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Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #470

How to Add Pizzazz With A Great Campaign Name



This Week's Tips Summarized 

How to Add Pizzazz With A Great Campaign Name

How to Add Pizzazz With A Great Campaign Name

Holding Epic Sci-Fi Mass Battles

Reader's Tips Summarized

  1. Hexographer - The Hex Map Is Back
  2. Ask The 5 Why's
  3. Introducing Your Family To RPG

Johnn Four's GM Guide Books

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A Brief Word From Johnn 

Work on GMing Great, Not The Best

Here's a blurb from a recent post on Seth Godin's blog:

Diablo Cody on the pressure to outdo herself:

So what kind of pressure did you feel, post-Juno, to write something good?


I don't believe you.

Seriously. How could I possibly? The experience that I had with Juno is something I could never replicate, ever. First of all, you never have your first baby again. Second, the whole production was really charmed from start to finish. I mean, every moment of it was special. And then it culminated in Oscar nominations...I'm so fortunate that I got to have that experience. Now I almost feel this great calm coming over me. I'd be feeling a lot more pressure if I was still striving for that goal.

Sometimes, the work is the work and the goal isn't to top what you did yesterday. Doing justice to the work is your task, not setting a world record.

This advice applies to game masters as well. I do this newsletter, in part, to improve my own GMing. You read this newsletter to be better yourself. You send in tips and advice to help other GMs better themselves. But it's a mistake to enter each game session thinking it will be the best ever; your magnum opus. There's too much out of your control.

Instead, focus on enjoying yourself, trying different GMing tips and techniques, and learning. Let the results take care of themselves without putting additional best-ever pressure on your screen.

The Adventurer's Atlas

The Escapist has a great list of RPGs appropriate for kids. It is a guide to the best role-playing adventure games for young people. To all the parent subscribers, I thought you might find this resource useful.

Contest Ends Wednesday: Win A Pathfinder RPG: Bestiary Hard Cover is offering Roleplaying Tips readers a chance to win a print copy of the new Pathfinder RPG monster manual.

There are two ways to enter:

  1. Follow Gator Games and send me an email or tweet @JohnnFour letting me know:
    (If you already follow GatorGames send me an email too - you qualify as well.)
  2. Send me a monster tip - any game system, or just systemless, is great

You can send in multiple tips for multiple chances to win. You can also do option #1 and #2 to be entered twice (or more if you submit multiple tips).

This contest ends quickly: Wednesday, November 18.

Thanks to for the prize! By the way, I've discovered that GatorGames' online store is a great place to get used and clearance RPG items, as well as hard to get games. Give them a visit if you're shopping for Christmas or yourself:


Johnn Four,


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Reader Tip Request: how can players create their own item cards? 

You can enhance game play in a simple way by providing card props that represent special tech, magic items and key equipment. Such cards bring the item to life for players and add lots of game flavor. I've seen players brandish their magic sword card with glee, as if the card was the sword itself.

Other times I've seen such props save a lot of game time because the rules and statistics are right there on the card.

Another great tip is to offer a blank card and ask a player to draw a picture of the item on the front, with information on back. It doesn't matter if the drawing is good or not, the card becomes a special prop because of the time invested.

I'm not super crafty with this type of thing, though. So what ideas and methods do you have to help players create their own cards for magic items and special equipment?

For example, maybe you offer up glue and glitter. Or maybe you have a great print template?

Email your tips to

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The Twilight Sector Campaign Setting Sourcebook

Welcome to the raggedy edge of human space, The Orion Frontier. This is the edge of human exploration. Rimward from here, There be Dragons! No star chart or encyclopedia tells us what lies beyond, only whispered tales of scouts and pirates provide us myth-inspired answers.

The Twilight Sector lies on the edge of the edge. Filled with mystery and wonder, The Twilight Sector Campaign Setting Sourcebook introduces the new Traveller compatible campaign setting from Terra/Sol games.

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How to Add Pizzazz With A Great Campaign Name  

By Johnn Four

Naming your campaign is important. It provides theme, brings a party together and gives the group identity. It's a small tool to add flavour and interest.

At first the name is a simple identifier. But the best names eventually become a source of energy for the group. A name gets associated with good times, fun and great friends. The name becomes a movement, an emotion. It stops being mere words and embodies what RPG means to each player. In this way, a great name that catches on can even help your campaign reach a successful conclusion by keeping the momentum going.

The three tips below will help you craft an awesome campaign name. If you are mid-campaign and don't have a strong name yet, these tips can help you pick one as well.

1. Campaign Name Inspiration

What are the best types of campaign names? Ones that have extra meaning to the players. Pack extra information into the name to give it an additional dimension. The group might realize this value immediately, or it might be revealed as the campaign unfolds. Either way, it's pure gold.

  • End Goal - If your campaign has a single purpose or objective, you might name it after this. A great focus tool for keeping players on track with the story. The name need not imply how the goal should be met, just what the objective is.

    Example: The Brink of War. The PCs learn civil war is about to erupt, either due to their actions in the early days of the campaign, or from events orchestrated by NPCs. At first, the campaign name adds a bit of mystery and drama. Once they realize their role is to prevent fratricide (could be PC families and friends must even fight each other) the campaign name becomes a motivator and focus of their goal in the second half - stop the war.
  • Clue - Turn the name into a clue. That'll blow your players' minds. Bonus points for a name with multiple meanings or inferences so you can use it as multiple clues.

    Example: The Terrible Gift. As a house rule, you give each PC a bonus feat or ability, but they must take a seemingly minor character flaw to do so. Perhaps they all suffer willpower resistance penalties versus devils. "I get a bonus feat in exchange for -4 saving throws against devils? Deal!"

    Then the devils make their appearance in the campaign and the PCs start suffering from missed saving throws against charm and mental manipulation powers. A terrible gift, indeed.

    But then the PCs find out the devils are offering the King a wondrous surprise to celebrate his 25th year of rule. No one knows it's the devils behind the surprise, and it's up to the PCs to prove it, or at least find out what the surprise will be. Hindered with their willpower weakness, it's a difficult challenge.

    Unfortunately, the whole surprise gift was a ruse. Yes, there was a terrible surprise, and if it had not been prevented the devils would have been pleased. However, while the PCs were distracting everyone in foiling this plot, the Princess receives a scroll as a small present on the King's anniversary.

    The scroll shows how to add more power to spells with only a small, maybe unnoticeable drawback - a lower resistance versus devil mind tricks. The wizard Princess is delighted with her more powerful spells, and she shares this knowledge with the guild she runs - the Mage's Guild.
  • Even when the mages learn the terrible secret of this new knowledge, many will still take the chance, because who can resist a bit more power for no immediate pain and perhaps no future cost at all?

    The kingdom is in its greatest danger ever now, as its most powerful citizens slowly become pawns of evil masters....
  • Teaser - you are already familiar with crafting great plot hooks to launch adventures and encounters. Use these same skills to create a hook for the campaign and then use the hook as the campaign's name. The name then becomes an ongoing teaser sure to hold player interest.

    A great format is to start your teaser with the word If. - If Magic Returns - If Dragons Ruled - If The Crown Breaks
  • Another good format is to ask a question based on the hook: - Where is the [relic name] Buried? - Do Drow Sleep at Night? - What Lies Beyond the Sea?
  • Villain. Name your campaign after the party's enemy and they'll be sure to develop a good hate-on for that NPC. A great technique also for establishing campaign purpose and common foe.
    • Venger's Requiem - The Citadel of Shadow - The Eye of Vecna
  • Party hook. Why do the PCs stick together? What is their purpose as a group? If you know this before the campaign starts you can turn the hook into the campaign's name. This is a great method for creating higher player engagement, a sense of purpose, and pride in the campaign.
    • The Plane Walkers - The Steel Oath - Protectors of the Crown - Band of Brothers - The Dragon Slayers - The Guardians of Night

2. Name Checklist

Here is a quick list of elements a good name should have. For any name you consider, try to give it three or more of these elements:

Compelling Memorable Easy to spell Descriptive or evocative Mysterious Dramatic Personal to players or PCs

3. Celebrate The Name

Whenever possible, use the campaign name in cool and entertaining ways. Celebrate the name by using it often:

  • As the name of your campaign's website, wiki, mailing list, or web group
  • Create stationery and letterhead with the name
  • As the name of your campaign newsletter
  • Whenever talking about the campaign to players

Use the name in-game. This is a great way to celebrate the name. Find ways to embed the name into game play. You can allude to the name, create derivatives, use parts of it, or just use the whole thing.

For example, in some movies the name is revealed during a scene. You say, aha, that's where the name of this movie comes from. Similarly, you drop the name at some critical point early on, perhaps during a tense moment of roleplay or combat.

Have NPCs use the campaign name when the characters are interacting with them. Enemies are especially good candidates for this, as they ridicule the party name, or mock the campaign name in a fourth-wall type of way.

The best method I've seen for celebrating the campaign name is magic item names. Create a line or related group of magic treasures branded after the campaign in some fashion. This can reinforce the party's identity, as well.

Create props. Heraldry, signs, fake contracts, drinking glasses with the name etched in, and a signature food dish named after the campaign are a few ideas.

* * *

Have any tips or advice on naming a campaign? Drop me a note:

Related resources:

NPC Name Tips and Resources

5 Tips For Crafting Party Names

6 Ways You Can Use Names To Enhance Your Campaign, Part I

6 Ways You Can Use Names To Enhance Your Campaign, Part II


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How to Create a Believable Character

Inside this ebook, you'll discover:

  • The 5 key elements that make up a believable character's appearance - including details that you may be forgetting
  • The 3 categories of abilities that you must develop in your character in mind, body and spirit.
  • The 6 background features that all well-developed characters have (miss one, and your character suffers)
  • The 5 personality layers that transform the idea of a character into a three-dimensional profile to help your character take on a life of his (or her) own
  • The single, simplest method that helps your character take that crucial first breath and begin developing into the right fit for your story

Start Creating Your Own Memorable Characters Today:

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Holding Epic Sci-Fi Mass Battles 

In Issue #468, RPT reader Melissa asked for advice on how to handle large scale space battles where the PCs could still affect the outcome.

Thanks to all the tipsters for your replies! Melissa, here is what readers advise:

From: Phrennzy

Here are my suggestions:

The last thing any hero wants is to just be a grunt on the field. He wants to be heroic, turning the tide of the battle with his actions. So give him moments that let him shine, and have dramatic effect.

The awesome D&D adventure Red Hand of Doom uses the PCs as an elite strike force during the siege of the town. They are dispatched by the ruler to take out a specific set of siege weapons, deal with an assassin, stop fires spreading, and fight creatures that regular militia cannot hope to challenge.

In Melissa's case, the combat can be split into sections. Ground force combat to take strategic locations, demolition/sabotage of installations, dog fighting, and starship combat.

The ground force encounters should be focused on the PC contributions. Fighting the encroaching AT-ATs, for example. While the main force stays put, the heroes zip out in speeders to trip or blast the walkers. Also, in a ground fight, the PCs are tasked with taking out a bunker that has been mowing down ground forces. A race to take the bunker before the Imperial reinforcements show up puts pressure on the heroes, with the payoff being using the bunker position against the reinforcements and slaughtering them.

Demolition/sabotage could include situations similar to destroying a ground based shield generator or hanger of speeders/starfighters. Again, the PCs are a small strike force able to get in and out of the area, whereas the bulk of the troops provide a distraction or focus on a more heavily guarded target. The PCs destroying a hanger of fighters means there are few to no reinforcements for the Imperial ground troops.

Dog fighting takes place when the PCs are able to get back into space. A bang bang shoot em up that leads into bombing/strafing runs against a strategic enemy cruiser or space station. Dogfight your way through the protective ships around the minelayer or troop transport, and blow it to pieces.

Starship combat would be more difficult, as the PCs are unlikely to be commanding the ships. The firing of ship weapons and maneuvering is better left to those trained to do so. The PCs could instead form a small boarding party in a fast shuttle that zips to an enemy ship, fights into the belly of the ship or to the bridge, and takes it out of the fight.

Don't allow the PCs to just be grunts shooting up yet another stormtrooper or blowing up the 1000th tie fighter. They need to be Han & Chewie taking out the shield, or Lando & Wedge destroying the Deathstar, or Obi-Wan and Anakin retrieving the captured Senator.

Since the PCs are working as part of a military body, they have rank and responsibilities. Even as a general, Solo didn't sit in a bunker and move colored lights on a grid. He got out there and put his life on the line, using his incredible skills to aid his cause. The same should be expected from the PCs, otherwise they may as well roleplay 'Ground Trooper #17529' and roll two dice before being killed and moving on to 'Ground Trooper #17530'.

From: Dan Howard


I liked to use large-scale battles and developed a system that allowed me to scale the level of detail. This turned out to be very useful: in some cases, the players might only hear about a battle that needed quick but fair resolution with a single roll. Whereas, in other cases, they might be directly involved as generals.

The four levels of details where:

  • Simple
  • Basic
  • Strategic
  • Wargame

Under all levels, four factors can give a bonus to one side:

  • Size
  • Heroes
  • Organization
  • Defense

If one side is clearly more numerous (20% more is reputed to be historically accurate but I prefer twice as much) or has a technological advantage, it gets the Size bonus.

If one side has clear superiority in strategy or individual leaders, including the PCs, it gets the Heroes bonus.

If one side is clearly better trained or disciplined, it gets the Organization bonus.

If one side has a significant defensive advantage, such as a fortress, it gets the Defense bonus.

As combat progresses, a bonus may be added or removed when circumstances change. For example, if players wipe out a large part of an enemy force, the enemy would immediately have its Size bonus removed.

By using the four factors mechanic, individual acts by the players can affect the outcome of the battle while still having the battle resolve sensibly.

Simple Mass Combat

In a Simple mass combat, a battle may be determined by rolling a d20 for each side. For each bonus, a side adds +3 to the roll. The higher modified roll indicates the winner.

Further, the difference between the modified rolls indicates the degree of victory. Less than 5 indicates a nominal victory, nearly a tie. 5 or more indicates a clear victory, possibly a rout.

Usually, I used the Simple mass combat for a large-scale battle the players were not directly involved in.

Basic Mass Combat

In a Basic mass combat, the battle plays out, round by round. Each side starts with 3 special mass combat hit points.

For each bonus, a side gets +1 mass combat hit point. Thus, a side has at least 3 and never more than 7 mass combat hit points.

Combat proceeds normally, with initiative and individual actions by PCs and important NPCs.

After all individuals act, each side rolls a d20 simultaneously (no modifiers). If one side rolls a 6 or less and the other rolls a 15 or more, the losing side subtracts 1 mass combat hit point.

If necessary to know, each round takes 2 hours, with 12 hours of combat (i.e. 6 rounds) each day.

I used the Basic mass combat most of the time since players were uninterested in strategy and often not involved as generals.

Strategic Mass Combat

In a Strategic mass combat, the battle plays out between units, round by round. Before the battle, each side divides into units of a convenient size and type determined by the GM. Multiple units of the same type are allowed.

Each side lines up its units in any order it wishes, but the battle takes place only between front units of each side.

To resolve the unit-to-unit combat, the GM comes up with a table that ranks the effectiveness of each type of unit against other types of units. Combat is resolved between units similar to the Basic mass combat.

If desired, adjacent units can exchange places instead of engaging in battle. I only used the Strategic mass combat if the players were involved in strategic planning as generals and wanted to see their strategies play out.

Wargame Mass Combat

In a Wargame mass combat, the battle plays out as a Strategic mass combat except that units are arranged on a two-dimensional map, rather than in a one-dimensional line. I never used the Wargame mass combat, but I would have if the players were very interested in being involved in a (simple) wargame.

From: Brian Debler

When I ran Star Wars d20 and wanted to run epic ground battles, I took an existing miniature game and adapted its style to that of Star Wars.

In this particular case, I used Warmachine from Privateer Press.

Models that once shot steampunk-style powder-driven weapons were abstracted to instead be blasters; magic swords were instead lightsabers; and steam-powered magical golems were instead wardroids.

The player-characters took the role of game's warcasters, but instead of being magicians specialized in combat, they were warmasters, able to enhance their troops through the use of "tactics" (instead of spells) and help guide their wardroids through their direction by using Focus (the main mechanic of warcasters in Warmachine, which is again abstract enough of an idea already to work as a measure of a leader's ability to direct in battle).

Warmachine is all about fast play, where a 10-man unit of troops can attack and be attacked rapidly. More significant characters and units have more wounds to take more hits, and become the center of attention for the battles.

The wardroids can take considerably more damage than troopers, and often were key in achieving objectives on the battlefield.

A large-scale battle, with 75+ models on each side, could be resolved in a relatively short matter of time (maybe 3-4 hours), and convey some of that epic scale fight of the Star Wars setting without becoming extremely cumbersome.

Not all of the units of Warmachine (and its sister game Hordes) translate exactly into Star Wars, but enough of them worked well enough to make for a diverse and interesting wartime setting.

Players would get certain droids based on what would be available from the plot, or have other mercenary or ally troops depending on the situation and their own backgrounds.

I ended up developing a lot of the setting around the story of the various wardroid armies and other forces, and how they came together and worked for or against one another.

Usually all I would have to write up from scratch were the opposing force's warmasters, but I had plenty examples of how balanced warcasters worked from Warmachine to draw upon.

The only major departure from Warmachine mechanics to Star Warmachine (as I liked to call it) was the exclusion of warcaster Feats, which are dramatic displays of extreme magic that often make or break the game of Warmachine.

Making Star Warmachine work took some creative abstracting to translate abilities from Star Wars d20 into comparable Warmachine abilities and spells (again, called "tactics" in Star Warmachine).

Likewise, I weeded through the spells of Warmachine and Hordes to figure which ones could be abstracted into Star Warmachine. Not every tactic had to necessarily be caused by an application of the Force. In fact, many of them were instead abstractions of expert leadership in various specialities.

A master marksman warmaster, for example, might have been able to convey some of his experience to make a unit fire more accurately, all without the use of the Force, but still expending the warmaster's focus points each turn.

Though I never got around to it, I thought it would be possible to use similar mechanics to make a starship version of Star Warmachine to resolve space battle mechanics.

Running Star Warmachine really requires a very good understanding of the Warmachine rules and game balance, plus enough models to carry out the big fights. I happen to be a huge fan of Warmachine, and had enough fellow players with enough experience and models to make Star Warmachine a fantastic success for my Star Wars campaign.

For those not into Warmachine, I still feel the rules are simple enough that you can pick up enough to make your setting come alive in quick-paced mass-combat.

I hope this summary of my experience with using Warmachine to resolve Star Wars battles is a helpful tip that if not directly useful has at least stirred up other ideas to consider. I'm sure there are other miniature games out there that can be abstracted equally well to resolve Star Wars battles. Do a little digging and see what other games sound like they could work for your campaign style.

From: Telas

Check out the Savage Worlds section on Mass Battles. It's one of the quickest and most intuitive mass combat systems I've seen, and it also lets the player characters affect (and be affected by) the battle. It is somewhat tied into the Savage Worlds rules system, but should be pretty easy to transition to another system.

From: Mike Harder

Hi, when I have characters interacting with a large scale battle I usually plan the battle, and maybe make some rolls to see how the battle fares generally. For example, "On the 25th turn the gammorrn left flank begins to falter."

Then I think of four or five things the characters could do to influence the battle.


  • Lead a charge to the left to inspire the sagging troops
  • Attempt to convince stubborn general Krang that the reserves are needed
  • Sneak across the enemy lines an assassinate the caliphto disorganize the enemy
  • Pray for divine favour
  • Use cavalry to cut the enemies communications

After that, I plan another 25 or so general turns based on the possible results. For example, the left is strengthened, either by the characters or the reserves, and the enemy is now confused because of assassination or disruption. What happens then?

Through several repetitions the battle will work itself out.

I think battles must be loud and confusing situations, so I present many options to them in a fast and demanding way, and give them little time to think and respond.

I really like this method of battle planning because I don't even know how the battle will end. I have had to rewrite an entire campaign because the Golden General was cut down through several bad choices and lots of bad luck. Then the campaign became one of guerilla warfare and rallying more troops to the cause.

From: Brandon Echols


In response to the request for tips for a large-scale sci-fi battle management strategy, I submit the following concept: the PCs are the stars of the show, and the details of the massive battles are not what they should be dealing with.

I suggest making the big battles a backdrop. Have the PCs take on the special missions, as mentioned, but give them a running commentary on what's going on elsewhere - a cut- scene, if you will - and make their actions absolutely vital to the battle's outcome.

This reduces the numbers you have to deal with, and makes the action elsewhere important to the players. Focus on the players, not the battles.

I read once that PCs in massive battles should be treated like special forces soldiers - the best of the best, the elite - and they are not "line of battle" infantry. Stay player-centric, and use the battles as dynamic backdrops.

I would also suggest watching Episodes IV, V and VI as if they were roleplaying sessions. Ask what kind of encounters are being shown, or what kind of rules are being used. Try to relate roleplaying characteristics to the on-screen action, and think of what is being seen in RPG terms.

What we see as the grand, sweeping epic of Star Wars is mostly an easily-told, simple story that focuses on the dramatic actions of a small group of heroes. We see those actions in such a light because of what's happening in the background.

So, in summary: focus on the players, use the battles as backdrops, and use compelling storytelling - for which there are all kinds of tips in the GM Archives - to make the players shine.

Hope this helps!

From: Danel Fisher


I'm sure folks have all kinds of battle-map systems for land or space combat, and Star Wars is full of epic battles blasting across space or snow. But Star Wars is ultimately about the heroes. The setting is ripe with examples of a single hero, or small group, managing to win the day amidst dozens of star destroyers, hundreds of fighters, and thousands of ground troops.

As the Game Master of a Star Wars game, you should recreate this same tradition for your characters. In my group, we call it 'cinematic battlefield' where there is a fight going on in the background but the actions of the player's are what is carrying the day.

The cinematic battle begins with a description of the overall line of battle. A view of a hundred star destroyers in a wall, or a wave of storm troopers cresting a hill. Then it narrows down to the immediate situation the party finds themselves in.

Play their encounter out in the same way you would normally; then move out to another description of the battle as it has changed. Let the actions of your players have metaphorical parallel in the battle at large.

The minor starfighter skirmish in which the party won by the hair of their teeth is reflected in the heavy alliance losses in the initial barrage of turbo-laser fire.

Keep this flip-flop of micro to macro going back and forth through several short encounters. Easy win for the party means overwhelming victory for the good-guys. Minor loss for the party means their side is pushed back in the battle.

Keep the drama high and the adventure flowing with surprises. The party is needed on the left flank NOW or else the entire battle will be lost.

Roleplay the chase scene to get to that flank, cinematically describe the battles through which they are passing, then play out the climax on site where their actions save the day, or their failure is the loss of the entire battle.

I hope this helps to keep the feel of the Star Wars genre and makes your players feel like they are true heroes of the republic.

May the Force be with you.

Game Master Tips & Tricks 

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

1. Hexographer - The Hex Map Is Back 

From: Erin Smale

The Chimera RPG: One Game. Infinite Worlds...

The Welsh Piper

Ever since David Cook's 1981 D&D Expert Rules, my attraction to the hex map has been strong. The Known World Gazetteers kept it alive, and Bruce Heard's "Voyage of the Princess Ark" series in DRAGON magazine put it over the top. Unfortunately, a lack of feature-rich hex mapping software has made it difficult for us hex map fans to produce them electronically.

Enter Hexographer: a full-featured, tile-based hex mapping tool that's easy to use, customisable, and capable of stunning output.

Hexographer gives you more than what you'd expect from a hex mapping tool. Sure, there's a blank hex grid, terrain and symbol icons reminiscent of TSR's old gazetteer style, and a bunch of line, text, and hex-numbering tools. But you'll be impressed with its functionality and intuitive interface: just choose terrain and place it on the map.

You can do the same with symbols, and lines can be drawn freehand or via a snap-to command that automatically lines up with hex corners.

You can also apply your map labels with customised text styles.

Even hex numbers can be formatted to your exact specs.

The online version of Hexographer is free, but I suggest an upgrade to the affordable Pro version, which lets you work without an Internet connection and adds extra features. My favourite is the Notes tool, which lets you add text notes to any hex, then exports them all to a nicely-formatted HTML file with headings for each entry. The Pro version also includes an automated Map Key generator, which dynamically creates a map legend based on the terrain, symbols, and lines you've placed - it's a major time saver and a thoughtful addition.

In an unexpected (but welcome) twist, Hexographer has really been a shot in my campaign's arm. Using a combination of standard hex templates, custom encounter tables, and Hexographer, my core setting has better detail, and I've quickly expanded it with good results. I didn't expect a hex mapping tool to actually improve my campaign design, but Hexographer has really exceeded my expectations.

If you love the hex map (and, admit it, you probably do), you really need to give Hexographer a spin. I say you'll like it.

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2. Ask The 5 Why's 

From: Alex Bender

In a recent release of Campaign Mastery you said something that had me thinking:

"Use the 5 Ws: As discussed in a recent issue of Roleplaying Tips, take each event and run it through a series of questions using Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. Write down ideas that come to mind."

In my experience, this is a great seed for the now, but is missing something I learned through my work in Quality Assurance: Ask the 5 Why's. This gets far closer to the root of things than any model or mental exercise I've used in gaming or in problem solving.

I know that even 3 Why's gets you further than just 1, but the core idea is that players are curious. They may not be curious about everything, but there will always be some aspect of the campaign they will want to explore, and so by working with the Why's rather than the What If's, I've been able to be much more flexible in how I deal with the problems that come up when the players start poking their noses where they don't belong.

Take a random encounter with kobolds using the kind of quick 1-line answers that can be used to answer the party's inquiries in time with the game:

Action: The party successfully dispatches a random ambush of kobolds on their way to their next adventure.

  1. Why? Why what? Well, in theory we know why the party was in that given location, but what about the kobolds?

    Answer: The kobolds are the local raiding party of their tribe, and they were returning from a recent raid on a nearby village.
  2. Why? Why did they raid this particular village?

    Answer: The village makes for easy pickings.
  3. Why? (Now we are really starting to see some meat of the situation. This is the 3 Why threshold that is critical to get at least this far.)

    Answer: This village is off the beaten path. The people are a bit isolationist, and have grown old without anyone fit to provide a suitable defense.
  4. Why?

    Answer: There have been no new children born to any of the families in over 20 years. The women are too old, and with the village not on the trade route, no new blood has moved in.
  5. Why? (Well, isn't that a twist? At this point we see that things are getting juicy for plot hooks, and we can take this tale in any direction.)

    Answer: A banshee in the nearby woods has been slowly leeching the life essence of all the women (or men) in the surrounding area.

This mental exercise can take you in many directions. The Why paths could have taken us more in the direction of what is going on with the kobolds, and to be honest, that's what I thought about when I initially posed the first Why.

But then the village piqued my interest since it would be more likely something the players may ask about, especially if you have a group that considers themselves inherently good. Never mind that another twist could be that the village isn't made up of human/elf/dwarf, but could be anyone.

How would it look for this side-line track to then reveal the village is a band of hobgoblins who generations ago deserted the dragon armies that passed through during the party's grandparents' time?

I find this exercise exceptionally enlightening. Each Why only needs to go 1 step. No further. I don't have to plan it out, and with practice, I can answer these kinds of questions on the fly during the game. I just need to keep track of my answers, so they can bear fruit later in the campaign.

This is better than worrying about the What If's, because you then have to get into the minds of the players and predict the future.

Using Why's doesn't predict the future, it recounts the past. It gives you data the players can mine, and you only need to worry about very major things in the campaign.

I hope this has helped some of you, as it has become a vital tool in my GMing toolbox.

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3. Introducing Your Family To RPG 

From: Gillian Wiseman

re: Roleplaying Tips Issue #464

A. E. asks about introducing his family to RPGs?

I strongly encourage this. When I was a preteen and teen, my favorite games were played around the dining room table with my brothers, my parents and our family friends.

My father loved the game, even though he never read sci-fi or fantasy. He learned the same way everyone does - by experience. He even ran a few adventures for us. Mom was never as interested, but she played because we asked her to, and it was a way to share our interests. She played a wicked hobbit thief (Sneaky Took lives in infamy!) in one memorable game.

My older brother is the one who introduced me to the game, and we Shanghaied our little brother in, just to make up a party. He played off and on through high school, but was never quite as avid as we were.

You are not responsible for your family's response. Treat them, and the game, with respect, but remember you're there to have fun. Start with a rules lite game, such as Microlite 20, if you're worried about rules complexity.

If your parents don't see the game as a source of family bonding and strength-building, then maybe they won't take it seriously. But silly has a place in gaming, too. Don't write them off.

And good luck!

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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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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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