RPT#167 – The Principles Of Gaming Etiquette: A Real Document That Helped A Real Campaign
A Brief Word From Johnn
Use This Week’s Tips To Create Group Contracts
Last week I posted a request for example Group Contracts to help encourage and promote player co-operation. This week’s tips by Forrest fit perfectly into this category and I hope those GMs with player conflicts find them helpful.
The Savage Caves A Fun Book
I read The Savage Caves novel by T.H. Lain this week and thought it was a great, short adventure. It’s the first in a line of D&D 3E fiction books and features the example characters outlined in the core game rules. Good action, simple writing, and a fun read during transits to and from work. I especially enjoyed how the inexperienced characters consistently made newbie mistakes throughout the story.
Johnn Four firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s convention season again and a good time to promote your products to the rabid hoards of gamers who will be flocking to convention halls and game rooms everywhere. If you’re interested in promoting your quality products in this ezine, drop me a note. Ask about the April Special.
A Guest Article By Forrest Elam
elamfallon @ earthlink.net
These tips formed a document for my group that came into being because our monthly D&D game was experiencing some problems. The group had started out as a bunch of friends who gamed together, but over the course of the 15+ years the campaign ran it had morphed into a bunch of gamers who were mostly acquaintances, some who barely knew each other, and a few who didn’t even like each other.
In an effort to correct some of the more glaring problems, I came up with The Principles of Gaming Etiquette. Many of the principles were common sense, unwritten rules that most gaming groups follow without ever putting them down on paper. Due to the problems our group was experiencing, however, I thought putting it all down on paper might be a good idea. That way everyone knew what to expect (and what not to), as well as what would be unacceptable.
After I put the principles together we had a group meeting to go over and ratify them. My hope was that by merely setting them down on paper where we could all see them it would resolve most (if not all) of the problem behavior. It actually seemed to work out that way too, so it was a worthwhile endeavor.
Hope you find it as valuable as we did.[Comment from Johnn: this is the latest in a series of gaming etiquette and player relations articles. Dealing with problem players or difficult players is my #1 help request. It’s also a common thread on many lists and boards. Therefore, I continue to publish these types of tips in the hopes that they become easy GM tools to help handle any group issues and player disputes as they arise.
While most of the tips in this issue are common sense, as Forrest stated above, I feel being pro-active with the topic for your group will solve 90% of any potential “problem player” issues that might arise.
As GM, you aren’t responsible for changing people and you can’t prevent every player conflict or personality issue. However, by laying down a set of friendly guidelines before a campaign starts, or before next session if you’re already in mid-campaign, you lay the groundwork for successful player mediation and resolution.
Step 2: Paste them into your own document.
Step 3: Present the document to your players and have them agree on all points. Amend your document as necessary, and have your players initial or sign the document as a show of agreement.
Next time you face a social conflict, you’ll be able to point to your document, which everyone agreed to, and use that as the basis for reaching an amicable resolution. This way, it’s not you, the GM, being “the heavy” and it takes a whole layer of potential communication problems out of the equation.]
- Relax And Have Fun
This is our whole purpose for getting together.
- Make The Best Use Of Our Time Together
For everyone’s benefit, we need to start and end on time. This means starting play no later than 2:00 PM and ending play no later than midnight. Plan to arrive a little earlier so you can be set up and ready to go by the starting time. If the game goes past midnight players start dropping out, while those that remain become fatigued and are more prone to making mistakes (DMs included).
If you’re going to be late for the game, but still wish to play, you have 2 options:
- Make arrangements in advance to send copies of your character with someone who will be arriving on time along with an indication of when you expect to appear in person.
- Phone the host of the game for the month in question and give them your character’s stats and other vital information along with the time you intend to arrive.
Accomplishing either of these means that the DM(s) will make every effort to get you into one of the games that is being run. However, if you show up late and have not completed one of the above arrangements do not count on being able to play. In that case, if a DM has space for you and if it’s convenient for them, they might allow you to join the game, but it’s their option.
- Be Prepared
Have all your gaming materials with you when you arrive and be ready to play. This includes being mentally ready to play as well as physically. Arriving totally exhausted is not “being prepared”–you’re better off staying home and sleeping.
- Be Attentive
Pay attention to the DM and the game while at the table. Don’t get sidetracked and waste anyone’s time with non- related issues. There are plenty of distractions already without creating more. If you need to speak to someone about something which has no bearing on the game take it outside the gaming area, or better yet, do it during a break or after the game ends. Both the DM and the other players deserve your undivided attention; the characters’ lives may depend on it.
- Be Courteous
Show the same respect to everyone at the game that you would expect yourself. Rude or filthy behavior has no place at our games.
- Do Not Harass Others
Harassing others is unacceptable behavior. Please don’t argue or bicker with anyone at the game; it ruins everyone’s enjoyment. Snide remarks or sarcastic comments aimed at other gamers have no place at the game. If you have a personal problem with someone leave it at home. If you have a disagreement with your DM during a game remain calm and reasonable. Give the DM your explanation calmly and they will make a ruling on the issue. That is where it should end (remember, there may be factors going on behind the scenes, influencing the DM’s decision, which are unknown to you).
- No Excessive Whining Or Griping
This refers to player behavior, not “in character” play. It becomes excessive when it starts holding up the game and interfering with the enjoyment of others. If you’re just wasting time keep it to yourself.
- Don’t Tell Others How To Play Their Characters Or How To Run Their Game
If someone is running their character or game differently than you would that is their individual right. Concentrate on running your own character or creating and running your own adventure. If a character is doing something that might cause a violation of their Class/Kit/Alignment, it will be resolved between the DM and the player, frequently in private.
Remember, the DM and player may know something that you do not about the situation. Although the DMs work together to insure the consistency of the campaign world, that does not mean that a DM’s individual style is subject to debate. If you think you have a better way to handle a circumstance share it with the DM outside the game or set up and run your own game (we always need new DMs).
- Don’t Just Disappear From The Table During The Game
We all have to leave the table occasionally but we can be responsible about it. If you have to leave the game, temporarily designate another player to watch over your character while you’re absent. They can handle any decisions or dice rolls your character may need to make while you are away. If you haven’t asked someone to watch your character and something occurs while you’re away, the DM will designate someone to act on your behalf. It is not the DM’s responsibility to stop the game and find you if something occurs. If a group of you needs to leave the table for some reason let your DM know, maybe they can call a short break that everyone can take advantage of.
- Be Patient
Everyone wants immediate attention but there is only one DM and they have put in a lot of effort to bring you a good adventure, so be patient. Let them know that you need their attention then wait your turn. If they miss you or forget, gently remind them that you are waiting. Believe me, your DM will appreciate it.
- Be Fair And Be Honest
Make allowances for each other. We all make mistakes and deserve an even break. Don’t play favorites or take advantage of someone. Be up front with your character’s advantages and disadvantages. Cheating, in any form, is unacceptable.
- Enforcing The Principles
It’s the DM’s responsibility to enforce the above principles within their game. If the DM sees someone ruining the enjoyment of the game for others they will take steps to correct the problem.
First, the DM will seek to privately speak with the player causing the problem to make them aware of what they are doing and caution them about continuing their behavior.
Next, if the problem continues, the DM will issue a public warning to the offender and advise them to cease causing problems.
Finally, if the problem still persists, the DM has the responsibility to eject the offending person from their game. If someone is ejected from a game in this manner they will not be allowed to play that day in any of our games (the other DMs will not allow the ejectee to enter their game).
If someone is being ejected from games consistently, they will no longer be welcome at our gaming sessions until such time as a majority of the DMs feel that the problem has been resolved.
Hopefully, simply setting out these principles will be enough and we will never have to resort to any of the above steps to resolve a problem. As long we follow the principles that we all adopted together our sessions will be fun and enjoyable for everyone involved.
- “How to Get Along with Your Players”
- “Communication and Roleplaying”
- Getting The Players To Read Your Background Info
From: Varianor, via the GM Mastery list
“…The player didn’t read the documentation provided beforehand…”
This is a bitter pill to swallow. Careful GMs try to craft wonderful worlds. However, there are still those PCs who are either in a rush or who just don’t wanna read. Here’s a couple of tips to deal with this from my experiences with them:
- Offer Experience
This is a tremendous motivator for PCs to do just about *anything*. If you want them to read the background material and create a character from it, tell them it’s expected. Then set up a reward. Give out the amount they’d earn in a single adventure. In Champions, 1 xp for reading and 2 for background is good. In D&D 3E, for a level 1 PC 125 for reading and 125 for the two pages works fine. And so on.
- Convey It Verbally
One of my players, a fantastic roleplayer, is dyslexic. Severely. We often sit down and chat about my world instead of my making her read the handouts. Other PCs that I’ve had just didn’t want to read, but were very happy to brainstorm. In several cases brainstorming caused me to create even more interesting stuff.
- Write Less Of It
Should you have players who want to “get moving” and not waste time, skip the background. Or boil it down to a couple pages. That way they get the action they crave. This is hard advice for even me to accept because I love the little details to make a world alive, but I have found that cutting back a little meant more time for other work.
- Spoon Feed Everyone
Do you have an email list or message board site for in between games? If not, get one. Put up intriguing little bits of stuff from time to time to get PCs thinking. You may still find that only 1-2 will do it, but when they ask a question about it, the rest of the list pays attention suddenly.
- Work It Into An Adventure
(Warning. Don’t do this frequently if you have power gamers and hack’n’slashers.) Put an NPC or object into a game that is referenced in the background material. When the PCs say “hey, what do we know about this”, instead of rolling dice and giving them a blurb, tell them “it’s on page 17 of the beginning material.”
- Have A Handout Ready
Instead of giving up front material, consider putting it into written form to pass out when you hit a good point. In the middle of combat is not good. When the PCs arrive at the gates of the spooky castle on the hill is excellent timing. This is particularly good in combo with #4 above. Some people have short attention spans. If it’s a short one, make a copy for all PCs to read simultaneously. Though not realistic in-game, it keeps things moving out-of-game.
- Put A Scrapbook On The Table
This feeds off Tips #5 & #6. Whenever you do a handout, put a copy in a binder on the table. (That is unless it’s a secret for 1 PC only.) Maps, pictures, handouts, and adventure summaries work great. As in Tip #5, when they ask about something, tell them “look in the book.” Don’t use this all the time, particularly with an action-oriented group. Conversely, if you have all dramatists and method actors, they might fight over this at times.
- Ask Your Players To Write Stuff
This is good if you can “let go” of a little control. Pick an area of the world that you want to develop, but can’t get around to. Put it up for grabs for PCs to write material for XP, or have an XP contest, with you as the judge.
- Ink Is Cheap Today. Use Large Fonts
It’s amazing how going up to a 14-point or 18-point font works. I know that I need glasses all the time. Wonderful stuff in teeny print sucks because I get tired. You may want to edit your material for brevity, but the message will still get across.
- Make An Audiotape
Okay, I admit, this idea just hit me. Never tried it. But what about you the GM making a tape of stuff for PCs to listen to in the car? Or a sound file? They can download it and burn a CD. If anyone tries this and it works, let me know! I think it’s worth a shot.
- Offer Experience
- How To Position Things On Indoor Maps
From: Bear, a DM in San Diego
bear @ evolutionfiles.com
via the GM Mastery list
When drawing maps I start with a piece of grid (or hex) paper, then tape on layers of tracing paper, with each layer of the castle or dungeon on an individual layer. This works well for castles where some towers could be 40′ tall, and others 60′, and with lots of stairways or tunnels connecting different layers. This layered-paper approach really helps me. And as long as I don’t add too many layers I can still see the scale grid at the bottom.
If you type in “castles” into Google you can find lots of floor plans as well.
Also, establish a history/timeline to figure out what features would be present and what architectural style would have been used. Perhaps the place was built by a persecuted and paranoid religious sect (lots of traps and defenses), abandoned for 100 years so that parts of it fell into ruin, and now inhabited/repurposed by a Death Master who has added vats of Zombie creation…
- Creating A Colour-Based Campaign
From: Carl G., Cape Town South Africa
I read with interest the GM who had used the periodic table of elements as the basis for his campaign world. I recently started work on a new campaign world of my own, Arcana “The Sundered Realm”, and used the colours of the rainbow as the basis for the setting.
Magic (for MU-type classes) is divided into seven colour types:
School Hue Title ------------------------------------ Abjuration Red Thaumaturge Alteration Orange Sorcerer Conjuration Yellow Conjuror Divination Green Mystic Enchantment Blue Enchanter Evocation Indigo Theurgist Illusion Violet Illusionist
Magic-users who are focussed on one colour are also called “Wizards” (e.g. Enchanters are Blue Wizards), but those who use magic from all seven Schools are called “Mages”, and wear white robes (since combining all seven colours gives white). There is a forbidden school of magic use which is, of course, the black school:
School Hue Title ----------------------------------- Necromancy Black Necromancer
I took all of this a step further by developing a small island realm that is just a tiny part of the larger campaign world. This area, Greenstone “The Isle of Adventure”, is intended as a starting area for younger players (I have a 6- year old daughter who wants to start role-playing!), and is thus very cliched and simplistic. Here, I have used a colour of the rainbow for each of the seven realms:
- RED: Esdrath, THE WITCH-QUEEN’S DOMAIN
- ORANGE: The Deepheart DWARVEN MINES
- YELLOW: THE HORSEPLAINS of Ruhn
- GREEN: THE ELVENHOME of Llandor
- BLUE: The Narabar PIRATE COVES
- INDIGO: THE GIANTS’ COAST of Jarlkrag
- VIOLET: THE KINGDOM of Celestor
Here’s a low-res version of the map of this starting area, the isle of Greenstone, named for a large, moss-covered boulder that was the site of the first pact between men and elves.
The pictures in the rainbow frame (all snarfed from D&D modules–unfortunately I’m no artist!) are of the rulers of the seven areas, while those in the four corners are the main NPCs. Clockwise, from top left, these are:
- Anston, The Arch-Bishop, a high ranking clergyman with an evil secret.
- Esderalda, The Witch-Queen, the arch-enemy of the setting, exiled from the Kingdom.
- Drakkanzamar The Witch-Queen, the arch-enemy of the setting, exiled from the Kingdom.
- Caen, The Emerald Wizard, the GM’s persona in Greenstone.
I love this kind of synergy, and it works especially well with this kind of cliched setting, which is perfect for younger players. BTW, I have also developed a boardgame set on the isle, which my daughter already plays (and whips my butt at!), and intend to write children’s stories set in it, more for her benefit than with any intention of publishing them…
Well, that’s one way of using a colour theme to get a world going…
- Two Plots Better Than One
From: Callan S.
Instead of just having one hook and one plot for your game, try TWO. Some readers might have noticed this in TV programs where they might have two stories running in the one episode (though one is usually less important than the other).
There are a couple of advantages to this technique:
- It makes players feel as if they’re not being railroaded since they can choose to take up one hook or the other.
- Having a second plot adds dimension. Instead of “Yawn, have we saved the princess yet?” it becomes “Somehow we have to save the princess and also track down that important relic in the caverns. This is going to take timing and skill to do both.”
- It leaves the players wondering about how they’ll complete the other mission while doing the first, rather than just doing one mission and thinking what type of pizza they’ll get.
Here’s an example:
First Hook: Overhearing the conversation of a couple of mercenaries, the group learns of special information.
First Plot: Find the killer.
Second Hook: The characters find a bounty poster.
Second Plot: Steal the data.
In this set-up, the characters need to track down a killer (perhaps a monster) that has been terrorising the area (the mercenaries’ conversation might give them a solid lead). However, just as they’re ready to set out, they also encounter a bounty poster. The data they need to steal might be the weak points/secret entrances of a castle or perhaps even a spell book.
There are two options the GM can choose now. One, make both plots have time limits so the group needs to either do both quickly or split up. Or two, have both plots intertwined so that the group can complete both at the same time, but it takes some skill/good playing to manage both issues at the same time (i.e. the data is in the same building the monster is hiding out in, but finding the data while not tipping off the killer, or catching the killer without him destroying the building and/or data could be tricky).
As you can see, just catching the killer or stealing the data by itself is rather straightforward. Just a point A to point B sort of problem. However, mix two plots in and nothing’s quite so straightforward any more.
- Cool Earth Maps
This site shows 3D and 2D maps of Earth at various time periods (past, present, future). A great resource for time- travel, modern, and pre-historic campaigns.
- Tolkien Name Translations
From: Amanda L.
In the last issue someone said that Tolkien’s Quenya would be good in making up names for places and people and I totally agree. I don’t know if someone has already sent in this link or not but at: http://www.elvish.org/elm/names.html you can look up an English name in Quenya. This comes in handy if you are tired of naming your people George, Fred, and Bob.