Nik Naks


Nik Nak is a term I use for anything extra I add to a gaming campaign. Nik Naks are things my group and I have created - for the most part, you won't find Nik Naks in the Player's Handbook of whatever system you're using. Nik Naks are also universal. You can use them for DND, Shadowrun, Star Wars, Toon, whatever.

Nik Nak is a term I use for anything extra I add to a gaming campaign. Nik Naks are things my group and I have created - for the most part, you won't find Nik Naks in the Player's Handbook of whatever system you're using. Nik Naks are also universal. You can use them for DND, Shadowrun, Star Wars, Toon, whatever.

Here are some of the Nik Naks I use.

Creature Encounters

The Creature Encounters is one of my more useful Nik Naks. What is it? It's just a list of every creature encountered by Player X. If Player X runs across an orc, a large spider, and a Type VI demon on his first adventure, you write these three creatures down on Player X's Creature Encounter sheet. It's as simple as that.

The Creature Encounter can be used as a cross-reference for Player X. Player X has a life and I don't expect him to remember every aspect of his character. But, the Creature Encounter list is something to help jog his memory, or at least supplement it. For example, Player X sees another Type VI demon in Game 23. . . but Player X doesn't remember if he's seen one or not. Me neither. . . I?ve got better things to do than memorize these things. We whip out the Creature Encounter list and see that, yes, Player X has run across one of these before. Our memory gets jogged and we recall he threw salt in the demon's eye to get away ? maybe he can try that again. Or, maybe we don't remember anything, but agree that Player X's guy figured out the demon is immune to lightning bolts. You get the idea.

The Creature Encounter list is also a fun thing to have around. After playing the same guy for 5 years, it's entertaining for someone to look over the list and see all the things his guy has come across. You can sit back and reminisce about the time you tackled all those giant frogs.

Guest Stars

Similar to the Creature Encounter list, the Guest Stars is a list of all the important NPCs the players have met and are likely to meet again. The Guest Star list usually has more data than just the name of the NPC.

For my players, I have a spreadsheet with a list of alphabetized names. I have columns for the Guest Star's race, occupation, location, and status. When the players return to the city of Phlan, we can look at the Guest Star list to remember that Magda is a human female who's also the city clerk. You can add other columns of data if you want, such as base personality (Magda's would be grouchy) and physical description (a burnt-out truck stop waitress).

Emailed Recaps / Hints / Strike Files

Our group plays about once a week. Somewhere in-between I send out an email that recaps the highlights from the previous game. I usually only cover major events, such as the death of an NPC, the discovery of a secret door at Star Cairn #142, and tidbits of conversations with Moloch. Players can read this and keep their memory fresh on the game (when they should probably be working). If they have lousy memories, they can print off the email I sent them and use it as a reference point when the come to the next game night. There's nothing to a recap, but I've found they're invaluable.

Sometimes I send hints in my emails. As humans, we don't have time to focus exclusively on our player character's and we sometimes overlook things our PC's would have figured out (especially if the PC is smarter than the guy playing him). So, sometimes I'll add hints to the recap. For example, if a riddle tells the players that "green is the color shunned", I'll throw that into the list of hints. . . and maybe Player X will resist the urge to stick his arm in the green furnace. Other times, if I'm using a module and I feel it's not well designed and the built-in clues are vague-at-best, I'll throw out another clue in an email.

The Strike File aspect is somewhat inspired by things I've seen done in comic books. A Strike File is a quasi-encyclopedia listing detailed info on a handful of NPCs, places, artifacts, etc. For example, if the players are questing for the Rod of Seven Parts, I'll add a Strike File entry in my recap that dishes out some info on the Rod of Seven Parts. You can use the Strike File to foreshadow. For example, if you're about to throw Moloch back into the game, you can give a Strike File entry on Moloch to get the players thinking about him again. Strike File entries are like a combination of the recap, a hint, and the Guest Star list. They're there to give some extra depth to the game. If you only get to play for 3 hours a week, then maybe you don't have time to give the full history of the Rod of Seven Parts in the game. . . maybe you have to dish out only the highlights in the game. But, the Strike File entry for the Rod of Seven Parts can be used to fill in the blanks "off camera." Strike File entries give the players information at a more detailed level. They can also be used to plant red herrings.


Before we start a game, we often raise our glass of Dr. Pepper, Red Bull, or whatever and toast to the memory of a fallen patron of the arts. We'll recount said patron's achievements and sometimes we'll even quote said patron. We?ve done this for guys like Richard Harris, Gregory Peck, and Charles Schultz.

This has NOTHING to do with the game. . . except it seems to somehow give everybody a sense of team spirit before we go and tackle Star Cairn #142.

Nik Naks are a take 'em or leave 'em kind of thing. They are by no means essential, and different Nik Nak's have a greater payoff than others. On a per-game basis, Nik Naks probably don't offer much benefit. But, if you're playing at the campaign level. . . if your group is doing some world building. . . then Nik Nak's are useful tools to help keep things detailed and fleshed out. They're also useful in helping players keep in touch with their character. Nik Nak's are like the list of weapon proficiencies on a G.I. Joe filecard. . . they don't make the design of the figure any better, but somehow it makes the figure / character just a little bit cooler.

G.I. Joe file cards. Man, I remeber those. I still have all of mine, along with all my figures and the respective peices many of those figures fell into.

I have read many a DM/GM/Storyteller guide/handbook and things like these ideas are presented in most of them. Like lists of NPCs and such. I personally use the NPC list for characters I make up on the spot. It gives a sense of continuity to the players.

Excellent article.

Someone in our group proposed an initiative tracker, which was very helpful. It consisted of counters that could be affixed to a a velcro strip, mounted on a backing. This allowed us to place and move counters to track initiative quickly.

I also used an Excel spreadsheet to moniter group encounters, money, and experience - since these are major factors in our games, and it removed much of the discretionary DM whimsy over resources. Players are never board about treasure.

Wow. These are good ideas and I wouldn't argue against any of them, but boy ! you sure are organised. I've always used memory to track these kinds of things. Not perfect by any means. But no work involved.

One thng I have done, a bit like the NPC list you mentioned, is my GCL (Generic character list). This is a prerolled list of 200 characters of varying levels and abilities, 40 fighters, 40 clerics etc. This is a bit of a chore to set up, but once done, I can use it quickly to generate random encounters with characters, or even to populate an adventure. I just pick the relevant table, roll the dice, and use the character details. Equipment can be quickly added depending on context, feudal, nomads, viking, etc.

I've never tracked money or experience. I trust my players to that extent, and its their business to tell me if they go to the next experience level.

Mo, - not practical, and barely possible in 3e DnD. XP is divided by the number of people in the party- which helps motivate them to keep a tight group. In our group, it was an even distribution across anyone who was present or participated in the encounter, even as cannon fodder. It's not a matter of trust, in fact, the players appreciate someone tracking each encounter for them so they don't spend time bookkeeping in game. Also, as the DM, I have access to the full encounter roster beforehand, which allows me to pre-prep some of these.

There are several semi-narrative reasons why it worked so well for our group:

1. We discussed and agreed that replacement characters and/or new characters would start at the beginning of the average XP level in the party, thus slowing the advancement level slightly, and giving a reasonable "cost" for switching out characters (disrupting the narrative) or for dying (making it into a game sacrifice as well as a story sacrifice). Excel allowed us to have an ongoing tally of this figure.

2. 3e allowed the magic users to create magic items more easily, with an XP cost. This had to be tracked meticulously. Again, it was easier for one person to do it and to keep it all in one place.

3. It just made it easier for the DM to keep track of party levels. Once some players died, and one player swapped in another character just for fun, levels went out of synchronization, so this made it easier to find a reasonable challenge level.

In addition to that, we introduced a narrative premise in which the active "adventuring party" belonged to a larger "company" which included retainers and PC's who had been voluntarily swapped out of the "adventuring party". The "extra" NPC's in the company would come briefly under the DM's control, serving as hooks to get the players from A to B, where they could find a real adventuring hook.

The main reason for all of this was to ensure that party treasure truly belonged to the whole company, except where specific characters put in bids on treasure items (where they'd reimburse party coffers with their bid). So, our socialist party was always reasonably funded, and if items were recoverable from a fallen party member, it was feasible that they could be redistributed among party members, or simply allotted to the replacement character - who presumably was a member of the same company.

It wasn't as elaborate or as complicated as it sounds. The reason we went to the trouble was to provide some narrative support for the habit of the party simply giving a fallen comrade's items to a new party member - something that doesn't often make story sense. This way, it allowed us to buy in to the concept that replacement characters, fencers, retainers etc where all somewhat known people in the character's circles, and they could draw on each other's resources if they agreed to do so.

It is superorganized, but I found over time that nik naks like these actually sped up the pace of play, and allowed us to focus more on the most fun aspects of the game. With the initiative counter, everyone can see when their turn is coming, and can prepare for it. And if they delay and action, it's just velcro, so they can move the counter downstream a bit, between the other counters.

Sorry Rogue, I'm on a semi tangent with all this jazz, but I thought it important to outline the story reasons for using Excel to track XP and treasure.

We also used email synopsis and *brief* character vignettes, emailed to each other. Brevity helped us avoid the ubiquitous long lists of tortuous events that often seem to compile character backgrounds. We focused on emotional moments - ie, the character as a child, baking a pie with his mother. Or the story of how a character acquired a certain item etc. Often these email postcard stories were focused on events that occured between games. In addition to providing a better character context - a real, emotional connection - better than reciting these things at the table round-robin style (which always ends up sounding like "summonergeeks") it also fleshed out the setting, gave it some history and continuity, a sense of experience (rather than encyclopedic thoroughness - such as in the worldbooks).

The watchword in all these cases was always to keep it "small." Even if we were dealing with globabl apocalypse, we still had to keep how we related to it in these vignettes "small" and personal. Emotional.

We shared these vignettes whether the other characters were present in the events or not. The characters spend days and weeks riding, while the players spend mere hours. It's reasonable to assume that the characters would come to find out these stories over time, rest stops, pubs etc. It's interesting how they would often flavor the context of a simple dungeon crawl.


Very interesting. Its fascinating how inventive people are at finding different ways to do the same task. I guess a lot depends on what kind of game you and your players want to play, specifically what elements you want to set up so you can all buy into the reality of the game.

For your game you wanted a working rationale as to how a group of adventurers was organised and funded, with a lot of emphasis given to tracking xps, money, and even character development.

For me, the most important element is campaign integrity ie is the campaign well constructed, with logical relationships between countries, rulers, elites, monsters etc. Are character levels, challenge levels, monster levels compatible so that society can develop without being subject to constant destruction. I am willing to accept that the characters are a bunch of misfits thrown together by various and conflicting desires. Usually they sort it out themselves and agree on hoals, or if they like they can split up.

To illustrate, let me take your points and describe how I do things in a way that is just as workable, but with different emphasis:

(1) We also split xp equally across the number of characters. I like this because, hey its all good fun and easy to adjudicate, fairness be damned. I keep track of xp and money for the session, but at end of session players split it up and then they keep track on their character sheets. Seems to work just fine.

(2) replacement characters could start at various levels, generally slightly lower than existing party. If the party was still low level then they could be first level replacements. With even xp distribution they soon shoot up levels to become useful. Again, quite similar to you, but I see no reason to keep an ongoing tally. Just do it session by session.

(3) Magick items xp cost can be done on the spot. You take a players character sheet. Deduct the cost, write down the new xp and thats that.

(4) how hard is it to keep track of character levels? I have a bad memory, and even I can remember the general level of the party. I admit in my campaigns it tends to go up slowly.

(5) Lastly, I've got no problem with a party giving surplus gear to a new party member. Its actually logical and sensible. But I would expect them to do it in a realistic way ie they would do what you and I would do in the same situation. Cherry pick the best items and give the new guy stuff they couldn't use themselves or already had, or that would make him particularly effective.

I guess the main difference in our styles is that I keep track of resources session by session and make sure they are all allocated to players by end of session, whereas you keep a longer term record. I guess both ways can work.


Yeah, our methods are similar, it seems, in the level of detail we use. You are selling me short though on what I think is important in the game. Of course I think a campaign should be well constructed in the manner in which you've described - that's part of maintaining some sense of narrative coherance - which is very important to me. Nik Naks don't figure much into that though, and so I've put that aside here to focus on how certain devices can aid in pulling necessary bookkeeping away from live game time, and speeding the pace of live game time. It's not about tracking the numbers - it's about getting that stuff off the table so we can *play*, while still enjoying the game benefits they bring.

I just find that Excel is easier to use, since it was created specifically to record that kind of detail. The worksheet also serves as a record of encounters as well, since they are all written there (a big help). It's also good because people forget their sheets, bring the wrong versions etc. With four players, someone is bound to sooner or later. It also trims some of the bookkeeping from game time. That's boring and can be done offline.

Some other nik naks:

1. Website - we had a download site where we could get
a) up to date maps of the dungeon so far, scanned from the sourcebook/module, photoshoped so that the secret areas were invisible, and so that unmapped areas were unmapped. This gave us the big picture.

b) up to date character sheets

c) the XP and treasure record, as well as who was carrying what.

d) game synopsis, written by the DM, as well as character vignettes

2. 1 inch grid graph paper, boardroom sized. Much better than acetate sheets and battleboards, where there usually isn't enough room and so you have to wipe and redraw. THese can be premapped if there are planned encounters (ie a village, a dungeon area). Nothing worse than having players straddle two encounter areas and change their minds about which room they want to go to - if you are doing wipe-and-draw plastic sheets. For the big picture - look to the top down map scanned from the module.

3. Army men and Play-Do. We don't buy oodles of figures. For encounters with a lot of the same critter (angry kobalds), it's a good idea to use markers that look similar. Tokens are a great idea. Party members do use real figures though.

4. We hadn't tried this one yet, but we'd planned to have grid overlays with complicated area effects mapped out. No more counting squares in the middle of an action moment. Flash bang! Toss the area of effect on the grid!

Whoa. I think Neph and I actually agree on something -- does this mean Venus is causing sunspots? That's a joke, people...

I also use a spreadsheet to track the bulk of my stuff, including most of my Nik Naks, character sheets, etc. I've also got a Word document that bullet-points the existing timeline so that we can track "when" stuff happens -- it's also useful for converting dates if your group travels the planes (i.e., in my games, CY 576 on Oerth translates to AD 1600 on Earth, Free Year 1 on Athas, etc.).

It sounds like I don't take it to the extent that some others do, though. Yes...I give out XP, but I don't track who got what for which game. I track who gets what treasure...but I'm kinda sloppy about it.

I'd thought about building a web site devoted to our campaigns, but I don't really have the time to do that right now. I'm all in favor of the idea though and it'd be neat to let others (if they're interested) take a peak at "our world."

Regarding XP...I've always divided it equally amongst the players...for certain things. If there are 4 players and they kill 10,000 worth of monters...they each get 2500. Same goes for treasures found. As others have said, this is a team doesn't necessarily matter who gets the killing stroke.

But...I also dish out personal rewards that are earned. If Rune Reader is really in character on Game Night, I give him extra XP for playing his guy well. I don't have a hard-rule system for's usually fly-by-the-seat-of-my-guts. But, personally, I don't think Player 1 should get exactly the same XP as Player 4 if Player 4 is acting wooden or disinterested throughout the game.

My XP rewards are half socialism, half capitalism.

Keeping track of XP is a barbaric Nik Nak process. I usually keep a piece of scratch paper and write down who gets what and sometimes why. is a great place to go if you like reading G.I. Joe filecards.

::browses shelf of cliff notes::

Ah, here it is: 'Comments on Nik Naks by Sir Rouge Githyanki'

::skimms cliff notes::

Mmm, hmm. Okay, okay. Ahhhh, I see.

::puts down cliff notes::

Okay, I'm not what you'd call a lazy Dm but there are some things best left to the players. As an example, how much XP they ahve earned. I don't consider this my job to keep track of, so I don't.

Party treasure is a great concept but I have never once seen it properly used. What myself and my players allways do is divide treasure at the time of earning it. Then whoever takes what writes it down on their respective sheets and the issue is settled. Once in a game I was playing in we pooled our money and purchaced a bunch of gems so our assets were easier to carry. Well, one of the rouges held onto the roll, not for any real reason besides she was the one who had actually purcahsed them. Well, what we all had forgotten is she had a fetish for gems. As in every time we found treasure the gems were hers and we could split the rest. So as time went on we started to forget that she was carrying them untill one day we wanted to purchase a bunch of magic items only to discover that our friendly neighborhood rouge had allready liquidated the gems and spent the money. From then on we have just never bothered with party treasure. Well, thank you for that link, awesome site. Now i know about it, and knowing is half the battle.

For some more totaly off topic crap, here are some awesome G.I. Joe videos.

^and that's exactly what we've avoided by keeping track of treasure. Treasure is always a factor in our games - the tension of watching the cost of advancement vs the cost of gear etc. We stayed very close to the recommended DM guidelines for treasure allotment (we favor Dungeon Magazine's stuff), which means *gasp* we've had to sell some magic treasure to boost the group funds high enough so that when each PC gets their share, they can level up. So it adds a tactical planning choice to the game - do I level up today, or do I keep this nifty magic sword. In some cases, individual party members "bought" the magic item by forfeiting their share of monetary loot.

As a side point, the gold is then used to "buy" gems, which are more portable, or we also use it to buy property, or to save for horses etc. I like this idea from a narrative standpoint because it helps root players to the world. The characters *live* there. While we may not *play* that aspect much, I like them to perceive their characters in that context - as having lives and a home that they are leaving behind as they go in these journeys.

Rogue, I also used to do "acting" rewards, but upon reflection, I never found them to be successful in changing anyone's RP style. For the ones who really get into character, role-playing is its own reward. For the one's who don't, it breeds a bit of resentment, and the cause of it is a subjective decree of a DM. As you know, I'm all about helping the DM become the facilitator of the game, rather than the judge. People have different comfort zones.


You said:
"You are selling me short though on what I think is important in the game. Of course I think a campaign should be well constructed in the manner in which you've described"

Sorry if I gave this impression. I'm sure that you, like all good DMs, want a well constructed campaign. What I was trying to get across, in a clumsy way, was that this is what PARTICULARLY turns ME on as a DM and Player. I'm kinda fanatical that it all fits together or I have real trouble enjoying the game.

By the way, I agree with your point about not giving out acting rewards, but I also agree with R.Githyanki's point about giving out rewards for good ideas /participation etc. I guess the difference is that everyone cannot be a good actor, but everyone should be contributing to a party's success by coming up with ideas or maintaining interest at least.


Mo & Neph...

I should also point out that I don't give tons of XP for individuals. If somebody has a really cool quote...I give him 10 big deal. If 1 guy out of 4 did all of the brain work...and the other 3 guys sat on their duffs and did nothing, I'll give that 1 guy a 3-4 digit bonus.

I also give bonuses for players doing class-level stuff. Clerics get bonuses for doing clerical things, wizards for doing wizard things, etc.

And, in all honesty, there are some nights that I flat out forget to do it -- caught up in the game, usually. There are some nights were it just doesn't seem justified.

Since I keep track of XP, I tend not to update that portion of the character sheet (providing that the players get to use their sheets...snicker, snicker) until they actually go up a level. I keep the updates current on my Excel file...but necessarily current on the sheet I give them. That way, nobody can trade sheets to see who's getting "screwed" on the bonus XP (we're all adults now and left that mentality back in junior high). out individual XP's for quotes, ideas, etc. usually doesn't improve anyone's role-playing skills, whether we're talking about acting or group participation or whatever. But, I can't quite give up on rewarding people who deserve it, however minor the rewards might be.

stellar as always, RG. Keep up the good work.

We have a couple of tools that we use in our gaming sessions that are fun and useful.

We built an "inititive board" for D20 and rules systems that use initiative numbers in the 0-30 range. It's just a printed out column of numbers, each with a one inch box, glued onto foam board (you can get it at craft shops).

We then printed, in a small font, the PC names, words like stunned, held, webbed and other stati, and "NPC1, NPC2, NPC3" ...

Each of these I cut out and taped to a penny. We could then quickly lay down the initiative for folks for a round, include the start and stop round of spell effects, and stack spell effects on the player penny they were associated with.

It works well :) I have to update it a bit, as we're now playing Exalted. Shouldn't be too difficult, though.

When we were playing D&D, we also found the Dork 20 cards to be both useful and a WHOLE LOTTA FUN. I used them as a reward for good roleplaying, and it tended to make the players much more likely to stay in character during crucial moments.


Love the 'toasting' idea for spirit and flavor. Good article.