Advice for New DMs

#RPGChat recently had a discussion of advice for new DMs. I wasn’t able to find it in time, but went back to through my writing in past RPGChats and pulled out what I think my best advice for DMs is. A lot of this isn’t direct advice on how to run a game; there are a lot of lists of that stuff already, so it is hard to find new things to say; rather, this is mostly advice on issues around the game and even advice on other advice. I’ve also limited this list to advice I’ve got personal experience with from one side of the table or the other.

  1. Take all advice you read online with a grain of salt. There is a standard rule you see in every list, which is “Don’t railroad.” Guess what? I once had a very unsuccessful session, one of the worst ones I’ve run. I sat down and talked to the players. They asked me to give more guidance in the sessions and have them less freeform. Take away: Not every rule works for every DM and every group.
  2. Figure out how many people you are comfortable with running for and don’t go over that number. I’m fine with 4-6 depending on the game, I know other GMs who won’t run for more then 4. Running for more people is harder. More people means it is harder to get them to agree on what they are doing, you have to split your attention more ways, running larger combats is harder, and you might not even hear what quieter players want to do. Feel free to tell people your game is full; you don’t have to invite all your friends.
  3. Only you are allowed to invite new people to the game. If someone has a friend, relative, significant other that they want to invite, have them talk to you first. I was once in a game where the DM was not the host. The host kept inviting more and more people until we topped a dozen. The game did not last long after that, since running a game for that many people is really hard. I set a rule during my Call of Cthulhu days limiting it to 4 people; the sessions when I stuck to that rule were by far the best ones of the campaign.
  4. Put the most soft-spoken or shy players close to you. The loud, attention-demanding players will make themselves heard from across the table, the softer-spoken or new and shy players will not.
  5. Feel free to uninvite players. I’ve had some very good friends who were not good players. We simply stopped inviting them. Some got better with time, and in a few years started gaming with us again, others never did. Don’t let one bad player ruin your game. (If you can help it. It is more tricky when they are providing rides for everyone else, or are someones significant other.) To be honest, in some of these cases we would literally just stop inviting the person and not talk about the game around them; that made letting them back into the game when they’d gotten more mature a few years later much easier and avoided a conflict with a good friend. I’m not saying that is the best or most mature approach, just the one we used when we were in high school.
  6. Feel free to ask players to help contribute to out of game stuff. I did a lot of DMing when I was in high school and had no money. I developed the method of asking everyone to bring a contribution to dinner. I’d provide sausages or burgers, and the players would contribute side-dishes, drinks and snacks as they were able. Players who couldn’t afford to do that would help with the cooking and cleaning. On the note of cleaning, don’t be afraid to ask players to help clean up. This is obvious now, but back in high school days we’d game until 2 am, I’d usher everyone out the door and then collapse, then have to spend the next morning cleaning. One day it clicked that I could ask everyone to help tidy before they left, and hosting got a lot more pleasant.
  7. Don’t kill a player’s character the first few sessions they are there. It sucks, and discourages them from wanting to come back. Even in a horror game you can scare the pants off them without killing them.
  8. Design problems, not puzzles. A puzzle has a set solution; your players might not think of it. A problem has an infinite number of solutions, and that is just counting the ones you haven’t thought of. You can give the players some ways to solve a problem, sure, but be sure to keep an open mind to things you haven’t thought of.

Well, those are my random tips for new and young GMs. Hope you find them useful, and I’d love to hear any tips that you have that you think aren’t said enough onlne. Until next time, stay geeky.


Published in: on September 18, 2015 at 12:00 pm  Comments (5)  
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Convention Game Advice: RPG Blog Carnival

The Logo of the RPG Blog Carnival. My father took me to my first gaming convention when I was just starting Grade 9: a small two day convention in the next town over to introduce people to Living Greyhawk. Since then I’ve spent hundreds of hours playing various convention games; for most of my gaming career I had spent more time playing at conventions than home games, and in 2006 I managed to make it out to Gencon, followed by Origins in 2007. Given the topic of this months blog carnival, I thought I’d dispense some advice I’ve gained through all this time at the convention table.

  1. Stay on target. Convention games are rather different than home games. The main difference is that you typically only have four hours. No “Lets pick this up next time” or “See you next week”. Four hours, sometimes eight, then done, and it really sucks to have to leave a game mid-plot, or to have to choose between lunch and finishing the game. Therefore, you need to stick to the plot. Roleplaying is good; stay in character. That said, try and make sure that your roleplay will move the plot forward, or at least won’t take very long. I’ve seen some amazing in-character discussion at conventions, but I’ve also seen tables annoyed by the one gnome that won’t stop jabbering with every farmer along the road when there is a long adventure ahead of them and not much time to do it in. It is a fine line; try and watch the other players and DM for clues. Also try and keep off-topic chat to a minimum. That is neither good roleplay or constructive to moving the game along.
  2. Conventions are noisy places. Try and keep table talk to a minimum, doubly so if you are right beside the DM. Likewise, when speaking, make sure to speak up; I hate it when I miss things players are trying to do because I can’t hear them, and as a player it sucks when you want to do something cool and the DM can’t hear you. Also, time spent repeating things more loudly is wasted (see point 1).
  3. Focus on your character. Your character might be different then you normally play if your game has pregens. This is a great chance to expand your repertoire and try out a new type of character. Please don’t play your brave, self-sacrificing knight like the self-centred rogues you normally play; it can really mess up the party dynamics for the other players.
  4. Resources are placed in the adventure for that adventure. Now, this doesn’t apply to Living Games such as Living Greyhawk, Pathfinder Adventures and so on, but for other games this is important: Don’t hoard items. They all go away at the end of the adventure, so might as well use them now. Chances are they’ve been put in there by the DM to help you. That said, don’t waste them; They may well have been put in there at the to be used in a specific circumstance. Also, don’t burn through healing potions and whatnot early in the adventure, if you can help it. Remember that retreating and coming back with fresh resources is much less of an option then in home games.
  5. Go for the plothook. This is much the same as point 1, but more specific. If you are bringing characters with you the DM is going to try and tie you all into the adventure quickly so you can get to the fun bits. Watch for the dangling plot-bait and bite down on it. I’ve seen players blatantly ignore the obvious plot hook while the DM and the rest of the players all tried to get out of the tavern and into the adventure. Don’t be that person. Yes, the plot hook is often the most contrived part of the adventure, but if you don’t jump on it, you might as well get up and walk away from the table and save yourself 4 hours.

Final bonus point: Don’t be a dick, and really don’t be a dick for RP purposes. My Dad and I were once at a convention, and someone sits down with a character slightly above the rest of the party. No problem, the Average Party Level system Living Greyhawk used could account for that. However, then he wanted to bring his special dog he got in an earlier adventure with him, despite the fact that it would drag the rest of the party up an APL increment. Well, we weren’t super happy about it, but he insisted it was an essential part of his character and well, it was a pretty badass dog (More HP then any party member, even.) Do you know what he had that dog do all adventure? Sit by his feet and avoid combat, since he was worried about losing it if he sent it into combat. He just wanted to bring it along to show off the crazy powerful dog his character had. Don’t be that person: Don’t put your fun ahead of the party’s.

-Until next time, stay geeky.


Published in: on August 8, 2015 at 8:30 am  Comments (3)  
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A black Magic Card for Star Wars (1977). Caption: Luck Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a wookiee and two droids to save the universe from the EMpire's world0-destroying battle-station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader.

Trickster started Retrosmack off with one of my favourite movies: Star Wars

For a long time I’ve been a fan of The Adventure Gamer, a blog in which Trickster played through each and every graphical adventure game ever made, in chronological order, and blogged about them. It was a solid successor to The CRPG Addict (Where someone going by the name Chet did the same with Computer RPGs.) As a result of my enjoying both of them quite a lot I’ve had links to them in my sidebar for some time.

Well, a few months ago Trickster tired of playing every adventure game; he wanted to play other genres, enjoy other types of entertainment. So he turned the blog over to the community and moved on. Well, I got busy shortly after that and fell behind in my blog reading, so it wasn’t until recently that I discovered that Trickster had started a new blog: Retrosmack. Starting in 1977, the year of his birth, he is blogging through what seems to be the most culturally important things to come out that year in several genres. Comics, games, TV, movies, books, the whole shebang. Each year he is picking items equal to the year – 1900, so in 1977 he will blog about 77 things. So far topics have included Dr. Who (Which I’ve become a much larger fan of since I met my girlfriend via it), Ogre (Which I recently bought at my FLGS and need to sit down and play), Shannara and the Atari 2600.

Now, that is cool enough, but Trickster thought up a cool idea on The Adventure Gamer: CAPS or Companion Assist Points. He wanted a way to reward people who helped him out, and punish those who gave him spoilers, so he created an imaginary currency. That worked REALLY well, with even those of us who don’t know adventure games being able to earn a considerable amount. However, it was a fair bit of work adding up all the rewards, managing trades, and so on. This time Trickster has automated most of the process using a bunch of wordpress plugins. Also, this time instead of spending them on forcing him to play more games, we can buy trading cards with them. They don’t do anything, but he figures the collector mentality runs strong in geeks, and he is probably right; I’d bought the Star Wars trading card before I’d even figured out what they were, what Smacks were and how to get more.

Anyway, I strongly encourage you to check it out. Trickster did a great job with The Adventure Gamer, and he is using every bit of writing experience he got last time here. He brought some of his very welcoming community with him, and is looking to grow it, so I thought I’d help him out. Once again, give Retrosmack a look: You won’t regret it.

RPG Blog Carnival: Weapons of Legend: Ahab’s Crosshairs

The Logo of the RPG Blog Carnival.Hi! I’m Canageek’s girlfriend DialMforMara. I write for the I Like Homestuck Project on Tumblr; this entry in the RPG Blog Carnival is an adaptation of a post that will appear there next Saturday, on the theme of Legendary Weapons. Come check us out if you’re interested in Homestuck, or just want to find out what all the fuss is about. Warning: spoilers abound.


Ahab’s Crosshairs is a powerful laser rifle from the webcomic Homestuck. It was created by the trolls of Alternia and used by the Orphaner Dualscar, a notorious highblood (noble) pirate. Centuries after the Orphaner’s death, it was found in the wreckage of his ship by his aristocratic descendant Eridan Ampora, who used it to murder countless lowbloods (commoners) and their animal guardians, as was his birthright. When Eridan left Alternia to play the universe-building game SGRUB, he took Ahab’s Crosshairs with him and used it on anything that stood in his way, up to and including the angels that inhabited his base planet, which took at least a minute of sustained fire to kill (possibly because he wasn’t supposed to kill them, as other players point out. [Canageek’s note: Sounds like a player character me me])
whale 1whale 2

The strength of Ahab’s Crosshairs may vary with its wielder’s belief that it works. The structure of SGRUB (and the human version, SBURB) gives each player powers based on the role the game has assigned them. Eridan is a Prince of Hope, which to make a long story short means that he uses belief in destructive ways–like, maybe, to power his weapons. Other Homestuck characters don’t think Ahab’s Crosshairs is nearly so powerful: SBURB player Jade Harley, who has extensive experience with rifles, takes one look at the gun and calls it a “legendary piece of shit.” She can’t believe it’s as powerful as Eridan claims it is. And maybe, for her, it isn’t.Screenshot 2015-07-25 14.47.44

Adding belief-based weaponry like the Crosshairs to a campaign opens up a couple of interesting mechanics. A DM can track which player characters believe the legends about a weapon, and then make the weapon more powerful for them–or less powerful for those who don’t believe. Dividing up loot becomes much easier if half your players believe some of it is worthless. They open up new narrative possibilities as well: a quest-giving NPC can hype up a belief-based weapon to make it stronger and worth more, or downplay its importance to trick the players into handing it over, or even claim they have a defense against it, to make the players think it won’t work on them. Belief-based legendary weapons give their players exciting new ways to mess with their players.

RPG Blog Carnival: Weapons of Legend: Gretzky’s Staff

The Logo of the RPG Blog Carnival.When Gretzky was a child his parents discovered that he had a natural aptitude for magic that often manifested in destructive ways. To avoid having their chesterfield lit on fire (again) they enrolled him in a magic academy. As the years went by, he learned that while he loved magic, he had little in common with his fellow classmates who tended to be bookish and nonathletic. While of reasonable intelligence, Gretzky preferred more athletic and violent pursuits in his spare time, often enrolling in the extracurricular activities of the fighters’ school across town. His favourite sport was hockey, for its combination of speed, skill and violence.

When it was time to craft his staff, he refused a traditional oaken or ebony rod, instead using a hockey stick that he had outgrown. He kept this staff for many years, and added to its original enchantments over time. In addition to storing several spells and the traditional enchantments for durability he placed an unusual level of enchantment on it enhancing its melee combat ability, figuring that few people expected a wizard to run up and cross-check them. At one point he even added a flaming enchantment more commonly found on warriors swords to the stick’s blade. One enchantment he did not place on the staff is cold resistance; it was commonly thought that the staff bore such a dweomer due to Gretzky’s habit of going coatless in the winter. This habit came from Gretzky’s growing up in the north and simply being much more used to cold then the natives of the southerly region he eventually built his abode in.

While Gretzky’s Staff is usually thought to be a single item, usually as described above, over the course of his career he made a number of staves as he grew more skilled, or as he needed sets of spells or protections for specific tasks. This has confused descriptions of the staff and its powers over the years, as his later ones were often made from full-length hockey sticks, rather then the child’s stick he used originally.

This is a post for this month’s RPG Blog Carnival, hosted at of Dice and Dragons. I’m not a rules guy so I’m not going to try and stat this up. I got the idea as I am thinking of running a play-by-post game in an X-Crawl-like world. I know, I know, I’m finally giving the setting I’ve been talking about since the start of the blog a try. I’m  hoping not to let this blog sit idle for years and years this time. Anyway, until next time, stay geeky.


Fun and Useful Google+ Groups

Most people think of Google+ as a failed social network. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: The RPG Community loves it, warts and all. It is great for running games online: I can have a community for my game, where I post summaries, art, handouts, character sheets, etc. Then I schedule the game in the community, and it has an add-to calendar button right there, and when the game starts it automatically creates a hangout which ties in to the excellent Roll20.

However, that isn’t what I’m here to tell you about today. I’m going to tell you about my two favourite Google+ communities.


Have some true cyberpunk

A while back I ranted about punk and how it should be darker and more nihilistic, but didn’t really give any modern examples of the genre. Well, here you go. Some nudity, drugs, totally not depressing, dark and horrible. Trigger warnings? Lets just go with ‘all of them’.

Well, how was that? Get what I’m saying now? Remember: High tech, low life or your genre’s equivalent.

Until I find some more things worth saying or sharing, Stay Geeky and burn the world.

Published in: on September 23, 2013 at 8:43 am  Comments (7)  
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The Advantages of Skill Based Games

I have a strong preference for RPG systems that define a character primarily by the skills they possess, such as The Call of Cthulhu (and other BRP based games), GURPS, Eclipse Phase, Alternity and Shadowrun. There are other games which involve skills: D&D, Fate, and so on, but they aren’t based primarily around a set of skills everyone has. D&D has a common skill list for all players, but most of the time it is overshadowed by other things, and many others may have ‘skills’ or ‘professions’ but each character only possesses two or three of these, there isn’t a universal set that everyone divides points between.

Games that use these old-fashioned long skill lists are currently falling out of fashion due to a perception that they are hard to get into, that you need a spreadsheet to play them, and that games with less stuff on the character sheet are faster to play. In my opinion these are all untrue. Certainly, games like GURPS benefit from a spreadsheet when making a character, and no one is ever going to call Alternity a rules-light game, but there are also games like The Call of Cthulhu, which is quite rules light, doubly so as I play a variant that removes a lot of the rules.

So, why do I like skills so much? I like the flexibility they provide and how easy they are to DM. I can customize a character in a skill based game to resemble a real person much more then I can in any other type of system I have seen. The average Call of Cthulhu character gets 400 skill points, of which, on average, 130 are earmarked for skills related to the characters non-work related experiences and interests. So, I have the freedom to drop a few points into painting if my character paints miniatures as a hobby, without harming the core skills that define what he does in the party. In my GURPS game I’ve used the points that I put into Connoisseur (Literature), and it has come up in play that another character had some skill related to the writings of H. P. Lovecraft. Such things do a lot of flesh out the character, and make them feel alive. In other games I don’t have the freedom to spend a point or two (or the game systems equivalent) on something totally unrelated to the characters main role in the party. This is something that is lost when you only have 4 skills or whatever; you really have to put them into something that will benefit the party, or you are letting the rest of your team down. In systems with an excess of points I can get to a level that helps the party, then put points into stuff purely for roleplaying.

Furthermore as a DM these games are pretty easy to run. If a character wants to do something, I just find the closes skill on the character sheet and have them roll that; if they have something related I can let them apply it at a bonus or a penalty, depending on how relevant it is (Say, using Chemist to analyze some biochemical evidence gathered from a crime scene instead of biochemistry: If you know one, you probably took a class or two of the other at one point, but wouldn’t know as much as an actual biochemist). I don’t have to make a call in each situation about what stat is the most important, which is a pain for things like rock climbing as there are strength, dexterity, constitution and mental components. I just find ‘hey, here is a climb skill, roll that unless you can find something more appropriate to the task, or at least close.’

That is why I like skill based games. I do hope we see more of them over time, given that as of late games that use a very limited set of characteristics and abilities are more popular. Perhaps I’ll even set down my ideas for a system I’ve had kicking around in my head for years and years sometime.

Sorry this post was so late; what with playing twice a week I’ve been getting my fill of thinking about gaming in the real world, instead of online. Until I get the urge to write again, Stay Geeky.


Published in: on September 17, 2013 at 9:00 am  Comments (4)  
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Rules modifications for a punk game

“We all enter this world in the same way: naked; screaming; soaked in blood. But if you live your life right, that kind of thing doesn’t have to stop there.”  —Dana Gould

Punk, as I have said, is about nihlism, desperation, and self-destruction. As evidence I invite you to see how many famous punks from the early days are alive today; Not many, even fewer then rock or metal from similar eras. Therefore the standard XP system most games use, or even the advance-with-use system of the Basic Roleplay System isn’t a good fit for a true punk game, as it has character getting stronger over time, rather then burning out in a drug induced blaze of glory. Therefore I’m going to roughly sketch a modification of a standard RPG system to make it more punk.

The main and most important point is that characters should live fast, die young, and leave an ugly, tattoo, shocking corpse. Therefore while you get XP as normal for your game system, you can only cash in on that when you die, with their new character starting at the higher level or getting the XP. So you build up character points, levels, etc, but you can’t actually use them until you die. There should also be a reward for having a particularly brutal, ugly or otherwise ‘punk’ death, to encourage interesting deaths, instead of characters quietly overdosing at home, which, while realistic wouldn’t be very interesting in a game.

I recommend coupling this with something like BRP or GURPs critical hit, major wound type tables, also the mental disorders you pick up over time in Call of Cthulhu or GURPS on a failed sanity/horror check. This way characters actually get worse over time, leading to a race to do things worthy of experience, before they are too damaged from their lifestyle of constant violence and drug use to continue being playable.

Well, there is my main idea: Give the players a motivation to have their characters live fast and die young. I know this goes against my traditional gaming advice and style, but hey, punk is a hard genre to emulate, as it is inherently self-defeating, which is something I think most people ignore.

Anyway, until next time, stay geeky.

Published in: on July 15, 2013 at 8:54 am  Comments (5)  
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I’m going to start this post off with a disclaimer: This is about a roleplaying setting, and I do not categorically endorse real world violent rebellion against the police. This would generally be a bad idea and get you arrested, and there are probably a small number of bad apples giving the rest of the police a bad name.

Right, now, take all that real world restraint and lock it away. Put on some angry music; punk would be best, but anything will work; some old NWA (911 is a Joke, for example) would also work if you are into rap, or Hammers in my Head by A Miracle of Sound if you want something more modern, if a bit less angry then would be ideal.

You’ve got your music on? Good, now lets do some inspirational reading. Lets start with something I got off Reddit’s News of the Weird. Now look up some things on Adam Nobody. Heck, just go on youtube and watch police brutality videos for a bit. Then imagine this was Standard Operating Procedure; if you have trouble with this Transmetropolitan is a great comic series. Now take all of these bad, horrible things and turn them up to 11, at least in the cities; place a Bradburian dystopia in the suburbs. Now that we’ve set the stage, I give you:

Occupypunk, (Alternate Title: Yippiepunk)

They killed my Charlotte. Sweet innocent girl, just trying to make the world a better place, protesting and going to sit-ins and crap. Then the pigs beat her to death, and left me for dead. Too bad for them I didn’t die, and remembered their faces. I waited outside police stations for days, waited until I saw one I recognized, followed him home, out to the nice, safe, surveillance-free suburbs. Then I beat him to death, just like he did my Charlotte. The next one I just shot; after the first they were more careful. I had to get help with the next few; they knew my face by then, but luckily with all the shootings and beatings the pigs do, it wasn’t hard to find help. Once the government let them off their leashes, they’ve been running rampant, and there are a lot of people who’ve lost loved ones, limbs, friends, and bedmates to them. Only deal I had to promise them was that once we finish the ones who killed Charlotte, I’d help them with the ones who hurt them. You know, if I’m still alive. It isn’t like pighunting is conductive to a long and healthy life. One day they’ll catch me, like they caught Joe. Sent an entire SWAT team after him. Too bad for them someone got word to Joe that they were coming, and he had time to take so many uppers and dreck that he forgot how to die, for a little while anyway. Jumped them with a couple hatchets. They had to take him and a whole buncha the cops out in a bag, cus they couldn’t figure out what bits belonged to who. They’ll never get the blood out of that apartment, I live there now. Rent is really cheap, and the splatter is kinda artistic, if you’re into that kinda thing. Anyway, I don’t expect to have a long life, but hell, the courts ain’t administering justice, so someone has to.

I can’t think of much to add to this: It is probably the most straightforward of my settings, just channelling that helpless rage we feel when we watch the news these days into something constructive. Also, ripping off part of Steal This Book.

Anyway, I have some ideas on how you could do this setting in a game, to reward self-destructive punk gameplay. I’ll try and write them up later, until then, stay geeky.


Edit: I forgot to link the original thread.


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