Monthly Archives: April 2010

Top 10 of 100 and One

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This month, Evil Machinations celebrated it’s first anniversary. On top of that, this is my 100th post. Because of all that, I want to say thank you to everyone who’s made this blog a success.  Without my readers, there would be no Evil Machinations 😉 .

Below is a count-down of your top ten favorite posts and pages on this blog since it began in April 2009:

10. An A-to-Z List of Lesser-Known Roleplaying Games: Part 1
9. X Marks the Spot: 11 Map Making Tutorials
8. Building Better NPCs III: Character Webs
7. Handling Problem Players
6. What’s Good About 4th Edition?
5. 20 Unusual City Encounters: From Beg, Borrow, & Steal
4. What GMs Really Want (Poll)
3. “Where are we again?”: Creating Unique Fantasy Cities and Towns
2. Character Questionnaire
1. Your Teacher Was Right … Creating Adventures with the 6 W’s

Next post will be the continuation of player month, which has now become extended through the end of May. Hey, that’s an idea: let’s turn this into a blog carnival. I hereby christen May “Player’s Advice” month here at EM. If others would like to join me on this, I’ll post a link from here to your page. Just leave me a reply to this post with your post’s URL.

How to (Respectfully) Disagree With Your GM

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parrot discussionHere it is–the first post of our “Player Month”, designed to give advice to the players on how to make a game better. After all, the GM isn’t the only one playing and the players share some responsibility for making a game great.

At some point or another it will happen: your GM will make a call you don’t agree with. Do you just sit there and take it? After all, it’s the GM’s game and his word is law, right?

Well, yes and no. True, the GM decides the rules and has the final say on all matters. But that’s just it: the final say is final. That doesn’t mean you can’t have your input on making that final decision before it reaches the “final” part. There’s a big difference between a ruling and a final ruling. Depending on your GM, you can sometimes make your case and see if you can reach a compromise.

The trick here is that you need to make your cases respectfully. No shouting, no temper tantrums, no storming off. Here are some tips for successful resolution with your GM.

[Image courtesy of / CC BY 2.0]

Figure out what you want

You need to do this before you talk to your GM. What do you want to come out of this discussion? What specific result are you looking for? It’s amazing how many players get into a “knee-jerk” reaction. They take issue with something the GM says or does, but they have no idea how they want that changed. If you have an idea of your ideal result, you can figure out a compromise much more easily.

Wait until after the session

You’re much more likely to get a positive result from a GM if you approach her after a game session, rather than during it. Bringing up an issue during the session takes up valuable play time. At best, it leaves other players with nothing to do; at worst, it opens the floor to a free-for-all argument as the other players try to put in their complaints. Not only does this make the GM feel like she’s begin ganged up on, it tends to make her dig her heels in and stick to her ruling.

Sometimes you can’t wait–for example, if your character’s about to die–and you have to deal with the issue during the session. You will, most likely, gain a better result if these cases are rare. That way, you’re more likely to get the “benefit of the doubt”, such as “Gee, he always talks to me after a session. It must be really important if he’s bringing it up now.”

Talk about specifics

When you do talk to your GM, you want to bring up a specific issue or ruling. If the GM doesn’t know exactly what’s bothering you, how can he fix it? Focusing on specifics also avoids the “Your game sucks” attitude, which is guaranteed to cause a GM to ignore anything you’ve got to say. Remember what you’re bringing up is your problem, not your GM’s.

A related point is to “marshal your argument” ahead of time. Why do you disagree with the ruling? What about it makes you unhappy or uncomfortable? Focus on how the ruling affects you and your character and cite specific examples. It’s most likely that the GM just didn’t foresee the problems you’re experiencing or didn’t see them as problems. You need to let him know why this is a problem.

Have alternative suggestions

This goes along with knowing what result you want. It’s much more likely a GM will listen and adjust things accordingly if you have some ideas on how to fix the problem. Even if she doesn’t seem to keen on changing things, having something specific to try out (“Can we try this next week and see if it works?”) is much more likely to bring a change in your favor than a “this is a problem with your game–fix it” attitude.

When you’re thinking of suggestions, take the game as a whole in to consideration. Think about how your idea(s) will affect game balance and the other players. Also consider the plot of the game as you know it so far and what you foresee happening in the future. This communicates to your GM that you’re not just looking for a result that makes you the center of the game or gives you an über-character.

Take the GM’s final word gracefully

Only your GM knows the whole game. It’s possible that the “bad” ruling needs to stand because of something that’s coming down the pipe. There’ve been many times during a game when I’ve had to say “There’s a reason, trust me.” After all, if you can’t trust your GM maybe it’s time to find a new group.

Final thoughts

As always, watch your manner and your tone as you bring anything up with your GM. Remember your Ps and Qs and common-sense advice (focus on the problem, not the person; use “I” language; remember who owns the problem, etc.).

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Livin’ the Good Life: More Random Background Events for PCs

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A roulette wheel.
Image via Wikipedia

Stumped for a background for your newest character? Why not try some randomly generated ones? Last week, we covered the steps for generating a random background event and the tables for bad things that could happen to your character. Today, we’re covering the good things. Check out last week’s post for full details.

Life Path Good Events

  1. Gain a local ally. You’ve gained an ally who has a fair amount of influence or clout in the city, town or village you’re in.
  2. Strike it rich. You come into a sizable sum of money.  Whether you won it gambling, received it as payment for services rendered or simply found it, the money is yours–free and clear. No strings. It’s not enough to retire on, but it can certainly keep in you in some comfort for 1d10 months.
  3. Big job. You perform a job that brings not only financial reward, but also some recognition. Whether your face is widely known in the streets or to an elite few is up to you. In either case, you gain a positive boost to your reputation.
  4. Find a weaponsmaster. You find a skilled warrior/fighter whose abilities exceed your own and who’s willing to teach you. You improve one of your combat-related skills or add a weapon proficiency. The GM will tell you how many improvement points you gain.
  5. Find a skills master. You find someone who can help you either improve a non-combat skill you already have or learn a new one at a beginning level. The GM will tell you how many improvement points you gain.
  6. Powerful favor. Someone in political power in your game world owes you a favor. Maybe you ran an important errand or maybe you just babysat his favorite nephew. In any case, you will be able to call in one favor from this person. The GM will decide whether or not the favor you’re asking for is equitable with the one you received.
  7. Friends in low places. You make some friends with a local group or gang. It could be the local thieves guild or it could be a teenage gang of misfits. In either case, you can call on them for one small favor a month. This does cut both ways and the gang will expect you to return small favors should they need them. These should be easy favors that won’t hurt your reputation or your bank account.
  8. Friend on the force. You make a friend on the local constabulary or town guard. You can call on your friend for information or minor favors once a month. Again, this is two-way street and you friend can also call on you for the same.
  9. Friends in high places. You make a friend to has some measure of clout. Perhaps you rescued a local prince or duke or perhaps the princess has simply taken a liking to you. You can call on your friend for a small favor once a month, but don’t push it.
  10. Gain an asset. You find or are given a very useful or minor magic item (GM’s choice). However you come by it, it’s yours with no repercussions or strings attached.

Of course, you can also use these for “down time” events in-between adventures.

Look for next week when we’ll begin a “Player Month”, with articles for the players in your group.

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Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune: Random Background Events for PCs

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cartoon about simple choicesSometimes a good background is hard to find. Usually I have no trouble coming up with a full-fledged past for my characters, complete with NPCs, subtle plot hooks, and flaws ready-made for the GM to exploit. Usually, I hand the GM a six-page character questionnaire loaded with personality quirks and background events.


A few months back, my fiance (I’ll call him “Jay”) started a 3.5 D&D game and I sat down to make a new character. I’m currently playing a bard/sorcerer in another D&D game and wanted to try something different. I thought playing a “blaster caster” would be a lot of fun, so I built my character as a half-even sorcerer/rogue. I pulled out my well-used list of character questions and sat down to fill it out.


I couldn’t think of anything really interesting to build this character around. All of my ideas seemed trite and over-used. Six months of play later, and I still didn’t have any background to this character.

Now, I know I can play the character without any background material. But I’ve always been a “method actor” type roleplayer and I find it really hard to get enthused about a character that’s just stats and abilities. That’s when I remembered Cyberpunk and its lifepath tables. If I couldn’t think up a background for my character, I could roll one up!

[Image courtesy of / CC BY 2.0]

The LifePath

Cyberpunk’s life path is a very thorough. It involves rolling on several charts to determine what the character’s personality is like as well as what’s happened to him in his background. I’ve simplified the process greatly and changed the options to fit a fantasy game setting.

First, determine how many life events you want to roll for. As a limitation, I decided I could stop rolling for events when I wanted to, but that I couldn’t remove any results already obtained. I developed two tables: one for bad events and one for good. To determine which table to roll on for each event, I rolled a d6. If it came up even, then I rolled for a good event. If the result was odd, I rolled for a bad event. Of course, you can also pick some thing rather than rolling for it at random.

Bad Events

  1. Money loss. You’ve incurred a major debt. Bill collectors track you wherever you go and, depending on the size of your debt, your lender may have hired someone who will take drastic measures to recover the money.
  2. Hostage or Imprisonment. You’re being held captive–either in prison or perhaps as a hostage–Roll 1d10 to find out how many months you’re imprisoned.
  3. Illness or Poisoning. You’ve contracted a serious illness or were poisoned. Roll 1d10 to determine how many months you need to recuperate.
  4. Betrayal. You’ve been betrayed by someone you trusted. Roll 1d10 on the table below:
    1-3 Your betrayer is blackmailing you
    4-6 A dirty secret from your past has been exposed
    8-10 You lost a friend, lover, ally, or job because your betrayer spread rumors about you (your choice whether or not they’re true.
  5. Accident. You were in a terrible accident. Roll 1d10 on the table below:
    1-2 You were disfigured or lost a body part
    3-6 You were under medical care for 1d10 months
    7-8 You lost 1d10 months of memory due to trauma
    9-10 You have frequent and terrible nightmares where you relive the event over and over
  6. Death. Someone close to you was killed. Roll 1d10 on the table below.
    1-5 The death was accidental
    6-8 Your loved one was murdered by an unknown assailant
    9-10 Your loved one was murdered by someone you know
  7. False Accusation. You were framed for something you didn’t do. Roll 1d10 on the table below to find out what you were accused of:
    1-3 Theft
    4-5 Cowardice
    6-8 Murder
    9 Rape or “taking advantage” of someone (like seducing the farmer’s daughter and getting her pregnant)
    10 Treason
  8. On the Run. You’re being hunted by someone in a position of authority. Maybe you committed a crime, maybe you were framed for a crime, or maybe you don’t even know why you’re being hunted. Roll 1d10 on the table below to find out who’s hunting you.
    1-3 Local constabulary or town watch
    4-6 The king’s forces
    7-8 Private guards
    9-10 Bounty hunters
  9. Hunted. You’re on the run from some organization who wants you bad for some reason. They may not want to kill you, but they certainly don’t have your best interests at heart. Roll 1d10 on the table below to determine who’s hunting you.
    1 The local assassins’ guild
    2-3 The local thieves’ guild
    4-6 A merchant’s guild or craft guild
    7-8 A slaver’s guild or gang
    9-10 A powerful local clan
  10. Mental incapacitation. You’re sufforing from something that’s causing you to not be fully in control of yourself and your behavior. Roll 1d10 on the table below to determine what the problem is.
    1-3 Mind control or possession. You’ve been possessed or mentally controlled by a powerful entity.
    4-7 Mental breakdown. Some kind of trauma has left you with severe anxiety attacks and maybe even a phobia.
    8-10 Severe mental illness. Your choice.

That’s enough for one day. I’ll post the good events next week.

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