Category Archives: GMing

5 Great Podcasts for Game Inspiration

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podcast-logoThere are a number of RPG-related podcasts, everything from RPG news and GM tips to recorded play sessions. But there five non-gaming podcasts that regularly give me game ideas and I thought I’d list them here:

  • Stuff to Blow Your Mind: The stranger side of science. Really, the real world is much stranger than anything I could come up with in-game. Topics have included everything from teenage angst to the shadow side of the mind to slime in the animal kingdom.
  • Stuff You Missed in History Class: The interesting bits of history that classes tend to leave out. Recent topics have included Nikola Tesla and the current war, John Wilkes Booth, D.B. Cooper, and historical hoaxes.
  • The History Chicks: The real lives of famous women in history. The hosts Beckett and  Susan do a great job of bringing the world of the women to life. The also have fairy tale episodes where they discuss the origins and history of fictional heroines such as Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. If you thought you knew these stories, think again. Also check out the website, including the show notes. It’s got links to other history resources that bring each of the time periods alive.
  • Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know: Video podcasts of conspiracy theories. You could watch an entire episode while waiting in the grocery line. Take two, they’re small.
  • The Podcast History of Our World: Having trouble remembering the Assyrians from the Sumerians? The history of our world from the dawn of man. They’re only up to Assyrian Empire right now (episode 22), so you don’t have an excessive amount of episodes to catch up on if you decide to start from the beginning. The site also has links to a musician who recreates ancient music, just in case you really need some background music from Ancient Rome.

How about you? What non-gaming podcasts give you idea? Let us know in the comments!

[Graphic courtesy of derrickkwa via Flickr Creative Commons]

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The GM’s Field Guide to Players Now Available

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Have Player Troubles?

GMs–what’s the most important part of your game? It’s your players. Without your players, you don’t have a game. Yet, it’s your players that often cause you the most grief.

Have you ever had players who

  • arrivs on time to every game, but spens the entire session reading a book?
  • try to monopolize your attention?
  • complain that other people aren’t playing their characters right?
  • argue with every decision you make?

We all have. It’s hard to know how to deal with difficult players. But you don’t have to go it alone. The GM’s Field Guide to Players can help.

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What’s Included

This 54-page PDF covers:

  • How to identify players types and how to use them to make your game more enjoyable
  • The five steps for dealing with all problem players
  • Common types of problem players and how to deal with each one
  • How to remove a player from your game and still look yourself in the mirror


In addition, when you purchase The GM’s Field Guide to Players, you get two bonuses:

  • How to Deal With Cheating Players: Just what the title says, this booklet describes several ways players cheat and offers ideas on how to deal with them.
  • Fitting Them In: Ideas on how to introduce new players to your game. It covers everything from introducing brand-new players to RPGs in general to bringing experienced players into your on-going campaign.

What’s it cost?

The regular price is $7, but from now until October 31, 2012, you can get it for $6.

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Field Guide to Players Finished

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At long last, my second book, The GM’s Field Guide to Players is finished and will be available for sale within the next two weeks.

The book features cover art by artist NJ Huff (check out her website, she’s got some great stuff). I’m absolutely thrilled with the image she created and will be asking her to redo the cover of The Adventure Creation Handbook when I get around to updating it in the next month or so.

It’s sixty a 60-page PDF and covers

  • Player types in detail (I’ve devoted a whole chapter to this) along with suggestions on how to use them to make your game more enjoyable.
  • How to identify problem players and general tips for dealing with them, including suggestions on how to remove a player from your game and still retain your self-respect (and the respect of the other players in your group).
  • Specific types of problem players you’re likely to encounter in your GMing career and how to deal with each one.

As always, I’m including two freebies when you purchase this book. They are

  • How to Deal With Cheating Players: Just what the title says, this booklet describes several ways players cheat and offers ideas on how to deal with them.
  • Fitting Them In: Ideas on how to introduce new players to your game. It covers everything from introducing brand-new players to RPGs in general to bringing experienced players into your on-going campaign.

The GM’s Field Guide to Players will be available starting Sunday, September 23, 2012 and will sell for $7. It will be available from my website and from Drive-Thru RPG and RPGNow. At the same time, I’ll be selling my previous book, The Adventure Creation Handbook for $3.50 — half off its normal price. That half-off deal will only be available from my own website.

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Review: Never Unprepared

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book coverI hate writing reviews. I’ll describe a game or tell you why I like a blog, but to do an actual review…well, it takes something really good to make me sit down and write an actual review.

Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Session Prep by Phil Vecchione is that good. I spend a lot of time writing about things that most GMs don’t think about writing — like a book on how to write adventures— but I never even thought about writing a book about preparing for game sessions.

I’ve been a GM for a long time (30+ years) but I’ve never really thought much about session prep.  Since I have a very improvisational GMing style, my game prep has consisted largely of daydreaming about what the important NPCs have been up to and jotting down a couple of quick notes about what the PCs need to find that session to advance the plot. My game notes usually take up about half a page.

Never Unprepared showed me what I’m missing. Whether you’ve been GMing thirty years or thirty days, you’ll find something helpful in this book. There’s really new information in the book. I often found myself thinking “Yeah, I knew that.” But I’d never thought about it in such a cohesive way.

And that’s this book’s strength. It takes what you already know, codifies it into a set of steps that you can follow each and every time you sit down to plan your game. And these steps cover everything from figuring out your strengths and weaknesses as a GM to how to prepare a session at the last minute.

The chapter and section titles give you a good sense for what each section is about. The 132 page book is broken into three main sections:

  1. Understanding Prep talks about the various stages of prep and why each are necessary, as well as helping you take stock of the stages of prep you’re already strong in and the stages where you need to improve.
  2. Prep Toolbox tells what kind of tools are useful for game prep and how to discover the ones that work best for you. It also covers how find (or make) time in your busy Real Life™ schedule and how to make your prep work fit your personal creative creative cycle.
  3. Evolving Your Style is (in my opinion) the meat of the book. This is the section that made the book worth the $19.95 I paid for it. It covers how to create custom templates to streamline your prep sessions. But the best part of it, for me, was the Prep in the Real World chapter that covers how to adjust your prep cycle to deal with the unexpected curves Real Life throws at you.

The book is written in a conversational style that’s enjoyable as well as informative. This is a “from the trenches” book: the author has been GMing almost as long as I have and has to fit his game prep in around a full time job and family priorities. So the book is written with the needs of busy people in mind.

If there’s one quibble I have, it’s with the layout of the print book. I like the 5×8 size–it’s easy to fit into a game bag and I’m guessing the publisher, Engine Publishing (who also brought us Masks and Eureka) wanted to keep the page count down to help keep the book affordable. But I would really have loved wider margins, so I could take notes in the book itself. The 5/16″ side margins make the book feel very cramped and detract from the otherwise professional look of the book.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If you’re having trouble preparing for game sessions (or even if you’re not) this book will help you find the problem and fix it. After reading it, I’m excited and eager to dig into preparing for my next game session, something I’d previously considered a chore. And that alone makes it worth the cover price.

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Introducing an Experienced New Player to Your Game

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This is the 4th post of my series on introducing new players to your game.

Most of the time, when you bring an new player into your game, you’ll be adding someone who’s already an experienced player. But whether she’s been playing RPGs for 10 months or 10 years, remember that she’s still a new player to your game and much of the advice given in my post on introducing a brand-new player to your game still applies.

Setting Limits

In Introducing a New Player to an Established Group, I talked about knowing your limits. This is doubly important when you’re considering adding an experienced new player. Most GMs will realize that a brand-new-to-RPG player will take extra time and make them more likely to think twice before adding new players.

But it’s very easy to over-estimate how many players you can handle when adding an experienced new player. It’s extremely flattering to have someone wanting to join your game. However, while you can run pretty well with fewer than your optimal number of players, running with more than that is usually a recipe for disaster.

Figure out the maximum number of players you can comfortably handle and don’t exceed it. If you find you’ve got more people interested in playing then you have seats for, count yourself blessed. In this situation, you basically have two choices:

  • start a second campaign (if you have the time and inspiration to add another game to your schedule);
  • keep a waiting list of players who can join when one of your existing players has to leave.

Never allow yourself to be pressured into adding a player if you’re not ready to. No matter how much your current player wants to add his new girlfriend or how much that new player you met at the last convention begs, keep to your limit. If you don’t, you’ll probably find that running your game becomes a chore instead of pleasure. Remember: if you’re not having fun, no one else will.

Adding the New Player

Get to know him

Before asking that new player to join, spend some time getting to know him. Meet outside of a game session and just talk. Ask him about his previous game experience, what he’s liked or disliked about previous games he’s played. Do this before you tell him anything about your game.

Ask about his favorite character and why it’s his favorite. How he describes his character can tell you a lot about his preferred play style. If you’ve got an entire group of Character Actors, and your prospective player starts telling you about his character’s stats and all the cool bonuses he’s gained and how much damage he can do in combat, he’s probably not the best fit for your game.

If this sounds like a job interview, it is, in a way. And like at a job interview, the player is likely to be on his best behavior. He’ll be eager to make a good impression and will probably tell you that your group’s play style is his absolute favorite thing. That’s why I recommend asking him about his interests before you tell him anything about your game.

The most important thing here is to listen to your intuition. Does this player seem a good fit for your group? Are you completely comfortable around him? It’s okay to feel a few jitters about having to talk to someone completely new, but if he makes you feel unsafe or even just uncomfortable–even if you can’t say why–thank him for his time and tell him you don’t think he’s a good fit for your game.

Tactful honesty is definitely the best policy here. You don’t want to disappoint him; because of that, many GMs will admit a new player, even if they’re not comfortable with him, rather than hurt his feelings. But no matter how hard it is to turn a player down, it’s still much easier to turn the player away at this point than it is to kick him out later when he turns out to be a problem player.

Meeting the group

However, you’re not the only one who needs to be comfortable with new player. The rest of your group needs to be comfortable with him, too. If, after talking to him, you think he’d be a good fit for your group, ask him to sit in on a couple of game sessions. This will give him a chance to see if he thinks he’ll enjoy your game and give the rest of your group a chance to meet him.

After he’s done his “sitting in” time, ask each of your players individually what they think of him. If any of your players feel uncomfortable around him, try to find out why. If it’s because she “doesn’t like his energy,” pay attention to that; it’s probably her intuition picking up on something wrong. In this case, he’s probably not good for your game.

If, however, it’s because he looks a lot like her ex-boyfriend, but she knows she’ll be able to get beyond that after she gets to know him better, go ahead and add him. Players with minor concerns can usually tell you exactly what they don’t like about a player. Usually the group can work through these issues. But you never want to sacrifice a good existing player for an unknown new player.


Next time, I’ll talk about ways to actually add the new player to the game and Beg, Borrow & Steal (my newsletter) this month will cover six ways to add a new PC to your game. It’s a free monthly (roughly) newsletter of GM tips. You can sign up for that in the sidebar of any of this blog’s pages.

[Photo courtesy of jeffreyw via Flickr Creative Commons]

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Passing it On: Introducing New Players to RPGs

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We love this hobby of ours so much, it’s only natural we’d want to spread the word. We do our damndest to get our non-gaming friends to give this “roleplaying thing” a try. This is especially true if we’re far from other gamers and the only way to get a group is to build one ourselves.

But how do you run a game for an entire group of brand-new players? Especially when you’ve been playing so long, you can’t remember what it feels like to be brand-new?

This is the first in a series of posts with ideas to help you introduce new players to our illustrious time sink …er, pastime.

When Your Whole Group is New


Do the planning for them

New players are often overwhelmed by the character sheet alone. Are we expected to know all those numbers? How do we actually use the stuff that’s on there? Give brand-new players pre-generated characters, especially when you’re teaching an entire group of first-time players.

By using pre-generated characters, you make a lot of overwhelming decisions for the players. They don’t have to worry about choosing effective skills, powers, spells or weapons, because you’ve already done that for them. Too many choices become intimidating. Even first-time players realize that some choices would be more effective than others, but which ones?

Limiting choices was part of the success of the original D&D game, IMHO. And I think it’s one of the reasons D&D was wildly more successful than Traveller, another early RPG. Traveller had (and still does) an open-ended character generation system. Sure, you chose a branch of service and rolled randomly for skills, but you still had to create a role in the party.

Being from the Navy didn’t give a new player any ideas on how to actually play his character. It was entirely up to you to define your place in the universe. Great for an experienced player with a strong character concept and goals. But if you’d never played an RPG before, you really didn’t know what kinds of things your character could do. If you’d never played Traveller before, you really didn’t know what kinds of things your character could do.

Original D&D took care of that for you. You had only four classes (well, really six—dwarf and elf were treated like classes), each with a very distinct role in the party. Fighters fought, magic-users cast spells, clerics healed and thieves disarmed traps and opened locks. Each class had a built-in purpose that made them very accessible to brand-new players and this worked really, really well new players.

Choose your game system carefully. When you’re introducing a group brand-new players who’ve never roleplayed at all (as opposed to experienced players learning a new system), you want something that’s simple, without being too simplistic. Pick D&D over Rolemaster, Star Wars over Traveller, and anything over Amber (unless your entire group are die-hard Zelazny fans).

This is not the time for you to run a system for the first time. Pick something you’re very familiar with, so you don’t waste valuable teaching (and playing) time looking things up. Plus, if you’re constantly having to look up things, you make the game seem much complicated than it actually is. When you use a system you’re very comfortable with, you give the impression “See, this isn’t so hard. I don’t even have to look up the rules, it’s that easy.” It makes the system much more accessible.

Limit choices, but make sure you give some

If you’ve ever had toddlers, you know how effective an empowering it is to let them choose something from a limited and predetermined set of options. Do you want to wear the green pants or the new skirt? The same goes for new players. Do you want to use a healing potion or have the cleric use her last spell?

Don’t be afraid to make suggestions during play. Most brand-new players will be grateful for the advice, especially if you explain the reason behind your suggestions. Just remember that the players are free to choose something other than what you suggested. That’s part of the  learning experience.

Don’t make them feel stupid or wrong because they made an ineffective choices, just let the results of their actions catch up to them in-game. If one of their choices doesn’t work, explain afterwards why it didn’t work well and what might have worked better. Never imply it was a stupid or bad decision. Instead, use language like “less effective”.

Take it slow

Plan a short adventure. While you may consider a mission to stop an ogre from carrying off the nearby town’s livestock dull and routine, the players have never done it before. They’re not going to feel cheated because the “dungeon” is nothing more than a three-room abandoned farmhouse and the “treasure” is a masterwork (non-magical) sword and a single healing potion. And if your adventure doesn’t look like it will fill and entire game session, remember that you’ll be stopping frequently to answer questions and give explanations. It’s much better to end too soon than to go too long.

Give out information as the players need it

Don’t try to explain the entire character sheet at the beginning of the adventure. You’ll just confuse the players and they won’t remember the explanation, anyway. Instead, explain each section just before the players need to use it. Explain initiative as they’re getting ready for combat. Explain lock-picking when they encounter that first chest. Because they then immediately use that information, they’ll remember it better the next time they need to use it.

When you explain something, also explain why it’s done that way. Explain that you roll for initiative because you need to know in what order things will happen. Explain that you go around the table in initiative order because faster characters get to act first and because it helps you make sure you haven’t missed anyone. While this will help the players remember what to do next time, you’ll probably still need to remind them of the details the first several times they do something.

Follow their cue

Go through the adventure at they players’ pace. If they’re having trouble with combat, add in a few more easy fights. If they mastered skill use on the first go, make the next set of skill challengers a little bit harder. If they want to spend 40 minutes real-time looking for secret doors, let them, as long as everyone is having fun with it (and, if they look that hard, consider letting them find one, even if it just leads back to a room they’ve already explored). Be prepared to change things to fit the group even more than you would for an experienced group.

Make learning the goal

Don’t get hung up on finishing an adventure in the first game session. Your goal should be on teaching the game, not accomplishing the mission. If you’ve chosen a small enough adventure, this probably won’t come up. If it does, remind yourself that your real goal is to encourage these players to come back for more. Sure, the players will feel great if they save the day, but it’s much more important that they have fun.


This post is a slightly expanded version of a post on the homepage: Some Tips for Introducing New Players to RPGs. Next time we’ll cover adding a brand-new player to a group of experienced players.

[Image courtesy of tim_and_selena via Flickr Creative Commons]

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Campaign Mastery is Exactly What It Says

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Help is on the WayYou want to be a better GM, right? You know you need to get better at things like improvising during a game session, creating more believable NPCs, and be better prepared for your game sessions. But how exactly do you do that?

Check out the Campaign Mastery blog, written by Johnn Four (of Roleplaying Tips and Gamer Lifestyle) and Mike Bourke. This blog is chock full of useful advice. If you’ve noticed in the “Article Zemanta Thinks May be Related” section at the bottom of my posts, you’ll find I often link to Campaign Mastery. That’s because I find so much useful information at this particular blog, I have to share it with y’all.

No matter what kind of advice you’re looking for, Campaign Mastery’s got a post on it somewhere. Need information about improvising adventures? Check out By The Seat Of Your Pants: Six Foundations Of Adventure. Want some information about how to handling things when the PCs do something totally unexpected? Try A potpourri of quick solutions: Eight Lifeboats for GM Emergencies. How about tips on using spells to develop areas of your game world? Look at How To Cast A Spell On Your Campaign And Polish Till It Gleams.

One of the best things about this blog (in addition to the incredibly useful information) is their “Print Friendly” button at the end of every post. It allows you print out the post without printing all the gagillion bits you don’t need to pring, like all the sidebar information. (This is something I’ve just added to both this blog and product excerpts in the main section of the rpgGM site. Check out the row of buttons at the bottom of each post–when you mouse-over, they expand and the “Print Friendly” button is in the middle of the second row).

And I didn’t write this just because Johnn likes my stuff. 😉

[Image courtesy of Tom T via Flickr Creative Commons.]

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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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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.

“If you ever opt for an affiliate program, I’d be proud to represent your book.”
Johnn Four

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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.

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