Category Archives: Tips and Tricks

Names without the Stupid

Making fantasy names is a bit of an art and something that GM’s need to do regularly. I have three methods for creating names that I want to share with you. These I call the History / Attribute Method, the Fermented Method and the Foreign Languages Method.

Memorial Panel by Labattblueboy.

The History / Attribute Method of Name Creation

Many places get their names from either a prominent feature of the area or from the area’s history. New York was the “new” York and Cape Town was the “town in the Cape”. I like to name my towns in the same way, hence Willowton would be a town with many willow trees, South Fort would be a fort in the south and so on. You might feel that names are too basic when created like this, but you effectively achieve two things: you have an easy to remember name and it’s linked to a fact that adds colour to the location. Hobbiton, from JRR Tolkiens Lord of the Rings, is a good example of this type of name.

In a recent session, my players were passing an area of unmapped land so I had to create something on the fly. I came up with “Gold Bridge”, a pirate port city ruled by the pirate king Duke One Eye. The players never actually entered the town but later I went to my notes and added in some details, including how it got its name. This is an easy way to flesh out your own world one step at a time.

The same can be applied to people, and old Duke One Eye is a good example. Do yourself a favour and watch Hot Fuzz and take note of some of the villagers’ surnames. Names like Thatcher, Cartwright, Cooper and Skinner are all occupations, but can be great links to what the NPC is all about too. Why not have a villain called John Butcher, or an NPC called Mr Slain? This kind of name can say something about the NPC or about the history of the character’s family.

A magical item can always be named after what it is. The Ring of Speed, the Bow of Death, the Sword of Flame and so on. If we get a little more creative we can take it a step further and call the same items The Quicksilver, The Widowmaker and The Inferno. Add in a little history about the item and we get Quicksilver of the Ancients, The Fallen Widowmaker and Inferno of the Spitting Sands.

The Fermented Method of Name Creation

This method uses several steps. First, take something from your surroundings as inspiration. I have the air conditioning remote near me so I’ll start with Air Con Remote. Now I want to change that to come up with a person’s name, so I’ll change it slightly to become Aaircon Renmot. It’s still too similar, so my next iteration is Aair Renton. Voilà, a person’s name is synthesised from the humble air conditioning remote. This method does take more time and I’d advise  letting your list of names sit for a day or two, just so you can have another go at them when you are in a different frame of mind.

Try and use changes that will in some way reflect the place you are naming. You might, for example, want something that sounds dwarvish for your dwarven city.

Like in the example of the air conditioning remote, you’ll probably want two parts to the name. You can use different sources of inspiration to create the name. Keep at it until you find a name that fits nicely with the NPC, as it will inspire good role play and help players remember the character. You don’t want “Captain Bunny Slippers” to be the name of your big bad NPC at the end of the quest.

Things should be pretty easy to name, we could have the Ring of Asusuma (Asthma Inhaler), Sanshasses’ Bow (Sun Glasses) and the Blade of Cruthix (Chopsticks). The point is that you can use anything to create anything, just go with something you feel works for you and your players.

Foreign Languages

Having foreign sounding names may seem important to you, but if you need a name quickly then remember that you could always say something like: “Her name means ‘Silverleaf’ in the elven tongue”. If you have more time to devote to creating names I suggest drawing up a list of names to have handy for when you need them. Don’t forget Google too, there are loads of lists out there for you to scavenge from. Google Translate is particularly helpful for getting names from other languages such as Latin.

Have any great names to share? Leave a comment and let us know.

A Basket Full of Eggs

It’s Easter time, which for me means thinking back to the death and resurrection of Jesus, Easter Bunnies and chocolate eggs! So, how cool would it be if one of those eggs turned out to be a dragon egg? In this little adventure we explore that idea and provide you with a nice little campaign hook and some NPC ideas. I’ve tried to keep away from any specific rules in the hope that you can use this in any fantasy campaign with any rules set, but I have made references to rules from Dungeons and Dragons and similar games since most players will be familiar with those concepts. This is definitely for the GMs eyes only, players should go check out The Guild on YouTube, it’s great (but I warn you about Season 3, it was a little… iffy).

Dragon Figure Head

The Set-Up

The characters are approached by an old lady, half blind, who’s trying to sell some eggs to make some money. It’s clear from her appearance that she’s hard off. It’s also clear that not all of the eggs are hen’s eggs: one is much larger and has a dark, stone like shell. Give the characters a knowledge nature check or the equivalent skill check to spot that it’s indeed a dragon egg.


What to do with Mamma’s Kid

What the players decide to do next is up to them, but they may realize the need to return the egg to its home. A dragon can be mighty protective, after all. If the players need more convincing to take up the challenge of the egg you can have mommy dragon pay a visit to the village and tear down a few homes while the PC’s aren’t around. She knows that the egg is in town (she’s intelligent and has keen senses, she can figure it out) and just needs to find it. Eventually the characters should either decide they need to do something with the egg or face dire consequences.

The mother dragon should be a high level dragon, possibly a little too powerful for the characters to beat just yet. The players will want to either sneak the egg back into her lair or try to negotiate with her, but should be dissuaded from a straight attack strategy. Ideally you can use the dragon and her little family as recurring NPC’s that can be dealt with finally when the PC’s have reached a high enough level. Give the players knowledge history or knowledge local checks to recall information about the dragon, such as where her lair is and rumours surrounding how powerful she is. Finding the lair should be easy enough, and working through the network of caves and dungeons to get to her lair can be just as long as you want it to be. You could even use the quest to return the egg as a way to kick off the adventure from the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beginner Box.


It’s Never That Easy

So, just how did the egg find its way into the village? Enter, stage left, the villainous tomb robber Felix Gred. Felix managed to sneak into the dragon’s lair (a heavy dose of luck more than skill) and remove the egg, hoping to use the egg to lure the dragon away from her treasure horde. Felix brought the egg back to the village, where he hid it in Madam Firth’s chicken coop.  It wasn’t the best hiding place, but he had realised that there was soon to be a dragon after him and he knew she was half blind. He figured she would mistake the egg for a stone, not a chicken egg, it was way too big. Now the egg is missing and he wants it back. Build Felix as a sneaky rogue with a high level of stealth, and have him follow the PC’s and attempt to steal the egg from them when they’re asleep or distracted. If he succeeds then it’s quite possible that the PC’s might find themselves standing in front of an angry dragon without the egg, or else needing to do more detective work to find the egg again.

Dragon Egg
"Mine mine mine mine mine!"



And Then…

This adventure hook can go many ways, but I think the nice thing about it is that you get a couple of NPC’s (Felix, Madam Firth and Mother Dragon) that can potentially see quite a bit of use. There’s no reason to kill Felix, he’s a thief, not a murder, and if anything he should be under lock and key. Madam Firth is a witless NPC that can cause all sorts of trouble without having an inkling of what’s happening. She might even prove useful to the PC’s, she has lived in the village her whole life and she’s eager to make some money. The dragon, on the other hand, is too powerful for the PC’s to deal with directly. They’ll need to be diplomatic in their dealings with her and try keep her happy.


That’s it for this Easter special. Give this adventure hook a try and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you. Also, if you write up stats for any of the NPC’s, for any system, why not share them here and we can all get some use out of them.


Feast of Fear – A Campaign Hook

If you’re a player and not a GM then this article may spoil some fun for you. How about playing through our free solo adventure, Sentinels Watching. If you’re a GM then let the awesome begin…

Marsh Light

The mist is thick and swirling, lit ominously from above by the full moon and from your own torches. The mist seems both to glow and envelop you. It’s a warm mist, but the marsh water is cold and the mud sucking, making your passage forward difficult. You’ve come in search of the menace that’s been making off with sheep from the local farms, but you didn’t think the marsh would hold you up for nearly a day. You had hoped to be on your way home already. Now, in the darkness, all you can do is keep heading towards where you last saw the hills, but honestly you’re no longer sure you’re headed in the right direction.
Suddenly a light appears from up ahead. A lantern signalling, but it’s hard to tell, and you can hear no voice. The mist is so dense, after all.

This little adventure hook should fit into any fantasy role-playing campaign nicely, whether your party is heading into a dungeon, travelling through wilderness or just wondering outside the city gates for the first time.

Continue reading Feast of Fear – A Campaign Hook

Judge it by the Cover – 20 Random Book Titles

Four Scholars

The party wizard walks over to the bookshelf and asks the dreaded question: “What books do I find?” Well, everyone likes random tables, so here’s my list of 20 random book titles to inspire you:

D20 – Random Book Titles

  1. The Dullard’s Guide to Lock Picking by Dovid Blaine
  2. The Tale of the Incredibly Long Walk by Jungo Rolando Rudolfus Trollkin
  3. The Halfling by Jungo Rolando Rudolfus Trollkin
  4. Alchemy – From Lead to Gold in Ten Easy Steps by William Nye “The Alchemy Guy”
  5. Carnivorous Creatures of Cunning by Davidius Attenbroege
  6. Living With Lycanthropes by Bella Crow
  7. My Misspent Youth, Dating Death by Bella Crow
  8. A Tale of Two Citadels by Charles Drockens
  9. Gorilions in the Mist by Dianna Flossey
  10. My Family and other Lycanthropes by Gerrundius Dorrel
  11. Adolescent Transfigured Monk Terrapins by Kelvin Laird and Petro Southman
  12. Elandril: The First Skybenders by Dante Konieso
  13. A Long Time in the Future, in a Plane Close Bye by Lukus Georgius.
  14. The Big Book of Gnome Tricks by Cori Terriduke Nurfumble
  15. The Complete Encyclopaedia of Dwarven Grudges – book number XXXIII, by various authors.
  16. The Halfling’s Guide to Friends, Family and Food. A Condensed collection in 36 volumes, by various authors.
  17. Perfect Prestidigitation by Grundorf White
  18. Are We Pawns of the Gods, Living in their Imagined World? by Nicholi Proest Cunningham
  19. Aboleth to Zonethrope, a Naturalist”s Guide by Stevetheen Erlwine
  20. Dungeons to Lava Flows, a Survival Guide by Rie Meer Si

Well, that was pretty random in more than one way, but hopefully it was worth a few laughs. Enjoy the game and let us know if you have any more random book titles to share.

Inspired In Japan – The Katana

Inspired in Japan

The Japanese sword known as the katana is a symbol of a time, a people and of beautiful yet deadly efficiency. Let’s rip open what makes the katana such a remarkable weapon, explore the essence and myth that surrounds it and slice a path to inspire more depth from this weapon in your own role-playing campaign.


The History

The katana was the traditional sword of the samurai. It developed from the tachi sword, which is similar but worn with the cutting edge down, while the katana was worn with the cutting edge up, and could be kept tucked in the sash (obi) around a samurai’s waist. The katana could be quickly drawn and a deadly cut made in a single, fluid motion. In fact, forms of martial arts, iaido and iaijitsu, were developed around this principle.

Samurai with tachi
Samurai wearing a tachi.

The katana was traditionally worn with a wakizashi, which was a shorter sword used for enclosed spaces or as an off-hand weapon. While a samurai might put aside his katana, for instance when inside a residence, he would always keep his wakizashi. The katana and wakizashi together were called daisho, and were the samurai’s badge of rank.


The Making

The strength of the katana comes from the duel forging technique used to make the blade. On the outside of the blade you have a harder metal, which can better hold a sharp edge, while on the inside you have a springy metal that makes the whole blade less brittle. Parries and blocks were performed with the side or back of the blade to keep the cutting edge sharp. I won’t go into the whole process forging process here, but Wikipedia has a great page on Japanese swordsmithing that will give you plenty of information.

Basically tamahagane, the raw iron ore, is heated to about 1300 °C and then hammered and folded into shape. Once the blade has been shaped it is quenched (yaki-ire) using clay, charcoal and powdered whetstone as a mask over the cutting edge as it is dipped in water. It is this process that gives the blade its beautiful wave like pattern and different tempering. The blade is then sharpened and signed.


The Purpose

The katana was made with one purpose in mind: killing. However, as time passed, and the samurai spent less time on the battle field and more time in court, the swords became more ornate, a status symbol rather than a practical weapon.

Every aspect of the sword had some etiquette. Preserving the carbon rich blade from rust and the safe handling and use of the blade were all important. There was a culture to the sword that I think is hard for us to understand in our “want it now” culture. Your sword was with you always, it was kept clean, respected and known intimately. It was your life, your death, your rank, your mark of society and affected how people perceived you and the manners they showed you.


The Essence

It’s not surprising then that the katana was seen by the samurai to have its own spirit. For a samurai, his katana was both an important piece of equipment and a symbol of his own life. At his waist an ever present reminder that death could come quickly and brutally.


The Katana in Your Campaign

If your character weilds a katana, take a moment to think about what the sword means to your character. Is it something to depend on when enemies close in? Is it a thing of beauty? Do those who see such a weapon being worn immediately form an opinion of the wearer? What is the history of the weapon and is there any culture surrounding it?

If you’re a GM you can ask many of the same questions. Stat’s wise a katana might not be that much more powerful than any other sword, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be as awesome as it should be. Build a history and culture around it in your campaign world and see where it gets you. As an idea to start you off here are six random sword histories and six random cultural ideas for the katana.


Katana Histories – Random Table (D6)

  1. The Bear Claw: this sword’s scabbard (saya) is covered in bear fur, and was the possession of an unknown samurai who opposed the lord of a neighbouring kingdom. It is said he approached the lord while the lord was travelling though a mountain pass and addressed himself as Father Bear, “ready to serve justice with his shining bear claw.”
  2. Dragons Tear: this silver and gold blade was discovered lying on the palace floor besides the head of Fin Fiyang, an ancient gold dragon. To this day no one knows who his murderer was or to whom the sword belonged.
  3. Arrow Biter: this plain katana was used by a warrior who fell defending his lord from arrows of the enemy. When he fell he was surrounded by dozens of halved arrows he had slashed in his desperate defence .
  4. The Emperors Sorrow: this blade is covered in an ancient inscription, foretelling the death of the king. It is not known if the king has any knowledge of the blade or what he would do if he found out about it.
  5. The Rolling Thunder: something in the construction of this blade has resulted in a loud rumbling sound every time the weapon is drawn.
  6. The Dragonfly: this katana has a brown saya with fittings representing dragonflies. Rumour has it that it belonged to a lord who requested it’s construction to appease a water-fey who lived within his lands.


Katana Cultural Ideas – Random Table (D6)

  1. It is considered impolite to comment on someone’s katana, so much so that polite phrases such as “may I relieve you of your burden” have taken on new meaning.
  2. If a katana is broken then ancient law states that the sword must be recast into a single iron bowl and the owner of the sword should only ever eat from that bowl for the rest of his life.
  3. The katana is such a venerated weapon that it is unlawful for any peasant to even touch such a weapon.
  4. City law has it that weapons must be put aside when entering a tavern. However, a loop hole exists for the katatana, due to a passed mayor of the city wishing to impress a visiting samurai lord. Unfortunately, as legend tells, he fell foul of his own law and was assassinated by one of the samurai’s retainers.
  5. Newly forged katana blades are kept in a local temple for a year for purposes of purification.
  6. Silvered katana blades are prohibited in the area, a recent law. Meanwhile, there are growing suspicions that members of the court are involved in some type of night sport involving hunting game, and sometimes the waifs of the city.


Some L33T Facts

Just because I generally find it funny when I see anyone trying to handle a katana, here are some quick expert facts as a bonus:

  • If it’s at your side or in a belt, the blade should be held up.
  • You’d never touch the cutting edge, that’s moronic.
  • You keep your thumb on the tsuba (hand guard), to keep the blade in the saya (scabbard).
  • A katana can split a bullet, but not a tank.


I’m indebted to all those who have taken the time to teach me about Japanese swords and their related martial arts, both in dojo’s around South Africa and in Japan. Much of the limited research done was from Wikipedia or “Introduction to Japanese Swords through Pictures” by the All Japan Swordsmith Association, with additional research done at the Tokyo National Museum. Their collection of nihonto has been the best collection I have ever seen. If you enjoyed this article and would like to hear more about other Japanese weapons, or even European or African weapons, please let me know by leaving a comment below.

Be A Star Player – Rule the Rules

My wife and I were recently talking about why learning the rules of role-playing games is such a scary task for so many players. With core rule books averaging over 300 pages, it’s not surprising that it seems like studying for an exam. Also, it’s quite easy to get by sometimes without knowing the rules, especially around a good GM. Well, thanks to some inspiration from the guys at Campaign Mastery and their great series on Rules Master, I thought I’d share some advice specifically for players.


The Key

The key to reading and learning rules, as the Campaign Mastery guys say, is not to read the book from cover to cover. Just read what interests you and what you need to play your character. The rest of this post is aimed at helping you do just that.


Start At The Beginning

As with a new text book, always skim through the Table of Contents first. This gives you an idea of what’s in the book and where you’ll find what you want. It’s a bit like looking at a map to get a general idea of where you are. You might even find chapters with names like “How To Play”, “Getting Started” or “The Basics”. Go there next.


Reading Lists

In the first chapter there is often a nice little reading plan. Follow that and you’ll save a load of time and be ready to play much sooner. The introduction will also give you a good idea of setting, or at least the feeling of the game, so I’d recommend reading it. From the reading list you can make your own reading plan, like I mention below in the Action section. Generally, your reading plan will skip anything for the Game Master, unless it pertains in some way to how you might want to use your character. Skip anything not related to your character. Not using magic? Then just dump that chapter from the list.

Action – Make A Reading Plan

  1. Write “+1 Reading Plan of Power” on the top of a sheet of paper. Underline it in neon. Draw a dead goblin head next to the heading for extra flair.
  2. Write down a list of all the chapters you’ll need. Exclude everything that’s for the Game Master.
  3. From the Table of Contents, find the page numbers for each chapter. Mark these on your reading plan.
  4. BONUS: Take some sticky paper tabs and mark out the sections you’ll need. If you’re wanting to play a pirate, put a tab where rules for pirate are given to help you find things quickly.

By the way, this method works well for studying too. Web guru’s call it “chunking”, or breaking down information into manageable bits. Our brains are kind of lazy, so you can grasp more if you can see there’s less to actually learn.


Build A Character

Once you have your reading plan, the next step is to build a character. A good idea is to have a character concept, as this will help you build a specific kind of character with the rules. As you go, use your reading list to track what you’ve done and add in anything else you want to look at. Just don’t forget to take stuff off the list too, you don’t need extra work.

As you build your character you might get an idea of where you want to take your character. Will your rogue establish her own guild? Make a note of this, preferably on your character sheet. It will help you play your character and, when the time comes, you can use your ideas to direct your reading further.



So, supposing y0u have a character and you’re ready to play then try your character in a game. You can learn most of the rules at the table under the watchful eye of the Game Master and with the help of more experienced players. While you’re playing though, make a list of any rules you feel uncertain about and any rules you want to check out. Then you can then look at those rules later or in down time.


Dig Deeper

After the game, or if you have enough time before a session, get a better grip on the rules by looking at the following suggestions, which are ordered by importance, from most to least.

Combat: Learn how to fight with every weapon in your arsenal, including your fists and makeshift weapons like broken bottles. You’ll also want to know how to use your special combat abilities and know exactly what their effects will be, since these are often character specific and something your GM may not know off hand. A good place to keep notes is on your character sheet.

Skills: Skills make up a large part of what your character can do. Keep in mind, however, that your skills are not as important to the GM as his campaign and session preparations. So if you understand what you can do with your skills, you’ll get more out of your character. Think of it like this: if you’re a sneaky halfling with major stealth skills, but don’t know how to use them, you just won’t sneak as effectively as you could if you knew the rules.

Movement: The more I learn about martial arts, having tried a few, the more I realise fighting is all about moving. Where you are directly influences your effectiveness. Movement is relatively simple too, so make sure you know how your character will move, both on land, in water and when riding something. A good way to think of this is to look at how a hero in a story of the same genre as the game you’re learning would get around. Aragon walked, ran, rode a horse and used a canoe.

Magic: If you’re using magic, know how it works. A good idea is to keep page references of each spell you can cast.

Miscellaneous: Subjects such as alignment may be covered in a chapter along with other miscellaneous rules. Many of these rules may be fluff that you can skip or skim. I’d leave this stuff for last.


Some Other Ideas

Beginner’s Boxes and Solo Modules: These are a great way to learn the game. Play at your own pace while trying out the rules. I don’t need to say more except that our free module is here.

Forums: The web is a great place to learn, especially when there’s a rule your don’t understand. Check out forums like EN World or, you may even get an answer from the designer of the game themselves. If you can, find a local forum too, it will help you make friends and find game groups in your area, as well as help you learn local house rules. For South Africans I recommend


You Gotta Read To Succeed

At the end of the day you just need to jump in and read. I always think that a little work can lay the foundation for more understanding later, so even if time is limited, read what you can, it will be worth it.

Let me know if you have more tips or something that worked particularly well for you.


Be A Star Player – Equipping For The Fight

Last week I wrote about how to be a better player, now we’ll focus on the character you play, specifically your equipment and how to get the most out of the gear available to you. I’m focusing on Dungeons and Dragons and the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game here, but the principles apply generally to all games, even table top war games.

Never overlook armour. Your armour proficiency will give you a good idea of what kind of armour you’ll need, simply choose between the highest protection or high manoeuvrability. Typically you’ll want high protection if you’re a front line fighter and high manoeuvrability if you’re an acrobatic rogue.

Choose shields in a similar way. Even if you suspect you won’t need a shield, take one anyway if you can carry it. You never know when you might need it’s protection, such as if you find yourself running down a passage of dart traps.

If you’re a caster, choose some protective spells and supplement that with defensive feats like Dodge and magical armour, like rings of protection.

Always carry a good knife, I always say. Daggers are easier to hide, can be thrown in a pinch, prepare a tasty camp meal and provide a clean shave before heading back into town. If you can find a nice toy knife it makes an excellent prop at the table, especially when rolling to intimidate some NPC.

Miyomoto Musashi, the famous Japanese duellist, likened weapons to the tools available to a carpenter. Different weapons have different abilities and uses, making them better for certain tasks. For instance, did you know that the Jo, a Japanese short staff about the length of a broom handle, is particularly effective against the sword. It was developed as a defence against the katana, the famous Japanese sword. It follows then that your character should have as many weapons available as possible, if not carried then close at hand. I’d suggest looking at what weapons are available to your character and then try to cover a number of ranges and attack types (such as piercing, bludgeoning, non-lethal and so on). Don’t forget those reach weapons either. Spears and the like may have other uses than those mentioned in the rules, such fishing someone out of quicksand. Also, don’t forget about silvered weapons and magical weapons, particularly for your main arms.

Ranged Weapons
It’s surprising how easy it is to think in two dimensions with role-playing games. That is, until your party gets terrorised by a flying creature. Having a ranged weapon on you gives you options, even if your ability to hit is reduced and you’re doing less damage.

A good selection of healing potions and buffing potions are important. Anti-venom is one of those things you won’t want until you need it, so get a few bottles early on. Typically I’d choose potions that can heal around a third to half your total health points, so that any extra healing isn’t wasted.

Skills Equipment
Things like disguise kits, healing kits, thieves tools and climbing kits are all good to have floating around in the party. Without them, it can be a little like changing a tire without the proper tools. Even if you only get a small bonus, that can be the difference between success and failure, so rather be prepared. Again, also remember that some equipment may have other uses than stated in the rules: a healer’s kit may have needles and other useful equipment that could be used in other ways, or when empty could help you carry that stash of loot.

The most useless equipment…
…is what you left behind. Every piece of equipment is a useful tool that will, if used well, help you succeed on more rolls. Make the most of what’s available and be well equipped to face your next encounter.

Be A Star Player – 10 Ideas to Improve Your Game

There’s plenty of information out there to help aspiring Game Masters (GM’s), but not quite as much for players. Most resources are players’ handbooks, which generally deal with the rules of the game and how to play, not always how to be the best player you can be. The wonderful thing about role-playing games is that it’s an ongoing learning experience as well as a group effort. So, without further ado, here are my 10 Tips for being a better player, in no particular order.


1 – Play

To quote Michaelangelo in the latest Ninja Turtles movie: “Learn by doing dude.” You’ll learn more about the rules, the game and what it means to be a player when you’re actually at the table throwing dice. And if you can’t play with friends, you can always try out a solo adventure like our own Sentinels Watching. Most games that have boxed sets also include solo missions that are specifically good for new players but may leave veterans frustrated with the lack of options. Failing all that, online games are becoming increasingly popular, such as Dungeons and Dragons Online and even Heroes of Neverwinter on Facebook. These games give you some idea of how the game works and an insight into the mechanics, but I still think rolling dice with friends is the best way to learn.


2 – Read Them Rules

It sounds obvious, but read the rules. It’s easy to get by without actually studying the rules, but this generally slows down the game and puts added pressure on the GM. I’d recommend focusing on the introduction, character generation and combat sections in general. Some books follow quite a different format (such as the Mouse Guard Roleplaying Game), but will recommend chapters for players. Read them. It’s not necessary to know the rules off by heart, but having a general idea of where everything is, will speed up the game. Also, get yourself your own copy of the rules to have on hand for easy reference during the game. Most rulebooks are available in PDF format from places like Drive Thru RPG, making them much cheaper and easier to use on small devices like net books and iPads.


3 – Read

Reading the rules is important, but that’s not all you should be reading. There are tons of resources out there, from advanced players’ guides to online forums and blogs like this one. Also, reading stories set in a similar genre to what you’re playing can really spark the imagination and give you some great ideas for where you want to take your character. My current character, a duellist, had me scouring Wikipedia and the net in general for more information on “the gentlemen’s game”, which had some interesting results, including finding rules for duelling that intricately detail the amount of blood required to pay back various levels of insult.

A word of warning though, especially for younger players, there are plenty of sites you don’t want to visit because the information on them is worthless and unhelpful. I generally start with Wikipedia if I’m doing my research on the web and work out from there, using the “See Also” and “External Links” sections.


4 – Be Prepared

Having your character, dice and miniatures ready is always a good idea. I keep a folder of character sheets that goes to each game and I make sure I update my character as soon as possible when he levels up. A good way to level up is to find a character editor that works for you and use that, along with the rule book. For Pathfinder I use Erian_7’s Excel sheet, which is pretty complex but very useful.

Keeping notes from past sessions is also a great idea. It helps you to get back into the game quickly and ensures you don’t miss any of those important hints the GM keeps dropping.

Lastly, bookmark any spells, special abilities or sections in the rules you’ll need to look up during the game. It will make it look like you read the rules and give you street cred with experienced players.


5 – Play Your Character

I think it was Steven King who said that characters write themselves, you just record what they do. It’s the same with role-playing. Eventually your character will walk into trouble while in your head you’re screaming “No, don’t go down there, it’s a trap!” And do you know what? That will be okay. My duellist character has a knack for shooting his mouth off, while I’m usually reserved and often prefer to take a back seat. The key really is to just play the character as you envision him, which makes for some great role-playing and a great game in general.

Talking in character is a very useful way to get into and stay in character, and most GM’s I’ve played with tend to give awards to those who use a different voice from their own. My wife recently played a half orc that had everyone in stitches because of the voice she used, which not only added to the game but made her believable as a hulking male half orc barbarian.


6 – Be A Team Player

This is a general tip, but remember that role-playing is a team game, be prepared to work with everyone and you’ll be a star player in no time.


7 – See The World – Imagination

A while back I posted about imagination gaming, so I won’t say too much here except that, in role-playing, you need to try and see the scene in your mind’s eye. I find the more I imagine the scene, the more I get lost in the game and the more I enjoy it. The simplest way to do this is to ask questions about the five senses: “What do I see? What do I hear?” and so on.

8 – Run Some Games

Walking a few miles in the GM’s shoes is a great way to be a better player, because you understand what it’s like to run a game and can sympathise with the GM when things get busy at the table.


9 – Help The GM

Helping the GM goes a long way to keeping things running smoothly. Filling a cup, offering snacks and even tracking initiative order all help the GM focus on telling the story. You might even get bonus XP for your troubles, who knows.


10 – Help New Players

Helping newer players is a good way to improve your own knowledge of the game and, again, to keep things flowing. Finding rules for them is a great way to get more familiar with the rules yourself and lets you learn about characters you’ve never played before. It also gives you something to do while other players are busy with the GM.



Ultimately, the goal of being a better player is to be someone who people want to play with – someone who covers their side of the game in an entertaining and fun way without being “that guy” who makes things unpleasant. If you keep working at it, your game will improve, which will lead to more fun for all and more table time for you. It’s a roll you can’t critically fumble.

For Love and Role-Playing

It’s Valentines day, my first in Japan, and there’s a buzz in the office. All around me men are getting boxes of chocolates from the female staff. Even I’ve got some sitting on my desk, and I got cookies from my wife’s students on the walk in. In Japan, Valentines day is about girls and women giving chocolates to friends. In the West, we focus on our love relationships. Love (and friendship) has many faces, but it’s essence is universal.


Role-playing too, is becoming increasingly universal. While I’d guess that most games come from the United States, places like Europe and Asia have developed their fair share of systems and even Africa has a number of systems to it’s credit. But hold on a moment. Am I comparing LOVE to role-playing? Sure, many people love the game, but really? Hear me out…


I think generally we only think of love in a limited way, throwing friendship from the definition. I’m coming from the position that friendship is just a kind of none romantic love, but to make it simpler I’ll just refer to friendship from here on out. Role-playing is about fun, first and foremost. It’s also about social contract, the spoken and unspoken rules of how we interact at the table. Because of social contract, role-playing can be a really good place to build friendships. A photo from some of my role-playing buddies back home was a good reminder to me of just how meaningful the friendships we build through playing can be. We invest in each others lives through this strange game and real bonds are formed.


But role-playing has caused it’s fair share of broken friendships. Enough stories float around of bad games. At the core of this problem, I think, is social contract again, or lack thereof. Both GM’s and players need to work hard to communicate their likes, dislikes and fears. Everyone needs to listen too. By the very nature of the game, it works best when everyone works together. Are we, as GM’s and players, really listening to what everyone else is saying when we sit down to play. Are we hearing the concerns voiced in a joke, or the worry behind a question. Are we reading body language? Are we failing a spot check on fears?


This Valentines day, let’s love like God intended, looking past ourselves and to the feelings of others. Let’s build better friendships and a better game.

Writing up a storm

It has been a busy month writing wise, it’s National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short and I’ve been plugging away at my first novel. The reason I’m telling you this is because I’m learning loads about writing that I think will extend to preparing good sessions for your players.

Make Notes

I have a tendency to put words down without thinking about what I’m actually saying. It’s not a good plan. Make notes and plan out everything, even if the planning is where you leave things. And let’s face it, planning is all you need. Good GM’s have a good outline, even if that’s all kept in their heads.

Keep it all

Don’t throw your ideas away, you can often rework something to use later. Some of my favorite scenes so far have been from my own noted that I reworked as dialogue into the text.

Cut the boring stuff

Don’t force the characters to work through boring stuff.

Keep on keeping on

You might have a lot of prep to do and a load of things waiting. Do what you can when you can.

Have fun

If you’re not enjoying it then your players probably won’t. Take a break or change things up to keep it fun.

Do you have any thoughts? Share them below.