Tag Archives: Players

The GM’s Field Guide to Players Now Available

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Have Player Troubles?

GMs–what’s the most important part of your game? It’s your players. Without your players, you don’t have a game. Yet, it’s your players that often cause you the most grief.

Have you ever had players who

  • arrivs on time to every game, but spens the entire session reading a book?
  • try to monopolize your attention?
  • complain that other people aren’t playing their characters right?
  • argue with every decision you make?

We all have. It’s hard to know how to deal with difficult players. But you don’t have to go it alone. The GM’s Field Guide to Players can help.

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What’s Included

This 54-page PDF covers:

  • How to identify players types and how to use them to make your game more enjoyable
  • The five steps for dealing with all problem players
  • Common types of problem players and how to deal with each one
  • How to remove a player from your game and still look yourself in the mirror


In addition, when you purchase The GM’s Field Guide to Players, you get two bonuses:

  • How to Deal With Cheating Players: Just what the title says, this booklet describes several ways players cheat and offers ideas on how to deal with them.
  • Fitting Them In: Ideas on how to introduce new players to your game. It covers everything from introducing brand-new players to RPGs in general to bringing experienced players into your on-going campaign.

What’s it cost?

The regular price is $7, but from now until October 31, 2012, you can get it for $6.

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Field Guide to Players Finished

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At long last, my second book, The GM’s Field Guide to Players is finished and will be available for sale within the next two weeks.

The book features cover art by artist NJ Huff (check out her website, she’s got some great stuff). I’m absolutely thrilled with the image she created and will be asking her to redo the cover of The Adventure Creation Handbook when I get around to updating it in the next month or so.

It’s sixty a 60-page PDF and covers

  • Player types in detail (I’ve devoted a whole chapter to this) along with suggestions on how to use them to make your game more enjoyable.
  • How to identify problem players and general tips for dealing with them, including suggestions on how to remove a player from your game and still retain your self-respect (and the respect of the other players in your group).
  • Specific types of problem players you’re likely to encounter in your GMing career and how to deal with each one.

As always, I’m including two freebies when you purchase this book. They are

  • How to Deal With Cheating Players: Just what the title says, this booklet describes several ways players cheat and offers ideas on how to deal with them.
  • Fitting Them In: Ideas on how to introduce new players to your game. It covers everything from introducing brand-new players to RPGs in general to bringing experienced players into your on-going campaign.

The GM’s Field Guide to Players will be available starting Sunday, September 23, 2012 and will sell for $7. It will be available from my website and from Drive-Thru RPG and RPGNow. At the same time, I’ll be selling my previous book, The Adventure Creation Handbook for $3.50 — half off its normal price. That half-off deal will only be available from my own website.

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

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

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

Before Adding a New Player

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

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

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

Know Your Limit

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing the new player to play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

[Image by JGNY from Flickr Creative Commons].

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Quick Survey about Dealing with Players

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

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

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

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

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The Rules Lawyer

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


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


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

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

Ways a Rules-Lawyer can be useful

Out of Character:

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

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

In Character:

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

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

[Image courtesy of shawnzrossi via Flickr Creative Commons]

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When it’s Your Turn to Play: How to go from being a GM to a player

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GMing can be an all-consuming task. Players outnumber GMs, so we often get put in a situation where our group will say “We want to play [fill in new game here]. Will you run it?” But sometimes, even if you primarily GM, you’ll get a chance to actually sit in the player’s chair for a change.

Sitting the player’s chair can be a challenge for someone who primarily GMs. We’re so used to having the final say in game matters, that we tend to (usually unintentionally) act as if we’re in charge of this game. This tends to lead to bad feelings with rest of the group and the newly-minted player returns to her GM screen, vowing to never set foot out from it again.

That’s a shame, because GMs can offer a lot to a game when they play. They often have great ideas for overcoming obstacles (after all, they’re used to setting them), and can be a source of great help to the current GM, especially if he’s new to that side of the table. Plus, it’s good for a GM to remember what it feels like to be a player, from time to time.

Below are some guidelines on how to behave when it’s someone else’s turn in the GM chair:

  1. Never give GMing advice unless specifically asked. GMing has a steep learning curve. It takes months (do I dare say “years”?) to learn to manage all the tasks required to run a good game; this can only come with practice. While it’s hard to watch someone struggle through learning to GM, it’s necessary. He has to learn, just like you did. Giving unsolicited advice just upsets the other GM and is often interpreted as a vote of no confidence in his GMing ability.
  2. If you find yourself saying “In my game…,” stop talking. Unless it’s during a break and you’re relating a story about something funny that happened in your game, these are fighting words. Remember, this is not your game. Every GM is entitled to run her game her own way; just because it’s different from yours doesn’t make it bad. Acknowledge (to yourself) that it’s going to feel strange for a little while, but reserve judgment for several game sessions. If she’s doing something you just can’t stand, use the standard player solution—talk to her, or find a different game.
  3. If you must talk to the GM about the way he runs, remember you’re the player. Don’t tell him how you’d do it differently (unless he asks). Just say something along the lines of “I’m having a real difficulty with the way [thing that bothers you] is handled. Is there a particular reason for it being that way, or can we maybe try something else?” Focus on the specific thing that bothers you, not on his whole GMing approach.
  4. Try to keep GM information out of play. It’s going to be tough; when you’ve been GMing for any length of time, you know things that even experienced players don’t. So before you exploit the weakness of that monster’s special attack, ask yourself if your character would even know about the weakness in the first place. Be honest. If the answer is “No,” then use only what your character would know.
  5. Don’t overwhelm your GM. When you’re used to spending hours in preparation for a game, it can seem like you’re slacking off when you’re only a player. Many GMs I know (including me) then to still put in that time, often without realizing it. Since you’ve only got one small section of the game to work on—your character—you tend to over develop that section. Unless you clear it with your GM first, it’s not fair to dump a 25 page character history on her and expect her to read it all before the next game session. Remember, she’s got more than just your character to deal with.
  6. Don’t assume that just because you like something, that your GM will too. And visa versa, if you hate something, don’t assume your GM will also hate it. Some GMs love getting 20 pages of blue-booking between game sessions, others will barely have time to skim the first page. Find out your GM’s likes and dislikes.
  7. Take time to learn this group’s culture. Every game group has their own rituals and rules of behavior. If you’re coming into an established group, take time learn their traditions and standards of behavior. If everyone chips in to buy the GM pizza, by the third session, you should be ready to drop your share in the pot.
  8. Cut yourself some slack. It takes time to get used to being a player again. Treat yourself like you’d treat any brand-new player you’d have in your game. In many ways, that’s exactly what you are, especially if you haven’t played in years.
  9. Be the kind of player you’d want to have in your game. That’s basically what this all comes down to. If you’re supportive, helpful in a player sort of way, polite, and respectful, the rest of your group should be willing to overlook any gaffs on your part.

(This is an excerpt from my upcoming book: The GM’s Field Guide to Players, tentatively scheduled to come out in November.)

[photo courtesy of JDHancock courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons]

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Players: What Do You Want Your GM to Know About You?

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Now that I’ve gotten my adventure creation book out, I’m starting to look into the next project. One way I do that is to look back over my blog and see which posts are the most popular. One that seems to get a lot of hits is my Handling Problem Players post. Every GM has had at least one player that’s made her GMing life difficult.

But the problem can go both ways. Every player that’s been playing for awhile can find at least one horror story about a bad GM. So, players, what five things would you like your GM to know about either players in general or you as a player specifically? What things should GMs do differently than you’re currently experiencing? If I were to write a book for GMs about players, what five things should be included? Please let me know in the comments section below.

[Photo courtesy of SMercury98 via Flickr Creative Commons 2.0]

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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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27 Surefire Ways to Get Kicked Out of a Game

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Awhile back I did a post on 21 Surefire Ways to Loose Players. With this being Player Month here at Evil Machinations, I thought it time to do a post for the players. Even the most die-hard GMs will change sides of the table, even if it’s a pick-up game at a con. You’d think we’d make the perfect players, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, all too often GMs-turned-PCs are the most difficult players in a group. While orginially aimed at GMs, even players who’ve never sat behind the GM screen should enjoy this list as well.

[Photo courtesy of House of Sims via Flickr Creative Commons 2.0 license]

  1. Repeatedly arrive extremely late to a game session without calling to let people know.
  2. Repeatedly miss a game session after assuring the GM you’d be there.
  3. Refuse to read the rules of the system you’re playing.
  4. Hog the spotlight.
  5. Give long lectures on how the game you run is better than this one.
  6. Tell the GM what he’s doing wrong and offer frequent unsolicited advice on how to run the way you would.
  7. Recite a Monty Python or Princess Bride quote for everything that happens during the game.
  8. Insist on roleplaying every moment of a supply run.
  9. Turn everything said into a sexual innuendo.
  10. Make overt sexual advances to every eligable PC in the party.
  11. Make overt sexual advances to every eligable player in the group.
  12. Argue for every advantage you can squeeze out of the system, even if it takes an hour to win a +1 bonus.
  13. Insist that the GM look up an obscure rule in the middle of combat.
  14. Expect everything to go your way because the GM is your significant other.
  15. Loudly and frequently complain about how your favorite rules system is better than the one the GM is currently using.
  16. Insist that the group run your favorite system, especially if they don’t want to change.
  17. Constantly brag about your über-character in another game and how she would wipe the floor in this game.
  18. Refuse to get dice of your own and insist on borrowing someone else’s.
  19. Continuously forget your character sheet so you can make up numbers on the fly.
  20. Play while drunk (or high)–unless your entire group enjoys drinking to excess while gaming.
  21. Deliberately and/or constantly ignore the rules of the host who’s house you’re playing in (such as putting your feet on the coffee table, not using a coaster, etc.)
  22. Torment your host’s pet(s).
  23. Play computer games while you’re roleplaying
  24. Repeatedly charm members of your own party.
  25. Repeatedly steal from members of your own party.
  26. Insist on going off on your own on a regular basis.
  27. Claim every useful bit of treasure as your own.

How about you? What have I forgotten that really raises your hackles? Please share!

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What’s My Motivation?

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motivation-chartYour GM picked out the adventure, did all of the background work, fleshed out the NPCs, balanced treasure and other rewards. Now it’s finally time to run the adventure, it’s up to the GM to find a way to motivate your character. Right?

[Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/philippeboukobza/ / CC BY 2.0]


True, the GM will most likely provide you a motivation for going on the adventure, but you can help by providing your own motivation for your character.

While “My character wouldn’t do that” can be a legitimate concern (I’m a “method actor”-style player, myself), it’s not helpful. If you try hard enough, there’s usually some way you can provide your character with a motivation to undertake the adventure.

Character History

Even if you don’t have a detailed backstory for your character, you can find a way to work something about this adventure into your character’s history. In fact, it’s probably easier to do it without a detailed history. But even if you’ve written down information for every month of your character’s life, you can still usually find a way to work a motivation for the adventure in there.

Perhaps you stumbled across this dungeon when you were growing up and always wondered what was down there that was so dangerous your parents wouldn’t let you explore it. Or your now-deceased mother had been an adventurer but had fled from this dungeon before exploring it thoroughly and you want to find out what could make a generally fearless woman flee in terror.

These are simply suggestions; you’ll do much better to find some reason yourself. The point is, that it doesn’t have to be a driving passion to provide motivation. Simple curiosity can be enough. Maybe the owner owes you some money and if you can’t get the money, you’re going to take payment in goods of equal value. Or perhaps you want to prove yourself a better adventurer than your mother who’s shadow you’ve been in since you started your career.

Character Relationships

That brings us to our next type of motivation: other people and the relationships your character has with them. It could be your favorite uncle asked you to check out the city sewers to find proof of the giant cybernetic rats and cockroaches he’s always said live down there. Maybe your familiar or a favorite pet wandered into the Mayor’s Mansion and hasn’t been seen or heard from since. Or maybe, just maybe, your brother dared you to go into the spooky cave.

Again, the reasons don’t have to be deep of life-changing or part of The Big Picture. It can be petty concerns. The important thing is to have a reason that will motivate you to undertake the adventure. It could even be something simply as the party’s cleric said “Please” when he asked you to come along. Of course, if you want to have this adventure affect your character deeply, go for it.

Character Goals

This brings us to our last set of motivations: your character’s goals. Maybe you want to collect one of every type of potion in the world. Or maybe you need some  scrapings from the wall to to mix the exact shade of grey paint to finish your current project. See, even here you don’t need grandiose ideas — simple ones will do as long as it gets your character moving.

Of course,  you’ll want to clear your motivation with your GM. If he hears, for instance, that you think there may be potions for your collection, then he’ll most likely go out of his way to put one in there as a reward.  Maybe you just want to complete your rock collection and the last type of rock you need is said to exist in this lich-controlled forest. placed in there.

Brainstorming or “Mind-Mapping” can help you find a reason. You can get special software for that, but I find good ol’ pen and paper work great for the job. If you’re really stuck, you might try having the GM other person you trust over for a brainstorming party. If something doesn’t come to you immediately, keep trying until you come up with something you can play. You’ll find the game much more enjoyable.

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