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 RPGShop.com. 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!