Developing Characters: Pre-Session Q&A


An important part of making a cohesive group of characters for a role playing game is to make sure that the players understand everyone else’s characters. Many Powered by the Apocalypse (PBtA) games like Masks and Dungeonworld have bonds or relationships to other characters that indicate not just their interactions with other players, but also their expectations for future ones. For games that don’t have this built into their structure, there are many ways to develop these same levels of connection.

The one method I’ll talk about today is useful not just for developing relationships, but also for introducing characters to an audience, like an Actual Play Podcast or Live Stream.

Pre-Session Q&A


Before you begin the recap for each session, introduce the player and character. Once they introduce themselves, ask each player a leading question about their character. Really good questions will lead the players to reveal more information about their character. This is really helpful for finding out more about characters that hasn’t come up in the game yet. Some examples include:

-        What is your character’s greatest fear?

-        What emotion is most often associated with your character, such as guilt or optimism?

-        What did your character think about (insert a recent situation)?

-        Does your character have any friends that aren’t in the group?

-        Who does your character feel most protective about?

-        What would cause your character to retire or give up?

-        What would your character’s nightmares look like?

Asking each player the same question allows everyone to get a helpful view of everyone else’s perspectives. If everyone has a similar fear, for example, that is common ground that the Game Master (GM) can use during the game. The players also know that other characters feel that way, and can look for opportunities to bring it up during role playing.

This is just one way of developing characters and relationships, what are some methods you use?


Gencon 2018 Recap

gencon icon.jpg

I survived Gencon, and avoided the Con Crud!

Gencon 2018 was my first time at Gencon, and only my second gaming convention after Pax Unplugged. I was nervous going into the convention, as it was a new experience for me and overflowing with people.

I was lucky to meet up with some fellow fans of the One Shot Podcast network, and meeting these new people and finding old faces from Pax Unplugged made Gencon into a great experience for me.

One of the things I was looking forward to was playing as a player in some tabletop RPGs, instead of the GM. Some of the games include:

13th Age- I played a tiefling hellsinger (bard/barbarian) named Vivan who sung with the voice of the Diabolist. She's kind of awesome.

Blue Beard's Bride- A horror game that I never would have played by myself, but lucked into a great group of people that fostered a comfortable experience.

Blades in the Dark- Mouse, the sneaky thief and infiltrator.

Masks- M. King, the beacon who loves the stories of the Monkey King and wants to be him. He's adorable and I want to protect him forever.

Dragon Age World- A hack of Dungeon World into Thedas, playing a goth spirit-healer elf.

Fallout (Genesys): The gruff outlander traversing the mysterious land of Far Harbor.

I also attended a True Dungeon, a set of escape room-like scenarios with shuffleboard combat for fighting monsters. It was fun, but my character was turned to stone and removed from the game fairly early, which made the rest of the adventure less enjoyable as I couldn’t participate. As puzzles aren’t my forte in the first place, I would probably skip the True Dungeons in the future unless I attended with friends.

I was lucky to attend the Campaign Podcast live episode, which was both hysterical and bittersweet. It was a nice sendoff for the crew of the Mynoc, and it was packed with fans of the show. The performers were incredible, and it made for the most entertaining part of the convention.

It's just,  like, the best you guys.

It's just,  like, the best you guys.

As a side note, the Masks RPG was one of the most popular topics among people I met that were into RPGs. I spent a ton of time mutually fawning over the system.

Overall I was very happy with Gencon, once I got a lay of the land. Personally, the experience was much better than Pax Unplugged. Gencon had pre-registration for all events, so even though there were tons of people attending, there were few lines that I had to contend with. Contrasted with Pax Unplugged, where I only made it into one RPG game, I much prefer Gencon’s approach.

I would love to go to Gencon again, and next time I hope to spend more time with the friends I made. Hopefully I'll go back soon!

Coin Zombies



Zombies are slow. How do you make it easier for them to eat the brains of still-moving creatures? You make the prey WANT to come near the zombie!

Taken directly from 13th Age, the coin zombies prey on the greed of other creatures by compelling them to come closer.

Throw these baddies at your players for a fun variation on the zombie. I'll bet they see how much money they can get from them!

If you liked this, be sure to check out 13th Age, it's full of fun ideas like this!

coin zombies.jpg

The Chessmen

Chess is a familiar game to many people. Even if you don't know how to play, probably know there are pieces like the knight or the queen.

A group of enemies based around chess pieces make a great group of enemies. You have a group of enemies that all work together as a unit, and their visual appearance and mechanics reinforce their chess-game roles.

You could have a tinkerer or wizard called "The Grandmaster" who has created robotic servants and guardians. These Chessmen work great for a short arc, but watch out for the queen!


Enjoy the Chessmen!

Charity Game for Puerto Rico: Arecibo (FATE)

This Saturday I’ll be participating in a charity game for disaster relief/recover for Puerto Rico, Arecibo! My friend Melissa (@momtoast_mel) will be running the game, and has put together a charity drive for the game.

We play kids.

We play kids.

Arecibo is a FATE core game by @evilhatofficial, centered on the Arecibo municipality of Puerto Rico. You might recognize one of its noticeable features…

It almost looks like a golden eye of sorts...

It almost looks like a golden eye of sorts...

That is the Arecibo Observatory, which was the world’s largest radio telescope until 2016. And it probably features into the setting, since Arecibo seems to be heavily inspired by Stranger Things. Expect a lot of creepiness!

The cool thing about this game is that it will be live streamed, and YOU have the chance to influence the game.

That’s right, by donating $20 you can join the Secret Council: You’ll gain insider knowledge of the story, and be able to influence the direction of the story!

If you just want to support the cause, you can head over to the link below and support a great cause!

The game starts this Saturday at 1:00pm EST at our local game store, 7th Dimension Games. Check out the Twitch channel here, and come watch me play a fictional version of my father as interpreted by his childhood stories.


Inspiring NPCs

You can become a hero!

You can become a hero!

I’m not talking about Bardic Inspiration, but about NPCs and characters that are actually inspiring.

Most characters in our games can fall into certain archetypes; the villain, the slacker, the loner, and so on. But one figure that I don’t see often is the Inspiring Figure.

When we make connections to NPCs in the games, we tend to look for things like ‘family member’, ‘rival’, or ‘need revenge’. These help us flesh out or characters, but are often set up as goals to overcome (the rival) or potential hooks to provide motivation (my brother was kidnapped!).

The character that made me think of this is All Might from My Hero Academia. In the anime, he is the #1 hero. He’s the strongest hero in the world, but that alone doesn’t make him inspiring. Instead, he has set himself up as the Symbol of Peace in the world. Always smiling, he provides hope to the world.

"It's fine now. Why? Because I am here!"

"It's fine now. Why? Because I am here!"

Everyone knows All Might. The main characters all look up to him for different reasons, but what is most important is that we SEE him doing heroic and inspiring things. His words and actions matter, and he knows it. He is a beacon.

All Might’s presence hovers over everything in the story. That might be a bit much for a tabletop game, but the premise is still interesting. How many NPCs in games would you consider inspiring? Most everyone is there to either support the heroes, or directly oppose them.

all might 3.png

If you make an inspiring figure in your game, and want people to FELL like they are inspiring, you need to make them relatable. If your inspiring figure is a god, then they’re not connecting with people on a certain level. Part of the reason that someone is inspiring is because they enable others to think that they too can do these incredible things. Having the inspiring figure be a god or supernatural being just ends up making them separate and better than everyone else.

Adding an Inspiring Figure is easier to do during character creation or when establishing the setting, but all you need to do is ask a player “Who do you look up to”, and “Why do you look up to them”. Your answers may vary, but you’ll find that role playing a truly inspiring, genuine, and relatable person is a difficult but fulfilling challenge.


Remember, go plus ultra!

D&D Tip: Let Your Players Award Inspiration


Inspiration is a nice new feature in D&D 5e, similar to action points or hero points from other games. The GM can award a character inspiration for good roleplaying, and they can spend it to gain advantage on a roll.

What if I told you there’s a better way to use inspiration?

Here’s the secret:

Let the players give it to each other.

Shocking, I know

Here are some of the problems with the basic rules of inspiration; it’s completely subjective. As a GM, I’ve forgotten to give it out because of all the other things on my plate. And what if I don’t catch something cool that a player did that deserves inspiration?

A much better way of handling inspiration is to allow your players to award it to each other. This takes the burden off of the GM, and allows players to directly reward each other for doing good things. With more people that can give out inspiration, you’re more likely to have it.

I’ll address concerns about players ‘gaming the system’: Inspiration isn’t that great. You can’t stockpile inspiration, and it only gives advantage on a roll, which means that failure is still a very real option. Plus, players tend to hold onto it for a significant roll, so they’re not using it all the time.

You can't do this with inspiration

You can't do this with inspiration

Ultimately, having a lot of inspiration at your table is a good thing. It’s a reward for doing something good, so you want people to use it as much as they can. The more that the players use inspiration, the more often they can do things to earn it back, which leads to more character development and roleplaying.

My current D&D game uses this rule, and it works wonderfully. It’s a very each change to implement and your players will love it.

Try it out for a few sessions, and see if you notice any changes!

**Side Note: If you don’t already have coins or tokens for inspiration, consider using them with this rule. Having something the players can hand to each other feels rewarding, and visually reminds you of something that you can cash in for a bonus.  



1d10 Monster Traits


Running a combat in D&D can be difficult. Making a group of monsters interesting or unique requires effort planning, especially if there are duplicates of them.

 One simple way to make unique, interesting monsters is to give them simple traits. Traits can be added to any monster, and can change the way they traditionally act. Goblins might be cowardly, but a goblin with the tank trait might jump right into battle. A wolf with the avenger trait howls angrily when a member of the pack is killed, and becomes more dangerous.

Below are 10 sample traits that you can quickly add to any monster or NPC. If you want to spice up an encounter, roll a d10 for one of the monsters and describe how they look or act differently with this trait. A suit of animated armor with the assassin trait might be painted black and be made of lighter material.

Enjoy these 10 monster traits!






Deal an additional die of damage with all attacks


Glass Cannon

Reduce hit points by half. Deal double the amount of damage with attacks



Allied creatures within 60 feet of the commander get a 1d4 bonus to attack rolls and saving throws



Has the maximum number of hit points instead of average



Can take the Disengage, Dash, or Hide actions as a bonus action



Gains proficiency in Dexterity (Stealth). Gains Sneak Attack with a number of d6 equal to the monster’s proficiency bonus



When the monster is reduced to half of its hit points or fewer, it flees



When the creature’s allies die, it gets stronger. It gains a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls for each ally that is defeated



A minion creature has 1 hit point and deals half of its normal damage. If a monster has this trait, there should be 2 identical copies of it.



Any enemy that starts its turn within 5 feet of this creature takes xd6 damage, where x=the creature’s proficiency modifier

7 Ways to Use Good Drama In Your Game


Drama between the players of your gaming group can be a negative experience. But drama in your game can be a good thing. This week we’re going to talk about 7 ways to embrace “good” drama to enrich your games.

Before we can talk about “good” drama, we need to talk about what counts as “bad” drama. In general, bad drama is any decision in-or-out of character that negatively affects the enjoyment of the rest of the table.

Everyone’s goal is to have fun and enjoy the game you are playing. As a member of the game, you need to make sure that your actions aren’t depriving anyone else of having fun. Justifying your actions as “something that your character would do” doesn’t matter. Your character isn’t a real person. It only does what you decide it does, and if your decision would harm someone’s fun, then it is your responsibility to NOT do that.

What? I'm Chaotic Neutral

What? I'm Chaotic Neutral

Now, let’s talk about ways to create “good” drama.

1.       Set Expectations

The most important thing you can do is talk about your expectations, playstyle, and comfort levels before beginning the game. This is at the player level, and should be done before you talk about characters.

Once everyone is on the same page, you can talk about your characters. Build characters that have connections or each other, or establish elements of their backstory that can be woven into confrontations.

2.       What Problems Do You Want?

Currently my favorite RPG

Currently my favorite RPG

The conflict that a character faces can shape who they are. Are you a person that stays optimistic even in the face of despair? It’s easy to say that, but the character’s actions prove it to be true or false. Sometimes there is an intentional disconnect between what a CHARACTER wants, and what a PLAYER wants.

Masks does a great job of building this into their classes (playbooks). Each playbook has a type of drama or conflict that you will deal with. The Nova, for example, is very powerful but has poor control of their powers, causing collateral damage. The CHARACTER wants to avoid excessive damage, but the PLAYER has indicated they want to deal with these problems by picking the playbook. Occasionally having them cause collateral damage and deal with its repercussions is something that the PLAYER wants to deal with, even if the CHARACTER doesn’t.

3.       Interact with Players


The GM is in charge of all the NPCs that you might interact with, but great sources of drama come from two (or more!) players interacting with each other.

In order to add more to the story, you can create drama between two PCs. Maybe you have conflicting ideals. Maybe someone has unreciprocated feelings for another character. Find something that both players are ok with doing, and make drama!

The great thing about player driven drama is that it is often at the forefront of the story. Unlike an NPC, which fades from sight when not involved, the players are always there.

This is really useful for games that are played for an audience like actual play podcasts or livestreams. The audience sees this conflict, and knows that it is always there. A conflict with an NPC is put on hiatus until that NPC comes back into the picture.

4.       Act Unreasonably

"You know what? I punch him."

"You know what? I punch him."

It’s hard to do sometimes, but your character doesn’t always have to act rationally. Sometimes they’re afraid. Sometimes they’re too angry to think. Have them act in a way that creates drama with another character.

Are you the healer, and you’re angry at another character? Tell the player how you are intentionally prioritizing healing someone else first, or are healing them less than you normally would. The important thing here is that you told the PLAYER what you were doing, and thus what the drama is. If you kept it to yourself, it might have been missed, or maybe the PLAYER thought you were lashing out. And back to our original point, if not healing them would kill their character, then maybe don’t do that. Remember, the point is for everyone to have fun. If having their character die would hurt them, then it is in your power to not use that idea.

On the flip side, maybe your character is acting overly sensitive. Maybe they THINK the healer is healing them less than they should. The character can harbor the resentment, and eventually confront the healer in a dramatic fashion.

5.       Support the Narrative


Your drama doesn’t need to always be in the front. When other players have drama, act to support one of their sides. Allow yourself to be a supporting character in their story arc. Don’t make it about yourself, and take actions that either heighten the drama or allow it to continue.

6.       Make an Ultimatum

It all boils down to those romance options

It all boils down to those romance options

“It’s either me or him! Make your choice!”

The ultimatum is a great way of bringing drama to a head. Sometimes unreasonable, an ultimatum forces a decision to be made, or lines to be drawn.

An ultimatum can change the direction of the narrative. Perhaps a character decides to strike out on their own, or change their core beliefs. Embrace the new direction, and try to support it.

7.       Apologize and Forgive


If you want the characters to all continue working together, someone will probably need to apologize. Don’t wait for the other party to, because they might be waiting for the same thing. Have the character apologize, and renew their intention to work together with everyone.

On the flip side, don’t hold a grudge for too long. If another character apologizes for something, this is your chance to accept the apology and wrap up the dramatic arc. You can always look for a new source of drama later!


Player driven drama, when done right, can bring a game and its characters to life. Follow these tips, and remember to be open about your intentions to your fellow gamers. Everyone deserves to have a fun gaming experience.