I recently joined a new Pathfinder role-playing campaign run by a relatively new GM. After the first session I was impressed by how much prep she had done for the game. After the second session I was blown away. And really, preparation is the key to being a great GM.
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.
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.
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.
The first game I ever GMed was Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play, or Warhammer FRP, and a delightful little mission called the Oldenhaller Campaign. Most of the “Dungeon” we explored in our minds, with maybe a basic sketch on some scrap paper to help us imagine the scene. The final scene however, was lovingly mapped out by me in pencil to scale on a large sheet of paper, with a grid to help with moving and ranged combat. Today there are more scale maps for miniatures than you can shake a D100 at, and I thought I’d take a moment to review Wizards of the Coasts own map line of Dungeon Tiles.
To date I’ve bought five of the sets. “The Wilderness” master set, which includes numerous wilderness scenes including ruined towers, huts and tents. “Desert of Athas”, the desert themed set, includes a number of 3D elements such as a stair case, stall and wagon. “Caves of Carnage”, is of course set in a cave, but could just as easily map out parts of a sewer system. “Caverns of Icewind Dale”, possibly my favorite set, includes ice, snow and water tiles for both cave and outdoor scenes. “The Witchlight Fens” include swamplike terrain and would probably be useful in any Jungle setting.
Ooh, so pretty. The tiles are well illustrated and detailed, and I have yet to see anything better out there. My only gripe is that some of the tiles don’t match up, such as water tiles from the different sets don’t seem to have a uniform colour, which is a pity since every set has a number of water tiles and these would be good points to connect the different sets.
Right off the bat I think you should consider buying a number of sets or duplicate sets, since you’ll get more use out of them that way. Out of the average set you’ll get two small maps or one medium sized map, which I think is pretty good. If a set includes 3D elements then the size of the map will decrease drastically. Still, you can combine the tiles with poster maps like those for Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures or in the Red Box to make those maps much larger and more interesting. The Master Sets have more tiles and are probably the best place to start your collection.
Since most of the tiles are double sided (only the 3D elements are not always), you have many options to build from. If you’re not a perfectionist you’ll be able to extend the maps even further, otherwise some tiles only match up to certain others. Most sets seem to have at least a few tiles that would integrate with another terrain type, such as the wilderness set, but as I said these don’t always have the same colours to fit seamlessly together.
You can use the tiles in any role-playing game or wargame of the same scale, with or without the grid. I’d like to try them with Warhammer or Doom: The Boardgame, or similar games.
For D&D or Parthfinder I’d say they are worth the purchase. They’ve inspired me with some great encounter ideas that I’ve recorded for later.
A nice surprise is the number of useful items, particularly modes of transport, you’ll get. With my five sets combined I have five boats, a cart and two horses. The five boats come in handy when you realize just how much water there is on these tiles, even the desert set.
Repacking the tiles in the frames is a big hassle, but the Master Set comes in a box that you can even use as terrain, and has enough space for two more packs along with the contents you get when you buy the set.
The tiles are made of cardstock, so they won’t survive water or bending too well. But with proper care you should get years of use out of them. The 3D tiles are less durable and tend to rip the surface when you slide them into each other.
Value for Money
Probably the best buy in terms of maps is a dry erase map, but these tiles are very pretty and inexpensive and give you additional options for the games table, which to me is a win. I’ll probably get at least one more set of Master Tiles to round off my collection, which I think says something.
If you found this review helpful leave a comment below, or just let us know what maps you use and any neat tricks you have up your sleeve.
I love PC games, they are easy to get into and the level of immersion is huge. But, like TV we are fed so much visual and audio stimulus that little is left to the imagination. That is the sad thing to me, and why I love role-playing games and boardgames so much. Yes, I know, I’m an idealist, but bare with me. “Analogue games” let us exercise that important skill that is so often neglected by adults: the imagination.
A little experiment
Let’s try a little experiment. I’ll describe someone to you, and you try and imagine him in your mind:
A sullen looking dwarf stands before you, his long dust coloured beard hanging to the knees of his short, stumpy legs. His dark eyes seem to stare out into space, chasing some distant thought. The helm on his head is painted blue and gold, with a horn attached to either side. Over a blue tunic he wears a coat of scale mail, well polished but battered by many battles. He leans on a large axe with his right hand, and the thumb of his left hand is slung through his belt.
Now, once you have that image in your mind, skip to the end of this post and see the image I’m describing. Which image was better, the one in your mind or the one below?
With the imagination, anything is possible and anything can be experienced. This is an important tool for the GM as well as the player. When you build your world, your NPC, even your magical items, take a moment to imagine your creation. Not only does it help you describe what you see more vividly, but it helps you spot obvious flaws in your creation and gives you more ideas to work with. Let’s go ahead and try it (yeah, we’re getting really practical in this post).
Take a moment to imagine one of your major NPC’s, or a character you’re playing if you’re not a GM. Imagine what he or she is wearing, what they are doing and how they feel. Also think about where they are and the things that are influencing them. In my mind, my character is taking a moment to watch the birds (there are birds outside my window now) and he’s feeling the weariness of the day, and the weight of his armour. It’s an unusual moment of peace for this battle weary veteran, and he’s even put his prized maul aside, he’s not thinking of war and monsters right now.
Visualising something with your imagination lets you practice or rehears something in your mind. Visualisation helps you achieve your goals by letting you see the steps you need to complete to get there. It’s not only useful for role-playing, athletes use it too, like the race car driver memorising the track before he sets out. When I do martial arts, I sometime just stand still and imagine what I’ll be doing next. It lets me practice quickly. I think this is a vital skill for any GM.
When we were children, how much easier was it for us to use our imagination. Sometimes a box was the best toy, or a stick. I think we are slowly losing our imagination, outside of role-playing and fiction writing, it’s practically unfashionable to use your imagine. I’d like to get your feedback, what do you think?
Getting the most out of any game, for me, is all about imagination. From PC games to boardgames and role-playing games, I’m the commander, or the spy, or the assassin, and I’m living the game. All games are essentially about escapism, and your imagination is the key to breaking the bonds of earth.
I’d love to hear from you, so tell us what you think and share some of your experiences.