Category Archives: GMing

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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Real Lives: PCs Have Them Too

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It’s absolutely amazing how much time Real Life™ takes up. Between loosing my grandfather, getting married, moving house, and getting kiddo to and from school everyday on a now (thankfully temporary) 40 minute each way commute, life as pretty much eaten up my time for the last couple of months.

Which got me thinking: our PCs have lives, too. I’m sure I’m not the only GM who’s had PCs fall in love and get married. While no characters in any of my games have given birth, I’m sure I’ll run across that before my gaming career is over, too. And death, both PC and NPC is an ever-present risk.

But how often do players (through their characters) take time to mark these events? Every society in the world has special rituals and events to honor these major life changes. Yet in our games, they often get glossed over as “down time” and largely ignored. This is passing up a great roleplaying opportunity.

Wouldn’t it be a great change of pace from a regular game session to actually roleplay through a wedding (particularly if two of the PCs are getting married), a funeral or wake, the birth of a child? It would take some extra preparation on the part of the GM–designing the ritual for example. But you could find descriptions of the particular ceremony in question on line and use that, changing it as needed to fit your game. You’d want to make sure every PC had a part in the ceremony, true.

There are a couple of ways you could approach this, as well. First off, if the ceremony is taking place in the PC’s own culture, you could pass out information the characters would know about the ceremony a week or two ahead of time. Or you could arrange it so the PCs end up having the ceremony in an unknown culture and leave the PCs to bumble along as best they can on their own. Along those lines, a PC could even find themselves married without their knowing it (remember Daniel in the Stargate movie?).  Sure, it’s cliche, but if it’s something that happens once every couple of campaigns or so, it never really looses it’s punch. It’s definitely something that should be an extremely rare event, or your players will get really jaded, really fast. (“I’m married again? What’s she look like this time?”).

You could even make it a really special session by making the ceremony a live-action event, even if your group doesn’t normally do live-action. You could have everyone dress the part of their characters and have an in-character party. Depending on your game’s setting and your players’ ambitions, you could even serve food that your characters would have eaten in the game world (or as close to it as possible). You can find all kinds of interesting food by searching on-line for various ethnic recipes and there are a number of sites on-line with medieval and Renaissance European recipes.

Have any of you ever roleplayed a life-changing event in your PCs lives? How did it go and what did you do? Do tell!.

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August Blog Carnival Wrap-Up

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First off, thanks to everyone who contributed to August’s Blog Carnival Teaching the Game. This is my first time hosting the carnival; thanks for making it a success. This post is a little late, but I just got married last week and am only now getting the chance to get back to a regular schedule. We had some great posts this month:

Again, thanks to everyone who participated. I’ll be hosting the January 2011 blog carnival on Worldbuilding, so mark your calendars 😉 .

Beyond ‘Fred’: Ancient Egyptian Names

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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? So far in this series, we’ve covered Roman, Russian, Italian, and Anglo-Saxon names. If none of these suit you, how about an Ancient Egyptian one?

Ancient Egyptian Name Structure

Names in ancient Egypt seen to have been chosen with great care for their meaning. Many contained the name of a god, as well as common words or phrases and could be used by either men or women. In some cases, as needed for identification, a person might be known by two names: one as their formal name and another, which was what they were called most of the time.

As with all posts in this series, the list here isn’t intended to be historically accurate. It’s merely providing suggestions for use with role-playing games. If historical accuracy is important, you’ll want to check your name against reliable historical records.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr, ©isawnyu 2010)

Male Names

  • Abi
  • Ahmose
  • Amenemhet
  • Ahmose
  • Bes
  • Den
  • Djet
  • Hekanakht
  • Heru
  • Horemheb
  • Kamose
  • Menes
  • Metesouphis
  • Nebnefer
  • Neferirkare
  • Padiu
  • Pakamen
  • Pakapu
  • Panhsj
  • Seti
  • Siptah
  • Ti

Female Names

  • Achotep
  • Ahori
  • Amenirdis
  • Beset
  • Cena
  • Henut
  • Hetepet
  • Iutenheb
  • Khentkaus
  • Meritnit
  • Mutemwia
  • Mutnodjmet
  • Naunakht
  • Nefertari
  • Nitocris
  • Nithotep
  • Peseshet
  • Rennefer
  • Sacmis
  • Sekhet
  • Senen
  • Sobkneferu
  • Taiemniut
  • Tawaret


Other Beyond Fred Posts

Teaching the Game: August Blog Carnival

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First off, thanks to Mad Brew Labs for hosting the July carnival on Growing the Hobby. It really got some great discussion going. This month’s carnival actually (and inadvertently) extends that discussion. Much of the consensus about growing the hobby focused on how we, as RPG players and GMs, need to teach our games to as many new players as we can. This month, I take that one step further and ask how do we teach them?

I’d originally intended to call this “Passing it Down” and focus on children and roleplaying, but then I realized that was only one type of new RPG player. So this month, I want to focus on the hows and wherefores of teaching RPGs to new players, whether they be adults or children, people just joining their first game or people who’ve been playing for decades learning a new system.

Here’s some possible questions to get you going:

  • How do you find new players?
  • How do you help them learn the mechanics of a system (and how much of the system do you require them to learn?)
  • How do you teach the non-mechanics part of the game?
  • How do you teach someone to GM?
  • What’s the best beginner system?
  • What’s the best system for teaching roleplaying to kids?
  • How do you run games for kids?
  • What was your first game like? How could it have been better?
  • Should roleplaying be taught in the schools?
  • Do you play with your own kids?
  • Are all-kid game groups better than adult-kid mixed groups?

And, of course, anything else you can think of.

I’ve always enjoyed teaching games and most of the convention games I’ve run have been designed to introduce new players the whatever system I’m running. Later this month I’ll post my techniques on running a teaching game. I’m looking forward to seeing your posts; just put the URL of your post in the comments section below and at the end of the month, I’ll do a wrap-up post listing everyone’s contributions.

11 GMing Tips I Learned from Being a Parent

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Sometimes running a game feels like herding a group of toddlers through the glassware department of  a department store while carrying an armload of wet cats. While most of the time players act like the responsible adults they usually are, there are times that I feel I’ve got a table full of cranky toddlers. On those times, I’ve found the following parenting skills really useful:

  1. Never give your players an option you hate.
  2. Look for ways to say “yes.”
  3. Don’t tell your players what their character thinks, just tell them what they can do.
  4. Don’t give in to whining.
  5. Never be afraid to say “no.”
  6. Limit their choices, if need be, but let the players make their own choices
  7. When everyone’s tired and hungry, take a break
  8. Admit when you’re wrong.
  9. Apologize when you need to.
  10. Let players make their own mistakes
  11. Insist on good manners.

How about you? What parenting (teaching, whatever) tips have you found helpful as a GM?

[Photo courtesy of fiskfisk under the Creative Commons 2 license]

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Games…Must Have Games…

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I hate gaming dry spells. I think the longest period I’ve gone without gaming was two years, if you’re talking about actually sitting at the table, either as GM or player. If you’re counting game preparation and research, it’s more like, well, 6 months.

How to do I manage? Gaming is a priority for me: right after the important personal relationships in my life and equal to martial arts.  Which puts it way ahead of just about everything else, since is my job as well as my love. It also helps that just about everyone in my immediate family are also gamers. I’ve been very, very blessed, especially with a fiancé who’s actively encouraging  me to (and supporting me while) I get my own game publishing company off the ground.

But this is about how to survive the drought. Like everyone else, I’ve had times when I couldn’t get a group together or couldn’t find one I wanted to play in. Here’s what I do when I’m game deprived:

  • Worldbuilding. Number one top slot. I love worldbuilding, which is why’s first series of products is the game world, Guang Keshar. But it’s not just building worlds from scratch. I also consider rewriting the background of existing game worlds as worldbuilding.
  • Reading game systems. I try get my hands on and read as many game books as I can. This helps me keep the creative juices flowing, which leads to…
  • Campaign creation. I’ll spend a lot of time fleshing out the bare structure of a campaign for a game I’m itching to run. That’s a bit trickier, since I have a very hands-off GMing style and tend to build my games around my PCs. But I can do a fair amount of preparation work so that I’m ready for character creation when it does happen. I often have three or four campaigns I’m working on (but not currently running) simultaneously.
  • Reading about GMing. I’m always looking for ways to improve my GMing. I like reading game-related blogs, though right now I don’t have time to keep pace with more than a handful of my favorites. I also love reading books like Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering.
  • Playing RPG computer games. For me, this is something of a last resort. I generally dislike the rigidity of computer RPGs (though they are getting better). I prefer gaming with real people who’re in the same room as me.
  • Running “Play by Email” (PBEM) campaigns. This is actually one of my old stand-by’s when I can’t get a group together locally and the number one of the reasons my dry spells are so short.  They’re still not the same, but I find them a better substitute for a tabletop game than computer games. With the advent of MMOs, I know many people who prefer the other way around, though. To each their own 😉 .
  • Writing about games (non-worldbuilding). Most of the game stuff I’ve written has happened when I was between game groups.
  • Painting miniatures and creating game-related art.

What can I say? I’m a game junkie. Gaming is one of the things my family does together and that’s something I’m very grateful for.

[This post is a part of RPG Bloggers‘ May blog carnival].

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GM Tools: Story Worksheet

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White wolf publishing introduced the idea of a story worksheet in their Vampire Storyteller’s Companion (first edition) . Basically, it’s a “quick reference” sheet that covers key details of the adventure at a glance, such as a plot summary, key NPCs and situations, any rewards for the characters should receive and the conditions for success and failure. I found this so useful for planning adventures — even whole campaigns — I’ve expanded on it and adapted it to all of my other games. Using these sheets helps me focus on the important points of a story and not get lost in the details.

Any GM will want to tailor these sheets to fit their own gaming style and world. I use separate campaign and adventure sheets, as well as a quick-reference sheet for important locations. Frequently, I don’t need anything more detailed than these to run a game, but I’m a very “off-the-cuff” GM.

Here’s what my adventure/”story” sheets cover:

  • Campaign / chronicle name
  • Story name
  • Geographical setting — where does this adventure take place geographically?
  • Start date (real time)
  • Start date (game time)
  • PCs involved — since I frequently reuse entire campaigns, this helps me remember which campaign I’m currently running.
  • Adventure concept —  a one to two sentence summary of the adventure. This helps me clarify the adventure so I don’t get bogged down in  subplots. Example: PCs are hired by the local king to eliminate the dragon terrorizing the local farms.
  • Plot archetypes — is this a “bug-hunt” (like the example above), a rescue, a “baby-sitting” (ex: guard the prince while he travels through Lupine territory on the way to an important meeting), a murder-mystery, etc?
  • Plot summary — a short paragraph detailing the beginning, middle, and possible outcomes of the adventure.
  • Theme — another inspiration from White Wolf. My theme is an open-ended question or phrase I’d like the story to explore. Ex: Trust — who can you trust, how do you know you can trust someone and what do you do when you can’t trust anyone?
  • Mood — what overall mood I want the adventure to have.
  • Subplots — these are subplots I want to make sure I touch on in this adventure.
  • Key NPCs
  • Key Locations
  • Key Situations
  • Adventure opening — how do you get the players involved in this story, where does it take place, and who are the key NPCs the PCs need to encounter
  • Adventure outcome — what are the most likely outcomes (I find this useful, even though my players will inevitably find something that never even crossed my mind), where is the final scene likely to take place, and the NPCs key to the outcome of this adventure
  • Midpoints — a list of the crucial points of the adventure. This is a list of events that need to take place during the adventure, along with their locations and key NPCs
  • Rewards and the conditions for gaining them
  • Game summary questions:
    • Who are the characters involved?
    • What do they need to do?
    • When do they need to do it and how long do they have to do it in?
    • Where do they need to do it?
    • Why do they need to do it?
    • How are they likely to accomplish it?
  • Plot outline
  • Summary — a brief summary of what really did happen in the adventure.

Next time: Adventure / Chronicle Worksheet

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Player Contributions

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Said while making snacks for the group …
Dave [player]: Hey, can I have experience points for baking cookies?
GM: Sure, Dave can have 200 experience points; Billee [his character] can’t.

[12 Aug 2009 Note: There’s an updated version of this post at Player contributions, Take Two.]

I first ran across the idea of player/character contributions when I started running the Amber Diceless RPG. The idea is simple: you get more points to build 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. I tried it as written in the 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” just found they simply didn’t have time to keep up with it. Real Life™ would intrude.

Finally, I came upon an idea that worked. I honestly don’t remember if someone else gave me the idea or if I thought of it on my own. 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, etc. 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.

What kinds of things make good character contributions? Most of my games are very character-driven. Character backgrounds really do matter and will have an effect on the game as a whole. So the more I know about someone’s character, the better I can include them in the game. I generally hand out an optional character questionnaire to each player at the beginning of a new campaign. Filling that out and returning it to me is a favorite contribution for my players. Character portraits also count and, yes, I do accept references to book covers or movies as character portraits, as well as written descriptions; I don’t think this contribution should be limited to just those who can draw. 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).

Character journals and game session notes are definitely my favorite contributions to receive. I 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.

I’ve also given out experience points for writing in-game newspaper articles, making topographical maps of an area or architectural drawings of important buildings, mapping genealogies of a country’s royal family, creating game “props” (such as a treasure map), … even writing an in-game academic dissertation complete with fictional bibliography and proper footnotes, penned by one of the PCs.

Basically, I’ll give out small amounts of experience for anything that is pertinent to the game and helps decrease my workload. How small? In Amber, World of Darkness, etc. games, I hand out one experience point per game session. On rare occasion, I might give out two for something that the player worked really hard at (see the academic dissertation above). For a AD&D game, I usually award 100 – 200 experience points, depending on how useful and detailed the contribution is. But in all cases, I have one overarching rule — a character can only get experience for one contribution each game session.

Of course, I’m the final arbitrator about what constitutes an helpful contribution and how much experience a PC gets.

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