Tag Archives: Players

How to (Respectfully) Disagree With Your GM

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parrot discussionHere it is–the first post of our “Player Month”, designed to give advice to the players on how to make a game better. After all, the GM isn’t the only one playing and the players share some responsibility for making a game great.

At some point or another it will happen: your GM will make a call you don’t agree with. Do you just sit there and take it? After all, it’s the GM’s game and his word is law, right?

Well, yes and no. True, the GM decides the rules and has the final say on all matters. But that’s just it: the final say is final. That doesn’t mean you can’t have your input on making that final decision before it reaches the “final” part. There’s a big difference between a ruling and a final ruling. Depending on your GM, you can sometimes make your case and see if you can reach a compromise.

The trick here is that you need to make your cases respectfully. No shouting, no temper tantrums, no storming off. Here are some tips for successful resolution with your GM.

[Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/taylar/ / CC BY 2.0]

Figure out what you want

You need to do this before you talk to your GM. What do you want to come out of this discussion? What specific result are you looking for? It’s amazing how many players get into a “knee-jerk” reaction. They take issue with something the GM says or does, but they have no idea how they want that changed. If you have an idea of your ideal result, you can figure out a compromise much more easily.

Wait until after the session

You’re much more likely to get a positive result from a GM if you approach her after a game session, rather than during it. Bringing up an issue during the session takes up valuable play time. At best, it leaves other players with nothing to do; at worst, it opens the floor to a free-for-all argument as the other players try to put in their complaints. Not only does this make the GM feel like she’s begin ganged up on, it tends to make her dig her heels in and stick to her ruling.

Sometimes you can’t wait–for example, if your character’s about to die–and you have to deal with the issue during the session. You will, most likely, gain a better result if these cases are rare. That way, you’re more likely to get the “benefit of the doubt”, such as “Gee, he always talks to me after a session. It must be really important if he’s bringing it up now.”

Talk about specifics

When you do talk to your GM, you want to bring up a specific issue or ruling. If the GM doesn’t know exactly what’s bothering you, how can he fix it? Focusing on specifics also avoids the “Your game sucks” attitude, which is guaranteed to cause a GM to ignore anything you’ve got to say. Remember what you’re bringing up is your problem, not your GM’s.

A related point is to “marshal your argument” ahead of time. Why do you disagree with the ruling? What about it makes you unhappy or uncomfortable? Focus on how the ruling affects you and your character and cite specific examples. It’s most likely that the GM just didn’t foresee the problems you’re experiencing or didn’t see them as problems. You need to let him know why this is a problem.

Have alternative suggestions

This goes along with knowing what result you want. It’s much more likely a GM will listen and adjust things accordingly if you have some ideas on how to fix the problem. Even if she doesn’t seem to keen on changing things, having something specific to try out (“Can we try this next week and see if it works?”) is much more likely to bring a change in your favor than a “this is a problem with your game–fix it” attitude.

When you’re thinking of suggestions, take the game as a whole in to consideration. Think about how your idea(s) will affect game balance and the other players. Also consider the plot of the game as you know it so far and what you foresee happening in the future. This communicates to your GM that you’re not just looking for a result that makes you the center of the game or gives you an über-character.

Take the GM’s final word gracefully

Only your GM knows the whole game. It’s possible that the “bad” ruling needs to stand because of something that’s coming down the pipe. There’ve been many times during a game when I’ve had to say “There’s a reason, trust me.” After all, if you can’t trust your GM maybe it’s time to find a new group.

Final thoughts

As always, watch your manner and your tone as you bring anything up with your GM. Remember your Ps and Qs and common-sense advice (focus on the problem, not the person; use “I” language; remember who owns the problem, etc.).

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Evil Does Not Equal Stupid: 8 Tips for Playing Evil Characters

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evil-vs-goodWhether as a PCs or an NPCs, evil characters tend to get the short end of the stick. All too often, they’re portrayed as short-sighted, reactionary, shallow, and … well, stupid. Frequently, all evil characters look and act the same, like they are clones of one another. Which is a real shame; after all, what’s more engaging to your players than defeating a worthy opponent? Here are eight tips for making your evil characters more in-depth and engaging.

(Image courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/helico/ / CC BY 2.0)

  1. Evil is not a personality trait. It’s too broad a term to be a personality trait; it’s like saying that “human” is a personality trait. If you ask someone to define evil, they’ll give you a laundry list of actions, beliefs, and attitudes. It’s these things that can be called “evil”. An evil person is someone who performs these actions, just as a good person is someone who performs actions we identify as “good”.
  2. Evil is culturally determined. While there are some broad generalities—most (if not all) cultures in our world view intentional murder as evil, for example—what actions and beliefs are classified as “evil” or “good” vary from culture to culture. A classic example is slavery: most modern cultures would classify slavery as evil, but most ancient cultures viewed slavery as a part of everyday life.
  3. Evil characters don’t necessarily view themselves as evil. Usually, evil characters believe their actions were necessary and justified. A Lawful Evil ruler would view himself as a law-giver, someone who brings order out of chaos. A Neutral Evil character could see himself as a survivor, someone who’s forced to take the actions he does because of how the world treats him. A Chaotic Evil character might seem himself as a revolutionary, breaking down or circumventing unfair rules.
  4. Evil characters have relationships with other people. Every character has relationships. Even if they’re dedicated loners, they still know people and at least some people know them. Evil characters have (or had) families,  playmates, fellow church members, fellow students, bosses, underlings … all the relationships other characters have.
  5. Evil characters have many emotions. Too many evil characters (in film, novels, and TV, as well as RPGs) seem to be little more than cardboard cutouts. Their only emotions seem to be selfishness, hatred and revenge. The best evil characters are those that have the full variety of emotions—love, hate, revenge, happiness, sorrow—the same emotions good and neutral characters have. They can even fall in love. The main difference between evil characters and other characters is that they express those feelings in very selfish ways.
  6. Evil characters have back-stories. Evil characters don’t (usually) spring full-grown out of thin air. They have histories: they were born/created somewhere, grew up somewhere, learned their skills somewhere. Generally, there are people somewhere who knew them before the present moment. And those histories and past experiences helped to shape them into the people they are now.
  7. Evil characters have values and goals. Evil characters do the things they do for a reason. Only in parodies or broad comedies can they take actions for no other reason than “to be evil.” An evil character can seek to bring order, remove a threat, increase their wealth. Generally, they won’t view their goals as evil: instead they’ll see them as justified or necessary. These values and goals (rather than evilness itself)  should motivate your evil characters. A big difference between evil and good characters is that an evil person will take whatever action she deems necessary, regardless of its impact on other people.
  8. Evil characters can do good works. They can act law-abiding (usually out of fear, rather then a desire to do what’s right), generous, gracious, concerned, affectionate, if that’s what needs to be done to accomplish their goals.

Playing evil characters

Generally, you’ll play an evil character just as you would play a good one. The main difference is that the evil character will pursue his own agenda, no matter the cost to other people. But that doesn’t mean she’ll do the most rash and immediate thing, nor does it mean that when faced with a moral question, she’ll always take the opposite action of a good character.

Make sure your evil character has a reason for taking the actions beyond “it’s the evil thing to do.” That one thing alone will make your evil character stand out in a good way 😉 .

Playing evil characters can be a lot of fun. Just remember that they take as much (or more) work than a good character of similar importance to the game. Look at your character as a whole person, figure out his goals and what he’s willing to do achieve them. You’ll get more enjoyment out of your game and so will your players.

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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.

Handling Problem Players

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frustrated GMWe all get them: the incessant rules lawyer who challenges your every call; the “loopholer” who will exploit everything not nailed down in the rules to gain that extra +1 advantage; the player who takes everything that happens to their character as an attack on themselves…

Dealing with problem players is never easy. Here’s a collection of resources to help you when you’ve got no idea where to turn:

Fred’s Missing *Again*?

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Every player has days they can’t make a game. Sometimes, a great conjunction of events happens and a player has to miss a session at the very last minute. It happens to all of us.

These aren’t the players I’m referring to.

It can be one of the most frustrating things about a running a game: having players who are chronic no-shows. My ex-husband and his brother are players like this. My ex was once 8 hours late to a game (without calling) and couldn’t figure out why everyone was mad at him. I usually found out that his brother wasn’t going to make a game when my father-in-law announced it on the way in the door for the game session itself.

Unfortunately, I’ve only found one cure for it — boot them from that game and don’t accept them into another. I don’t like to be mean. I understand real life — I’m a single parent, I work, take care of a house and deal with a chronic and sometimes dehibilitating illness. I try very hard to warn the GMs of any game I’m going to be in that I may have to “no-show” at the last minute for health reasons. But I try very hard to call and let the GM know as soon as I can. Most of my players are IT people and are frequently on-call. I have one great player who hasn’t been able to make it to character-building sessions for my new game because he’s been pulling 10 hour days at work dealing with server issues. I can work with this.

But the chronic “I just don’t feel like coming” or the person who habitually turns up 1+ hours late with no call and no explanation infuriates me. It’s rude. It’s unfair the GM who’s usually put in a lot of work for each character in the game and is basing that game on the fact that certain PC’s are going to be there. It’s unfair to the other players, especially if the MIA player is a crucial character for an upcoming encounter or situation. In my opinion, it’s a sign of supreme selfishness.

I make allowences for real life; I don’t make allowances for selfish indifference.

What Your Players Don’t Need to Know

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I’m taking a break from Meadowbrook for a few days; I don’t want this blog to become “all Meadowbrook all the time”. I’m considering starting another blog devoted to world-building that would chronicle my development of Meadowbrook and it’s surrounding world; if this is something that would interest you, please leave me a comment. Now, onto your regularly scheduled post. 😉

For years, I’ve used information as a commodity in my games. I generally run “limited information” campaigns, where I try not to give the players any more knowledge about the situation and/or world than their characters would know. This isn’t about “cheating”; I have excellent group of players who are well-skilled at separating character knowledge from player knowledge and playing accordingly. What I’ve found, though, is that when player knowledge matches character knowledge, the players can relax more. They don’t feel like they have to police themselves to stop and think Hey, would my character actually know this? before they take action.

An useful outcome of this is that information becomes its own reward. Especially when it comes to a PCs individual goals. For example: if the party does a favor for a prince, as a reward he may be able to tell them the location of the tower belonging to the evil wizard that killed their team member.  You don’t always have to give out money, treasure, spells, or what-not to your PCs. Information can be just as valuable and won’t ratchet up your PCs experience level or ability to obliterate your bad guys; this can help you keep the PCs from rising in power earlier than you’re ready for them to.

You can make choices about how secretive and hard to gain information is in your game. Do all party members know everything any other member knows? How closely do they guard their own backgrounds from the rest of their party? This can vary between one GM to the next. I’ve known many GMs who don’t like the PCs to keep secrets from one another; they feel it causes divisiveness among character who are supposed to work as a team. I err on the restrictive side: more often than not, I tightly control information in my games. I usually set up their character’s background with her player separately, then let the player decide how much information to give the others.

During the game itself, I generally give information out based on PC had access. If one or two of the PCs wander ahead and overhear a conversation between a vampire and her childe, for example, I usually take them aside or write a note (if it’s short) to describe what they hear. I then leave it up to the players to reveal the information as the characters see fit. If, on the other hand, I know that the scouting PC is going to go and immediately relate what he overheard, then I’ll go ahead and describe the conversation to the whole group, so neither the player nor the GM has to repeat themselves, particularly if the conversation is long or complicated. So it’s purely situational — think “Will the other PCs also hear this or will they know about it in the ten to fifteen minutes?” If so, it’s a lot easier to tell the whole group what transpires.

Sometimes even players will get into the limited information act. I once ran an Amber game where two of the PCs decided to marry and all of the players kept it secret for a couple of weeks, real time. They didn’t want me to find out about it beforehand so I wouldn’t have time to plan something to go wrong with the wedding. Other GMs might hate being in the dark about any aspect of their game, but I loved it.

Some games lead themselves to secrecy better than others. Amber and Vampire have secrecy as a core concept and I rigidly control the flow of information in those games. I tend to be more free with information in a D&D game, for example, but I still allow the players to determine how much of their character’s knowledge they share. It all depends on your style and preference.

Player Contributions

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Said while making snacks for the group …
Dave [player]: Hey, can I have experience points for baking cookies?
GM: Sure, Dave can have 200 experience points; Billee [his character] can’t.

[12 Aug 2009 Note: There’s an updated version of this post at Player contributions, Take Two.]

I first ran across the idea of player/character contributions when I started running the Amber Diceless RPG. The idea is simple: you get more points to build your character if you agree to do something helpful for the GM every game session. The exact details are left up to the GM and player to work out. I tried it as written in the rules, but soon met a major snag — getting players to follow through. Usually, I’d get enthusiastic contributions for 3-4 game sessions, then nothing. I tried giving giving out “luck” penalties — i.e. the player’s character would have strokes of bad luck for that game session — to those who didn’t live up to their agreement, but that seemed too punitive. Especially since most “non-contributors” just found they simply didn’t have time to keep up with it. Real Life™ would intrude.

Finally, I came upon an idea that worked. I honestly don’t remember if someone else gave me the idea or if I thought of it on my own. Instead of giving extra character creation points at the outset, I would hand out a small amount of experience points each game session I received a contribution. That way, no one would have to feel guilty if their child got the flu the previous week or if term papers were due, etc. Also, if a player who normally didn’t turn in anything got a sudden burst of inspiration, she could make a single contribution, without having to take on a long-term commitment she wouldn’t be able to keep up.

What kinds of things make good character contributions? Most of my games are very character-driven. Character backgrounds really do matter and will have an effect on the game as a whole. So the more I know about someone’s character, the better I can include them in the game. I generally hand out an optional character questionnaire to each player at the beginning of a new campaign. Filling that out and returning it to me is a favorite contribution for my players. Character portraits also count and, yes, I do accept references to book covers or movies as character portraits, as well as written descriptions; I don’t think this contribution should be limited to just those who can draw. As far as character journals go, each player can specify if his journal exists in-game (where another character may be able to find and read it) or out of it (just between the player and the GM).

Character journals and game session notes are definitely my favorite contributions to receive. I run “off the cuff”; frequently, my game notes for a particular session are a list of NPC names and possible locations. I make up most of the details during the game session and I find that if I stop to take notes, I lose the flow of the game. So having someone else in the group writing this stuff down for me is a huge help. That way, I don’t run into a problem of Bill But-You-Said-Last-Week-His-Name-Is-Fred, the baker.

I’ve also given out experience points for writing in-game newspaper articles, making topographical maps of an area or architectural drawings of important buildings, mapping genealogies of a country’s royal family, creating game “props” (such as a treasure map), … even writing an in-game academic dissertation complete with fictional bibliography and proper footnotes, penned by one of the PCs.

Basically, I’ll give out small amounts of experience for anything that is pertinent to the game and helps decrease my workload. How small? In Amber, World of Darkness, etc. games, I hand out one experience point per game session. On rare occasion, I might give out two for something that the player worked really hard at (see the academic dissertation above). For a AD&D game, I usually award 100 – 200 experience points, depending on how useful and detailed the contribution is. But in all cases, I have one overarching rule — a character can only get experience for one contribution each game session.

Of course, I’m the final arbitrator about what constitutes an helpful contribution and how much experience a PC gets.

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