Role Playing Tips - By Johnn Four
SEVEN TRICKS TO SAVE TIME
Copyright of Guardian
1) Dice. Rolling dice is your enemy. The more time you spend
dealing with dice, the less time you can spend planning the
critters' moves, top bad guy's plans, and dealing with the
PCs' actions. It's not that you want to roll fewer dice
(nothing scares hack'n'slashers like picking up a double-
handful of d20s, with an evil, gleeful grin, and rolling all
of them), you want to spend less time doing it. So, roll a
lot of dice at once. When you need a number, start in the
upper left corner of the pile, read it, and set it aside.
Apply some common sense. If a 3 hits AC 0 (THACO=3), and you
rolled a 19, don't even bother with the combat tables. You
hit. On ability score or skill checks, if it's a 5 or less,
the character most likely succeeded. No real need to waste
2) Combat. Decide what the bad guys are going to do. Go
around and ask the players what they're going to do - in one
or two words ("Kill everything, spell, magic item, hide,
etc."). Roll initiative. Call out the initiative. While
you're doing that, the PCs should be making to hit and
damage rolls (even if they miss, the dice are at least
rolled and not taking up your time waiting for the PC to
roll his or her dice), looking up spells, etc. The idea is
that the player is ready with the information by the time
you get to her or him. Now you and the players can spend the
time describing the fight - role-playing - instead of
dealing with mechanics. If you do a little roleplaying with
the PC who won initiative, you're actually giving the other
players a chance to get their stuff together.
Another note on combat. Roll the dice only when it's
necessary. If a party of 9th level combat-heavy
dragonslayers is attacked by twelve 0-level bandits, the
bandits are going to lose 99.99% of the time. An encounter
like this is barely a sidenote in the adventure, and should
be dealt with as such.
DM: "You're four days out from Calanport when about a dozen
rough-looking men step out of the trees on the path. You're
surrounded. The one in front of you, with an eyepatch, says,
Give us your money."
Player: "I laugh at him and draw my sword."
DM: "Four minutes later, you clean off your sword and
continue your journey."
End of encounter. Elapsed time: 27 seconds.
In situations like this, the PCs probably won't get any xp -
there was absolutely no challenge involved, their character
didn't grow from it, and it's not worth the time to total up
all 57 xp. If your players are real sticklers, remind them
to, "Work with me, guys."
3) If you have a player who constantly dithers about what to
do in combat, and despite all friendly assistance on your
part, continues to waste time trying to decide what he's
going to do, start out considerate and gradually move to
being harsh. Have one of the more experienced or quick
players try helping the slow one (this is especially
important for new players) to free you up without penalizing
anyone. If things don't start improving after four or five
sessions, tell the player that it's better to make a
decision - even if it's a wrong one - than to stand there in
the middle of combat and do nothing. If the problem
persists, tell the player if he waits any longer, he'll lose
initiative, or give his opponent another free attack on him.
If the player still dithers, go ahead and pass him over in
initiative and come back to him when he's made a decision.
If that doesn't work, remind the player that he's role-
playing, and his indecision is also his characters' - and
start giving out free attacks to opponents. But whatever you
do, DON'T KILL THE CHARACTER! This may mean a climactic
combat is held up a bit. Not everyone can make snap
decisions very well, and it may take time for the player to
become comfortable with your style of play. Be aware that
not everyone can adapt well to speed-combat. You certainly
don't want to lose an otherwise good player simply because
he or she has trouble making decisions in the middle of a
Caveat: In the final climactic battle, switching everything
to slow-motion detail, where every parry, every thrust,
every spell, is life-dependingly precise, can easily make
this the campaign players will talk about years later. Just
be sure that you, as DM, stay intense in manner, speech, and
demeanor through the entire scene! It's exhausting,
exhilirating, and worth every drop of sweat.
4) Always be prepared. This goes with being a great DM: Come
to the game prepared. Be at least passingly familiar with
major encounters, puzzles, magic items, and NPCs. When the
players are discussing their next move with each other (in
character, if possible) use the time to quickly scan over
the next section of notes for the adventure.
5) In general, an hour before the game, I sit down and read
over my session notes - what I want to have happen during
the session. This doesn't mean I railroad the players -
quite the opposite. Keep the notes general enough for
flexibility, but specific enough to give you a general plan
to work from.
6) Shift as much work to the players as possible. If the
player wants his character to research a spell, make a
magical item, what-have-you, have the player do the spell
writeup (in PH format) or magic item description (in DMG
format) and give you a copy. Don't ever accept an original.
This way, if the sheet gets lost in the session pile of
books and notes, there's a backup. If the player doesn't put
the spell/item in the right format, or didn't include enough
information, hand back your copy with notes scribbled in
about what changes need to be made.
When it comes to maintaining strongholds, territories, land,
NPCs, etc. the player should be handling around 90% of this
work and giving you periodic updates (email works great).
The player should keep the original material and give you
copies. Remind the players when their characters need to pay
taxes, maintenance, etc. and let them do the writing and
math. The player should draw up the floor plans,
description, magical defenses, etc. It's not your job. Take
care of as much of this sort of material outside the game
session as you can. If a player brings it up during game
time, and it's not vital that it be taken care of right now,
be polite and put it off until the session's over.
If your players have computers, make sure they send all this
sort of material to you electronically. It's so much easier
to deal with bookkeeping in electronic form.
7) Track down tools to make life easier. Irony Games has a
load. Netbooks are a source of ideas and innovations (though
you may have to wade through several K worth of flotsam to
get to the diamonds). Build and distribute your own tools -
just make sure you don't violate anyone's copyright! There
are also some tools on my site you may find helpful.
Have more fun at every game!