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by Kevin Davies

First Published: January 5, 2000 by The Gaming Outpost (Netzine):

Like many gamers, when I first entered the hobby, I thought that it was desirable and even necessary to have rules to account for the outcome of every possible Character action or environmental condition. Thick rulebooks were the norm, although roleplay games were typically thin on descriptive and inspirational background material.
While Gamemastering a gaming group over a 10 year period, my outlook was altered by two factors: first, that many of the rules established by the games I played didn't provide what I thought was an 'adequate simulation' of the actions I was trying to recreate in my adventures, and second, that so many rules inevitably led to numerous game stoppages requiring rulebook consultations and occasional player debates. Additionally, I rarely had the time to prepare a detailed adventure in advance for the weekly session -- I was forced to 'wing-it'. Drawing on my experiences as a GM I've put together the following tips for stress-free and fun-filled Gamemastering.

1. Make having fun your goal. More than anything else, keep in mind that the primary objective of playing any game is for everyone to have a good time -- the GM and all the players. The satisfaction of having spent your time well, in the company of people whose companionship you've enjoyed, and together experienced an adventure, is what it's all about.
2. Give everyone a chance to participate. Both the GM and players need to cut others some slack -- especially if they're new to roleplaying. Offer roleplaying suggestions where appropriate but don't roleplay other people's Characters for them. While you should not discourage the louder, enthusiastic players, they should not be the only ones who get to influence the outcome of the game; make an effort to involve shy or quiet players by asking each player in turn (after describing the current game events that pertain to their Character), "What are YOU doing now?"
3. Play with people you like. You should not feel obligated to play with people you dislike or who dislike you. If you think you've given another player a fair chance to 'fit in' with your group and they continue to be abrasive or disruptive, tell them, in a 'friendly way', what they're doing that's upsetting and give them the option to change their behavior or leave the group.
4. There are two types of games: Character Hostile and Character Neutral. Tell the players which style you're using (or give them the option of choosing) before gameplay begins.
Character Hostile games were common in the early days of roleplaying and most often take the form of 'dungeon crawls'. A Gamemaster creates an environment full of nasty creatures hoarding lots of treasure, while the players, knowing full well that the GM is out to kill their Characters (and in some cases, the Characters are out to kill each other), enter and try to emerge wealthy and in one piece.
Character Neutral games are best for realistic scenarios and prolonged campaigns. The Gamemaster, rather than taking the side of the Creatures and Gamemaster Characters and competing against the player's Characters, instead presents situations and conflicts that contribute to making the most interesting story possible. Situations which allow Character development and the accumulation of a 'personal history' should be pursued.
5. Use the simplest rules you can find that make sense to you. I personally prefer a system where either a d10 or d100 is used for practically all rolls; occasionally I include d6's for a smaller numeric range of inflicted Damage. All Skills are expressed as a percentage; all Stats (rolled against when no Skill is available or applicable) are factored up to a percentage. Details of specific 'current conditions' can be included as modifiers to your action resolution rolls by applying +/- 5% toward the target number (Action Value) prior to rolling. Simple. Fast. Effective.
The rules you choose will often reflect the seriousness of the stories you wish to roleplay. Humorous games, where Character death rarely occurs (though great pain and embarrassment is frequent), are well suited to a minimalist system -- even diceless. Serious games, where Character death is a real and ever-present danger, may require more specific rules, to convince the players that the GM is unbiased when they reveal that a Character has taken a bullet to the leg and must now suffer wound trauma. Use the level of detail that is right for your game. Be consistent and fair.

6. Only roll dice when necessary. There are two situations where it is desirable for a GM or player to roll dice: a) When an action resolution result is required that can't reasonably be provided by a direct GM response, and b) When you want to scare a player into thinking that you've got something up your sleeve and thus keep them on their toes -- this is an artificial means that the GM can use to instill tension into a situation when the players' roleplaying skills are not capable of adequately providing it for their Character.
At any other time you can simply provide a description of the outcome of a Character's action attempt.

7. Don't hold back a Character. If a Character's desired action seems at all plausible (given the genre you're playing) let them attempt it and use the outcome (successful or not) to stimulate the plot of the adventure. Some GMs will limit their players by stating that their Character can't even attempt a specific act. This will only result in timid players and a less exciting game. Try not to deny Characters the opportunity to attempt things -- let the players set their Characters' own limitations based on their experiences of past failures.
8. Play to the Characters. Try to get to know each Character's distinctions and then over the course of the adventure provide at least one event or encounter specifically geared to their interests, skills expertise, personal traits, or weaknesses. If another Character takes the bait instead, go with it. However, if you've constructed the situation correctly, it should be clear that the party must address the situation through the targeted Character.
9. Go with the flow. This is crucial to stress-free Gamemastering and difficult for some to apply. If you've established an outline or script for your plot in advance and the Characters take a sudden turn which causes them to omit a location or event, let it go. Remember, the Characters don't know what cool thing they've missed -- they're responding to events as they've encountered them. Concern yourself with what 'logical' encounter or event the Characters would experience on their new course, rather than worrying about what they could have seen.
10. Let the Adventure write itself. If you're GMing without a predetermined and detailed plot, pay attention to what the Characters say and do and use their successful actions (and failures) as windows of opportunity to introduce Gamemaster Characters and events (e.g., a crisis or opportunity requiring a quick response) into the developing story. When you confront the Characters with an event or encounter try to consider two or three possible outcomes to the situation and how they might impact on the plot. Just ask yourself: "What 3 possible things could happen next?" Then, when the Characters act in response, you can smoothly present whatever events that flow logically from the situation. If the Characters act in a way that you did not consider, again, go with the flow and see where it leads. You will often be thrilled by the results.

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by Kevin Davies

IMG: Elf Dropping Ice CreamAlthough a game like Murphy's World can function perfectly well as a setting for 'normal' events without the necessity of a continual stream of laughs, due to the nature of the world it is helpful if you can find a way to take advantage of the potential silliness inherent in the setting. This article will try to reveal some of the things we consider when developing humorous material. It is not intended to serve as a thesis on the subject of humor, just a resource to be used as desired. The overriding concern when creating an adventure or playing the game is that the 'fun' experienced by all participants should always supersede any attempt to create a consistent and detailed reality.

PLAUSIBILITY: A silly idea is great, yet it must still be 'plausible' within the twisted logic employed by the universe of the storyline, in order to seem reasonable to the Characters and ultimately acceptable for the players. The Characters must seem like they're in a real place. Not everything can seem totally ludicrous; there must be a grounding of internal logic, even if that logic appears somewhat skewed from the perspective of the Character, especially if they are an otherworldly visitor.

CULTURE CLASH HUMOR: Make an act deemed 'common' and insignificant by the propagator's culture 'insulting' or a taboo to the culture that they're currently visiting. This is a great way to initiate misunderstandings and get a Character into hot water.

HORROR HUMOR: Describe an act which based on the standards of your culture would be considered 'horrible' (e.g., someone is grabbed and used as a ram to bash down a door), then make the reaction of the 'victim' the opposite of what would be expected (e.g. the victim is proud to be used as a ram because it raises his status among his acquaintances for being a part of such a useful accomplishment).

HUMOROUS OBJECTS: Objects should be impractical and bizarrely constructed. However they must also be useful and valuable to the Character in some way in order to be successfully employed for gameplay.

GAG CONSTRUCTION -- BUILD ON ONE THEME: When constructing a gag, focus on the one or two shticks you're pushing, and build those -- without adding other stuff which distracts from the focus or references alternative sources in another direction -- thus, diminishing the main gag. Build the gag through the name(s) you use, references, behaviors, traits, etc. Everything should work together -- nothing should distract the reader to muddy the picture you've been painting with your words.

GAG CONSTRUCTION -- DESCRIPTIVE TEXT AND THE RULE OF THREE: A good device when presenting a list of examples of a specific thing is to describe three (occasionally 4+), all valid for the subject, but with the last also humorous (e.g. for desirable but unattainable high-tech inventions: cold fusion, perpetual motion machines, and peanut butter that won't stick to the roof of your mouth).

GAG CONSTRUCTION -- NAMES: One of the best tricks to establish a humorous situation is to make the name of something or someone amusing. Examples follow:

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3. WORLDBUILDING: Settlements & Societies – The Basic Information
by Kevin Davies

When developing settlements and cultures for a roleplay game setting, we find it desirable to put together a list of specific types of information that we feel is critical to defining each community. By providing the answers to the following topics, you're well on your way to developing new RPG cultures.

1. Geographical Location
2. Population: Size, Racial Mix, Health, Special Skills and Abilities
3. History: Record & Legend
4. Community Secret
5. What Unusual Taboos or Restrictive Laws Exist in the Community
6. How Do the Inhabitants Perceive:
6.a Travelers and Strangers
6.b Adventurers and Mercenaries
6.c Characters of Another Race, Species, Distinct Culture, or with Mutations
7. Extent of Contact With Other Communities & It's Impact on the People
8. Industry: Main Resources, Goods & Services Produced
9. Level of Technology & It's Impact (Old and/or New)
10. Level of Mana (Supernatural Force) Locally & Its Impact
11. Economy: Economic Health and Means of Trade
12. Current Mode of Government & Political Scene
13. Main Goal and/or Desire of the Community
14. Main Dilemma Standing in the Way Of Achieving Community Goal

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4. WORLDBUILDING: Creating a Distinctive Culture
by Kevin Davies

The following topics are provided to assist in your development of distinctive cultures for your game. By varying your answers to the questions listed for each topic you will define a unique society. Each culture should reflect and contribute to the overall atmosphere of your setting.

How are they chosen? How are they controlled, if at all? How much deference do they demand? What forms of address are used? What other forms of respect?

Who makes them? Who interprets them? Who enforces them? Areas of law: criminal, contract, family, inheritance, litigation. Who can own land or property, and under what conditions? How fair or corrupt is the legal system?

How are bills presented? Is haggling permitted or required? How accurate or variable are measures? Is any type of trade or profession admired or despised?

How do people distinguish themselves? How is society formally divided? Are there variations in class status and if so, what determines those variations? How easy is it to relate to various types of people in the culture: are there caste, class, labor, or other restrictions inhibiting association?

How do people carry themselves and interact? Is there a focus on honor, or some other trait? How do people greet and talk to one another? Are there limitations on who can say what to whom? Are there behavior regulations?

Who can get it? Who pays for it? What is taught? How often does the curriculum change? Does it have any practical application to real life?

Is one gender dominant? Are there courtship rituals? Is sex a voluntary or forced association? Is there any contraception? How common are sexual diseases? Are there any acts considered taboo? What is the attitude toward sex and nudity? Are there prostitutes, and if so, what is their status (and gender)?

On what terms? Is one of the partners 'property' of the other? How easy is divorce, if even possible? Is a dowry given? Who owns the common property? Is there a name taking or change involved? Who has primary claim over the children? Are widows and widowers permitted to remarry? Is polygamy, polyandry or group marriage permitted?

How are pregnant women treated? Does practice vary with class status? Are pregnant women considered unclean or spiritually blessed? Who names the child and when? When does a child become a person and protected/responsible to law and custom? Is the birthday celebrated?

Before or after religious ritual (prayer)? What are the stable foods? Are there any food restrictions based on class, economy, sex, age, etc.? Is conversation permitted during eating? Is alcohol permitted? Drugs? Are there customs about what hand is used to eat?

Funeral customs? Wills? Inheritance? Is death sacred? Is there belief in an afterlife?

What is worshipped if anything? Prominent deities and their powers/areas of influence, rank in the pantheon (the culture may tend to reflect these priorities)? Are ancestors or house gods worshipped? Could proximity/influence from a deity alter the personality or physical form of people or the shape of the land?

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5. WORLDBUILDING: Creating Customs For Cultures – Optional Methods
by Kevin Davies

1. Ask three questions: what if, if only, and if this continues then…
1.a What if: introduce only one or two key changes, and then try to work out all the possible implications of those changes.
1.b If only: alter known reality by introducing one or two currently impossible phenomena or things, and extrapolate the effects caused from there.
1.c If this continues then...: take one or two current social, political or economical trends and extrapolate them to see what they develop into.
2. Take customs from various cultures, combine and exaggerate them.
3. Take problems faced by cultures on Earth and provide them with unheard of solutions.
4. Highlight a specific quality of a Character (e.g., a Known Skill, Ability, or Attribute).
5. Take a practice that would not be conceived of in our culture or something we strongly disapprove of and make it the norm in another culture (e.g., women having their breasts removed once they decided not to have any more children).

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6. GM RESOURCE: An Encounter Checklist
by Kevin Davies

Any Encounter experienced by the Player Characters during a roleplay game should do one or more of the following:

1. Provide PCs with new information which they can use to advance the plot of the adventure.
2. Reveal something new about the environment, the lifeforms, and cultures of the area.
3. Permit the Characters' personalities a chance to develop by engaging others and experiencing new people, opinions, cultural customs, traditions, and attitudes, and things.
4. Highlight a specific quality of a Character (e.g., a Known Skill, Ability, or Attribute).
5. Offer an opportunity to further the Player Characters' goals and ambitions.

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7. REFERENCE: Uncommon Words As Potential Names
by Kevin Davies

One of the tricks for humorous or exotic adventures is to use names that are actually descriptive of their owner. While it is always possible to go for the direct and obvious words (e.g., Dirtbag the Nasty), it is often more interesting to use less common words from slang or other languages. Another potential reference for names is a pop culture reference (e.g., Mean Mr Mustard or Bungalo Bill). Provided below are some uncommon words (and their definitions) which you may find useful as names for Characters or Places in your adventures.

Addle rotten, putrid, worthless
Ambsas and/or Amesace 2 lowest numbers in dice, bad luck
Amadou firebrand, live coal, torch, light, flambeau, match, cresset, ember, agitator, instigator, rabble-rouser, terrorist, troublemaker, mischief-maker, wreck
Anathema curse, devoted to evil, something hung up
Baksheesh bribe
Bale [Icelandic] Evil
Basilisco braggart, cowardly knight
Bauble short stick, ornamented with asses ears, carried by licensed fools; child's toy
Belladonna poison
Bender drunk, drunken binge
Bobby police officer
Boffin research scientist
Borachio drunkard
Brigante marauding, quarrelsome, robber pirate
Bromide one given to trite remarks
Bunko a trick
Burble to mutter nonsense
Burke to murder by smothering
Cad low, vulgar, nasty
Cadger scoundrel
Cagmag offal, bad meat
Canard hoax, to make a fool of, duck
Claquer someone who provides false applause
Codswallop nonsense; mineral water; weak beer
Coggeshall foolish, madness, stupidity, drawing the wrong conclusion
Conker large nosed person who hits things to break them; horse chestnut
Corydon rustic, brainless sheep-herd. Lovesick
Covin legal term for a conspiracy, collusion, fraud, deception
Coystril knave, varlet, coward, knight's attendant; 2 edged dagger
Cozen a cheat, a sponger, lives off others
Crudel cruel one
Cuspidor spittoon
Dinkum [Australian & New Zealand] true, genuine, real, honest, sincere
Doddypol blockhead, foolish, silly
Dotterel doting old fool. Bird, easily approached and caught
Dulcarnon a puzzling question, horns of a dilemma
Dulcinea lady love of Don Quixote
Dunghill coward, villain
Ephesian a jolly companion
Erinyes avengers of wrong. 3 daughters of Gaea (Earth) & Darkness: Tisiphone (Avenger of Blood), Alecto (Implacable), Magaera (Jealous One).
Fanfaron swaggering bully, cowardly boaster, vain, wearing of finery and lace worn by military men, ostentatious display
Farrago a confused heap of nonsense. Cow meal mixture
Fash excited, anger
Fiasco a complete failure
Filch steal, rob, pilfer
Flibbertigibbet mischievous gossip, Puck
Flotsam garbage floating on the water
Fob hoax
Galimatias gibberish
Ganelon black-hearted, treachery, jealousy
Gowk fool, simpleton
Gras fat
Greegrees [African] amulets, charms, fetishes
Grog booze, spirits
Grognards 'Grumbler': A nickname given to grunt soldiers by older, cynical, weathered veterans
Guniff thief
Hancubites street bullies. Others include: Muns, Scowerers, Mohocks
Havoc military command; to massacre without quarter
Hillman Imp British Car
Hoberd a fool
Hokey-pokey nonsense, cheap ice-cream
Jackal a toady, does the dirty work for another
Jackanapes pert, vulgar, apish little fellow, a prig
Jeames a flunky, an assistant
Jetsam garbage thrown overboard
Juggins simpleton, gambler, squanderer
Kitsch bad taste and social ineptness
Klephts robbers who hang out in the mountains
Knave [Australian] male youth, servant, dishonorable rascal, flirt (knave of hearts)
Larrikin young ruffian, hooligan
Lich a corpse
Loggerheads squabbling, fisticuffs, blockhead
Lorel worthless person
Louper vagabond criminals who roam the countryside robbing & running
Malkin grotesque puppet
Miching skulking, sneaking, mischief
Moloch influence demands you sacrifice what you hold most dear
Moonrakers simpletons; feigned stupidity by smugglers when raking a pond for smuggled brandy when encountered by excise taxmen: they tell them they're raking for the moon as reflected in the water
Muff awkward at sports, effeminate, dull, stupid, blundering, dolt
Muggins fool, simpleton. Mug
Mumpers beggars, cheats, spongers, wretches
Olio mixture of meat, vegetables, spices, boiled in a stew pot. Any hotchpotch of ingredients
Ondit rumor, gossip
Onus burden of responsibility
Peccant sinning, morbid, inducing disease
Pecksniff a hypocrite who forgives wrongdoing in nobody but himself, and does heartless things as a duty to society
Placebo flatter, innocuous medicine, A fake pill.
Placid Mild, peaceful, serene
Plonk [Australian] Red biddy-pinkie. Cheap red wine.
Plummy Good, rich, desirable; or, speaking as if with a plumb in one's mouth
Praters [British] Pious Beggars who specialize in street hymn singing and evangelizing. They spout passages of the Bible and lace their talk with Bible references.
Prog to forage for food, to poke about
Pumpernickel petty German princlings, who make a great show of etiquette, with revenue almost nil. Coarse rye bread.
Ragamuffin a sorry creature in rags
Rodomont bragging, blustering leader
Sanguine bloody, full of vitality, vivacious, confident, hopeful
Sciron [Greek] Robber slain by Theseus. He forced travelers to jump off a cliff into the sea where they would be devoured by a sea monster
Scourge whip, lash, diseases that carry off great numbers
Scunner distaste, loathing
Sitzkrieg sitting war. phony war
Skamble ramblings, worthless
Slubberdegullion base fellow, nasty oaf, one who does things carelessly
Slugabed lazy, a late riser
Split to betray secrets, tell tales, give away accomplices
Squab short fat plump person
Stephon rustic lover
Strafe sharp, sudden, bombardment or machine gunning of people
Strappado [Italian.] Mode of torture. victim's hands are tied behind his back, pulled up to a beam by a rope, then dropped to dislocate the arms
Sycophant sponger, parasite, servile flatterer, professional prosecutors who blackmail wealthy citizens with threats of prosecution and litigation; blackmailers
Uriah Heep toady, malignant hypocrite, malicious
Venal a person that may be bribed, willing to lend support, exert influence, or sacrifice principals for mercenary motive and selfish gain
Wag humorous person, given to jest

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8. REFERENCE: Non-English Words as Potential Names
by Kevin Davies

One of the tricks for humorous or exotic adventures is to use names that are actually descriptive of their owner. While it is always possible to go for the direct and obvious words (e.g., Dirtbag the Nasty), it is often more interesting to use less common words from slang or other languages. Another potential reference for names is a pop culture reference (e.g., Mean Mr Mustard or Bungalow Bill). Provided below are some non-English words (and their definitions) which you may find useful as names for Characters or places in your adventures.

JAPANESE WORDS (As Potential Names)
Bonjin Mediocrity
Gunjin Soldier
Henjin Crackpot

SPANISH WORDS (As Potential Names)
Abrazo Hug, embrace
Amarillo Yellow
Amenazar To threaten, impending doom
Amo Master
Ampolla Blister
Azul Blue
Baldio Waste land, public domain
Barrera Barrier, barricade, fence
Barroso Muddy, pimpled, reddish
Belleza Beauty
Boca Mouth
Brujo Wizard
Burro Donkey
Caballero Knight, cavalier, gentleman
Caballo Horse
Caliente Hot
Campeador Warrior, champion
Castello Castle
Caudillo Strongman, political dictator
Chico Small boy, youngster
Ciudad City
Colorado Red
Criado Servant
Embustero Liar, deciever, trickster, fibber
Emigrado Exile
Escritor Writer
Espada Sword, matador nickname
Esperanza Hope, hopefulness
Estancia Large plantation or ranch
Extraviar To lead astray, mislay, misplace, lose one’s way, deviate
Hermana Sister
Hermano Brother
Hostelero Innkeeper, host
Ominoso Omnious
Optimista Optimist, optimistic
Padre Father
Pecado Sin
Pobre Poor
Poco Little
Simpatico Congenial, likable, sympathetic, agreeable
Tortura Torture
Tormento Torment

YIDDISH WORDS (As Potential Names)
Gonif A thief or clever person.
Kibbitz To give unwanted advice.
Kvetsch One who complains constantly.
Macher One who gets things done. A mover and shaker.
Maven Expert.
Megillah A long, boring story.
Meshugge Crazy, strange, nonsensical.
Mishegas Insanity.
Momser Bastard. Clever bastard.
Narr A fool or clown.
Nebbish An ineffectual, unlucky dope, a nobody.
Nudge Pest, nag, bore.
Nudnick A yakky aggressively boring person.
Putz Simpleton or jerk.
Shlemihl Ultimate dope, someone who can do noting right.
Shlep To carry, to travel.
Shlimazl Unlucky person, a born loser. Bad luck.
Shlock Junk.
Shlub Ill-mannered clumsy klutz.
Shmaltz Sentimentality.
Shmatta Cloth rag. Anything worthless.
Shmedrick A timid pipsqueak.
Shmeer A spread, to grease; a bribe.
Shnook A pleasant but pathetic sap. More to be pitied than scorned.
Shtick A bit, stage business, a characteristic gimmick.
Tsuris Trouble, aggravation. Difficulties

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This page was last updated May 8, 2003. Content copyright ©1995 to 2003 Kevin Davies.