Running a Game for New Players

I’ve run quite a few one shots for players who have never played. It was quite exciting to see other people I count as dear friends enjoy my hobby, and really get into their characters. Here are a few tips I have when introducing people to role playing, and getting people who don’t know each other to start role playing together.

Don’t leave them “figure it out.” Though it’s great to give the players the handbook and just let make their own character, most RPGs are confusing, especially to people who have never played before. When I bring in new players who haven’t played I sit down with them and get an idea of what type of character they like to play. Usually by asking them questions like “Do you want you want magic? Do you want to be sneaky, or be in the middle of the battle swinging a sword?” As I ask questions I start showing them different classes that might fit what they want.
From there, I go step by step through character design giving them advice when I can, but also allowing people to make their own choices. One person who  wanted to play a bard as their class really wanted an animal messenger, despite my advice that it wasn’t a great spell. She felt it really fit her character, and so we put it in. Thankfully, I was able to use that spell. Overall, I had as much fun helping people build their characters as I did running them.

Run a one-shot with the new players. If you can do it, run a story that ends in one session with new players. (Usually 4-6 hours). You don’t want to dump them into long campaigns their first time through. Plus this allows you to see the dynamic of the group.

Have another person who really knows the rules around. When I have a table of new players, I’ll usually ask my friend Jeff to join. He’s much faster than I am in finding rules, and knowing the more obscure items. Plus, he can help out the players while I’m dealing with the NPCs. It’s great to have that second helping hand.

Try to get a group together you think will get along. If you know two personalities aren’t going to work together, it’s best to not try to run them as a party. Part of RPG fun is getting people to work together as one unit. Yes, it’s ok to split the party from time to time, but it’s not great to have everyone running off in different directions just because they can’t decide what to do together.

Even when you think they will, not every set of people are going to work (and that’s ok). I’ve seen groups who I thought would be great together just fall flat. It’s why running a one-shot is a great idea. If that group doesn’t work, you aren’t stuck with everyone together, and when you do find a great group, you can continue to bring that group to play together. If the group doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean anyone is a bad person in the group, but that it might be best not to try and bring that exact group together again.

In the end, make sure everyone is involved and having fun. It’s always great to make sure that the players who aren’t as vocal get a say in what is going on. Make sure you try to get them involved and remind them of their powers and abilities. Try to call on them for the skills that they are good at, and keep them aware of how they can be part of the action. That being said, I’ve had one player who just wanted their pet to bite the bad guy, and it worked. Despite the fact that they never really used their own powers.


Gencon: Part 4 (Sunday & Purchases)

The only thing I officially did on Sunday was another True Dungeon session “Into the Underdark.” We did a combat version rather than a puzzle version due to tickets selling out fairly quickly. I’m not very good at puck sliding, and it was pretty obvious during this session.

We did decently until the last room where the bad guy hit for 20 points of damage. Unfortunately, we all died, but it was still exciting until the end, and we did solve both puzzles we hit.

Below are some of my purchases. Forgive the horrible pictures. I’m not great at photography. Wei-Hwa’s mom would probably cringe.

Yes, it is looking at you.
Yes, it is looking at you.
min Items
So many things for my players to find!
More items for role playing.
Another little pet. Who says I can't have a flying cat?
Another little pet. Who says I can’t have a flying cat?

Gencon: Part 3 (Saturday)

Saturday is the busiest day by far at the convention. This day I stepped away from table top rpgs and did a few other things. Walking around the dealer floor was great, and I spent way too much money on things I don’t need, but were awesome! I’ll try to post pictures when I have more time of some of the things I bought for rpgs.

Creating Pulp Adventure
GM(s): Wolfgang Baur, Benjamin McFarland
System: N/A (Seminar)
Thoughts: I’m working on a new long term game for my Thursday night group that I really wanted to have a pulp feel to it. This was a pretty good talk about what makes pulp fun and the differences between pulp and noir. They did touch on some issues with it including racism, sexism and other things that today just wouldn’t fly. Overall, I really liked this talk, and found both men interesting to listen to. Plus it was nice to have something where all I had to do was listen rather than participate.

Missing Magic
GM(s): Kristina Monty, Maris Rence, Caren Linn
System: Courting Murder
Thoughts: I was a little disappointed in this game. It might just have been my character was badly written, but no one had any reason to help me, and I had nothing to give anyone to entice them to do so. There were a few players that made my game fun, but I wasn’t connected to the plots very strongly. There weren’t many mechanics that I could find, but then I wasn’t one of the main characters. I want to try more LARPs next year, but I want something a bit more meaty next time.

The Sable Gauntlet
GM(s): ?
System: True Dungeon
Thoughts: True Dungeon is one part CCG, one part D&D, one part shuffle board and one part escape room. It’s 7 rooms of puzzles or combat. Combat involves sliding pucks over a board and trying to hit large numbers. Puzzle rooms solving a single puzzles in a room that usually involves moving this around and cooperating in some way. The Sable Gauntlet story involved us trying to escape from a tower after being captured. We did escape all 7 rooms only failing one of the combats.

The last puzzle was very much an insight puzzle, but thankfully Jessica had the insight and even got to turn the last key. I had a blast, and we had a good group.

Gencon: Part 2 (Friday)

Friday was a pretty busy day, but my friend Jeff came with me to play RPGs, so we made it through together. Originally, we didn’t have anything until 1 pm, but we decided to get a intro to making a Shadowrun character in. We didn’t have tickets, but I had enough generics (tickets not directly related to an event), and we were the last people on the waiting list allowed in. We also got a bit of time to walk around the dealer floor at this point it took us 2 days though and many hours to get through it all.

Into the Shadows
GM(s): ?
System:  Shadowrun 5e
Thoughts: Unfortunately, I don’t have our helpers name, but it was really nice. We all went through the process of making a character, and even in 2 hours with only 4 of us, we weren’t completely done by the time our time was over. It was complicated to say the least, but I think I have the hang of it now. I ended up with an occult investigator who had a corgi spirit animal. Now, I just need to find someone to run a Shadowrun game for me.

The Haunted Doll of Hokkaido (Well, sorta)
GM(s): ?
System: Palladium
Thoughts: When we arrived at the table, we were told that our GM had a family emergency and the game had been canceled. However, the GM there was given permission to run something. We decided to go ahead and play. It was a different system called Palladium that I’ve never seen, but seems to have been around for a bit. It was a mix between percentile rolls and d20. Overall, it seemed to work well, and we had fun running around trying to find a treasure. We were smart enough not to release the evil the treasure contained, though apparently not everyone was so bright.

What the Hex is going on?
GM(s):Thomas Napier
System: d20 modern
Thoughts: This was one of my favorite games of the week. First, it was based on Scooby Doo, and well, I’ve always loved Scooby Doo. There were 5 of us, each playing one of the members of the scooby gang. I played Velma. All the players had a good idea of the general tropes of show. So, we had people running away, slamming ghosts into the wall, and making traps. It was a fun group that was enjoying playing rather than worrying too much about mechanics or “winning”. The GM did a good job at making the characters feel real, but not making the bad guys too powerful. Overall, I’d love to play with this GM again, and the group was great. I’ll probably try to play in a scooby game again next year.

Friday we got out early enough to eat dinner at St. Elmo Steak House. They are famous for their shrimp cocktails. Usually, I’m not a huge fan, so we didn’t order any, but the waiter brought us a bit of the sauce and some crackers. He warned us with “go easy” though it’s cocktail sauce… that was until I took a bite, and fire came out my nose. Apparently, they use lots and lots of horseradish in it. Jeff gave me a funny look when I started going red, until he took a bite. It was funny, but generally, the food there was awesome. If you’re in town that’s the place to get steak.

Gencon: Part 1 (Tuesday, Wednesday, & Thursday)

Last week, I was able to go to Gencon, and play 6 RPGs, 2 LARPs, and 2 True Dungeon sessions. I’ll be writing up posts based on my schedule for each day.

For those who don’t know Gencon is a gaming convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Con hosted over 60,000 unique visitors this year. Overall, it has anything you could want when it comes to games, and more.

I arrived Tuesday though the actual Conference didn’t start until Thursday. I spent the first couple days just playing games, and hanging out. Wednesday afternoon, I played in a LARP based on various Sci-Fi shows including Babylon 5, Stargate, and Battlestar Galactica. I had fun, and felt I made at least one of my goals. Of course, my enemy died within the first few minutes which did make things much easier.

Thursday was my first very full day at Gencon.

A Murder in Whitechapel
GM(s):Kayla Tepps, Eric Sester
System: Brass & Steel (tabletop rpg)
Thoughts: This was a finding Jack the Ripper rpg. I’d recently done research on the ripper murders for a game, so I was quite impressed at how closely they followed the historical facts, and were able to weave a story in it. It focused on investigation with only a single battle, but I really enjoyed the story. There had been a mixup and they ended up with double the amount of people the expected trying to play. The GMs were able to make due, and everyone had fun. I’d play with these GMs again in a heartbeat.

The Folding of Screamhaunt Castle
GM(s): ? (Not listed on gencon site, and I will have to do some deep digging to find it)
System: 13th Age
Thoughts: This was a classic ‘the house is trying to kill you’ game. It was incredibly creepy, and I loved it. One thing I appreciated about the GM is he stopped at some point to make sure I was ok with the detailed of gore he was going into. I was, and he continued, but I appreciated him asking. 13th Age plays much like D&D, but it’s a system that I’m interested in looking into a bit more.

Hunting Totenkopf
GM(s): Jeff Mackin
System: Minirpg
Thoughts: This had some interesting ideas. Grab a bunch of story icons (Harry Potter, The Dude, Scooby Doo, and Batman) add a dash of Lovecraft and throw it all in a blender, and see what trouble happens. The system is still in beta, and could use some balancing, but it was fun. Not sure what the designer is going to do about IP, but overall, I thought it might be worth looking into in a year or two.

My days tended to start at 10am and end at 2am and this one was no exception. I’ll have ‘Part 2: Friday’, tomorrow.

RPG: Role Playing Game (usually referring to tabletop type)
LARP: Live Action Role Playing

Puzzles in Role Playing Games

It’s no secret that I enjoy puzzles, but I’m not exactly an expert puzzle solver. Thankfully, I have plenty of people around me that are far more talented in designing and solving puzzles than I am. However, I do love making puzzles that fit into a story. I’ve learned a few things after trial and error… and error.

The definition of puzzle is rather loose. has about 10 definations, but generally defines it as “a toy, problem, or other contrivance designed to amuse by presenting difficulties to be solved by ingenuity or patient effort.” Puzzles can range from riddles to more complex logic games. I’ve used a few different types, but here are some general guidelines for using puzzles in an rpg game.

  1. Puzzles should have a plot purpose.
    1. Every player wants to have a reason for character to be solving this puzzle. If it doesn’t seem important to what they are doing, they’ll usually avoid it. 
  2. Puzzles should have a way around them and/or hints.
    1. No matter how easy you think the puzzle is, your group will get stuck on a puzzle. I ran the same game for 7 different groups. All but one got stuck on the same riddle, yet all of them said the answer within the first few seconds. The riddles was “There is no pendulum in this clock, so what does it lack besides a tock.” (I stole this riddle from a cartoon called Scooby Doo and the Boo brothers. The inspiration for this particular game.) Almost everyone said A tick right away. Yet, the leap that that meant attic usually took some hinting. Because of the way this particular game was designed I couldn’t give a work around, but I did give in character hints when I could.
    2. One example of work around, was when I created a liquid puzzle. If the characters got it right, they drank a potion of true seeing. If they wanted to skip the puzzle they just needed a 25 on their investigate/search check to find the item they needed.
  3. Puzzles are best with props.
    1. If you’re going to take the time to have a puzzle in the game. It’s best to do it with something hands on. Having an actual scroll for that clue sealed with wax, far more interesting than simple a piece of paper. I keep reams of fake parchment paper, and wax with seals always ready. Food coloring in clear soda can also be fun. I’m also always on the look out for props.
  4. Puzzles can test the players or they can test the characters.
    1. If you want to simply test your players you can throw all the stats out the window. This isn’t a horrible idea, but it does cause some issues when your players are stumped.
    2. On the other hand, when you want to test the characters what do you do when your Wizard Int 20 can’t solve the riddle? It’s really up to you. A few things I would suggest is having the other players give them “ideas” or allow them to use their knowledge to get a hint. Those 10 ranks in history might actually come in handy! Encourage the players to use their skills if they’re stuck, though you want to try and never get to the frustration points.
  5. Puzzles should be rather straight forward.
    1. If you want complex puzzles, I’m not sure RPGs are the right place to have them. That logic puzzle that takes 45 minutes might tune most of your players out, and that just isn’t fun. If you really like detailed puzzles you should look into puzzle hunts. is a great place to start.
  6. The Puzzle should be something everyone can solve together. 
    1. It’s not fun sitting and watching someone solve the puzzle while you can’t do anything. Make as many puzzles for everyone as you can. It’s even more fun if they have to figure out how to work together to do it. An example of this is if they realize they must pull a lever and pull a rope at the same time from different parts of the room, while reading a message upside down. This gives plenty of jobs for the characters to do and all feel important.
  7. It should be fun.
    1. In the end, the number one goal should be your players having fun. If the puzzle isn’t fun, do your best to move on without too much pain. The goal shouldn’t be to prove how smart you are, but how smart your players and their characters are.

Some great places to get ideas for puzzles in your game is playing an escape room or puzzle hunt. You can find information on escape rooms in your area here: Dash is a good puzzle hunt to start with if you’re new

Preparation for Long Campaigns vs. One-Shots

To give a quick idea of the difference for me between a long campaign and a one-shot. My long campaigns run a little over a year, and my One-shots run about 4-6 hours.

When plotting out long term campaigns, before we start the campaign, I tend to have a beginning and an end in mind with a few things that I know I want my players to experience. For example, in my world of Darkness Campaign I knew I wanted them to go into the spirit world and interact with fairy tales. I also wanted them to meet a character named John Smith who would always be on the cusp between good and evil. Generally, the themes and vague ideas are hashed out about the plot, but I like creating “sandbox” worlds where characters can go anywhere they want. After I give my players some ideas about the world, I ask for backstories, and try to incorporate the backstories into the plot as well.

With a skeleton of an idea, I then start the run. From there, I plan weekly based on what I feel my players are wanting, and making sure there is a balance between combat, skill challenges, and character development. One of the big things I like to do, is make sure that my worlds are safe places to explore. I want my players to have creative ways to find information or to go anywhere they want, though I always try to give them hints to lead them to places that will include progress in their quest.

I’m never quite sure what my players will do, so I never have a “right way” in mind for them to do things. I find this is very important to long term campaigns, letting the characters experience the world while giving them hints to the plot at hand seems to work well. Each week I study new things that I might incorporate into the plot.

Long Campaigns are great for letting me work out long complicated stories. They give me time to slowly reveal clues, and in turn watch as characters change how they think about something or someone. I love creating a world and watching other people add to it as they make their way in it. Work on these games end up in the hundreds if not close to thousands of hours a year, but are amazingly satisfying when completed.

In some ways one-shots take more prep per hour played. Mostly because in order to keep the players on track I have to map out each major plot point and battle. There’s no time to reflect between sessions on if things are moving too slowly or too quickly. Instead, of having a beginning and end, I have all the major story points.

Generally, I find a good 4-5 hour run has 2 1/2-4 battles. The first one usually being a warm up to help the characters figure out how to work together. I also tend to have some event that throws the characters together rather than letting it happen naturally like I do with Longer Campaigns. For example, in my next one-shot they all take refuge at the same castle after a flash flood. I also tend to push a little bit harder to keep characters on track so I need to know exactly what that track looks like. That being said, I usually have one or two ideas of how they might solve a problem and find my players solve it in a very different way.

One of the things, I love about one-shots is it allows me to experiment with various themes and ideas without being too heavily invested. I can have the survival horror story without a year of zombies.

A few things I always do for both, is think what story I want to get across. Is it going to be a little goofy, scary, sad? In the end, how do I want my players to feel and experience. Overall, they’re both work, but I can’t imagine not running games.

The End of the Lightbringer

The end of the Lightbringer sounds horrible, doesn’t it? Actually, what really happened was my player killed the Archmage who had essentially become Lucifer. His final goal was to shape the world in his own way. After all, who doesn’t want the earth to turn into hell?

After about 18 months of game, the story ended, and the world was saved. It was fun, and I learned quite a bit, but I am also glad to be moving on.

The story revolved around shaping people’s perception of reality. It didn’t always work as well as I would have liked, and there are still a few threads that I felt we’re completely answered, but it was a good place to end.

One of my favorite memories from this campaign:

The characters found a place in the “spirit world” where a mage had been creating fairy tale universes so that he could change them in subtle ways to manipulate the collective conscious of the western world. The player character went in and changed these things in their own image. One of our characters was a weretiger named Kolya, who with his antics added tigers to many fairy tales and religious books. Don’t you remember Daniel was rescued from the lion’s den by 3 angels, a fox, a wolf, and a particularly large tiger?

Hopefully, my players will add their own favorite memories of the campaign.

Overall, I had a great time running this campaign and trying to do something very different with the changing of reality. It didn’t always work, and I do see myself playing with this theme again in other campaigns.


Personalities at the Table

A GM has to wear many hats: storyteller, actor, cat herder, referee, mind reader, therapist, god, etc. Only a few of the hats have anything to do with preparing the game, and most have to do with getting the people at the table to play together. I’ll be discussing some of the personality types I’ve either ran in a game or played with.

The Planner:
They tend to be in depth role players, who enjoy coming up with a way to do things. These player love taking time to set up a plan before going running into the fight, and they usually cover all their bases with backup plans if things go wrong.

If you want to make a Planner enjoy a game, make sure you reward thinking ahead even if this means they sometimes bypass some of the traps or monsters. Through careful planning my players were able to take a near impossible battle down to only a few monsters. First, by figuring out who one of the minor villains was, and then by putting him to sleep for a day.

They also did investigation into the evil dragon to find out they had to cover it in water after they killed it to keep it from rising again. Allowing the player to figure things out before hand while still giving them a fight has a really great feeling of productivity.

The Actor:
They’re there for the character. Usually they have voices for their character or ways of moving. They want to present a story about their character.

These players want their time to shine. Give them scenes where their characters can show off their strengths, and their weaknesses. They want to interact with NPCs in interesting ways. I sometimes put myself in this group. I really enjoy seeing my character grow through the game.

The Rules Lawyer:
These are sometimes the hardest players to play with. They care so much about the rules, that they will happily point out rules for ever occasion. I’ve played with this type of player, but thankfully haven’t actually GMed one, yet.

I still remember falling asleep for an hour only to find that two players were still arguing about the same rule. For these players, I think it’s best to have a time-limit, and making sure that in the end the GM has the last say. As long as things are kept to a minimum they can be awesome for remembering those hard to find rules.

The Mechanic:
They’re all about the mechanics of the game. In truth, the story is backseat to the hows of their character. They are great at min-maxing and building characters.

Overall, these people are bored by story, but brighten up when they can use their characters abilities or skills. The best way to get these people interested is allowing them to roll. Dice in their hand make them happy. I’ve had a few of these players both as a GMs. Once, I had a player who built his character so well that he could all but take out the big bad in 1 round. Nothing delighted him more than being able to take them out quickly. That and ramming ships… Ramming is good.

The Mischief Maker:
These people are here to poke the dragon and see what happens. They play chaos personified.

It’s important to keep their mischief channeled so that the other players can have fun as well. I remember playing with one player who always played crazy, this sometimes took the game into other dimensions, literally. As a GM, I find it really important to allow these players to do their mischief, but keep their attention on the goal at hand. Don’t kill the party because this player decides to poke the dragon. (But maybe burn this character a bit).

The Relater:
These people like to talk. Not always about ingame things, though. It’s amazing how many things that happen ingame relate to memes or animal pictures.

Depending on how strict I’m being on time, I usually allow a bit of digression from time to time in my games. We’re all friends, and it’s fun to talk about things. That being said, there are times I use the words, “So what’s happening in this world…” to get us back on track. My advice is be nice, but make sure it doesn’t happen too often.

The Sweet Talker:
These people aren’t quite actors, but they do enjoy the conversation part of role playing games. Usually, they have fun getting things out of NPCs by being nice.

I’ve had a few players who have had high charisma scores, and like using them, and I try to allow it as much as I can. Have fun interactions for these characters too, who knows when it might be important to seduce the barista.

There are more types out there, I’m sure, here’s just a few I’ve seen. Feel free to let me know more types and how you deal with them.

When the World is All Male

At GenCon 2014 ( for more info), I played in a homebrew beta game. It was an adults only game, which I found the only difference between a normal game and an adults only was they gave us beer or in my case hard apple cider. Overall, the people that ran the game were incredibly nice, and I were inviting and friendly.

The pre made characters were written so that each one essentially wanted to be the last man standing. This lead to player vs. player pretty quickly in the game. Something that truthfully, I wasn’t used to, but the characters were balanced enough that this didn’t seem to be a huge problem. With 6 players and 3 GMs, there was very little downtime, since anytime we would split up one of the GMs would take a section of the group.

When I sat down, I realized something pretty quickly. All the player characters were male. I quickly announced that my character was female which seemed to confuse the GMs, but they agreed that was fine.

The game started with us on a train, all trying to get a mysterious item from a pair of NPCs. However, the Player characters were soon at each other throats. Not being one to enjoy player vs player, I started looking at my character sheet. One thing that was mentioned was that he (now she) was a vegetarian. A silly throwaway line, but I decided to use it develop the character.

I then announced to the GM. My character is non lethal unless she has no choice. This led me to using “sand in eyes” and other methods of escaping without actually hurting anyone. What I noticed pretty quickly about the world… everyone was male. I can’t remember one female NPC. It made for a very strange world to me.

There weren’t many implications of a world of men in the game. Since, what was important was grabbing the MacGuffin, there wasn’t much room for real social interaction among the characters. That being said, a world devoid of women left me feeling strange. It told me that “women aren’t people here.” Even if the authors didn’t really intend that. “My kind” didn’t belong in this world, and so the world felt flat and colorless. Thinking about this, it could be generalized to any marginalized group. How do we get more people to enjoy role playing? Let them see themselves in the world.