Tag Archives: GMing

Tabletop RPG Games by Genre

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A D&D game session in progress

A D&D game session in progress (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a list of several RPGs and the genres fit into. Some games are harder to classify than others, so you may not agree with my placement; as always, YMMV. Also, a few games fit more than one genre. In this case, I’ve placed them in all genres I feel are appropriate.

Animals (You play animals)

  • Bunnies and Burrows
  • Critter Commandos
  • Furry Pirates
  • Justifiers
  • Mouseguard
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


  • Big Eyes, Small Mouths
  • In Nomine: Anime
  • Teenagers From Outer Space


  • Bullwinkle and Rocky Role-Playing Party Game
  • Elfquest
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Toon

Fantasy (also called “High Fantasy”, “Straight Fantasy”)

  • 7th Sea
  • AGE
  • Amber Diceless RPG
  • Arcanum
  • Arduin
  • Aria
  • Ars Magica
  • Burning Wheel
  • Castles & Crusades
  • Chivalry and Sorcery
  • Conan
  • Dangerous Journeys
  • DragonQuest
  • DragonRaid
  • Dungeons and Dragons (all editions)
  • Earth Dawn
  • Elfquest
  • Elric
  • Empire of the Petal Throne
  • Everway
  • Exalted
  • Fantasy Hero
  • Furry Pirates
  • HackMaster
  • Harn
  • Iron Claw
  • Lace and Steel
  • Lord of the Rings
  • One Ring
  • Man, Myth, and Magic
  • Middle Earth Role Play
  • Palladium
  • Pathfinder
  • Pendragon
  • RoleMaster
  • RuneQuest
  • Talislantia
  • Top Secret
  • Tunnels and Trolls
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
  • Ysgarth

Historical (includes SF and fantasy firmly grounded in a historical periods)

  • Adventure (1920’s)
  • Ars Magica (Medieval; Fantasy)
  • Bushido (Feudal Japan)
  • Call of Cthulhu (1920’s; Horror)
  • Castle Falkenstein (Victorian; Fantasy)
  • Gangbusters (1920’s)
  • Gaslight (Victorian)
  • Indiana Jones (1920’s)
  • Lace and Steel (Cavalier)
  • Legend of the Five Rings (Feudal Japan)
  • Mouseguard (Medieval)
  • Pendragon (Medieval)
  • Qin (China, Warring States period)
  • Space 1889 (Victorian; SF)
  • Vampire: Dark Ages
  • various GURPS supplements, including Japan, Russia, China, etc.
  • Victoriana (Victorian)
  • Werewolf: Wild West


  • All Flesh Must Be Eaten
  • Call of Cthulhu (and it’s off-shoots such as Cthulhu by Gaslight, Cthulhupunk, etc.)
  • Chill
  • Deadlands
  • GURPS Horror
  • It Came From the Late, Late Show
  • Kult
  • Little Fears
  • Necroscope
  • Nephilim
  • Nocture
  • Ravenloft (AD&D and d20)
  • Unknown Armies
  • Whispering Vault
  • World of Darkness
  • Zombi


  • Bullwinkleand Rocky Role-Playing Party Game
  • Bureau 13
  • Ghostbusters RPG
  • HoL
  • Macho Women with Guns
  • Murphy’s World
  • Pandemonium
  • Paranoia
  • SLUG
  • Stuporpowers
  • Tales of the Floating Vagabond
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Teenagers From Outer Space
  • Toon


  • Bureau 13
  • Dream Park
  • Dresdan Files
  • Etherscope
  • Feng Shui
  • Gumshoe
  • Immortal
  • In Nomine
  • James Bond 007
  • Macho Women with Guns
  • Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes
  • Ninjas and Superspies
  • Nobilis
  • Over the Edge
  • Pandemonium
  • Scion
  • Stargate SG-1
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Twilight 2000
  • World of Darkness (Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, Wraith/Ghost, Changeling, Hunter, etc.)
  • Unknown Armies
  • X-Crawl

Near Future

  • Aberrant
  • Cybergenereation
  • Cyberpunk
  • Judge Dredd
  • Shadowrun
  • Teenagers From Outer Space
  • Trinity
  • Underground


  • Aftermath!
  • Darwin’s World
  • Gamma World

Science Fiction

  • 2300 AD
  • Alternity
  • Blue Planet
  • Darwin’s World
  • Dr. Who
  • Fading Suns (D&D)
  • Gamma World
  • HoL
  • Jovian Chronicles
  • Justifiers
  • Mekton
  • Murphy’s World
  • Paranoia
  • Serenity
  • Skyrealms of Jorune
  • SpellJammer (D&D)
  • Star Trek
  • Star Wars
  • Tales of the Floating Vagabond
  • Traveller
  • Trinity
  • Universe

Spies (Espionage)

  • James Bond 007
  • Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes
  • Ninjas and Superspies
  • Top Secret


  • Castle Falkenstein
  • Cthulhu by Gaslight
  • Gaslight
  • Space 1889


  • Aberrant
  • Champions
  • DC Heroes
  • DC Universe Roleplaying Game
  • Marvel Superheros
  • Mutants and Masterminds
  • Stuporpowers
  • Villians and Vigilantes


  • Boot Hill
  • Deadlands

Licensed Games (based on books, movies, or TV shows)

  • Amber Diceless RPG (Amber series by Roger Zelazny)
  • Bullwinkle and Rocky Role-Playing Party Game
  • Conan
  • Dr. Who (Dr. Who TV series)
  • Dresdan Files (Dresdan Files books and TV)
  • Elfquest
  • Elric
  • Ghostbusters RPG
  • Lord of the Rings
  • Middle Earth Role Play
  • One Ring (Lord of the Rings)
  • Serenity (Firefly TV series and Serenity movie)
  • Space Opera
  • Star Frontiers
  • Stargate SG-1
  • Star Trek
  • Star Wars (Star Wars franchise)
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Generic or multiple genres

  • d20
  • Amazing Engine
  • Dream Park
  • FATE
  • Hero System
  • Rifts
  • Savage Worlds
  • SLUG
  • TORG

Of course, this is by no means and exhaustive list. I concentrated on games available in the US, mostly because I’m not familiar with any others. Even so, I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone’s favorite game; if so, leave me a comment and I’ll include it in a revised list.

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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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Class Is in Session: Running a Convention Teaching Game

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Game conventions are a great place to introduce new players to your favorite system. But running a game designed to teach a new system is a bit differently than running a game for experienced players. For one thing, you can’t assume that the new player knows anything about the system you’re running–even what type of die to use, if any. Also, you’ve somehow got to do a quick over-view of the rules without boring your players to tears and yet also manage to complete your scheduled adventure.

It’s a lot to juggle. Below are some steps to help you successfully pull off a teaching game. These steps don’t have to be limited to convention games; they’re also useful if you’re running a demo at a game shop or even trying to convince your regular group to try that new game you bought and are dying to run.

  1. Always use pre-generated characters. I’ve yet to see a successful teaching game which started with the players creating their characters. I’m sure someone’s done it, but it does make teaching the game much, much harder. With pre-gen characters, not only do you save valuable play time, but you can also plan your adventure around those specific characters.
  2. Create “iconic” characters. Teaching games aren’t the place for off-beat or unusual character ideas. If you use archetypal  (or even cliché) characters, players can spend less time figuring out their motives and more time learning the game itself.
  3. Don’t make your players add. The other good thing about using pre-generated characters is that you can do as much of  the math ahead of time as possible. You want to be able to tell a player to “roll a d20, then add your BAB [marked in large numbers on the character sheet] to it.” As much as possible, try to keep your players from having to add more than two or three numbers together at a time.
  4. Prepare “cheat sheets” or “quickstart” versions of the rules, if the game company doesn’t provide them. I always make a one to two page summary of a game’s basic rules so the players have something they can refer to while playing.
  5. Consider creating character packets. I create an information packet for each character that contains the character sheet, any relevant character background, written descriptions of the character’s powers, and a brief summary of the game’s setting and background. It seems like a lot, but if you limit the background information to its most crucial elements, your players will thank you for putting what they need to know right at their fingertips.
  6. Simplify the mechanics. Strip away anything not absolutely critical. You want new players to get a feel for the system, not bog them down with modifiers and exceptional cases.
  7. Plan to spend the first quarter of the session explaining the game and its basic concepts. Here you want to focus on the essence of the game, not the mechanics. Sure, do a real-quick mechanics run-down (I usually go through the cheat-sheet), but spend most of this time going over the character sheet and game background and answering player questions.
  8. Tell players to hold their questions until after your explanation. If you’ve done a good game introduction, you may find you’ve already answered the players’ questions. This also helps prevent you from getting bogged down in player questions and having time to finish your introduction.
  9. Begin with a bang. Start your adventure with the PCs in the middle of something: they’re in the car on the way to the haunted house; they’re trapped in a burning building; they’ve just been locked in a room with a group of people, one of whom is murderer. Unless you’re running Tales from the Floating Vagabond, try to avoid the “You’re sitting in a bar…” opening.
  10. Do the  math for them. Try to handle as much of the mechanics yourself as possible. You want to give players a feel for the game, not bog them down with situational modifiers. Let the players roll dice, but add the modifiers yourself and describe the results to the player in words, not numbers. Sometimes you need to give the player numbers, but try to serve them with some descriptions as well: “You’re knocked back against the wall as your opponent’s blade rips through your shirt, drawing blood and pinning your sleeve to the wall. Take 8 points of damage.”
  11. Be flexible. Keep an eye on the clock. If your game is running over time, try to bring it to a conclusion, even if it’s not the one you’d originally planned. You may need to improvise scenes or cut some out. Allow the players to ask questions about the game, but try to keep them focused to the adventure at hand.
  12. Get feedback. If you’ve got time after you finish the adventure, ask for player feedback. What did they need the most help with? What game concepts need to be made clearer? Is there anything that should’ve been covered in the introduction that wasn’t. That type of thing. Really listen to what the players say and, if need be, modify your introduction and information packets accordingly.

This steps should help you teach new game systems to players successfully, particularly when you have a short amount of time to do it in, such as at a game convention. Please feel free to leave comments letting me know if I’ve left anything out or need to improve something.

11 GMing Tips I Learned from Being a Parent

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

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

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

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

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Games…Must Have Games…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Product Review: Kobold Quarterly #11

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I thumbed through my advanced copy of KQ #11 (okay, since it’s a PDF, I didn’t exactly thumb — more paged down through) — the first issue of KQ I’d ever seen, and started to feel the excitement I used to have when looking through early issues of Dragon magazine.

15 articles (counting Maps and Free City), 9 of which I could immediately apply to my game and 5 more which, with some adjustments, could be adapted to fit my game. The visual layout of the magazine is minimalist — something I like very much. Color illustrations and splash graphics are nice to look at, but often eat up space in magazines I’d rather have taken up with ideas and text. KQ balances graphics and text well.

I particularly enjoyed Uvandir: The Pride of Craftsman — an alternate take on dwarves which seems to fit with the way I’ve been wanting to take dwarves in my own game world. Even as a veteran World of Darkness gamer, I was happy to see two articles reminding us that two favorite supernatural monsters (vampires and werewolves) are just that — monsters. It was a pleasant change from angsty soul-searching and eco-rage. I found the article on werewolves as PCs (Howling Werebeasts) especially helpful — full of great ideas on how to remind players that being a were is not like having a limited polymorph or shape-shifting ability. Were-creatures aren’t just powerful alternate forms — lycanthropy is a curse, first and foremost, and this article gave me some useful tips on how to bring that home to players.

The articles Running Across the Screen and Haunted by the Spirit of the Rules have good, solid advice on being a GM. The first one consists of interviews from industry designers on how to be a good GM, while the second reminds us that it’s the spirit of the rules that matters. I’d never thought of putting it that way before, but I’ll definitely be thinking about it the next time I have a rules-abusing player at my table.

I’d don’t play 4th ed, so I mostly skimmed the Wishing Well (an article about how to codify and use wishes in a game), but it did get my brain working on ways to structure the power of wishes in 3.x ed and other game systems. Whack Jacks and Harpy Nets got me thinking about how intelligent monsters would enhance their natural abilities with specially-designed weapons. I’m almost ashamed to admit that the idea never crossed my mind before I read this article.

Torture and Fear on the Tabletop puts teeth back in torture, creating ways to put the screws to (so to speak 😉 ) even characters with huge pools of hit points. Same Rules, Different Treasure gives ideas on how to make magic items interesting again with little to no modification of game mechanics. Philip Larwood, in Monstrous Paragons, discusses PC “monster” races for paragon-level characters. The article Mysteries of the Philosopher’s Stone, tells us how to use this real-world legendary item in fantasy games. While aimed specificially at D&D, the article does include some ideas (in a separate section of boxed text) for using it with Mage: the Ascension. I wouldn’ve like to see a bit on how to adapt it to Ars Magica along with the Mage data, but it’s a minor quibble and I can easily adapt the idea to  ArM by myself.I’ve often found myself less than enthused about rangers having the ability to cast spells. The Spell-less Ranger gives me the alternative I’ve been looking for.

On the whole, I couldn’t be more pleased with this magazine. It’s been quite a while since I’ve gotten this many ideas out of a gaming mag. Please excuse me while I go subscribe and look up back issues.

Have you used any of the material from this or previous issues of Kolbold Quarterly? If so, please pass your experience on to us.

21 Sure-Fire Ways to Lose Players

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Problem players are a perennial subject on GMing blogs. But problems can go both ways. Here are some GM behaviors guaranteed to cause friction in your group. Please feel free to add more.

  1. Force your PCs into a predetermined plot line and refuse to let them deviate from it.
  2. View the players as opponents to be beaten.
  3. Don’t listen to player suggestions. Get angry is someone even tries to talk to you about improving the game.
  4. Spend a lot of time looking up rules during combat, especially to find that +1 modifier you know it there to give the NPCs an edge against the PCs.
  5. Argue with your players. Tell them they’re not allowed to do certain actions.
  6. Permit your players to argue with each other. Allow these arguments to consume large amounts of each game session.
  7. Be obviously unprepared. Spend copious amounts of time shuffling papers trying to find the next page of the adventure.
  8. Don’t keep an eye on the magic items your group has. Allow them to surprise you with a game-breakingly over-powered item you forgot you let them create.
  9. Destroy, loose, or pick-pocket every helpful or impressive magic item the party ever gains.
  10. Be very easy going and permissive one game session and hard-nosed rules-stickler the next.
  11. Arbitrarily change the rules from one game session to the next.
  12. Allow yourself to be bullied into decisions you don’t like by the players.
  13. Regularly show up late to game session without an explanation. After all, you’re the GM; they have to wait for you.
  14. Frequently cancel game sessions at the last minute.
  15. Show obvious favoritism to certain players in your group — SO’s, best friends, etc…
  16. Make all adventures as lethal as possible.
  17. Don’t take the party’s abilities into account when designing encounters.
  18. Regularly fudge die results in the NPCs favor. Make it obvious to the players.
  19. Use an NPC to solve every major challenge. Don’t let the PCs do anything important.
  20. Forget how many opponents the PCs are fighting. Increase that number midway through combat. Berate any player who tries to correct you.
  21. Don’t allow your players to make changes to the game world. Make sure their actions have no permanent affect on the setting.

Do you have any more GMing pet peeves? Please tell us in the comments below.

What GMs Really Want (Poll)

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As a GM, what information are you looking for? What kinds of topics would help you run your game better? Where do you find yourself struggling? What ideas do you want to see more of? Take the poll below and tell me!