Monthly Archives: August 2009

What’s Good About 4th ed. Contest Results

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First off, let me apologize for not posting the winner when I said I would. I have a chronic rheumatoid condition that flared really badly, finally ending in a trip to the urgent care clinic last night and a cortizone shot. Things are better but my brain is still a little foggy. I’m hoping to resume normal posting schedule on Monday.

Next, thanks to everyone who took the time to respond to my post. I really appreciated all of your input and was really happy to see the discussion didn’t degenerate into an edition war. You’ve all given me a lot of good information to think about.

Finally, what you’ve all been waiting for — the results of the contest. After removing the names of those who asked to not be entered, I had slightly under twenty entrants. So, I chose randomly the way any self-respecting GM would — I rolled a d20. The winner is … Paul. I’m still waiting for RPG Shop to get the dice to me and then I’ll mail them out to you.

What Do You Like Best and Least About Being a GM/DM?

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Last week, I asked for your opinions on what you liked best about being a GM and what you liked least. A couple of you responded and here are your answers:

The Best Things:

  • From Sean Holland: “… there is nothing better than seeing the world come alive through the players’ eyes and actions. It makes all the work worthwhile.”
  • From ATerribleIdea: “Seeing a player gnaw their fingernail until it bleeds in a tense scene.”

The Worst Things:

  • From Sean Holland: “… having your inspiration vanish is miserable.”
  • From ATerribleIdea: “Defusing actual hostility.”

Thanks guys for your input!

What’s Good About 4th Edition?

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As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of 4th ed Dungeons and Dragons.

But there are many, many of you out there who are. So here’s your chance: leave me a comment about why I should try 4th ed. What do you like about it? What incites you passion for it? Is it the party roles, the new races available as “core races”? Let me know. What in your mind makes this game so good. Try to convince me.

Leave me a comment about all that’s good with 4th ed. As an extra incentive, I’ll make it a contest. I’ll throw the names of everyone who leaves a comment in support of 4th ed, into a hat and choose one name at random. The winner will receive a set of 10 piece Hybrid Tanslucent Red Dice from The deadline for this contest is Sunday, 23 August 2009. I’lll draw the name of the winner on Monday, 24 August 2009.

“How Close Can You Get to Amber On a Harley?” and Other Game Quotes

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Several years ago, I ran an RPG website (Jade’s Roleplaying Pages) and one of the most heavily hit pages were those that list funny quotes that happened during game sessions.

red-quote-bubbleWell, I’m bringing that back. Eventually, there’ll be a website and quote pages back up. In the meantime, I’m going to start posting a few game quotes each week. These are actual quotes from real game sessions and I’m breaking them down by game system, ’cause some of them are only funny if you know the system referenced.

So here’s this weeks entries:

General and out of character:

“Roll some dice and dazzle me with your Dex.”

“You know — you’re smarter than most of the characters you play.”

“This is outside of my character’s area. I don’t see anything in this document that allows me to shoot someone.”
–Boyd (Group Leader Kiaarr)

Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game

“How close can you get to Amber on a Harley?”
– Lorien, daughter of Random

“While Dad’s incapacitated, I’m taking the throne. I know I’ll give it back.”
–Lorien, Daughter of Random, speaking to Bleys

“We’ve lost the war. Well, we didn’t lose it; we lost it. It was right here when we left!”
–Lorien, Daughter of Random

Sirian: Rocks stacked up is a pile.”
Alysis: Yes, but rocks stacked up this way is a castle.”
–Lord Sirian of the Ways of Mirrus
–Alysis, daughter of Julian

“There is no Chaos for Dummies.”
–Cheri, GM

Ars Magica

“I know faeries, not vampires. If you want to know twelve ways to annoy a water nixie, I’m your girl.”
–Pleunaria, follower of Merinita

“I think the imp is a bigger problem. The trees can be reasoned with.”
–Master Thibideaux, House Jerbiton

Dungeons and Dragons

Sharra: I don’t even want to know what they summon here.
Gixx: Demons
Sharra: I said I didn’t want to know!
– Sharra, Cleric of Pelor
– Gix, Monk

DM: Again the power of his god protects him!
Tapir: Stupid god powers
– Carey, DM
– Tapir, Ranger

DM: I assume that breakfast is to be Hero’s Feast from now on?
Sharra: The breakfast of campions!
– Carey, DM
– Sharra, Cleric of Pelor


“How much is ‘Enemy: God’ worth?”
–Player to GM

Mage: the Ascension

Do ask the cat for authorization.”
–Jones, NWO

Vampire: the Masquerade

“My apartment is infested with Sabbat!”
–Stephan Thule, Clan Toreador

“He needs to get a personality transplant before he can do that [take over the world].”
–Alexis Dineson, Anarch

“I want to appreciate the artistic merits of a frickin’ shower!”
–Stephan Thule, Clan Toreador

“A weapon? You mean a gun? What am I going to do with a gun — shellac it!?”
–Stephan Thule, Clan Toreador

Player Contributions, Take Two

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Player Contributions was one of my earliest posts to this blog. I’ve learned so much about blogging since then, I’ve decided to update it.

What are player contributions?

The Amber Diceless RPG introduced me to player contributions. The idea is simple:

You get added points for your character if you agree to do something helpful for the GM every game session.

The exact details are left up to the GM and player to work out. Amber Diceless suggests things such as character journals, campaign logs, character portraits, etc. as player contributions. In that system, you get more points to build your character if you commit to a contribution for every game session.

It works great in theory

I tried using character/player contributions as written in the Amber rules, but soon met a major snag — getting players to follow through. Usually, I’d get enthusiastic contributions for 3-4 game sessions, then nothing. I tried giving giving out “luck” penalties — i.e. the player’s character would have strokes of bad luck for that game session — to those who didn’t live up to their agreement, but that seemed too punitive. Especially since most “non-contributors” weren’t being lazy– they simply found they didn’t have time to keep up with the obligation. Real Life™ would inevitably intrude.

The Fix

Finally, I came up with an idea that worked.  Instead of giving extra character creation points at the outset, I would hand out a small amount of experience points each game session I received a contribution. That way, no one would have to feel guilty if their child got the flu the previous week, or if term papers were due, or such. Also, if a player who normally didn’t turn in anything got a sudden burst of inspiration, she could make a single contribution, without having to take on a long-term commitment she wouldn’t be able to keep up.

Types of player contributions

What kinds of things make good character contributions? That really varies from game to game. What would be the most helpful to you as a GM? Some types of contributions that work well in my game include:

  • Written, detailed character backgrounds
  • Completed character questionaires
  • Character journals — the events of the campaign seen through the PCs eyes.
  • Campaign notes — the events of the game objectively
  • Character portraits
  • Maps or “landscapes” of important regions of the campaign world
  • Creating game props
  • In-game newspapers or “scream sheets” (for you Cyberpunks out there 😉 )
  • Keeping the inventory of party loot and making copies available to GM and all players

On the extreme end, I once had a player turn in the equivalent of a Master’s Thesis on Gehenna lore (for a classic World of Darkness game), complete with fictitious bibliography and properly-formatted footnotes. Basically, I’ll give points for anything that takes some of the GM’s workload off my shoulders

How do contributions help?

Character Backgrounds: Most of my games are very character-driven. Character backgrounds really do matter and will have an effect on the game world as a whole, so the more I know about PC, the more I can tie him into the game. To help a player develop his character’s background, I generally hand out a character questionnaire to each player at the beginning of a new campaign. Players can either fill that out or write something of their own design.

Character Portraits: Yes, I do accept written descriptions or references to book covers or movie characters as PC portraits. I don’t think this contribution should be limited to those who can draw.

Character Journals and Game Session Notes: Character journals and game session notes are definitely my favorite contributions to receive. I tend to run “off the cuff” —  frequently, my game notes for a particular session are a list of NPC names and possible locations. I make up most of the details during the game session and I find that if I stop to take notes, I lose the flow of the game. So having someone else in the group writing this stuff down for me is a huge help. That way, I don’t run into a problem of Bill But-You-Said-Last-Week-His-Name-Is-Fred, the baker. As far as character journals go, each player can specify if his journal exists in-game (where another character may be able to find and read it) or out of it (just between the player and the GM).

These are just some examples. Anything you and the player can agree on as being helpful to either you or the game as a whole can make great player contributions. Of course, I’m the final arbitrator about what constitutes an helpful contribution. But in all cases, I have one overarching rule — a character can only get experience for one contribution each game session.

How much to award?

Generally, you want to make the award small enough so the PCs don’t jump power levels faster than you can keep up with them. On the other hand, you want them to be large enough to provide a real incentive.

How small is small?

In for games with low experience point values, such as Amber, World of Darkness, In Nomine, etc. where the PCs might get an average of 1-3 points per session, I hand out one experience point per contribution per game session. I require all written contributions be at least one page long. On rare occasion, I might give out two for something that the player worked really hard at (see the academic dissertation above).

For D&D and other games that use experience points in the hundreds to thousands scale, I usually award 100 – 200 experience points, depending on how useful and detailed the contribution is. That amount works great for low levels (all the D&D games I’ve run for the last 20 years have been low-level). But one of my readers, trashcondor,  pointed out to me — at higher levels, it’s way too small an amount to be worth anything. Trashcondor suggested, instead, that I give out a bonus amount of 20% of each session’s experience points. I’m going to try this in my D&D games from now on.

Give player contributions a try. You may find — as I do — that they really help make GMing a game easier. If you’ve got specific examples of contributions used in any of your games, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. What did the player do and what kind of reward did you give them? Share your thoughts and ideas!

Question: What’s the best and worst thing about being a GM?

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[Inkwell Ideas has posted a blog readers survey. Please take a few minutes to fill it out; it helps us blog authors know a little more about the kinds of things you like to see in RPG blogs.]

What are the best and worst things about being a GM?

For me, the best thing is watching my players take my game and run with it. Nothing gives me more enjoyment then watching a mini-game session spontaneously break out. Frequently at a party, during the break of a different game session, or even at restaurant, my players will slip into character and start making plans or holding a gab-fest. All it takes is for someone to say “Dude!” (the favorite phrase of one of the PCs) and they’re off and running.  That’s when I know my game’s come alive and the players really enjoying it.

The worst thing is when I run out of inspiration or I just can’t get my own head into the game. Some days and some games are like that — no matter how hard I try, I just can’t get interested in what I’m doing.  Those are the days and games that fall flat. If I’m not completely engaged in the game, I know my players won’t be, either.

How about you?

What do you love about being a GM and what do you hate about it? Leave a comment and I’ll address this topic again later this week with your answers.

Reader’s Choice: The Final List of Lesser-Known Roleplaying Games

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I know I’ve said it a couple of times already, but thanks to everyone who’s commented on this thread. I hope you’ve had as much fun exploring this topic as I have.

Today is reader’s choice day. I’ve put together a small list of recommendations from readers for games they thought should’ve been included but weren’t. So without further ado…

Siskoid suggested:

  • Arcanum: Set in the ancient world before Atlantis disappeared beneath the waves, Arcanum is the precuror to Talislanta. In contrast to D&D’s high fantasy, Arcanum featured civilizations based on real-world cultures.
  • Bullwinkle and Rocky Role-Playing Party Game: You remember Rocky and Bullwinkle, right? Now you too can play one of the characters from the TV show or even (depending on the version of the rules you use) an brand-new one in the world of Frostbite Falls.
  • Critter Commandos: Kinda like Toon for miniatures, from what I can tell. [Correct me if I’m wrong, Siskoid. This is a new one for me.] You play a character like those in Saturday morning cartoons.
  • Dream Park: Based on the novel by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes, in Dream Park you play a player playing an RPG PC. Yup, your character’s character is a PC in “subgame”, which can be from any RPG genre.  I know this sounds kinda silly (not to mention recursive), but I’ve found the game to be a lot of fun. I particularly like the fact that you can use the same character in different genres.
  • StuporPowers!: Tired of those boring, old, everyday powers like x-ray vision, telepathy, and super-strength? A parody of superhero games, StuporPowers allows you to play a character with more … ahem … “unique” powers. What kind of powers? Oh, powers such as “price check anything”, “dust bunny army”, and “b.o. force field”. My favorite is “mail yourself anywhere”.

Luis suggested:

  • Justifiers: A science-fiction game, you play a human-animal combination “critter” who’s job it to act as part of the strong-arm force for the corporation who made you. Your goal: buy your freedom. But to do that you’re going to need to survive.

Rebecca suggested:

  • Feng Shui: The Hong Kong cinema of rpgs, Feng Shui focuses on all the things you expect from Hong Kong cinema: martial arts, magic, guns, high-technology, and … oh yeah, martial arts.

Both Siskoid and Rebecca recommended:

  • Teenagers from Outer Space: A very rules-light system based on the more humorous anime such as Ranma 1/2 and Dragonball. The game setting is just want the name says — aliens from space become fascinated by Earth’s “teen culture” and decide to bring their children here. In this game you play either a normal human or an alien teen-ager trying to fit into Earth culture.

Finally, some further recommendations from me:

  • Rêve: the Dream Ouroboros: Since Rifts really wasn’t that less-known, this is my replacement suggestion for “R”. Based on the French game Rêve de Dragon, the game is set in a fantasy world dreamed into reality by dragons.
  • S.L.U.G: Simple, Laid-Back Universal Game: Even if you never play this game, read the rules to your group sometime during a break in your game session. Seriously. In fact, you can read them right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait.  SLUG is a free rules system you can get on-line through the link above. The creators claim you can get the entire set of rules on one side of a sheet of paper, but I’ve never gotten it below two sheets and still had the type large enough to read.

An A-to-Z List of Lesser-Known Roleplaying Games: Part 5

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Here we are at the end of the list — almost. What do I mean by “almost”? Check the end of this post and you’ll find out 😉 . Meanwhile, here’s our final five:

  • Villians and Vigilantes: Like several of the games in this list, this is probably well-known to you if you were gaming in the early ’80’s and not if you joined the hobby later. It’s a super-hero game system which never got as popular as Champions.
  • Whispering Vault, The: Ever want to hunt gods? Then this is the game for you. Published in 1993, it experienced a surge of popularity in the mid-90’s when occult horror games were at their peak of popularity. Players play Stalkers — people who were once mortal humans but have been granted supernatural abilities — whose job is to hunt down renegade gods who’ve escaped into the mortal realm.
  • X-Crawl: I’ll admit — I haven’t yet met anyone who’s even read through this game, much less actually played it, including myself. So I’m going by the information on the publisher’s website. X-Crawl is a game based on shows like American Gladiator. In this, players play contestants on a pay-per-view reality show who face the dangers created by the “Dungeon Judge”. The game is artificially created — the character deaths aren’t.
  • Ysgarth: A fantasy RPG originally published in 1979 by Ragnarok Games. The focus in this game is on skills, not character classes and the whole system is extremely “crunchy” — meaning you have to crunch a lot of die rolls. Granted, it’s not quite as bad a Rolemaster…. You can try out a ‘lite’ version of the game for free at: Ysgarth: 20th Anniversary Edition.
  • Zombi: Subtitled “The Earth Won’t Hold the Dead”, this game is just what you’d expect. Zombies are taking over the earth and have to survive. Jeff’s Gameblog has a nice writeup about it in his “Five Overlooked RPGs” post.

There it is: A to Z. At least one game for each letter of the alphabet.

So what with this ‘almost’?

Right. The ‘almost’. Well, several of you have posted comments or Tweeted me about games you felt should’ve been on the list. So tomorrow (Friday, 07 Aug 2009) I’m going to post a “reader’s choice” list of lesser-known games. So if there’s anything that’s not here but you felt should be, please leave me a comment on any of these “A-to-Z” posts.

An A-to-Z List of Lesser-Known Roleplaying Games: Part 4

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We’re coming into the home stretch of the list. Today we’ll cover Q – U

  • Qin: A game that looks like it does for China what Legend of the Five Rings did for Japan. It’s set in China’s Warring States period. I love China as an RPG setting and can’t wait to get my hands on this and give it a try.
  • Rifts: Okay, this is actually a rather well-known game but it’s so intriguing I had to include it. I have to admit, this game’s been sitting on my shelf for years and I’ve not yet had a chance to play it. You want cross-genre? Take just about every genre of RPG game you can think of, throw them into a blender and set it on “puree” and you’ll get Rifts. Oh for more time….
  • Space 1889: Set in a future that never was, this game bills itself as “Science Fiction Role Playing in a More Civilized Time”. Imagine the Victorian speculations about space were true: Mars does have canals carrying water from the polar ice caps to parched city-states and Venus is covered in thick, steaming jungles dense enough to make those of Africa and South American look like botanical gardens, populated with dinosaurs. Now image that Victorian science could’ve gotten there and you’ve got Space 1889.
  • Talislanta: Made famous in the the late 80’s for it’s Dragon Magazine ads that promised unique fantasy races “and no elves!”, Talislanta is a high-fantasy game system inspired more by pulp-fantasy than by Tolkein. This gave Talislanta a sense of originality lacking from many D&D alternatives.
  • Toon: In Toon, you play … you guessed it … a cartoon character. I particularly like the fact that all characters have a “back pocket” (whether or not they’re wearing any pants) that can carry pretty much anything, including an anvil — one of Ace Corporation’s best selling-items available for speedy mail order.
  • Tales from the Floating Vagabond: Yeah, this makes three “T’s, but this is one of my all-time favorites, so I had to include it. Similar to Murphy’s World, which I wrote about yesterday, the Floating Vagabond in pan-dimensional bar where literally anyone could drop in from anywhere. The system is extremely mechanics-light with an emphasis on humor. It’s a skill-based system which allows you to Mess With Dangerous Goo, Hurt People Badly, Hurt People Really Badly, Swing Pointy Thing with Panache, and Look Good at All Times (actual skills from the game). In addition, each character has an Effect — like a personal schtick — giving them special abilities. But watch out for those Space Nazis™…
  • Underground: Another satirical game, Underground is set in the year 2021, but this is no Cyberpunk. The PCs are genetically enhanced ex-mercenaries with souped-up powers and a extreme desensitization to violence. And now they’ve got their walking papers and have been discharged into a 21st century dystopia. Good, wholesome family fun 😉 .

Tomorrow: the final installment — V – Z (and yes, I really do have at least one game for each letter).

9 Tips for Running Your First Convention Game

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Game conventions can be a great way to stretch your GMing muscles, but running a convention game is very different from running even a one-shot at home with your regular gaming group. You never know who (or what) is going to end up at your table and you’re running within a limited time frame, frequently 4 hours. This can be intimidation to a first-time con GM. Here’s a list of tips that will (hopefully) make your game go more smoothly:rpg blog carnival logo

  1. Give the PC’s a clear, concrete goal. This may seem obvious, but I’ve played in convention games where the PCs had no clear idea of what they were supposed to accomplish. The ultimate one was an In Nomine game where the challenge was “Chicago. Trouble. Go fix.” Literally. That was our entire mission briefing.  It left me feeling frustrated and aimless through much of the game.
  2. If you don’t state the goal at the very beginning, make it clear as soon as possible. The classic con scenario is the “mission” scenario, where the PCs are given clear mission goals by a superior in whatever organization they belong to. This is a great way to begin a con game. If you don’t want to go that route, you can have the goal find the PCs, but make sure it happens within the first 30 mins of game time. An example of  the mission finding the PCs: I ran a Trinity game where the PCs were all traveling to new jobs on Luna. That was just a device to get the PCs on the same ship; the real game began when a group of NPCs hijacked the shuttle and the PCs had to capture them while protecting the shuttle’s crew and passengers.
  3. Consider running a “closed-room” scenario. A “closed-room” or “locked room” scenario is one what takes place inside a very limited area which the character, for some reason intrinisc to the plot, can’t leave until the goal has been accomplished. You see this most often in murder mysteries and, indeed, my first successful con games were murder mysteries. Yes, it’s contrived. Yes, it can be constricting. But it makes it much easier to run a scenario when you know the PCs aren’t going to suddenly take a train to Borneo.
  4. Give your game an intriguing title. That will help it stand out from the mass of other games in the con catalog. You want your title to intrigue players into finding out more about your game. Some titles I’ve used:
    • Things that Go Bump in the Night (an Everway game)
    • Crimes Against the State (an Amber Diceless game)
    • Every Now and Then (a Mage: Technocracy game)
    • (After)Life is a Caberat (a Wraith: the Oblivion game)
  5. Advertise your games, particularly if you’re a brand-new con GM. Frequently cons have boards where you can tack up game notices. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to put up posters in other places at the con venue, such as lobby pillars — always get permission to put these up first! I like to use 8 1/2 x 11 fliers with an eye-catching picture, the name of the scenario, the name of the rules system (including edition!), the time of the game, the location of the game (if you know), the name of the GM, and a brief description of the scenario designed to pique players’ interests.
  6. Take time to explain. Many, many players come to cons to try out games they’ve never played before. So you may have someone at your table who’s never played any RPGs or someone who’s been gaming since Chainmail was new. Take the first part of your time slot to do a quick run-down of the game, its mechanics, its background and the characters involved. For a four-hour game slot, I reserve the first hour for explanations
  7. Time your game. It’s extremely rude to run over. If you run too far over, your players will miss their next game. I usually aim my games to run one hour less than the available time. That gives me some leeway to deal with plot derailments, lost players, etc.
  8. Use pre-generated characters. Unless you’re running an extremely simple set of mechanics, you’re not going to have time to create characters and play the scenario. And if it’s a new game to a player, most likely they don’t know what they want to play. Also, having pre-generated characters means you can tie them to your plot and to each other. They’re known quantitites, you can plan the scenario around them.
  9. Consider creating player handouts. Along with a copy of the character sheet, I give out a character history/background, a one-page explanation of the game, another 1-2 pages of “cheat sheet” for mechanics, and brief summary of any important background information the player will need to know for the scenario. Don’t bog them down with details or mechanics that aren’t crucial for that session. Important: don’t photocopy the books unless you have specific permission! This is plagerism. I give my players “crib notes” — something they can refer to during the game, but is basically useless without the rest of the rules.

This post is part of the RPG Blogger‘s August Blog Carnival.