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You’ve  great campaign idea and can’t wait tell your players. But are you sure you’re ready? Starting a campaign with only a few notes of ideas is certainly possible, but tends to make running the game much more difficult than it needs to be. Unless your campaign is a series of unconnected published adventures, you’re going to want some kind of plan.

Below are 11 questions to ask yourself when you’re developing an new campaign idea. While you may not need to answer all of these, thinking about them can help you solidify what your campaign will be.

  1. What genre/system? Do some research on the genre of the campaign you want to run. What aspects of the genre draw you? These are the things you want to focus on during your campaign. What are the genre’s standard tropes? What aspects of the genre are so cliched you want to avoid them at all costs?
  2. What setting? Maybe your game system has an established setting, like Castle Falkenstein or World of Darkness. Or maybe you’ve found a published setting you’re dying to use, like Ebberon or Midgard. Or maybe you’ve developed your own setting. In any case, take some time to look over your setting or write down some notes about what you’re developing. What aspects intrigue you the most? Again, you’ll want to focus your game on those. Are there any parts of the setting you don’t want to use?
  3. How many players? What’s the minimum number of players you need to run the game successfully? What’s the maximum number of players you feel comfortable handling?
  4. What character types? Are their any specific character types you feel are necessary to the game? Will the party need fighter-types and magic users or techno-wizards? What character types do you not want as PCs?
  5. What rules? What books? Are there any aspects of the game you don’t want to use? Make a note of these so you remember to tell your players. Nothing’s more frustrating to a player than finding out she can’t use the great PC idea after she’s already put a lot of work into developing it.
  6. What props or game aids? Will your game need miniatures, an in-game calendar or some other support or prop? You don’t need to find all of this before you start, but make a list so that you’ll have what you need before you need it. Campaign maps and real-world references such as historical timelines and atlases fall into this category. Also determine if you need dice, playing cards, tarot cards, etc.
  7. What inspiration sources? Make a list of things you can turn to when you’re out of inspiration. Movies, books (fiction and non-fiction), radio programs, websites, podcasts and more related to your setting and/or genre can help feed your creative juices when they run dry. You may feel like you’ve got an infinite number of ideas right now, but after you’ve been running it for several month (or years) ideas may be hard to come by. Do yourself a favor a make a list of idea sources now while you’re researching and they’re fresh in your mind. You’ll thank yourself later.
  8. What’s it about? Come up with a short description of the campaign you can use to find players. Create an elevator pitch. This not only helps you “sell” your idea to your players, it helps you pinpoint what your campaign is actually about. It can also help you figure out what you don’t want in your game.
  9. Who do you need? What major NPCs will you need? You don’t have to flesh them out right now, but make a list of your main antagonist(s) and any patrons/bosses/adventure givers. Who runs the government? What important local residents are you going to need? It can help to keep a running list or spreadsheet of the NPCs you create so you don’t forget anyone.
  10. How does it end? I know, right now the end of your campaign is probably the furthest thing from your mind. But it can help to have an idea how your campaign will end before you start it. That gives you something to work towards and can help keep you on track. If the game’s overall goal is for the PCs to overthrow the current world government, that’s going to require different types of characters and adventures than if you want the PCs to discover a lost continent.
  11. How does it begin? How do you want to start your game? It can seem like you’re putting the cart before the horse to plan the start the campaign after the ending, but knowing where the game is going can make it easier to know where to begin.

Of course, these aren’t the only questions you need to answer when starting a game, but these should help get you going. What are your favorite questions? What do you feel is important to know when planning a new campaign?

[Photo courtesy of CarbonNYC 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.

Add to Cart

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.

Add to Cart View Cart

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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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Fantasy City Building: 14 Suggestions

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photo courtesy of lydia_shiningbrightly

Every RPG game needs at least one city, whether it’s a futuristic, modern, or fantasy city. It’s hard to imaging running a game without cities for the PCs to explore, recruit hired help, rest from their latest exploits, buy supplies, or get into trouble in. While modern (and even some futuristic settings) and get maps and information about real-world cities, most fantasy games need something more unusual. Below are some links to help you build your own fantasy city.

  1. Cartographer’s Guild Guide to the creation and depiction of Fantasy Cities: A PDF that is exactly what it says. (This is a direct link to the PDF itself. There is no “landing page” for this document).
  2. Creating a Realistic Fantasy World: While aimed more at the writer who’s building a fantasy world from scratch, this article does have some good ideas of things that can help your city feel more real.
  3. Creating a Fantasy City: Also aimed at writers, this had some really good things to think about while building your city and some advice on how to describe it to your players (readers).
  4. [Cruar’s Cove] Building a Fantasy City: The author describes step-by-step how he built a fantasy city using Fantasy Flight’s City Works.
  5. Designing a fantasy city: A series of how-to articles on creating a fantasy city.
  6. Designing Fantasy Cities: A series of articles on Stuffer Shack that walk you through designing a fantasy city.
  7. How to design a Fantasy City: A series of forum posts on about designing a believable fantasy city.
  8. How to Make Your Own Fantasy World: A brief step-by-step process for creating fantasy worlds that could also be applied to creating cities.
  9. Making fantasy city [non-tactical] maps with GIMP: Advice on how to use the freeware graphics program GIMP to create city maps.
  10. Medieval Demographics Made Easy: I find myself using this site over and over when creating cities for a fantasy game. It’s the best source of information I’ve found for determining population of a city town or village and what kinds of businesses the city should have based on that population.
  11. Page of City Resources: Information on generating fantasy cities.
  12. RPG Resources of the Day: 101 Fantasy City, Town, and Village Maps: A list links to 101 on-line maps of various fantasy cities.
  13. Quickstart Guide to Fantasy Mapping: The Cartographer’s Guild offers this tutorial on using graphics software to create maps.
  14. “Where are we again?”: Creating Unique Fantasy Cities and Towns: The most popular post I’ve written to date. This is another list links to other city building resources on the web.
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Introducing a New Character to Your Game

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If there’s one thing you’ll do over and over in your life as GM, it’s add new players to your game. And when you add a new player, you always add a new character.

Old players move away or get married or find jobs that keep them from gaming as they did before. By the same token, new players move into an area looking for a game, players get new boyfriends and girlfriends to introduce to the game, or the new guy at work turns out to have been playing your group’s system for more than twenty years.

What it boils down to is this: every GM should know how to introduce a new player to their existing game. In this last post on my series of introducing new players to your game, I’m going to discuss ways of introducing that new player’s character to your game.

Adding a new character

There are two main types issues to deal with when adding a new PC to your currently running game:

  • in-character
  • out-of-character


Out-of-character issues deal primarily with bringing the new player up to speed with your campaign and making sure she has the information she needs to play. If your game has a website or wiki, that’s a big help to a new player, who can then go and familiarize herself with crucial campaign information.

If you don’t have an on-line campaign presence, this would be a good time to consider creating one. Probably the best known wiki space for RPGs is Obsidian Portal, for good reason. This site allows you to set up a one-stop campaign information site for your game, including PC and NPC lists, items, and other information you players should know.

Make sure your new player has information about any house rules or table rules you use. Also include any social contracts, group charters, or game traditions your group has. If the group has a social charter or contract, get your new player a copy of it in writing and have her sign it to show her agreement to abide by it. This may seem unnecessary, but it could help avoid conflicts later down the road.

Finally, make sure you have your new player’s name and contact information. It seems obvious, but it’s very easy to overlook this step in the bustle of getting her settled into your game. At a minimum, get her full name and favorite way to be contacted, whether by phone or email, as well as a way to reach her for last-minute schedule changes.


Before the new player can join your game, he has to have a character. Ask him about his character idea before he sits down to actually create it. That way you can head off an idea that just won’t fit your game from the very beginning. Make sure his idea will work with your existing PCs and will be a good addition to the campaign as a whole. Don’t be afraid to tweak a player’s idea to make it fit better, or even to say “no” outright to an idea that simply won’t work. Resist the temptation to tweak your game to fit the new player.

Don’t penalize your new PC. Let him start at a similar power level to the rest of the group. Many GMs like to start a new PC one level below the current PCs and this can work very well. Consider letting your current players to tweak their characters to better include the new PC. For example, if the new character is a rogue, consider allowing the group’s bard to shift some of his lock-picking skill points to a performance or social skill. That way, each character can shine in his own area and the two of them won’t be stepping on each others’ toes so much.

Get your group’s input on how to work the new character into the game. There are as many ways as there are players and games in the world. You might make the new character a relative  of one of the existing PCs, for example. Or you might have the party rescue him from jail. However you decide to do it, ask your players for suggestions. Making this a group effort gives the current players a stake in welcoming the “new guy”.

Other posts in this series:

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Beyond ‘Fred’: Ancient Persian Names

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It’s often difficult to come up with names for characters. I’ve seen enough variations on Tolkein names to last me a lifetime, not to mention those based on movie characters and other SF/Fantasy series. But where can you go to find a name that’s different, but not overly so? How about from another culture, historical or otherwise?

Beyond ‘Fred’ is an occasional series that provides lists of names from real-world cultures, both past and present. In other posts, I’ve covered everything from Italian to Ancient Egyptian. This time, we’re covering Persian names, ancient and newer.

An important note: I’m listing names that I think sound cool for rpg game purposes. I’m not worrying about historical accuracy. If you’re looking for a name for historical re-enactment, please check out my list of sources at the end of this post. I also don’t usually cover name meanings, but again, most of my sources list those. Finally, I tend to stay away from names that are currently in common usage. I figure if you were interested in those, you wouldn’t be looking at this list. 😉

[Photo courtesy of hsivonen via Flickr Creative Commons]

Ancient Persian Names


  • Aêtava
  • Airyu
  • Bêndva
  • Byarshan
  • Chamrav
  • Dahâka
  • Drâdha
  • Datis
  • Erezavant
  • Erezrâspa
  • Frâchithra
  • Frânya
  • Gaevani
  • Gaomant
  • Hanghaurvah
  • Hvova
  • Isvant
  • Jannara
  • Jishti
  • Kaeva
  • Karesna
  • Mathravaka
  • Mazdayasna
  • Nanarasti
  • Neremyazdana
  • Paeshata
  • Parshinta
  • Ravant
  • Sadhanah
  • Sâma
  • Stivant
  • Taurvati
  • Tura
  • Usan
  • Uxshan
  • Vâgerezan
  • Varâza
  • Vyâtana
  • Xexes
  • Xshtavay
  • Yima
  • Zairita
  • Zavan


  • Ahoo
  • Amytis
  • Atosa
  • Banafsheh
  • Dughdhô-Vâ
  • Eredat-Fedhrî
  • Franghâd
  • Freni
  • Ghazal
  • Humayâ
  • Hutaosâ
  • Hvôv
  • Jagkrut
  • Kanukâ
  • Khoshfarberan
  • Lila
  • Narges
  • Narpestan
  • Paêsanghanû
  • Pouruchista
  • Sarvenaz
  • Thriti
  • Tûshnâmatay
  • Urûdhayant
  • Ushtavaitî
  • Uxshentî
  • Vadhut
  • Vanghu-Fedhrî
  • Zairichi
  • Zeheratzade

Newer Persian Names (19th century)


  • Abadi
  • Adarvan
  • Bahadur
  • Beramji
  • Burzin
  • Chaxshnush
  • Cirrus
  • Dadar
  • Delir
  • Dorabji
  • Edalji
  • Erach
  • Erachsha
  • Fardunji
  • Firdous
  • Freortis
  • Gashtaham
  • Goberu
  • Govad
  • Hardar
  • Hirji
  • Hutan
  • Isatvastra
  • Ishvat
  • Izadyar
  • Jahandar
  • Javidan
  • Jehangir
  • Kai
  • Kavas
  • Kurush
  • Mahdat
  • Mervanji
  • Mohor
  • Nadarsha
  • Nevazar
  • Nima
  • Nush
  • Omid
  • Orvadasp
  • Palash
  • Pishkar
  • Puladvand
  • Raham
  • Rashna
  • Rushad
  • Sahi
  • Shahen
  • Surin
  • Tahmtan
  • Temulji
  • Tizuarshti
  • Ukarji
  • Ushah
  • Ushedarmah
  • Valash
  • Varshasb
  • Vaspar
  • Wehzan
  • Yadgar
  • Yazad
  • Yima
  • Zal
  • Zand
  • Zirak
  • Zurvan


  • Abanhir
  • Aimai
  • Arzu
  • Avabai
  • Bahar
  • Banubai
  • Behruz
  • Chaman
  • Cheherazad
  • Deldar
  • Dinaz
  • Dinbanu
  • Farida
  • Franak
  • Friyana
  • Gohar
  • Gulbai
  • Gilshan
  • Homa
  • Hormazbanu
  • Hutoxi
  • Iranbanu
  • Irandokht
  • Jahanaray
  • Jarbai
  • Javaneh
  • Kaniz
  • Khubrui
  • Khushnam
  • Lalagul
  • Laleh
  • Lilya
  • Mahzarin
  • Meherbai
  • Morvarid
  • Narenj
  • Nezhat
  • Nilufer
  • Omid
  • Oranous
  • Orkideh
  • Parendi
  • Parvin
  • Puyendeh
  • Rambanu
  • Roshni
  • Ruhae
  • Samannaz
  • Shirin
  • Sudabeh
  • Tehmina
  • Thrity
  • Tishtar
  • Ushtavaity
  • Vahbiz
  • Vira
  • Virbanu
  • Yasmin
  • Yazdin
  • Yazdindokht
  • Zarin
  • Zer
  • Zoish


Other ‘Beyond Fred’ Posts

Serving up a dish of Gnome Stew

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Gnome Stew blog logoWhat can I say? I’ve loved this site for years–it’s been one of my favorites since I started reading RPG blogs and one of the ones I still check regularly, even with my limited computer time. Their mix of articles is wonderful, the writing is always top-notch and I always come away from it with ideas I want to apply to my game immediately. They’ve received ENnie awards in 2010 & 2011 and there’s a damn good reason why.

Whatever gaming topic you’re interested in, they’ve probably got a post dealing with it. Their archives are extensive — 1,193 articles last count. If you’re overwhelmed by the available information, start with their Top 30 Game Mastering Articles. I get their posts sent directly to my email and, inevitably will end up printing out several articles a week to stuff into my game bag.

Most of their articles are system generic and the ones aren’t cover a wide range of game systems. And not just the big names either. They run the gamut from D&D to Dresden Files to Fudge to Alpha Omega and just about everything else in-between, on the side, over the top and upside down. To find a listing of all their system-specific posts, check out their Specific RPGs page.

The site’s design is clean, professional and easy to navigate. I’ve never had a problem with the site and they use Google Custom Search, meaning it’s easy to find articles on specific topics. They have over ten writers (not counting authors of guest posts).

Here’s some posts I’ve found particularly useful

The Gnome Stew crowd have also published two books:

Both are available in PDF and actual physical book format. I have PDF versions of both and they’re quality works with tons of useful ideas. They also have a new book coming out this summer

You can bet I’ll be adding it to my bookshelves.

Now if they would just offer the blog on Kindle 😉

Check out my other favorite gaming blogs:

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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]

Other posts in this series

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A History of Dice at Awesome Dice Blog

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The guys over at Awesome Dice Blog have done a brief history of dice, from the ancient world to modern day, including the cool graphic timeline you see below. You can see a more legible version of the timeline and get more information about dice history at the actual post.