Mar 06

Guitar Playing and Learning Tools

I really enjoy playing guitar, and while there was a time when I was in college that I played primary in bands or nascent bands, the majority of my guitar playing is by and for myself.

To make that fun in a rock music context, you need a combination of being able to get better, so you feel like you are getting somewhere, and some way of playing along with other instruments.

So over the last 20 years of enjoying the guitar, I’ve collected a set of tools that really work for me, and I thought I’d share!

The first is Line6’s GuitarPort Online. They came up with the genius idea of combining a killer headphone amp, downloadable lessons, and downloadable guitar-less tracks of popular songs.

GuitarPort Online Logo

Their other killer feature is that the software works with both their simple GuitarPort interface (less than $100), all the way up to their flagship DT-50 modeling amplifiers (>$1400). So you can grow from bedroom noodler to stage performer, and keep your practice and learning tools consistent. The GearBox software also functions as a deep editor for your guitar tones, so you can twist all sorts of virtual amplifier and stompbox knobs onscreen, rather than struggling with tiny little menus on the device.

The main downside is that it requires a monthly subscription (~$10/mo depending on how far in advance that you pay). It’s comprable to what people pay for online games like World of Warcraft, but you get to learn and play along to your favorite songs instead. ūüôā The bummer is that if you cancel you subscription, you can’t even play the songs you already downloaded.

The “play along” aspect is what keeps it fresh – you get a settings file that sets up the sound of your guitar to sound like the guitar from the track (whether lead or rhythm), as well as guitar tablature (sheet music), and backing tracks both with and without the guitar included.

When I first started using GuitarPort Online with my POD, I found that they had Van Halen’s “Panama” as one of the available tracks. I’d had my favorite guitar teacher show me how to play it back in the 90’s, but I could never quite get all the rhythms right, and although I knew the basics of how to play it, I never felt like I was getting better at it.

As my friends and family can attest, I played the holy snot out of the GuitarPort version of that track for years. Every time getting a little better – tighter rhythm, better articulation on the solos and riffs. It was a relaxing to be EVH in my basement for 20 minutes (OK, an hour) at the end of a hard day. ūüôā

And then they took it away. ¬†I upgraded to a POD X3 Live, and when I did so, I lost access to that track – apparently GuitarPort had lost the license, and it was encrypted to my old device which I had sold on Craiglist. The track was no longer available for download. I was so angry I dropped the service for about 6 months, and went back to traditional book-and-mp3 methods of learning…but I missed that joy you feel playing along to a great track…so I eventually went crawling back.

In the end, my family is probably very glad I’ve had to branch out and am now playing songs by Living Colour, Pat Benatar, Boston, Heart, Scorpions and the Offspring, rather than that same VH song over and over, but I miss it. ¬†Come on Line6, I’m sure you can work something out with Warner!

Overall I love GuitarPort, and use it regularly, I just wish they’d expand their library more often – it seems like not a lot of new stuff is coming in.

The difference between how quickly I learned the parts of Panama that I hadn’t learned from my teacher (like the solos), and how long it took me to learn the easy parts from my teacher was night and day. I easily learned 10x faster, and didn’t plateau like I did with just hand-written tab and the record. GuitarPort really helped me learn the track, by helping me both learn and practice it.

As the years went by though, I found a hole in my practice/play regime, and that was being able to play improvised solos really well. ¬†Other than a few songs, I preferred to do my own solos rather than imperfectly mocking the great players, but I got stuck in pentatonic ruts that I couldn’t get out of.

That’s where our next tool, the Fretlight, comes in:

Fretlight Black Guitar
Fretlight Guitar

The Fretlight is a guitar that has a little LED (light) under each intersection between string and fret. So everywhere you could put your left hand on the guitar, there is a light. In every other way, it’s just like any other nice electric guitar.

It connects via USB to your computer, and software there enables you to set the lights up to display just about anything you could imagine. Scales, modes, chords, in any key, and any place on the guitar.

If you aren’t near a computer, it’s no big deal, the USB is only needed to run the fretboard lights. You can play it at a gig without a computer, and no one would ever know it was a Fretlight – the lights are invisible unless they are on.

The Fretlight Song and Lesson player will even light up songs in real time (or slowed down time) for you to follow along with, although in practice I found this to be a little tricky to do long-term. ¬†It’s great for getting a feel for where the song is played, but since the lights are under your fingers, it’s hard to follow along perfectly.

But the Fretlight Improviser is genius. It plays semi-cheesy MIDI backing tracks for you endlessly. Unlike practicing with a song, it’s like having a band that never gets tired of playing the same chord progression over and over while you work out your perfect solo.

But more importantly, it shows you a scale or mode to go along with that progression, lit up all over the fretboard. Every wanted to play a solo in the Mixolydian mode just like the shredders from the 80’s? You can dig out your Guitar Grimoire and start memorizing dots, or you can light it up and start playing.

As I get older, I’m spreading my mind across more and more things to memorize. So, rather than remembering the details of esoteric computer languages, I remember general patterns, and then use books and the internet to look up the details when I need them. The Fretlight is like that. You still have to know how to play the guitar, but you can use Fretlight to show you the details of chords, scales and modes.

When I was first looking at the Fretlight in the 80’s, it was self-contained – there was a switch on the front to let you pick what scale to light up. As such, it was limited to how many patterns they could put into the guitar. By being able to connect it to software in a computer, the range of things you can show on the Fretboard is limitless – with the AxMaster software, you can pick individual lights to show in any pattern you want – make up your own stuff!

Between the two tools it’s funny how many pieces of software I end up running at the same time on my computer while I play guitar – GearBox to control my POD, Fretlight Improviser to control the Fretlight, REAPER to record it all.

If this all sounds computer-heavy it is – but when I was in college, I’d get a book or magazine of guitar tab, put it out in front of me, and memorize away. Then I’d either play along with the record (quietly, so I could hear myself over the track), or beg my friends to learn the other instruments. Then the inevitable “I’m not playing that” would begin.

The computer combined with these two tools is helping me enjoy my guitar time, since I don’t have hours to sit in front of tab books memorizing any more, and convincing my friends to even pick up their instruments is harder than ever

Sep 08

Choosing a Guitar Pick

Guitar picks (or “plectra” to be precise) are one of the most personal things that your average guitarist gets to choose – it’s half of your connection to your instrument.

There are hundreds of different kinds of picks available, and taking the time to try out a number of different styles can make a huge difference in your playing comfort, and your enjoyment and precision with the instrument.

Yet many electric guitarists still use the same “Fender-style” thick picks that came with their “Starter Kit”:

Fender Pick

These picks are made of celluloid, the same plastic that was used for early motion picture film.  They are about the only things around still made of it, because celluloid is very flammable, and large pieces can break very easily.

Celluloid also stinks – literally. ¬†Especially in the sweaty hand of a guitarist, scraping along metal strings, it has a distinctive acrid smell that says ‘guitar’ to a lot of people.

Personally, I think it’s nasty.

Especially the way it lingers on the fingers after you play.

So, I asked my favorite guitar teacher (back in my college days) Dave Parsons (who now works over at ), what my options were, and he handed me a tiny little “Jazz” pick that was made of a specialized nylon, not celluloid.

I went to get a couple of these from my friendly local music shop, and they offered three different thicknesses. ¬†I ended up getting some of each, but I quickly became addicted to the “L3 – thin” version of this pick a mere .5mm in thickness.

Dunlop Tortex Jazz Thin L3 PickI love these Dunlop Tortex Jazz picks, and have since ordered mass quantities that I have stashed in the rock lab.

I carry one in my wallet, in case I end up guitar shopping, or there is an impomptu jam, because using the big celluloid picks just doesn’t work for me anymore.

There are four things going on here:

Thickness – I like to strum barre chords very quickly, and the thin pick lets me whip my right hand up and down without having to change the pick angle as drastically as you do with a thicker pick – less wrist strain, faster strumming. ¬†However, you do have to grip the pick fairly firmly to get the same sharp sound that a ‘regular pick’ gives. ¬†However, that’s one of the advantages, is that you can change the tone of your picking based on the tightness of your grip.

Size – The smaller pick fits my smaller hands better, and lets me keep a more consistent grip – there aren’t as many ways to hold these little guys, so you end up holding it the same way more often, leading to more consistent tone. ¬†It’s part of the Tim White sound. ūüôā You do have a bit less flexibility in terms of tone, but switching picks for certain songs is pretty easy to do, especially when recording. ¬†If you have really large hands, the big “triangle” picks, or the standard-style picks might feel better to you.

Point – the point on these picks is relatively sharp, compared to the ‘standard’ pick shape. ¬†Interestingly, there are there different sharpnesses – L1 is close to the standard, whereas L3 is the sharp Jazz tip that I prefer. ¬†Sometimes it’s hard to get the right version when you order online, which can be frustrating. ¬†Plus, the tips do wear down fairly quickly with heavy use.

Material РI like the way that the Tortex feels in my hand, and how it slides across the wound strings.  It also has no smell.  They do come coated with a fine powder, which I recommend you wash off before use, as it tastes pretty nasty when you eventually jam one in your mouth during that fingerpicking section of your favorite tune.  The material affects the feel and tone, so try a number of different types to see how they work for you.

Guitar picks are like mousetraps – music companies are constantly coming up with new designs and styles and plastics. ¬†Since picks are indeed so personal, and so inexpensive, it’s pretty easy to try a bunch of different ones to try and find something that works perfectly for you.

And doesn’t make your hand stink!

Here’s a few innovative picks:

Zero Gravity Orbit Guitar Pick Wirething Guitar Pick

Dec 10

Why have rules for the role-playing scenes in your RPG?

If folks are interested in a discussion of the pros and cons of having rules to support your RP instead of letting your RP be diceless, I will unashamedly pimp the two latest episodes of Return to Northmoor, wherein we discuss exactly that at length.

Here’s a quick summary though: You absolutely do not need rules to role-play. D&D has gotten by for 30+ years with a diceless RP mechanic. So, why introduce rules for that purpose?

1) You would like the rules to help you break out of RP ruts that your group may fall into through long-time play.

2) You would like to increase the engagement of tactically-focused players in “pure RP” scenes in your game.

3) You would like to increase and maintain the focus of your RP scenes on the characters, and not the players.

4) You would like the rules to encourage and reward your characters for taking RP risks as well as combat risks.

Just some thoughts…¬†:)


Jul 25

Work-Proofing Your Game

One of the recurring themes as I’ve been preparing and running my
latest campaign is ‘work-proofing’. Since we play on weeknights, there
is always the chance that, since we all have very mentally-demanding
jobs, that the GM or the players will be brain-fizzled by game time.

So, you have to have an insurance-policy of sorts to keep the game
going if brains are fizzled. Since we only game every other week, no
one wants to give up the game, even if they are tired, so the game has
to have a structure that can stand up to the times when the players go
crazy with it, and the times that they just want to roll dice.

6-7 years ago, when I had a much less mentally-demanding job (and
was < 30) , I was able to run stuff out of my head almost exclusively…as my work responsibilities increased, and my brain
aged, I found that I had to take advantage of my moments of brilliance
when I had them, and not rely on them to be there on game night.

I love the indie games, and I’ve found that there definitely has to be an overall higher energy and brain-engagement level than with say, D&D.¬† Normally, this is awesome.¬† But there is a reason that a lot of the indie games are for one-shots, or for short campaigns – it’s hard to maintain that level of intensity week after week.¬† And, the best part of those games is the shared-world creation stuff, which usually peters out after the first game.

Not to overly-generalize, but indie games, and character-provided convention events are much more like films, whereas your typical ‘traditional’ RPG campaign, say D&D or the like, is much more like a TV show, where the intensity is spread out over a whole season of the show…

Jul 20

Tim’s Theory of Inverse Preparation

Tim’s Theory of Inverse Preparation

1) The more you prepare ahead of time for a non-dungeon-crawl-style
game session, the more the players will diverge from your predicted

2) The one night you just chuck it and don’t prepare anything at all is the night that for once, the players don’t want to sit around an B.S. the whole time.

Theory Explanation

1) In any game where the players get to remotely choose their own
path, you must make assumptions about their actions in order to prepare
for them.

The more you prepare, the more assumptions you need to make. Layering
assumptions on top of assumptions is like averaging averages – it’s
guaranteed to make an Ass out of U and Me.

2) Players can sense weakness, and will go for the jugular.

Well, OK, there is more to it than that. People, especially geeky
people, appreciate having a skeleton on which to hang their

Whether that be a recently seen film or sporting event, or your desperate attempt to get somewhere in your game, having something in common to talk about gives people jumping off points for their own discussions.

No game=no skeleton, and conversation peters out after a while, leaving
everyone looking at you wondering why they drove 2 hours to get here if
you are such a slacker….

Jul 20

Railroad GMing?

I think that Game Master railroading is a lot like sexual harassment: It’s not what you do, it’s how the people you are doing it to feel about it.

Let’s take the example of a D&D game, where the people start in a small town – let’s say Hommlet.

If you have the mayor come up to the players and tell them “There is a
big scary temple out in the woods – you all look competent…help us
out!” That’s not railroading.

If you have the PCs come into town, immediately have them arrested,
have a local cleric geas them, and send them off to the temple under
penalty of death, that’s railroading.

Back to the “help us out” option – if they decide ignore the mayor
for the moment, have a few drinks in the tavern, browse the wares,
check out the local working folks – and you have monsters from the
temple swoop in on them for wasting time – we’re back to railroading.

On the flip side, if you say “here’s a town, have fun”, and then
after 3 hours of drinking they are asking “so…what was our point in
being here again? The old guy said there were mysteries around here –
but where?” That’s what I call over-obfuscation.

You are trying so hard to be sandboxy and open at that point that
the players get frustrated trying to figure out what to do next.

So in that case, they might actually prefer the monsters coming to them.

In summary – players should always have a clear idea in which
direction adventure lies, but retain a choice on which direction they
want to go…

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: 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.
    Jun 29

    What I’d do with D&D

    In summary:

    * I’d make it as easy as I possibly could to play and run D&D every week, both logistically and socially.

    * I’d make it completely possible to play your own campaign, while at
    the same time providing world-class campaigns to either run in whole of
    crib from (both in story and play-aids).

    * I’d provide sophisticated online tools, and provide enough of them
    for free that merging the online, RPGA, and local communities is so
    attractive that people make their own choice to do so.

    In detail:

    I’d keep the existing d20/3e base, and fine-tune it into best
    Against the Giants, Descent into the Depths of the Earth, White Plume
    Mountain heroic simulationist game it can be.

    I would do so by incorporating a lot of the best of the 3rd Party d20
    stuff, like Mutants and Masterminds, SpyCraft, Dungeon Crawl Classics,
    etc., and blending them into a reasonably fast-playing crunchy game
    with better balance than 3.5. Point costs for feats, fewer, broader
    skills, and spell levels from 1-20 would be the major system changes.

    I’d probably group most of the key material from the PH and the
    DMG, along with the “classics” from the MM, and merge them into one
    book. I’d then publish a non-crunchy “how to DM” and “how to play” book
    for super-low cost ($9.99 ea).

    I’d take the Dungeon Magazine “Adventure Path” concept to the max,
    hiring the best designers out there to create at least 3 parallel
    campaigns that were published online for DMs to just pick up and run.
    I’d publish content online monthly with about 20-30 hours of play
    content per month, per campaign.

    One campaign would be always be Greyhawk Dungeon Crawls, one would be
    Grandiose World-Saving stuff set in FR or EB, and one would be
    something unique and different (i.e. Al-Quadim, SpellJammer, Dark Sun,
    Birthright, etc.)

    I’d sell packs of minis and preprinted battle mats for each
    campaign every month, and allow those to be subscribed to, so if you
    were subscribed to campaign “A”, you’d get a box of minis, maps, and
    player aids every month to run every major encounter in the campaign.

    I’d have podcasts that guided DMs through each campaign each month,
    and offer tips and suggestions from playtesters both in podcast, and
    forum/article form.

    I’d have a comprehensive set of online tools that allowed campaign
    and character tracking, as well as tools that let DMs simulate
    encounters between sets of monsters and their PCs. I’d offer
    super-fancy character sheet printing from the character creator (both
    to your local PC and to your nearest FedEx Kinko’s, or like
    leatherbound and mailed to you). I’d offer campaign blogging. Also
    tools for locating a group, highlighting groups playing one of the
    mainline campaigns.

    I’d set up a place in the online community for individual DMs, or
    groups of DMs to freely collaborate in building their own worlds,
    campaigns, and game extensions. I’d add a ratings system so that the
    best of these things could be highly rated, and then hire the best of
    these people for the mainline campaigns.

    I’d allow these homegrown campaigns to assemble their own lists of
    minis, upload their own maps, etc. so that people could subscribe to
    them in the same way they did the mainline campaigns.

    I’d publish a 20-30 entry monster book every quarter, along with a
    minis set that matched it. You could buy either one separately, or both
    together. The minis alone would have stat cards to cover the game stats
    of the creature, the book would have more background material on each
    encounter ideas, ecology, etc., in addition to the stats.

    I’d also then sell singles of every mini directly from my website,
    with prices based on how expensive the mini was to make. I would
    provide the most popular singles in blister-packs for sale at
    traditional retailers.

    I’d take the best of the game extensions (feats, classes, etc.)
    from the mainline campaigns and the online environment and publish a
    “best of” book twice a year.

    I’d produce free online videos on how to play, and actively work to
    incorporate positively-spun gaming experiences as product placement
    into mainstream media.

    I’d scrap the existing RPGA entirely, and merge it with the online
    membership. If you are geeky enough to play D&D and you aren’t
    online and least once a week, (@&* you.

    I’d scrap all the Living Greyhawk/Living X stuff, and replace it with organized play of the mainline campaigns.