Role Playing Tips - By Johnn Four
7 GREAT GMing TIPS FROM YOUR FELLOW READERS
1. Use Poker Chips To Track Points
As a GM, I had a bit of a hard time keeping up with my
players' "spendable attributes". Be it mana, willpower,
gnosis, or blood points, it got to be a small task for me to
remind my players that they needed to check off what they
had spent. They did not fail to check on purpose all of the
time. In the middle of an intense session these things
happen; but it became clear we needed a new system.
I therefore brought poker chips to the table. This did
three things right away, one *very* unexpected:
* First, it was easy to see who declared what. As most
spendable attributes need to be declared before an action or
roll, this gave us a good record as to what was spent.
* Two, I could easily see who had what left. This
completely put an end to a "problem gamer" who was not
always fully truthful about such things.
* And the third "unexpected" benefit was that these "points"
became more precious to the players. They suddenly had hard
currency that represented the attributes, and when that
dwindled down to a few measly chips, a small bit of tension
appeared as they realized that they were running out of
luck, power, or what have you.
- Alan Williams
2. Use A Timer To Create Tension
In the [last] issue you are covering tension and asked
for feedback. I have one suggestion. I have used it once
and it worked extremely well. I had a noble figure (King,
Queen, Prince, etc.) captured and put in a tent village.
The captors established a very rigid scouting or patrolling
schedule to look for the expected pursuit. To create
tension I used a kitchen timer and set it for 25 minutes.
It took some experimenting to get the right length of time,
but I eventually found 25 minutes was plenty. Each time the
timer went off that meant one of the patrols was crossing a
certain section of the campground. If the PCs were in same
the area as the timer's area it caused tons of tension.
- Paul Jurgens
3. Add NPCs to the Party & Use Them As Plot Hooks
When I am DM, GM, whathaveyou, I incorporate a lot of NPCs
active in the quest. It's a habit. They follow the
players' decisions a lot of the time, so the players don't
just coast through the quest. The NPCs are loyal until the
players are going away from my quest, anyway. Then I
sometimes make a particular NPC just go off on his or her
own to tackle whatever problem there may be. Then the
players have to decide whether they are going to let the NPC
go off on his or her own, most probably to their death, or
go after them.
4. Use a Love Interest To Create Tension
One thing I didn't see mentioned was the age old "bone-of-
contention" : love. It may not be "politically correct" to
incorporate love (or just simple lust) into a game, but when
done correctly it certainly adds tension, especially if you
have the enemy NPC get the object of the PC's affection. It
adds not only tension, but also gives the PC a chance to
roleplay an unusual event.
If you tie the love interest into some tangible reward
(family influence, large bank account, etc) then the loss of
that love interest is much more palpable.
AND, if you have the love express interest in more than one
PC in a party, the tension increases throughout the game and
makes for some very interesting nights.
- Casey V. Dare.
5. A Great Example of Creating Tension: Roleplaying &
Here's the setting. A mid to high level ranger player
character, known as Sir Brion, Defender of Loch Dragon, is
present when an older ranger dies. As his life fades, his
blood running into the ground, this older NPC ranger, Sir
Brendan, Defender of St. Malo, passes on the holy relic Axe
of Hurn to Sir Brion. Weeks later, a high-level NPC ranger,
Sir Drennen, Defender of the Perilous Forest, hears about
this and thinks the axe is in the wrong hands - it should be
his. He stews in his forest all winter, unable to travel and
confront the younger Brion.
So spring comes. As soon as he is able, the bitter old
ranger leaves his woods and heads to where the player
characters are wintering at Loch Dragon. The two meet and
there is instant sparks flying in the initial polite but
strained conversations - as roleplayed between me as DM and
a long time player. The new players present could tell
something was up, but didn't know the details.
During the break before dinner, Brion explains about the
death of his mentor Brendan, the Axe and the tension. The
new PCs understand what is at stake - the relic Axe of
Sharpness and personal honor.
Dinner comes - roleplayed from start to finish without
breaking character. There is a little banter before the Sir
Drennen begins to challenge Brion. The animosity is evident.
The other PCs sit quiet, letting these two figures find
their own way. The player and I act out every move, every
facial expression. We pound on tables, scowl, raise our
voices at each other. At one point I think I stood up
Drennen questions Brion's merit as a ranger. Questions his
prowess and courage for watching his mentor die. Questions
his worth to hold the Axe.
Brion explains the circumstances of the tragic and heroic
death of the old, veteran Brendan. He explains the loss he
feels and what it felt like to watch Brendan die. He would
give up the axe to bring the man back. He questions
Drennen's honor in coming and questioning the decision made
by a senior, respected ranger.
At times the verbal conflict threatens to get physical as
one or the other comes close to crossing that line. But
nothing like this happens - the two are both on the same
"team," after all. And could be friends under different
The issue is settled when Drennen challenges Brion to a
series of tests - done that night by the light of the moon.
The victor blessed by Hurn to hold the Axe, the loser giving
up all claim. Brion agrees and we play out the series of
After the session ended, one of the new players said to me
"that was the most intense game I've ever been in." And I
had to agree with him - the tension in the air was thick
enough to cut with a spoon. I hope I can recapture that
role-playing glory again someday!
- Derrick Sloan
6. Separating the Players Can Be Very Exciting
Hello, here's one tension tip often overlooked by many GMs.
Though very difficult to pull off effectively, if it is
pulled off it will add a totally new dimension to the
Simply separate the players.
If a portion of the players go off in another direction to
check something out, or the group gets split up for some
reason, then send them into separate rooms and roleplay
their groups separately.
This can cause strong tension as neither group knows exactly
what the other is doing. It is also great for slipping in
possible traitor story lines as the main party doesn't have
a clue as to what went on in the other room.
Again it is difficult to pull off and requires patient
players, but if timed right and used infrequently enough not
to detract from the game it can totally change the feel of
7. NPC Names Resource
We were sifting through your archive and found a reference
to character name suggestions....
A while ago, we discovered a site that has over 400,000 (!)
names, sorted into various geographic and cultural
categories. Most of them are real, but the site accepts
names from anyone, since their main purpose is to perform a
"Name Analysis" to discover the effects of the name on your
The site is at http://www.kabalarians.com
- Riina and Gareth
Have more fun at every game!