Monthly Archives: June 2016

More Information About The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride has become a great romantic-comedy cult classic. This is because the film has all the necessary ingredients of a great movie: action, comedy, memorable characters and dialogue, and “true love”. Because the movie has these needed ingredients, The Princess Bride can also serve as a wonderful tutorial on how to run a roleplaying game that includes humor, and also as a treasure trove of basic roleplaying tips for almost any game your group wishes to play.


The Princess Bride offers excellent lessons on how to include humor in roleplaying, without having to resort to horrible puns that gain only nervous chuckles and confused looks (such as the old “your character kicks the bucket” joke).


For example, look at the names used in The Princess Bride. The large man’s name is Fezzik, playing off of the term ‘physique’ because he is big and strong. The lead heroine’s name is Buttercup, not necessarily funny, but not serious. Then, of course, there is Prince Humperdinck, Miracle Max, and a fellow referred to as simply ‘The Albino’. None of these individuals can be taken seriously because of their name, and using names like this in your campaign will almost certainly bring constant grins to your players’ faces. Of course, character names aren’t the only things that can be humorous: monster names can cause grins, too (Rodents of Unusual Size ring a bell?)


For another example of humor which can be taken from The Princess Bride, one need only to look at the characters’ personalities and speech patterns. We have a farm boy named Westley who starts the movie out saying nothing but “as you wish” to conceal his real love for the lead heroine. Then there is a six-fingered count who relishes pain dished out in his secret torture chamber. Let’s not forget the priest who talks with an odd accent which cannot, for some reason, include the letters ‘R’ or ‘L’. The most memorable is, of course, the Spaniard who seeks only to avenge his father’s death, who has an entire statement ready for the one who killed him. If you include off-the-wall characters such as these in your campaign, your players will be beating down your door from week to week, sitting on the edge of their seat to see who they will meet next.

You can also inject humor through simple dialogue between the characters and NPCs, as well. We will mention again the way Inigo repeats his “You Killed My Father” speech throughout the film. Vizzini uses the term ‘inconceivable’ numerous times, and it is pointed out that he might not be using the term correctly in some situations. Westley suggests that people think the Fire Swamp is not survivable only because “no one has done it before.” Tiny quips like this in NPC conversation will strike your players as masterful game mastering, and will add great enjoyment to your game.


The Princess Bride is full of action – sword fighting, wrestling, chases – and any self-respecting roleplaying game should be, as well. Typically, however, most action during a gaming session turns into nothing but rolling a die and moving a tiny plastic figurine around on a battle mat. This is just wrong.

One way to boost your action is to have your players plan out their actions a few turns at a time, make the needed rolls, and then use your storytelling ability to explain what happened in those turns. Make the fighting sound as exciting as possible. Use lots of detail – clanging of swords, shuffling of stones under the characters’ feet, grunts and moans of the dying. If one of your players uses a monk-type character, make sure you know the martial-arts moves that monk knows and describe every leap, punch, and kick.

Cater to Different Abilities

One of the mainstays of roleplaying games is a group of characters working together for a common goal. Each of these characters typically has their own place in the group, their own abilities that contribute to the success of the adventure or mission. The Princess Bride emphasizes this perfectly. Inigo is the sword fighter. Fezzik is the muscle, the strong man, the wrestler. Vizzini is the brains. Miracle Max (though not really part of a group) is the mystical miracle-maker.

Ensuring that your group includes different ability types, though, is not enough. Look at how The Princess Bride is able to highlight each character’s ability. Inigo is left alone on the cliff top to fight Westley with the sword. Fezzik is left in the rocky outcropping to wrestle Westley, again, on his own. Westley meets Vizzini to have a battle of the wit, just the two of them.

If you want your players coming back, you will need to highlight their characters’ abilities in much the same way. If your group includes a priest or cleric, make sure to offer plenty of chances for healing (of many different types) or turning undead. If you have a wizard, be sure to include something that only he can do; you will, of course, have to keep in mind what spells that wizard knows. If a player wishes to play a bard, why not allow the group to spend the night at a well-known inn or tavern, and why not have a flustered innkeeper who needs a replacement story teller? Remember, not every talent needs to be used in a combat situation. The name of the game is “roleplaying”, after all.

(Robert’s note: Spotlighting a PC doesn’t have to focus on special abilities and powers. Focus also on their contacts and specialized knowledge. Maybe the cleric can get them access to a church library, wherein the mage can help him do research and find the answer to a puzzle. Anything you can do to highlight what makes a PC special and different will do the job.)

Cater to Different Motivations

Characters are not only the sum of their abilities. Good player characters should have some sort of motivation, even a small one, and a good GM should be sure to cater to those motivations.

Inigo is motivated by his need for revenge against his father’s killer. Vizzini is motivated by his greed for money. Westley is motivated by “true love”. Even the NPC, Miracle Max, has his personal motivation to see Prince Humperdinck suffer.

Catering to character motivation is easy enough to accomplish, but doing it with flair may take a little hard work. If a character has the simple motivation of gathering great wealth, you could simply put them on the path to mounds of gold (anyone want to raid a dragon lair?). Let’s be a bit more creative, though. Perhaps the character finds gems, and golden mirrors and hair combs. Then you have something to describe with greater detail, and the player can have more fun roleplaying his character while haggling over the sell price when he sells the treasures he finds. An even greater end to finding such treasures would be if the character uses these things to furnish his home.

Perhaps the character wishes to avenge the deaths of his parents at the hands of goblins or orcs. Of course, the easiest way to do this is to offer the character plenty of goblins and orcs to kill. Why not leave a breadcrumb trail to the actual goblin or orc that killed the character’s parents? Allow the character and his companions to track down the creature, spending a few weeks hunting it, meeting a variety of NPC’s along the way, and perhaps helping a few downtrodden when they can. Turn a mundane motivation into the plot for an entire campaign that shows your entire game world to the players.

(Robert’s note: This is a great idea! Give this goblin or orc a name and personality. Make him a person of interest among his tribe, famous for his savagery, combat skill, or as a rising leader. Making him stand out in some way will make the PC’s revenge all the sweeter!)

How to Run the NPCs

The Princess Bride relies on strong tags for consistent NPC behavior and personality. Here are some GM notes for running them:

Prince: Arrogant, cares little for others, takes what he wants when he wants it, seems to be full of hot air.
Count: Deceitful, conniving, just plain mean.
Inigo: Not really “evil”, just fell in with bad people. Has a great joy for life and for what he does. Fair and honorable.
Draw Players into Roleplaying by Roleplaying NPC’s Who Are Their Friends

Even small lines or pieces of conversation help. This doesn’t take up a lot of time, but encourages players to interact with NPC’s and each other.

NPC as Group Leader? It’s Possible

Vizzini leads, but leaves everything to everyone else. He just tells them what to do and where to meet afterward. Sometimes he offers suggestions on how to do it, but generally leaves it up to the characters.

Add Realism

Do your homework and add in real terms for the actions and descriptions. For example, they used real terms for the sword fighting techniques and styles. Little details help the players visualize what you are describing, whether it’s a gun, a vehicle, or an animal breed.

Leave the Romance Out of It

Rather than roleplay the romance and kissy stuff, they left it all off camera. It was sufficient to say that Westley and Buttercup were in love.

How to Make Undead Cool Again


Earlier this month, Roleplaying Tips kicked off the RPG Blog Carnival with the article Making Undead Cool Again. Featured in both the Roleplaying Tips Newsletter on October 6th, you can find the article here.

Remember that if you want to get the earliest access to the Roleplaying Tips Newsletter, as well as RPT’s Friday Gems, be sure to sign up here.



Thank you for the link to “How To Be A Better Player”. I’ve be GM’ing a group of guys who only liked hack n slash. Absolutely no role playing whatsoever on their part, only on mine. A couple of guys actually said role playing was “kinda weird”, but was okay because it was different. I had, and still have, no response to that.

I had gotten to where I didn’t really plan our games anymore since all they wanted to do was to fight. I’ve been playing for 30 years so I know how to provide fun things to do, but if the party doesn’t want to do them, doesn’t take the bait, or worse yet, completely ignores the bait, what can I do? I’ve hated hack n slash forever and here I was doing it.

Anyway, one of the main role-playing haters was tired of my once-a-month game, so he decided he was going to try running his own game, which he promised would be more often than mine. I didn’t have a problem with that.

Step 1: The new GM is a huge Christian, and has never allowed an evil PC in the game….ever. He’s been playing 25+ years, so it took quite a bit of convincing on my part, but he eventually allowed me to roll up a neutral evil sorcerer. I instructed him that I would never turn on my fellow PC’s. That’s not how you have fun!!
Step 2: The first time we sat down, and he began role-playing as GM, 30 seconds into the session I did the same exact thing he has always done to me. “Naw!! Don’t care! Nope! I don’t care what he says. I’m Not Role-Playing” Everybody else at the table laughed because they remembered him doing those things, only he didn’t. He actually denied that he had said such things. That went on for about 30-45 seconds, then I showed them fools how role-playing was done. Including him
Step 3: Right off the bat we were employed by a casino owner who had us try to collect from some people who owned him money, which we did, but boy were they tough. Almost too tough!! While we were fighting the bad guys I made it a point to role play my attacks and trash talk. On our way back to the casino I began telling the party that the casino owner set us up!! He was trying to kill us by having us go against people who weren’t playing. Well we weren’t going to play that either!! We confronted the casino owner by threatening him and telling him that if this was going to be amateur hour then he’d need to double our pay, and pay us up front. The GM and I role played that entire conversation which took about 5 minutes. The rest of the party just watched in awe, and were grateful for the money.
Step 4: Our next mission took us to the docks, which we promptly got into a fight with some folks who didn’t think they owed the casino anything. The last enemy standing was kicking our butts. We weren’t taking him down. Only one other enemy was alive, but he was on the ground and bleeding out. When it became my turn I grabbed the last enemy’s attention by yelling at him, and when he looked my way, I punched my dagger through his dying friend’s head. Then I told the enemy to lay down his weapon, which he did. My group still did nothing but watch.
Step 5: We tied up the last guy, and after questioning him, I sliced open his face, and instructed him to tell others there is a new group handling collections for the casino.
Step 6: We instituted a no weapon policy in the casino, which everyone minded except for a couple of members of the City Watch. We role-played the “Don’t wear your weapon in here ever again” conversation, which was pretty tense, but they got the message. We spoke to their boss, and we instructed him that if any of his men wore their weapons into the casino ever again there’s going to be problems. Official business or not. That conversation took about 10 minutes, and one other player actually joined in.
Step 7: One night, immediately after closing, some thugs attacked us by kicking open the doors, and breaking through the windows. While the fight was going on, during my turn I was yelling about how much those doors and windows were going to cost, and that they were going to repay us with their blood. We won the fight, and cut off the head of the boss thug. One of the other party members suggested we load the dead bodies onto a wagon, and leave it in front of the compound the thugs were associated with. Finally the group was learning how to role play.
During my games there is a LOT of conversation about all kinds of stuff which has nothing to do with the game. There was so much action that they weren’t playing video games on their laptops, (because the fights are fun), but now that they’re learning how to role play maybe that trend will end. We’ll see.

We haven’t played my game yet, but so far, three of the players want to change their alignments from good to evil, including Mr Christian. They now know how to make D&D fun, but unfortunately, I couldn’t properly voice how that should be done. I could only show them. The website you’ve shared explains more succinctly then I ever could. I have passed the link onto my group.

I love your blog, but the thing I love most is your game summations. I love reading those. Thanks Johnn. No matter what, you’ve made my game better in more ways than you can possibly imagine.

Steps to Create Your Own Combat Missions

“You must understand that there is more
than one path to the top of the mountain.
– Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings

Want to design your own combat missions, fully tailored to the people, places, and things of your campaign?

Today you’ll learn how to do this, including what design questions to ask and answer along the way. Let total annihilation scenarios take a back seat while you light a fire under your combat creativity.

Why Create Your Own Missions?

Ever have your players look up and ask why they’re fighting their enemy?

Because a steady diet of “kill ’em all” scenarios gets repetitive, causes players to lose focus, and eats up a lot of session time.

Last lesson, you learned how to re-imagine total annihilation combats by choosing from a list of Combat Mission Templates:

Escape Destruction
Hold the Line
Save the Innocent
We also touched on three ideas that form the basis of all your alternative mission objectives:

Tactical Ops
Monster Lore
Adventure Goals
Now it’s time for us to explore these topics in more detail and design our own engaging combat objectives.

Mission Design Questions

When you create your own missions, ask and answer the following questions. This exercise will help you fill out your custom Combat Mission stat block.


What areas of the battlefield offer key positional advantages?

Examples: higher ground, cover, magical phenomena that provide buffs.

What areas of the battlefield are particularly dangerous?

Examples: pits, bridges, rock slides, smoldering fires, toxic vegetation, or gas clouds.

What items or creatures on the battlefield are most valuable to either side?

Examples: prisoners, escape routes, treasure hoards.


How intelligent is the enemy?

Smarter enemies use trickier tactics.

For example, they’ll be more mindful of exits in the area and employ focus fire on the most threatening party member, such as the most effective damage-dealer, most powerful healer, or leader of the group.

What is the typical behavior and ecology of the enemy?

How do these creatures fit in the world? In your campaign, bandits and goblins might tend to have some kind of civilized code, while orcs and ogres tend to be more savage and blunt in their approach.

Use behavior and ecology to guide foe decisions and add flavor to their combat actions.


Why is each side fighting?

How does this fight tie into current quests and adventure goals?
What events led to this combat?
Why is each side engaging in combat?
What do they hope to gain and what do they have to lose?
Who is each side working for?

What benefactors, authority figures or power groups are behind the scenes?
How do they treat the party or monsters?
How loyal is each group to the cause behind the combat and adventure?
Create Your Combat Mission Stat Block: 6 Steps

Now that you’ve identified key areas of the battlefield and explored monster and party motivations in the context of your adventure, it’s time to translate that information into the Combat Mission Stat Block.

Refer to last week’s lesson on 5 Combat Mission Templates for detailed examples to guide you through the Mission Stat Block creation process.


Give your combat a relevant and exciting name that includes reference to your world or adventure’s key people, places or things.

Identify the specific combat mission with a word or short phrase.

Your custom mission type should include an action word (see below for details) – the party must do something. More specifically, the party must do something besides kill everything in sight.

Example: Tergyn’s Haunted Shrine: Hold the Line.


Identify at least one end condition for success. You expand your mission type name or action word here by fully defining it.


Identify at least one end condition for a failed mission.

Here you make it clear what triggers a mission failure. Failure often means a time limit is reached, such as in the Escape Destruction mission.

Failure can also mean the mission has changed or the objective is no longer achievable, such as when monsters with a valuable magic item escape the battlefield in the Acquire mission.


Identify monster types and roles that match up well for your mission.

Do the same for features of the area, such as terrain and furnishings.

Add as much detail to the opposition as you like to further tailor encounter elements to your campaign, including key NPC names, for example.


Identify the monsters’ thought process and priorities in the fight. Summarize how you expect the combat to play out – movement, attack effectiveness, typical actions in combat – given the impact of the Mission.


Add at least one surprise or wrinkle to the mission.

Borrow ideas from other missions and combine them, or add an event that changes priorities or plans after mission success or failure.

You can also refer to your twists in case your current combat encounter is falling flat in actual play. Twists serve as backup plans and surprises to delight your players and keep combat pacing and excitement high.

Mission Action Words

Use the following list of story-rich action words, classic combat objectives, and mission types for inspiration to create your own Combat Mission Templates:

Break or Destroy Item
Commandeer a Vehicle
Cover another Group
Delay an Event
Disable or Knock Unconscious
Escape Destruction
Establish Truce
Force Surrender
Force Withdrawal
Hold the Line
Reach Before Enemy
Save the Innocent
Seal Away
Seal Off
Split Enemy Force
Stop an Event
Combat Mission Templates Contest Coming Soon

Now that we’ve gone over the basics of creating your own Combat Missions by using Combat Mission Templates, let’s see if we can create a bunch of templates – a bunch of mission types.

I’ll be running a contest soon where you’ll send in your own template designs.

Stay tuned to your inbox for details.

Meantime, I have a bunch of great prizes lined up for you.