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GM Tips, Tricks, & General Advice

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    GM Tips, Tricks, & General Advice

    Cailano has volunteered to host some DM training for those of you that might wish to DM a game of your own later on down the line. He will be giving tips and tricks, sharing DMing resources, and answering questions. Take a look here to get started.

    I'd like to take this opportunity to thank him for his contributions. It is, as always, very appreciated.

    "Ho there wanderer... Stay thy course a moment to indulge an old man." ~Elminster, BG1, just outside Candlekeep

    For Evil to triumph, all good men must do is nothing. The corollary to that proverb is that sometimes evil must be done by honorable men for the greater good to triumph. ~Twilight Warriors

    Hi all,

    Okay, for those totally new to RPGs, the Game Master (aka the Dungeon Master, which is copyright Wizards of the Coast) is the guy or gal that is in charge of everything in the game that isn't the player characters. He (I'll use the male pronoun, but I don't mean to leave out the female GMs, of which there are many good ones) sets the stage that the PCs tell their story on. He is every inn keeper, tax collector, orc, goblin, necromancer and dragon in the game.

    He also acts as a judge, settling rules disputes and answering rules questions.

    Game Mastering is by far the most challenging and dynamic role to take in an RPG. It takes up the most time and involves the most "work." However, some - including me - consider it the most rewarding aspect of role playing.

    This hobby succeeds or fails by the talent and skill of game masters. Being able to juggle the roles of story teller, game designer, judge and character actor isn't for everyone, but if you think it might be for you, read on.

    Even if you have no experience at all, you can learn to game master. The first RPG I ever played was one that I ran, and my first experience here on TTW was - you guessed it - running a game. Further, it was a game system (Pathfinder) that I had no experience with at all.
    Last edited by cailano; 09-22-2012, 02:55 PM.


      Lesson One: How to Roll Dice

      If you already know how to roll dice here on TTW, you can skip this lesson.

      The dice roller here is activated in forum. For instance, to roll a six sided die, you type in the following:

      [*roll=anything you want to type]*1d6[*/roll]

      Only when you type it, omit the '*'s.

      Substitute "anything you want to type" with, well, anything you want to type. Usually it is a roll description like "attack" or "damage."

      It doesn't have to be a D6. You can roll any of the common dice, such as D4s, D8s, D20s, etc.

      In fact, you can roll a D anything. Try it. Roll a d567 or a d1,000,000. I'll wait.

      Now that you know how to roll dice, let's move on to posting attachments.
      Last edited by cailano; 09-19-2012, 02:21 PM.


        How to Post an Attachment

        Often you will want to post a graphic in your game, such as a picture of a map, a battle map, or a monster. How do you do it?

        Attachments come from one of two places: The Internet or your own computer. Posting them is a similar process either way.

        To post an attachment from the Internet, first do an image search and pull up the actual image that you want. Hint: look at your navigation bar - the image name should end with .jpg or .png or something like that.

        Say I want my PCs to attack and kill Barney the Dinosaur. I Google search for Barney, pull up the .jpg image and then highlight and copy the full URL of the image in the navigation bar. Then I come back to TTW and hit the icon up above that looks like a little tree in a frame.


          Post an Attachment Part Two:

          I click on "from URL" paste the URL I copied earlier, and unclick the check box. That's it!

          A fearsome monster if there ever was one.
          Last edited by cailano; 01-24-2015, 11:09 PM.


            Attachments from Your Computer

            To attach an image file from your computer, you need to hit the "go advanced" tab at the bottom of your posting screen. From there you will see an icon that looks like a paper clip. Click it and you will be prompted to select a file. Be sure your image file is of the right size (there is a list to check by) and then select it. Hit "upload" and you're in business. You won't see the image straight off, but once you hit upload and the image loads, go ahead and close the "attachments" window.

            For example, here is a battle map that I made in photoshop and wanted to include in my Curse of the Crimson Throne campaign.
            Last edited by cailano; 06-06-2013, 02:51 AM.


              Attachments from your Computer Part 2

              So now you have an image you can click on and see a larger version of. Go ahead and try it, I'll wait.

              But what if you want to have it nice and big and centered for all to see by default? Well, this is where homework comes in. I'll give you a hint: when you click on the image above, and then click it again to take it to its maximum size, look up at the navigation bar. Looks like a URL for an image, doesn't it? Hmmm...

              As for centering, hit go advanced again and check out some of your options. TTW offers us a lot of fun tools to play with there.

              Your finished image should look something like this:

              Last edited by cailano; 06-06-2013, 02:52 AM.


                Rolling dice and posting images are two of your most common tasks as a gamemaster on TTW. Next lesson, we're going to go over how you learn how to play these crazy games in the first place, including links that will allow you to learn and play the Pathfinder roleplaying game (one of the most popular rules sets on TTW) absolutely free. (and yes, its legal.)
                Last edited by cailano; 09-19-2012, 02:59 PM.


                  Learning Systems

                  Now, if you are already an experienced GM and you know a rules system or two well enough already, then knowing how to roll dice and post attachments is probably all you need to know to get started. Get some PbP (Play By Post) practice, or just go over to the recruiting section, hit the "game request" forum and jump right in. Note: it takes about four or five days to get a new game approved around here.

                  If, on the other hand, you don't feel confident enough in a rules system to run a game yet, fear not. There are two unbelievable resources for you online, and they are both completely free and completely legal.

                  In my own opinion, the best supported fantasy RPG out there is the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, which is based on the D20 system (the last version of Dungeons and Dragons published before the current one. You'll also hear this edition referred to as "3.5" )

                  You can get nearly every rule published for Pathfinder, including the core rules that cover combat, gamemastering and character creation, every bestiary (which lists monsters) and many expansion books such as the advanced player's guide and Ultimate Magic.

                  Paizo gives away it's rules. There is even a section on "how to play." You can find all of this in a well organized and very accessible website called the Pathfinder Reference Document, or PRD for short.

                  Here it is:

                  There is a similar document for D&D 3.5 called the SRD. You can find that here:

                  Pathfinder and D&D are the "crunch" behind probably 80% of the games here on TTW, with D&D 4.0 making up most of the other 20%. The PRD and SRD are big reasons for this popularity.

                  To be a GM you must first be versed in character creation, because most of your players are going to want to make characters for your new game. Beyond character creation you should also know how to do skill checks, and how to run a basic combat. That means you need to read about the basics, races, classes, skills and feats, as well as equipment. You don't need to memorize those sections, but at least read them.

                  Stick to the core rules for now. Add the rest (or some of the rest) in later if you'd like.

                  Everything you need is on the PRD, so I won't repeat it here other than to tell you the core mechanic.

                  The core mechanic of Pathfinder and D20 alike is this: Roll a D20, add a modifier, compare this to a target number.

                  For instance, an orc might have an Armor Class of 15. That is the target number you need to get to in order to successfully land a blow on that orc. A first level fighter might have an attack bonus of +5. So if that fighter's player wants him to hit the orc, he rolls a d20, adds his +5, and compares the result to the orc's armor class (15 in this case.) If the d20 + modifier is 15 or better, he hits!

                  Skills are much the same. Skills have a difficulty class that is like their armor class. For instance, walking a tightrope in a high wind might carry a hefty difficulty class of 20. The character trying to walk the tightrope rolls a d20, adds their acrobatics skill modifier, and compares the result to the difficulty class. In this case, if the d20 roll + acrobatics is over 20, he successfully crosses the rope.

                  Edit: There is also an SRD for Mutants and Masterminds, a super hero RPG. You can find that HERE
                  Last edited by cailano; 08-09-2013, 02:39 PM.


                    Making your Game: Part One: Modules and Adventure Paths

                    Now that you know some of the basic rules, you might be ready to start up a game. If you're a new Pathfinder GM, I sincerely, whole heatedly suggest that you head over to and purchase a PDF copy of one of their adventure modules or adventure paths. Be sure to get one for first level characters. Paizo's modules are pre-written adventures, ready to be played. The quality of these adventures is good to excellent across the board, and unless you are an experienced writer they are likely going to be better than what you'd come up with on your own at this juncture.

                    Read through your new module. You don't have to memorize but you should understand the basic plot and non-player characters you will be controlling. Running your first game from a module won't be perfect, and may even be confusing at times, but if you commit to finishing your game and run that module all the way you will know what you're doing as a GM by the end of it.

                    Paizo also makes series of modules called Adventure Paths. These are giant, multi-layered campaigns that would likely take years to play through in PbP. To my knowledge, no game master has successfully run one all the way through on TTW. Very few have completed even a single module of any kind.

                    In case that isn't your thing though, the next lesson is going to be about building your own adventure.
                    Last edited by cailano; 09-22-2012, 11:06 PM.


                      Making Your Game: Encounters

                      The basic unit of the RPG adventure is the encounter. An encounter is basically just an important "scene" or series of scenes in your adventure. It could be a role playing encounter with an important NPC, a puzzle, a key part of an investigation, or a combat.

                      To be an encounter as opposed to simply a random scene an encounter must have consequences. It must matter if the PCs succeed or fail in the encounter. To succeed, they must succeed at some sort of task, such as convincing the mercenary captain to help them, solving the ancient riddle of the mountain folk, killing the black dragon, or what have you.

                      Encounters, encounters, encounters. Your adventure can never have enough of them. Your adventure can't have enough different types of them. A huge problem I've seen in PbP games here on TTW is that there are not enough encounters.

                      Just to drive the point home one more time: An RPG adventure is nothing more than a series of encounters with some role playing scenes to tie it all together.

                      If you put work into your encounters, taking the time to plan them out, your adventure will flow and your players will be loyal and your game will be a success.

                      Some things to think about when planning your encounters:

                      1) Is this encounter challenging? If not, find a way to make it more so.

                      2) Is this encounter TOO challenging? No one wants a TPK (total party kill) so don't be afraid to tone an encounter down a bit if it seems to lethal. Killing off your PCs is not necessarily the sign of a good GM. Anyone can throw an ancient dragon at a first level party and laugh while they die.

                      3) Is this encounter interesting? Is there a way to make it different than the other encounters in the adventure? Is there a way to make it more interactive for the players? Can you add complexity to the encounter to make it so everyone has something to do? Is there a way to make it something they have never seen before?

                      4) Where is the encounter set? Does it have to be another generic cave? What if you put hot lava pits scattered around, or add some innocents to the scene, or a trap? What if it was outside? What if it was in pitch darkness?

                      For example: Let's take a classic combat encounter, a battle with four orcs. Now there are four PCs in the game so this wouldn't be very challenging, even at low levels. So what to do? First off, let's take it out of the caves and put it in a snow covered canyon. Let's have the PCs track the orcs there, and then once they arrive lets put two orcs behind some boulders shooting crossbows, and another two up on some high ground doing the same. Let's give them enough space that they have two rounds of solid shooting before the PCs can close to melee. Now... let's do one better and put a pit trap in the canyon, with a tough DC so the rogue has to make a good roll to spot it.

                      Lastly, let's add a kidnapped woman from a local village, who is trapped in a wooden cage and screaming for help.

                      Now we have a more challenging encounter, in a decent setting, with some interesting tactical problems. It's nothing earth shattering but its more memorable than orcs in a cave. The PCs will have to think and use their ability, and the caged woman raises the stakes and potentially adds a lead for further encounters during the adventure.


                        Encounters Continued: Challenge Rating

                        Monsters in D&D and Pathfinder are assigned something called a Challenge Rating or CR. This is a rough estimate of how much of a challenge a creature or NPC will be for an adventuring party.

                        A minor challenge would be anything below the PCs level. Add more creatures or various advantages for them to keep your PCs more interested. Sometimes its fun to throw in low CR combats just to make the PCs feel like badasses as they mow through bad guys.

                        A standard challenge is one where the CR is equal to or maybe 1 greater than the PCs level.

                        A hard challenge is between 2 and 3 levels higher than the PCs.

                        Anything over that should be reserved for boss fights or for when you PCs have really blown it. Character death is likely.

                        To find the CR for a given creature, check the bestiary.

                        Non combat encounters can have a CR as well, though you will have to do your best to determine it. I decide on CR for non combat encounters by figuring in both the difficulty of the encounter as well as the importance of it to the game.


                          Making your game: Battle Maps

                          Your first decision when running an encounter is whether or not you want to use battle maps. I won't lie, battle maps are a fair amount of work. You need a utility like Photoshop or GIMP to edit and update them, and you have to know enough about the programs to do that (which isn't much, but a little.)

                          All that being said, if it is possible for you to use battle maps, I would do it. D&D and Pathfinder are tactical wargames at heart, and without a battle map and tokens to represent your PCs and monsters, you lose that aspect of the game.

                          If it is not possible, then it is not and you can just move on without them. Not everyone uses battle maps, and some actually prefer combats based only on narrative.

                          If you do use battle maps, you'll need to be aware of everyone's movement rate, and the ranges of spells and weapons. This is a big part of the tactics of the game so its important stuff to know. Don't worry, most characters move either 20 or 30 feet, so its easy to remember. Each grid square on the map is 5', so figuring out movement is very easy.

                          If you want to make your own maps, there is a cool little utility at:

                          If you use PDF copies of Paizo modules, they will already include all the maps you need. Just cut and paste into your favorite image editor and have at.

                          EDIT: I should include tokens! Tokens represent the players and monsters on a battle map, much an miniatures do in a table top game. You can generate custom tokens to your hearts content using token tool, available for free at you can also find a lot of premade tokens at:

                          You can also opt for top down miniatures. You can find a bunch of them at:
                          Last edited by cailano; 09-22-2012, 02:13 PM.


                            Encounters: Practice

                            The best way to learn D&D of any edition including Pathfinder is just to jump in and try it.

                            Here are three practices for you:

                            First off, find two or three players that have first level characters, or better yet, help them make some. Try to get a variety of classes in there, and at least one spell caster.

                            Try the following encounters.

                            1) Giant Rats: Have them fight four Dire Rats. You can find dire rat stats here:

                            Keep this encounter simple. Set up a large room with a few obstacles such as tables or crates. No more than 30' x 30' though. That's a pretty big room. It doesn't get more basic than Dire Rats. This will be great practice for working with melee combat.

                            2) Goblin Ambush: Set up an outdoor map, maybe 50' x 60'. Use four Goblins, but they are hidden by trees 40' from the road, and all have short bows in addition to short swords. You can find Goblin stats here:

                            This is also a very basic encounter, but now things like movement, cover and ranged weapons come into play.

                            3) Goblin Boss: Here you have three goblins, including one archer. Put them in a 60' x 40' room, and throw in some obstacles like a big table. Now make a goblin boss. You do this by adding character levels to a basic goblin, which you can learn how to do here:

                            In this case I want you to add three levels of wizard. When you choose spells, go for effects like fear and sleep - things that have saving throws.

                            This is obviously a more complex fight, and a tougher one. You might want to have four 1st level characters for it.

                            Once you've run all three of these encounters you'll be fine for starting your first adventure. You'll know what a few of the character classes can do, you'll have experience with melee and ranged combat, and with spell casters and saving throws. Believe it or not, that is the core of D&D. The rest you can learn as you go.

                            Tip: Do NOT gloss over rules. If you don't know how something like cover works, look it up! If you don't know what a spell does, look it up! How many spells does a 3rd level goblin wizard get, anyway? Look it up! The GM needs to know the rules. When I started my first campaign on TTW, I didn't know the Pathfinder rules set so well, but with every encounter I got better and now, seven months or so later I'm pretty fast with it. There's no substitute for experience and taking the time to do things right.
                            Last edited by cailano; 09-22-2012, 02:12 PM.


                              Making Your Game: Creating the Adventure

                              An adventure is nothing more than a series of encounters tied together with some sort of plot line. A campaign is nothing more than a series of adventures connected either by a plotline, or sometimes just by the fact that the same PCs tromp from one adventure to the next.

                              A lot of new GMs just dive right into things with a campaign idea, but I will ask you not to do this. Try just a single adventure. Know the beginning middle and end before you start recruiting. Make sure you have encounters lined up for at least the beginning part, and that these encounters are of the appropriate CR and interesting as well.

                              But what should your new adventure be about? Well we're going to keep it simple, so what I want you to do is find your boss. Go ahead and look through the Bestiary. Find a good CR 5 monster (no more than CR 5.) Alternately, you can make a 5th level character to act as the boss.

                              Now... why would the PCs need to fight this monster? Think of a reason.

                              But a group of 1st level PCs will probably die fighting a CR 5 boss. So we have to get them to at least level 2 before they meet your bad guy.

                              Who works for the bad guy? If no one, then who is in between the bad guy and the PCs? Is it goblins? Orcs? Humans?

                              How do the PCs find out about the boss in the first place? Were they hired to go kill it? Does it present a threat to them or did it harm someone they care about?

                              Make your first encounters fairly easy... get things going. In the middle somewhere should be a tough encounter that will make the PCs have to rest afterward. Maybe you even have a plot twist here, like an important new NPC, or maybe the boss has a boss that the PCs can pursue in another adventure. Maybe there is something that raises the stakes, and makes the PCs need to defeat the boss even more.

                              After the mid point fight, add in an environment encounter. Maybe the PCs have to negotiate a slippery ledge along a 300 foot waterfall, or maybe they have to swim through an underwater passage... give them some reason to use their skills and abilities.

                              One or two more encounters should bring them to 2nd level. If you've done your job the encounters will flow logically and be different from one another. not all of them will have been combat, but a lot of them probably will be. Remember, D&D is a tactical war game at heart.

                              Finally, your boss fight. By now you probably have a plan to make it dynamic and epic. Go for it. This is what the players signed up for.

                              Now that you have all those encounters in place, all you have to do is get your PCs together. Maybe you go with a classic and they meet in a tavern. Maybe they have all been wronged by your boss or one of his underlings in some way. Maybe they are hired by a local lord.

                              Whatever you do, do NOT start them as captives. Players hate being captured. They like choices. Help them choose to follow your adventure, but don't force them. Motivate them.

                              If you can get just this far: a series of strong encounters with a boss fight and some pay off at the end, you will have done better than a very large percentage of would be PbP game masters.

                              Good luck!
                              Last edited by cailano; 09-22-2012, 11:11 PM.