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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About GMing * But Were Afraid to Ask

Posted By Martin Ralya On February 2, 2010 @ 1:59 am In GMing Advice | 48 Comments

Are there GMing questions you’d like to ask, but that you’re kind of of embarrassed about asking?

Questions that seem too basic, too simple, or too should-be-obvious to ask other GMs in person?

Here on the Stew, we love practical GMing questions — and there’s no shame in asking them. Any of them.

I’ve been GMing for over 20 years, and I still fuck up on a semi-regular basis. All of the other gnomes make mistakes, too — and all of us have gaps in our GMing experience and knowledge, too.

Got something you want to know more about, and nowhere or no one to ask? Ask us!

Let’s turn the comments for this article into a roundtable discussion, where GMs — gnomes and readers alike — can weigh in on each others’ embarassing GMing questions.

(Or it could turn out that no one has any embarassing GMing questions, of course! But I don’t think that’s the case. We shall see!)

About  Martin Ralya

A father, husband, writer, small-press publisher, former RPG industry freelancer, and lifelong geek, Martin has been gaming since 1987 and GMing since 1989. He lives in Utah with his amazing wife Alysia and their awesome daughter Lark in a house full of books and games.




48 Comments (Open | Close)

48 Comments To "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About GMing * But Were Afraid to Ask"

#1 Comment By Tabulazero On February 1, 2010 @ 3:04 am

* How do you organise your DM notes? *

I must confess I am quite a disorganised person. I’ve been looking without success so far at the best way to organise my notes. How do you do it? Do you write for instance full room descriptions or just key words?

#2 Comment By saganaki On February 1, 2010 @ 4:04 am

@Tabulazero – index cards are my secret weapon, combined with a general-purpose notebook in which I keep my ideas for events in a given session (usually in bullet-point form).

If you’ve got access to the internet while gaming (ie a gm-laptop sort of dealy), Obsidian Portal ( http://www.obsidianportal.com )is a great resource for keeping your NPCs and setting info at your fingertips.

#3 Comment By DNAphil On February 1, 2010 @ 5:58 am

@Tabulazero – Over the past few years I have become a big fan of Microsoft OneNote. If you are not familiar with it, its worth going over to the MS site and checking it out. It is essentially a free-from note taking application, that lets you create notebooks, with tabs, and then pages (and sub-pages) within the tabs.

On a page, you can create various text boxes, links, and embed pictures. It has some drawing tools, but that is by far its weakness.

I typically set up 2 linked notebooks for each game I am running. The first is my GM information, and the second is for my session notes. Then I just create tabs and pages as needed for things I am working on.

While it is not online like Obsidian Portal, you can share notebooks across a network, or sync copies on multiple machines.

#4 Comment By Katana_Geldar On February 2, 2010 @ 3:19 am

How do you decide if it is worth going back to an old campaign you abandoned before the end with new players?

#5 Comment By Enchelion On February 2, 2010 @ 3:48 am

@Tabulazero
I tend to use a hybrid system. I use OneNote when organizing for a game (prep time) and keep a legal pad at hand for in-game notes and thoughts. I also like to keep NPC writeups in a small spiral notebook (4×8) with a full page (front/back) devoted to each one so I can flip through easily.

#6 Comment By Tabulazero On February 2, 2010 @ 3:51 am

But how do you organise your page? What layout do you use? for
– Dungeon
– Event driven stories
– NPC

Any sample you could show?

#7 Comment By jknevitt On February 2, 2010 @ 7:38 am

@Katana_Geldar
I usually assess is the new players would enjoy the actual play experience I had with the old players, rather than the planned play experience. If the campaign wasn’t that great the first time around, I’d have serious misgivings about running it again. That said, if it was totally awesome but I abandoned it for some other reason, then I’d very definitely try it again. Of course there is an element of player input, and that can shape the tone and outcome of a campaign, so if I thought the new players would bring something new and fresh and fun to the old campaign I was dusting off, I’d go for it.

#8 Comment By lunarobverse On February 2, 2010 @ 8:54 am

My question is one of story. Campaign is standard 3e D&D.

I started a campaign six months ago with the players discovering that an NPC, a keeper of a lighthouse, was missing and his family murdered. I had some backstory for him at the time – he was once a powerful wizard, but gave it all up because he believed that magic would one day, um, cause something bad to happen. Because science and magic is the central conflict I’d like the campaign to focus on.

See, I didn’t think it through enough. I figured on coming up with more details as the campaign progressed.

Now that we’ve been playing a while, I want to wrap up the initial mystery, but I’m not sure it all hangs together as a story. The bad guys I’ve introduced don’t seem capable of trapping or killing such a powerful (though inactive) wizard. And I can’t think of a good enough reason for him to have broken his vow to balance out the loss of his family.

I need some ideas. Help!

#9 Comment By Razjah On February 2, 2010 @ 8:54 am

@Tabulazero: I use a binder with dividers for my GM notes because I hate GMing with a laptop. I organize it into World info, story points to hit/goals for the session, encounters, graph paper to map out encounters and whatever else I need.

I usually have a separate folder with paper protectors for maps, important NPCs, BBEG, and some other stuff like a list of names to grab for npcs.

@Katana_Geldar: It depends on how good the old game was and where you want to pick it up. If you were half way done with some huge quest that the new players wouldn’t grasp then don’t do it. If it was a nice breaking point and the game was good- then I say go for it. As long as everyone knows what game you are going to do and they give the green light, it will be good.

#10 Comment By Razjah On February 2, 2010 @ 9:31 am

@lunarobverse – can you give a little more info about the game for use to work with? What kind of vow was it? Did the bad guy break his vow or did the former mage?

If it was the bad guy, who is pretending to be a good guy, the lighthouse keeper could have discovered that the bad guy was planning to use the light house for some kind of evil ritual and BBEG killed him before he could report to anyone. BBEG could have hired an assassin for the job, or sent a team of people to kill the mage when he was unprepared. Mages are powerful, but a good sneak attack and a plot weapon will surely end the old mage.

#11 Comment By thelesuit On February 2, 2010 @ 11:18 am

@Tabulazero: I’ve looked at MS OneNote and it seems like it would be really cool…but I haven’t sprung for it at this point. I use good old MS Word — as really most of what I do is “words”. I have a really nice template for NPCs (modeled off the normal stat block) which I generally drop into a table to include one cell for an NPC portrait (which the web provides in prodigious numbers).

I tend to organize things by encounters or settings, inserting lists for things like loot and tables for everything else. I might use a single word document for an evening’s adventure and then cut and paste all the relevant bits into the next session’s document. I generally GM from my laptop or from a small stack of printed documents…though I hate the separation that an open laptop fosters.

@lunarobverse: Poison is the great equalizer here. Wizards have crap FORT saves and a moderately sophisticated poisoner can easily take one out without endangering himself in the process.

#12 Comment By GiacomoArt On February 2, 2010 @ 12:03 pm

@lunarobverse: Your simple, classic answer is that the wizard’s fears were founded, and magic did indeed cause something bad to happen. Maybe he quit the business too late, after the wheels were already set in motion, and it came time to pay the piper. Maybe he got cornered into using his magic “one more time” as the supposed lesser of evils, and disaster struck. Or maybe he’s the accidental victim of someone else’s imprudent magic use. And even if you were only being vague in case one of your players read it, and “something bad” is already well defined in your head, maybe he was afraid of more than that one thing all along and never bothered to tell you…

#13 Comment By Scott Martin On February 2, 2010 @ 2:00 pm

@Katana_Geldar – You should never just go back– if you decide it was a good story, use the framework, but take some of the time you’re saving to build custom subplots or otherwise customize the “small story” to the new PCs. It’ll be more a hybrid than a straight retelling.

#14 Comment By Joe_Sixpack On February 2, 2010 @ 3:07 pm

How do I decide how many players to have in my game?

#15 Comment By Patrick Benson On February 2, 2010 @ 4:17 pm

@Joe_Sixpack – That is such a tough one because so much of it depends upon other variables.

I would decide how many players to have in the game based upon these factors:

1) Your comfort level with the group. The less comfortable you are the fewer players you should have in the game.
2) The game system’s complexity. Simpler systems can usually handle more players better than difficult systems will.
3) The players’ experience with the game system. If the players know the rules you can handle more players. In this case “players” includes yourself as the GM.
4) The personalities at the table. Impatient people might not enjoy a game with a large group. A group of fast paced participants can handle a larger group better.

I know that doesn’t really answer your question, but I hope that it gives you a better idea on how to find the answer.

#16 Comment By GiacomoArt On February 2, 2010 @ 4:35 pm

@Joe_Sixpack – Until you learn the comfort zone specific to your game and personal style, your best bet is to target the sweet spot of 4 to 6 players (plus yourself). For most groups, that’s enough players to develop an interesting web of social dynamics, but not so many as to become unmanageable.

#17 Comment By Tyson J. Hayes On February 2, 2010 @ 8:02 pm

@Tabulazero – I was actually asking myself that question yesterday, and came up with Evernote as a good solution for myself. I wrote about it here: http://www.apathygames.com/2010/02/02/organizing-your-hooks/

As for my question, when is it the best time to abort a campaign? I have had some campaigns that have just dragged down into nothing. I’m uninspired, not feeling it and generally want to kill it. What is the best time to start killing it and any advice on how to wrap it up?

#18 Comment By Sigurd On February 2, 2010 @ 8:09 pm

@lunarobverse – Your lighthouse recluse was not alone when he vowed to give up magic. He was part of a cabal that, unknown to your recluse, found a simple way to gain more power. They each would have to give up the lives of one of their family.
Of course when your recluse entered the spellcasting ritual he discovered the conditions and immediately broke the ceremony and fled from the other members of the cabal.
Your bad guys are somehow related to the original cabal. They killed his family to remove any barrier to him returning. Or perhaps they were just hired to kill his family out of spite. (that allows them to be of any level) Perhaps they missed someone that the recluse is still protecting. Perhaps the wizard knows that to take up his power he will somehow complete the pact that he gave up magic to prevent. Completing the pact might doom a remaining relative or damn one of their souls.

#19 Comment By Sigurd On February 2, 2010 @ 8:14 pm

What are the top 5 things you do as a DM to save time writing adventures?
How do you handle NPCs that are not necessarily important in detail?
Can you tell me a likely number of sources you use for making an adventure? (I know this is an impossible question.)
Do you try to take characters through a full range of levels or do you close an adventure after a given level or typically start beyond a given level? What are your choice levels?

You asked for questions :)

#20 Comment By Sigurd On February 2, 2010 @ 8:16 pm

@Sigurd – Perhaps a poignant story line could be the father that knows he will damn the mothers soul but is forced to do so to save their child.

S

#21 Comment By Martin Ralya On February 2, 2010 @ 8:27 pm

@Tabulazero – I keep a notepad behind my screen, and I use either it or my printed-out adventure notes to take notes on anything important from the session. I wrote a free PDF a few years back that details my note-taking method, which might or might not be useful to you.

@Katana_Geldar – I’ve never really had this opportunity come up, although I’d like to try it sometime.

@lunarobverse – I’m not sure this is really an embarrassing question — it sounds like a tricky situation. Since you know quite a bit about the wizard and your main bad guys, I’d start by asking yourself what you’d do in their shoes.

Think of it like actors going through a scene in a movie, except that at some point they run out of scripted dialogue. Put them in a situation where the problems you want to resolve come up, and then just see how they — acting things out in your head — resolve them.

@Joe_Sixpack – It depends (like Patrick said) — how many have you GMing for before? How many people have asked to play? How well do you know them? Is your game of choice best with a certain number?

As a rule of thumb, I’d say stick to four.

#22 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On February 2, 2010 @ 8:55 pm

@Tabulazero – OneNote is great for general background campaign info, and even for house rules. I think a TiddlyWiki would work better, but all my effort’s already in OneNote.

Sessions are played with paper. Even though I wrote two articles about laptops at the gaming table (here and here), I’m back to pressed planes of wood pulp. Savage Worlds critters easily fit on a 3×5 card, and my session notes are on a half-sized legal pad.

I’m not totally satisfied, though. More advice is welcome.

@Katana_Geldar – If you’re jazzed about it, then it’s worth it. If you’re just trying to save prep time, you’re just being lazy.

@lunarobverse – The lighthouse keeper was right. He cast a spell out of desperation, and Something Bad showed up with a vengeance. The BBEG is now trying to figure out how to recruit Something Bad.

@Joe_Sixpack – Four or five quality players. I’d rather have three good players than four mediocre ones.

@Tyson J. Hayes – When you get really uninspired, talk to the players about the campaign, and ask them what they want out of it. Maybe a new direction will spur your creativity. Otherwise, let them know it’s time to move on.

@Sigurd
– Create locations, situations, and NPCs, and improv from there. Everything else is wasted time.
– Stereotypes. The merchant’s curt because his stockboy’s sick. The tailor loves to talk about himself.
– Can you restate the question?
– Until it gets unwieldy. Savage Worlds doesn’t do levels, but in D&D 3.5 terms I prefer levels 3-8.

My question: How much time do you prep for each session, broken down into background info and session-specific preparation? (i.e. “I usually spend 2-3 hours per session growing the setting, and 2-3 hours per session with descriptions, stat blocks, etc.”)

#23 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On February 2, 2010 @ 9:00 pm

Stupid HTML – right fucking HERE and over THERE, dammit!

#24 Comment By Sigurd On February 2, 2010 @ 10:14 pm

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – Thanks for the response.

I think my impossible question arises from the wealth of OGL material and the burden of writing for same. I’m finding Pathfinder a blast because there is _less_ published. Only, now as my experience with the rules makes 3.5 stuff more easily converted I’m looking at too many sources.

Faster character creation has to be a great advantage of Sav Worlds.

Q – Do you consciously limit your preparation sources? If so, what is your criteria?

Sigurd

#25 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On February 2, 2010 @ 10:25 pm

Back when I played 3.5, I used HeroForge to build critters that ‘advance by level’. I opened up my campaign to most WotC sources, but preferred the Complete series because the early ones had better editing and balance (IMHO).

Were I to play 3.5 today, I’d probably have limits for myself and the players. It is definitely possible to have too much variety, and too many choices. Especially when prep is so involved. When the game turns into having the “latest and greatest”, I tend to check out.

Yes, prep for Savage Worlds is easy, especially for GMs. Give the critter what it should have, and forget about the rules, templates, and other restrictions. d6 Agility, but d12 Fighting (which should be based on Agility)? No problem…

#26 Comment By Martin Ralya On February 2, 2010 @ 11:29 pm

@Kurt “Telas” Schneider – My prep usually shakes out to about 75-100% of the time I expect to spend playing the next session. So if it’s a six-hour session, I’ll spend 4.5-6 hours prepping.

I tend to run published worlds, so all of my prep (or nearly all) is focused on session-specific stuff and arc/campaign considerations, with nothing going into setting growth.

#27 Comment By Martin Ralya On February 2, 2010 @ 11:34 pm

@SigurdWhat are the top 5 things you do as a DM to save time writing adventures?

1. Know my group
2. Know my NPCs, so I can react to the unexpected
3. Leave it until the last minute ;-)
4. Steal stats wherever possible
5. Use what my players hand me

How do you handle NPCs that are not necessarily important in detail?

I don’t spend much time on them. Stats? None. Notes? None. Attention paid in-game? Minimal.

Can you tell me a likely number of sources you use for making an adventure? (I know this is an impossible question.)

For what system? This is a really variable question.

Keeping it general, I get inspired from all sorts of books, but generally reference 1-3 books for session prep.

Do you try to take characters through a full range of levels or do you close an adventure after a given level or typically start beyond a given level? What are your choice levels?

This sounds like D&D. I’ve never run a D&D game that made it past level 10, though I’ve played in them. I prefer starting at around level 3 in past editions; I like 1st level in 4e. I have trouble wrapping my head around epic-feeling play, just as a personal preference, so I gravitate towards the lower levels.

#28 Comment By lunarobverse On February 3, 2010 @ 1:36 am

Many thanks to all for the awesome suggestions! I feel bad that my first post here was a question, and not a solution, but I’ve been kept away from the computer all day. I shall return, though; this site kicks ass and I’d like to continue to contribute.

#29 Comment By Martin Ralya On February 3, 2010 @ 6:38 am

@lunarobverse – If there’s anywhere on the web where your first post is more than welcome to be a question, it’s here on the Stew — we love answering GMing questions, and so do many of our readers. :-)

#30 Comment By jleckron On February 3, 2010 @ 10:12 am

OK, here is the lead up to my question: I started a Dnd4e campaign a while ago. I had my players come up with basic character concepts, but didn’t push for a ton of background because I already had an initial story in mind. Now, as we’re approaching the end of that story, and the beginning of the larger arc, I’d like to start tying in more of the characters back stories. Problem is, none of my players have really developed them yet, despite frequent prodding and pointed questions. I even sent them a handy-dandy “list of background questions” that they could fill out and send back to me.

So here is the question: How do I get my players to actually sit down and pound out some back story? Should I print out a worksheet and have them fill it out before we can start our next session? Do I offer them shinies? Do I forget about it and just go ahead without them?

#31 Comment By tommy the gangrel On February 3, 2010 @ 10:19 am

I have a question about the source books. There are tons of DND source books to help you become a complete warrior/mage/adventurer, etc. As to the World of Darkness, WOW, they have prepared setting books for each clan! So I’m really confused that whether it’s necessary to read all these things before GM a game? And is it possible to tell a good story simply using the core rulebook?

#32 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On February 3, 2010 @ 10:35 am

@jleckron – If bribery doesn’t work, nothing will. Start small: Offer a free Action Point if they’ll briefly tell you about their family. Are they still alive? Where are they now? How’d they die? Do you get along with them? Rinse and repeat…

Also, make sure they know that you’re not going to turn all their families into hostages. They may be hesitant because of that threat (real or imagined).

@tommy the gangrel – No, they are absolutely not necessary. We told awesome stories with Basic D&D. Good NPCs do far more for a story than good mechanics.

#33 Comment By lunarobverse On February 3, 2010 @ 11:02 am

@jleckron:

I have a similar situation in my current group; I want the campaign to be all of us, together, creating a story and the world, and I’d like the players to be more involved in coming up with details and background, or at least helping me with ideas of what they’d like their characters to be doing. I’ve been asking them, and not everyone has answered me. I thought I was doing something wrong.

But then I found an article that lists out different player types, and sent it to them, asking them which type they identify with:

http://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/rpg/theory/models/robinslaws.html

And it opened my eyes to something; everyone has fun in different ways. Some folks might love coming up with character background; some folks might like just kicking ass and taking names; some folks might just enjoy being there in the group.

And at least one of them replied that they’re a casual gamer, and are just happy to be there and socializing with the rest of the group. I think if I push him to come up with more background, that he’ll resent it and might become dissatisfied from the pressure to go outside his comfort zone. So for now, I’ll just accept that he’s having fun just being there on gaming night, and maybe find other things to motivate him, or maybe as he becomes more comfortable he’ll try other styles of play. Or maybe not. Either way, as long as he’s enjoying himself and participating, it’s good.

Two of my other players see themselves as storytellers, and although they’ve given some thought to their characters’ background, it’s not as important as being part of the ongoing story as it develops.

#34 Comment By GiacomoArt On February 3, 2010 @ 12:01 pm

@tommy the gangrel – Not only are supplements unneccessary by their very nature (i.e.: “supplemental”), but they can even hurt a game more than they help it, paralyzing players with information overload, and adding unwelcome layers of complexity to an already complicated pasttime. Start with the default position that any given supplement is not being used in your game until you see a compelling reason to include it; as opposed to assuming that any supplement is part of the game until you see a compelling reason to exclude it.

#35 Comment By Sigurd On February 3, 2010 @ 3:09 pm

@jleckron – A little bribery is a good natured reminder. A lot of bribery is hurting the game for the sake of people who aren’t playing it very well or simply rewarding bad roleplay.

Generally, if a circumstance means you have to talk to the players that is the best course to take. Be really nice and tell them what they’re missing not what you want. Offer them something new to try. If that is their gaming style you might as well work with it as it won’t change quickly. Keep on offering the carrot but don’t create a situation where they are only motivated for shinies.

In the case of backstory, you can tell them that they are making your job harder and hurting their enjoyment by not giving you material to customize the setting.

#36 Comment By Scott Martin On February 3, 2010 @ 3:40 pm

@jleckron – Telas has a great starting point to encourage late background building: bribery. My advice is the same, with slightly different paint. Don’t say “I want backgrounds so you’re well rounded”, say “I want to run a few subplots about your backgrounds– give me NPCs you’d like to see again, situations you’d like to have come back in play”.

Emphasize that they’re doing useful work that they’ll see a return on. A “complete” character whose background never affects the game feels like a waste of time. But if I tell you that my village burned when a dragon attacked, and I want revenge…

#37 Comment By AJSB On February 5, 2010 @ 5:59 am

@tommy the gangrel – From my perspective, as a player and occasional GM, the more source books and optional extras, the less good the game. In an old Star Wars game, our GM crafted a great story from only the core rules. Once supplements got added, the universe fell apart. They were quickly and quietly ditched. In a recent D&D game with every added extra imaginable the rule bloat was pretty obscene and slowed the game up something chronic.

#38 Comment By Madmaximus On February 23, 2010 @ 9:36 pm

I need some help with wilderness adventures. Specifically getting my head wrapped around ways to have a group explore a hex. Lets say they’re in a large hex some 15 to 25 hexes across which is mostly a deep dark forest. What techniques work best for running a group in such an area, looking for something or someplace located within. Do they search each hex? I’m looking for ways to do this with out boring the party to tears yet making it seem like they really are slogging through the forest searching and exploring.

#39 Comment By Martin Ralya On February 24, 2010 @ 10:16 pm

@Madmaximus – Are you running a sandbox game, or is there something you want them to find?

What system?

#40 Comment By Madmaximus On February 24, 2010 @ 10:26 pm

@Martin Ralya

Right now I’m running a 4e game, but I’m more interested in an AD&D type game. It would be sort of a sandbox game. I generally like to map out a smaller area around a starting village/city and put various interesting ruins/lairs/dungeons within that area to be discovered. There is usually a few know locations to start with. Is that a little clearer like mud now…:)

#41 Comment By Madmaximus On February 24, 2010 @ 10:45 pm

@Madmaximus

Correction: There are usually a few known locations to start with.

#42 Comment By Tabulazero On February 25, 2010 @ 3:37 am

I think you should map the connections between your Points-of-Interests (POI) rather than map the POI themselves. Hex exploration is boring and seems to me more fitted for a wargame than a rpg.

What I recommend is as follows:

Take a piece of paper and a black pen. Put your town in the middle. Scatter your POIs around. Take a pen (a blue one). Link your main POIs. The blue lines represent the main roads, they are well known and well travelled.

Take another pen (a green one). Draw a secondary network linking your minor and major POIs. Do not be afraid to intersect the blue lines and the green lines. There are also sometimes different ways of getting to the same POI

Now, for each section of green line, write a quick landmark description next to it like “river”, “small trail”, “hill overlooking the area”, “glade”… You may also want to put a landmark and a description next to where lines intersect such as “The tavern of the weary traveller”, “the old raised stone”, “the gallows”…Write them in red.

When your players travel, read them the map and give them choices:

“As your party travels on the road (blue line) to NextTown (black POI), you come across a river that lazily snakes across the land (green line). Luckily, a rickety wooden bridge (red landmark) spans the length of the river allowing you to continue forward. That said, you notice that a small towpath that runs along. Which direction do you take”

#43 Comment By Tabulazero On February 25, 2010 @ 3:48 am

One additional thing I’ll give you regarding sandbox games is : “do not set everything in stone”. The problem with sandbox games is that you can spend a lot of time generating content that possibly never gets used.

Instead, I recommend that you be a bit more flexible. Unless there is a specific reason for a minor POI to be in a given location, use placeholders instead when you generate your map.

When your party get there, chose from your list of prepared locations what exactly they find there, depending on your mood and the level of the party. Update your map accordingly.

This gives you more flexibility and avoids wasting time coming up with a brilliant location that no one ever come to visit.

#44 Comment By Madmaximus On February 25, 2010 @ 8:17 pm

@Tabulazero

Tabulazero, Thank you for the advice…The lines and the POI actually makes some sense. Does each hex have some sort of distiguishing feature quote: “…a quick landmark description next to it like “river”, “small trail”, “hill overlooking the area”, “glade”… “end quote. Or do we just do away with the hexes all together. I do like the idea of descriptions for each section of the lines.

I make up my POI’s for a general area, like some for a swamp, or for a forest. Then I drop them in when and where I need them. My map is just marked to indicate “something” is in that hex. It’s definitely not “set in stone”….I try to stay very flexable. That way I can use the really great POI’s when they fit the situation.

Part of what I guess I’m trying to figure out is lets say the party knows there is a POI somewhere in the dark forest, the general area, just not the exact location. What’s a technique to simulate them searching the area to find it….

#45 Comment By Tabulazero On February 26, 2010 @ 6:47 am

To answer your question, I would get rid of hexes altogether. What exactly do they bring you? They tend to limit your imagination and if you think that they help calculate distances, I would suggest that instead you write next to the segment the time it takes to travel. I think it is much more relevant and useful. Remember that it takes far less time to travel a paved road than a narrow trail. That’s why people go to such an expense to build roads in the first place.

I would however place my POI roughly where they should be in relation to each other (to the north of the city, south, west….)

As for giving the feel of exploration, I think that depends on the number of intersections your party have to come across before reaching the POI. 3 to 4 (including the branching from the main road – blue line) is a good number. 3 intersections gives the party a 25% chance of finding the POI assuming a 50%-50% chance at each intersection (the first intersection is a given… of course your PC will venture into the Forbidden Forest, that’s why they are here)

So how does it play?

I assume the party knows that the Temple of the Lich-King (Major POI) is somewhere south of StartTown (Major POI). That’s how it would read;

DM: As you mount your horses and take the southern road (blue line) toward NextTown (Major POI), you come after a while upon a small trail (green line) that cut perpendicularly to the road. Logs have been carefully piled up to the height of a man (red landmark). The path leads deeper in the forest. What do you do ?

Party: We take the path

DM: The path takes you deeper into the forest until you come across a clearing (red landmark). Woodcutters have obviously been hard at work here (reference to the previous landmark – logs). From you vantage point, you see that the path you are following continues ahead to the North West. You also notice a small hill that overlook the area. There something half way on the slop. The hill is not far but from where you are, it is hard to figure out what it is. It looks like some kind of stone structure. What do you do? Follow the path or go to the hill?

Party:… mmmm… I wonder what is on the hill, it could be a clue. Let’s go for the hill

DM: You quickly venture forward and rapidly lose sight of the clearing. That said, you only have to follow the line of the steepest slope. After a while, you clear the tree line and start the ascension of the small grassy hill. It’s definitely a statue, roughly the size of [insert name of tallest PC]. It must have rolled down from the top of the hill and ended where it is. It’s broken in two, old and eons of rain have nearly washed out any feature. Yet you can make out the outline of what must have represented a warrior clad in antiquated mail armour.
The top of the hill provides a good vantage point. The sun is high in the sky (idea of time) and you can see on the other side of the hill a gentle stream (green line) that snakes at its foot. It must provide an easy route to the heart of the forest. On the left, you also notice that the forest itself seems to grow wilder. A strong pungent smell of rotten leaves waft across the small hill. Large bushes of briar, some big as small houses, have overgrown the forest in that place, creating some kind of thorny labyrinth (green line). What do you do? Follow the stream or explore the briar patch?

Party: …. Welll…

Then depending on their decision/map/mood of the DM they either

a) encounter a major road (blue line) / another intersection
b) the Temple itself

#46 Comment By Tabulazero On February 26, 2010 @ 7:37 am

Then to keep things interesting, pamper your landscape with clues:
– Old ruins
– Legends /Folk tale /Taboo
– Landmarks mentioned in old texts
– Monuments / Cryptic inscriptions
– Where do the stone/statue of the local church come from

#47 Comment By Madmaximus On February 27, 2010 @ 11:49 am

@Tabulazero – Tabulazero, Thank you so very much….the “Lightbulb” finally went off in my head. Your description of how it all plays out brought it all together for me. You Sir, are a genius, its a very simple yet elegant system you’ve described. I can still draw out some gorgeous maps for my players to use, then diagram the areas with your techniques to actually run the adventures in unknown territory. Thank you for taking the time to help me out, and describing how it all works.

#48 Pingback By Playing it right « Level 1 GM On March 7, 2010 @ 5:40 pm

[...] asked this question, of a sorts, not that long ago on Gnome Stew. This was about a real-life game, yet this is the first time I [...]


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