Tag Archives: Campaigns


Tweet Setting up a campaign can be a challenge. Where do you start? What’s important to develop before play? How the heck do you even start planning a campaign? Below is a list of campaign creation resources available online: How … Continue reading

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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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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Where and When: Using Adventure Seeds/Hooks/Starts/Ideas, pt. 6

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So far, in this series of posts on creating a full adventure from an adventure seed, we’ve written down the adventure seed and asked ourselves questions about it, then answered the who and what questions of our adventure, now onto our “when” and “where” questions. Once we’re done with the questions, we’ll move into creating the actual events of the adventure.

[Photo courtesy of Orin Zebest via Flickr Creative Commons 2.0]

When Questions

When is this performance to take place?

How much time do we want to give our PCs to prepare for their assignment? We want to let them have some preparation time, but we don’t want to slow down the adventure by giving them too much time so that they run off on tangents. Lets give them a week. So, the performance is going to take place one week from the time the PCs get their assignment.

What is the current date?

This is the in-game date. If we’re hooking this adventure into a larger campaign, the current date can be significant. If this is a stand-alone adventure, we don’t really have to set the current date. But it might be useful for us to figure out how much time the princess has spent in seclusion already (two months–so she’s definitely ready to talk to someone from the outside world) and how much more time she has left to go (four months, which seems like an eternity to her at the moment).

How much time do the PCs have to prepare?

We’ve answered this question above, but we’ll restate it here: one week.

How much time do the PCs have to complete the mission?

They basically have as long as the performance lasts to get everything set up. They should plan on actually getting the princess out as soon as possible after the performance.

How long is the performance to last?

Two hours.

Where Questions

What is the nation is the princess from?

If you’re using an already created game world, you’ll want to make her a member of a nation that already exists on that world. But let’s assume that we’re creating this game world from scratch as we go along. So we’ll call the princess’ country “Sunfall”, and place it in the eastern half of our new game world (where the sun seems to set).

Is the PCs’ employer from the same nation, or a different one?

The same nation. He’s her younger brother.

Is it the same nation as the PCs?

For maximum impact, lets make the PCs from a different country and call it “Seavale”, a coastal nation. Seavale borders Sunfall, but relations have been strained between the two countries (yes, I am making this up as I go along 😉 ). Prince Alexei deliberately looked for people from Seavale, so that if something went wrong with the plan, he could claim that Seavale agents were trying to kidnap the princess for their own ends.

Where is the compound located?

Near Sunfall’s royal palace, which is located near the middle of the kingdom. The compound is close by, in case relatives want to visit and so that the king and queen can visit and more easily keep an eye on who comes and goes from the princess’ seclusion location. But let’s say it’s between the palace and the Seavale border, which means that the far side of the compound is going to be well-guarded by people the king can trust.

Where is the performance to take place?

Let’s interpret this to mean “where in the compound the performance will take place”,  since we already know that the performance will take place in the seclusion compound. We’ll schedule to performance to take place in the compound’s inner courtyard.

What is the adventure’s starting location?

The prince will want to meet the PCs somewhere where they can talk freely and he won’t be recognized. The first thing that leaps to mind is the very much overused seedy tavern, just inside the Seavale border. Trite though it is, this location does have a lot of aspects in its favor. For one, if we posit that the crown prince has kept a very low profile in the kingdom, so much so that few people outside of the royal family would recognize him, he should be able to come and go from from such a place without notice or comment (unless someone does recognize him…). People in these types of places are used to minding their own business. Depending on how competent we want our prince to be, he can either dress down to match his surroundings (the prudent course of action) or he can flaunt his wealth, attracting every major pickpocket and cut-purse in the area, which could create some wonderful complications to the adventure.

What is it’s ending location?

That will depend on if the PCs get the princess out or not. If so, the adventure will end at a “safe house” the prince has set up on the border of the kingdom. If not, the adventure is likely to end in the princess’ seclusion compound. Either way, we should have the safe house location prepared.

What other locations might be important?

The castle, the wizard’s tower are all possible locations, but the bulk of the adventure should take place in the princess’ compound, so that’s the location we’ll spend the bulk of our location preparation time on.

What are the languages, customs, and practices of the entertainers? Are they different from the PCs?

We could go hog-wild on this one and set them up with a different language and some really unusual customs, making them originally from a very different culture than the PCs. But I don’t want to spend time on that aspect, so we’ll make all of them–the PCs and the entertainers–from the same basic area, Seavale.

However, theatre people tend to be a superstitious lot, so we can have a little fun with the PCs by giving our troupe of players a few quirks, but not so many that they take over the game session. So, first, we can have the actors begin their day with offerings to whichever god in the campaign world watches over performers and traveling players, followed by a couple of hours of vocal and physical warm-up exercises. So unless you’ve got a party full of bards, that should help push the PCs out of their comfort zone somewhat.

The day would continue with rehearsals of the current performance, as well as some stage combat practice (less deadly, but just as demanding as real combat practice)., finally concluding with some street performances to bring in needed money. The PCs will be expected to take part in these, so that they can learn what they need to know to preserve their cover.

We can also give the troupe a couple of superstitious habits, based on real-world theatre superstitions, the primary one being the practice of never wishing “good luck” to someone going on-stage (hence the real-world practice of saying “Break a leg”). Let’s say that actors in this world say “Crack your head”. Also, having a black cat in the theatre house prior to performance is said to bring good luck and a successful play. Since ours are traveling players, they don’t usually perform in theatres, so let’s say they keep their own pet black cats who travel with them as companions and that it’s a very bad omen if one runs away or gets harmed.

Next time, we’ll finish up the questions with “why” and “how”.

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Questions Continue: Using Adventure Seeds/Hooks/Starts/Ideas, pt. 5

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whatThis is part 5 of our series on how to develop a full adventure from an adventure seed.

Last time, we began answering the questions our adventure seed suggested. We answered the “who” questions; today we’re going to continue with the “what” questions. As before, none of these answers are set in stone–we can come back and change them at anytime.

Now, onto the “what” questions:

What are the exact goals of the mission?

Players need concrete goals that allow them to know when they’ve succeeded or failed in their mission. Let’s say the princess is in the secured compound because she’s been betrothed to the court wizard, who’s also her father’s best friend and 30 years her senior. We’ll call him “Roman” and add him to our growing list of NPCs to create. And let’s give the kingdom a tradition where a bride-to-be spends time in seclusion with only her closest female friends and (in the case of nobility) maids.

Our PCs are going to be tasked with the mission of smuggling the princess out of her seclusion so she can marry her “true love”: Feodor (that’s what Prince Alexei will tell the PCs). We’ll go into more detail about this when we get to the “why” questions.

What is the performance the players are going to do?

They’re going to perform a play that’s been popular in the surrounding kingdoms, a romantic piece about true love, high adventure, and daring-do. Given the fact that most PCs have little to no performing skills, Kirill’s, our troupe’s leader, plans to use them as stagehands. This will also allow the PCs more room to fulfill their mission, as they don’t have to be on stage at any particular time.

What kind of performers are they?

A troupe of actors, who travel around performing plays at various courts and festivals.

What security measures are in place?

We’ll come back to this question later. Once we’ve answered the other questions, we may have a better idea about what resources the kingdom has to draw on to create the security measures.

What maps do you need to create?

As of this point in time, the only map we really need is one of the secure compound where the princess is serving her “seclusion”–that is, a time before her marriage takes place. But we’ll go into this more in our “when” questions.

What special items might the PCs need to succeed?

So far, we’ve got nothing to tell us that the PCs will need any special equipment, but we may come up with some as we further flesh out or adventure.

What does the compound look like?

Given the fact that this is for the princess, it wouldn’t be odd for the “compound” to be beautiful and comfortable. It would be filled with the princess’ favorite things and probably display the wealth of the king, her father, and of the kingdom itself. So think soft, comfortable furnishings, artistically painted walls, probably with murals, perhaps even an internal courtyard with a garden and a pool.

What group or faction does the national leader belong to, if any? What group or faction does the PCs employer belong to, if any?

Our adventure isn’t shaping up to include factions or groups, so we can safely ignore these two questions. If we change our minds, we can always come back to them.

What obstacles might stand in the way of the PCs succeeding?

Well, first and foremost, there will be the security measures we’re going to detail out later. Other possible obstacles could be Kirill, if he discovers the nature of the PCs’ mission and doesn’t like it. Another obstacle could be the princess herself. What if she doesn’t want to be “rescued”? What if she actually wants to marry the wizard. Of course, the PCs won’t know this at first–they’ll have been told by Prince Alexei that Fedor, Roman’s apprentice, is her true love. And if, despite her love of sappy love stories, the princess is extremely competent, she could pose a formidable obstacle, indeed, particularly since she knows the compound much better than the PCs do.

What will happen if the PCs succeed?

First of all, they’ll have made a enemy of the princess. But Prince Alexei will be willing to pay a rich reward for foiling the official wedding plans. This is where having knowledge of your PCs comes in handy. What reward would they wish? Perhaps Alexei, not being the most astute of princes, will allow each of the PCs to name any reward within his power to grant.

What will happen if the PCs fail?

The princess’ wedding will go on as planned and the PCs will have gained the wrath of the crown prince and possibly the wizard’s assistant, as well. If we postulate that the wizard himself doesn’t want the marriage to go forward (perhaps he sees the princess more as the daughter he never had), they could possibly be granted a reward by him. We’ll hammer out the consequences of success and failure as we go along.

Next time, we’ll cover “when” and possibly “where” questions, as well.

[Photo courtesy of Vikki-Lea via Flickr Creative Commons 2.0]

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Answering the Questions: Using Adventure Seeds/Hooks/Starts/Ideas, pt. 4

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Globe Theatre at SUULast time we set up the questions to our adventure seed-inspired adventure. This time, we’re going to begin answering them, starting with the “who” questions. This is where we start adding meat to the bare skeleton of the adventure seed. We’re still at the idea stage, so we can come back and change our answers at any time.

Who Questions

Who hired the PCs?

We’ve got someone who’s trying to infiltrate a high-security location. Normally, this would be a good point to back through PC backgrounds or past experiences in the campaign and choose an NPC from there. Do the PCs owe anyone a big favor? But in our sample adventure, we’re starting from a blank slate, knowing nothing about our PCs. We can think of this as the opening adventure to a campaign. In this case, I’ll come back to this question after I answer the next one:

Who is the national leader?

In a high-fantasy setting, such as we’ve stipulated, the most logical leader would be the nation’s king (Khan, emperor, whatever), but that seems too obvious for my taste. Instead, lets make this the kingdom’s eldest princess. Perhaps she is the oldest sibling, but the crown would fall to her younger brother, as the only male heir, much to her dismay. Let’s make her the most capable of her siblings–far more capable a ruler than her brother, the crown prince would be. Most of the court dismisses her because she’s female, but one king’s primary adviser–the court wizard–recognizes her ability and wants to completely discredit her so she has no influence over her brother.

Since I’m fond of Russian names, I’ll go back to my Beyond Fred: Russian Names list and choose one. We’ll call her “Darya”.

Who hired the PCs, take two?

Okay, given the little background we’ve cooked up above, the most obvious person to approach the PCs and offer them employment would be our court wizard, but that seems to obvious. I’d like to give the PCs to have to think beyond the immediately obvious. This would be another good place to call an NPC back from the PC’s past. But since we’re starting from the very beginning, we’ll have to come up with something “off the cuff”. How about the wizard’s apprentice, who we can give a crush on the princess to? It’s still obvious, but it’s one step removed. Or how about her brother, the crown prince? Perhaps the two of them, working together. Lets run with that idea.

First thing I usually do when creating NPCs is to give them names. I may change them later, but at least I’ll have some names to start with. Let’s call the apprentice “Fedor” and the crown prince “Alexei”. We still haven’t worked out why, but we can do that as we go along.

Who are the entertainers?

This we can bring back to the princess. What kind of entertainment does she enjoy? So far, all we figured out about her is that she’s politically very savvy. I want her to be an extremely competent character, all the way around, but it could be extremely useful to have the PCs underestimate her abilities. Perhaps she has a weakness for troubadour ballads. Lets make the entertainers the leading group of actors in the surrounding kingdoms.

Perhaps the current king doesn’t care for their repertoire and so has banned them from performing in the kingdom. That could make them all the more enticing for our young princess and explain why she would want them to perform in a high-security area. Let’s take it a step further and make the leading man of the entertainers a skilled bard (who could be a PC, if the party has one) and the play she wants them to produce a sappy story about forbidden love. Give the play a political undercurrent and you have a reason for it to have been banned.

Who wants the mission to succeed? and Who wants the mission to fail?

The logical choice for this would be the crown prince, Alexei, and the wizard’s apprentice, Fedor. But let’s throw another twist in there. Let’s say that Fedor actually wants the PCs to fail, which will throw an interesting hiccup into the prince’s plans. But then we come down to one of the most important questions: why? Let’s shelve this one for now and tackle it again with the “why” questions.

Who leads the entertainers?

We’ve already touched on this one a little. Lets make the lead of the entertainers a bard–a retired adventurer. We can even take it a step further and say that he was a companion of the current kings when both were adventuring in their youth. Perhaps the king actually won his kingdom during his adventuring years (we’ll figure out why and how if it becomes important to the adventure) and the two had falling out during that time, which explains why the bard and his troupe have been banned from the kingdom. Let’s call the bard “Kirill”.

Do the entertainers know about the PCs mission?

Not overtly, but Kirill is no dummy and has his suspicions. He’s been commanded by the crown prince to add this motley group of obviously adventurers to his troupe for the princess’ performance. It doesn’t take a great leap of thought to guess that they’re plants of some kind. He hasn’t come right out an asked the adventurers what they’re mission is. He’s enjoying the challenge of trying to figure it out on his own.

What does that leave us with right now?

We have several NPCs that need to be created:

  • Darya: the extremely capable eldest child of the king
  • Alexei: the king’s oldest son and crown prince who resents his older sister’s ability
  • Fedor: the court wizard’s apprentice who has a crush on Darya
  • Kirill: the bardic leader of the entertainers who had a falling out with the king when they were both adventurers together.

We also know that the king didn’t inherit his kingdom, but won it during his adventuring days; there’s bad blood between him and Kirill (we’ll figure out exactly what later); Darya would be the more capable heir to the throne, but being female, she excluded from the line of succession, and her younger brother resents her ability, putting them at odds; Kirill’s making it a point to discover the PCs mission.

Next time, we’ll cover the “what” questions.

[Photo courtesy of twbuckner at Flickr Creative Commons]

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Setting an Example: Using Adventure Seeds/Hooks/Starts/Ideas, pt. 3

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In the last couple of posts we’ve discussed what adventure seeds are and outlined the basic steps to fleshing them out into full-fledged adventures. Today, I’m taking an adventure seed I found on a gaming forum and fleshing it out into a rough adventure.

The Seed

Your group is tasked to infiltrate a high-security national leader’s compound by traveling with some entertainers he has hired for a private performance.

This comes from the RPG Life Member Forums.

Write Down Questions

Here’s where we really get into turning this short idea into an adventure. When reading over our adventure seed, what questions come to mind?

  • Which national leader?
  • What compound?
  • What nation?
  • Where is the compound?
  • Who are the entertainers?
  • What is the performance they’re going to do?
  • Why is the leader having the performance (what’s the occasion?)
  • Who hired the PCs?
  • Why does (s)he need the PCs? Why not hire someone else?
  • What security measures are in place?
  • Why these entertainers?
  • Why does the PCs employer want them to infiltrate?
  • Do the PCs know why?
  • Why should the PCs go?
  • What happens if they succeed?
  • What happens if they fail?

Back to the 6 W’s

We can group these questions into our 6 W’s of Adventure Creation and add in some more standard questions that should be asked about every adventure:


  • Who hired the PCs?
  • Who is the national leader?
  • Who are the entertainers?
  • Who wants the mission to succeed?
  • Who wants it to fail?
  • Who leads the entertainers?
  • Do the entertainers know about the PCs mission?


  • What are the exact goals of the mission?
  • What is the performance the entertainers are going to do?
  • What kind of entertainers are they?
  • What security measures does the location have?
  • What maps do you need to create?
  • What special items might the PCs need to succeed?
  • What does the compound look like?
  • What group or faction does the national leader belong to, if any?
  • What group or faction does the PCs employer belong to, if any?
  • What obstacles might stand in the way of the PCs succeeding?
  • What will happen if the PCs succeed?
  • What will happen if they fail?


  • When is this performance to take place?
  • What is the current date?
  • How much time do the PCs have to prepare?
  • How much time do the PCs have to complete the mission?
  • How long is the performance supposed to last?


  • What nation is national leader a leader of?
  • Are the PCs from the same nation or a different one?
  • Is the PCs employer from the same nation or a different one?
  • If different, what nation?
  • Is it the same nation as the PCs?
  • Where is the compound located?
  • Where is the performance supposed to take place?
  • What is the adventure’s starting location?
  • What is it’s ending location?
  • What other important locations might be important?
  • What are the languages, customs, and practices of the entertainers? Are they different from the PCs?


  • Why do the PCs need to be the ones to go on this mission (there should be a reason beyond ‘they’re the PCs’)?
  • Why did the national leader hire these entertainers?
  • Why is (s)he holding this performance (what’s the occasion)?
  • Why is this mission taking place? (Why does the employer want the compound infiltrated?)
  • Do the PCs know why?
  • Why should the PCs go?
  • Why are the entertainers taking this job?


  • How are the PCs going to fit in with the entertainers?
  • How might they prepare for this mission?
  • How might they succeed?
  • How might they fail?
  • How are the entertainers going to perform?

Most of the time, you’ll be creating an adventure for an established campaign or you’ll at least have an idea of the kind of setting you’re going to use this in. Since we’re creating an adventure from scratch, we need to decide some additional details, such as what genre we’re going to create this adventure for. The seed itself seems imply a science fiction, superhero, modern day, or cyberpunk-style setting. Since I want to show you that you can adapt adventure seeds that may not seem to be a perfect fit at first, let’s not use any of those. I’m going to set this in a “standard” high-fantasy genre.

Next time we’ll begin answering the questions.

[Photo courtesy of Horia Varlan via Flickr Creative Commons 2.0].

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Step By Step: Using Adventure Seeds/Hooks/Starts/Ideas, part 2

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There are basic steps to creating an adventure from the adventure seed:

  • Read the seed
  • Write down questions
  • Answer your questions
  • Pull out events from the questions
  • Put the events into a possible order
  • Determine the outcome of success or failure

We’ll go over these steps in detail in the next post(s), where I’ll provide some examples to make things much clearer.

One note here: The adventure seed is just a tool to jump start your creativity. If, in the course of developing your adventure, you find that your plot bears no resemblance whatsoever to the seed you started with, that’s okay. As long as you’re happy with what you’ve created and you think your players will be too, go with what you’ve written. There are no adventure police to keep you on the straight and narrow. (At least when you’re running for your own group, this is true. Published adventures can be another story).

[Photo courtesy of pj_vanf via Flickr Creative Commons 2.0]

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Tweet Okay, now what? Has this happened to you: you’ve seen something that looks intriguing in a list of adventure ideas (often called “adventure seeds”), you’d love to use in your game, but you have no idea how to actually … Continue reading

Want to be a Better GM? Ask Your Players

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rpg blog carnival logoHow do you know how good a GM you are? You’ll need to ask your players. Below is a questionnaire I hand out to my players from time to time to find out what’s good about my game and what needs to be improved. Please feel free to change, update, modify the questions to fit your game.

[This article is part of the March 2010 RPG Blog Carnival: How to be a Better GM].

GM and Game Evaluation Questionnaire

Please check all answers that apply. Feel free to add any commentary, answers, or smart-ass remarks 😉 .

1. Game difficulty

  • I think your game is much too easy for characters. No matter how stupidly we play, we always achieve our goals
  • Your game is much too difficult. If I wanted the brutality of real life, I’d watch the evening news.
  • I think your game is at a good difficulty level.

2. PC experience / power level

  • I like to play beginning characters, who are just figuring out their abilities and how to use them.
  • I prefer to play mid-level character who know their abilities and have some clout in the game world.
  • Really powerful characters are the most interesting. I like the challenges that come from having a lot of ability.
  • I like starting with low-powered characters and work my way up to the be as powerful as the game allows.

3. Gaming Group Size

  • I prefer small groups of 2-3 players.
  • I think medium-sized groups of 4-8 work the best.
  • I fell that really large groups (10+ players) are the most fun.

4. Character Death

  • I don’t think PCs should die. Ever.
  • It’s okay if the GM kills a PC every once in a great while, but only if they die heroically and during a hard struggle, or if their death can have some meaning.
  • I don’t think the GM should kill PCs, but if the PCs get themselves into a fatal conflict, the GM shouldn’t rush in to save them.
  • PCs should drop like flies.

5. Threat of Character Death

  • I like knowing that my character probably won’t die. It allows me to take more risks than I would otherwise.
  • I would find it more interesting if there were more of a threat of death over my characters head.

6. NPC Quality

  • Your non-player characters really help bring your game to life. We run into the most interesting and/or believable people.
  • Your NPCs are okay. Every once in a while we get a really great one, but the rest are a little cardboard. They could use some more individuality or development.
  • Your NPCs are totally flat and unbelievable. Where did you get them–a Dover paper doll collection?

7. Story Quality

  • The stories in your game are really good. The make the game interesting and enjoyable.
  • Why do you make your players think so hard? I just want to hit things!
  • Your game is too intense; couldn’t you lighten up a little? Do we have to have to do major soul-searching every game session?
  • Your game isn’t intense enough. Let’s have some depth and meaning here.
  • I don’t care about a story–it just interferes with my hitting things.
  • You have a story?

8. Game Session Mood

  • I like it when GMs vary the moods of their game sessions, like running a silly session after a particularly dramatic one.
  • I prefer it when the GM varies the mood within the game session, but keeps the overall mood of the game the same.
  • I like roleplaying to be serious and intense. The GM should never let up on the pressure.

9. Game Humor

  • Your game has too much humor for me.
  • Your game has too little humor for me
  • Your game has just the right amount of humor for me.

10. Game Pacing

  • The pace of action in your game is just right. Things are happening fast enough to keep me interested, but not so fast that the game feels out of control.
  • I think thing are happening way to fast in the game. I can’t keep up with it.
  • Your pacing is too slow. Please pick it up a little, I’m getting bored.
  • Your pacing is too inconsistent from one game session to the next. Please smooth it out.
  • Some more variety in your pacing would make your game more interesting.
  • Pacing? You have pacing?

11. Creating Characters

  • I prefer to create my characters one-on-one with the GM, even if it takes a few weeks to actually start playing. The mystery about the other characters off-sets the delay.
  • I prefer to create my characters a group so that we can balance our party.
  • I like to create characters with the whole group, but I don’t want to know much about the other PCs until play starts.

12. Background Information Sheets

[I always create a short background information sheet–one to two pages–that tells players how their character fits into the game world].

  • I loved the background sheets you created for our characters. It makes me feel like I have a real place in the game world.
  • I didn’t care one way or the other about the background sheets you created.
  • I hated the background sheets. You mean I have to learn this stuff about my character before I can actually play?

13. Character Advancement Knowledge

  • I don’t like any ambiguity about my character. I want to know how much experience I have at all times.
  • I don’t mind not knowing how much experience I’ve gained, number-wise, but I want to be told when my abilities or powers increase.
  • I like not knowing exactly where I stand, experience-wise. I enjoy finding out about ability and power increases through game play.

14. Adult Content in Games

  • I would feel comfortable role-playing “adult scenes” (sex, etc.) with this group.
  • I would feel okay about role-playing adult content with the GM (i.e., with an NPC) or with the player involved, but I want to do it in a one-on-one situation.
  • I don’t think sexual and other such situations should be role-played at all. Just acknowledge that it happened and move on.
  • I don’t think the game should contain any adult content at all.
  • Is hitting things adult content?
  • What a question! I’m not sure how I feel about it; I think we should discuss it as a group.

15. Power Balance.

Your game gives too much advantage to:

  • magic
  • combat skills
  • psionics
  • class abilities
  • other [please specify]:

16. Power Restrictions.

Your game puts too many restrictions on:

  • magic
  • combat skills
  • psionics
  • class abilities
  • other [please specify]:

17. Event Balance.

Your game could use more/less [please circle your choice]:

  • magical events
  • combats
  • power contests
  • NPC enounters
  • non-combat skill challenges
  • other [please specify]:

18. Player Input

  • You don’t let the players have enough input in how the game runs. After all, it’s our game too.
  • You let one/more of the players bully you too much. You need to be stronger about making executive decisions.
  • You expect too much input from the players. We don’t want to have to make every decision–that’s why we have a GM.
  • The amount of input we have is just about right.

19. Mid-Campaign Rule Changes.

I would rather you:

  • Discussed the situation with the group so that we can have a say in how things are going to work from now on.
  • Do whatever you want. It’s your game.
  • There should never be any mid-campaign rule changes. You should always play by the rules you set up in the beginning, even if they don’t seem to be working.
  • I don’t mind some mid-campaign rule changes, but if they’re going to affect my character, I’d like a chance to change my character so that my character idea stays consistent with the new rules.
  • Make all the changes you  want as long as it doesn’t hinder my ability to hit things.

20. Rule Questions.

On the occasions when you can’t remember a particular rule, I would rather you:

  • Look up the answer, no matter how long it takes.
  • Only look up the answer if you feel you absolutely have to.
  • Never look up anything during play. I’d prefer you make a decision, any decision, as long as you don’t slow down play.

21. Bad Rulings.

When you realize you’ve made a “bad call” in a previous session, I’d prefer you to:

  • Discuss it with the group before you begin the next session and come to a group consensus about how to run similar situations in the future.
  • Tell the group you made a ruling you’re unhappy with and explain how you’d handle it differently in the future, but not allow any changes to the events of that previous session.
  • Tell the group you made a ruling you’re unhappy with and allow the party a “do over” with your new ruling.
  • Don’t tell anyone and just run it differently next time. Every situation is different, after all.

22. Adherence to Printed Rules

  • GMs should always go exactly by the rule book at all times.
  • Each GM creates an individual version of the game universe. The books are really only background and guide-lines.
  • Make what ever rules you want, as long as it doesn’t harm my ability to hit things.

23. Adherence to Source Material,

If your game is based on pre-existing source material (such as Dr. Who, Serenity, Amber, etc.):

  • I don’t like it when you deviate from from the published background material. You should follow pre-existing material exactly.
  • I like it if you’re not tied down to published material. It makes your game more interesting because I don’t know what’s going to happen.
  • I don’t mind some deviation from pre-existing source material, if there’s an in-game reason for it that we, as players, could potentially find out.
  • I don’t care about pre-existing source material. I just want to hit things.

24. Internal Consistency

  • Your game is internally inconsistent. Please keep better notes so aspects of the game world don’t suddenly change on us without warning.
  • Your game is very consistent. New information builds logically on old information we already know.
  • I don’t care about consistency. I just want to hit things.

25. In-Game Time. Time in our game is:

  • Consistent. It makes sense, even if the GM plays with it some; there’s always an in-game reason for any inconsistencies.
  • Inconsistent. In one session, it takes us two weeks to get from our fortress to the capital, in another it takes us two days. What gives?

26. GM-Player Direction

  • We could use more direction in your game. We spend too much time stumbling around blindly.
  • You’re directing us too much. We want off the train tracks.
  • You give us the right amount of direction. We can choose our own path through the game world, but if we get lost, you always give us in-game assisstence.
  • I’m not sure what you’re doing, but it works for me.

27. Types of Adventures.

I’d like your game to have more or less [please indicate which] of the following:

  • Dungeon adventures
  • Wilderness adventure
  • City adventures
  • Combat scenes
  • Role-playing scenes
  • I like the mix you currently have

28. Intra-Party Conflict

  • I think they’re way too much intra-party conflict in your game. PCs should always work together and should know each others’ strengths and and weaknesses. Otherwise, how can we plan anything?
  • I like it when PCs are at cross-purposes to one another, but not to the point of harming another party member or making it impossible for the party to accomplish things together.
  • I love intra-party conflict. Bring it on! That’s what makes the game fun for me.

29. Session Rating.

In general, your game sessions are:

  • fantastic
  • pretty good
  • fun
  • better than being hung up by my toes for four hours
  • a few more like least ones and I’ll stay home an wash my hair
  • awful; I didn’t get to hit things once!

30. The Best Part

The best part of your game is:

  • the incredible detail of your game universe.
  • the fascinating NPCs.
  • the intrigue and politics.
  • seeing my characters advance.
  • the inventiveness you encourage in your players.
  • the fact the PCs can have major and permanent effects on the game world.
  • the interaction you encourage between the players
  • other [Please specify]:
  • There’s nothing enjoyable about your game.

31. Please add any information you think I should know.

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