GM Tips: Nothing is universally right

After I posted my GM Tips: 5 Tips to Help Describe a Scene article a few days ago I was sent some feedback (I love constructive feedback) from Dave Sherohman via Google+, I was pleased to hear that David agreed with some of my offerings, however he did take issue (as I suspected a number of people might) with tip #4:

Original article:

When you’re describing a scene, if possible ask the players some questions to have them fill in some of the finer details, this can take a bit of getting used to if you are accustomed to a more GM-heavy style of game, but it not only saves you some work, it also gets the players more invested in the scene. That said, if the player seems to be struggling for an idea, don’t hold up the game waiting for them, tell them not to worry about it and move on, either throwing it open to the group or making up a detail for yourself.

David’s response was:


I was right there with you up until #4.  While asking players to fill in details may increase investment for some players, there are those of us who will be violently torn out of the game by it.  “What does the sign say?  Why are you asking me?  My character didn’t put the sign there and has absolutely no control over what it says.”  Asking me to help you create the game world during play destroys any sense that the world already existed before I got there.

I’m not saying that technique is universally wrong, but it is not universally right, either.

This isn’t an article to get at David, like I say I love feedback and his point was very well made, but rather to point out that he was absolutely right to bring this very valid point up, something I agree with wholeheartedly.

There is no absolutely right way to GM

There I said it, what may work for one people may be no good for others, and what doesn’t work for someone else might be just the thing that your own game needs, you may hear some people on the internet bang on about secret-techniques of GM-ing or running games the right way, and TBH I think that’s absolutely rubbish.

My GM Tips articles are not designed to provide you with a 100% foolproof way of GM-ing your games, how on earth could I do that? I have no insider information on how your games run or what works for you in particular?

So you might ask yourself why I make GM Tips videos or blog posts if this is the case? Well it’s because over my years of GM-ing I’ve picked up a lot of techniques and tricks that I find work for me in my games, and I’m picking up new ones all the time from talking to other GMs, getting feedback from players, trying out new systems, running one-shots and campaigns, etc. All I can do is tell you what works for me, in my games, and hope that some of the techniques will maybe work for you or at least inspire you to think slightly differently about your own games; if one of my tips isn’t working for you then feel free to discard it, it’s not like I’m hiding in the bushes waiting to whack your hand with the back of a ruler.

That said I will be altering the intro to my GM Tips videos to make it clearer that I’m presenting you with techniques that work for me, experiment with them, test them out, if they work great, if not then either change them to work with your game or discard them.

Thanks again for bringing up a very valid point David 🙂

Picture is part of a Doré wood engraving illustration from The Divine Comedy labeled for reuse on Google Image Search, the original image can be found here.

GM Tips: Ask Questions and listen

GM Tips articles offer advice and ideas for gamesmasters to help hone their techniques and run their games, these lists are not exhaustive but provide some tips to point a GM in the right direction.

In this article we offer a few tips related to that most useful of GM resources, the players. Continue reading

Random Things that you might hear about a Haunted House

These random things articles are designed as quick idea generators for time-pressed GMs who want to inject some additional details into their game, in this article we look at random rumours that you might hear about a haunted house.

When you need some inspiration just roll a D20 and consult the table:

1A number of previous residents have killed themselves after complaining that they were being haunted by something unseen following them on the stairs.
2The previous owner is believed to have murdered a number of people when he ran the building as a guest house, their angry spirits now prowl the hallways seeking vengeance.
3Rumour has it that a hidden gateway to hell lies somewhere within the grounds of the building.
4Local children dare each other to spend a night alone in the house, normally nothing happens but occasionally one of them goes missing and is never found.
5The owner has reported seeing wet footprints appear and then disappear in the hallway.
6There is a bloodstain on the lounge carpet that is believed to have belonging to a young man who was stabbed in the building, it has been cleaned numerous times but always re-appears.
7Set in the wall over the the fireplace is a human skull, it is believed to have belonged to one of the previous owners and was cemented into the wall as per instructions in their will, legend has it that when someone is going to die in the house, the skull screams.
8A phantasmal black hound haunts the bounds of the property, the locals say that anyone who sees it dies shortly afterwards.
9Villagers at the local tavern make religious gestures and grow silent when the house is mentioned, saying that the place and the family that once owned it had an evil reputation.
10Rumour has it that star-crossed lovers died in the house, according to local legend their souls wander the property trying to find each other.
11One certain occasions a spectral figure of a woman, hair and clothes moving as though she were underwater manifests in the drawing room, this apparition has been witnessed by numerous people.
12Odd knocking sounds are often heard from the walls, sometimes whispered voices can be heard as well.
13There is a door that must once have belonged to a chapel within the ground, although the rest of the building has long since crumbled to nothing. Oddly the free-standing door is always kept locked with a fresh chain and padlock, a crude sign in-front of it warning trespassers to stay away.
14During the last bad winter it's said that a vagrant froze to death outside of the building, since then the temperature inside the house has be noticably colder than outside.
15Furniture often re-arranges itself inside the house, although never when anyone is looking.
16Sometimes at night, a light is seen bobbing along in the distance, it disappears if anyone gets close.
17The old rocking chair on the porch sometimes moves on it's own.
18The original building on this site burnt down many years ago, sometimes the smell of charred wood and another sickly, sweet odour can be smelt throughout the house.
19It's said that evil cultists once performed blashpemous ceremonies within the grounds and that the spirits of their victims (or perhaps the things they summoned) linger here.
20The spectre of a man wrongly executed for a crime is said to wander the halls carrying his severed head under his arm.

All About Aspects: Magic Powers as Aspects

Magic Powers as Aspects

We’ve explained the basic formatting for our high concept aspects in one of our previous post, in this post I provide a single descriptions table (that can be used instead of the ones in previous articles) to add aspects concerned with psychic or magic powers.

Please note: This article does not actually provide the rules for the powers, that will be down to whatever system you decide to use (although you can do a surprising amount with skill rolls and invoking/compelling aspects in Fate).

Continue reading

Useful link: Photoshop brushes for Maps

I’ve recently been working a lot on various maps for my 3Brothers D&D 5E Campaign (you can find a link to a collection of the maps here), one of the things that I have found has made the work go a lot quicker is using pre-made photoshop brushes for things like mountains, forests, etc.

After scouting around the internet for awhile I found the following excellent collection:

If you’re using Photoshop and are looking for a way to make your maps a little more quickly then I highly recommend giving these a look, if you want some tutorials on mapping then I’d advise you to check out Fantastic Maps.

Map image is the 1794 Samuel Dunn Wall Map of the World in Hemispheres labelled for re-use on Google Image Search.

Random Things you might see in a rough part of town

These random things articles are designed as quick idea generators for time-pressed GMs who want to inject some additional details into their game, when you need some inspiration just roll a D20 and consult the table: Continue reading

Player Tips: Help your GM help you

Player tips articles offer a short series of tips to help you brush up your skills in certain areas, the lists aren’t exhaustive but keeping them in mind should help you develop your playing style.

In this player tips article we give some advice on how you can help your GM to help you.

Please note: These tips are not intending to be exhaustive or provide a “one true way of roleplaying” (since TBH I don’t believe such things exist), they instead offer suggestions that have work for me and that you might like to try in your own games. Continue reading

Shadows of the Century Beta Playtest – Pitch Session

I was luckily enough to picked to take part in the Shadows of the Century Beta playtest by Evil Hat Productions, looks like a real cool game, I’ve just run the Pitch Session (or session zero) for my face-to-face group; obviously I can’t give anything away about the mechanics at this stage but thought I’d let you know about some of the crazy PCs and NPCs we’ve ended up with.

Please note: The version of the game that I’m currently using is a beta playtest version and may change before the final version is released.

Player Characters

A sorceror for hire who was once part of a cult dedicated to safely harnessing portals to another dimension in search of otherworldly wisdom, the sorceror eventually came to believe that the cult hierarchy were using the portals for evil ends and joined our band of heroes, wanting to put right the damage she had caused.

One-man army. An ex-special forces soldier, scarred and injured in the line of duty, he got out of the military and now spends his time as a soldier of fortune trying to help those who can’t help themselves.

The science experiment gone wrong. Originally worked for Hank Scorpio’s organisation but left after a science experiment left her changed and with an almost superhuman ability to communicate with machines, she took the pay-off she received from Scorpio and hopes to use it and her new abilities to help save the world from itself.

Non-player Characters

Joey the Snitch always sniffs all the time as though he has a permanent cold and is very twitchy, often jumping at his own shadow.

The Finger-smith. A legendary thief wanted in 6 countries whose real identity is unknown.

The Dandy. A rich man who sponsors various hero groups, he is willing to pay extravagant amounts of money to have personalised maids and butlers, but insists on washing his own socks.

Granite got his nickname as a child whilst living with his formidable grandmother, he now works as a leg-breaker for the cult.

General Payne is a semi-retired military man who has not seen action for several years and is rumoured to have a glass jaw.

Elizabeth Shadow is an opium runner who is noted for her outré fashion sense, although she refuses to wear furs.

Ed “bro” James the man-mountain enjoys listening to Culture Club and watching the Wizard of Oz.

Daniel Farloe is an alien replicant with is obsessed with new technology.

“Cheese” is the codename of a top undercover government spy who can often be found drinking shakes at a particular diner if you need to contact him.

Helen Richardson. A preppy inventor who seems quite unable to stop babbling.

Mikhail Strebov. A huge man who works at an inn, Mikhails family originally comes from Ireland, however he’s never been able to hold his drink.

Rathma’Gog is a vegan curiosities dealer.


Hank Scorpio wants to rule the world, he is the owner of a multi-national corporation funded by various shady overseas governments and dictatorships. He sincerely believes he is making the world better, but before you can make a new world, you have to clear out the old one.

The Giant Robot originates on Mars and had travelled to earth to help stop a much greater threat.

There is also a Scientist Studying Portal Technology, he believes it could serve as a source of unlimited energy and even propel mankind to the stars and beyond.

Character generation during the game was fairly simply and didn’t take long, we had great fun following the instructions to create our crazy cast of characters. Looking forward to the first session next week 🙂

Random Things: Gothic horror trinkets for D&D 5E

These random things articles are designed as quick idea generators for time-pressed GMs who want to inject some additional details into their game, in this article we look at trinkets. Trinkets were one of my favourite things about character generation in D&D 5th Edition, each character starts with at least one, a small item or curiosity that has some odd property or something strange about it, it’s not a powerful magic item, just something interesting that could spur conversation and plot.

These items can of course be used in other RPGs.

To honour the recent of the Curse of Strahd by Wizards of the Coast this article provides 100 gothic/horror themed trinkets that can be substituted for those in the 5E PHB. Continue reading

Matters of Fate: Representing the Rules Fairly

Video Version

Audio Version

In this episode we talk a little about the importance of being fair and maintaining consistency when it comes to the rules.
Check out this episode!