Monthly Archive: May 2012

May 31 2012

Taking the Crawl out of Dungeon Crawl

In episode 12 of the Misdirected Mark Podcast the chat I had with Shawn Merwin covered a little bit on dungeon crawls and how to keep them interesting. I thought it was some good advice so I decided to try and put together the discussion into a list you can look at and use for your games.

Make Your Players Think

If your dungeon crawl is fight after fight the players will probably get bored. If this is happening feel free to throw something in there your players can’t just kill with their big guns. Give them reasons to think about alternate ways to overcome certain enemies  and obstacles. In Rappan Athuk, a very cool mega dungeon created by Necromancer Games, there is a mindless magic slime roaming the 1st level you just can’t kill. It’s mindless and not very quick so you can run away from it, work your way around it, or trick it. It’s also hilarious when someone gets murdered by it. In any case something like this should get your players thinking with more than their sword.

Get Them Talking

Instead of something to slay give the players someone to speak with. NPC’s in your dungeons, whatever shape they may take, can provide more than just breaks from fighting. They can foreshadow things to come, provide an interesting decision for the players to make as in what to do with them, and even providing alternate goals such as saving the NPC for a reward or finding a dying NPC who begs them to save someone close to them deeper in the dungeon.

Change up the Environment

One of my favorite tricks when running a dungeon crawl is to change up the dungeon whenever the players decide to leave and come back. I don’t mean move the areas around or anything quite so drastic but do things to the previous areas the players would notice. For example, in a dungeon I was running the players would kill and leave their enemies bodies lying around. Every time they left and came back the bodies were gone and there were blood stains and drag marks leading deeper into the dungeon. I had my big bad take the dead bodies down into the temple and raise them as zombies. Eventually he had an army of them since the players never did anything about the bodies.

If you want your dungeon to feel like a living breathing thing have the denizens of the place react to having their space invaded. If the dungeon has intelligent creatures have them react as their intelligence and motivations dictate. If the things living in your dungeon work more by instinct then take a look and figure out what would happen if the ecology of the place changes. If one of the alpha predators in an area is killed what would the beta predators do? Where would they wander? How would the areas of dominance change?

Puzzles, Mysteries, and Telegraphing

I like rooms with stuff in them which hint at things to come and provide mysteries for the players to solve. For instance I created a three level dungeon that was actually a bunch of steam punk mage labs around a giant sized boiler. The boiler was so large people could crawl around in the fire tubes, furnace, and water reservoir. The furnace was powered by a bound fire elemental and the water levels and return lines were maintained by a water elemental. They were both bound in this place by the steam punk mages who built and experimented with their clockwork and steam creations. The place was a giant puzzle where the players had to fix the boiler so they could enter the laboratory/tomb of one of these steam punk mages to get the MacGuffin. I never told them the place was a giant boiler but the giant pipes, workshops with gear relating to clockwork constructions, and a control room for the boiler which they eventually found, along with the elementals could clue them in. So how does this all relate to Mysteries, puzzles, and Telegraphing?

The mystery was in figuring out what this place was for as well as why it was abandoned. The mystery wasn’t necessary for the players to figure out to achieve their objective but an option for them to engage in if they so choose. I also included some extra useful information if they pursued this course of action in dealing with the clockwork guardian of the tomb they were trying to get into.

The puzzle was fixing the boiler, it was a relatively simple puzzle once you had all the information but getting the information was the challenge. I spread the pieces around so they needed to explore and learn about the place.

Telegraphing is like foreshadowing but more direct. In this boiler dungeon the first thing they encounter is a steam powered clockwork door. It pretty much telegraphs that they’ll be dealing with steam powered clockwork things which they did.

I always try to break these things down so here I go:

Mysteries in the dungeon are there to give players a sense of something happening they can try and figure out which will probably help them in the long run.

Puzzles are things for the players to overcome. I suggest making them not to difficult as long as all the information is present. Think of Wheel of Fortune. As the contestants get more of the puzzle it becomes easier to answer but if you can figure it out earlier it’s better, usually. If you also want to throw some crazy hard puzzle in your games then I suggest you make the puzzle something optional to the story. Getting it is a big bonus to the characters but not getting it doesn’t hurt them.

Telegraphing is preparing the players for what’s coming. If you can be more subtle and use foreshadowing then more power to you. In my experience subtlety at the game table doesn’t always work so well.

Well there are some of the things I’ve managed to garner from my conversation with Shawn and from thinking on it these past few days. If you have any interesting ideas for how to take the crawl out of the dungeon crawl please feel free to leave a comment here.

Game on
Chris “The Light” Sniezak

May 30 2012

Alone…Sort of

013 – Alone…sort of

This week Mark is getting ready for Origins and the holiday weekend kinda threw off our schedules, and my knee, so I recorded the Gameroom and the Freeze all alone and the Workshop is a segment we recorded a little while ago. Let us know what you think.

Show Notes

0:38 – The Intro

2:06 – The Gameroom

4:04 – The Workshop – When to leave or shutdown a game

37:50 – The Freeze

May 24 2012

Building Worlds One Character at a Time

I’m really into character driven stories these days and that includes plot and such. So plot is defined as being the events that make up the story and how they relate to one another. By a character driven plot I mean the villain of the piece is a person who has motivations causing them to enact whatever plot they need to so they can accomplish their desired goal. I build my worlds from these individuals out and then find or create the pieces of the world to connect the PCs to the story. Some would say this is pushing the world to the background but I think it’s making everything interconnected. Now I’ll try to explain.

The villan of the piece is an immortal and powerful tyrant who was trapped within a sword, put there eons ago so only the oldest legends remember him. Over the years the blade has passed from hand to hand until it finally found a home in the Whitemore family, a lineage of lords who served the King faithfully and have held the western borders of the country of Kingshaven for the past two centuries. The magic bindings on the sword have slowly faded over the years and for the last hundred or so years the tyrant has been able to exert influence over its wielder and has done so in an attempt to find a way to get out of his prison. Finally he learned a way to escape and tried to drive the wielder of the blade towards his goal but it only ended in bloodshed and a less than desirable reputation. This got the sword locked up in the family crypt.

Ok, my villain is trapped in a sword, or basically imprisoned. He wants to get out. This is his motivation for acting. In creating this situation I built a well known magic sword, a family as its caretaker, a hint at their standing in a country called Kingshaven, hinted at an event concerning the sword, and created the sense of an old world with magic in it. Heck, I haven’t even gotten to the plot yet. That’s just the villain’s set up and the goal he’s trying to achieve. To continue I need a way for the tyrant to get out in the world to achieve his goal.

Janus Whitemore is the current Lord of the Whitemores. In a tragic turn of events the Whitemore holdings are attacked by the king’s men. One of the king’s soothsayers had a vision of a Whitemore destroying his line. Janus survived the attack and went to the crypt looking for power and found the sword. With the sword he killed every one of the king’s men who attacked his holdings and avenged his murdered wife and child, but in doing so gave himself over to the sword. This event gives us very little about the world we didn’t already know but it moves the villain’s plot forward so we can have more options for world building.

The tyrant in the sword knows he needs to clash with the white blade of Hope in order to break free from these bonds. The problem is there aren’t any Knights of the White Blade these days. They only arise during times of strife and war. Now that he’s more in control of Janus they can work together to build an army and rampage across the lands. Janus for vengance and the Tyrant for his opportunity.

Now we have the plot of our story. The bad guys want revenge and freedom and their plan, or the plot, is to rampage across the lands. This means the lands need to be created and referenced as this army of darkness crushes country after country. The PCs will likely be affiliated with each other in some way opposed to this army of darkness and Janus Whitemore. You now have the white sword and its history of heroes who’ve wielded it before. All that’s left is dropping the PCs into the situation as this army starts tearing up the world and hook them into the White Sword side of the story.

All that comes from one tyrant imprisioned in a sword.

I think the trick is asking yourself what comes next. I try and find the most logical way to move the bad guy’s ambitions to the next plot point in the story. After that I wait a little for the players to come up with their characters. At that point I build up a little bit of the world around them so they feel a part of it. Sometimes this gives me some excellent side plots, sometimes it doesn’t. In any case the world is building itself one character at a time.

May 24 2012

Episode #12 – D&D Next and Shawn Merwin

012 – D&D Next and Shawn Merwin

This is a big one folks. A double length episode. In our Workshop we talk about D&D Next or 5th edition depending on which one of use you ask. Then we talk to freelance writer and game designer Shawn Merwin. He’s
worked on a fair number of projects for WotC and done a lot in the Living Campaigns.

Show Notes

0:44 Intro

3:40 The Gameroom

12:19 The Workshop: D&D Next

We jump around a bit during our D&D discusion. I suppose we should use outlines but we didn’t so the information is kind of all over the place. Sorry about that folks.

1:08:23 Shawn Merwin interview

1:12:20 GenCon Drow Adventure by Shawn

1:14:03 Gaming with family

1:16:38 Writing for Undermountain

1:21:20 Making Dungeon Crawls interesting

1:26:42 Pizza’s here

1:27:55 Changing up Modules up for replayability.

1:29:05 Dealing with critisism in writing.

1:30:25 The Assult on Nightwyrm Fortress debacle

1:34:42 Shawn’s Favorite Setting – It’s Greyhawk.

1:37:02 Shawn’s time with Organized Play.

1:53:56 Writing for Critical Hits.

1:57:37 Differences in writing for fiction and games

2:05:25 Who’s the man behind the writer

2:07:06 Game’s we think Shawn should buy

Dungeon Raid app
Thread Detected Actual Play Podcast
Changeling the Lost
Lair Assault: Lair of the Tyrantclaw
Ready Player One
Diablo 3
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
Critical Hits
D&D Encounters
Lego Harry Potter
Ticket to Ride
The Moathouse and Hommlett
Halls of Undermountain
Haunting of Harrowshire
The Radiant Vessel of Thesk
Assault on Nightwyrm Fortress
Ashes of Athas
Living Divine
Baldman Games

May 17 2012

Storytelling and Pacing

This might take a second but I promise I’ll get to the gaming part of it in a sec. So I had two interesting developments occur today. The first was having one of my sit downs with my mentor/professor from my college. The second was seeing some of the things we talked about in a movie I watched.

I go to Empire State College where most of the classes are independent study, and you meet with your professor once every couple weeks to talk about your progress. You can also email or call them any time if you have questions. I’m taking Screenwriting this semester and that’s it. I graduate with a bachelors in Creative Writing which I can then use to go back to school for my masters so I can teach. Yay. In any case the conversation was interesting because we were talking about the screen play I’m writing for the class. It’s based on a game scenario I helped write which will be published in the future. This led to a discussion about RRGs and what they are. I almost always use Fiasco as my example of an RPG these days because of its minimal rules and relation to movies I can reference like Fargo, The Hangover, The Big Labowski, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, or any movie in that Coen brothers or everything goes to hell style. Once I got that out and explained how the game is like a long form improvisation with a few simple rules for guiding the story she understood and actually was sort of interested in the concept. We spoke for a few more minutes and in the end I pretty much let her know some of these games have more rules but the premise is all about storytelling. In essence, gaming, and the way most of us game, is about storytelling. I’d like to talk about the bare bones of storytelling. I’m sure I’ll leave things out and a lot of this stuff will just be my opinion so you’ll disagree. That’s cool. I want you to disagree and bring your own opinion to the discussion so I can see what other people think. It’s a great way to learn.

So I watched a movie with Jen, she’s the woman I live with and love. It was One for the Money, that movie with  Katherine Heigl, where she’s broke so she becomes a bounty hunter and is chasing down this cop who skipped out on his bail. She gets caught up in something way over her head and blah, blah, blah… You still with me? Good? Sorry, but I do want to explain. Jen and I enjoyed the movie because we like movies. It entertained us for a couple of hours and it told a story. That means the movie had a beginning, middle, and an end. It introduced characters, developed them over the course of time, and gave them choices to make, some good and some not so much. There was an established setting, world building, and there was a pace. All these things are part of storytelling and I’m sure I’m leaving out a bunch of stuff. The question is how do I use these bits to allow for the creative explosion of storytelling at the table. I’ve covered some of this stuff in previous posts like From the Other Side – A Players Perspective and Worlds of “Our” Imagination. But I wasn’t explicitly talking about storytelling. Now I’ll try.

From the GMs side of the table I think the most important thing you can do is try and manage the pace of the game. Pacing is paramount in any good story. Track the up and down beats, find those transitional moments where you can move things from act to act whether your using the three act Hollywood structure, or any of the other various storytelling methods. Don’t be afraid to build in choke points in your stories, places where all the strands of your plot lead to. You can do this with out railroading. Just because the strands lead to a single event doesn’t mean you can’t have the world react to the events leading up to this single event and change how it begins, progresses, and/or resolves. Railroading is more about making the players choices feel unimportant than guiding them to a specific event. They won’t care if you’ve let them take actions that matter to the story at hand.

As players we can watch for the story beats too. We can take actions that help guide the story in ways we want for our characters, pace our stories, and exert pressure on the over arching plots. Some people would think of this as a tug of war between the GM and the players but I feel that’s the wrong way to look at it. Groups with excellent chemistry, and I’ve seen this in campaigns and conventions games, will get into a flow, almost like the tide rolling in and out, where each person gives and takes in a rhythm creating that perfect pocket of gaming. There’s no one way to do it either. Each group has their own pocket based on the people involved, the game they’re playing, and the perceived expectations. It’s the groups own personal rhythm.

I know this seems hypothetical but there are ways to help create this storytelling “zone”. I just happen to think pacing is the most important part of setting yourself up to achieve this. To help with pacing I suggest buying Hamlets Hit Points by Robin Laws, but if you don’t feel like it you can always try this. Make yourself an arrow. Whenever there is an up beat turn the arrow up, down beats you turn the arrow down. If you ever have three up or down beats in a row make sure the next beat is different. This will help keep your pace interesting to the players. If you’re a player and notice the games had to many beats in a row of one kind or another push to create that opposite beat. If you’re not sure what up and down beats are I’ll try to explain. An up beat is where something good happens in the story and a down beat is something bad occurring. There are also lateral beats where something happens but nothing really changes. Make sure you don’t have to many of those in a row either.

A lot of storytelling in gaming is about knowing what the parts are so you’re aware of them. Many of us can tell stories intuitively because our society has so many of them. We can flick on the TV, open a book, power up our eReaders, or play a video game. Almost everything in our lives having to do with entertainment has some kind of story associated with it. We’re immersed in storytelling. Now ask yourself what goes into telling a story? What are the parts, the bits and pieces, comprising a story? That question is a lot harder to answer definitively. Hopefully this idea of pacing and story beats helps get you on the road to understanding, and getting more enjoyment out of, your games.

May 15 2012

Episode #11 – Monsters and the Avengers

011 – Monsters and the Avengers

Howdy folks. I’m on a bit of a tight schedule this week so the show notes might be a little late but for a preview of what you’ll find is some Lords of Waterdeeep and Undermountain talk in the the Gameroom, a chat about Monsters in your games in the Workshop, and a little dice jewelry and Whedon fanboyism concerning his run on the Astonishing X-Men in the Freeze. Be careful during the Freeze because we get into the Avengers movie and their are SPOILERS.

Show Notes

0:00 – Chris’ Phone

1:14 – The Gameroom – Lords of Waterdeep, Defender, Undermountain

10:12 – The Workshop – Flavoring, Weaknesses, Research, Building from Scratch, Balance, Monsters for Home Play vs Monsters for Publication,

32:53 – The Freeze – Geeky Arts and Crafts, Joss Whedon and the Astonishing X-Men(Outdated Spoilers!), Avengers(Current Spoilers!)


Lords of Waterdeep
Halls of Undermountain
Jar of Dreams
Astonishing X-Men on Hulu

May 10 2012

Worlds of “OUR” Imagination

I’m firmly in the house of world building with your players. I hear tell of the “this is the GM’s story and the players are just following” mentality. Is that still a mentality? Do people still play games like that? This whole idea of the GM deciding what game we play and then building their home brew world in a vacuum so the players can experience their creativity seems a little counter intuitive to the idea of the Role Playing Game, especially the sensibilities of the modern Role Playing Game. I would even argue the games people have enjoyed the most over the years, at any table, are those games with cooperative world building even if the group didn’t realize they were doing it.

Lets take all those people who’ve played the Temple of Elemental Evil, *SPOILER ALERT* the classic adventure written by Gygax and Mentzer. When you read it, there’s nothing there. It’s a town with some people who might have a motivation or two but most of them are blank slates. The moat house is also just a dungeon with a bunch of monsters, mostly intelligent, and Lareth the Beautiful, the shining hope of chaotic evil. It doesn’t say what his plans are or what he’s doing in the moat house with this small army of intelligent monstrous humanoids. There’s no story. It’s left up to the GM to decide and it feels like a mad lib. Some GM’s make decisions right away and lock into those without deviating from the story. Nothing wrong with that and I’m sure those players probably had a good time, but there are other GM’s who waited to see what the players did. By waiting the GM was inspired by his players choices and fed into them making the game about the players characters. These choices not only further the story but make the players feel like the story is about them, giving them authority to bring more ideas to the table and helping to flesh out the setting or build the world.

Think about the interactions the players characters had or could have in your Homlett. They probably created relationships and inspired personalities the GM hadn’t thought of. Maybe the black smith fighter PC decided to befriend the local black smith brother Smyth. They had conversations which brought up topics the GM latched onto and made part of Brother Smyths character. Maybe one of the PC’s got in Kobort the Fighters good graces and befriended him. Maybe this made the GM think Kobort might end up being more loyal to the PC than to Turuko, the Monk who Kobort worked with to ambush weakened adventurers coming back from their expeditions. This makes for a dramatic point where Kobort decides to not ambush the party with Turuko and part ways with him. Now Kobort is a loyal friend. This isn’t in the module and is a player helping to build the world or flesh out a character through their actions. These are examples of player inspired world building and they’re just two of the many examples of incidental world building I’ve seen at my table. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

I think GM’s have been doing this since Arneson started delving under Castle Blackmoor. From everything I’ve ever read and listened to about his style of play it seems about right. This incidental world building isn’t the only kind that has existed from the early days. In GURPS, you can take the Enemy disadvantage. You just created a foe in the world for yourself. It’s something you wanted and now it exists. That’s a little less incidental than the GM just cuing off players actions. The Traveler character creation system also has some potential world building involved with it. Your character can be older with a life path filled with character building experiences. Those experiences probably had interactions with people, organizations, and events. Even if the events and organizations are established by the setting the people may not be. These are things created because of the player.

Today a lot of RPG’s take this world building idea and give more control of it to the players and I think it’s on purpose. I believe RPG’s have more focus. With more games and media we have more choice. If you want a challenging dungeon crawl where you fear death around every corner and you want a less arbitrary feeling to the situation you can play Descent from Fantasy Flight or several other board games in the dungeon crawl category. This is because RPG’s aren’t inherently balanced to make for a fair play experience. RPG’s are built to allow you to tell stories. If you want mass battles you play table top war games like Warhammer 40k or Warhammer Fantasy Battles. If you want the story of being a heroic warrior wading through hordes of enemies then you play an RPG. If you want a game about managing a kingdom and dealing with the month to month of sending out armies, spies, and managing your kingdoms resources you can play board games or viedo games like Civilization or Nobunaga’s Ambition. If you want to focus on being the king and his court dealing with the intrigue, political manipulations, and interactions with the people around you and the story that unfolds then you play an RPG. It’s about story these days and part of the story is creating the setting your playing in. Games like the Dresden Files understand and do this well with the city creation system. The players get to help create the cities important locations, themes, and NPC’s from scratch. Dread asks the players a bunch of questions before the game starts so the fearful things in the game can surround the players. Smallville has a great system for creating relationship maps which build up the story of the setting. In a Wicked Age keeps things vague so the players can build upon the pieces. Fiasco is the same way. Roll up a bunch of elements, but let the players decide as a group what the world is really like and the people present in it. It seems the trend it to give players more authority over how the world is shaped.

One of the best tricks I’ve seen to get players invested in a world is to have each of them tell the GM about the lands they come from. Society, life, commerce, culture, whatever they want, but every bit the players give is a boon to the GM: It’s little less work, more creative material to pull from, and when the stuff a player created shows up at the table they’ll be more invested in those moments. That energy can and will infect your other players creating a win-win situation. I heard this trick from Chad on Fear the Boot. I also have been using this trick without realizing it for a while. Once and a while I ask my players for things they’d like to see in the game which gives me bit of inspiration to work with and lets them assist in building the world.

A lot of these ideas come from things I’ve heard, read, and internalized. Maybe they’re not for every one. I’m not above thinking I’m off here. Inventing relationships between players and NPC’s might not be considered traditional world building. Maybe its plot or conflict construction but I still think anytime a player engages in an activity which creates something, be it a relationship, NPC, plot, race, country, or world, I consider it world building. They’re creating history with every action. They’re creating something everytime they speak in character or act. I just think GM’s shouldn’t just listen to players when they’re acting but actively encourage them to build up the world right along with them.

As always feel free to comment. I love a good discussion and am always trying to learn more.

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

May 09 2012

Episode #10 – Interview with a Gnome

010 – Interview with a Gnome

This week we have special guest Phil Vecchione AKA DNAPhil from the ennie award winning Gnome Stew blog. In addition he brought one of his friends from his gaming group, Myke Niemira. He gives us a behind the scenes look at the games he, Phil, and their friends play, and the idea’s Phil has mined from those games for the Stew. We
also talk about engine publishing, Masks, Eureka, and their newest book Never Unprepared, written by Phil. Enjoy.

Show Notes

1:55 – The Gameroom

8:40 – The Workshop with Phil Vecchione.

9:25 – What’s the Gnome Stew?

10:25 – Why Phil likes blogging.

11:12 – Treasure Tables Blog

14:10 – Birth of the Gnome Stew

19:27 – Other bloggers/ Friend or Foe?

21:27 – Our favorite Gnome Stew Articles

29:22 – Engine Publishing

30:30 – Eurkea 501 plots

38:04 – Masks 1000 NPC’s for your games

48:00 – Game night rotation

51:30 – Never Unprepared, the new book.

69:48 – A little about copyright and Pirating.

73:15 – What Phil does when he’s not writing or gaming.

77:23 – The Freeze (Avengers – No spoilers, and Monte Cook leaving WotC)


Engine Publishing 
Kingmaker for Pathfinder 
Houses of the Blooded 
Warhammer 40K 
Guitar Hero 
Forbiden Island
Halls of Undermountain
Savage Worlds: Rippers 
Changeling the Lost
Lords of Waterdeep 
Treasure Tables 
Gnome Stew 
Burning Empires
Break the Ice
Shooting the Moon 
Critical Hits
Drive thru RPG 
Conspirisy X
Name Generator
Studio 2 
Steve Jackson 
Sean Patrick Fannon 
Reality Blurs 
Silvervine games 
Con on the Cob
Role Playing Public Radio
Faery’s Tail 
Little Fears 
Iron Heroes
36 Dramatic Situations

May 03 2012

Party Members, ASSEMBLE!

One thing that 4th edition D&D introduced was a codefied set of roles for characters to fulfill within the party. The roles were the Defender, Striker, Controller, and Leader.

After our last podcast, I started thinking about what roles a player might fulfill as part of a gaming group. I came up with the following.

  • Rules Lawyer
The Rules Lawyer is the player who knows the rules the best. Whenever a question about the rules comes up, this player is quick to settle the dispute. I tend to equate the Rules Lawyer with the role of Striker. You can get along without one, but the game can bog down and turn into a grueling slog. It’s rare for a party to ever consider not having at least one Rules Lawyer on the team.
  • Secretary
The Secretary is the player who keeps track of what has happened in the game. This player takes notes, and can often remind other players about important details that happened several sessions ago.  I equate the Secretary with the Controller. Often, this role is the first to be considered non-mandatory, but without someone meeting this need, a game can derail into a mess of searching through DM’s notes, or maybe a wiki on Obsidian Portal.
  • Instigator
The Instigator is the player who breaks down the door when things start to get boring. The instigator will drive the plot forward, and often set the pace. I equate an Instigator with a Defender. Defenders are often the first in the room, setting up the front line, and setting the pace of an encounter. If you don’t have an Instigator, you may spend 5 minutes standing outside of a door in a dungeon, debating 3 different courses of action, which all end up boiling down to ‘open the door and kill things’.
  • Glue-Man
The Glue-Man is the player who keeps the group together by filling in cracks. When the DM gets into a fight with the Rule’s Laywer, the Glue-Man keeps the peace. When the Instigator breaks down a door and finds that they just walked into an overwhelming trap, the Glue-Man keeps people from blaming the instigator for biting off more than the party can chew. The Glue-Man is like a Leader, making everyone perform their jobs better, and shoring up weaknesses. Many people consider a Leader to be the must-have-role for a party. The same goes for a Glue-Man.
There are a few secondary roles that may also bolster a party of players.
  • Mapper
The Mapper will draw out maps as a party traverses a large dungeon, or can sometimes draw embellishments on tactical maps that create a more interactive environment. Having a mapper in the party can help make a boring 10×10 room into a den of cultists with altars, pools of radiance, swirling vortices of elemental energy, and decaying corpses of ritual sacrifices.
  • Storyteller
The Storyteller builds up the story of the world and the adventure. The Storyteller will also often break up a mundane tactical encounter with fantastic descriptions of mundane actions. Storytellers don’t just swing their sword at an orc. They sucker him into lowering his guard with a feint, and then drive their steel blade through his neck, and use his now lifeless body as a shield against an incoming volley of crossbow bolts.
  • Artist

The Artist will sometimes spend time drawing sketches of characters, or important scenes. This generally happens when the player feels their character can’t contribute strongly to whatever scene is currently taking place. Some DMs see this behavior and think the player isn’t paying attention. Don’t make that assumption lightly. Allowing an Artist this expression may be what keeps them interested.


Lets talk about how these things mix and match a little.

I had an Instigator who was an Artist as the secondary role. When it was time for combat, this player burst in and set the tone for intense combat encounters, but would then retreat into the Artist role during non-combat scenes.

I had a Glue-Man who was a Mapper as a secondary role. Whenever I broke out a grid, I could ask this player to draw me something like a temple ruins, and as I set up minis, got stats up, and rolled for my monster’s initiative, he would sketch out an amazing layout with me providing slight nudges to get what I needed for the encounter I had planned.

Between sessions, the Secretary can then document events, update Wikis, and email players with updated group treasury numbers.

I had a Rules Lawyer with a Storyteller secondary role once. It was awesome, because this player would keep the rules flowing, and still describe amazing scenes as he took his character actions.


GM – Yes, the GM is a player, and he can fulfill these roles too. The GM should be a little bit of everything above. The GM knows the rules, pushes the game forward, generates maps, keeps peace between warring personalities, and tracks the history and future of the game. In short, the GM is the Bard class.


Tell me about your players, and what roles they fill as part of the party. Are you missing any specific role? How has it affected your group? Do you have a role that I’ve missed? How does it fit in with the rest of the party?

May 03 2012

From the Other Side – A Players Perspective

I GM most of the games I play in these days but a few years back I was playing in a weekly game and running a weekly game. It was pure bliss. All the while I was learning all kinds of things since I got to see how things worked from both sides of the screen. I dealt with the frustrations, triumphs, trends of my dice (both good and bad), the twists and turns of the story, and all the up and downs as GM and player. Today I wanna talk a little bit about the things I learned from the player side such as player expectations, what I can and can’t get away with as a GM, and what gets players excited. I think the most important thing I learned was players have just as much responsibility for creating a fun and exciting gaming environment as the GM. That means we, as players, are not to wait for the GM to entertain us. Let me say it one more time because it’s important.

We are not to wait for the GM to entertain us.

Ok, now that I’ve said it twice I suppose I should explain what I mean if you’re not sure. If you think you know just keep reading to see if we agree. If we don’t leave a comment so I can see what you think. I’m always trying to learn.

I believe it’s the players job to help engage the GM and the other players at the table and here are some of the ideas players can use to do so:

  • Bring energy to the table. If you bring energy to the table as a player and believably to your character then any GM worth their salt will feed on that energy. Now energy doesn’t just mean be over bearing and bouncy. It mean come with an interest in what’s going for all the characters and be supportive to the story.
  • Give the other players at the table insight into what a characters belief structure is. So you’re bent on vengance because your father murdered your mother while you stood by and watched helplessly. You probably have some issues. How would a character act if this was their defining moment? What other defining moments does this character have? How would those affect their development? Once you answer some of these questions the only thing you need to be aware of is this game is about cooperative storytelling. That means you need to find a way to open up this information to the rest of the group. It doesn’t have to be all at once. It doesn’t even have to be nice, but try and remember the basic structure of the game your playing and work your story into it. It helps to find another character who is most likely to help you tell your story which leads to the next point.
  • Help each other bring out the backrounds, quirks, and stories of the characters. If you find ways to relate to each others characters stories or create sympathetic strands between the characters lives the information goes from being something in the backround of the game to a tool binding the characters together. This helps drive group decisions and creates group cohesion. This also gives the GM’s fodder with which to work. Now the GM has more tools to create compelling situations specific to things the characters care about.
  • Make a declaration and roll with it. Just because you haven’t said it yet or don’t have it written on your character sheet doesn’t mean it can’t be true. There are plenty of times in storytelling when we find out something about a character that we didn’t realize before but in retrospect it makes perfect sense. Trust me when I say writers don’t always have these connections and background bits in some master outline they write from and never stray off of. Sometimes they just write in things that make sense for the character and help drive the story forward. You can do that too. Things aren’t truths about the game world your playing in until they’re stated and even then they can be changed through perceptions and preconceived notions.
  • Don’t dominate the table. If you have a big mouth don’t take the spotlight all the time and when you do take the spotlight try to share it with others or shine it on someone else. I know a guy who shows up all the time to games and is a decent player but he’s a spotlight guy. When the spotlight is on him he’s engaged and doing his thing but when it’s not he’s just sort of sitting back and waiting for his time to come around again. There’s nothing wrong with this but I always think of games as ensemble casts. Sometimes the ensemble is helping build the scene together, sharing ideas, and including people in them. Recognize those moments. Push to be inclusive and not a solo act. It will allow you to act more often and engage the other people at the table.
  • The GM should not be the sole creator of content for your games. Depending on the game you can suggest things you’d like to see in the game. This can be through character conversation and action, asking the GM, or you can just declare it if the game give the players that much narrative control. Some GM’s will chafe at this style because they aren’t good at improvising but those GM’s will hopefully realize this actually makes their lives easier. It means they don’t always need to come up with the plot or the story. The players can take some of that responsibility for starting these arcs and it’s on the GM’s to help the players resolve them for good or ill.
  • Don’t be afraid to give the GM idea’s, especially if they would cause you more trouble. RPG’s are about telling stories which is a kind of fun. Stories are about drama and drama is created through conflict. Since trouble is just a kind of conflict that means trouble equals more fun. So giving your GM idea’s to cause you more trouble is actually giving your GM ideas so you can have more fun. Can you ken it.

That’s all I got this week folks. Let me know what you’re thinking and if you have other ideas to bring more fun to the group from the players seat.

Chris “The Light” Sniezak

May 01 2012

Episode #9 – The New Format

The New Format – This week we have a new format. Well I guess I should say we finally have a format with segments and everything. We talk about what we’ve been playing in The Game room then discuss ways you can go about putting together a gaming group and finish up with a couple cool things in the freeze.

0:50   Intro

2:31  The Gameroom

12:22 The Workshop – Building your gaming group

36:19 The Freeze


Battle Star Galactica Board Game
Changeling: The Lost
Miskatonic School For Girls
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade Game
X-Men Arcade Game
Small World
Lords of Waterdeep
Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness
Penny Arcade
Pen and Paper Games Find gamers in your area.
Dragon Snack Games
The Dark Knight Rises
D&D Open Play Test
Origins Game Fair
Dinocalypse Trilogy
Spirit of the Century
Dresden Files RPG
Evil Hat