GameMaster – What’s in a Name?

Our first roleplaying purchase was GURPS 3e Basic Set, but the first one we played was HackMaster 4e. These days HackMaster 5e is my system of choice for combat-heavy fantasy, and GURPS 4e for is for everything else. One thing they have in common is the term “Game Master” (GM), so I tend to use it rather than the game’s specific term. Even though I have run or played D&D Encounters since season 1 back in 4e, coming up is the first time I have ever used the term “Dungeon Master”.

Players who started with Dungeons & Dragons frequently use DM regardless of the system, and I’ve known World of Darkness fans who nearly always use “Storyteller”. There are lots of other terms used by various games, but those are the most common I’ve seen, with GM dominating the pack.

The nice thing about those three terms being so prevalent is that you can use whichever you prefer and everyone will know what you’re talking about. But have you ever thought about what they actually mean?

Let’s start with original: Dungeon Master (DM). Since the game is called “Dungeons & Dragons”, the term makes sense, especially because back in the game’s early days the DM’s primary job was to create the dungeons and control the monsters within them. What I don’t understand are the multitude of games that use DM yet don’t feature dungeons – some of them aren’t even fantasy games.

One of our friends runs World of Darkness as exclusively as my wife does GURPS (he ran a single session of Shadowrun 4e once) so I’ve played it quite a bit. It refers to the GM as the Storyteller (usually abbreviated ST if at all), which has always bothered me. Why? Because it makes it seem like the GM is the only storyteller at the table, when in fact all of the players are telling a story together.

At its simplest the GM’s job is three-fold: to create the setting, to put obstacles in the PCs’ way, and to be the final arbitrator of the rules. So the GM must master the rules of the game and act as a bit of a ring master, making sure each player has a chance to show off in the spotlight. That’s another reason why Game Master has always been my term of choice: it succinctly describes the GM’s job while not tying it to any particular genre.

While I may inwardly cringe when people say “Dungeon Master” when talking about my latest GURPS sci-fi game, I’m not going to deny them their right to use whichever term they like – Shield Monkey is one of our favorites – as long as they extend the same courtesy to others. Many of our D&D Adventurers’ League players use DM simply because D&D is the only system they know, while Lura and I use GM exclusively, but no one ever so much as bats an eyelid at the difference. So in the end it doesn’t really matter what term you use as long as everyone’s on the same page.

Thank God the Supreme Court Stands Against Theocracies

I am so conflict-averse that I tend to be very selective about who I discuss certain topics with, but given current events I am compelled to finally speak publicly on one of them. This is only tangentially related to Friday’s Supreme Court ruling, but it makes this a perfect time to bring up the subject of theocracies. Most, if not all, people who support bans on gay marriage do so for religious reasons. That’s perfectly understandable, but such people need to think about the dangerous, terrifying precedent they are setting.

Many of the first settlers to The New World came here because the were persecuted for the way they worshiped, sometimes facing imprisonment or even death. They were fleeing the oppressive theocracies that dominated Europe at the time. Today a large number of Arab countries are Muslim theocracies where women are second class citizens, and ISIS is doing its determined best to make sure the entire Arab world is ruled by their corrupt interpretation of Islam. In our Christian past are the atrocities committed by the Medieval Church backed by the aristocracy: from keeping peasants illiterate and therefore easily controlled, to the mass murders known as the Crusades.

Given all of that, I am astounded that so many people today are fighting to turn the US into yet another Christian theocracy. Fellow Christians, think about this: what if Islam was the law of the land and women were forced to cover up when outdoors and everyone had to stop wherever they happen to be at specified times each day to pray? What if it was Judaism and non-Kosher food was illegal?

If those ideas strike you as unfair, then why is it okay for us to force other people to live by our beliefs? As I have said before, I am a strong proponent of the separation of church and state because of my faith. The word Christian  means “little Christ”, denoting our desire to be as much like Jesus as possible. Go get your Bible and scan through the New Testament. Nowhere in it will you find Jesus trying to force people to believe Him – and neither should we. If we would be upset by other faiths’ beliefs being enacted as law, why should we expect them to accept ours?

Updated Pokémon Tools

Even while working on various roleplaying tools, I’ve been focused on Pokémon quite a bit lately, probably because our League Challenge is tomorrow afternoon.

For several months now I’ve been gathering all of the legends from the older video games so I can transfer them up to Black 2 and then sell them (the cartridges, of course, not the legends). RIght now I’m grinding to go after Heatran and Giratina, the only ones I’m missing in Pearl. In the course of doing that I discovered that my Pocket-sized Type and EV List needed updating. While I was at I applied what I have learned about PDF creation with OpenOffice and reformatted it accordingly. There are two major changes: it finally includes the effort point yields of the Pokémon introduced in X/Y, I switched the font from FreeSans to Verdana, which is a bit sharper and therefore easier to read at this scale.

The other thing I did is related to tomorrow’s tournament: I added the two newest sets to the Deck List Sheet for the 2014-15 Tournament Season and rebuilt it somewhat using new my skills. It still has some visual issues that bug me, but will take a major rebuild to fix them and a lot of people won’t even notice them, so that can wait until after tomorrow’s LC.


Some of the floors in our house have rotted away. Since my Disability payments aren’t very much and my wife has been out of work for two years we can’t afford the thousands of dollars we need to repair the busted plumbing that is causing our floors to rot.  Will you help?

D&D 5e Character Library Finished

I have uploaded to scribd what I hope will be the final version of my Character Library spreadsheet. All it is lacking is an XP box. As it will take quite a bit of work to squeeze that in, I will only be adding if there is demand for it. In the meantime just list the character’s XP in the “Character Background and Other Notes” box.

On an unrelated note, something very unfun happened during my shower earlier today: the water pressure suddenly all but vanished. Fortunately, it only affects the shower, not the sinks. We haven’t been able to use the shower in the master bathroom because the bathroom’s floor is nearly gone. So we’re limited to sink baths until we get our plumbing fixed. Will you help?

Life: The Greatest Adventure

If you follow me on facebook then you may know that an ongoing family crisis has just kicked into high gear, and that the floors of our house could collapse completely if we don’t get some help. Naturally, that has left me with little time for crafting character sheets, but I have still managed to finish most of the final touches on my D&D 5e sheets and Character Library spreadsheet.

Despite the near-total failure of our plumbing, impending death of our van, and my wife nearing the end of her second year with steady employment (she had one day of work in all of 2014), I still expect to get the D&D stuff done in the next couple of days. Being creative, especially when I get to exercise both sides of my brain at the same time (even though that idea is a fallacy; both sides of the brain do both), is simultaneously relaxing and invigorating, so any time I spend making game aids is a wonderful respite from the everyday stresses of the rest of my life.

Because of that I’m also hoping to finish my GURPS Character Creator spreadsheet as well as Character Libraries for GURPS and D&D in the near future. The GURPS CC is mechanically complete but the layout of some parts of it are making my artist side unhappy. That will hopefully not take more than a couple of hours to fix. I think the D&D Library may be finished – I just want to try it out with a few more different types of characters to make sure.

In the meantime, any small amount you can offer towards our house repairs will be greatly appreciated.

D&D 5e Character Sheet Updates

There are drawbacks to being a long-time devotee to a piece of software. Because Opera has been my default browser since version 5, someone had to point out to me the custom search function that every other browser has since copied and which I can no longer live without. I run into the same issue from time to time with Open Office. I first started using OO about 15 years ago with StarOffice 5 (now you know why OO’s executable is soffice.exe instead of openoffice.exe). At that time it was a single application that opened all of your documents into a single tabbed instance like MS Works did and browsers do now.

Since then hundreds of changes have taken place, so it’s no surprise that I missed a few. In this particular case it’s the PDF export function. Up until now I’ve been exporting my character sheets from OO using various free PDF printers (I especially recommend Cute and Primo). Naturally, that method has its limitations; for one thing, you can’t export links that way.

For my new 10 page long D&D 5e supersheet I decided to finally try out OpenOffice’s PDF export function – the resulting file was one quarter the size of the PrimoPDF version. The drawback is that for some reason the various lines came out much thinner when exported than when printed, forcing me to re-do most of the first page. While I was at it I figured I may as well take another stab at the AC shield, which I had made in Gimp but with which I was never wholly satisfied.

The first thing I did was load up the old XCF and switch it to a sans-serif font, but when I started changing the thicknesses of all of the lines in OO Writer it got tiring having to constantly change and re-import the image. For several years now I’ve been meaning to learn my way around OO Draw, so I took that as my cue to finally do it. In the end I only actually made the curved bottom half of the shield in Draw and the rest in Writer itself, but it was a good learning experience and only took about an hour.

The only other major change I made was eliminating most of my use of Times New Roman. As it was most of the sheet was in sans-serif Verdana, but the skills and several other things used TNR instead. Now the skills use TNR because serif fonts are easier to read  in sentences , but everything else is in Verdana because sans-serif fonts are generally easier to read in titles.

There’s also one change that end users won’t see but that other character sheet designers might find useful: I put all of the front page’s various frames into one giant one. When I first made the supersheet I had to manually copy over each of those frames into the new document, and that was as tedious as it was painful. Since I was rebuilding it anyway, it made sense to put it all into one frame to make it more portable. Now I can put into a new document with a single copy-paste.

A few hours ago I finally finished several days’ work making all the requisite changes to the front of the character sheet and made a test print. My task for later today is incorporating those changes into original documents since I rebuilt it in a new document. Fortunately, since I’m in the habit of using paragraph and character styles rather than in-line formatting whenever possible, I should be able to modify all of the spell, inventory, and beast form sheets in less than an hour.

Naturally, my chronic pain issues limit how much of that kind of intensive computer work I can do at a time, but I hope to have the new sheets uploaded in less than a day, keep your eyes peeled here for the announcement.

Cribbage, Quest Cards, and D&D, Oh My

Cribbage Dice

For some strange reason, Cribbage Dice remains the most popular page here, even though I posted it more than three years ago. Because of that I went back and gave it a much-needed update. There were a couple of typos I had overlooked previously, and I was unhappy with the way I phrased some things. That was before I knew about Creative Commons, so I changed the license from traditional copyright to CC-BY-SA, freeing people to take the game and make it their own. I also added an example of play, complete with pictures.

Quest Cards

If you spend a lot of time GameMastering, then you may be interested in Johnn Four’s free Roleplaying Tips Weekly, a weekly newsletter full of great tips, guest articles, and contests. I have been getting it via email for years, and just recently found it was available via RSS, which is cool because a lot of sites have cut their RSS feeds. This week’s included an article by Chris Sniezak about quest cards, which are designed to help groups that meet infrequently (i.e. at least two weeks between sessions) keep track of what’s going on, but any sandbox could also be helped by them.

Briefly, the idea is to have a stack of cards or Post-Its (or Lino, the virtual corkboard my wife and I will most likely use), each holding a separate quest in a nutshell. That way both the GM and players can very quickly find out who gave which quest, the exact task or reward, and any other pertinent info. Johnn closed the article with a request for printable templates, so I took an hour and whipped one up. I also made it an A4 version, but have no way to test it to make sure it prints correctly, but I’m pretty sure it will.

D&D 5e Character Sheet Update

Since I am playing in D&D Adventurers’ League this season rather than GMing, I have made quite a few changes to my character sheets, and as well as several completely new variations. If I uploaded everything separately it would be at least half a dozen different documents, so I have combined them into three three. The first is my original sheet, with the skills on the back page, leaving a handy Character Notes space on the front.

The second is a new combined supersheet that takes the front page of my mage/single-page sheet, which moves the skills into the Character Notes space, and pairs it with seven options for the back page: blank except for guide lines, three different ways of listing inventory, and then three grimoires, one for most classes, then warlocks, and finally, characters using the optional Spell Points rules from the DMG (p 287).

Update 2015-05-20: It now includes a page where druids can detail up to five beast forms.

The grimoires and inventory sheets were actually derived from stand-alone versions I made months ago. The key difference is that since the stand-alones will not be on the back of character sheets, they each have a line for the player’s, character’s, and GM/campaign’s names. That way it’s no big deal if they get mixed in with another character. It has the has the same sheets in the same order as the supersheet, but with the added identification line on each sheet.