
  4. Couldn’t we just talk this over? Violence never solved anything.
  5. Swords and alcohol don’t mix.
  6. Gee, I’d like to help you guys hunt down that rogue dragon, but Lance and I are going shopping for curtains this weekend.
  7. Thank you (as well as “please”, “excuse me”, and “so sorry, I would appear to have stabbed you in the stomach with my broad sword”).
  8. I think mages are the coolest.
  9. Wait a minute guys. Maybe we should think this over first.
  10. Ewwwww! Blood!
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Uses For Boxes

From Howard

Packing boxes – you may already know about this, but I cut the tape on packing boxes and store them flat against the wall or floor of a closet. Here, however, are some interesting ideas for flat or non-flattened boxes.

  1. Wrestling mat – lay the boxes out flat and use duct tape or packing tape to hold the mats together and keep them from sliding and causing a nasty fall. The mat is great, especially if you like to wrassle a ton of little kids as a baby-sitting job. Most kids love a good wrestle, especially if you’re dramatic and you take care to not hurt them. This is maybe fun for adults, too! ?
  2. Packing boxes for college students – If you live near a college town, put an ad up in the local grocery store and offer your packing supplies for cheap!
  3. If you have neighbors with little kids, donate the boxes for use as forts. Summer is coming soon, and most parents will go nuts trying to find things for their kids to do. Cardboard boxes give little kids a great opportunity to entertain themselves with their own imagination.[Comment from Johnn: box forts might make great gaming props too!]
  4. Cardboard weapons and armor – I was in Cub Scouts when my cousin and I made some pretty stiff swords by laminating layers of cardboard boxes into thick blades with wood glue and a little paint. Most grown-ups have money to spend on more durable materials, but if you and your friends want to get together and pound the stuff out of each other for a few minutes on a weekend, have a craft fair where everyone can design their own weapons and armor out of cardboard and duct tape, and then you can have a slugfest where you can see whose equipment lasts the longest.

Have a suitable prize, like a first aid kit or a box of Krispy Kremes handy, and be prepared to stop the festivities if someone gets carried away. In fact, you might want to rent a paintball helmet or a welder’s shield to prevent injuries to the face from an accidental swing. [Comment from Johnn: Another great gaming prop idea.]

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Campaign Website Tips

From Ruben Smith-Zempel

One of the greatest ways to increase player interest and impart knowledge is via a campaign website. You don’t have to be a technical master to create a useful site, either. Here are a few tips to help with creating a gaming website.

  1. Write a mission statement.
    Sit down and take a good 15 or 20 minutes to decide what it is you want your site to do for you and your players. Write a good, concise mission statement or outline detailing what you want it to do. Pick a theme, use it, and stick with it. You want to create a uniform theme and purpose to your site. Doing this in the beginning will save you from a lot of unnecessary work later on down the road.
  2. Consider your audience.
    Is your site for only you, your players, or for everyone in the whole wide world? Your audience will determine what you put on the site. If you want a mobile source of DM only info, you should probably password protect your server. You can also do away with any kind of graphics or “window dressing,” as you are the only audience. If the target is for players, you need to make sure not to post anything that the players shouldn’t know (such as monster stats). Finally, if the audience is everyone on the net, make sure you provide some information that will interest everybody and keep them coming back (easier said than done).
  3. Consider your friends’ bandwidth.
    Ask your gaming group if they have access to the internet, and at what speed they have access. If most of your friends are on dialup, you should probably think about using very few graphics (which take a lot of time to load). Try to keep the files as small as possible. No one wants to wait around 5 minutes while your dazzling display of Photoshop prowess slowly creeps across their screen.
  4. Spellcheck and proofread.
    Use a program to spellcheck what you write before you post it (I use Word, then cut and past it into my web editor). This will weed out any obvious spelling mistakes. Beware the add button and custom dictionaries. We tend to use a lot of words that come up incorrectly spelled, such as spellcraft or spellcaster. If you add these to your custom dictionary, make darn sure they are spelled correctly before you do it, or your mistakes will not show up again.

And lastly, once you run things through spellchecker, read through it once or twice. You will often find things poorly worded or items that were missed from the spellchecker.

  • Update frequently.
    Once you start a site, make sure to keep it up to date. Try to update it before each gaming session to give players a good chance to look at it. Usually, your players will remind you (I darn near get lynched when I am late updating).
  • Avoid frames.
    When formatting your page, refrain from using frames. These can often do funny things, will not work on older browsers or PDAs, and generally tend to fubar things. Tables or CSS are a much better bet.
  • Make a template.
    When you create your page, make a template. This is a blank site page that only has your banner and navigation menu on it. Save it as a template and keep it on hand. This will come in handy down the road when you decide to add more new material.
  • Left to Right, Top to Bottom.
    When designing a site, keep in mind that we are trained from a very early age to read things left to right, top to bottom. This gives you tremendous power over your readers. The more important a thing is, put it farther to the left and as high up as you can. This is also the reason that most people put a navigation bar to the left side of the page.
  • Good things to include.
    • Campaign maps
    • House rules
    • Past adventure synopses
    • NPCs
    • World information
    • Lists of what the party has

For an example of a gaming website, check out http://evildm.datavortex.net

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The Sealed Envelope Trick

From Paul Saladino

Ok, this is particularly evil and it’s fun. Use it in-game when a character picks up an item or is secretly enspelled and the effects are not immediately apparent.

The GM writes down the pertinent info for the character, seals it in an envelope and gives it to the player. Later, when appropriate, the GM instructs the player to break the seal, read the information contained there in (secretly), and follow the directions…

(Oh the joy!) Let’s talk foreshadowing, drama, intrigue, and stress all in one prop. Do this a few times and watch how wary players, and hopefully characters, become about messing around with big, bad unknowns of a world.

It’s even worse when the GM has a stack of these things pre- written and sealed, and then starts handing them out…

This prop can be used for such things as curses, enchantments, poisons, diseases, magic items, dreams, secret correspondence, and telepathy.

It can also be used to replicate degrees of a process, such as the stages of a transformation, like when Fredrick the Paladin starts turning into a worm or some such.

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Roleplay Character Differences

From Sam Schrader

Sometimes the hardest thing to get going in a roleplaying session is the roleplaying itself. One of my favorite tricks to promote roleplaying is to look for characters with dissimilar backgrounds and play off their differing perceptions.

Just playing the game, PCs often forget that they have a lot more to disagree about than who gets credit for killing what. Look for anything that they would have been taught differently about: magic, groups of people, geography, trustworthiness of individuals or cultures, anything. Then plan an adventure where those differences would play a part in the decision-making process. Pass notes, or explain/reinforce/discuss one on one, how their characters perceive the pertinent information. Then, in the session, let them deal with the difference.

Very simple but very useful. This method single-handedly took one player of mine out of his shell and got him to start playing his character. It helps players to interact as their characters instead of themselves controlling a character.

Also, one should note that this is not a good tactic for some groups of players. If someone is just going to be a jerk and kill another PC because of a disagreement, it doesn’t help. Also, if you have a group full of drama majors, avoid this method at all costs. They probably already roleplay enough and you will never get back to the game.

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Create Winamp Playlists

From James Crowder

I run a D&D session up here with some of my classmates and I use electronic media in my sessions. You had asked, “How do other GMs out there manage their media files?”. Well, I use MP3s as background music during every session, and I have over a gig of MP3s that I’ve downloaded and listened to that I have decided “fit” the atmosphere of a D&D campaign.

I organized them by putting them in folders, such as:

  • Town -> Noble -> Day
  • Town -> Rural -> Day
  • Town -> Rural -> Night

This is fairly efficient, but as you said, “It’s not enough to just create categories of folders on your hard drive.”

So, what I did, since I put each song in the category folder it most closely aligned itself with, I made a Winamp playlist for each type of “music group” (Wilds Day, Castle Evil, etc). I opened each corresponding folder and added all the songs inside to the matching playlist. Then I went back and sampled all the songs over again, adding songs from different folders to each playlist they fit, regardless of what folder they were in. This let me have an organized system to call music without having multiple copies of the same song in each folder it could possibly fit with.

I open Winamp every session and load in all the playlists. If the party is out in the forest at night, I double click “Wilds Night” playlist and let Winamp randomly play appropriate songs from the list. At some point that night, the players encounter a pack of Dire Wolves, so I double click the “Combat” playlist and, before I even make the enemies’ presence known, my players are already mentally preparing themselves for the battle ahead.

The playlists are a big help and keep me from having to go through all my folders and files every time I want a song played. All I have to do is click on the category that I need.

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Use Earphones For Successful Listen Checks

From James Crowder

Sometimes I roll a Listen Check for everyone to see if a sound was heard by each character. Not all the characters hear it, so playing the sound effect out loud on my laptop isn’t exactly the most appropriate course of action.

Something I did was go to Radio Shack and buy a bunch of cheap earphones and earphone Y-splitters (one of each for each player), and an extra Y-splitter for my speaker-out. I plug in the speaker when everyone hears something. And when only certain player(s) hear a noise, just plug enough Y-Splitters as you need, and plug only those player’s earphones who heard the sound in and play the sound.

Out of character, players whose characters heard nothing will not know of the sound played and will not know who else heard it. I find that limiting a player’s knowledge keeps him closer to his character and helps put him/her in the state of mind where he/she can relate to and think as their character, which helps to pull them into the game.