Sarah Darkmagic's blog

Cool Tools: Card Protectors, Dungeon Mastering Tools and GIMP

Card Protectors

A number of my players really love these card protectors. They cut out the cards provided as part of the character sheet from the Wizards of the Coast character generator and place them inside these protective sleeves. The colors allow them to easily distinguish between the at-will, encounter, daily and item power cards and a little scotch tape allows them to write on the protectors with pencil. Here are the colors my players tend to use and how the color code them. They use green for at-will powers, black for daily powers, red for encounter powers, and gold for item cards.

Dungeon Mastering Tools

Online DM Screen for 4e

I used this for the first time last night. Created by the great folks over at Dungeon Mastering, this set of DM tools allows you to quickly create and organize your monsters, hazards, magic items, encounters and other bits of your game. For my game, it was great having that information all in one place. In full-screen mode for the encounters, I can rearrange the stat blocks in initiative order and I didn't have to keep track of a bunch of little pieces of paper. Another really nice feature is that it's possible to copy the information from these tools into Obsidian Portal.

While I plan on using the tool in the future, there are a couple of downsides. The fullscreen mode doesn't save your changes if you have to close the browser or move to another page. It would be great if it could do that so I could have most of it set up before the game and just quickly reorder things once my players roll initiative. Additionally, it would be great if it could keep track of the monster hit points for me too. I had to grab a sheet of paper to keep track of that.


I've never been a huge fan of the GIMP, but then again I find PhotoShop pretty hard to use as well (I'm a developer not a designer). However, it's pretty hard to beat free and the map drawing tutorial on NewbieDM has me itching to try it. Besides drawing maps, GIMP can help you with a number of your graphics needs, including creating your own tokens, creating fancy handouts and tweaking old maps.

Some GIMP Tutorials

Player, Character and Party Motivations

Dungeon Mastering has a great article on how to read the minds of your players. It couldn't come at a better time for me. That same day, before I saw the post, I had sent out an email to my players asking them to come up with some character and party motivations for our current campaign and to add them to the wave I had created (if they were ok with them being public to the rest of the party). The reason was, I had a ton of interesting ideas for the story, but I wasn't sure which ones they were going to like. I even gave them an example, from the point of view of one of the npcs, Ralph.

  • Become human again by proving that I can show courage.
  • For while I'm still a chicken, obtain a rich looking cloak and other adornments so people stop thinking of me as an average chicken.
  • Get enough gold to buy a hippogriff. Chompers is nice and all, but that was one nice ride and, when I go home, I want to go home in style.

Some quick backstory, Ralph is a prince from another land who was turned into a chicken by his pregnant girlfriend's mother when he wouldn't stand up to his father. The curse will end when he finally shows some cojones. So, he's got a few long term goals and a few shorter term ones.

While this approach has worked to a degree, it hasn't necessarily given me the kind of details I really need. Most of the goals my players put down are much broader in scale and very little in the way of short term goals. Their goals help me in a grand story arc way, but not in the week to week planning.

To find the bits to help me in the week to week planning, I need to folllow Nicholas' suggestions, especially the ones involving the character sheet. When it comes down to it, the character sheet tells me what they are most interested in and they most want to come up against. A party with few area effect spells might not appreciate an army of minions quite as much. A player character with glasses that allow him to read any language might, you know, want to come across items in lots of different languages. As a result of this post, I've now asked my players to send me their character sheets as well.

In the comments of the post, one of my players mentioned that he used to use questionnaires to get some information from his players. He also pointed to a pretty good player questionnaire from Newbie DM.

In addition to character motivations, I think it's also important to know about the player and party motivations, especially the types of motivations not covered by the DMG. For instance, some players have a particular scene they eventually want to play out in a game regardless of character. Likewise, to help keep a group together and make it a little less like herding cats, it would be great if you can get your party to set up some group motivations. If you've heard the Penny Arcade/PvP podcasts, it helps that they are all part of "Acquisitions Incorporated" and so, they are trying to increase their notoriety and are able to make a fair number of role playing opportunities around the tensions of individual and group goals.

How do you determine what your players are looking for from your game?

WoW: Jace Hall pre-Wrath Blizzard Interview (w/ Felicia Day!)

This is so funny! I also like the outtake of the conversation between Jace and Felicia. The missing eye remark is probably going to make it into my game some day.

Watch on YouTube

Blogs I love: Chatty DM

Musings of the Chatty DM is a blog written by Philippe-Antoine Ménard, an extroverted gamer geek with over 25 years of game master experience. He aims to capture that feeling many get when they enter their favorite gaming shop and are enveloped by conversations from people who love to talk about the games they are in and the ones they wish they were in. He is doing a lot of cool stuff and I enjoy reading his posts on his blog and on Twitter. In addition, I can't wait to hear more about a number of new projects he has in the works. If you need further endorsement, Wil Wheaton recently gave him a big thumbs up on Twitter.

@wilw: @ChattyDM Have I told you how much I love your blog? If I haven’t: I love your blog.

Some Recent Posts

Additional Writing

GM-fu: Session Prep
In addition to the great advice on his blog, you can get even more great advice from this free booklet.

Successful session planning requires inspiration and execution. We will help with both! Learn how to foster ideas, mine tropes from TV and movies, and tailor content to your players with this workbook from the GenCon 2008 workshop. We will also explain how to take those concepts and compose your session notes by creating a development cycle and packing your notes with the essential elements.

From Here to There: A Collection of Nine Traveling Adventures

From Here to There. Because no PC should ever relax.

Published by Goodman Games, this collection is aimed at giving game masters encounters to throw at the party during their travel to or from other locations, such as dungeons. They are meant to be challenging for parties while not taking away from the overall campaign.

For Want of a Story: Rumpelstiltskin

For my current campaign, I used the story of Rumpelstiltskin as a story hook.

Brief Synopsis

For those who are not familiar with the story, it is one of the tales collected by the Brothers Grimm and can also be found in a number of other countries with the name of the main character changed. In the story, a miller wants to secure the marriage of his daughter to the king so he brags to the king that his daughter can spin straw into gold. Very interested in such a gift, the king calls for her and tells her that if she cannot spin straw to gold for three nights straight, he will execute her. Obviously, the girl is quite upset by this turn of events and begins to cry. A creature hears her cries and agrees to spin the straw to gold for her in return for payment. For the first two nights, this works well, but on the third night the girl has nothing to give for payment. The creature asks her for her first-born child and she agrees.

The king is so impressed he agrees to marry the girl. Some time later, soon after the birth of the first child, the creature appears, asking for his payment. She again cries and pleas with him, offering him her newly found wealth. After a time, the creature relents and tells her that he will allow her to keep her child if she can guess his name in three days.

Knowing she does not have much time, the queen tries everything she can to find out the name. Just before the final meeting, she is able to find out his name and fulfill the challenge.

Incorporating the Tale

I'm not sure why, but I've always enjoyed this tale. It might have something to do with picturing the scene where the queen reveals the creature's name and his subsequent melt-down. Besides my enjoyment of the tale, in many ways, it is perfect for 4e. There are at least two ways of solving the problem, finding out the creature's name or just finding the creature and killing it. The process of finding the creature's name or the creature itself is a great excuse for exploring a local town and its surrounding area. In addition, a number of skills can be used for finding out any information and the skill challenge mechanic can be employed to help frame the game.

For my game, I made a few important changes. I introduced the creature, in the form of a goblin, before the characters even met the female character, Lady Margaret. On their way in between towns, they came upon an overturned cart and a farmer desperately trying to gather his chickens. There was a comic moment where it seemed like one of the chickens was leading other chickens in creating chaos but that is a story for another time. The farmer did tell the group that the reason his cart overturned is because a goblin had ran out from the woods in front of his cart, scaring his oxen. The goblin was repeating a rhyme.

I must not say my first name
for that is the object of my game.
Then that child, I will make him mine
And bring him home to Clementime.

This introduction captures the essence of the story and my players recognized it pretty much right away. Which is great because they then knew what sort of trouble might be upsetting poor Lady Margaret.

One of the biggest changes I made, and probably most important, is I changed the creature's name. My players asked the female character, Lady Margaret, right away if she tried "Rumpelstiltskin." She replied, "Oh, so you've heard the story too." I picked a pretty silly name, A Goblin, in part because it allowed me to let slip the name pretty early, before they even met Lady Margaret. During their encounter with the spriggans, my players asked the one they kept alive if he had seen the goblin, and more importantly, if they knew his name. He replied with something along the lines of "He said he was just a goblin." It was a great who's on first moment. But the name could be anything. When I told my brother my plans, he recommended the character from Superman, Mr. Mxyzptlk.

Another great part of this story is that it might seem quite strange to a modern ear that someone would trade their child, even an unborn one, for their life. In my case, I made it even a bit more absurd. Margaret had been upset because she and her now husband, Alric, were very much in love but Alric's father wanted a "more suitable" bride for his son, preferably another member of nobility. Her reason was quite simple. Since she had already heard the story, she thought she had the answer. When it turned out she did not, she was crestfallen.

Finally, I tried to answer the question why the goblin would want a baby. This is where the Clementime in the rhyme comes into play. It turns out that Clementime is really C. C. Clementime, President of Enterprised Unlimited. The spriggans had one of her cards in their treasure.

The back of the card stated that the card should be tapped three times. Doing so turns the card into a catalog of items available from the company. One of the catalog pages has a listing for children with the detail that the company is currently out of stock on that item. [The card itself is based on a card Matt Cutts found in an old book he bought at a books sale.]

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