Jul 20

A Gaming with Kids Con Story

Here’s a quick story from the convention scene.

Running a characters-provided con D&D game for a mom, her 11-year-old, and 4 adult friends of the mom.

Point comes in the story where 11-year-old is about to realize his PC
is the child of one of the other PCs, and that neither knows it.

I ask to take a break, and pull the kid aside – I take him out in
the hall, just him and me. I explain the situation that he’s about to
encounter, and we talk about how his character would react to the news.
A little pre-RP if you will. It’s an important moment in the story, and
I want to make sure he’s prepared.

He’s pretty excited by it – “Wow – my character never knew who his dad was? And it turns out to be someone he just met by accident! Coooool.” But he decides his PC would not take the news well. “Why did you abandon me!” and all that.

So we go back into the room after 10 minutes of discussion (rest of
the players were on health break), and the mom has this very uneasy
look on her face. She looks me in the eye and says “What have you been doing out there with my son?” And the way she says it, I feel like a child molester or something.

But the kid responds to his mom “Oh, you’ll see“, with this devilish grin, and she seems placated.

So the scene plays out, and the guy who is playing the ‘dad’ to the
kid’s PC totally drops the RP ball – just lets the revelation slide by
in order to get to more of the ‘adventure’.

But the kid saves the day – stopping the game to go stand by the
other player and confront his PC – big scene, the rest of the players
jump in, and it turns in to a spectacular RP moment for all.

At the end the mom thanked me profusely for spending so much time helping her son with the rules, RP, etc. I had to tell her “No offense…but by the end, he was the best player at the table“. And in typical mom fashion, she ignored the sideways insult and walked away very proud of her son…

Dec 21

Tabletop RPGs: On Sportsmanship

One often overlooked aspect of play, especially competitive play, is Sportsmanship.  Role-Playing Games in general have a dubious relationship with Sportsmanship, as certain games emphasize an adversarial relationship between players, or between the players and the Game Master.  However, the mark of a truly great Role-Player is the abilty to Role-Play their character to the hilt, while still helping new players, bringing out shy players, and taking an appropriate share of the GM’s time.  This article discusses why good players fall short of great becuase of poor Sportsmanship.

But what is Sportsmanship in this context?

  • Share the table with your fellow players.  Even if your characters are at odds, you should not be.
  • Share the GM’s time.  Do not dominate the GM’s time – share!
  • Help newer players or shy players.  You should be working hard to bring out each other character’s relationship with your own.  A lot of great players spend more time talking to the other PCs than to the GM.
  • Help the GM.  Rules arguments, mustering arguments, and so forth don’t show good Sportsmanship.
  • Positive Attitude.  Excessive complaining, throwing things in anger, and so forth are not appropriate.
  • Go with the feel of the event.  If the event is Role-Playing focused, lay off the problem solving.  If the event is combat focused, lay off the unfocused Role-Playing.
  • Let people play. Let other players talk in character if they wish.  Out-Of-Character requests to “hurry up” are not appropriate.
  • If you sign up for an event, stay until the end.  We had one player show up for an event, even though he knew he would have to leave 20 minutes after it started.  Wha?
  • Focus on having a good time.  Some people get so focused on winning that they forget that they are there to have fun.  Continually ask yourself, “What could make this moment more fun?”
  • Play your character as written.  If your character says that you are indecisive and rely on others to advise you, don’t make all the decisions yourself.

I believe that players that focus on Fun and Sportsmanship will find themselves in the winner’s circle more often, and will engender much goodwill and great experiences.

Dec 21

Tabletop RPGs: Character-Provided Scenario Writing Tips

Here is my super-quick checklist guide to making characters for a convention RPG scenario that has characters provided!


  • Sense of Adventure
  • Scenario Not Out To Get Them
  • Interesting & Different
  • Good Rewards
  • Exciting Pace


  • Each Character is “Winnable”
  • Each Character Has Equal Importance to the Scenario
  • Setting/Background in Explainable in 15 Minutes


  • No Anachronisms
  • Fits the Campaign Setting
  • Fits the Game System
  • Internally Consistent
  • Just Makes Sense


  • Spell-Checked
  • Edited
  • No Missing Maps/Handouts
  • Read-Aloud Text is Readable
  • Formatted Correctly
Dec 21

Tabletop RPGs: 5 Principles: Preparation

Here is the first in my series of articles on what I call the 5 Principles of Great Gaming!

Why Prepare?
Even game masters that run adventures completely on the fly prepare.  It’s a matter of what they prepare.  In general, like any craft, the more second nature game mastering is to you, the easier and more fun it will be.  You can take as much time as you like to learn and understand things before you hit the table.

So, practice is critical, but what do you practice?  This section guides your training regimen.
Some of the suggestions in this section may sound extreme, but they are all things practiced by great judges.

Knowing the Scenario

  1. Know it Inside And Out: It is critically important that you have read and fully understand the scenario you are to run.
  1. Annotate: Annotate your printed scenario with pen and highlighter to help you memorize it, and reference it later.
  2. Memorize: You should be able to at least summarize the adventure without looking at it.  The more you memorize, the less you have to lose focus on the game to figure out what you are doing, and the less chance there is that you will miss something important. 2.    Get Your Questions Answered: If you have questions about the scenario, ask the author (if possible), another judge, or the event coordinator.
  • Sooner the Better: Have your questions answered before you get to the con.
    1. Fill in Missing Stuff: If maps, handouts, or explanations are missing, make them up yourself if unavailable elsewhere.
    2. Share the Knowledge: Ask the coordinator to pass the answers to your questions to the other judges of the scenario.
    3. Run Living Scenarios the Same: It prevents a lot of headaches if all the judges run Living Scenarios the same way.  It helps alleviate the inevitable player feelings of unfair treatment.
    4. Think of the Possibilities: Try and guess what the players might do, and what you might do in response.  If you can’t figure it out from the scenario, ask.
  • Know the Story: Beyond knowing the events of the scenario, you need to know the story of the scenario, so if player actions take them outside the proscribed events.
    1. Read the Background: Too often, new judges only skim the background of the scenario, and can’t explain how the scenario fits into the greater scheme of events.
    2. Understand the NPCs: Understand not only the game mechanics of the NPCs and monsters, but their motivations within the story.  When the players throw you a curve, you can put yourself in the NPC’s shoes, and make an informed decision.
    1. Know the Setting: The better knowledge and understanding you have of the scenario’s setting, the better you will be able to improvise in response to player actions.  This applies to the general setting, such as heroic fantasy, as well as the specific setting, such as the County of Urnst, or even Radigast City.
    1. Study the Setting: Read the information available on the setting you are running in.
    2. Pay Attention:  Pay attention when you are playing scenarios in that setting.
    3. Pick out Your Favorite Stuff: Pick out the things that make the setting unique and interesting to you.

    5.    Pay Attention In Slot 0’s: If you happen to get a chance to play the scenario before you run it, pay attention!  Keep notes, you will forget.

    1. a.    What Worked: Keep notes of the stuff that the DM did that you particularly liked.
    2. b.    What Didn’t: Keep notes of trouble spots so that you can fix them when you run it.
    3. c.    Annotate the Scenario: It is amazingly helpful if the group goes over the written scenario as a group after playing it, and compares what is written to what they just played.

    Honing Your Skills

    1.    Improve Continuously: The best judges are always striving to get better.
    a.    Pay Attention: Every time you play or run, think about what you and your judge could do to be better (have more fun within the context of the game).
    b.    Practice: Keep doing it.  Form a home group and learn from them.
    2.    Where to Improve: Identify where you need to improve, and practice that.
    a.    Player Feedback:  Actively solicit feedback from players, before and after the game.
    i.    Before: Find out what types of things they enjoy, and what they didn’t like last time they played with you.
    ii.    After: Find out what parts they liked the best, or remember most vividly and what they would rather have you do next time.
    b.    Comfort Level: If you are uncomfortable in an area, such as running spellcasting NPCs, practice until you do feel comfortable.
    i.    Expand Your Play: If you aren’t comfortable with the powers of a certain type of NPC, try and play that type as a PC.
    3.    Focus on One Thing: Each time you play or run, try to focus on improving a specific skill, such as characterizing NPCs, or giving equal treatment to each player.
    a.    Evaluate: Remember to evaluate yourself when your done to see how you did.
    4.    Bag of Tricks: File things that work for you in your notes or in your mind so that you can use them again and again.
    a.    NPCs: If you can do an accent or a facial expression particularly well, use it whenever you can!  A few spectacular characters are more memorable than a dozen good ones.
    b.    Encounters: Oftentimes you will need to create an encounter on the fly to handle players going off the track.  File these creations so that you can enhance them next time you need them, as opposed to recreating them from scratch.
    c.    Rationalizations: If you have an explanation in your mind for why a particular rule works the way it does, have it handy to forestall debate.
    d.    Maps: How many times will you need to draw a tavern, or a wooded road?  Either make a map and keep it with you, or practice drawing them so that you can do it fast, and make interesting variations.
    5.    Steal: If you see something you like in another GM’s performance, or in the media, steal it!
    a.    Keep it in Context: Inserting Ally McBeal dialogue into a fantasy game can break the mood unless you convert it carefully.
    b.    Mix-and-Match: Often you can disguise the origin of something by mixing it with something else.
    i.    Movie Pitch Formula: “He’s like Homer Simpson on drugs, but built like Arnold.”
    c.    Make it Your Own: Taking something you like and enhance it with your own style and talent.  You can make your own famous characters and lines!
    d.    Use Books:  Fewer people have read a given book than seen a given movie or TV show.  Read something new and different for inspiration.

    Knowing the Rules
    Great game masters can run any game without knowing the rules, and make it look like they know what they are doing.  It comes from a lot of practice, and a deep understanding of what makes each game similar and different.  It also comes from a heavy reliance of the players to deal with the rules.

    But before you can get to that point, you need to learn the rules to a least a few games!  In today’s d20 world, you are in luck!

    1.    Read the Rules:  It is amazing how much you can learn by reading
    the rules yourself, as opposed to relying on other people to interpret them for you.
    a.    The Big Picture: Read lightly through the whole book, to get a good overview of what the game is about, and where stuff is so you know it exists and can look up the specifics later.
    b.    One Thing at a Time: It is often helpful to focus a deep understanding of a particular issue once you have the big picture.  For example, Trip Attacks, or Dragons (or both together).
    2.    Put it to Use: Use what you learn as soon as you can.
    i.    Home Game: Try out a new technique on your home group.
    ii.    Practice Scenario: Set up a practice scenario that helps you work through the rules.
    3.    Discuss: Going over the rules with other judges helps cement them in your mind.
    4.    Player Look-Up: Let the players look up the particular rule they are interested in abusing.  It is good practice for them, and keeps you focused on the game.  If they refuse, declare a ruling and move on.
    5.    Be Confident and Flexible:  You will get rules wrong.  It happens to everyone.  But come to the table with the attitude that you know what you are doing, but be open-minded enough to change your opinion on things if you see sufficient evidence.
    a.    Don’t Be Afraid:  If you get a ruling wrong, it’s easy to change your mind!  Don’t be obsessed with being right all the time, or be afraid of being wrong all the time.
    b.    Let Bad Rulings Go: If you have a ruling proven to be wrong, let it go, even if you prefer it.
    6.    Death & Level Drain Caution: The time when you need to be most sure of yourself, and take time to make sure everyone understands what is happening, is when permanent effects to characters (especially Living characters) are involved, such as death, level loss, or punishment by law enforcement.
    a.    Check Yourself: You should always be sure that what you are doing isn’t the result of a grudge, frustration, or malice.
    b.    Read and understand the rules surrounding Death, Raise Dead, and Level Loss until you can quote them in your sleep!
    c.    Be Prepared For Hell: If you kill a PC, especially a Living PC, be prepared for hell.  That isn’t saying you pull every punch, just be prepared for the result and be very sure of yourself.
    7.    Solve Arguments Quickly: Nothing is more frustrating to everyone involved than a prolonged rules argument.  The better prepared you are with the rules, the less this will be a problem, but players will always argue the rules, even if the designer of the game is running them (I’ve seen it!).
    a.    Two Exchange Rule: If you can’t come to a conclusion in two quick verbal exchanges, have the player look up the reference, being prepared to rewind their action if need be.  If they can’t find it by their next action, declare a result and move on.
    b.    Build Trust: By spending the time to learn the rules, and apply them fairly (see the Fairness section for more) you build trust with your players, so that they are less likely to argue rules with you, and more likely to have fun!
    c.    Don’t Get Run Over: Don’t let aggressive players run all over you with rules questions.  If they won’t look it up and show you the reference when they are arguing, declare a result that makes sense to you and move on.  Many times bad rule interpretations last for a long time because obnoxious players are spouting them at the top of their lungs!

    It is your job to make sure that you do everything you can to create an atmosphere in which people can have fun, and maintain that atmosphere despite player sabotage.

    Before the Game

    1.    Love the Scenario: You as the GM need to be enthusiastic about the scenario, or the players will notice and develop a hostile attitude toward you and the scenario, which is no fun for anyone.
    a.    Clarify: If you see something that doesn’t make sense and annoys you, try and get clarification from the author (if possible), other judges, or the event coordinator.  Oftentimes such annoyances are easily remedied.
    b.    Fix the Scenario: If there are things you can’t abide by in the scenario, fix them.  This is much harder to do in Living events, as there is an importance attached to running them the same for each group, but as long as you have the players’ best interest in mind, you should fix things.
    c.    Reject the Scenario: If the scenario is just too awful, and you can’t stand the thought of running it, reject it.  Only do this as a last resort.
    i.    Do this ASAP:  Don’t wait until the week before the con to declare the scenario trash.  You need to sign up to judge early enough to make this decision without compromising the convention.
    2.    Love the Setting: If you can’t stand Greyhawk, or Living City, why are you running it?
    a.    Let it Die: You aren’t doing anyone a favor by running something you hate.  If you dislike it that much, let it die!
    b.    Polish the Gems: Every setting has things about it that make it great.  Find them, and present them to your players with relish.
    3.    Find Your Comfort Zone: Find a style, a setting, and a rules system that you can love, and run it.
    a.    Learn Something New: Don’t forget to try new things on a regular basis so that you can find your new love!
    b.    Don’t Be Guilt Tripped: Don’t volunteer to run something you don’t like just because the con needs judges for it.  Find something you do like and volunteer to run that instead.
    i.    Player Exception: If you are an avid player in a Living campaign, you have an obligation to run it, in exchange for others running it for you on an ongoing basis.  If you can’t stand to run it, but you love to play it, are you part of the problem?
    4.    Be Passionate: If you are passionate about the game, the setting, and the scenario, that will come across to the players!
    5.    Don’t be a Prima Donna: Don’t make others suffer for your preferences and attitude.
    a.    Be Honest: If you don’t like running something, tell the coordinator.  Better they find out before the players come griping to them.  Make sure the coordinator understands your preferences, so that they don’t stick you with something you end up hating them for.
    b.    Keep Bargaining to a Minimum: Don’t come to the coordinator with devilish bargains about trading playing for judging.  It just pisses them off in the long run.  Tell them exactly what you’d love to run, and if they offer you something in return, accept graciously.

    During the Game

    1. Don’t Slam the Scenario: Whatever you do, do not sit down and proclaim that this is the worst scenario you have ever read.  If you feel that way, you should have either fixed it or rejected it (see above).
    2. Maintain a Positive Attitude: Keep up the attitude during the game by embracing and feeding off of the fun your players are having.
    1. Grab on to the Good Stuff: Find the players who are having fun within the context of the game, and encourage them.  Their enthusiasm combined with yours will be infectious.
    2. Nip the Bad Stuff Fast: Don’t let players bitch for more than one or two exchanges.
    1. Gloss Over It: Sometimes players are just grumpy.  Turn their grumpiness into a joke, and move on.
    2. Look for the Source: Why are they bringing the game down?
  • Is it You: Are you annoying them?  If so, can you change?
  • Jerks: Are they just jerks?  You need to take a firm hand.
    1. Don’t Punish the PC of an Annoying Player: It always comes back poorly on you in the end.  Tell the player straight that they are being annoying, and what they can do to fix it.
  • Take Breaks if you Need To: No one is happy when they are starving or have to pee.
  • Read the Players: Keep your finger on the pulse of the players.  It is your responsibility to spice up a flagging game, or cool off heated tempers.  Give them what they want.
  • After The Game

    1. Leave a Good Impression: Most players will remember the last 30 minutes of the game more than any other part.  Make them enjoyable.
    2. Don’t Rush: If time is running out, don’t rush the players.
    3. Clip: Cut something out, and play the end whole,
    4. Summarize: You can summarize things like combat, especially if the outcome is clear.  Don’t be anal about finishing a long combat, unless the players are super gung-ho.
    5. Leave Time for Paperwork: Make sure you leave plenty of time to fill out any required paperwork.
    6. Give Good Feedback:  Tell the players and the GM how much fun you had, what things were great, and how things could be even better next time.
    Dec 21

    Tabletop RPGs: 5 Principles: Fairness

    -=Before The Game=-
    1.    Don’t Pre-judge Players: Give everyone an equal chance.

    -=During The Game=-
    1.    Players are Not the Enemy:  Do not treat the players or their characters as your enemies.
    a.    Cooperative Atmosphere: You need to build an atmosphere of congenial cooperation at the table.
    i.    NPCs vs. You: Make it clear when NPCs are talking and when you are talking.  The evil wizard being angry at the intruders is a different matter than you being angry at the players for screwing up the scenario.  Make sure its clear which is which.
    ii.    You are in Charge: Games are like wagons.  The PCs are the horses, and you are riding on the wagon, throwing down road in front of them.  Most of the time, the PCs are go where they wish, but don’t be afraid to grab the reins if things are getting out of control.
    iii.    Keep Play Friendly: Don’t let a few obnoxious players spoil the game.  Tell them straight what they need to do differently.
    2.    Let the Players Play: Your job is to come up with a way to let the players play they characters how they want to, not to make them play your game.
    a.    Enable their Ideas: Come up with a way to let the characters do what they want to, assigning appropriate difficulty.  If they want to jump off a building onto a running horse firing their crossbow at the guy behind them, come up with what you think that entails, and let them try!  Give them a fair and reasonable chance of success, and let them know what they are in for.
    b.    Suggest Gently: If they are unsure what to do (especially new players), give them a few suggested courses of action to get their thoughts going, but don’t be offended if they pick something else, even if you think it’s stupid.  Don’t tell the players what to do.  You have enough to think about.
    c.    Make it Memorable:  Many of the best moments in games come from GMs letting the players try wild, cinematic stuff.  Even if they fail, it will be spectacular!
    5.    Don’t Play Favorites:  Don’t take certain people’s ideas more seriously, or worse yet, give them more play time just because they are:
    a.    Your Friends: You may know them and their play very well.  Their style may mesh well with yours.  But, everyone else at the table deserves your full consideration.
    i.    Start Low: If anything, start out paying more attention to the strangers at the table, so that you can get a feel for them.  You already know your friends!
    b.    Attractive: Don’t pay more attention to certain players just because of their physical attributes.
    c.    Not Your Style: Some players just may not have the same play style you do.  It is your job as the GM to set the tone of the game from the start, and adjust it to match the players as you go on.
    i.    Play the Field: The best GMs can expertly shift the game to suit each player throughout the session, so everyone gets a chance to shine.
    d.    Aggressive: Some players will try and dominate play.  You need to help them share the game with everyone else. Don’t let them steamroll you.  Make them talk to the hand if you have to.
    e.    Quiet: Very quiet players, A.K.A., “rocks”, or “plants”, deserve your attention too.
    i.    Prod Them: Go out of your way to ask them what they are doing, and don’t let obnoxious players talk over them.
    ii.    Praise Them: If they do something cool, point it out!

    -=Articles in this Series=-
    [http://rp-artisans.org/tiki/tiki-read_article.php?articleId=24|Positive Energy]

    Dec 21

    Tabletop RPGs: 5 Principles: Focus

    You need to set the precedent.  If you aren’t focused, the players won’t be either.

    -=Before The Game=-
    1.    Adequate Preparation Time: Commit yourself adequate time to prepare to run.
    2.    Show Up On Time: This is the most important thing you can do as a GM.
    3.    Have a Food Plan: Figure out how you are going to feed yourself, so you don’t have to take long breaks during the game, or beg someone else to get food for you.

    -=During The Game=-
    1.    Don’t Chat: Limit conversation with people not playing at your table to 2-3 exchanges, unless it is with the coordinator regarding the event you are currently running.
    a.    Make Time Between Games: Make sure that you leave plenty of time between games so that you and your players can chat with each other, and with everyone else.
    2.    Don’t Read: If you know the scenario, and have annotated it well, you should not have to sit there and read it for more than 30 seconds at a time.
    a.    Call A Break: If you do get stuck, and have to spend some time refreshing your memory, call a break, and spend it catching yourself up, so that you won’t have to do it again.
    3.    Don’t Reminisce: The worst possible thing you can do during a game is start reminiscing about other games, your college years, your love life, etc.  Save it for between games or the bar.
    4.    Don’t Anachronize: Movie quotes belong in the bar.  Keep them there.  You are here playing this game, right here right now.  Keep everyone’s mind in it by keeping out of game commentary to a minimum.
    5.    Keep Your Mind On The Game: Even when the PCs are talking amongst each other, you should be thinking about what’s coming up next, and how to tweak the ending to fit in the time slot, not about your taxes.
    6.    Stay Engaged:  The players should feel like you are playing the same game that you are.  If their actions have no effect, or you ignore them, they will quickly lose interest.
    7.    Keep Track of Names: If you have to make up a name for an NPC, or some other factoid on the fly, write it down somewhere, so it doesn’t distract from the game when you scramble for what you have forgotten.
    8.    Don’t Get Sidetracked: If a few of the PCs are interested in pursuing some encounter to death, and the rest of the players are rolling their eyes, wrap it up smoothly.  Pleasing a few PCs to the exclusion of the others isn’t fair.
    a.    Seems Fun at the Time: Sometimes it will seem like the PCs are having a good time pursuing some side track, and then they are grumpy later when they realize that they didn’t get to the end, or were on the wrong track the whole time.  Don’t fall into this trap, because they will remember how they felt at the end of the game, not the middle!

    -=Articles in this Series=-
    [http://rp-artisans.org/tiki/tiki-read_article.php?articleId=24|Positive Energy]

    Dec 21

    Tabletop RPGs: 5 Principles: Fun

    The whole purpose of this experience is to have a good time.  Don’t forget that!

    -=Before the Game=-
    1.    Anticipate: Imagine each scene playing out, and how you can squeeze the most fun out of it.  Sometimes just imagining various outcomes can make you chuckle.  It will also help you be prepared for crazy players.
    a.    Pick A Player: Many players excel at throwing the GM curves.  Picture one of those players in this scene, and what they might do.
    2.    Make Stuff: You can have a lot of fun making maps, props, and player aids.  Just don’t turn it into a chore.  Don’t go Martha on things.
    3.    Hype the Game: Hype up how cool the game is going to be to everyone you know.  Build excitement!
    4.    Cackle Evilly:  You know you want to.

    -=During the Game=-
    1.    Watch Your Players:  Keep an eye out for players picking up reading materials, standing up away from the table, chatting with people outside the game, or scowling.
    a.    What’s Up?: See if you can figure out why they aren’t engaged and having fun, and see if you can bring them back in.  Call a break and ask them if you have to.
    b.    Change Pace: Sometimes just wrapping up the current encounter and moving along is enough to reengage people.
    c.    Take Breaks: No one is having fun if they are starving or have to pee.
    2.    Keep it Interesting: Players, especially experienced players, bore easily.  You need to keep the game interesting to keep them engaged and having fun.
    a.    Don’t Drag: Many new GMs will let things like combat, or puzzles drag forever.  The game should be quick and exciting.
    b.    Don’t Let Them Flounder: If the players don’t get it, give them increasingly blatant hints, but don’t let them flounder for more than a few minutes.  When was the last time a movie character scratched his head in real time?
    c.    Don’t Give it Away: On the other hand, you should at least give them a chance to figure things out for themselves.
    d.    Vary the Pace and Tone: Don’t make every scene super high energy, or tense and spooky.  You need to vary the pace and tone of the game to keep players’ interest.
    3.    Make It Memorable:  You know that players are having fun when they are grinning, shaking their heads and muttering “There never going to believe this!”
    a.    Jaw Dropping: Creating scenes that just wow the players with their events, their intensity, or their over the top humor is a good way to get remembered fondly.
    b.    Involved: Players remember the things that they did more than anything else.  Give them the opportunities to make their own memorable moments.
    i.    Bait Them: If you know that a particular character hates slavery, throw it in!
    ii.    Tease Them: The PCs are heroes, and naturally attractive to NPCs.  Remember to keep it appropriate.
    iii.    Call Them by Name: If the bad guys are worried enough to know the PCs’ names, it will help pull the players in.
    iv.    Let Them Shine: Tweak encounters so that the PCs can take advantage of their special abilities and quirks.
    v.    Reward Them: If the players come up with a great idea, or the PCs do something amazing, make a big deal out of it!  Just make sure to keep it fair.
    1.    In Character: Don’t penalize the PCs for circumventing the scenario.  If they do something brilliant, figure out a way to reward them in character.
    vi.    Repercussions: The world should respond to what the PCs do.  Nothing is more frustrating to a player than feeling like they aren’t making a difference.

    -=Articles in this Series=-
    [http://rp-artisans.org/tiki/tiki-read_article.php?articleId=24|Positive Energy]

    Dec 21

    Tabletop RPGs: 5 Principles: Players

    Although this document is meant mainly as advice to Game Masters, you should consider all of the advice to apply to players as well.

    You’ll notice that a big chunk of advice in the points above deals with problem players.  Why not make things easier and more fun and not be one?

    1.    Bring your positive energy to the game, and share it with everyone!
    2.    Think like your character, and talk as your character.
    3.    Help others, not only with rules, but with getting engaged with the game, coming out of their shells, and having fun!
    4.    Be reasonable about the rules, and go with the flow!
    5.    Come up with fun and wild things that your character would do.

    1.    Come into the game expecting to have a bad time.
    2.    Say “Bob the Dwarf is going to kick his butt.” Say “I’m going to kick his butt”.
    3.    Monopolize the table.
    4.    Argue about rules, especially if it isn’t really going to matter in 30 seconds.

    -=Articles in this Series=-
    [http://rp-artisans.org/tiki/tiki-read_article.php?articleId=24|Positive Energy]

    Dec 21

    Tabletop RPGs: What is a Gaming Convention?

    What is a gaming convention?  Well, it’s an event where people spend time gaming.  What is gaming?  Well in the case of gaming conventions, gaming has nothing to do with gambling:

    Main Entry: gam-ing((
    Pronunciation: ‘gA-mi[ng]
    Function: noun
    Date: 1501
    1 : the practice of gambling
    2 : the playing of games that simulate actual conditions (as of business or war) especially for training or testing purposes

    This entry from Webster’s online dictionary (WWWebster) defines gaming as being one of two things, and in the case of gaming conventions we use the second definition. In recent years, that definition has stretched to include a hobby industry that produces hundreds of games for entertainment purposes, not necessarily training or testing.  No wagers are placed in this type of gaming, and no money is won. What types of games are we talking about?  Examples include Parker Brothers’ MONOPOLY(r) game, WoTC/Hasbro’s DUNGEONS&DRAGONS(r) game, and literally hundreds of games in between.  The gaming convention brings an element of friendly competition to these games, and allows people who share interest in playing them a chance to get together and play.  A gaming convention holds tournaments, which are organized play sessions of a certain game, with the winner receiving a non-cash prize.

    Games at a gaming convention fall into a number of broad categories.  These categories include Board Games, such as Parker Brothers’ MONOPOLY(r) game, Mayfair’s Settlers of Catan game, and advanced historical simulation games such as Avalon Hill’s Age of Renaissance or Civilization games.  Many of these games have been computerized in recent years, although many people do not know that these complex computer games often had their roots in a tabletop boardgame.

    Another category is Role-Playing Games, in which each player takes on the persona of a character in an interactive story.  Although the most popular of these role-playing games worldwide is WOTC/Hasbro’s DUNGEONS&DRAGONS(r) game, many other companies produce games in other settings, or genres.   Genre has the same meaning in gaming as it does in fiction writing – the setting and style of the story.  DUNGEONS&DRAGONS(r) is set in a fantasy world, where the players, via their characters pretend to battle fantasy monsters such as dragons and trolls, using imaginary swords and crossbows.  Other role-playing games, such as R. Talsorian’s CyberPunk(tm) game, cast the players as characters in a dark technological future, where electronic implants, virtual reality, and super-advanced weapons are commonplace.  Other games exist for other genres, from the Old West to Holmes’s Victorian England.
    In role-playing games, the players work together to slay the monsters, or solve the crimes, or save the village.  As such, the players are not competing against each other.  At a gaming convention, where these games are played as tournaments, the players continue this cooperative spirit in resolving the story, but winners are determined by the players and storyteller voting on who portrayed their character the best.  This is basically a combination of how well the player knows the rules of the game, the setting, and the background of the character, an how well they were able to use that information to contribute to the story being enacted by the players.  A good role-player is often a good improvisational actor.  Each tournament has a different setting, and different characters, forcing the player to quickly assume different personas and portray them convincingly. Many of the tournament scenarios played at conventions come from the Role-Playing Game Association Network (RPGA Network(tm)), an international organization of role-playing enthusiasts which sponsors role-playing games at conventions, and pays its members to write entertaining scenarios that are sent to conventions around the world and used as tournaments.  Players and storytellers are ranked in the RPGA Network based on how many tournaments they have participated in, and how well they did.
    Miniatures Games are not only popular but visually impressive.  Typically, a miniatures game is a reenactment of a certain type of combat using miniature figurines to represent the troops.  Battles fought in time periods from the Crusades and the Civil War to thousands of years in the future are simulated with figurines and terrain.  Miniatures gaming is a combination of artistic skill in fashioning the terrain and figurines, and strategy, as the tabletop generals decide how to deploy their troops.
    A recent addition to the gaming convention are Collectible Card Games.  The most famous of these games is WoTC’s Magic: The Gathering(tm) game.  These games have been described as a combination between baseball cards and board games.  Out of a collection of thousands of cards, the players choose a few to play with.  Their opponent does the same, and then the cards are played according to the rules of the game to resolve which player’s card selections and play strategy was more effective.  Typically, the cards simulate characters and items, which are combined, deployed and lost according to the rules of the game.  Other Collectible Card Games abound, each allowing players to experience their favorite genre, or in many cases, Television or Movie milieu.  Collectible Card Games have been produced based on the characters and world of Babylon 5(r), Star Trek(r), Star Wars(r), and Dune(r).
    Some conventions also hold Live-Action Games, which are like role-playing games with fewer rules, and fewer restrictions.  Costumes are encouraged in Live Action games, and the game is not physically restricted to a table, but perhaps a room, or an entire hotel.  The most well known live-action games are the How to Host a Murder games from Parker Brothers.  But as we’ve seen with other types of games, if you have a favorite genre, a game exists that will let you experience it.

    Who attends gaming conventions?  People from all walks of life, and of every age.  Since there is such a huge variety of games out there, people of many different interests are drawn to play.  Parents bring their children, teenagers come on their own, and adults from 25-85 come and play their favorite game.  Many of the games at a gaming convention are more fun with a large number of people to play.  In this age of smaller families, and compartmentalized interests, it can be difficult for a gamer to find people to play these games with on a regular basis.  A gaming convention provides the opportunity to learn new games, play games with new people, and get to know people from all over.  It’s a social, entertaining event, where people with a common interest in gaming come together to have a good time.

    What does a game convention offer?  The primary attraction of a gaming convention are its game tournaments, organized play sessions of a particular game with the winner receiving a prize.  However, a gaming convention usually also offers a Dealers’ Room, which is like a miniature trade show of the gaming industry, where a gamer can  find the newest games and accessories.  For the budget-minded gamer, there are Auctions, where people put up their old games for sale.  Some gaming conventions also have Special Guests, people from the gaming, writing, or entertainment industry who attend the convention to put on seminars, chat with gamers, and sign autographs.  Many gaming convention guests also play games, and the chance to play a game with the person who created it can be a real experience for the convention gamer.  Gaming conventions also offer Special Events, from dances to seminars on str
    ategy or role-playing effectiveness to trivia contests.  There’s also an Award Ceremony at the end, where the winners of the games are presented with their prizes.

    How long has this been going on?  Gaming conventions have been held since the late 1970s.  As the years have passed, and more and more games and types of games are produced, more and more people are attracted to gaming conventions and the larger the conventions become.

    How many people are we talking about?  A local weekend gaming convention may attract a thousand people from the local area and neighboring states, whereas a large national convention such as GEN CON(tm) or ORIGINS(tm) might attract tens of thousands from around the world.

    How do I find out when these conventions are held?  Visit your local hobby store.  They usually carry the games that are played at gaming conventions, and have information on upcoming conventions.

    Dec 21

    Tabletop RPGs: Writing Characters for Character-Provided Events


    You want to craft a set of characters that the players care about, are
    interested in, and can quickly step into. You also want characters that
    interesting things can happen to. Here are my goals when creating a set
    of PCs for a character-provided event.

    1. Interesting. The PCs should be interesting. It should
      be clear from the sheet what they are like, and what makes them unique.
      They should have enough familiar elements that people can identify with
      them, which enough new stuff to stir the players up.
    2. Capable. The PCs should be useful during the
      scenario. 80-90% of their skills, spells and equipment should have the
      opportunity to be useful during play. Their classes and races should
      not hamper play unless you specifically design an encounter to engender
      Role-Playing around this issue.
    3. Playable. Characters who are “quiet”, “shy”,
      “submissive”, “not much for talking”, or so on are very difficult to
      play. Again, I’ve seen world-class Role-Players?
      do wonders with such PCs, but in general, you want each PC to be able
      to verbally contribute to play. You also want a well-enough defined
      personality that the player has something to work with, but not such a
      weird or hard to understand personality that the player is at a loss on
      how to play them.
    4. Connected. The PCs should have a connection to their
      environment (such as the campaign setting) and to each other.
      Off-camera dependents, relationships, businesses, and other
      responsibilities are a good way of connecting the PC with their world.
    5. Complete. The PCs should have backgrounds, histories,
      recent event summaries, personalties, and opinions of other PCs, as
      well as full stats, equipment, spell lists, etc..
    6. Accurate. Try and eliminate all rules errors prior to
      play. Find your friend the rules weenie, and have him look over the
      stats. Most importantly, make sure that all the prose is accurate –
      accidentally leaving the “and this PC will get mind-controlled later”
      note on the character sheet is a big oops.
    The Process

    Here is the process that I typically use when developing a set of PCs.

    This isn’t a set-in-stone process, but these are the general steps.
    They don’t always go in this order, either. Sometimes figuring out one
    step congeals enough things to fill out all the info for another step.

    1. The kernel. Often, this is a theme. Such as they party are all :
      • Members of a family
      • From barbarian tribes
      • Spies
      • People who once had a part of Vecna grafted to them
      • Baby red dragons, raised to be good
      • Students in a wizard/cleric school
      • People who lost prized magic items to Disenchanters
      • Survivors of Orc raids
      • About to achieve a prestige class
      • Fallen paladins
      • Pirates
      • Were all in love with one of the other party members who is now a vampiress
    2. The recent past. Where are these people at in their lives? What has happened to them recently that shaped them?
      • This is where you tie into the plot of your scenario
      • Environmental events (earthquakes, rain, purple skies, third moon appears)
      • Changes in relationships (marriage, divorce, new love, new resentment)
      • Political events (Struggles for thrones, wars, border tension)
      • Local mood (racial tension, worries about crops)
    3. Why are they together? What has brought, and
      keeps this set of characters together? Why, despite personal
      differences and individual agendas, are they loyal to the group?

      • An old adventuring group
      • Forced to work together by a government group (weak, avoid)
      • Someone saved someone’s life
      • Have a secret that keeps them here (secret relationship, need, etc.)
      • Parents told them to protect each other
      • Good friends all exiled at the same time
      • Childhood friends
      • Family
    4. Gender Balance. How do we make a group of 3
      females and 3 males? (We typically use this balance, along with an
      extra male PC that isn’t present in all the rounds, but your mileage
      may vary).
    5. Race/Class Balance. What type of races/classes would
      we like to see? How can we make a balanced group that will be useful in
      the environment they are in (or will be in)?
    6. Relationships. How does every character feel about
      every other character, the world, and their situation? I usually use a
      bubble diagram, with a bubble for each PC, each major existing NPC, and
      other important nodes, and then draw relationship lines between all the
      bubbles, labeled with a description of the relationship. See this blank character relationship diagram.

      • Parent/Child
      • Husband/Wife
      • Life Debt
      • Love
      • Hatred
      • Resentment
      • Jealousy
      • Admiration
      • Respect
      • Loyalty
      • Luke, I’m your father
    7. Secrets. Each PC needs at least one secret
      that will probably be revealed during the course of the adventure.
      Nothing in my experience as consistently engenders great role-playing
      moments as when an in-game situation forces the revelation of a secret.

      • Relationships
      • Businesses
      • Past deeds
      • Current deeds
      • Disease (lycanthropy, etc.)
      • Love
      • Hate
      • Dreams
      • Phobias
      • Current/Past lies
      • Equipment
      • Motivations (secretly looking for the Eye of Ra while party is looking for food)
    8. Something Unique. Each PC needs to have
      something about them that is unique. This may have gotten covered
      above, check it now. Would you want to play each of these PCs?
      Equipment can count for this, but should rarely be the only unique
      thing for a PC. More like personality, class, relationships, secrets,
    9. Tournament Balance. Is each of these PCs equally
      playable? Is there one that is clearly “better” than the rest? You are
      trying to look for “quiet” characters, or characters that “always do
      what the leader says”. You need to make each character equally strong,
      so that people don’t feel that one (or more) of the PCs is the “winning
      PC” that they “have to play”. In our experience, truly great players
      can make the most of any PC, but effort spent on this step will save
      you complaints from players later.
    10. “Can’t we all get along?” Often, I see parties that
      are made up of PCs that all hate each other’s guts. The truth is,
      unless you have a massive plot hook, why would anyone put their life on
      the line for a bunch of people they hate? You need to make sure that
      each PC has a reason to be there, and if they are unlikable, that there
      is a compelling reason for them to be there. You covered this in step 3
      – check it again.
    11. Cliche/Stereotype Check. Make sure that your PCs
      aren’t overly cliche, stereotyped, been-there-done-that. If they are,
      find some way to tweak them a bit to make them more interesting.
    12. Connectedness Check. Are each of the PCs connected to
      the world, the story as you know it, each other, and to themselves? You
      need to make sure that the PCs aren’t on the periphery of the story
      – they need to be in the thick of things.
    13. Detailed Personality. Write the detailed personality
      for each PC. You need 3-4 major personality traits that people can take
      advantage of during the course of the scenario. “Easily distracted by
      green books” is not a good personality trait if there are no green
      books in the scenario. You need 3-4 so that people can pick an aspect
      of the PC to make their own. One master trait is important, when you
      are writing the opinions of others about each PC, you don’t want things
      to be all over the map.
    14. Stats. Write up the character stats at this point,
      including a first pass at equipment. I highly recommend using PCGen or
      something equivalent – it saves oodles of time and errors.
    15. Usefulness Check. Is everything about the PC going to
      be useful during the course of the scenario? Did you give them a bunch
      of stuff they won’t use? Make sure that each PC has useful skills,
      abilities, languages, equipment, spells, traits, weapons, etc..
    16. Recent events. Write up a first pass at recent events that the PCs have experienced.
    17. Opinions of other PCs. Write up what each PC thinks about each other PC. Keep it simple at this point. Later passes will add more detail.
    18. Playtest. If you can, now is the time to playtest. If
      you don’t have that luxury, I suggest you at least have someone else
      look them over at this point.
    19. Do it all again. At this point, you make successive
      passes at the PCs, refining things. You should also be writing the
      scenario by now, so you might need to adjust the PCs to better fit the
      scenario. Did you write in a pit trap? Do the PCs have rope? Do you
      want them to? The hardest thing to keep correct is relationship stuff –
      if you make a little change, you need to check all 36 entries for how
      PCs feel about each other to make sure nothing else needs to be