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You are here: Home --> Forum Home --> General Forum --> Gaming surveys --> GMs: Tips and Tools of the Trade
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1514 Posts

GMs: Tips and Tools of the Trade

Some GMs play music, others dampen the lights. Some use props, others wear props. How do you make your game more enjoyable?

I've tried few things. I have used props, I have dampen the lights for a game of Vampire the Masquerade (we played by candle-light) and recently I've started using both music and my battle-mat. Music gets you into the feel, and the battle-mat really just does what it is supposed to do. Of all the things I have tried, the props have been least successful.
For a short adventure that is primary meant just to play something, I found that quick thinking and making things up as they went on surprisingly successful. This one time I was GMing and was really unprepared (I thought we were going to play something else) so I made something up as the adventure progressed. It was one of the most enjoyed games I've GMed, mostly because how random it was. The minotaur turned female and the group was chased out of Goodmen Country (which was at war with Evilmen Country). Lot of funs.

This is the chance for some of you more experienced GMs to pass on your wisdom to those who are less experienced. What can be done to make the gaming experience even more fun?

Posted on 2007-11-11 at 16:24:20.

Typing Furiously
RDI Staff
Karma: 177/19
3012 Posts


Yeah, I've used the candle-light for scary plots. But props can really work. The thing is: it depends on the adventure. It gives a nice little extra depth to the game. But if you do it too much, it will not really help; it will distract instead.

For one of the games I DMed I had the players find a box that seemed to have no opening. I actually put a wooden box on the table like that, which my father had found when he went on vacation in Marocco. The box can be opened by putting a hidden key in a hidden opening. I told them that they could try anything but breaking the thing.

For once they could not rely on dice-rolling. It took them a little while, not too long, but the find was much more interesting than it would have been if it was just imagination.

And yes, a battle grid with miniatures helps every battle. We use one standard. Nowadays we use the grid from the DMG and miniatures from Warhammer and Confrontation. When I was younger, and less supplied, we used a home-drawn grid with monsters made of clay

Posted on 2007-11-11 at 16:52:31.
Edited on 2007-11-11 at 16:53:19 by Almerin

RDI Staff
Karma: 357/190
6191 Posts

Just for the miniatures I say

As far as I know I use nothinig other than a battle grid and miniatures for combat. Much easier than remembering a pile of distances.

Posted on 2007-11-11 at 20:10:12.

Vote Grugg
Karma: 42/10
117 Posts

Music and improvisation

Music is a brilliant way of setting the mood. I used one track in particular during my first Star Wars campaign a couple of years back, which really added to the feeling of drama and suspense during action scenes—especially chase sequences. Tavern/nightclub/cantina music is also a good source of ambience.

Skari-Dono, I wholeheartedly agree about improvisation. In fact, the first adventure of the aforementioned Star Wars campaign strayed very quickly from the notes I had prepared, so I was forced to improvise pretty much everything. It ended up being the most enjoyable gaming session I've ever played (and the best thing is that the players agree), and it influenced my style of GMing immensely.

Whenever I prepare an adventure, I outline the general idea of the episode but don't write much down and then focus on creating a bunch of places, NPCs, and encounters that can be dropped pretty much everywhere. (Writing down a list of random, generic names is a very good idea, since it takes only a few minutes but helps a lot during play.)

When you're with friends and the mood is set, things will flow without problem. Paradoxically enough, I feel more prepared the less notes I have.

Posted on 2007-11-11 at 23:25:45.
Edited on 2007-11-11 at 23:26:54 by Scarab

Den Mother
RDI Staff
Karma: 111/12
1188 Posts

Setting the mood

For years, whenever I played Vanadia, thief extraordinaire, I wore a pair of bronze earrings that were long slender daggers. Alacrity wrote in magical daggers for my character to find, one of which shrinks to an earring, so my character is never completely unarmed. Funny thing is, I sometimes wore them to work, with a corresponding boost to my confidence (and at a distance, they look like crosses, so it was my little secret).

More recently, friends of ours surprised us with sweatshirts to play D&D. Each has "+5 shirt of protection" on the front, and "They're not that tough" (the group's battle cry for over 20 years of gaming) on the back. Alacrity's shirt has "Continuing Where We Last Left Off" on the front, which is how he starts each and every session.

The original group drank mead out of pewter goblets, but the current group is both older and younger (our kids are now playing with us) so that's been set aside as a tradition, and we never did find the mood lighting useful (too dark to make notes, losing dice under the table, etc.)

When our two youngest players joined, Alacrity asked Almerin to design custom character portraits for them, based on their descriptions and character classes. I think that really helped hook our daughter and god-daughter into their characters.

Miniatures definitely help, and over the years, Alacrity has amassed an impressive (and frightening) array of monsters to pitch against us, so when he pulls out something really big and scary to confront our miniatures, chances are it's not standing in for something less deadly

Posted on 2007-11-11 at 23:29:54.

Vote Grugg
Karma: 42/10
117 Posts


One more thing: I find that miniatures can actually detract from the experience a lot of the time. Unless a battle is especially complicated, I prefer not using them. I feel that it can easily make combat something "mechanical" without contributing very much to the flow of it.

This may, of course, require the players to accept some leeway when it comes to rules accuracy, and it may create confusing situations if there are many combatants involved, but I prefer to leave the miniatures in the box more often than not.

Posted on 2007-11-11 at 23:31:52.

Rystefn K'ryll
Original Palassassin
Karma: 66/191
544 Posts


Miniatures are something that can easily go either way, and like most things, the best advice is to find out what works for you and to go with it. I've been running a ShadowRun game for about fifteen months now, and maps and minis are a big part of it - but that's the nature of ShadowRun. In D&D, I almost never use them except for large and/or complicated battles.

My best advice for a GM is this: It's a game. It's not just the players who are supposed to have fun. If you aren't enjoying the game, too, change stuff up so you do. Always remember Rule 0/The Golden Rule/The Prime Rule/whatever else you care to call it: If you don't agree with a rule - change it.

Posted on 2007-11-12 at 18:09:06.

TRSG 2.0
Karma: 113/94
1606 Posts


I mainly use props in my games, my favirote prop is the set of wooden swords I use to show why a character can't weild a great sword and crossbow at the same time.

Posted on 2007-11-12 at 18:15:59.

Den Mother
RDI Staff
Karma: 111/12
1188 Posts

Depends on the group, probably

We have a player whose alignment is best described as "chaotic everywhere" so it heps to have minatures arranged with relative distances. Stopped the player from declaring impossible actions within a round as Alacrity would just point to the board and say "you can't get there from here...or are you changing your action to running across the room?"

We also have, as I said before, some young players, and the visuals help them understand the dynamics of battle. When you have a mix of melee fighters, missile weapons and mages, you really want a handle on those "area of effect" spells, lol

Posted on 2007-11-12 at 18:27:10.

Rystefn K'ryll
Original Palassassin
Karma: 66/191
544 Posts


That counts as complicated combat. I've had a few players with whom I forced maps and minis for every combat because they just utterly failed to grasp the concept that even if there are 20 or 30 enemies, you can't just swing five times and get five of them if you're in a narrow hallway.

Posted on 2007-11-12 at 18:37:03.

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