Thursday 3 November 2011


Being a list of TRPBTNTWAs, or, Things Role Playing Bloggers Tend Not To Write About:

  • Book binding. (I can't be the only person who bemoans the way new rulebooks tend to fall apart like a sheaf of dry leaves after about 5 seconds of use).
  • "Doing a voice". How many people "do voices"? Should they? How do you get better at "doing a voice" if that's your thing?
  • Breaks. How often do you have breaks within sessions?
  • Description. Exactly how florid are your descriptions?
  • Where do you strike the balance between "doing what your character would do" and "acting like a dickhead"? 
  • PC-on-PC violence. Do your players tend to avoid it, or do you ban it? Or does anything go?
  • How do you explain what a role playing game is to a stranger who is also a non-player? (Real life example: my friends and I were playing in the local M:tG club space. A M:tG groupie teenage goth girl came over and asked, "What are you playing?" "[We answered.]" "Sounds kind of gay.")
  • Alchohol at the table? 
  • What's acceptable to do to a PC whose player is absent from the session? Is whatever happens their fault for not being there, or are there some limits?


  1. Last game, a player I don't know very well described the demon as "a bad Christian Bale".

    Broke my heart.

  2. Oh, also, the first 3 questions of character creation in my games are...

    "How will this character be fun to play?"

    "How will this character be fun for the other players?"

    "How will this character be fun for the GM?"

  3. I did do a post on "doing voices" in games this summer, and I think there was sort of a follow-up on another blog, though I can't remember where.

  4. Book binding is something that really cheeses me off.

    For my own releases I have been working really hard to get high quality binding done. The kind that should last for generations.

  5. Book binding: Since the iPad, I get almost everything in PDF. Even if I get a hardcopy, I put it on the shelf and use the PDF. It does make me sad that some of my older books are starting to fall apart. If I could’ve known when I was buying them how some books would hold up and other not, would I have made different choices?

    Voices: I think even bad or cheesy voices are valuable. They help differentiate in-character and out-of-character speaking. They help differentiate NPCs. When good, they can help bring a character to life. I try not to think about getting better at it too much, though, because it would mean focusing on how bad and cheesy mine are. ^_^

    Breaks: My groups have never scheduled breaks but have always taken breaks whenever necessary. A bio-call. An important phone call. Dinner is ready. Whatever. Occasionally the DM will ask to finish something up real quick before taking the break.

    Descriptions: This is something I don’t think I’m very good at. On the other hand, what I think would be good might actually be too much. I do try to remind myself when behind the screen that my descriptions have to serve for all the PCs’ senses. This is also one of those areas where I celebrate diversity. One DM giving long flowing descriptions and another giving concise ones can both be great.

    When my character is a jerk: I suppose I just tend to avoid this. I don’t play characters that, in playing, will make me be a jerk to my friends. That said, my groups have always been good at knowing the difference between in-character jerkiness and out-of-character jerkiness, so it is seldom an issue.

    PvP: The most memorable moments of this have been when a player was an out-of-character jerk. ^_^ Though, it was justified in-game because the character was always a jerk too.

    The few times it has come up, it has never been a problem.

    Describing role-playing games to outsiders: Probably different every time. I don’t have a stock or concise answer. Probably the closest would be: “It is ‘Let’s pretend’, but with a way (a judge) to resolve disagreements.”

    Alcohol: I don’t drink. My friends do, but seldom when we’re gaming. When they do, it isn’t much. Never been an issue.

    Absent player: Yes, there are limits. We really try to avoid making decisions for a player that isn’t there are having something bad happen to their character.

    On a related note: In college, I had to ask my group to start a separate campaign that was only played once a week. Because they’d get two or three players together on short notice and play the main campaign several times a week. But some of us had more outside obligations and really felt alienated by that.

  6. - I don't buy rulebooks enough to notice the issue.

    - I totally do voices. Not as a player, unless I'm hamming it up, but as a DM I do it all the time. I think doing voices, and being totally unselfconscious about doing them, is pretty vital to having a large cast of NPCs, since it's one of the few ways to strongly differentiate characters. Every NPC should have a different voice. I would be very surprised to learn that most DMs don't do it this way.

    - Variable. Usually by the body clock.

    - I keep it descriptive, not poetic. Describe the main points of importance and leave specific detail for when the players ask.

    - "Don't be a dick."

    - Very heavily discouraged. I wouldn't ban it, but I would expect the rest of the PCs to kick the instigator out of the party for antisocial behaviour (the PC, not the player).

    - Depends on the person. Usually I resort to computer game/wargame/drama analogies, or "playing pretend but with rules and a referee".

    - No more than one or two.

    - Ideally their character isn't there either. If it's unavoidable, they tag along in the care of another player and everyone ignores them.

  7. Bookbinding: My current thought is that most RPG books are 10x too long. I hate those bindings with the glued in pages that fall apart when you try to lay them flat (I think some pervert in the industry named them 'perfect' bindings --- I think they are perfectly horrible).
    I hate reading long rule books; I would prefer rule books that are just 50 pages or less that could be 'saddle stitch' bound (stapled in the middle like a comic book). It's cheap, durable and lays flat if you want to keep it open to one page or another during play.

  8. Book binding: I'm not super picky but stapled pamphlet-style like B/X is best. Ironically some of the most durable and easy to use gaming books were produced when they encouraged you to take apart your book and rearrange it into a binder. I fantasize about making such a binder by the way, but I never have.

    Voices: yep they're important. don't need to be good at all.

    Breaks: happen naturally.

    Descriptions: Don't need to be flowery but they do need to have important details for the PCs to grab onto.

    In-character dickheadishness: In my experience there is always somebody who insists on playing this way. It can be frustrating, but it can be rewarding and entertainting too. Generally I think it's a good thing. Diversity of play style is something I look for in a gaming group.

    Describing role-playing games to outsiders: The real answer is: I don't. Unfortunately I think I'm not unusual in this regard. This is a great issue to bring up.

    Alcohol: I tend to like drinking while gaming. I'm currently in search of the perfect dive bar in the Sacramento area to game at. If you know the perfect place let me know!

    Absent player: If your not there neither is your character,no big deal.

  9. I took my Basic and Expert books and combined them in a binder, and I regret it. I found it no easier to use than the separate books. Harder, in fact, since the binder was bulkier and actually made turning the pages slower. Happily I’ve collected a few replacements for both now. (Not to mention having Labyrinth Lord PDF as a suitable, better organized, and searchable replacement.)

    I have to agree that my saddle stitched D&D and Traveller books are my favorites to use at the table. I can’t say they’ve held up as well as some of the hardbacks, though they have held up better than other hardbacks. The perfect bound books do seem to be the worst of both worlds. Not particular durable and not the easiest to use at the table.

  10. I've seen at least several posts on all these topics except book binding. Tons on PC vs PC violence, balance between 'my character would do it' and 'your character's a jerk,' and explaining gaming.

  11. 1. It's almost a rule of mine never to open a book at the table, so my bindings mostly last a long time.
    2. I always do voices, even though I have a limited range. You get better by watching, listening and imitating - think of an actor/character, or 2 mashed together. I tend to reach first for accents, but you can convey a lot with a habitual gesture, significant pause, catchphrase. You can see when an NPC has done something the players will remember: I note those moments and springboard off them, letting the lesser cast stay less differentiated.
    3. Breaks for meals, kids (usually = session breaks). I try to get a couple of uninterrupted hours and then stop.
    4. Too florid. I consciously aim for Hemingway and generally fail.
    5. Characters sometimes act like dicks, even though the players are old friends: everyone deals with it (though when it leads to PvP that requires a lot more dealing). With a new player all the old anxieties return: I encourage new players to play co-operative, pro-active characters - pushing someone to play a leader straight off forces them to rub up against the others and everyone gets to learn a lot.
    6. PvP: I don't stop it, but usually the world is dangerous enough that the PCs want to stick together.
    7. "it's let's pretend, with a few rules. Right now we're pretending in Jason's world, so he tells us about what that's like and we decide what to do about it."
    8. Sure, social drinking. But no games in pubs. Seious drunkenness has never been an issue.
    9. PCs of absent players become tag-along NPCs, always mysteriously the farthest from danger in the marching order. Still, they have died on occasion. Or another player takes them over as a second character, in which case their actuarial risk goes up.

  12. Here are my responses.

    (And I find it a little odd that the captcha for this comment is "comma")

  13. That was a fun read. I responded in my latest blog post.

  14. Here's mine:

  15. Good read and did my own list here:

  16. Responded here in full and double-posted bits below for ease of reading. I found the last question (on absent players) to be the most immediately applicable to my current gaming situation, as it happens all the time.

    Book binding. I love my Labyrinth Lord hardcover from Lulu, and I love digest-sized books (I know this is a prompt about physical book binding, but digest size also has the nice side effect of producing PDFs that fit nicely on my iPad). I don't like full-sized (8.5" x 11") perfect-bound books that are too thin; I would rather thinner books be printed as digest size. The otherwise excellent Anomalous Subsurface Environment suffers from this (and it really is excellent in content; it is one of my favorite OSR products to date; my only other complaint is that I want more of it). Also, I hate it when players see what module I am running (if I am running a module) so PDFs being included with hardcopy is appreciated so that I can easily print out maps or other details for my gaming binder. I find that the iPad is not fast enough to be able to switch between documents on the fly during gaming, but is great for reading offline.

    Description. I am very descriptive. I feel like I have to be, because I usually have a specific picture in my mind, and it is rarely generic Tolkienized fantasy.

    PC-on-PC violence. Currently disallowed by referee fiat. I would like to run a game where this was allowed, because I like the idea of PCs really having absolute freedom (though of course they will need to bear the consequences of their actions). I would need to be confident that the players could separate themselves sufficiently from their characters though. It would totally depend upon the people in question.

    What's acceptable to do to a PC whose player is absent from the session? Is whatever happens their fault for not being there, or are there some limits? My sessions are so short (only 3 hours right now) that it is unreasonable to expect the PCs to be able to return to home base every session. And, due to our schedules, it is also unreasonable to expect everyone to attend every session. Sometimes they spend the entire 3 hours in a single dungeon room. I don't have any problem with that, but it does make using a solution like the Triple Secret Random Dungeon Fate Chart of Very Probable Doom or Where The Hell Have You Been, Flake? impossible. Currently we are just handwaving: if you are there, your PC is there. If not, not. No narrative explanation is given. This does, however, have a dramatic impact on the possibilities open to the PCs. For example, one character is an eladrin (high elf) assassin, and in 4E eladrin have the ability to teleport 30 feet once per encounter (or every 5 minutes when not in an encounter). As you can imagine, having a party member that can teleport 30 feet dramatically expands the dungeon exploratory powers of a party (particularly those of a low-level party that doesn't otherwise have access to powers like flight or teleportation). There have been several times when the assassin was gone where the PCs might have used his power to teleport over and affix a rope to gain access to another area, or use the teleportation power in a similar way. But, since the eladrin was not there to be exposed to risk (there is no way I would kill a player's character when the player is absent), he was also not there to add to the party's options. In this case, I am sacrificing narrative consistency for game consistency. I'm not totally happy with this solution, but it's the best I've got right now.

  17. I responded to the item closest to my heart: drinking at the table.

    Feel free to take a quick read at

  18. My thoughts are hereabouts:

  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. I put my answers on my blawg.

    (Accursed lack-of-remembering-preview, we meet again.)

  21. I'm pretty sure I've posted (or at least mentioned more than once) everything in that list except book binding.

  22. Great questions! It's good seeing other people's responses to these more day to day topics. I've posted mine at my blog.

  23. You're seriously telling me a teenage goth chick didn't know what D&D was.

  24. Book binding.

    Fucking hardcovers. If your skin was made of metal, of course it's going to fall off your gooshy, soft flesh. I have to carry these things around, guys. I have copies of Call of Cthulhu sourcebooks older than I am which have fared better than my three-year old hardcovers.

    How many people "do voices"? Should they? How do you get better at "doing a voice" if that's your thing?

    I do voices in regular conversation, so…

    Breaks. How often do you have breaks within sessions?

    Whenever I acknowledge that my attention is drifting.

    Exactly how florid are your descriptions?

    My descriptions become more florid if dead air increases.

    Where do you strike the balance between "doing what your character would do" and "acting like a dickhead"?

    Actually, the game I'm playing in right now is about being a dickhead in a room full of dickheads. So… yeah.

    As a GM, I encourage my players to choose dickish personality types.

    PC-on-PC violence. Do your players tend to avoid it, or do you ban it? Or does anything go?

    I'd allow it. SAN loss would apply.

    How do you explain what a role playing game is to a stranger who is also a non-player?

    "It's D&D." Or, "It's like D&D, but with the X-Files." I don't know that many home-schooled kids… or time-travelling kids from the 50s… or… yeah. Seriously.

    Alchohol at the table? 

    I've probably run more games with alcohol than with tables.

    What's acceptable to do to a PC whose player is absent from the session? Is whatever happens their fault for not being there, or are there some limits?

    If at least one other present player escapes, their character does too. Otherwise they might start the next session recruiting new agents.

  25. Coming late to this but...

    Book Binding: the dodgy quality of RPGs shits me no end, but I'd rather they were poorly bound than not published.

    Voices: I do them, within limits, but I'm best at angry men and incidental farmers. When it comes to things like undead and dragons I think describing the voice carries more power than doing a bad version of the "chill whispers of the grave" or whatever.

    Breaks: we just go with the flow

    Descriptions: I do a lot of description, because i find my players are very interested in setting and tone. We usually end up with a running joke about how some idiot player will interrupt me halfway through to ask "am I fully healed"?

    balance of dickheads: I'm pretty tough on this and involve the group in decisions. If I think someone is pushing the limits of what everyone else wants out of the game, I try to rein them in.

    PC-on-PC violence: I avoid this at all costs because in my experience it usually damages the group's cohesion and makes gaming less fun for everyone. I'm not opposed to it in theory, but practically I think it's risky.

    Explaining to strangers: I judge this very carefully, and only tell people I think are going to be nice

  26. I published answers in my blog as well!

  27. And me (courtesy of Shannon's link)