Monthly Archives: July 2011

When it’s Your Turn to Play: How to go from being a GM to a player

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GMing can be an all-consuming task. Players outnumber GMs, so we often get put in a situation where our group will say “We want to play [fill in new game here]. Will you run it?” But sometimes, even if you primarily GM, you’ll get a chance to actually sit in the player’s chair for a change.

Sitting the player’s chair can be a challenge for someone who primarily GMs. We’re so used to having the final say in game matters, that we tend to (usually unintentionally) act as if we’re in charge of this game. This tends to lead to bad feelings with rest of the group and the newly-minted player returns to her GM screen, vowing to never set foot out from it again.

That’s a shame, because GMs can offer a lot to a game when they play. They often have great ideas for overcoming obstacles (after all, they’re used to setting them), and can be a source of great help to the current GM, especially if he’s new to that side of the table. Plus, it’s good for a GM to remember what it feels like to be a player, from time to time.

Below are some guidelines on how to behave when it’s someone else’s turn in the GM chair:

  1. Never give GMing advice unless specifically asked. GMing has a steep learning curve. It takes months (do I dare say “years”?) to learn to manage all the tasks required to run a good game; this can only come with practice. While it’s hard to watch someone struggle through learning to GM, it’s necessary. He has to learn, just like you did. Giving unsolicited advice just upsets the other GM and is often interpreted as a vote of no confidence in his GMing ability.
  2. If you find yourself saying “In my game…,” stop talking. Unless it’s during a break and you’re relating a story about something funny that happened in your game, these are fighting words. Remember, this is not your game. Every GM is entitled to run her game her own way; just because it’s different from yours doesn’t make it bad. Acknowledge (to yourself) that it’s going to feel strange for a little while, but reserve judgment for several game sessions. If she’s doing something you just can’t stand, use the standard player solution—talk to her, or find a different game.
  3. If you must talk to the GM about the way he runs, remember you’re the player. Don’t tell him how you’d do it differently (unless he asks). Just say something along the lines of “I’m having a real difficulty with the way [thing that bothers you] is handled. Is there a particular reason for it being that way, or can we maybe try something else?” Focus on the specific thing that bothers you, not on his whole GMing approach.
  4. Try to keep GM information out of play. It’s going to be tough; when you’ve been GMing for any length of time, you know things that even experienced players don’t. So before you exploit the weakness of that monster’s special attack, ask yourself if your character would even know about the weakness in the first place. Be honest. If the answer is “No,” then use only what your character would know.
  5. Don’t overwhelm your GM. When you’re used to spending hours in preparation for a game, it can seem like you’re slacking off when you’re only a player. Many GMs I know (including me) then to still put in that time, often without realizing it. Since you’ve only got one small section of the game to work on—your character—you tend to over develop that section. Unless you clear it with your GM first, it’s not fair to dump a 25 page character history on her and expect her to read it all before the next game session. Remember, she’s got more than just your character to deal with.
  6. Don’t assume that just because you like something, that your GM will too. And visa versa, if you hate something, don’t assume your GM will also hate it. Some GMs love getting 20 pages of blue-booking between game sessions, others will barely have time to skim the first page. Find out your GM’s likes and dislikes.
  7. Take time to learn this group’s culture. Every game group has their own rituals and rules of behavior. If you’re coming into an established group, take time learn their traditions and standards of behavior. If everyone chips in to buy the GM pizza, by the third session, you should be ready to drop your share in the pot.
  8. Cut yourself some slack. It takes time to get used to being a player again. Treat yourself like you’d treat any brand-new player you’d have in your game. In many ways, that’s exactly what you are, especially if you haven’t played in years.
  9. Be the kind of player you’d want to have in your game. That’s basically what this all comes down to. If you’re supportive, helpful in a player sort of way, polite, and respectful, the rest of your group should be willing to overlook any gaffs on your part.

(This is an excerpt from my upcoming book: The GM’s Field Guide to Players, tentatively scheduled to come out in November.)

[photo courtesy of JDHancock courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons]

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Players: What Do You Want Your GM to Know About You?

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Now that I’ve gotten my adventure creation book out, I’m starting to look into the next project. One way I do that is to look back over my blog and see which posts are the most popular. One that seems to get a lot of hits is my Handling Problem Players post. Every GM has had at least one player that’s made her GMing life difficult.

But the problem can go both ways. Every player that’s been playing for awhile can find at least one horror story about a bad GM. So, players, what five things would you like your GM to know about either players in general or you as a player specifically? What things should GMs do differently than you’re currently experiencing? If I were to write a book for GMs about players, what five things should be included? Please let me know in the comments section below.

[Photo courtesy of SMercury98 via Flickr Creative Commons 2.0]

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Need RPG News? Check Out Game Knight Reviews

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This is the first of a new post series where talk about my favorite RPG blogs and sites. There’s no particular significance to the order I review things — it’s more of a “who’s on my mind right now”. And these aren’t intended to be reviews, per se–I’m not going to critique the sites. It’s much more like the old Pyramid Magazine’s “Gee, we wish we’d done that” column, for those of you who’ve been gaming long enough to remember Pyramid when it was available in print.

Today’s site is Game Knight Reviews. As you can guess by the name, this site focuses on reviews of game products. From print to e-books to game-related services, if you’re wondering about a specific product, you can probably find a review of it at GKR. If it’s not up yet, it will be sometime. In addition to game reviews, though, they have interviews with prominent members of the RPG community and (my favorite bits) news from the RPG world. It’s really nice to have game news gathered into a single source, since I simply don’t have time to read tons of the wonderful blogs out there, much as I’d like to.

Oh, and did I mention they’ve got some pretty cool art on their header graphic? [Hopefully Fitz won’t mind that I also stole his logo for this post…]

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Adventure Creation Handbook Now Available

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Want to write your own adventures?

You can learn to write good adventures and The Adventure Creation Handbook will show you how. Maybe you’re searching for an original idea. Or maybe you’ve just looking for a way to take that exciting climatic battle you see in your head and put it into a form your players will enjoy. Wherever you are in the adventure creation process, this  book will guide you step-by-step through the process of creating an adventure for any genre, any game system.

Overcome creativity blocks and dry spells. The Adventure Creation Handbook describes several methods of coming up with adventure ideas your players and you will enjoy.

Customize plots for your group and your game. By using your players and their wants as a starting point, this method allows you make adventures your players will want to play.

Integrate adventures into your campaign. This method integrates the adventures into your game system and campaign world from the very beginning. No trying to shoe-horn or retrofit ideas that don’t really fit.

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Johnn Four
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Add to Cart

What’s included:

  • A step-by-step method for creation adventures that covers
    • Generating the original idea
    • Translating that idea into a series of events by asking and answering questions
    • Putting the events in a meaningful order that’s flexible enough to take player whim into account
    • Developing incentives to entice your players to go on the adventure
    • Getting it all down on paper (or in the computer) so you don’t forget anything important
  • Suggestions for running your newly written adventure
  • A worksheet to help you put your ideas in order
  • A checklist so you don’t miss any steps
  • Printer-friendly black & white design. No heavily colored pages to eat toner.

In addition, when you purchase The Adventure Creation Handbook, you receive these free bonuses:

  1. Life time updates. You’ll receive a free copy of this book every time it’s updated or revised. No need to go searching for errata or buying the next version, just to have up-to-date information.
  2. An example of adventure creation using this method, illustrating each step.
  3. A booklet of GMing tips from my blog Evil Machinations.
  4. 90-day unconditional money-back guarantee.  No questions asked.

What’s it cost? $7 for the next 30 days. That’s a special launch price. After August 15, 2011, the price will go up to $10.

Add to Cart

Beyond “Fred”: German Names for Characters

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Sometimes the hardest part of building a character is  coming up with a good name. You can always take a name from Tolkien or other fantasy novels, but you’ve seen those names over and over and you want something a little different, but not way out there. How about an historical name? Or one from a different culture?

This time I’m covering German names. As always, I’m selecting these for use in fantasy games, so many of these names may be archaic or uncommon.

[Photo courtesy of kevindooley via Flickr Creative Commons 2.0]

Male Names

  • Abelard
  • Adalbert
  • Alban
  • Alwin
  • Baldric
  • Berndt
  • Burkhard
  • Carsten
  • Dagmar
  • Detlef
  • Dierk
  • Eber
  • Etzel
  • Ewald
  • Fastred
  • Feirefiz
  • Ferdi
  • Gairovald
  • Garrit
  • Gerd
  • Gisil
  • Gundrun
  • Hagan
  • Hartwin
  • Heilgar
  • Hroda
  • Ingo
  • Isidor
  • Ivo
  • Kai
  • Kasimir
  • Kayetan
  • Kilian
  • Korbinian
  • Körbl
  • Lanzo
  • Lennart
  • Lothar
  • Malger
  • Markus
  • Marwin
  • Meine
  • Merten
  • Odo
  • Othmar
  • Poldi
  • Quirin
  • Raban
  • Raimund
  • Reto
  • Ruedi
  • Seppel
  • Severin
  • Sigi
  • Tancred
  • Thorben
  • Tielo
  • Traugott
  • Ulrich
  • Urs
  • Volker
  • Waldemar
  • Wendelin
  • Wenzel
  • Wolfram
  • Yvo

Female Names

  • Adelina
  • Aleida
  • Aloisia
  • Beate
  • Bettina
  • Bruna
  • Cäcilie
  • Conradine
  • Corina
  • Dörthe
  • Ebbe
  • Elfriede (Elfie)
  • Emlin
  • Erna
  • Frauke
  • Gerde
  • Gerlinde
  • Gisela
  • Gudrun
  • Heike
  • Helma
  • Hiltrud
  • Ilma
  • Imke
  • Imme
  • Ishild
  • Jana
  • Kasimira
  • Kinge
  • Kirsa
  • Kunigunde
  • Lene
  • Liesa
  • Liesel
  • Loreley
  • Magda
  • Malwine
  • Maike
  • Mareike
  • Maja
  • Marlis
  • Nadja
  • Nele
  • Oda
  • Odelia
  • Ottila
  • Raimunde
  • Renate
  • Ria
  • Rike
  • Roswitha
  • Salida
  • Senta
  • Sidonia
  • Silke
  • Tabea
  • Thekla
  • Thora
  • Valeska
  • Verena
  • Vreni
  • Wiebke
  • Zenzi
  • Ziska

German Surnames

  • Abt
  • Amsel
  • Bader
  • Bauer
  • Baum
  • Beike
  • Daecher
  • Duerr
  • Eichel
  • Engal
  • Faerber
  • Fiedler
  • Foerster
  • Fruehauf
  • Gaertner
  • Gersten
  • Grunewald
  • Hoch
  • Holtzmann
  • Hueber
  • Jaeger
  • Kalb
  • Kappel
  • Klein
  • Kluge
  • Koch
  • Koenig
  • Lang
  • Lehrer
  • Luft
  • Metzger
  • Moench
  • Nacht
  • Nadel
  • Oster
  • Pfaff
  • Reiniger
  • Ritter
  • Sankt
  • Schreiber
  • Schuster
  • Seiler
  • Theiss
  • Traugott
  • Trommler
  • Urner
  • Vogt
  • Wannemaker
  • Wirth
  • Zweig

Sources

Other “Beyond ‘Fred'” Posts

Adventure Creation Handbook Launches July 15th

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This page was the announcement that went out just before the book was actually released. To purchase The Adventure Creation Handbook, please go to

Adventure Creation Handbook

Want to write your own adventures?

You can learn to write good adventures and The Adventure Creation Handbook will show you how. Maybe you’re searching for an original idea. Or maybe you’ve just looking for a way to take that exciting climatic battle you see in your head and put it into a form your players will enjoy. Wherever you are in the adventure creation process, this  book will guide you step-by-step through the process of creating an adventure for any genre, any game system.

Overcome creativity blocks and dry spells. The Adventure Creation Handbook describes several methods of coming up with adventure ideas your players and you will enjoy.

Customize plots for your group and your game. By using your players and their wants as a starting point, this method allows you make adventures your players will want to play.

Integrate adventures into your campaign. This method integrates the adventures into your game system and campaign world from the very beginning. No trying to shoe-horn or retrofit ideas that don’t really fit.

What’s included:

  • A step-by-step method for creation adventures that covers
    • Generating the original idea
    • Translating that idea into a series of events by asking and answering questions
    • Putting the events in a meaningful order that’s flexible enough to take player whim into account
    • Developing incentives to entice your players to go on the adventure
    • Getting it all down on paper (or in the computer) so you don’t forget anything important
  • Suggestions for running your newly written adventure
  • A worksheet to help you put your ideas in order
  • A checklist so you don’t miss any steps
  • Printer-friendly black & white design. No heavily colored pages to eat toner.

In addition, when you purchase The Adventure Creation Handbook, you receive these free bonuses:

  1. Life time updates. You’ll receive a free copy of this book every time it’s updated or revised. No need to go searching for errata or buying the next version, just to have up-to-date information.
  2. An example of adventure creation using this method, illustrating each step.
  3. A booklet of GMing tips from my blog Evil Machinations.
  4. 90-day unconditional money-back guarantee.  No questions asked.

What’s it cost? $7 for the first 30 days. That’s a special launch price. After August 15, 2011, the price will go up to $10.

Divine Intervention: Bringing Deities Down to Earth

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Two weeks ago, I discussed ways to make religion more meaningful in your game. If you haven’t read it yet, do so before reading this. It’s okay, we’ll wait.

Back again? Good. Now, here’s the list of divine interventions I promised in that post. I’ve numbered them so you could use it as a random effects table, but I recommend choosing something appropriate instead of rolling for an effect.

  1. +1 bonus on skill checks for one attempt
  2. +1 to +3 bonus on to-hit or damage rolls for one round or one combat
  3. +10% value to all gems or other valuable items sold at one sale
  4. PC is surrounded by an invisible (or glowing–GM’s choice) field that deflects attacks and gives a +1 or +2 to armor class for one round or one combat
  5. +1 to attribute bonus for one attribute check
  6. Earned treasure includes a map of the tower or dungeon PCs will go to in the near future
  7. Earned treasure includes a map of a town the PCs frequent with secret entrances and exits to key buildings clearly marked.
  8. Found treasure is +10% higher in value than it would be otherwise
  9. PC gains a Protection from Evil (or Good, or Law, or Chaos) for a limited duration, say one round, one turn, or one combat. If your games doesn’t use alignments, substitute a protection from hostile creatures
  10. PC knows immediately that someone he’s currently talking to is lying or he knows the person is absolutely telling him the truth.
  11. NPCs react more favorably to the PC for a set duration time.
  12. Animals respond more positively to PC for a set duration time.
  13. A monster’s breath weapon leave PC completely unharmed for one attack
  14. The answer to one particularly important question simply appears in PC’s mind
  15. PC is able to find a particularly helpful NPC for a specific adventure or task
  16. PC’s vehicle or mount lasts 10% longer than it should — i.e. mount goes an extra 10% distance before tiring, modern vehicle goes 10% longer on one tank of gas, etc. This causes no harm to the vehicle or mount. Alternatively, you could have the vehicle or mount just make it to the next town when, in all rights, it should’ve been unable to.
  17. PC finds necessary item for survival in a hostile environment (water in the desert, shelter in a blizzard, food while lost in the wilderness).
  18. PC is able to persuade an NPC to do one thing she wouldn’t normally do (as long as it doesn’t go against the NPC’s deeply held beliefs).
  19. PC can understand and talk to animals for a limited amount of time
  20. PC can understand a language he doesn’t know for a short period of time

This is only a small number of things that a DI can do, a short list to get your creative juices flowing. Don’t make your DI results too powerful–you don’t want to give away the whole adventure, just give an appropriately devout character a leg up during a particularly dangerous or difficult event. And you can scale the effects of the DI depending on how devout the PC has been in her observances and how long it’s been since the gods last gave her a helping hand. By divine help minor and rare, you help keep the PCs from relying on it too much.

If you’ve ever used divine intervention in your game, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

[Photo courtesy of ~MVI~ (has found pansit in Hyderabad) via Flickr Creative Commons]

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