Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Mostly Irrelevant Advice

So, I am awful at blogging, but I'm also a glutton for punishment, so I thought I'd try again.

I don't want to start by talking about me and my story, because that is depressing and I end up not blogging anymore after I do that, so I'll start with something I'm very passionate about.

This is a post about Pen and Paper Role-playing Games (RPGs). Things like D&D, Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, Dark Heresy. Unfortunately, I have only played two of those I listed, but I have looked into many others.

I'm going to try my best to not say any one game is better than any other, but I am a human being and therefore I have preferences. My personal choice is Pathfinder, but I am willing to try any of these games (with one unnamed exception*). However, I will try my best not to say things like "See, this is why this game is the best" or "I really hate that about this edition". I will do my best to only say positive things, but occasionally I will say something negative because I think it's an important thing about the game. Or I might think it's really funny.

So, I'm usually the one in my group who is in charge. What this is called is changed depending on what you play, but I usually say GM (for Game Master). Occasionally, I will poke some fun at it by calling the position the Master of Ceremonies, because that implies there is more control than I usually experience.

I've been doing it for 5 years now, and I like to think I have a pretty decent grasp on how things work, but I'm always trying to get better. Combat is still slow, players are often not invested in their characters or the story, people get distracted at the table, we have that one guy who wastes everyone's time by interrupt everything and act out to set up a stupid tasteless joke that nobody laughs at; that said, I haven't seen it all; not by a long shot.

But, I'd like to start by listing some advice based on mistakes I've made, both as a player and as a DM, and tell you what I learned from them. I don't think you should necessarily try to avoid them at all costs, because I believe that experience is the best teacher. Most of my advice is for players using the d20 system, but there are some games out there (like Vampire: The Masquerade) that only use one size of die (d10 in this case) and many of them. In that case, some of the below advise is less useful (like color coding).

I'm going to just post some stuff for newer groups, since I don't want this to be too long.

Advice for New Groups

  1. When forming a brand new group, remember that you are all learning together. Sometimes there is an unspoken assumption that the person who is in charge will know everything. That's not usually the case, because their schedule is often just as busy as the others.
  2. If you've done something like this before (even video games) try to do something you're familiar with. This will help with learning the rules involved, even if they are completely different (which they probably are). I did not do this, and it was a big pain.
    1. If you have the option, use pre-generated characters the first time. It might not be as fun, but it'll help you understand what does what and how to fill them out. At the very least look at them when building your character.
  3. Don't be a jerk. The point of this is not to ruin someone else's experience. Yes, that includes playing a rogue who steals everyone's crap when it's his turn on watch. It might be fun for you. but in most groups it's not fun for anyone else, so stop it. I haven't done this myself, but it tends to ruin everyone's fun unless you know everyone is okay with it and you don't overdo it.
  4. Listen to the GM. Not just what they say, but how they say it. Especially if they say "Are you sure you want to do that?". I have had players 
  5. Do your best to work with the GM while everyone is still learning. There is time for ridiculous shenanigans once everyone gets it better.
  6. Be interested in playing the game and learning the rules. If you have to ask what die to roll every time, you might need to invest more time into learning the rules. You also need to be able to find things on your Character Sheet.
    1. Asking that at the beginning is okay. I like to draw the shapes of the dice used for each roll (multiple if there are more than one) next to the item in question (i.e. in Pathfinder you use d20s for attacks, skills, and saves; others for damage). If you don't want to draw and have some money, you might try and color code stuff with stickers.
    2. Get your own set of dice ASAP. If you can and are color coding, don't buy a complete set, and instead only buy the dice you'll need and color code them with your stickers.
  7. WRITE IT DOWN. This is SO important and so many people don't do it. It saves a lot of time in the long run if you write everything down. Especially with spells, items, and class features. If you need extra sheets of paper or flash cards, use them.


  1. Don't try to learn everything all at once. The most important things to learn is how skills and save work and how to run combat. This is different with every game and usually every edition of that game. The rest will come as you go. My favorite thing is to use sticky notes and flash cards to remember things.
  2. Don't be afraid to say no if you aren't sure. But be sure to double check in the books or online. If it turns out it was a thing that can happen, then let everyone know that it can work from now on. But, make sure you use a reliable source. Forums can be good, but sometimes people will tell you the wrong thing because they think everyone should play like they do.
    1. This is especially important during character creation. If they want to play a carbon-copy of a video game character, try to encourage them to make it their own. If they want to have an awesome backstory (I robbed the king all by myself, but then they caught me and employed me as their freelance trapsmith; really? he is literally the richest person in the land and can afford the most expensive magical and mundane protections and you did it before your first adventure?), tell them they should tone it down. This is something I call "Main Character Complex", and it doesn't mesh well with these games that often require constant teamwork. They are often loners who always get things done when others can't or are the smartest, prettiest, and most successful in their career.
  3. Try not to stray from the core rules at first. Get comfortable with those, then spread out as you learn more. Avoid stuff like Fairies, Unicorns, Magical Cats, etc. There might be rules for them, but they are often not official and are not always thoroughly balanced or tested.
    1. If you have experienced players that you trust, try not to limit them. It can cause friction and limit creativity in a bad way.
  4. Run a module first. If it's well written, it should include all the rules you need for the included situations, and you can be comfortable that the combat is designed correctly. NOTE: There are some that will give you plot hooks and then never fill them out. They expect you to. I would advise to either avoid these modules or avoid the hooks within them.
  5. Learn the combat system. You don't need to know all the ins and outs, but know how to do to special attacks (grapple, overrun, reposition, etc). With games based on the d20 system, this is especially important. For those, if you see a cool monster and it's Challenge Rating (CR) is more than 2 higher than any single character in the party, you are doing it wrong.
    1. Learn what the monster/opponent can do. They aren't just bags of meat for the PCs to beat on. Use their special attacks, use their alternate movements speeds, and make it a challenging fight as best you can!
  6. Start at a lower level. This will help them not have so choice anxiety because they have too many options and will help you keep them in check because at this point almost everything can eat them for breakfast.
    1. Remind them of this fact as often as you can. Let them know that they are not the super awesome characters they play in video games, and if they try to be they will likely die a miserable death.
    2. Try to keep everyone at roughly the same Experience if you can. This helps in new groups, because everyone is about the same power level.
  7. If your players are being idiots and doing stupid stuff, don't be afraid to let them know. If you don't mind, then it's fine, but if you feel they're detracting from the story, you can try and reign them in. My personal favorite way to do this is to ask the question "Are you sure want to do/say that?" or just plain "Are you sure?". This can strike fear into the hearts of players.
    1. If it alone isn't enough, don't be afraid to let it go badly. Don't go overboard though. They taunt the city guards, they get put in the stockades for an hour while peasants throw rotting fruit at them. Maybe have shopkeepers refuse to serve that individual or increase the prices for them. They want to seduce the barmaid? Have her be an Orc dude in disguise. They steal from the shop keeper? He raises his prices around the board to compensate for the theft and maybe buys a vicious guard dog.
    2. Do your best to not remove control from them, though. If they are going to be put in the stockades, give them a chance to escape or talk or bribe their way out of it. Make it difficult (or expensive in the case of bribing), but make it possible.
  8. NEVER steal the thunder from your players. Their characters are the main characters of this story. This includes not having a DMPC (or having one and excusing it by saying it's an NPC). If you are tempted to have a character follow them around, consider instead giving them an item that does something similar (wand of cure wounds instead of a cleric friend). Or, use pregenerated NPC stats for that character and make the party pay him either day by day or by splitting the loot.


  1. It is just a game. Don't get upset because you wanted to do something cool and it didn't work. Let it help build the story.
    1. The goal is for everyone to have fun, even the GM. Of course, telling the story and running combat should be fun for them, but don't try and ruin the story on purpose.
  2. Make a decision at the beginning who is holding on to the Character sheets. If you are responsible for your own, make sure you bring it. If you are responsible for more than one, make sure you bring them, because it's REALLY hard to play without the information on what you can do.
    1. As a GM, I often let player hang on to them, but I put an electronic copy in my character sheet app so that I have some of the info as a backup. I try to update it whenever we level up. And if they don't have an item on what I have listed, they can deal without it for a session; I think it helps them to remember next time. If I do have a player who cannot for the life of them remember everything, I do offer to hold on to it and keep it in my stuff. I try not to do this, but I am also not a complete jerk so I'm willing to work with people.
I may add more as time goes on, but this seems good for now!

Thanks for reading!

*This exception will remain unnamed, because if I tell you, you'll go and look it up. And you will likely not recover from it.

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