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Share your D&D knowledge and win!

Written by Expy - Published on March 11, 2008

Win a copy of Exemplars of Evil

It’s time for a another contest! Yay! And all you have to do to enter the contest is give some DMing advice!

Contest rules

  • You get one entry in the contest for each DM tip you write (max 5)
  • 1 tip per comment, please (so I can easily tally entries)
  • If you’re a player, you can write about things you always enjoy in a game.
  • Each comment must be 100 words or less (I won’t count. Just keep it short!)
  • Contest ends on March 31st

The prize – Exemplars of Evil

I gave this book a raving review. It really rocks – and it will keep rocking even if you switch to 4E.

2 DM tips by Yax

I’ll participate in the tip sharing:

  • Introduce a dragon, or a rumor about a dragon, in your next game session. Your players will love it. (Red dragons generate the most enthusiasm)
  • It’s the night before a game and you don’t feel like preparing anything? Don’t! Wake up 30 minutes early the morning of the game and enjoy the motivating power of the last minute situation.

Let’s have fun with this
The point of this contest is to create a rich resource of quick-to-read, fun-to-read DM tips. Try to be helpful. Don’t be afraid to be funny.

Good luck on the contest!

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Written by Expy

Meet Expy The Red Dragon

Expy is the mascot for DungeonMastering.com and the real mastermind behind Expy Games. He likes to hoard treasure, terrorize neighbors, burn down villages, and tell white dragon jokes..

No matter how fearful the legends claim dragons are, they always end up being defeated in 5 rounds by adventuring parties they encounter. That’s what dragons are – experience points for the heroes in your Dungeons & Dragon party. And this mascot is no different, hence the name Expy.

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240 Responses to “Share your D&D knowledge and win!”
  1. Adalore says:

    – If you have a character who was sent to another plane of evil. Keep him in mind if your players go there. Remember that Lovable NPC form your newbie days? Dang there he is! Lets give em a hug.

    Other then that no idea. :P
    Still new to the concept of DM’ing.

  2. mike says:

    If you use index cards, write out every status effect (deafened, blinded, fatigued, etc.) with the name on the front, and its effects on the back. That way you just hand them out when necessary and there’s no page-searching.

  3. clem says:

    Mix and match cultures: Pick 1 element each from 2 or 3 real or fictional cultures. Free associate the connection between the elements. You have an instant base to build a new exotic culture to befuddle players. Example: Live in trees (Tolkien elves), Colorful clothing (several human cultures), Puritanical religion (many examples) – The True Holy Elves are a tribe of Wood Elves who follow the strict Lawful tenets of an ancient prophet. Like many other things, they regard the elven talent for stealth as dishonorable and thus sinful, so they wear bright and garish garb to avoid the temptation.

  4. Yax says:

    When in doubt, start a fight! Players love combat (most of them anyway).

  5. Nelson says:

    Use Character Points for Good Roleplaying:

    Instead of Awarding XP and Gold all the time, award “Character Points” which can be exchanged for in-game rewards.

    For example:
    +3 Character Points allows for 1 reroll in any situation
    +5 character points can be used to gain an automatic critical hit, saving thorw or to maximize the results of a spell.
    +10 character points can permanently give a +1 to any attribute or can reverse your character’s death.

    Give out no more than 2 character points per session to keep them rare. Use them to reward excellent roleplaying, ingenuity or bravery/stupidity ;)

  6. Kiter says:

    Reintroduce those NPC’s from yonder days. That innkeeper that you killed the rats for in your first adventure? You visit him on the way to your next adventure and find that his son has decided to become an adventurer and they decided to name their next child after one of the PC’s.

    This adds alot of depth to your campaigns and will make your players actually care for the world they inhabit every saturday night.

  7. mike says:

    Give them rivals. Not actually enemies that they will eventually fight and kill, but legitimate rivals that take the mission first, have already reserved the best rooms, and generally just get under the party’s skin. Saving the world is good and all, but it just gets boring after a while. Friendly (or intensely personal) competition is an amazing motivator.

  8. Kevin says:

    Use Irony Games’ Webtools for maps. They have inns, villages, cities, archipelagos, whole worlds, clearings, &c.. Just don’t bet on the generators (NPC and such) being linked right – the page hasn’t been updated in years.

  9. Wizbang says:

    If one of your players wants an uber item, don’t give it to them. Just keep throwing hints and random rumors of a great treasure and they’ll be happy enough searching for that. Hopefully they’ll forget about the one they wanted, and if not, give them something that won’t break your game, and have them keep looking.

    Nothing says “Unplanned session,” like a nice long treasure hunt, but they’ll adjust. Just throw mid-grade items at them.

  10. Thoth says:

    Keep a stack of chips with three or four different colours. Use them for rewards, be they XP or in game character awards, when the PCs do something extraordinary in regards to role playing their characters. I even occasionally toss them a character reward for something extraordinarily funny or amusing, even if it isn’t a roleplaying event per se. Sometimes it is just great to have fun!

  11. Thoth says:

    At the beginning of the playing session (as in, the first game), ask the players to have a miniature that they would like to use for the game that is similar to how they see their own character. It will help them role play their character better, and the reaction they get when you plunk down that huge monster in front of them will be priceless!

  12. Thoth says:

    I have a Legacy Campaign. It is the Campaign World of my own design that is over 20 years old. It is now the Forth Age. The players have played in it before, except they are generations removed from their previous PCs. The World is different, but similar. Other GMs could try the same thing. Dust off that old Campaign World, and freshen it up a bit. The PCs will enjoy the familiar, but different. They may even run into old NPCs that were once PCs…which could be a session in itself. How will the new PCs react to an ancient and wise PC from yonder…that they played before. They might even like to put on the hat and run the character for the GM!

  13. hewhoispale says:

    My DM didn’t fully map-out adventures or missions, he sketched the idea and kept many pages of reference around (mostly the stats and equipment for any kind of security forces in the same county as us) because we had an incredible ability to completely de-rail whatever he had planned without us meaning to. We always got the task done, just never in the manner he expected.

    Even in a fairly light roleplaying environment, giving the players time to plan/interact in character can lead to some interesting and often hilarious experiences. (A particular one comes to mind when we received a messaged that ended in ‘this message will self-destruct in 10 seconds’ and one of the players had never seen Mission Impossible and freaked out.)

    Reward good character design. I made a very sub-optimal character once for the sake of making the character interesting and my DM rewarded me for doing so (he hates powergamers).

    And for the love of gods (at least the lawful ones), require DM approval for anyone making a character of the other gender. I’ve only once seen a player make a character of the opposite gender that didn’t degenerate gameplay and that was a 6-foot tall hairy cross-dressing sorceress named Jodie.

  14. Danny says:

    Overrun them with rats. Or babies. Or anything small and easy to kill. It’s fun and simple enough so that the players can control much of the DMing portion. Let them run out of ammo and have to fight their way out the room, taking small damage round after round after round after round after round. It’s a fight of survival. And oh so much fun to hear “I killed 32, how about you?”.

  15. nw_meyer says:

    “Maps are nice, but descriptions are nicer. Use simple graph paper or a single 8.5×11 one inch grid for simple maps. If you focus more on the descriptions and write down what’s in the areas it’ll make the room/dungeon/etc more fun and create a better suspension of disbelief.

    The environment is more important than the monsters, because it will be there when the monsters are gone. It sets the mood, sets the expectations, lets you know what kind of cultures or creatures to expect. The environment is the car the monsters drive to get to work. Hence your players should appreciate the car before the driver. Spend time on a little description and it will make the world seem more vivid.”

  16. nw_meyer says:

    “Use your hands. Very few people have the vocal range to do a lot of accents with which to bring their characters to life. Body language is better. Hunch, crouch, stand tall, wring your hands, point a lot, use large gestures… these convey a personality better than your bad accents. Use your body like your acting on a stage instead of your living room.”

  17. nw_meyer says:

    “The rules are complex and sometimes difficult to understand, they are not the focus of the game though. Don’t let people lawyer the rules during the game, that’s not what everyone came to the session to do. Make your decision as a DM, stand by it without fail even if you think you’re wrong. Then, after the game let them argue they’re case. Listen to what they say, and decide if you agree or not. The rules are guidelines, and it’s your game. The only rule that is one hundred percent necessary is consistency. Players will accept your decisions, as long as you’re fair and stick to your guns. Show them you are willing to listen and that even if they disagree with you that they can count on rules that don’t change under them like quicksand. Nothing is worse than learning to play the game, only to find out that your DM doesn’t play by their own rules. Consistency.”

  18. nw_meyer says:

    “Make stuff up, and do it often. The fun of fantasy is that it doesn’t actually have any rules, and I find the idea of normal fantasy an oxymoron. A tribe of tattooed hobgoblins that dies their hair blue from the bombardier beetles they breed? Awesome… suddenly hobgoblins are way more interesting. The small and friendly elven hamlet is really a tiny offshoot of the elven nation that’s hiding away because they practice cannibalism? That’s scary. So wait, the mage’s tower up the road here is dumping failed potion recipes into the river and now the fish can fly and breath lightening? wtf! The people coming to your table are there to have fun and escape reality, suspension of disbelief is important but it’s a game and anyone expecting a full-detail alternate reality doesn’t belong in the one they already have.”

  19. nw_meyer says:

    “The best planning device you can use is a flow-chart. If there’s basically three ways something can go put it on the paper and draw three lines from it to what might happen in those three cases. You don’t have to flesh them all out, you might just flesh out the most likely ones, but what this does is allow you to at least have an idea of what you would do. That way you don’t frown or stare dumb-founded at your players when they decide the town mayor is a werewolf and kill him outright… only to find that he just really likes wearing a coonskin hat and heavy cloak when he goes for his evening jog. Flow charts take little time, can plot out tons of events (most you will never actually never use) and keep you three steps ahead of your players. You’ll feel prepared, wily, and in control even if you are not. Combine this with the “Make Stuff Up” theory and you can create hours worth of enjoyment without spending days in planning… though planning is still good.”

  20. Thoth says:

    I like having the PCs create a background for their characters, and depending on how good it is, they can get XP bonuses to start their characters off. It also allows you to see what kind of ideas they have for playing their characters AND it gives you plot hooks to further the plot. After all, nothing says great planning like having the background of the PC “catch up” to them.

  21. Thoth says:

    Another XP bonus I give the players is for in-game administrative tasks. The players who complete these tasks usually get a 100-250 XP bonus, depending on character level. These tasks are usually spread out amonst the PCs. I have one for Scribe detailing the history and significant events, I have one detailing/keeping treasure listed, a “mapper” – the PC who keeps all the maps for the party, a party speaker, in case of having to speak to NPCs, a lunch or snack administrator, who runs the snack run and takes down everyone’s orders for the break, etc. I am sure there are countless more out there. Anyone have any others?

  22. Danny says:

    Want to make an event a little more memorable? Add the element of weather. A fight in the poring rain makes it hard to hear/see/stand. A hunt in the snow: you follow tracks untill the wind blows them away. Make it so hot that no one can wear armor and fight. It’s so dry and everyone’s so parched that (GULP!) the bard can’t sing!

  23. Zavia says:

    Less Random Rolls during Character Creation


    Some people dislikes a lot of randomness in their games, ESPECIALLY during Character Creation. This is evident with the popularity of Point Buy and what not. But sometimes the other players want to roll dice while the other doesn’t. Therefore, I present you the Less Random Rolls during Character Creation variant.(LR²C²)

    Below is a few ways to modify the rolls:

    1d10+8 (9-18, adv of 13.5) Balanced Campaign, as the chances of a low score is lowered to 10% only, but the redeeming factor is a lower average by 1.

    2d6+6 (8-18, adv of 13) Balanced Campaign, 20% chance to get negative score only, but have a the average roll lowered by 1.5

    1d8+10 (11-18, adv of 14.5) For those who dislikes negative scores but wish to keep the average roll.

    2d4+8 (10-16, adv of 13) As above, but slightly weaker for DMs who want to use the above, but think its too strong. Players lose the chance to have negative scores and in return, lose the highest positive modifier and is 1.5 average roll less than normal.
    2d4+10 (12-18, adv of 15) High-Powered Campaign.

    5d2+8 (13-18, adv of 15.5) High-Powered Campaign. Don’t mess with the PCs!

    6+1d8 (7-14, adv of 10.5) Low powered Campaign. This is a good one to use for Commoners and NPCs


    As seen, there are many ways to do this, just mix and match different dice combinations, calculate the average, minimum and maximum values and plop on a modifier. If you want 10-20, use 3d4+8!

    Anyway, the only weakness of this system is that it reduces the amount of negative rolls seen, so hard-core RPers may be disappointed.

    Thats all I can think of on the fly. Basically, use your knowledge of average dice rolls and make your own as you see fit.

  24. Sideshow says:

    Player taking too long to figure Polymorph / Wild Shape effects? Make them narrow the possibilities down to 10 choices, transcribed on index cards before the start of the session. Choosing and figuring stats will go much quicker!

  25. Danny says:

    Take your old maps out of their frames and re-run them, only how they are now after they’ve been searched and emptied. The characters will find empty chests, skeletons, sprung traps. Maybe even some hints of the first treasure hunters. You know, candy wrappers and dirty pictures scrawled on the walls. Maybe some old items the previous crew left behind. They can return to town with ghost stories or clues for the next group.

  26. Sideshow says:

    Associate a piece of music with each major NPC and play it whenever they show up. They will stand out more strongly and feel more unique to the players.

  27. Danny says:

    DM “So you’re all in the tavern, and-”
    PC “Is there a bar wench? Is she hot”?
    DM “Umm… Sure. Anyhow, there’s a dwar-”
    PC “Okay. I passed my Charisma roll. I’m gonna do her”
    DM “No, you’re not. So there’s this dwarf in the corn-”
    PC “I did her. She loved it.”

    …months and months later…

    “A member of the city guard approaches you, and hands you a letter. It’s a court order for you to start supplying child support”.

    Now the PC has to come up with $200 a month and must deliver. Now that’s fun!!

  28. Sideshow says:

    Improvise: when your players discuss among themselves what they think is going on, choose the explanation that seems the most exciting to them (or fun for you). It will change some of what you had planned, but the players will buy into it much more and have more fun.

  29. Lynxnc says:

    When I dm’ed, I wrote each PC’s name(s) on a sheet of plain paper, then put the sheet in the sheet protector. Then while playing I could make notes on the sheet protector with a fine point dry erase marker, erasing, etc as needed. Makes keeping up with little things easier.

  30. Sideshow says:

    Hand out magic items on index cards, and give each an id number. If one has a curse or special conditions that the players should not be aware of, you can record it in your notes using the id number and reference it during play, adjudicating any surprise effects on the fly.

  31. Danny says:

    Remember the corn-husking village of Kobolds that was saved from the owlbears by the big strong adventurers? Well, they were so grateful that they told everyone how great the PC’s are and word has spread. Now they are begged at transfer stations or taverns or in mage tower kitchens to help out. They are followed by children seeking audience, or lonely widows and lobbyists. I prefer to have the druid followed by stray cats.

  32. Sideshow says:

    If you can prepare a session beforehand, instead of reading the background text to the players at the beginning, you can email it to them before the session starts (at least a day ahead so they have time to read it). You’ll avoid wasting valuable session time together and pique their interest in your adventure hook.

  33. Patriarch917 says:

    Implement time travel with vintage rules. Have your party’s souls sent back in time to inhabit the bodies of adventurers from long ago. Have character sheets ready to hand out, and take them on a rollicking 1st or 2nd edition dungeon crawl. Let the outcome (including a TPK) affect the present adventure.

  34. Xenon says:

    Let players occassionally describe the deaths of their enemies. If they land the killing blow on an orc, say “You killed him. Describe it.”
    This lets them choose the outcome and describe their character as they wish, and it takes some of the pressure off of you, them DM. You have enough stuff to describe!

  35. Chris Olson says:

    To spice up your average campaign, have your characters find a crypt sealed by an ‘elder-sign’. The sign is cracking…

    … inside can be any evil your campaign needs, mine needed the evil son of the god of war …

  36. Chris Olson says:

    For the next quest, give the players instructions in poetry form. I prefer five beats, alternating rhyming lines. Make sure to give the players a copy of the instructions.

  37. Chris Olson says:

    I like to use Hero designer and excel to make paper stand-ups of the characters (and humanoids) the players face. The back of each piece is a black silhouette. Other monsters are done is various to-scale sizes (dragons and other long creatures like tigers) are right and left sides. Giants are taller. Much cheaper than figures, and you can make the player characters look like the characters.

  38. Chris Olson says:

    I rigged a cheap ($75) torpedo video projector, a small mirror and a white board cut to fit our table top into a scale map projector for my group. Now all of those cool maps you can download from WotC can be shown to your players as they explore!

    As a bonus, they can put their figures right onto the map!

    My players love it. It speeds up play but puts a higher burden on pre-game setup as you need to scale each map to the same scale. I use paint.NET and layers to handle reveals and grid overlays as the players explore.

  39. David Emswiler says:

    Use your contacts as NPCs.
    If you have trouble coming up with a personality for an NPC think of people you know.
    You go to a bar or tavern, think of the bartender at your favorite place. Think of the mixologist at the local Applebees or TGIFridays.
    You have a Warrior type, think of the coach of your local team or if you know members of the team, use them as your idea for the NPC.

  40. Megan LaFollett says:

    Have a name tag ready for each major NPC and wear the appropriate one when the PCs interact with that character. If you want to get real fancy, add a small portrait of the NPC on the name tag.

  41. David Emswiler says:

    One idea was index cards for magic items
    Just start with a blank card just saying long sword or wand or ring … give it a code that you use to cross reference it. They can write down things about it as they use it.

    ie. easier to swing, does more damage
    … talks to me in my dreams
    … feels warm to the touch

  42. Megan LaFollett says:

    Include a couple of completely unimportant NPCs that keep showing up in unexpected places for comic relief. Just make sure they don’t get killed by overzealous PCs! It’s okay to fudge rolls or come up with a bizarre way that the NPC escapes death by PC.

  43. Mrs L says:

    I went to the art supply store and found an A2 size page protector for £1.50. We put the blank battle grid inside it and used it for our miniatures. The DM can draw each room on the grid with a dry erase marker as we enter it. It’s not quite as cool as the video projector Chris Olson mentioned, but definitely cheaper and faster.

  44. Alphadean says:

    Flexiblity is paramount. Never be to set on something happening players are awesome for screwing the best laid plans

  45. Alphadean says:

    Tip #2: make your players apart of the design of the campaign. Ask them to write background stories for there characters and use that as the cannon and fodder for your adventure building

  46. Alphadean says:

    Tip #3: Never bite off more than you can chew. Make sure your group is managable, 5-8 players is more than enough…and don’t take the stresses of your day out on the PC’s.

  47. Alphadean says:

    always have a trick or two up your sleeve, never let the players see it coming. Just when they think they got you on the ropes let em’ have it…you’ll earn the rep of being a slick sweet DM.

  48. Alphadean says:

    my final tip is br creative, be innovative…even if you’re basing your adventure off something else (the movie under seige for example) this DnD for god’s sake. Throw in a twist or two. Like the ship is headed for a vortex to another plane and time running out.

  49. mike says:

    When planning NPCs, one simple way to help personalize them is to mentally tie them to a famous actor or movie character. That way when it comes time to “act” as that NPC, you aren’t entirely making everything up…you’re imitating. Inflection, behavior, mannerisms, even their general mentality, all of these can be easily drawn from pre-established sources like this. Another way it helps is if they go back to NPC #421 months later and you don’t even remember the initial meeting, if you have written down “Joseph – talks like Nixon” then you already have enough to maintain continuity.

  50. Kane says:

    As a DM, I use a sheet of 1/4″ plexiglass placed over the white blank battlemap found in the back of the DMG, with dry erase markers, I can quickly drawl out the environment and not reveal too much at one time.

  51. Jamie says:

    I always use Legos for my group’s minis: Even if you don’t use them during the game, having a character that you can customize and easily describe works wonders for getting players invested in their characters. Of course, we usually *do* use them during the game, so the mini can whack a bunch of Lego skeletons or get eaten by a dragon.

  52. Jamie says:

    Always include at least one homebrewed race, plane, class, or other custom element. It’ll help make the campaign more memorable, so a “Let’s kill the Yuan-Ti. Again. *yawn*” campaign arc turns into “There’s a race of reptiles trying to take over the world, and we have no idea what they are, where they come from, or what they can do!” The less you do things by-the-book, the better.

  53. Jamie says:

    To come up with names on the fly and give them verisimilitude, come up with a set pattern so the names don’t seem as random; drawing from real-world languages and naming schemes is a plus. For example, in one of my games I decided that the inhabitants of one particular magocracy would have Greek-looking names with German pronunciation, so when I needed a name fast, I had a list of “1001 Ancient Greek Names” handy and pronounced them like Arnold Schwarzenegger. My players thought (A) I had already planned the names out, so they thought Joe Random Commoner was more important than he actually was, and (B) because the Greek/German juxtaposition was so strange to them, they thought I was much more creative than I actually am!

  54. Jamie says:

    To quickly come up with maps of worlds, continents, nations, or islands, real-world maps are incredibly useful. For instance, Google a map of Europe in the 1600s, flip it horizontally, rotate it 30 degrees, cut off the easily-recognized Italian peninsula, and voila, a new map! Unless your players are history buffs, chances are it will be just familiar enough to make it seem realistic but not obvious enough for them to say, “Wait a minute…that’s just ancient Europe flipped, rotated, and cropped!”

  55. Jamie says:

    Go out of your way to use uncommon events or inspiration. Because D&D is based off of medieval Europe, with bits of ancient Japan and China thrown in with Oriental adventures and some Middle East flavor from prior editions, you can add a lot to your campaign just by drawing from somewhere else. Drop an ancient Aztec kingdom into your games, model a tribe of Wood Elves off the Cherokee, or throw in an empire with a Byzantine political structure. Even if they are obvious, it will be a nice change of pace.

  56. Glenalth says:

    Have the PCs actually affect the world around them based on their choices of which missions they complete.

    For example, a choice of search and rescue at a recently raided village vs. raiding and capturing the now mostly empty orc stronghold.

    Search and rescue means the community is likely to survive another winter, and possibly provide resources to the party in the future, while the orcs have a chance to return to their stronghold and prepare for another raid.

    Attacking the stronghold almost eliminates the orc presence in the area, but that community may not exist in the next year.

  57. Michael Natale says:

    Always save your (or your players) character sheets when they die or retire. As they accumulate, a quick name change brings a fully fleshed out NPC to the table at the drop of a hat.

  58. Michael Natale says:

    If your players are distracted or maybe a particular section of the adventure is a bit slow, use random rolls of the dice behind the DM screen to get their attention.

    This works best in a tavern, shop or where there will likely be some NPCs for you to play off of. Roll the dice; pretend to study the results and flip through some pages quickly. When the players look expectantly at you, just say something like “Just checking on something. Nevermind.”

    They’ll go nuts trying to figure out what you were rolling for, and most of the time it brings them right back to the plot or story of the adventure.

  59. Michael Natale says:

    Sometimes its fun to throw an NPC at the players who is not an unknown, shadowy mysterious figure they must eventually kill. Sometimes the best villains are ones they know, political figures or even underworld bosses. Maybe someone they ticked off and who has the power to make their lives miserable.

    If you create such an NPC and have the players interact with (and learn to hate) this NPC, then a few sessions down the line, you can neatly tie this NCP into a plotline. This gives the players a nice opportunity for payback and the emotional investment breathes real life into your campaign.

  60. shekaka67 says:

    funny one ,but true:
    Make sure the DM’s significant other gives them plenty of sex the day before or the day you are scheduled to play. This will ensure a more calm and serene DM who is less likely to take out his frustrations on yoru hapless player characters.

  61. shekaka67 says:

    When running a convention game, I have always found it useful to begin the session with a combat. It makes for an exciting intro and is even better when you take it easy on the initial flavor text…it just kind of jump starts the session.
    I have used this for my regular campaign as well ,but it doesn’t work as well if the pcs happen to be in a place where it really doesn’t make sense for a combat.

  62. shekaka67 says:

    try to work on an accent or personal tick for your main npc or bad guy for the evening. I often brainstorm( out loud) even with goofy accents trying to come up with good schticks for my npcs….especially the main bad guy…
    the crazier the more memorable.
    Even if you aren’t a natural cut-up like me, you can always describe the npc the same way so that he is more memorable.

    for example, suppose a wicked king talks in a voice similar to Jack NIcholson…now as long as you keep his name appropriate to the setting it will avoid becoming campy(unless that’s what you want)…and he will definitely be more memorable to the players. Even if you can’t do a good imitation of his voice, you can mimic famous lines…ie, for this king, he says to the pcs (very angrily), ” You know the people want me on this throne…they need me on this throne…”, or” The truth of the kingdom…you can’t handle the truth!”

  63. Jeremy says:

    If you are playing with minis, lots of handy household items can be used to enhance game place — a small, clear plastic remainder from a package might could signify a flying character. Blocks, boxes, etc. can all become terrain. Doesnt have to be super creative or detailed, but anything that helps with visualization.

  64. Jeremy says:

    Check the discount rack at grocery stores/drug stores/toy stores for cheap minatures. Plastic little farm animals, creepy crawlie fake spiders and other bugs can all be used in most in town and dungeon adventure.

  65. Jeremy says:

    Play-doh– particularly the mini-birthday party-favor sizes– is handy for when someone drops their weapon or summons a non-standard animal or you need to improvise some feature or item.

  66. shekaka67 says:

    Your mileage may vary on this one ,but I think preparation is key:
    winging things can be fun ,but it always seems to affect consistency in a campaign and nothing can ruin a game faster than when the versimilitude of the setting is ruined by inconsistent facts( ie, the bar owner of the Welcome Wench has a name that seems to change every time the pcs come in for a drink or the local temple ‘s high priest seems to change his age or looks from time to time)…
    Spend time thinking about your setting , making accurate notes, and thinking carefully about the consequences of the pcs actions….making their actions and inactions count gives more believability to your world….

  67. shekaka67 says:

    this is a sound piece of advice I wish I would follow more often….nip the rules lawyers in the bud…if something comes up that involves a little known or little used rule…just make a quick judgment and then look it up later.
    It has been said before ,but it is much better to keep the
    game moving and make a small mistake or two than to bring
    things to a grinding halt to look up an obscure rule that
    may or may not be hugely significant in the end.

    NOw if it is a life or death situation, you may wish to
    take the time to look up the rule…in this case it is probably better to have the grieving player look the rule
    up while you continue on with other pc actions( if at all

  68. Jeremy says:

    Instead of rolling on a random encounter table (if running a published module), pick one or two encounters off of that list, and prep them for the most in opportune time for the PCs.

  69. Jeremy says:

    Search online for pictures from flikr and the like for scenery and people (in partic look for Renn Faire sets and groups) — gives your party visuals to connect with the flavor text (and you may not have to read so much flavor text). The PC’s may be more likely to remember that NPC’s name as well if they have a face to place with a name.

  70. Joshua says:

    I took our adventure map, the one with a dungeon on one side and a blank on the other, and laminated it so I can write on it with dry erase markers.

  71. Joshua says:

    I use index cards, write my players info on them and another one with words like, “Dragon”, “Monster”, “Spell”, etc. to keep up with initiative and how long things last. Everytime the “Spell” comes up, put a mark on it to keep up with rounds.

  72. Bryan says:

    -When in doubt about environment monsters, just make up an appearance and use the stats of a random monster. Assassin Vines work in the Forest, but Living Stalagmites work just as fine in a cave!

    -Players tend to like recurring characters, especially if they are comic relief. Make an NPC and have him show up every now and then, level him with them to create a challenge whenever they do decide to kill him.

    -Cheez-its make the best monsters EVA! (why clean up when you can eat the pieces?)

    -If you have a cool plot idea but can’t find the spell/ability needed to pull it off, just make an item of uberness. It bypasses the rules problem of why a level 6 Saytr has somehow forced an entire town to act as if they were in a Broadway musical.

    -Giving out experience points is never all that fun and it makes things more complicated when your level 11 Sorcerer decides to run into the forest to get that last 500 xp while ignoring the roleplaying going on at the nearby town. In my campaign we just hand out levels in the general period at which they are earned. Killed 20 creatures in one day? Get a level. Killed 20 creatures in 3 days? No level. Slept with the King’s daughter? Gain a Level. Persuaded the King not to kill you after sleeping with his daughter? Gain a Level!

  73. Lord Shell says:

    If you have several players who are playing online games while you are running, you might want to consider that you’re not being very inclusive of some folks.

  74. Lord Shell says:

    If you have several players who are playing online games while you are running and you still have enough people that they have to break up into individual discussion groups without effecting the main plotline, you might want to consider that you’ve got too many players.

  75. Lord Shell says:

    Any time a new player enters your game and says he has an intelligent vorpal sword named ‘Wolverine’, kill his character and force him to make a new one. Trust me.

  76. Lord Shell says:

    Any time a new player enters your game and spends all his idle time talking about his history of killing other PC’s, have a lot of antacid and painkillers available. It’s going to be a long night.

  77. Lord Shell says:

    If your players spend all their spare time and money putting ‘glyphs of warding’ over every dwelling they stay in, wagon they ride in or ship they sail in, there’s a problem.

    If they cover a pavillion tent with glyphs of warding to put around the entire camp every night because their horses and followers keep getting slaughtered, there’s a problem.

    If they exult over having the same character to play after two weeks play, there’s a problem.

    If they get to the end of a session and are paranoid because no one has died, there’s a problem.

    Time to review the term “Challenge Rating”, Genghis.

  78. Aaron O. says:

    At the beginning of every gaming session I have one of the players recap the previous session. It helps get the action started, insures that they pay attention, and it is really very interesting to see what they found important and what they skipped over. The stuff you thought was most important—glossed over or ignored. LOL

  79. Aaron O. says:

    This can’t be used all the time but occasionally I insure I have some reason to take one or sometimes two players aside. I make sure they bring their dice and we whisper. Sometimes I give them information they were seeking on a Gather Information check or reminding them about a previous experience or even sometimes combat if they’ve gone off alone.

    This has to be done VERY carefully so the other players don’t get bored. You should only take a few minutes and preferably while the other players are working on a puzzle, deciding a course of action, or taking a piss break.

    I like doing this because for a few minutes that person is special. The focus is entirely on them. It also adds an air of mystery if they refuse to tell the rest of the group what happened (ESPECIALLY with rogues).

    I don’t do this every session, just when I feel the time is right or if I have something specific in mind.

  80. Aaron O. says:

    Alphadean already mentioned this but I’m going to repeat it because I do it too.

    Each of my players has to write a bio on their character. I’m not looking for novels or amazing storytelling ability just something about their character. Why did they become an adventurer instead of a farmer? Then I weave aspects of that into the campaign. If done decently well then the characters have a more vested interest in their characters and in the story that is happening around them. It also makes for difficult choices when elements of one character’s background comes to life and they have to follow the adventure or whatever background element is haunting them.

  81. catdragon says:

    Discover what it is your players’ characters care about. Then take it away or threaten it. Oftentimes I find the players writing their own plots as they scheme of ways to find, recover, or protect what it is their characters love.

  82. catdragon says:

    Remember that the players’ characters are the star of the movie. Its their job to save the world, end the threat, or discover the mystery. Your NPCs are they to pat them on the back after they do it.

  83. catdragon says:

    Never write an adventure/campaign plot in pen. Use a pencil so it is easier to re-tool and re-fit. Revisit the plot every month or so. Visit the NPCs and see what they are up to when you can. Discover interactions between the plot and the NPCs that have nothing to do with the PCs and the world starts breathing on its own.

  84. Yax says:

    During the week leading up to a game, talk to your players or call them and try to figure out what element of the upcoming game they’re pumped about.

    Make sure this element is present during the game.

  85. Marcel says:

    Know your players and what their motivations are. If you have players who want to go and see what is over the hills, don’t tie your adventure to a specific place. If your players prefer political intrigue, don’t give them a dungeon crawl.

  86. Josh says:

    Don’t be afraid to give the group an obstacle that’s too hard to defeat the “conventional” way (e.g. a monster that’s probably too tough). It forces them to be creative, and that can give you some incredible results.

  87. Josh says:

    When statting NPCs, don’t get too caught up in the rules. Only the worst lawyers are going to care if someone’s got a couple more skill points than they should if it makes the character more interesting.

  88. Josh says:

    Pay attention to any unusual traits or abilities your PCs have. If they spent points/resources/whatever to acquire it, give them a chance to use it in the game.

  89. Dayne says:

    One of the best things you can do to your players is to change
    everything for them – anotherwords, slap on a template. Do this to
    all the players, the same templates, and make sure it’s important to
    the story (but carries some mystery). Then, make sure you make the
    players use their templates. It will change everything – for the

  90. Shawn says:

    Want to spice up your session? Give one of the PCs a secret admirer. Have mysterious flowers, gifts, etc. get randomly delivered to the PC. The “better” the gifts (i.e. more pricey, interesting, or powerful), the more it will make the PCs jealous, curious, and/or suspicious. This can be used as a fun sidelight for a campaign, or can be a tool to introduce new plot hooks. (What if the admirer turns out to be the PCs’ arch-enemy, and is using the gifts to sow dissent amongst the party?)

  91. mike says:

    Don’t disregard simplicity.

    The big reveal doesn’t have to be an intricate, fourteen-layered scheme dating back six years. Heck, chances are the PCs won’t remember that far back anyways! Don’t be afraid to go simple. The king IS being controlled by the sinister vizier. The evil dragon DID really kidnap a princess. And so on.

    And then of course switch it up one time and really mess with their heads. They’ll be totally surprised and will love it.

  92. mike says:

    If you are starting a campaign about 1st level, let the players decide just what they’ve accomplished so far! Work out a simple story/history on how they met long ago, but then turn it over to them in a “choose your own adventure” fashion. Have a few achievements jotted down, like “killed Urgo the ogre” or “rescued princess from gnolls”, and present them with the scenario. Then let them tell you what exactly went down.

    (bonus tip: if you can, make sure to include at least one scenario that lets each PC shine!)

    The results will usually be hilarious, but it also builds some quick, easy bonding moments for the PCs. Maybe they killed Urgo the ogre by burning his house down. Maybe they hired an assassin to kill him. Maybe they didn’t actually kill him, but just bribed him to move away! The possibilities are endless.

    In the actual game, the players can reference all these “great memories” (even though they were just created 5 minutes ago!) or even continue to elaborate on them. It also turns them from “strangers thrown together by fate” into an established, experienced team with some notches on their belt to be proud of. AND it creates countless plot hooks that you know the players will be interested in, since they were the ones who created them in the first place!

  93. Showstopper says:

    Here’s the one I always use..ask every PC a dark (or maybe not-so-dark, but the darker the funner…) secret of theirs, and sew that in the adventures. When the big-bad-guy comes along and is actually the brother or sister of one of the PC’s, sure it’s cliché, but it makes for great-great role playing.

  94. Ian Winterbottom says:

    People are a key factor. The players for one, someone mentioned above give each a secret of some kind – an old enemy/friend, longlost brother, murky past, escaped slave etc. Then that person or circumstance, surprise surprise, turns up – half the time the Player will do it for you, or be looking for it! the other side of the coin ins the NPCs, as much as their idiosyncrasies, mannerisms and personalities, try to give THEM a secret of some kind, and then let THEM interact, with each other as well as the players; the best fun of all can be had if an NPC, even a trusted and friendly one, has some kind of axe to grind that he/she simply cannot ignore!

  95. Ian Winterbottom says:

    On the same line as people, a good way to add “instant detail” to your NPCs is via Factions, particularly in a city. The various guilds of a Mediaeval City, its Watchmen, Criminals, offduty soldiers and sailors, noble families and Merchant Princes,Smugglers, traders, priests,charlatans, Magicians, Professors and visitors will all have Views and a stance on any given subject or happening, the theft or loss of something/someone, a voyage or trip or the reason for it; anything the PCs may have in mind, and will probably want to know the reason for it and have reason to favour it or hamper it. How do these factions feel about the Players and about each other, and how does the faction to whom an NPC belongs feel? An easy way to decide what he will do, whether or not it is with enthusiasm?

  96. Ian Winterbottom says:

    “Small” adventures, almost sidelines, can add interest, detail and History.Some forgotten Royal tomb somewhere, of where was its occupant the king, why and what happened to him? Hook; what did he have or was he that made him a King, some forgotten knowledge or some artifact, and is it still there? Whaddaya mean, the Dark is Rising? What Dark?
    Is there a Museum or Gallery somewhere that has, forgotten, some all-important thing that could be the Difference; and what are your chances of convincing the Powers that Be of that? If you get caught messing where you shouldn’t be, how plausible IS your story? WE know you meant well, but what about the Priests of Whosit!?

  97. Ian Winterbottom says:

    The best source of adventure is people! Make your NPCs themselves changeable. Comment on my “secrets” tip above, what if even the NPC doesn’t know his own secret? An example from one of my stories was the Black and White Brothers,identical twins separated at birth, the only one who knew both existed, let alone which was which AND WHICH THE ELDEST, was the Aged Nurse and, of course Black Brother, raffish rogue,thief, swordsman, duellist etc. NOT an arch villain but “bent as a bucket of worms”. White Brother was a Crusader, Champion of Light, Knight Errant, Cavalier, aspirant to Paladinhood,Sun King and Priest of Sol who didn’t even know of his brother but when he did find out Took Steps to erase him, thus falling from Grace himself!
    In the beginning the PCs got into endless trouble figuring out first that there WERE two of this guy, who kept fading out leaving them holding the baby, and secondly that Goody was now slightly Baddy and (Man in the Iron Mask) Baddy was Goody.
    Life got more and more complicated by the existence and interference of Heaven’s Left Hand,a band of ex-Crusaders among whom was Frater Nicodemus, AKA Brother Cadfael, (qv), more worldly than might be guessed (study the early history of the Papacy)who had made the acquaintance of the Assassins in the Holy Land. Then the real Assassins pitched up!
    See the Factions!

  98. Jason Parr says:

    If you think that one of your players is fudging his own dice rolls, or simply is unable to roll them safely without knocking over the miniatures or bouncing them into someone’s drink, then get everyone to roll their dice into an upturned frisbee (or similar) in the centre of the table.
    This way all [players’] rolls are public and they will not fly off the table to be found by the cat three days later.

  99. Turlock says:

    Starting to regret that magical sword you gave your players last week? You need two things: A magic user that has the “Warp Wood” spell wherein he can render wooden weapons useless and a Rust Monster.

    “Well someone can just keep hitting the rust monster with magic spells!”

    Ok, then have a magic user make the rust monster invisible or cast other spells on it rendering it virtually undetectable. Use your imagination…You ARE the DM.

  100. Jason Parr says:

    Sometimes players can take a very long time deciding what to do for their next move.
    You could introduce an egg timer and force players to decide on a course of action within one minute or so, but I sometimes use an approach that works very well at the start of an encounter.
    If I feel that the player is taking too long, I will periodically advance the opposing minis one square every 30 seconds.
    Either the slow player will speed up on their own, or they will be ‘encouraged’ to do so by the other players.

  101. Yax says:

    Yay! 100 DM tips already! Keep em coming!

  102. clem says:

    When players roll against skills/spells/stats to gain information, there is a dilemma. When the player fails, the result is usually supposed to be false information. If the player rolls, and knows that the roll was a failure, the false info will be ignored. If the gm routinely secretly rolls in such cases, the players may well feel railroaded. Two tricks to use occasionally in such situations: 1) Tell the player to roll but not what skill/stat is being rolled against. 2) Name the stat, but announce that the roll is at an (unspecified) penalty. In both cases, the player will know if the roll was exceptionally good or bad but will not usually be certain whether it succeeded. This preserves the usability of false info for failure but lets the player feel ownership of the result.

  103. Matt says:

    I lot of people over look 2 major things. the glossary and the index. These are the two tools that help me the most, when I need to find something I search the Glossary. There is an entire chapter devoted to it in the Dungeon Masters Guide. Another Tool I’ve used is the Rules Compendium, which has just about every rule that appears listed alphabetically. Very useful since it make searching for answers quick and painless. and If you can’t find it in 30 seconds, skip it and go back later marking it with a stick note.


  104. Adam says:

    I like to use a yahoo or google group for my world. As a campaign is starting up players can give backgrounds on their characters in the ‘file’ section. Also, I can give out meta-game info for them to make decisions on what they want to play.
    As the campaign unfolds, players can use messaging for between game fluffy stuff we don’t need to roleplay I hate trips to the general store, there are only so many times you can make it fun to buy a 6 pack of torches!
    They even use it for some in character banter that ties the group together and gives them more ammo to work with at the table when we play.

  105. Set says:

    Always remind the PCs that there is someone a LOT more powerful somewhere in the World/Universe/Multiverse/Abyss/Heaven/Whatever-rocks-your-boat. This can be a great motivator for PC development, and will settle any power-hungry fireball-hurling PC unleashed in the town square because he thought “The DM is not going to kill me!”

  106. Adam White says:

    One of the biggest mistakes you can make in a campaign is baiting players with something you know you can’t give them without unbalancing your campaign. A good example is three wishes from a genie. While genies are known for being tricky, be ready that the players may come up with a cleverly worded wish.

    One of the worst DM experiences I had was with a DM who baited us with any wish we wanted, but really had no intention of fulfilling the wish for the characters. one fo our party worded something very carefully and the DM pretty much denied him the wish, saying he had worded it wrong, though the player’s request really didn’t fail in the way the dm had claimed.

    Be fair, and don’t offer the players something you’re not ready to give.

  107. Adam White says:

    Location, location, location.

    You take your players to a dungeon and set up monsters, treasure, and traps. Wait, why the heck is there even a dungeon here? Who the heck set up all these traps? Where did that rat get a room with treasure in it?

    While dungeons are nice locations for adventure, remember that they once served a purpose. Were they escape routes in case of emergency for emperors, secret trade routes for black market deals, or perhaps a place where criminals hid their treasure from others who would take it away. The stone and mortar walls didn’t simply erect themselves, and the traps didn’t put themselves together in wait for adventurers. Figure out the back story of your dungeon as you create it.

    Either include etchings in the walls, stories around town, etc. to give the dungeon some background. Make it a character in your story. How do your characters even know to hunt for treasure there in the first place? You can make your adventures a lot deeper by writing why things are the way they are, and embedding this information into your story.

  108. Adam White says:

    Don’t be too predictable:

    Watch how you design your adventures and adjust accordingly. This issue comes up quite often in video games such as first person shooters. When you find yourself coming across heavy weapons, ammo, lots of health packs, armor, and everything you could ever want all in one room, you begin to sweat because something really big and mean that’s going to require every bit of that is only a few feet away.

    Similarly, in an adventure, look for things you are doing that always precede something else. If players seem to predict your magic doors, traps, or anything else, look for what you might have said to tip them off. If they’re just smart, that’s fine, but you might describe things a certain way, adopt a certain tone of voice, or something else. Look for patterns and shake things up.

  109. Adam White says:

    Here’s a fun tip that can be used to handle horse races, dog races, chases, and any other type of competition where the goal is to get from point a to b before the rest. This works best when players are observing and not participating however.

    You’ll need
    Dice – You can use a single die, or up to half of the number of participants. 3d6 is good for six racers, 1 to 4d8 can be used for eight, etc.
    Markers for progress – This can be done on a scratch pad, but it will really make it exciting if players can watch the progress and cheer for their favorite. Try setting squares and a start and end point for tension.

    Set up the markers on the starting line. Now assign each marker a number. This works well with races since each contestant is numbered. Roll the dice, and when a number corresponding to a racer comes up, move that racer forward. If 5 comes up, racer five moves up a spot. If three 5’s comes up, everyone else remains still while racer 5 zooms up three spaces.

    Roll the dice behind your DM screen if you want and do your darndest to sound like a horse race announcer. “Wait, what’s that? 5 makes a surprising come from behind, rushing up the right side and passing the others to take the lead”

  110. blackdragons says:

    As someone already said, keep the old character sheets. The ones of dead PC, the ones of dead or forgot campaigns…but keep them. And 5 years later, bring them to your players. They will cry :)

  111. blackdragons says:

    You feel that your campaign in getting boring for your players? Is time top give them a buit of spotlight. Write their name n index cards, and shuffle them. Than follow this random order. Starting from the first two, organize every session so that their character can SHINE. If is the turn of a thief, avoid undeads and construct (immune to sneak attacks), put a lot of shadows and something to steal. If you want to make happy the fighter, challenge him in an orchish tournament.

  112. blackdragons says:

    When preparing an investigative adventure, put 3 times the number of clues you expect them to find. A team of players investigating has to face a lot of difficulties:
    – the adventure can last many sessions…and is difficult to remeber everythig
    – a single Spot check can destoy forever their hope of finding a specific clue
    – a team is not always communicating perfectly.. maybe someone has not said to the mage that the prince in a vampire…
    – not all the players are always present…and is really boring for a DM to have to report a specific clue because the absent one is the only person knowing it.

  113. blackdragons says:

    Sometime a player comes up with a very fuzzy understandig of a rule, or forgets a single line of text that destroies its supreme plan…be gentle :) I allow “Heroism point”. If you make something epic, you gain one. You can spend Heroism points to bend (a bit) a rule. ie. You can charme a zombie. Or jump longer than you maximum distance.

  114. blackdragons says:

    Do you Need inspiration for a new NPC? Take a walk in a crowded place and look at the people. It’s magic!

  115. Adam White says:

    This is more for new DM’s, but if you are violating this one, try to adjust please.

    Don’t make the mistake of tieing yourself too much to your materials. You don’t need to own a specific miniature to bring a monster in. I’ve seen a few new players and dm’s make this mistake early on. If you don’t have the materials to represent something, don’t be afraid to use a stand in, a coin, another miniature, anything. You’ll save money for other gaming supplies and you won’t have your players complaining about the 30th troll encounter they’ve had to face.

  116. David Emswiler says:

    I use my laptop during every gaming session.
    There are free wikis online you can use, various data base programs like TreePad which I use.
    The hypertext SRD is a great rules source, and you can set it as a bookmark file on your bookmark toolbar so you can open it automatically.

    do a search for TreePad and the hypertext SRD to find the websites

  117. Odinrune says:

    As you probably know, players love it when they find a map and really get some piece of paper. How about giving them some real smell when approaching undead?

  118. Christobar says:

    make shure that players have scrap paper to pass you notes if they want to do something to other players like stealing things for all those rouges

  119. Christobar says:

    take time before a game and make props like soak the map you are giveing to players (keep a copy for yourself untouched) in coffee and allow to dry and add burn marks and water stains it not only makes it look authentic but allows you to hide some of those rooms you really want them to look for

  120. Christobar says:

    have a few random battles planned ahead of the time so that you can utilize it at a moments notice

  121. Ian Winterbottom says:

    Someone mentioned above using representations for minis you don’t have? Also worth bearing in mind the card/paper mini for this purpose, there are literally thousands of them online, even if you don’t create your own, and they are easily altered, subtly or otherwise, to represent something your players have never met or even thought of! Also useful when the monsters come mob-handed, you can have whole posses of Undead, Orcs etc., coming from all directions!

  122. Ian Winterbottom says:

    When finding formidable monsters it is worth thinking about having lots and lots of “little” ones rather than one large creature, making the players vulnerable to the “swarm” attack that a band of PCs might dish out to a single large creature? Bear in mind that even if the beasties are only vermin or small Goblinoids, they have a chance to hit, particularly vulnerable members of the Party, and the most deadly Fighter has usually only one attack, which may result in the most incredible overkill for every little creature, but many of them can “nibble” him to death, or at least to desperately ill!

  123. Ian Winterbottom says:

    Another thought about smaller monsters is to give them some unusual attack, say flying or missile attack, a mass of Goblin archers that the PCs can’t reach can be very embarrassing! And the obvious one is have those mini-monsters using tripwires or ropes, to take out the heavy hitters in a way that their Armour Class cannot foil?

  124. Ian Winterbottom says:

    And another thought, use some sort of difficult terrain to the enemy’s advantage? It is surely only fair that a tribe of small beasties would have fortified their lair to some extent – they will be much harder to winkle out from behind those barricades! They may have prepared traps, or ambushes via Secret or Concealed doors, to vulnerable rear members of the party – say that heavy-artillery MU at the rear?
    A bottleneck or chicane also favours the defender, if they have some way in which many of them can concentrate on just one attacker, particularly if he is fighting at a disadvantage, say on a precarious cliff ledge, while climbing, in water or in a doorway?

  125. Dave says:

    Take a group of index cards, fold them in half the long way, and make them into mini table tents. Then write the number 1 through 8 on them and once initiative is settled, hand them out in order. Knowing who’s next is easy!

  126. Dave says:

    Once or twice per session, roll the dice in private, giggle maniacally, then look around the table and realize you’re not alone, then furiously scribble something down on a piece of paper. Sometimes I keep making eye contact with one player while I do it, totally unsettling.

  127. Dave says:

    Dice can be miniatures, then they’ve even got a built in counter for damage or effects. For example, that d12 is a barbarian, when he rages, set the number of rounds his rage lasts as the top number, then count them down.

    D6ers work great in a goblin fight for hit points.

  128. Mrs L says:

    Have a food run before the game. We go to the grocery store deli section and get a roast chicken and cooked sausage, some fresh bread from the bakery, fruits and nuts, and other food that can pass for authentic “adventurer” fare. (Okay, usually some cakes or cookies make it into the cart too….)

    Everyone starts the session with a full plate, and there are plenty of items to snack on throughout the day. Everyone is cheerful and well fed and no one has to duck out to hit a drive through.

  129. Chris says:

    Don’t ever favour one players character over another. Ever. Not only could this possibly create a situation where one PC is far more power than the others (for example, turning one of them into a red dragon) but it’ll make the rest of your players feel superfleous and left out.

  130. Chris says:

    Be prepared to have your lovingly crafted game world entirely ignored by the players – don’t attempt to force them to something or railroad them somewhere. By all means let it come back and bite them in the ass later on though.

  131. Chris says:

    Try a wide variety of systems and settings – shake things up a bit by playing Runequest, Shadowrun, DnD and even homebrew games.

  132. Chris says:

    Know the style and setting of the game. As fun as it might be to do silly things every now and then during your campaign try and keep to its style – if you’re running a wacky game with killer sheep and nazi moon bases don’t expect the players to have much of an emotional attachment to cahracters, palces and NPCs.

    Similarly, if you’re playing a serious LotR style game then don’t give one of your characters an ion cannon.

  133. Chris says:

    Resist the urge to have an awesome-red-dragon-powerful NPC. Whether a friend or enemy of the PCs few will enjoy watching a character do something incredibly fun and kick ass that they’ll never have the chance to try themselves.

  134. Garrett says:

    when dealing with a rules lawyer, tell them that you’ll do it your own way now, and it’s open for discussion when the session is over. nobody has remembered to argue yet!

  135. Garrett says:

    give NPCs funny voices or accents. I once had a lost little Kobold named Jalaask. i gave him a voice i can only describe as being like a chihuahua, and the players loved him!

  136. Garrett says:

    save complicated explanations for after the session. The worst thing i’ve ever done for a session is spend more than 10 seconds explaining something to the players, it destroys the mood. instead, save it for later when you have as much time as you need.

  137. Garrett says:

    when players get a new skill or anything, give them a chance to try it out. One of my players was really excited about having a character with high charisma and a few ranks in diplomacy, so when he found the Kobold mentioned above, he calmed his nerves, and even convinced him to lead the party to the kobold warcamp. unfortunately for the young Kobold, the party wiped them all out, but it was a good opportunity for the PC to use his new ranks in diplomacy.

  138. Garrett says:

    don’t foil the PCs efforts. If they make a lot of creative attempts at something you didn’t want them to do (navigate a maze, track down where a villain is hiding in town) go ahead and let them succeed. nothing is more frustrating than a DM ignoring their work and making up reasons for them to fail.

  139. Brenton says:

    Always follow the Law of Conservation of NPCs. If you already introduced an NPC that could possibly fit into the slot you need, use the preexisting NPC before creating a new one.

  140. Brenton says:

    When mystery or secrecy don’t benefit the game, dump them. For example, describing every minor magical item (potions, wands, scrolls, etc.) the party finds without telling them the function just wastes time as they try to identify them. Unless there is a specific plot purpose why they don’t know what the dark liquid is, tell them.

  141. Brenton says:

    Whenever you have to look through your notes while the PCs talk to an NPC, have the NPC also look through a book or stack of papers to increase the verisimilitude of the scene.

  142. Brenton says:

    Always make important clues and tasks achievable through a variety of means. If a PC needs to learn something, let him use Knowledge, Gather Info, Search, Sense Motive, or any other skill that might reasonably work. In combat, let any skill that could provide some advantage (for example, Knowledge: Architecture to get a bonus to knock down a pillar or drop a chandelier on opponents) do so.

  143. Brenton says:

    Don’t roll unless it matters. When the PCs craft poison, use their ranks to determine what they CAN craft, not whether or not they do it. If they fail, they’ll just try again, so don’t bother with the rolling.

  144. Cris says:

    I found that having the players sit down and talk out an outline of who and what their group is help out a lot. Ask the questions of does the GM need a group to be some in particular for the plot? What will they be starting out doing, how they met and stuff like that.

  145. Cris says:

    Many times when I have an encounter with a “bucketful” of orcs I sometimes forget HP for this or that. When I do statblocks for say six orcs after the stats of the orcs I keep a section that looks like this and check off the zero’s when they get hit. It works for bigger monsters too.

    Orc 1 || 00000 000
    Orc 2 || 00000 000
    Orc 3 || 00000 000
    Orc 4 || 00000 000
    Orc 5 || 00000 000
    Orc 6 || 00000 000

  146. Cris says:

    With summon monster and summon nature’s ally spells sometimes it can feel like pokemon more then AD&D. I play with the optional rule from Unearthed Arcana for “customized” summoning lists. I then have the player (or me) stat out each creature and have it on a sheet or better yet a 3×5 or 4×6 index card. If it’s not stated…not summoned even if we agreed already you could summon it.

  147. Cris says:

    One word…blue booking. I got the idea from another RPG…loved it and use it. I give out some kind of reward to my players who write up a wrap up of what happened from their character’s perspective. Metagamers need not to apply. This can be bad in the hands of a metagamer. In that case I’d have them go first then the non-metagamers go after.

  148. Cris says:

    Don’t shoot down ideas players come up with for a character but don’t let them have free reign. Work with them but don’t let them own you. Realize when you are about to give to much up and when you are not giving enough.

  149. dbsousa says:

    I used the SRD to create spell cards, one spell on a 4×6 index cards. I ask the players to hold the cards that contain their castable spells, and do the same with all NPC spellcasters. This avoids all of the book flipping, and makes spell management as easy as playing cards…

  150. jeffx says:

    If you want your players to play a character more than wait around for the next combat, reward characters with experience points for role-playing and character development. Develop a house rule table so you are consistent.

  151. Turlock says:

    Keep the excitement level of the game higher by simply rolling dice behind your DM screen for no reason every once in a while. This accomplishes two things:

    First, it puts the element of surprise back into the game as the players will not know whether you’re rolling dice because they’re about to be ambushed or spring a trap or it’s just some other random factor you’re checking.

    Second, during the non-combative lulls in your game, it keeps them on their toes and thus less likely to start “side conversations” or other (non-game related) things when they think they don’t need to be paying attention.

  152. jeffx says:

    In order to establish the means for distributing secret information in the campaign, randomly pass out notes that have random, meaningless statements. This will help conceal the fact when you do give a player some specific information.

  153. jeffx says:

    Random encounters are good because they keep things unpredictable. Random encounters are bad because a lot of times the random encounter doesn’t make sense. When developing your campaign, take the time to create a custom random encounter table. You never know when that random encounter becomes a campaign hook later.

  154. Soda Bob says:

    One of the characters in my game is a dragon shaman (PH 2), and we were always confused as to which Draconic Aura she had going at any one time. We wrote all of her possible Aura’s and their effects on 3×5 cards, and have her place the one that is active face up in front of her. That way at a glance everyone knows which Aura is in effect, and whether it gives the other players any bonuses.

    This idea would work for any sort of selectable aura, magic item or spell effects.

  155. Soda Bob says:

    Keep a spreadsheet of the experience points you give out for each gaming session, for each character. In most programs you should even be able to set the sheet up to automatically calculate a total. I set it up with a column of player and character names, a total experience point column, and then columns for each gaming session.

    By doing this, you always have a master reference of experience points so that there is never any doubt as to whether Billy’s character should be 9th or 10th level. It also acts as a reminder of why Sara’s character hasn’t leveled while everyone else’s has (“well, Sara, you didn’t play during session five, so your character didn’t get any experience that time”).

    Once you have such a spreadsheet setup, it takes little work to maintain and can save a lot of headaches and confusion regarding the player’s earned experience.

  156. Derek B says:

    A great way to liven up your combats, especially in higher level campaigns is to introduce an item that produces random effects (i.e. Wand of Wonder, Deck of Illusions, etc). If your players always feel safe or confident in every combat, then introducing a random event will keep them on their toes as well as you the DM! Even better when you adapt the item personally to throw even more “chaos” in the mix. Players are most times gamblers at heart and if they can get out of a sticky situation using a chance event, then when they are on the edge of their seat they will throw those dice!!

    Point is to keep the game lively for both you and the players — everyone likes surprises!!

  157. Ian Winterbottom says:

    The comment by Derek B reminded me of using the Wand of Wonder myself; it led to some hilarious “combats” like the one where the villain, about to deliver the Coup de Grace, found himself choking on a butterfly! However that is not the only way to induce a random element, in my biggest Dungeon there were a series of rooms, at least one on every level, all exactly alike, whose contents were a low table holding a chest about 3 feet by 3. This when opened, (the door would lock itself until the chest was investigated) revealed a LOT of semi-random events, ranging from treasure to a 1-per-round stream of Goblins/Skeletons (who got first crack free!), via a bright flash that blinded the chrs for X rounds, 1d8 Ostriches which flew (?) around c***ping on everyone for three rounds, random potions (some good, some bad), Gems, even moderately powerful Magic, usually one-offs like Scrolls etc. I had a deck of cards for those! Cadmus Teeth was one, Wand of Wonder itself another, think of not TOO silly or unpredictable items, and remember they “heterodyne”, reinforce, reduce or affect each other! The Devil is in the Detail, in this case!
    A Random Transport System is another source of hilarity, has it taken them up, down or just sideways? In TIME? One of my parties ended up fighting T Rex by using an injudicious Elevator! But, they were in sufficient **** they elected to give it a try. (If they are in too deep,and the dice are unkind, you can help a little!)
    Identical areas of the Dungeon are also fun, then leave clue maps leading to one of them, while another is exactly the opposite, what should be treasure is peril, and vice versa! Keep it up and you can have the little blighters quite paranoid!

  158. Keith Preston says:

    Your favorite big bad evil guy could die or be forced to retreat a lot faster than you thought. Making him of a low enough level not to outright slaughter the party might make him too frail to be a challenge. If he’s almost dead after just a few rounds, will the players really think it was worth it? Of course they will, because you’re going to see to it that they do!

    Come up with some devious tactics for your nemesis, give them the best descriptions you can come up with, even if they’re not as lethal as you imply. You wouldn’t want your players to get bored, so don’t give them a chance. For instance:

    My big bad in a campaign I’m running for a few new players is a vampire cleric, performing various necromantic experiments in his quest for a way to become human once more. After fighting through a dungeon loaded with failed experiments and a vampire spawn second, the party finally confronts the vampire.

    Howling in rage, the vampire begins battle by calling for several bat swarms. He then lunges at the nearest player with a wickedly shaped red and black dagger, lets go, and the blade continues to attack the player! On his next move, the vampire creates a blade of teeth and bone, proceeding to punish the other players with it until the bat swarms arrive, nearly filling the room. The vampire quickly turns into a bat, vanishing in the confusion and surviving to continue his experiments.

  159. Jason Parr says:

    Avoid taking time out of the game for deciding on what toppings to have on your pizza or which meal to order in. Either circulate a menu before the game or for extra cheese role-play the characters ordering the meal. Just make sure you are out of character before phoning your order in – unless you want your delicious healthy snacks delivered to Eberron Road.

  160. Fishercatt says:

    Have the players got you stuck and you need some time think? Instead of having a battle that could lead to death to free up some thinking time, have the party encounter another party of slumbering orcs. Or while in the castle they find a closet. Direct them to dress up like their adversaries and try to infiltrate the camp or castle or whatever. It feels like something well organized and pre-planned, enables you to drop hints, and while the players are giggling and fighting over who wears what you’ll have enough time to rub your eyes and plan the next ‘random’ encounter.

  161. Fishercatt says:

    Got a player who wants to play something a little… different? Like a Drow or Half-Orc? Let them play, but make the NPC’s react correctly. Things will be more expensive for them, they won’t be allowed in many areas, and enemies may view them as allies. Let them react to the existing game prejudices. This should force some good role playing.

  162. Fishercatt says:

    If you have the equipment to support it, try using different colored die for different portions of the game mechanics. Attacks are blue, magic is red, defense is white, skill checks are yellow, etc.

  163. Jason Parr says:

    If a character unexpectedly dies during a play session, one player may be out of the game for a significant amount of time.
    Some solutions:
    1: Each player brings a spare character with them with everything filled in apart from the stat rolls.
    2: The DM keeps a stack of spare characters.

    A DM can use these to great effect by capturing all the main characters in session 1. The players then use their spare characters to mount a rescue mission. Once rescued the players can choose which one of their characters they prefer to play.

  164. Fishercatt says:

    Schedule an hour of cards or video games or arm wrestling an hour before the dice start rolling to get the wigglies out of everyone.

  165. Fishercatt says:

    Utilize the language barrier. If your characters or NPC’s speak different languages, then role play that out. It’s great to misinterpret what someone is trying to say.

  166. Yax says:

    If you want your players to hate an NPC, make sure the NPC keeps referring to himself in the third person. It should really irritate your players… Or your players might start referring to themselves in the third person for one whole session which might make your head explode, but it’s unlikely.

  167. Bob says:

    I love it when my DM tailors magic items to our party. especially when they go out of their way to make a unique deck of many things. we spent an entire session with ‘what if’s on that deck!

  168. Bob says:

    Give your players so many ‘important items’ that their inventory is overloaded. This forces them to really think about ‘loot’ and to stop grabbing for cash.

    Most of these ‘important items’ are junk, but the players don’t know that!

  169. Bob says:

    When everyone can’t show up, we run the game in bizzaro world. It started out the exact same as the original world but I just made up crap as we went along (the players knew it — great for my improv skills!), havoc was wreaked, and sometimes the players asked for a bizzaro session because it got almost as interesting as the real plot!

  170. Bob says:

    With big groups and long fights, it can be really helpful to ditch the initiative order in favor of ‘whoever makes a move first, goes first.’ this really encourages the players to think on their feet (they are in a battle!) and while they are waiting to get in on the action, everyone is more interested in seeing if their action is the best (or should they let the wizard fireball…).

  171. Bob says:

    Write stuff down! I still am not very good at this one.

    Anytime I use a generator, I copy all the info into my ‘characters’ file, because you never know who the players will want to interact with more: your huge back-history retired old wizard, or “Jim” the cobbler who has 2 peg legs (yay random generation!).

  172. Tony says:

    On Dire Weasels.

    Never allow an alienist to summon dire weasels.

    Summon Monster V casted twice = 4d4+2 pseudonatural(aka true strike) weasels = a possible 10d4 automatic blood drain = DM banishment

    I don’t know how many of your npc’s have more than 40 con, but one super dead npc was enough for my DM.

  173. Tony says:

    If you have any artistic talent, use it. Even if its a quick sketch I draw all the important npcs, monsters and even the pc’s playing. All the players I’ve done this for love it.

    In addition if you are running games in your own setting, which I always do, create the holy symbols and average citizen’s or politicians or other public officials outfits. It’s surprising how much my players responded from a few fashion based details.

  174. Tony says:

    Love zombies!, but your pc’s are too powerful for them. :(
    Don’t let your pc’s become complacent, just because they know zombies are practically harmless, throw them a curve ball.

    The mob rule in the Cityscape book was a god send, make those low CR creatures super awesome without adding character levels or advancing hit die.

    The pcs were level 10 and were presented with a lovely horde of zombies. The wizard with an unsettlingly high buffed AC wades carelessy into the fray, only to be mashed to goo and blow his best spells to escape. He learned not to face encounters so recklessly, without becoming paranoid.

  175. Nicholas says:

    I like to start each session with a quiz on the rules, players like to show off their knowledge, get some xp for correct answers and it gets people reading their books, everything runs smoother when people know rules off the top of their head.

  176. Rose says:

    Before you start a new campaign give each player two tokens that they can use anytime to re roll a result like a critical fumble but they have to turn in a token to do it. It is great because some player use them the first battle others hoard them until they are about to die.

  177. Gamerprinter says:

    I create character cards consisting of a letter size sheet cut into 3 pieces at 8.5″ x 3 2/3″ – with character name, stats, saves, primary weapon, modifiers. With all PCs, NPCs and Encounters placed on such cards, stacked in initiative order, its very easy for the DM to keep track of who does what, when.

    Make sure you laminate these cards so you can use a grease pencil or marker to write in character data.

  178. Gamerprinter says:

    Laminate all your maps – giving them years of longevity, protection from soda spills, prevents damage from miniature bases, plus lamination gives more “pop” to color maps giving a wet sheen to the color. If you have digitally printed maps, lamination give years of UV protection from fading.

  179. Scras says:

    Take a few minutes to peruse your local dollar store, many have a large selection of small glass bottles, many of which are great for props. It’s one thing to say you find a potion, its another to hand the player a tiny vial filled with Mountain Dew, cold coffee, or blue kool-aid

  180. Scras says:

    It’s easy to treat PC mounts like motorcycles with hooves. For more fun and player aggravation, give their mounts habits, such as being able to untie knots, curiosity, or fear of common objects. For example, my wife’s horse is not afraid of big loud trains, but is paralysed by the sight of a chicken (no joke!)

  181. Scotticus says:

    Some players like to make every roll for their characters, but sometimes you need to have that Spot (or other) skill check done without putting the players on their toes.

    One way to handle this is to just randomly ask for such skill checks and provide your players with useless information. An example of this is, the PCs are in a tavern and you have one of them make a Listen check when there really isn’t anything important to hear. The player makes it, so you mention that he overheard his name mentioned in a conversation at another table. While interesting, this can lead to hours of wasted time as the players pursue the results of the random checks which are not part of the main (or any) plot.

    A better alternative is to just have the players roll a bunch of dice appropriate for skill usage (d20’s, 3d6’s, whatever’s appropriate for your system) before the start of each game and give you a list of the results. They way, when you want to make that secret Spot check, the player got to roll the dice, and you aren’t drawing attention to the fact that there was something to be spotted and it wasn’t.

  182. Scotticus says:

    Rather than give 1st level characters the standard “weak” magic, like a +1 dagger, potion of healing ,etc., try giving them some mundane items that are magical but either:
    1. Marginally useful or
    2. Useful, but not necessarily useful with respect to mechanics.

    Some examples: A bedroll that always provides a good night’s sleep regardless of the environment (cold, noise, uncomfortable sleeping surface), Havvard’s Everyfull Bag of Horsefeed (from which the PC’s can’t eat, but their mounts can), a “broken” Handy Haversack that doesn’t have the extra-dimensional storage or weight reduction properties but does always have the sought after item on top, a sword scabbard that sharpens any blade placed in it, and so on.

    Players love this stuff!

  183. Scotticus says:

    Let supernatural creatures have a visible impact on the environment. I got this idea from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. When the Count travel a long distance, such as sea voyages, fierce storms seemed to follow the ship. It was as if nature itself was disturbed by his passage.

    I think this is a cool effect to include with games.

    Another idea might be that within a certain distance of a lich, all the (non-magical) insects, bugs and vermin instantly die. This effect should not have any direct impact on game play, such as killing a familiar or a summoned insect swarm, but just be there for color. Imagine the players reaction when, as the approach the creature’s layer, the song bird that has been following them for the past several hours suddenly drops stone cold dead out of the air.

  184. Gamerprinter says:

    A way to make encounters with non-corporeal undead more scary and add more roleplaying opportunities, I like to do the whole ghostly phenomena thing… whether its a ghost, geist, spectre, wraith or other non-corporeal undead.

    First encounters should be “noises or sounds”, cold spots, feelings of dread, being touched, noticeable smells. Eventually full-body apparitions and true encounters with the undead monster and its special attacks.

    By including a common “ghostly phenomena” for all non-corporeal undead, PCs never know what they are truly encountering – the suspense adds to the atmosphere of the game.

  185. Aidan Milvus says:

    Index cards are invaluable for both DM’s and players.

    1. Initiative. This is a great way to track initiative. Have a card for each player/npc and when initiative is rolled, put them in the correct order. As a bonus, you can have basic stats on the cards for the npc’s (if you have enough time before hand) so you don’t have to keep referencing another source for the info.

    2. Spells. With all the source books out there, having to look up what a spell does can be a pain. If you as a DM or player put the basics of a spell down on an index card, it saves a lot of time that would be wasted looking up the spell.

    3. Magic Items. Same as with the spells. There’s a multitude of magic items out there, and I know I tend to forget what some of mine do, so I’ve taken to putting down the basics on a card that I have handy when I play. This reminds me that 1, I have the item, and 2, what it does.

    4. Reminders of effects in play. My last group had a bard, and we’d always forget what she was singing, so she finally simply put a +X on an index card, and whenever she was singing her inspire courage, she’d lay that card down on the battle map and it would remind all of us what pluses she had going. Simple, yet effective.

  186. NumberOfTheBeast says:

    If you want to make your PCs agitated, roll a randon dice randomly a random amount of times in a session, and make a ‘Muahahahaha’ sort of laughing noise.

    Then in an instant, go back to talking normally, and continue the adventure without ever telling the PCs what the roll was about.

  187. Aidan Milvus says:

    Group Templates.

    I’ve recently started a campaign, and used the idea of a group template (as suggested by the podcast feat the boot) to get the group together. Some see a “Group Template” as simply saying ok, you’re going to play the mage, you the fighter, you the rogue, and you the band-aid. But that’s not the best way to do it. A group template shouldn’t be that rigid, the only thing that it really needs to do is make a solid reason for the group to be together, and give an easy way for you to bring in others in the future.

    I sat down with my players after we finished our last campaign, and asked them how they’d like the group to start. I had a city campaign in mind, but hadn’t planned yet how the players were to be involved yet. I was hoping for a very character driven campaign, so I left it up to them. They decided on being from the same neighborhood, and having all grown up together. This fit well with my ideas, and by starting this way, it also helped the players visualize their characters more fully, and should make for a very interesting campaign.

  188. Gamerprinter says:

    If you need a quick village/town/city for your game, yet haven’t the time or the skill to create a believable map, then look no further than this free RPG city map generator:

    This proggie will create everything from hamlets and thorpes to million inhabitant cities. It has parameters for african villages, viking villages, old west towns, European styled towns, walled towns, American style grid towns and ciites.

    Not as aesthetically pleasing as the kind of maps I like to make, I still use this free generator to build a base map to develope into a workable RPG map.

    The proggie also allows you to label structures for use in site lists, as well as export to .BMP and other formats!

  189. Gamerprinter says:

    If you’d rather create your own custom RPG map using software, but are unsure of how best to do it. Then visit: http://www.cartographersguild.com

    Go to forums – there are threads on various kinds of maps – world maps, city maps, dungeon maps, wilderness maps, even sci-fi maps. There are forums on software, tips, reference sources, some downloadable map objects.

    The pleasant gurus here will lead you in the best direction, and graciously comment on any of your maps that you upload into the site for discussion.

    Finally, just about every map on the site is free from restrictions for you to use in your campaigns.

    Many newbies to the site are very much mapping amateurs, after comments, recommendations within a month most everyone creates a masterwork map – that’s how good this place is!

    I practically live on this site!

  190. Niilo says:

    My group has started opening up sessions with a role-play exercise. I have found this good to get the players into game-mode, and myself as well. Depending on the exercise (see below), it can be good incite into what the players are thinking.

    Our last session exercise had three players describe the events of the previous session, in-character, to the fourth player who had happened to miss that session.

    The next exercise will be the players describing the other characters while in character.

  191. Niilo says:

    My group has a campaign web site that is a Drupal wiki. We use it to collect all sorts of information. It has: setting information/history, known NPCs, PC info/background, house rules, a forum for various discussions, and a section for creative writing related to the campaign.

  192. Niilo says:

    I reward my players beyond XP. I have devised a system that uses “praemium” points as the reward. These points can be used to for character development (e.g., extra hit points, skills points, feats, XP,…) and epic actions (e.g., re-roll dice, temporary bonuses, one maxed die roll).

    Players can get these points by role-playing really well, coming up with great ideas (IC or OOC), helping me develop the setting, writing stories (see next comment), etc.

  193. Niilo says:

    Having players who will write stories or logs for previous sessions has provided invaluable feedback to me. It shows me what was important to them and their character in the last session, what stuck out for them, and what things were missed. I can also get ideas from reading the sessions from their character’s point of view.

  194. Niilo says:

    Session feedback

    I use the forum on our campaign web site to solicit feedback from the players after every game session (I write the initial post as soon as they’ve left my house). I’m looking for all sorts of feedback, the good and the bad.

    Because of this feedback, we’ve been able to deal with issues that particular players have had, but we’ve also been able to share kudos with each other for particular role-play moments or adventure highlights.

  195. Niilo says:

    Cut Scenes

    I love to write (I also play in a PBeM). Having a campaign web site has allowed me to exercise this hobby with my table-top game. After a plot arc has been completed, I’ll typically write up a cut scene and publish it online. The players get some insight into what’s happening behind the scenes and it can help set the mood for the next session.

    The best example of this was when I wrote the tale of a local hunter/tracker who was beset upon by a worg. The cut scene ended in a cliff hanger (pretty much literally) with the tracker’s fate uncertain. The players read this just before the session where they met the tracker who was barely alive. He passed on all the information of his ordeal (which I didn’t have to tell the players since they already read about it) and it really set a suspenseful mood for that session – they didn’t know if they’d have to deal with a worg themselves and how it would happen (several worgs, as it turned out).

  196. Niilo says:

    Battle Glass

    I don’t use a battle mat. I have a nice sheet of glass (from my desk, so storage is not an issue) that I put over a grid of 1″ squares. Dry erase markers work great on the glass, plus I can print out dungeon tiles and such and place them under the glass so that I can use the markers to write “on” them.

  197. Niilo says:

    I’m sure this has been mentioned many times, but I use my computer for gaming. My desk-top, actually (I drag it into the living room for each session). I use it to show images to the players (by swivelling the monitor around) and to play sounds or music (surround-sound speakers make this particularly good). My main use for it is mainly for documentation. PC/NPC sheets (using PCGen), random name generators, my campaign web site, D20SRD.org (of course), etc.

  198. Niilo says:

    Serious Role-Play Windows

    Games can get pretty goofy. I’m a fairly serious, order-demanding guy, but I can understand that table-top sessions are just as much about the socializing as it is about the gaming. However, there are times when the typical pun can really ruin a single player’s attempt to play in character. During such times, I’ll call a “10 minute role-play window” where no one is allowed to make jokes, talk about real life, or essentially do anything out of character. This is not something to be used very often (once a session on average), but there are times where it is obvious that serious role-playing is necessary.

  199. Niilo says:


    An oft-mentioned tactic for DMs is to use props. I find that many people can aim too high with this, when the simple things can make a huge difference. I don’t have much time to prepare for sessions, even with our biweekly schedule, so simple is all that I can do. What is simple? Printing out a “scroll” that will be a significant clue for the players. My last scroll was written in draconic (I used a Phoenician font) which I translated for the player who had a draconic-reading character. Printed pictures of items the characters acquire can also be quite useful.

  200. Ross says:

    So your players are veteran gamers who’ve defeated Vecna in all three editions, and they instantly know every monster by the time you finish describing it. Shake it up by taking the statblock for one monster and describing it like a completely different monster type. For example, have an attractive woman charge the party–they’ll break out the cold iron weapons, but you’re using a gargoyle’s statblock (DR, claw attacks, etc). It will throw them for a loop.

  201. Ross says:

    Random encounters have only three purposes: 1) combat (aka fun), 2) XP, and 3) loot. If you’re running a serious plotline and the party’s getting enough combat to enjoy the game without random encounters, DON’T insert random encounters. Let them travel through relatively civilized areas unmolested, fast-forwarding to the next event that has merit in the storyline. If the storyline doesn’t have enough combat in it, consider using random encounters, but make sure you don’t roll blindly–encountering a group of bandits ambushing travelers in between two towns makes a lot more sense than encountering 1d3 ghouls, which would have been hunted down and killed by the townsfolk and which portend a necromancer’s presence.

  202. Ross says:

    I’m too cheap (and poor) to afford miniatures, as are most of my gamers. We use old Micromachines (which they don’t make any more, tragically), but old toys from yardsales will do much better than poker chips to get people involved in combat. Likewise, I can’t spend hours drawing an image on paper, squishing it into a ball and spreading it out hundreds of times to age it, and dipping it in coffee and drying it to make a “faded” map. My players would prefer that I invest that time in the storyline, and hand them a map with a line that says “you can’t make it out past this point.”

  203. Ross says:

    What part of a game is hardest, mechanically? Right, combat. What part has the worst RP? Combat. Combat is fertile ground for RP, but players and DMs alike are juggling stats, hit point totals, and more, and often forget about this. Who takes a stabwound gracefully (and if you say your low-Cha dwarf, then you’re hiding behind a stereotype)? Who doesn’t should insults (witty or crude or both) while dueling? Who doesn’t express fear when a wizard summons an evil outsider, or the party tank gets paralyzed by a low saving throw? It takes a DM RPing monsters and NPCs to the hilt to remind players to do this. So give your dying CR 1 orcs a parting insult, and have the CR 10 orc-with-barbarian-levels call out the party fighter. Your players will enjoy it.

  204. Ross says:

    When starting a new game, before crafting a world, a storyline, even a general plot arc, get everyone together and decide what kind of game they want to play. Both DMs and players are supposed to enjoy this, and it might involve compromise between a player’s ideal hackenslash mayhem and the DM’s brilliantly complex political intrigue (okay, extremes, but you know). Determining things like the moral level (good, bad, grey) ahead of time is a good idea, and have everyone pick a rough character concept TOGETHER. This makes sure the four bases are covered (arcane, divine, tank, thief) and makes sure the party will work together–few things will drive a game down faster than an amoral CN halfling rogue and a LG wizard out to save the world constantly clashing. It’s also a good idea for the characters to mix backstories, with one PC being another’s relative, and another being the first’s childhood friend. When everyone’s connected in some way, and they all start off knowing a bit about each other, the game runs much more smoothly.

  205. Ian Winterbottom says:

    The tip above about the Town generator was a cracker, thanks; it occurs to me that there may be some GMs and players around who just maybe haven’t heard of or subscribed to Johnn Four’s roleplayingtips.com, which is one of my alltime favourite sites. Loads of stuff on there, of the same kind as we’re putting on this list, and articles on various RPG subjects, including a couple of mine! (Plug, plug!) Seriously, it is a great site.

  206. Ian Winterbottom says:

    Extend the post above on “effects” for Undead by remembering that there are other sensations too; for instance the sense of smell? Not just to give warning of Undead but atmosphere, for instance the smell – in total darkness – of honeysuckle or gardenias? Or of new-turned earth? Most disquieting! Sound is also a good one, an offkey voice singing an old lullaby, a low whistling or moaning sound – one of my most chilling “nights” in a dungeon was spent listening to an incessant, low whistling noise, we never did find out what was causing it but all the characters lost a lot of “sleep” that night!
    Cold or chill, a faint draught coming from nowhere, that no matter which way you turn is always behind you? Or unusual warmth?

  207. James McMurray says:

    The most powerful tool any GM has is communication. It can fix any balance issues, ensure campaigns stay fun for everyone, and avoid all sorts of “gotchas.” A few examples:

    – If you’ve handed out an item or allowed an ability that’s too powerful, talk to the player(s) you gave it to. You should be able to come up with a weakened version of it that leaves the game mostly unchanged and everyone happy. It also avoids the player’s least favorite things: ninjas in the night stealing your cool toys.

    – If there are people that aren’t paying attention during the game, ask them what’s up. Perhaps you’ve been focusing too much or too little on combat for their tastes. Or maybe they’ve got plans for their character and are waiting for an in game opportunity to enact them. Talking about it can help you steer the game closer to what they’re wanting and avoid a possible melt down later when they’ve had a bad day and decide “screw this game, it’s not fun anyway.”

    – A few concepts come up in every game such as lethality, alignment, game expectations, and borderline balance issues. Will PCs die to random chance, or only because of their actions (and can they be raised)? How strict will we be on alignment, i.e. can my paladin be Judge Dredd? Are we allowing the ______ prestige class? All of these questions can turn into serious gotchas if the GM knows his answers but the players don’t.

    – If a player buys something that looks odd, ask about it. It might be that he wanted that level of paladin for his Thri-Kreen because his rogue has fallen into disgrace and is seeking redemption. Or he might be aiming for a Master Thrower who tosses 18 shuriken per round which are all touch attacks dealing 8 + 4d6 Sneak Attack + 1 Strength damage each. Asking “why a level of paladin?” can mean the difference between a campaign that touches on the finer points of good, evil, and redemption or a campaign that implodes from unforeseen power gaming.

  208. James McMurray says:

    A follow-up tip for that last one: One of your most important questions is “what do you plan on doing next?” When I remember, I try to ask this at the end of the session or in between games.

    This is true even if the campaign is tightly plotted, running on rails, and the players are having a blast playing the roles of conductor, engineer, and passenger. There are always ideas that a group of 4+ brains come up with that the GM and his solitary one didn’t foresee.

    For example, if the next portion of the campaign involves breaking into an evil temple and stealing the MacGuffin of Ultimate Uberosity, you probably prepped under the assumption that the players will follow their standard “kick down the door and kill stuff” tactics. If you get to the session and they tell you how they’re going to disguise themselves and join the cult you’re in for an evening of floundering around trying to keep up. If they’ve discussed it during the week you’ll be even more hard pressed to make things both believable and challenging.

    If, however, you ask at the end of the last session you’ll know to spend your week figuring out initiation rituals, tests, secret handshakes, and how someone goes about getting promoted high enough to get close to the MacGuffin.

    Finally, “what are your plans?” forces thought on the players’ parts. Sometimes it’s easy to just go with the flow as a player: show up and follow the path of least resistance. Being forced to think about things keeps me more interested in the game, and more likely to think about it during the week. I’m more likely to come up with interesting ideas, and much more likely to view the situations from my character’s perspective.

  209. Vulgartron says:

    If you’ve been caught unawares (and unprepared) by a players’ plan (perhaps they’re ignoring a hook or clue completely?), don’t fret!

    Players come up with plenty of good ideas and hooks while musing about or planning what to do. If they’re a chatty bunch, you’ll be swimming in ideas all the time, so you can easily nab an idea and go with it. Perhaps combine multiple ones, or twist one to try and nudge things back to the way you originally planned.

    This way, the players are forging their own way back on track, and you’re saved some major headaches.

  210. Vulgartron says:

    Plagued with out-of-character talks during pivotal RP scenes? Perhaps humbling the players a little will make them more prone to re-focusing.

    When players and I are in the thick of RPing, and, for some reason, one starts talking out of character (small jokes and comments aside), they get funny looks from NPCs. Why? When the player talks out of character, he’s not controlling the character, so that rogue who’s known for being suave and cool is standing there limply, mouth agape, tongue lolled out, drooling.

    It’s unnecessary to have any in-game or mechanical repercussions – for players attached to their characters, the embarassment is enough.

  211. Shawn says:

    Keep players on their toes by twisting their basic assumptions about the world. My players are experienced/ jaded enough to have the stats and capabilities of most of the “standard” monsters memorized. I feel like that sucks the magic out of a fantasy setting, so every once in a while I’ll throw in something really random.

    For example, my players were fighting off a goblin ambush, and I finished the encounter by saying, “As you cut down another goblin, the humaniods decide they’ve lost their heart for the fight. They spread their wings and fly clumsily off over the treetops.” My players immediately reacted with, “WINGS?! Those goblins had WINGS?!!” It was sweet.

    Another time, the players came across a severed index finger laying on a mountain path. As they bent down to look at it, it started crawling away, like an inchworm. Plain old human finger – no stats, no abilities. Just crawling. I’ve never seen them more creeped out…

  212. Kailkay says:

    This is something I’ve found very useful to me as a DM. Just skimming through, I already have several good ideas with which to improve my campaign. Thank you!

    As for a few tips, I find these to be generally good things to practice:

    – When the group gets together, we play in my basement, situated around a fold-up card table. I found after studying the players’ habits during play that one thing seemed to be fairly consistent in their attitudes:

    The players seated on the couch across from myself were paying generally more attention to what was going on than those who were sitting on the sides of the card table. As this is a game of community, I think that the players who were more physically close to one another paid more attention to what was going on in the adventure and what all the other players were doing, and the players on the wings were more absorbed with what they, themselves were doing, shuffling through pages in their books and being generally introverted.

    As such, I implemented a ‘seat-swapping’ regimen where once or twice throughout the evening, the players would change their seating situation. The two on the wings would move to sit in the couch, and two of the players on the couch would move to the chairs on the sides. This way the players at least paid attention to what was going on at least some of the time. I also moved the chairs on the sides closer to the couches, and this seemed to improve the attention and got rid of distractions.

    – My group started off using coins and bottle-caps to represent everything. It was good but became confusing for myself as the DM to remember which penny was which monster. So one of the members of the group bought some glass pebble-things with flat bottoms that are typically used to fill the bottoms of fishtanks. We bought some paint and coloured some numbers onto these glass ‘counters’, and have been using them ever since.

  213. Michelle says:

    after every encounter with a monster have the PC’s roll will saves for nightmares the following night. after 5 nightmares dont let them recover HP or spells cause the nightmares kept them from resting

  214. Michelle says:

    i know the contest is well over, but these tips are great!

    instead of just handing out levels to PCs, have them find teachers, or have teachers find them (ie: a trumpet archon becomes interested in the destiny of one of the sorcerors in the group) and use initiations into tribes and/or guilds.

    also, dont have players pick an alignment, but let their actions guide them towards one. it gives them the freedom to become the heros (or villians) they want to be without having to worry about “by killing this guy, is that an evil act?”

  215. Bird says:

    The Best adventures/campaigns are the impromptu ones. lol o the contest is over…..

  216. Thelas says:

    You may have heard about “a dragon, a WIGHT, I heard”, which is heard as “a dragon, a WHITE, I heard”. How about the next time have a WHITE dragon, then do it with a WHITE WIGHT dragon, then an albino red dragon!

  217. Vladimer Gilliand says:

    I like to add a brother or other family member and make them one of the PC’s arch-villians. Just like in real life. I know you all that have brothers or sisters know what I am talking about. I also like to to add a fan or admirer to a town and he helps the PC’s out and give them a general direction of the town/city. My favorite thing to do is have a celestial come down and charge them with a task and it crosses five or six planes.

  218. Sinn says:

    In my years of Dming, poetry, litteracy, and script writing, I think what a person would want is rising action and suspense as they advance through your adventure. I had once tried to illiminate a bad player with something higher than there level ( Undead cloud giants in a high tower). It went pretty well (I killed my taget(the fighter) and after he died I let the other PCs who died get a couple of revival potions. I also feel that a person likes fast game play and only describe the room if the PCs want you to. It may get noisy when someone dies (because noone wants to die young) and it creates a riot. So in that case I let a turn of events let that person be revived (especially right before boss fights) so they can help the more important PCs kill the boss.

  219. CinnamonPixie says:

    Get some input from the players about their characters; stuff like backgrounds, aspirations and goals, motivational factors, and what they want to accomplish in life (and what players want to do with their characters). Then incorporate some of these things into your game’s story so the game is unique to the characters and engaging for the players – it’ll invite them to have a part in the story and the overall color of the world you’re creating, and it’ll help players who don’t put a lot into their characters to get into a little more (which is what “role playing” is all about, eh?).

    I’ve found that some sort of interaction in a campaign with individual characters’ stories/aspirations/etc really makes the game a lot more fun for the players – but remember to not focus on a single, or a limited few, character(s) at the expense of the others. It’s important to integrate all the individual characters into a single tapestry of intertwining story threads. It’s a little bit of work, but the good news is that a lot of the work is done by the players who give you ideas with the information about their characters they give you.

  220. Hmott says:

    Don’t be embarassed to roleplay!!! Your friends won’t think your some idiot who likes to talk in funny voices. I think.

  221. Hmott says:

    If the game mood is dissolving fast, don’t throw some climactic epic battle. It’ll just make it a crunchy calculator fest. What you really want is a certain mood…. Any mood really. Funny is probably the easiest to cultivate. Throw them a ridiculush NPC, maybe one who never makes sense, or is a metagamer.

  222. Rich says:

    We tried a zillion different things for mapping. For a while we played on a blackboard. The best, I have found, is one of those easel size pads used for meetings. They make them with a 1″ grid. You can make your maps ahead of time. Even cut them up to only reveal what you want to reveal.

  223. Wolfman says:

    I find that a good ol’ dry erase whiteboard to be great for quick displays of map layouts or relaying any kind of visual info to the players.

  224. Wyatt says:

    Sometimes, you should invent a weird houserule and run the game that way. I think every group needs a “lose your mind” houserule night. Nevermind balance and all that jazz – change up the game in some weird way and watch what happens. Give everybody action points that refresh every encounter. Make a bunch of deck of cards corresponding to each class and have players draw powers – from ANY level of play – at random from their class’ deck when attacking (give a bonus for drawing a particularly high level power for added coolness!) House Rules don’t always have to fix the game. Sometimes when they kick the game in the face, it can be devilishly fun. Especially true for one-shot games. Why run a Dungeon Delve when you can run an EXTREME Dungeon Delve?

    Don’t fear rules. Rules are for having fun with!

  225. Nightmare says:

    sometimes you need to mix up the monster manual rules a bit. If your players have figured out a great way to beat a monster….and do so on several occasions. switch it up a bit. this will have the players scratching there heads until they find the reason for the change. (you always have to justify). Like my players didn’t have any trouble with Zombies so i changed their “Partial actions only” rules and made them “Dawn of the Dead” zombies. my justification was they were being controlled by a high level demon who acted like a master puppeteer.

  226. Mike says:

    The best tip I have after many years of GM’ing, not just DnD but many RP systems is to keep things loose and relaxed. Don’t get caught up in rules, stats and numbers. It just bogs down the game if you are constantly looking up rules or the like. If you cant find your page in under a minute, just fudge it and move on. Its much more fun to have a loose and flowing game than a strict and choppy game.

  227. Eddie says:

    Why does every campain have to be about medevil why not western or space or cave men. well my tip is experiment with different types of setings not just medevil fantasy

  228. Mike says:

    When constructing a campaign, get a feel for what your players like and dislike early on. The best way I have found to do this is choices. Players want to feel they are in control of the experience. THEY want to decide what the next quest will be. Don’t overburden them with choices but give them options. It is OK to steer them down a path but let them be the leaders of the missions. It is helpful to remind them of what they know and don’t know when making difficult decisions but let them decide. Nothing is worse for a player than being along for the ride. Once you get a feel for what they like and dislike, it is easy to manipulate decisions by giving them one or two actual choices and one or two garbage ones.

  229. d says:

    Have your characters really think about their backgrounds and reward them by incorporating it into your storyline. It makes the players feel more involved with their characters and gives you even more inspiration for your game. I once even had my players fill out a little sheet I had created that asked very general questions i.e. What is your characters goals, dreams, or ambitions? What is their greatest strength? Weakness? Do they have any phobias? Almost like a mini personality quiz or survey. The players really enjoyed the exercise and it made for a much more interesting and involved RPing experience.

  230. bea7d0wn says:

    i think story line can be to constricting. ive played w/ some dm’s who if u dont follow the story line, they just re-route and ur following it anyway. as a dm i, plot the story as it goes along. if they forego involving themselves in certain events cuz there wraped up in other stuff the story goes on! they might get a chance to influence events later but not always . then they find out later wat went on and wat they cud have done to change it!

  231. bea7d0wn says:

    this goes along w/ my earlier comment , dont get frustrated if a encounter doesnt go the way u want. some dm’s will plan this whole big thing 2go dwn then if the players choose somthin else the dm either gets mad/frustrated or finds another way 2 make them do it. or theres no choice at all. be more open! make everything a varable, w/ multiple outcomes, so the players havemore choice.

  232. Scott Sveter says:

    I am currently running a 3.5 D&D campaigne. One of the hardest things to do is be creatively realistic. What I mean here is the world you build has inhabitants. The PC’s interact with these inhabitants, results not withstanding, both sides learn from each other. For example, the goblin chieftains patrols do not come back on time, instead of simply blowing it off the chieftain would send a better armed group to find out why the patrol hasn’t returned, and set the base camp onhigh alert.

    When starting a campaign with new PC’s I have a question for each players character…what’s their motivation; what makes a person leave the relative safety of home to seek out and battle creatures that may consider you a snack. What I get as a DM is plot seeds. These little tidbits of knowledge allow me to make a whole adventure sometimes.

    The last thing is give each of your players a chance to shine. There is nothing worse than a player sulking because they didn’t get to get their licks in. So get your sorcerers to sorce.

    Check out my Obsidian Portal for ideas, hints, and follow the progress of our intrepid band of explorers

  233. zafafa says:

    contest is over but i like the idea of a forest or lsbyrinth gouver by a kind of mage that see everything the pc’s are doing so it can alter the place each time a player takes some specified action set by you ( DM ) on the fly or not … Its kind of a : beware this place maybe aint for you yet without killing them … stuck one of them in a wall for half a day …

  234. Ian Winterbottom says:

    @ Zafafa,
    Regretfully the contest is over, but your post remeinded me. My best ever dungeon/Campaign was The Mystic Maze of Magister Martin, AKA 4Ms, exactly what you describe, a labyrinth made from a hollow mountain by a ?? level Wizard who’d popped his cork and decided to build an Assault Course for PCs. He had Omnivision like CCTV all over the Dungeon and was one of his own Wandering Monsters, you could meet him in full uniform as Gandalf/Ming the Merciless, or as a little bloke in overalls with glasses and a +4 Sonic Screwdriver, tinkering with something in a wall or whatever. As soon as encountered he would vanish, unless there was something I wanted him to do! You could also meet his Wicked Apprentice who occasionally teleported in and out of the place making mischief, and sometimes allied himself with player Parties, trouble was that all the spells and monsters in the place recognised him and targeted him on sight! (To the detriment of anyone with him!) Other “Wanderers” included a little guy with a wheelbarrow marketing random Potions and Magic Items, not too powerful and often embarrassing! (Non vulnerable to attacks of course!) There were also “Normal” Wanderers and a special Cleanup Crew, Gelatinous Cubes, Ghouls and other rubbish-removers! Also several intelocking and random Teleport systems,, one of which was in fact a Lift!
    It made for some dingdong adventures as people tried to get themselves and their stash out of Seventh Level!


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