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issueRoleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #417

10 Easy Tips for Player Involvement



This Week's Tips Summarized 

10 Easy Tips for Player Involvement

  1. Character-Specific Items
  2. Hints Of Adventures To Come
  3. Individual Encounters
  4. Addiction And Need
  5. The Perceptive Bystander
  6. Deactivate Pushy Players
  7. Mystic Communications
  8. Lost In Translation
  9. Party Savior
  10. The Love Interest

Readers' Tips Summarized 

  1. HeroScape Terrain And Minis
  2. Celtx Organization Software
  3. Borrowing The 5 Room Dungeon Concept
  4. Consumable Magic

Johnn Four's GM Guide Books

XRP and 4th Edition

Expeditious Retreat Press is taking pre-orders on our 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons compatible products! We have something for everyone - Advanced Player's Guide with new races, classes, powers, and rituals; Plague with tools to bring the great mortality to your table; and a new adventure line: Lands of Darkness #1: The Barrow Grounds. All preorders will be shipped September 30, 2008.

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A Brief Word From Johnn 

Turn +1 Into Something Meaningful

Two sessions ago the PCs were fighting evil kobolds who dared protect their territory and families from encroachment. On the battlemap supplied by the module there was a magic ring of runes on the ground that gave anyone inside a +1 to attacks.

While planning the night before, I decided to try something different with this +1 for the group, and it ended up working beautifully.

Usually, such a +1 would be announced when a PC triggers it. "Hey Bob, when you enter the ring of stones you get a +1 to attacks."

If a GM enjoys roleplaying and setting a scene, he might beef up the description: "Canthros feels magical energies surge into him from the rune stones, and he is infused with confidence and clarity of vision. [Bob, you get a +1 on attacks.]"

In my session, I decided to hold back and wait until a +1 would make a difference, then trigger the effect along with description. This was tough to do. At one point a PC jumped into the ring, but his attack rolls were always an easy hit or miss, and never within 1, so nothing happened.

The fight raged on and I started to worry my plan was moot. However, the mage jumped into the ring and started attacking, and finally one of his attacks missed by 1.

The player announced his big miss, but as the next player in initiative order was about to declare their action, I jumped in and told the mage how magical energies from one of the rune stones suddenly seized him and corrected his aim at the last moment, causing him to strike true.

Amazing! This had a much greater impact than any previous +1 enhancement had when DM'd the old way. The group was excited about the surprise success, the ring of runes got its own special spotlight moment, and the mage player was thrilled to have discovered something magical and cool. This all occurred mid-combat, so the encounter felt more dynamic as well.

Next time you DM a +1, try to hold back and unleash it when it counts to surprise your group and celebrate how that small bonus made a bit of difference.

Have a game-full week!


Johnn Four,


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10 Easy Tips for Player Involvement  

By Danny East

"You crest the hill, and there you see the Goblin Bandits. There are seven of them, three with bows, and the other four are charging your location. What does each of you do?"

"I'll prepare a fireball spell!"

"I'm setting my spear to prepare for a charge!"

"I'll use my shield to protect the wizard!"

"I'll hide in shadows!"

"There are no shadows. It's high noon."

"I'll...I guess I'll just hang around and stay out of the way."

"Cool. Can you get us some more chips?"

Has this happened to you? Prepare a great campaign, full of plot twists and intrigue, only to have one of your friends bored and leafing through this month's Cat Fancy at the table? Fear not, intrepid Master of Dungeons. There are some easy and fun ways to get even the lamest of characters involved in the story.

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1. Character-Specific Items 

Fudge a die roll, and make the next magic item found cursed (or blessed) so it can only be used by one character.

Restricting race, class, gender, or stats is the easiest ways to do this. With a few minutes' thought you can look into the character's past and give her a family connection to the item.

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2. Hints Of Adventures To Come 

A character can read Sanskrit, and this is very important to the story, but the players have gotten bogged down in fights and bartering.

How to get a pulse out of your player? Next time the party goes to a bar, club, or carwash have the proprietor take a good look at him for awhile before declaring that someone was there a few days ago asking about someone who looked like him.

These hints are easy to drop on the fly, and if you throw a few in you'll be off the hook till the next session, which should give you enough time to think about what to do to liven things up.

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3. Individual Encounters 

While one PC is separate from the group, have a thug or aristocrat or android accost him and offer information, a fight, an item, or a choice opportunity.

This gives the player that special feeling while the rest are adventuring, and will keep him coming to the table every other Saturday night with pizza and cola.

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4. Addiction And Need 

It's a bit dark, but a drug addiction is an excellent opportunity for role play.

Remember in "Return of the King," when Frodo and Sam were desperate for food while crossing those stupid marshes? Their desperation and need were what drove them on, and though nothing happened that can be represented by miniatures and hexagonal maps, it's one of the most precious character portrayals in fantasy fiction.

Use a drug addiction or medical necessity like diabetes for characters you know are meant more for role playing and less for roll playing. This is a great tool for horror campaigns.

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5. The Perceptive Bystander 

Speaking of horror campaigns, there will come a time the fighting members of the group are fighting off a horde of Zombie Poodles, while the character with connections is waiting in the background for his chance to roll to see if he knows anyone in a foreign country.

Since this will happen once a campaign, have that one fellow who doesn't fight be the one to notice the opening door or growing tentacle. Don't roll for it, just let it happen.

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6. Deactivate Pushy Players 

Oftentimes, it is not the fault of Lame-O the Useless that he's not active, but of Blabby the Loud, over-talking everyone else in the group. This is when you need to step up as a DM and let Lame-O shine.

Have the NPC find a reason he needs to talk with Lame-O specifically, or devise a trap or situation only he can bring the party through.

The goal here is to make Blabby useless for a few minutes to switch gears. A rule of thumb for game preparation is to have something special each session for each PC.

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7. Mystic Communications 

Are you running a campaign with a bit of magic and mystery? Let that bored PC be the one who receives the e-mail or plot twisting dream that spices things up.

Instead of having them just find the cave full of trolls, let someone have a dream about it first. It doesn't need to make sense if it's fun.

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8. Lost in Translation 

Speaking of Sanskrit and dreams, one of the easiest and funniest ways to get someone involved in the game is to have them roll poorly on a translation or understanding of something important, and then have to tell the rest of the group misinformation.

What's mostly black with areas of white and has four legs and smells awful? An undead Black Dragon/Bone Dragon? Or a zebra?

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9. Party Savior 

Another easy method of getting someone involved is to hurt them. I'm not suggesting any borderline improper LARPing here, but something in-game. Poison Arrows, Poisoned Coffee, or Poison Frogs can all bring a group together.

Don't want Shy Sam to get his feelings hurt by hurting his PC's ability to feel? Let him be the only one to order the decaf, or not to accept the dare. Saving a party from ultimate doom is always a morale booster.

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10. The Love Interest 

There is, of course, the ever popular Secret Admirer. Use this technique to slowly introduce an NPC, or even a new player of the opposite sex. It's easy to do, with the reception of flowers or poems leading to a meeting.

* * *

Any method you choose is the right method. There is nothing worse in a game than to be there just to help carry equipment, or to have an NPC more important to the campaign than the PC. Keep them active, and keep them happy.

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Readers' Tips Of The Week: 

Have some GM advice you'd like to share? E-mail it to - thanks!

1. HeroScape Terrain And Minis 

From: Andrew

I've been playing a miniatures game for more than three years now called HeroScape. It's manufactured by Hasbro (recently delegated to Wizards of the Coast) and intended for kids around 10, but a surprisingly large adult gaming community has sprung up around it.

The premise of HeroScape is that heroes have been summoned to a magical world from all places, times, and planets, so you can send your samurai, minutemen, and WWII paratroopers up against zombies, killer robots, and dragons.

This huge range of minis can be used in any setting from fantasy to sci-fi to horror; if you're only interested in one genre, you can pick your figures because the boosters are not blind purchase.

The real sweet deal is the terrain: 3D, interlocking, stackable terrain shaped in hexes. Even if you throw away the rulebook, the terrain is amazing in its flexibility. Aside from two versions of the HeroScape Master set, there are castle, forest, glacier, lava, and jungle expansion sets.

The game is great, too; a minute to learn, a lifetime to master. But even if you're disinterested in playing the game in the box, the minis and terrain are a great addition to any gaming table.

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2. Celtx Organization Software 

From: Francois B.

Greetings Johnn,

Long time reader, D&D player, and soon to be DM. I found this software I think will help organize a session in "movie-like" terms.

As per their home page: "Celtx is the world's first fully integrated solution for media pre-production and collaboration. It replaces old fashioned 'paper, pen & binder' media creation with a digital approach to writing and organizing that's more complete, simpler to work with, and easier to share."

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3. Borrowing The 5 Room Dungeon Concept 

From: Chatty DM


I was thinking of the five scenes adventure model as a tool for prepping adventures. Below, I've summarized what you wrote initially and then added an additional model for a 5 scene adventure for genre-neutral event-based adventures. Something similar can be done with an event-based adventure:

Scene 1: Get the Quests

  • Meet NPCs
  • Get background/story
  • Get quests; possibly conflicting ones

Scene 2: The Roleplaying Challenge/Investigation

  • Non-combat obstacle to get to next scene
  • Must not be a bottleneck for the rest of the adventure
  • Challenges the whole group

Scene 3: Opposition/Obstruction

  • Where antagonists try to prevent you from succeeding at main quest
  • Combat or other type of conflict (race, joust, court case, etc.)

Scene 4: Red Herring/Optional Puzzle

  • Something to put PCs off the trail
  • Secondary quests may come into play here
  • Can also be a puzzle for problem solving PCs to hack at while other scenes are played out o Reveals a bonus advantage, reputation, or treasure not critical but helpful for adventure

Scene 5: Final confrontation

  • Boss fight
  • Final negotiation
  • Last obstacle to get to quest goal
  • Possible party conflict over quests

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4. Consumable Magic 

From: Mike Bourke

Even as a GM of some 25 years experience, I still discover from time-to-time that I have been failing my 'spot the painfully obvious' roll for all those years. Last night (as I write this), it happened again.

The notion of magic potions is pretty much everywhere in all forms of fantasy gaming: small, 1- or 2- use items that are consumed or otherwise used up to give a non-mage character access to a limited repertoire of low-level spells. But why stop at potions?

Why not:

  • Beads of perfume
  • Gems or crystals that must be crushed underfoot
  • One-inch long pieces of incense that must be burned and the vapours inhaled
  • Seasonings that can be sprinkled onto food
  • Grapes or berries or other fruits that must be eaten
  • Lines of an original epic poem or song (a bard might be able to recite the story verbatim afterwards, but the lines no longer contain the magic)
  • Collections of Haiku
  • Coins that must be spent
  • Coins that must be given away or given in change
  • A variation on the last two ideas that affect the person receiving the coin and not the person who owned them
  • Twigs that must be snapped in two
  • Seeds that must be planted
  • Ink that must be used to compose a (lay) prayer
  • A block of Swiss cheese in which the magic is in the holes
  • Braided hair
  • Rune stones that must be broken (the mage in my super hero campaign uses these)

This is an area few GMs (in my experience) take advantage of when describing a culture, race, or even a specific deity within their campaigns.

The incense suggestion, for example, would be more appropriate than the standard potion for a desert-dwelling culture. The seeds idea might be appropriate for halfling "potions." A God of Nature, or elves, might go with the fruits idea.

These have ramifications beyond the obvious. It's a lot more difficult to swallow a potion when underwater, or light a stick of incense, than it would be to swallow a grape. A coin that must be spent to activate the magic involves the purchase of something. The form itself adds a variety of applications to the use of such standard items. Some are better suited to surreptitious use.

The costs and difficulties of creating such disposable magics should be exactly the same as those for creating a potion, only the flavour text describing the acts of creation and use should vary. The requirements should also be synonymous. In D&D terms, replace the feat "Craft Magic Potion" with "Craft Consumable Magic" and the relevant subtype.

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Johnn Four's GM Guide Books 

In addition to writing and publishing this e-zine, I have written several GM tips and advice books to inspire your games and to make GMing easier and fun:

Inns, Taverns, and Restaurants - new

How to design, map, and GM fresh encounters for RPG's most popular locales. Includes campaign and NPC advice as well, plus several generators and tables

Adventure Essentials: Holidays

Advice and tips for designing compelling holidays that not only expand your game world but provide endless natural encounter, adventure, and campaign hooks.

GM Mastery: NPC Essentials

Critically acclaimed and multiple award-winning guide to crafting, roleplaying, and GMing three dimensional NPCs for any game system and genre. This book will make a difference to your GMing.

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