Category Archives: Improve Your Game

diverse party

Planning ahead

For quite a long time I started new campaign on a whim with an extremely short prep period. This works out well enough if you’re at the top of your game, creative, able to think on your toes. But if you are stressed from work and other things, perhaps even feeling a bit under the weather, this just doesn’t work out anymore. My friend Roberto has a different approach to GMing. He usually plans his campaigns way ahead. I think he’s already planning the campaign he wants to run in 2015. I don’t think I’ll ever plan ahead that early, but I’ve decided to change the way I prepare for my games.

At the moment I am running two games: a mini-campaign freely based on the XCOM series of computer games and a campaign based on the Fallout 1 computer game. Both games use Fudge rules, for the Fallout one I even wrote a pretty extensive conversion document. The XCOM game will probably be over two weeks time, so I am already planning for the game that will follow.

My players have asked me to run Shadowrun, so I started reading 5th Edition. Alas reading 5th Edition felt like gnawing off my own foot, so I decided to look for alternatives. At first I thought just tossing the Shadowrun rules would be best, but in the end I settled on Shadowrun 4th Edition. For some reason I find the game much more approachable. I’ll still think the same after I’ve finished reading the book.

But I will not stop there. As soon as we start playing Shadowrun I’ll think about what I could prepare next. Currently I am very interested in the Hero System. I picked up the current Bundle of Holding, and already started leafing through the various PDFs. I always wanted to run a superhero game, and Champions Complete may be the perfect game for this. If the Hero System turns out too much of a hassle after all, I still have a couple of alternatives up my sleeves. BASH Ultimate Edition looks like a more rules-lite approach to super hero gaming for example.

Do you usually plan way ahead for your games? Do you have several projects brewing at the same time, or do you prefer to focus on only one game at a time? Please share your thoughts below.

Same game, new tools!

Tumbs upAbout two years and a half ago (can’t believe I’ve been blogging here for that long) I wrote a post about the then new game I was playing, Mutants & Masterminds, and I wrote about the tools I was using then for the campaign. They included an Excel sheet for character creation, a campaign Facebook group, so on and so forth. Here is the link for the post. As time has gone by I have only expanded the electronic tools I’m using…

I’m also gone FULL digital. I run all my games from my computer. This is facilitated that my current campaign is a Pathfinder RPG game and there are some excellent resources that allow me to run the game from my computer with minimal book look up, including first and foremost the Pathfinder Reference Document by Paizo and the Pathfinder SRD (which also has SRD for Swords & Wizardry, Heroes of the Modern Path, i.e. a modern version of Pathfinder, and d20 Hero SRD which is the SRD for Mutants & Masterminds).

I’ve developed my own tools to use in my games, Excel sheets for tracking experience points, Power Point presentations to share information, and I’ve embraced PDFs. If available I’ll get PDF copies of the games I’m running. The price of some PDFs can still be a stumbling block. Paizo has very reasonably prices PDFs of their core Pathfinder books, most are $10.00. Pinnacle has their Savage Worlds Deluxe Explorers Edition, both in PDF and print, available for $9.99, that’s a price you can’t beat for a full game. Green Ronin Mutants & Masterminds / DC adventures PDFs are double the price of the other books, but I love their system so much I’ll get them anyway. And I usually get physical books as well and Green Ronin has some nice pre-order prices where you get the PDF at a discounted price.

facebook-logoAs I worked on the Pathfinder swashbuckling game I developed a Google Sites page for the game, and did the same for a very short zombie game (which I posted about here and here). However more and more I am using Facebook for my campaigns. I realize the social media giant has lost a lot of love out there, but the fact is ALL my players are there and use it regularly, so it’s become the most convenient way to share information. The files options in Facebook groups, the ability to create them privately, and the ease of sharing campaign images via the pictures and picture albums, have replaced my Google sites.  I currently have four campaign groups, one for my current fantasy game, another for my past supers game and for the zombie game, and another for the next game, our sci-fi campaign.

Google-logo1 (1)I have not ended my love for Google mind you! I still use Google Drive to share some documents and collaborate with my players and friends, most notably the Pathfinder campaign experience points. I add each session’s award to a Google Docs spreadsheet and the PC’s check it to see when they level up. They are not even writing down their XP anymore.

youtube-logo2How to handle music in my games has been an ongoing battle. I went from no music, to carrying around a CD case with all the soundtracks I used for my games, to creating playlists in my iPod. What I’ve begun to do recently is create playlists on YouTube. There are a LOT of videos for game and movie soundtracks and I just pull them in appropriate playlists and play at my games. Or try, I forge oftentimes, but that’s my new thing. For example here are the playlists for my current Pathfinder swashbuckling game, and for my upcoming Wanderers of the Outlands sci-fi game.

WCCOne last thing… For the Wanderers of the Outlands campaign we’ll be using Savage Worlds and I intend to use Journeyman Games’ Wild Card Creator, since I backed the Kickstarter.

So that’s the state of technology in my game. I wonder; what tools are my fellow gamers and readers of this blog using? Anything you’d like to share? I’m always looking for new tools!

Thanks for reading…

Don’t ask what the GM can do for you

JFK … ask what you can do for the GM. Or let it put me differently: it’s not the GM’s job alone to make sure the game is interesting and fun for everyone. Roberto’s last post focused on the gamemasters, so I thought I should focus on the players this time.

There’s a common misconception in our hobby that the GM is solely responsible for whether a game is fun or not. Sure, a bad GM may ruin a game, but more often than not this could have been avoided with the help of the players. Roleplaying games are a group activity and everyone at the gaming table shares the responsibility of making the game fun. So what can you do as a player to make the GM’s job easier?

Don’t be a dick!
This should be a given, but alas it’s not. All of you probably have heard horror stories about that guy, and a lot of us have actually played with him (or her). Just try to be nice to everyone and treat everyone in a way you want to be treated by others, and everything will be fine. Actually I could stop here, since “don’t be a dick” sums it up pretty well, but I guess, we should go into a bit more detail. By the way, this rule also applies to your character. In most RPGs the player characters are supposed to work as a team. Since when is a back-stabbing, mysterious, loner-type character a team player? You make the GMs job and the other players’ life much easier when you play a team player. That doesn’t mean you can play goody two-shoes only, but at least make sure you work with the rest of the party, even though its to further your own agenda.

Don’t argue with the GM during the game
Especially in most old-school games the gamemaster, dungeon master, referee, or whatever you call him (or her) has the last word when it comes to rules interpretations. His word is law. But that doesn’t mean that discussions about rules or the GM’s ruling crop up every now and then. The correct way is to accept the GMs decision during the game and – if there’s still need for discussion – bring it up after the game.

Help to maintain the atmosphere of the game
Often a GM tries hard to set a certain atmosphere for a game, but it just doesn’t work. The main reason is often that the players don’t support him. This is especially an issue in horror games. If you are an investigator in Call of Cthulhu searching a weird mansion for clues, avoid making jokes all the time, but try to imagine you were actually there, having the nagging feeling that something is terribly wrong. If one or two players work with the GM to set the mood, the rest of the players might actually join in. This will improve the game for everyone.

It’s not all about you
It can’t be said often enough: there’s no I in team. And there’s no I in party either! A lot of players feel the game is all about them. It’s not. The other players and the GM are as important. We all love to be in the spotlight from time to time, but try to avoid shoving your fellow players to the side. I’ve experienced games where the GM and one player basically were engaged in a 2-hour long dialogue while the rest of the players started building towers out of their dice or played around on their smartphone. Especially if some of the players is extremely active and extroverted, the GM might not notice that the other players are bored, because this person demands all his attention. In my opinion it’s the active players’ job to help the other players to get into the spotlight, too.

Play by the rules
I am not talking about the game’s rules, but the rules of the group. If the group is used to serious games, where talking out-of-character is frowned upon and where eating snacks at the game table is considered a mortal sin, try to not to force your less serious, tongue-in-cheek play style on the others. The same is true if you join a group that prefers a more light-hearted approach to the game. Forcing your play style on the group seldom works. Feel free to convince the other players to change their approach to gaming outside of the game, though. But doing so during the game is just a bad idea.

Be on time and don’t leave early!
Usually gaming groups decide on when to play and for how long a long time in advance. Especially with older gamers scheduling becomes a real hassle. Don’t put insult to injury by coming late to the game or leave early because of another appointment. If something suddenly comes up, make sure you inform the GM and the other players in time. That’s actually what I would consider common courtesy, but this issue still comes up in a lot of gaming groups. I can understand that the priorities change over time and some people take gaming activities more serious than others, but that doesn’t mean you should act like a dick.

Bring some snacks, drinks, etc.
In a lot of cases the GM is the one who puts the most time, effort, and money into the hobby. Often the games get played at his or her place, he or she buys the snacks, the game books that are used (including the adventures), provides handouts for the players, buys appropriate background music, etc. – I guess you catch my drift. You can make the GM’s (or the host’s – if he or she’s different from the GM) life much easier by bringing some snacks, drinks etc. that you freely share with the others. It doesn’t need to be every time and you don’t have to bring a lot, but it’s a simple way to show that you care about the game.

There are of course many more ways for a player to help to improve a game. What did I forget? What do you wish would happen at your game table more often (or less often)? Please share your thoughts below. Think about what YOU can do to be a better player!