Category Archives: Players

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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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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Characters for Brand New Players

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You’ve gotten your group and your new player both ready to play. He’s sat in at least one play session and thinks this “roleplay thing” looks pretty cool and both you and your players think he’ll be a good fit for your game.

So now, with all of the prelims out of the way, it’s time to sit down with your brand-new  player and build his character. But what’s the best way to build a character for a brand-new player? That’s what this article, the third in my series on introducing new players to your game group.

Character creation for the brand-new player

There are a couple of schools of thought when it comes to creating characters for brand new players:

  • start with pre-generated characters
  • start with character creation

Starting with pre-generated characters

In this situation, you give your brand new player a pre-generated character to play until he’s comfortable enough with the game to build an effective character. The advantage of this approach is that the player doesn’t have to struggle through two (often very different) sets of rules and can immediately jump into play.

Character creation can be confusing and seemingly unrelated to the game itself to the brand new player. He doesn’t yet know what kind of character he likes or is good at playing. That makes it hard to build a character he enjoys, because he doesn’t yet know what he enjoys. In his ignorance, it’s all to easy for him to create a character he hates.

The downside of this option is that none of the available characters may interest the new player

Starting with character creation

The other school of thought says to start by walking the new player through character creation, step-by-step, if need be. This way, the new player will have  (hopefully) a character he likes from day one. What I’ve found, though is that most brand-new players have no idea what kinds of characters are out there, making it difficult for her to come up with a character idea.

The best of both

As a middle ground , I’ll ask  her what kind of character she’d like to play. Then I ask her she wants to create the character herself, or if she just wants to give me the details and let me worry about creating the numbers to match those details.

Even if she chooses to create the character herself, you’ll need to walk her through the character process step-by-step.  At the very least, she’ll probably appreciate some advice about the choices she needs to make, such as which weapons are most effective and which skills would be the most use to her. Remember though, you’re giving suggestions, not mandates. Give her the choices, explain the pros and cons of each for her character, then let her decide for herself.

Before play–the prelude

It’s helpful to sit down with your new player before his first actual play session.  At this time, run him through a one-on-one play session working out his character’s background. This serves two purposes: it gives the a player a dry-run on the mechanics and it helps him learn about his character, both of them will help make play run more smoothly at the official first game session.

Talk with your group

Ask the new player to arrive 15-30 minutes later than the rest of the group. This will give you a chance to talk to your existing group. Let them know if you’re suspending or modifying any rules for this session, especially table rules. Also layout how you expect them to treat the newcomer.

Remind them they were once brand-new players and ask them to be sympathetic if the newcomer makes “newbie” mistakes or doesn’t seem to know how to do things. We forget that we actually had to learn many of the in-game actions we do automatically now (like looking for secret doors or testing the floor with a 10′ pole). Also make sure they know the game will likely move much slower tonight because you’ll have to stop frequently to explain things.

Ask your group to be especially welcome and to keep in-jokes to a minimum (or at least explain them). Reiterate that you want the new player to feel comfortable and welcome. Warn them to be especially conscious about not interrupting him and to be patient while he figures out his character’s actions. Also tell them if there’s anything they shouldn’t say, such as background information the new character wouldn’t know.

Ask (or choose) one player to be a mentor to the newest member. Make sure she has a lot of patience, knows the mechanics and can explain them well.

During the game session

Don’t let the mentor take over playing the new character–it’s great for her to suggest possible actions, but the decision must reside with the new player. If you find the mentor insist the newcomer take certain actions, find a new mentor.

Don’t overlook the new player when asking for character actions. A brand-new player is likely to be very quiet and hesitant to speak out of fear of doing something wrong. He could easily be overlooked in the flurry of activity, especially at the outset of combat. If your group uses a caller, ask the caller to pay special attention to the newcomer.

Be prepared to provide a list of possible actions for the player to choose from. Many brand-new player have no idea what’s even possible for their character to do. But try not to make him feel “on the spot.” If he’s completely stumped, give him two or three possible actions and tell him you’ll come back to him later, so he has time to think things over. Don’t give him more than about four possibilities–two many choices can be as overwhelming as too few.

That’s all for this segment. Next time, I’ll cover adding an experienced player to your game.

[Image courtesy of SmartBoyDesigns via Flickr Creative Commons]

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Then There Was One: Introducing a New Player to an Established Group

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Do you remember your first game session? Yeah, I know it’s probably been a while, but I bet you remember how overwhelmed you felt.  You had this sheet plopped down in front of you, covered with numbers and strange acronyms that may as well have been ancient Egyptian for all you understood it. And then there were some of the strangest dice you’ve ever seen. But worst of all, everyone else at the table was shouting out things in a strange garbled tongue.

Remember that feeling? Good. Now hold onto it as you read this next post, the second in my series on introducing new players to roleplaying. Last post, I covered what to do if you’re running an entire group of new players. Today I’m covering how to introduce a new player to a group of experienced roleplayers.

Before Adding a New Player

First and foremost, you need to make sure the rest of your players are okay with the idea of new players. Many experienced groups become very insular and can be unwilling to accept a new player into their ranks, especially if the the player is brand new to roleplaying.

Talk with your group. Ask them how they feel about adding another player. If they’re not comfortable with the idea, you may have to consider other options, if you really want to bring this new player into the hobby and you have the time and energy to run more than one game. You’ve got a couple of options:

  • Run a one-on-one game with just her and you
  • Try to find more new players to form a beginners’ game

Know Your Limit

For the purpose of this post, I’m assuming that your group is okay with adding a new player. But what about you? You need to make sure you’re okay with the added responsibility of adding a brand-new player to your game. Is your game under control? Can you handle the extra workload?

Every GM has a optimal number of players he feels comfortable running.  This ideal number varies depending on:

  • the game system you’re using. Some games work better with smaller or larger groups,
  • how familiar you are with the system,
  • the current mix of players in your group,
  • how high-maintenance you’re current players are.

For example,my optimal group size is around eight players; my games have a lot of PC interactions and politics. Many other GMs prefer smaller groups of four to six players. However, when I run LARPs, my optimal size is around thirty players and when I run FASA’s classic Doctor Who game, I prefer a group size of three.

Think back over other games you’ve run. At what point (in number of PCs) did you feel like you started to lose control of the game? On the other hand, was there a game you felt didn’t really work because you didn’t have enough PCs? Usually having too many PCs is more of a problem than having too few, so if you’re in doubt, don’t add any more players. Especially brand-new players who will require more of your time and energy than an experienced player would.

Preparing the new player to play

Assuming you’re able to handle another player and your group is okay with the idea, you can go ahead and talk to your brand-new player about joining. Let her know that kind of game you’re running. Go beyond naming the system and stay away from describing mechanics. A “near-future variant of the d20 system, only using spell points and increased technology to give it a Shadowrun feel” won’t tell her if she’d be interested in playing.

Describe your game in plain words. A better way to describe the above game would be “a dark, cyberpunk-type game set in an alternate near-future that has slightly more advanced technology than we have now, but also has magic and magical races, such as elves, ogres, and dwarves. If you can, find a movie or TV show you can compare it with. That gives the new player some basis to know if she’d be interested or not.

Try to give her a feeling for the mood and themes of your game. It’s great that it’s a near-future game with magic, but are the PCs a dedicated group of cohorts who can trust each other completely (like Babylon 5) ? Or are you running a game where people’s minds are messed with on a regular basis, the enemy has spies planted inside the group of PCs, who, themselves, may not be who they think they are (like the most recent Battlestar Galactica).

Encourage your prospective player to come watch a session or two of your game (provided the other players are okay with this). That will give her the best of idea of what your game is like. Tell you current players that she’s coming and ask them to make an effort to welcome the her.

Once your potential player tells you she’s interested, let her know what she needs to have. Does she need her own dice and book(s)? If so, let her know in advance of her first play session. Tell her where she can get them and exactly which books she needs to buy. It’s also a good idea to let her know what books she won’t need, if any. Game books aren’t cheap these days and it can be frustrating to pay out $20-50 on something, only to discover you’ll never get a chance to use it.

Consider letting her borrow books and dice for the first few game sessions, until she knows whether or not she likes the game enough to stick with it. Or you can pass the hat and have your current group chip in together to buy her a set of dice and copy of the core rules. Many games have PDF versions of their rules, which are usually much cheaper and allow a player to print out only the section of the rules she needs. If you go the PDF route, give her a range of pages to start with (i.e., “print out the character creation rules–they’re on pages 18-36”).

It’s also helpful to create a “cheat sheet” of the most basic rules a player needs to know. I’m not talking about copying whole sections of the book: just create a one or two page sheet of the most common mechanics. This will give her something to look at during the game section (it would also help to page note this sheet so she can look the rules up in the actual book, if she needs to). That way, she doesn’t need to be flipping page after page to find how to role for initiative in the middle of combat.

Fill her in on any house rules you use, as well as any behavior expectations any “table rules” you may have. For example: “if a die rolls off the table, it must be rerolled” or “once the game starts, I assume everything you say is in character.” Don’t forget to include any group traditions, such as “everyone in the group chips in for pizza.”

It’s also good to give a brand-new player a glossary of common gaming terms. We, as experienced players, tend to forget that not everyone knows what “hit points” are or what “NPC” stands for. We forget that it sounds like a foreign language to someone brand-new, who’s still learning that AC has nothing to do with electricity.


Next time, I’ll cover character creation with a brand-new player, as well as tips for bringing that character into your game without ruffling feathers.

[Image by JGNY from Flickr Creative Commons].

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Quick Survey about Dealing with Players

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I’m currently writing a book about dealing with players. To that end, I’ve set up a survey to find out your concerns about working with players. Please take a few minutes to answer it:

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

I’ll post the collective results of the survey in a separate post (don’t worry–it’s completely anonymous so you don’t have to worry about your players finding out what you’ve said about them 😉 ).

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Rules-Lawyers: Dealing with the guy who has all the answers

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The Rules Lawyer

This sub-class of the Mechanic finds great joy in being the “go-to” guy. He’s probably memorized half (if not all) the books the group uses, and then some. While some Rules Lawyers have a strong emotional stake in being right all the time, many more of them just like being helpful. They often see themselves as much a game resource as the books they’ve memorized. Why should the GM have to spend 20 minutes page-flipping to find the special-case rule? Just ask the local Rules Lawyer: he’ll have the answer for you in less than a minute. If he doesn’t know the answer off the top of his head, he knows exactly where to find it.


This player is walking rulebook. Use that information to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to ask the Rules-Lawyer about a rule you may be unsure of. Like all of us, Rules Lawyers need to feel needed. They also make great mentors to players trying to learn the ins-and-outs of a new system.


The rulebook is the law of the land to a Rules Lawyer. He will argue incessantly with the GM over a rule change. A GM who has a Rules-Lawyer in the group will need to make it clear that she, not the rulebooks, is the ultimate authority of her game. If the GM views the rules as guidelines, rather than holy commandments, she needs to make that clear to the rules-Lawyer before the first game session (and often repeatedly throughout the campaign).

Rules Lawyers can also get bogged down in obscure modifiers and rare special cases. They may need reminding that you don’t need to use everything in the system, just because it’s printed in the book. (Unless you want to, in which case you’ll find the Rules Lawyer an even more valuable resource).

Ways a Rules-Lawyer can be useful

Out of Character:

  • As a researcher: if you know you’re going to need some section of the rules you don’t normally use, ask your resident Rules Lawyer to research them for you and make a cheat-sheet you to use at the next game session.
  • As a mentor: pair the Rules Lawyer up with a player who’s new to this game system. That player will get a good grounding in the system’s mechanics–which is always helpful, even if the new person is a Character Actor. Just keep an eye on things and remind the mentor to keep to the basics of the system and not overwhelm his new student with too much detail and crunch.
  • As a devil’s advocate: if another player suggests a rules addition or modification, have her run it by the Rules Lawyer for analysis. He can give you a break down of the advantages or disadvantages of the suggestion and a thorough description of the effect it’s likely to have on the rest of the game’s mechanics.
  • As a creation assistant: Because Rules Lawyers  know the mechanics of character creation extremely well, you can give a character description to a Rules Lawyer and let them work out the mechanics of it. Just make him aware that you’ll be making some changes to his work, so that he doesn’t know everything about that NPC’s powers and abilities.

(I did this frequently with a player in one campaign I ran. I’d write out in words what I wanted the character to be like, pass her to my resident Mechanic and he’d figure out all her stats, powers, and special abilities. I’d then make some changes to what he did to keep mystery involved. Balancing mechanics isn’t my strong suit, so I sought out players who are. It saved me a lot of time and I ended up with more mechanically-sound NPCs than I would’ve if I’d done it all myself.)

In Character:

Rules Lawyers tend to have a difficult time with the concept of in-character/out-of-character. Like the Power Gamer, most characters create by Rules Lawyers tend to be primarily collections of stats and powers, rather than a fully-developed personae. Just accept that you’re dealing with a vicarious player and don’t try to force them to develop acting ability.

(This is an excerpt from my upcoming book The GM’s Field Guide to Players. The book goes into much more detail about a variety of player types and suggestions on how to work with them during a game. It’s tentatively scheduled for release in late November of this year).

[Image courtesy of shawnzrossi 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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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 😉 .