Tabletop RPG Podcast and Roleplaying Resources

Category: RPG Tips (Page 1 of 2)

Using the iPad Paper App as a GM Whiteboard on Zoom

I was experimenting some more with my Paper app on my iPad to mock up how I’ll likely run my DicehavenCon V Conan game. I created a custom ‘wallpaper’ with areas to track Doom and Momentum. Using a stylus I can sketch maps, write down initiative (for games that use it; Conan actually does popcorn initiative instead), and generally keep that fast, freeform theater-of-the-mind with some rough maps GM style that I prefer. Also, with Zoom, players can mark up and annotate the map as well and move their drawing around (effectively, using tokens).

Continue reading

Dealing with Side-Conversations

I know I’ve had a few conversations over the last year or so about frustration over side conversations and out-of-character chatter. (Although out-of-character conversations and jokes can also be pretty fun!)

Some example issues I’ve seen from the various side-chatter:

  • A player and GM are roleplaying and they can hardly hear each other due to active side-conversations.
  • Players ignore the GM and have a side-conversation and remain clueless minutes later about information they should have known (if only they had paid attention), requiring the GM to repeat the same information again.
  • Jokes and chatter disrupt immersion.
  • GMs and players feel others don’t value their roleplaying since some people aren’t paying attention (this can be interpreted as lack of interest).

Let’s examine each type of side-conversation that happens and consider what changes we can make as a group to make our games more enjoyable.

Types of Side-Conversations

Group Rules Lookup

Often we stop to look up rules, especially ones that are more complex or when our characters are ‘high level’ in D&D type games. My favorite games are ones that flow without the game grinding to the halt while we look up rules (or worse yet, argue over them).

Possible Solutions:

  • Avoid game systems that have crunchy rules
  • Avoid high-level games (e.g. D&D levels 11-20).
  • GM and players to spend more time outside the game reading and understanding the rules.
  • Have a rules master to lookup rules (this still breaks the game, but makes rules lookups faster).
  • Don’t look up rules unless a character’s life is jeopardized. Instead, defer to the GM to make table rulings. If a GM is getting a rule wrong, don’t call them on it. Discuss the rule after the game (or one a break), and look to improve the rule during the next game.

Solo Rules Lookups

This is a variation on the above. Players don’t ask others about a rule, but just look them up themselves privately. Or maybe they are looking at character options when they level up or some such. This can be an annoying situation if the player zones out, finds something cool, and then in their eagerness interrupts the entire group roleplaying to share what they’ve just learned.

Possible Solutions:

  • Don’t interrupt others. Wait until a break or at least until your turn during combat.

Character Not in the Scene

When we split the party, players whose characters aren’t in the scene often feel at liberty to have conversations at full volume, both competing with the GM and players in that scene. One can argue that players should not be hearing what is going on in that scene and that this is appropriate, but I think GM should either (1) take players to another room to run the scene if it’s ‘private’, or (2) expect all players in the room to pay attention since they’ll get the recap on the scene from a character later anyway, thus saving on time.

Possible Solutions:

  • Players don’t have conversations in scenes where their character is absent. Instead, listen to the roleplaying.
  • If a conversation is necessary (e.g. a fellow player’s rules question), talk in whispers, or by electronic device PM, or by passing a note (although even whispered side conversations can be distracting if they cause laughter, etc.).

Questions / Strategy

Sometimes players have out-of-character questions (especially if they are learning the system) and ask their neighbor questions about the game rules or setting.

Possible Solutions:

  • Try to not talk to neighbor unless it’s a break.
  • If you must talk, talk in whispers.

In-Character Humor

Generally humor, if done in character, is great! Where it breaks down is if it’s not really in-character humor, i.e. making a snarky remark (that sort of is against the tone of the game or that character) and then saying afterwards, “My character didn’t say that.”

Possible Solutions:

  • Stay in character.

Out of Character Humor

This is a tough one. In a humorous, non-serious game like ‘It Came From The Late, Late, Late Show’, ‘Midearth/Bored of the Rings’, or perhaps ‘Johny Quest’, laughing both in and out of character is probably just fine. For serious game though (i.e. most games we play), out of character humor may be funny, but that humor is at the expense of immersion.

Possible Solutions:

  • Discuss the tone of each campaign with the group and establish expectation about if out-of-character humor is allowed or not. If it’s a serious game, avoid out-of-character humor which disrupts immersion.

Non-Game Chatter

This is a catch-all bucket of any other non-in-character chatter that happens. Anything from a GM reminiscing about the old days, or someone talking about how good the snacks are.

Possible Solutions:

  • Don’t engage in non-game chatter. Wait for a break to make your comments.
  • If you do this, do it in a whisper.

Meta-Gaming

This is especially true in combat players will ask others what they think they should do, thereby ‘strategizing’ while out of characters rather than simply doing what their characters would do. Note that there is a closely related, but very different thing I think, situation where a player simply doesn’t know a rule (or forgot the rule) and is asking players how the rule works.

Possible Solutions:

  • Don’t strategize out-of-character. Do what your character would do. Have your character shout quick phrases on their turn if they want to formulate a plan with other characters.
  • If you don’t know a rule, either (1) wait till a break (if it’s not in combat), or (2) wait until it’s your turn and ask the rules question to the entire group.

Final Recommendations

Consolidating the above, here are some ideas on things we could consider adopting as part of our social contract.

Game System Rules

  • GM and players should spend time outside the game reading and understanding the rules.
  • Ask rules questions on a break or on your combat turn. Specifically, if you don’t know a rule, either (1) wait till a break (if it’s not in combat), or (2) wait until it’s your turn and ask the rules question to the entire group.
  • No-Lookups Option: In some campaigns, rule that you don’t look up rules unless a character’s life is in jeopardy. Instead, defer to the GM to make table rulings. If a GM is getting a rule wrong, don’t call them on it. Discuss the rule after the game (or one a break), and look to improve the rule during the next game.
  • Rules-Master Option: In campaigns where you decide you want to allow rules lookups, have a player be the Rules Master to lookup rules. A player announcing his rules question during a break or during their turn in combat, and the Rules Master looks it up, waiting until the next logical break to announce their findings.

Meta-Gaming

  • Don’t strategize out-of-character. Do what your character would do. Have your character shout quick phrases on their turn if they want to formulate a plan with other characters.

Speaking Out of Turn

  • Stay in character.
  • Don’t interrupt others. Wait until a break or at least until your turn during combat to speak to the group.
  • Players should not have side conversations in scenes where their character is absent. Instead, listen to the roleplaying.
  • Do not talk to your neighbor unless it’s a break.
  • If a conversation is necessary, talk in whispers, or by electronic device PM, or by passing a note (although even whispered side conversations are distracting if they cause laughter, etc.).

Humor

  • Discuss the tone of each campaign with the group and set expectations on if you want to allow out-of-character humor or not. If it’s a serious game, avoid out-of-character humor which disrupts immersion.

Stan’s Alternate Death Rules

In D&D and other games, I’ve found that having a character die can be deflating, especially if it’s near the end of a campaign. I’ve discussed a ‘Taken Out’ rule variant with my Thursday group (which we’ve adopted for my Redmark campaign), but I’ll list some other house rules for dealing with Character Death. Let me know what you think. I’ll probably use one of these variants for any future games and campaigns I run.

1. Instant Death

This is rules-as-written in most games. Once you mechanically die, your character is dead (unless magically resurrected), and this happens instantly. Note that this can be deflating or awkward if it happens early in a game session and the player doesn’t have a new character ready to play.

2. Mortal Wound

Once you mechanically die, your character is marked for death and you’ll cross the threshold soon. The GM will tell you when. Generally your character will stabilize and become conscious but with a mortal wound that cannot be healed. The GM may allow you to play your character until the end of that game session or whenever your GM determines makes the best narrative sense, with no chance of resurrection.

3. Taken Out

When you’re character mechanically dies, the GM give the player a choice: your character can die (your GM will tell you when), or they can be Taken Out. Taken Out means you give the GM temporary extra narrative control over the scene which supersedes other rules. The character doesn’t die but is knocked unconscious and dragged off by monsters, mind-controlled by a mesmerist and flees as an ally of their new master, incapacitated by disease and powerless to move without healing, or other similar outcome. The surviving ally characters cannot intervene to prevent this from happened; it simply happens, and with the character off-scene, the surviving characters have a new quest: to save or heal the affected character. Note that being taken out doesn’t mean there is no consequence. The character may lost their possessions and return forever changed by their experience.

4. Last Breath

When you’re dying you take your Last Breath. You catch a glimpse of the afterlife or the celestial world that awaits (the GM will describe it). Then roll 2d6 (just roll, no modifiers).

On a 10 or higher, you’ve cheated death — you’re in a bad spot but you’re still alive and stabilized.

On a 7–9, a celestial power will offer you a bargain. Take the pact and stabilize or refuse and pass into the realm of Death. The bargain will usually be a quest that will come at great cost, often changing your character’s personality and goals.

On 6 or lower, your fate is sealed. You’re marked for death and you’ll cross the threshold soon. The GM will tell you when. Generally your character will stabilize and become conscious but with a mortal wound that cannot be healed. The GM may allow you to play your character until the end of that game session or whenever your GM determines makes the best narrative sense.

The Last Breath is that moment standing between life and death. Time stands still and the dying character glimpses the afterlife. This could be anything from a Force Ghost, a guardian angel, or Death himself. Even those who do not pass beyond into eternity catch a glimpse of the other side and what might await them — friends and enemies past, rewards or punishment for acts in life or other, stranger vistas. All are changed in some way by this moment—even those who escape.

The key thing to remember is that a brush with death, succeed or fail, is a significant moment that should always lead to change.

(Above text was inspired by Dungeon World. Note that this allows you to play out the scene where Luke has a force vision when dying on Hoth, or Thorin is dying and having a monologue after the Battle of Five Armies in The Hobbit.)

5. Heroes Never Die

Best used in games with Superpowers or in a campaign of high pulp, with this rule, characters who die don’t actually die but instead are unconscious and stabilized, and will regain consciousness after the current scene.

All About GM Screens

So are GM Screens helpful?

History

The original DM’s Screen of the mid to late 70s was a 3 ring binder which you used to hide your maps and monster stats.

Pic of Gary Gygax and his Dungeon

Gary Gygax and his Dungeon

Generally these could be in your lap or propped up on the table.

Pic of Stranger Things 3 Ring DM Binder

Stranger Things 3 Ring DM Binder

Later, D&D modules often included a cardboard map which you could pull out and use with one side as a player facing art, and the internal side being the dungeon map.

GM Screen Uses

The primary uses for a GM screen are:

  • Hiding GM maps
  • Hiding miniatures of upcoming monsters
  • Hiding upcoming props and handouts
  • Hiding GM dice rolls
  • Providing a GM quick reference

I’ve done some online polling in the past, and generally what I find is that 2/3s of GMs of D&D style games prefer using a GM screen (which makes sense since they have maps and miniatures to hide), whereas about 2/3s of GMs running non-D&D style games prefer NOT to use a GM screen.

Stan’s Technique

It’s all a matter of personal preference of course, but here’s my preferences:

For D&D Style Games

I like to use a thinner version of what amounts to a 3 Ring binder. It’s a two-panel restaurant menu with inserts — art for the players side and a portfolio of clear sleeves (cut out from an art display binder) on the inside. I use it just like a 3 ring binder (in my lap or propped up on the table) but its a lot lighter.

  • Hiding GM maps — I have them as an insert in the restaurant binder
  • Hiding miniatures of upcoming monsters — I have a wood chest next to the GMs chair I use for that
  • Hiding upcoming props and handouts — I hide these in a folder next to the GMs chair
  • Hiding GM dice rolls — I usually roll in the open, or if needed, hide the roll with my hand
  • Providing a GM quick reference — I have GM cheat sheets, stat blocks, and adventure notes in the two-panel restaurant menu

Another technique I’ve used is to use a traditional GM screen which GM reference notes but to lay it down on the table — essentially a placemat with a rules cheat sheet.

For Non-D&D Style Games

Usually I do the above, but with a digest sized 3 ring binder, such as my Traveller binder.

Why the smaller footprint? I like the smaller footprint (easier to see over), but whereas D&D has so many maps from modules that look best at 8.5×11″, in story games or Traveller, I don’t have to worry about large maps so I go with my preferred smaller digest size.

Conclusion

It’s all personal preferences, but those are mine! I especially don’t like having to reach over a GM screen to draw maps, and I don’t like hiding dice.

 

 

 

 

« Older posts

© 2020 Dicehaven

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑