DM tricks of the trade.


I decided, since I am working a 10 hour shift, locked in my own sort of dungeon, that I would start a thred that could useful to me, you, and any DM looking to see just what other DMs are doing behind their screens of death. Sure we all roll dice, throw orks at our PCs, inform our players of castles, kingdoms, evil horrors, use pretty much the same attack-vs-AC basics...But behind every campaign or one-shot, there are things you do that no other DM does. You have crafted your style, polished your delivery, tweeked and retooled home-rules and found ways to handle things that the book never even hinted at. You have a working system all your own, and I want to see it.

So if anyone here has DM tricks or treats that you think are worthy of posting, please do. I have said many times here, the main reason I searched this site out was to read what other GMs are doing, how they work their mechanics, keep their notes, balance their worlds etc. So speak up, you got nothing better to do...brag, lament, sing if you wish, but please bring your secrets to the forfront of this site and share your wisdom.

You spend hours prepearing and building your adventures for a small group of players...Now share them with the gaming world...Here...Now.

I hope I have somthing to read soon, cus like I said...I'm knee deep in bordom, and I would love to learn somthing from all my friendly DM/GMs on this site.

I guess I'll start by discribing our fumble system...its simple and has been used for over 15 years in our games. Its easy to use and may lack the depth or detail of what some DMs would desire, but its easy to use and quickly commited to memory...

On a fumble roll 1d6.
1-Hit self or friend: The player has hit a friend, or himself. Roll randomly btween all friendly targets involved and consider that target hit. No second attack roll made, you hit em...or yourself. Damage is normal (with wep bonuses, but not strength).

2-Break weapon: This will break +1 or lower weapons, shattering or snapping it in half. The weapon is allowed no save, it is broken. You fumbled dude.

3-Break weapon: This will break normal weapons with no +. A +1 sword or higher will not break but will be dropped in battle, meaning a action is needed to pick it up.

4: Lose weapon: Thrown far from the player. To get it back one would have to leave battle and take an action to get it back (leaving battle allows free attacks on player).

5: Drop weapon: Dropped to the ground. the player doesnt need to leave battle to get it, it simply fell. But an action is needed to pick it up.

6: fall down: the player is prone and needs to spend an action to get up. The player on the ground recieves a -4 to attacks, and gains a +4 to AC making him incredibly easy to hit until the player stands back up.

Of course we use this sytem when such fumbles would be rightly used. When a player fires a gun or arrow into a crowd, we usually make 1-3 hit friend.

Thats how simple we keep our fumble list. We enjoy it much more then the multitude of fumble charts we have seen published and non-published.


One trick I am very proud of (is it a trick? I think so), was the creation of a new NPC (Whinishee Windago, 5th level cleric and Elf of the woods). The NPC was created with a way of thinking that I havnt fully used before.
The elf was to be "good" in all peacful ways and ideas, since I have rare warning from my group that they had made a secret pact to bring in all evil PCs for once (sick of savbing the world, lets kick its butt for a few games). When crafting the mini-adventure and the area around it I had the Idea that these PC-baddies were prolly gunna be working with evil at times, cuasing evil all the time, and facing the good people of the area as enemies. I went through my notes to see who was local, I found

A large armie of elves (80 soilders, a mobile force of warriors trained to keep woodland peace in emergency). But elves in my realm rarly find any human evils worthy of action. Most human deeds of bad go away within 100 years or so, so why lift a sword for such evils? Nevermind getting human germs on your steel, but think of the effect of local humans learning of all that elven armor, weapons and treasure that close by!

Three human settlments, one of decent size, across a 2week sail. Not close enough to care, not close enough to get there quickly, not involved with this tiny island's problems. Yes the PCs may cuase problems big enough to get the attention of boardering kingdoms, but I doubted it.

A bunch of Kenku who have gathered to work as a defence for the woods. Kenku in my realm are evil, but seen as evil with good intent (protect the forest, keep the trees n animals free of human trouble). they may slit your neck in your sleep, but only if you cuase trouble.

So I scanned the area, and saw that not alot of good guys would actually get off their ass to stop a bunch of 1st level jerks unless they really cuased big trouble. This party needed a new enemy, a new NPC, I had to make their perfect foe...It couldn't be horribly strong, cus they were new players, and it couldn't be horribly huge cus I didn't want to upset the tender balance of the area just to get ready for a new group of realm runners...who are evil...Did I mention that?

BAM! Winnishee was born. A pretty elven woman, cleric girl with nothing but gumdrops and flowers on the mind. A true sweet heart that looked fragile, but had a wisdom of 18. She was honest (never lied even to save her life) and trust worthy (trickery was below her). Her secret weapon? Niceness...Thats right, she was overly nice, understanding and very intouch with the fact that even an evil soul can be saved, and should be saved at any cost.

Her goodness was to be her secret weapon. I decided right there and then, that she would take any arrow for any life, use her voice, action and every bit of her being to spread goodness. But above all she was to embark on the mission to turn any evil into good. Change a man no matter the time it took (humans live short, time was limited, she HAD to changhe them before old age claimed them to hell).

Its been 8 games now, and out of the evil players, 2 have died (one defending Whinnishee might I add), they have all risked life n limb for her rescue more then once, fought an evil servant of a god that actually was impressed with them...losing his favor. And most importantly, one has withheld XP for over three games now cus he willingly wanted to change alignment to anything "without evil" in it...(he is shooting for neutral..hey thats a start). And one player, though staying evil, has choosen to do evil selectivly in the name of protecting the forest (like the kenku...hmmm). The entire party has gone from being totally evil pirates bent on catching and selling elvs, to considerately less evil players with an attachment to Whinni and her plight.

Its a great way to use good as a weapon, I have sytematically used her wisdom, and kindness to make them feel horrible about murder, theift, and anything thats just plain wrong. I think this foe has been a success in my view, shes such a great enemy...kill em with kindness baby! She's winning the game...

Thats one new way to use good agaisnt least for me. Sure is a change from crusading knights with bloodthirsty war crys and holy armor.

My favorite way of trolling for adventures is by studying history. Wikipedia is a treasure trove of information, as is the internet as a whole. I take things and combine them, changing things when needed and adding twists and tweaks to it.

I also shamelessly steal ideas from novels, movies, and artwork, both classic and modern.

For example:

I had a vampire who raised an army of lycanthropes (who in my world can change anytime that they want to and retain control of their mental facilities). He referred to them as the master race and preached that other races were the same as cattle. He explained that other sentient races had only three purposes; as food, as slaves, and as supplemental lycanthropes.

He exhorted them to great heights of emotional frenzy and then unleashed them on a large city where they enslaved the surviving inhabitants.

Later, the vampire unleashed a demon army on the world and the players had to track down a mysterious elven machine that would save the world from the demons.

The characters had to follow clues left almost five thousand years before in the form of statues, puzzle boxes, and a mysterious book. They also had to deal with the (elven) origins of their church, special branches of the church's knights, and an island full of martial arts practitioners who loved to surf.

I used Hitler, Dan Brown's Angel's and Demons (with subsequent research into Leonardo Da Vinci), Muy Thai Kickboxing, and Hawaiian culture including their religion, language, and the history of surfing.

It was cool...

Another trick that I use are luck rolls. I use luck rolls whenever chance has a say in things.

You need to pull the right lever to save your friend from being crushed and don't know which one to pull? Make a luck roll.

You're travelling from one town to another? Make a luck roll to see if anything happens.

You steal someone's money pouch? Make a luck roll to see how much it has in it.

You get caught in a ambush? EVERYONE make a luck roll to see who gets hit.

Luck rolls make things random that would otherwise be up to the GM. Luck rolls run opposite of the norm in whatever game system that you are using. For example, in GURPS you tend to roll low on 3D6 for everything. So I made it so that higher is better on a luck roll. (really messes with people who believe in dice karma).

Of course, I do have critical successes (you find a half buried sack of coins under you bedroll!) and critical failures (a hungry dragon fles by and decides that your horse is rather tasty).

Telling the future:

Soothsayer needs to prove her ability to tell the future? Need a way to make your god seem like he can actually call the divine dice of the realm? A long time ago I used to wonder how to create accurate display of future tellers or seers in a game that the players can change any future I can put down.

So over the years, this is how I kept such NPCs telling accurate futures for years.

The Fragmented Future: Many seers with limited power in future sight often use cyrstle balls or the stars to grasp small glimpses of forming-future (a bubbly froth that builds into a solid reality at the speed of life). For small acts of future-sight like this- I usually use the "fragmented Future" method. I tell the PC the most likely result of the near future due to what actions have been recently done. Sometimes telling them multible futures if two or more possible outcomes seem appearent to me. Either way, they know this is a parlor trick of limited magical value, and judging the future from the "Forming-future" are always up for change.


Rarly in my realms are acts set in stone, and rarer yet are those powerful enough to tap into "fated acts". Those who DO have the almost-divine ability use it wisely, knowing they can not change the out come. Few things fall into the ability to be "fated", most things a player or NPC could change with for warning...But here is how I force future to match vision.

The last seer of fate I had in my game told a player the next three outcomes of his next battle(s) accuratly. The seer couldnt see the size or challenge rating of the enemy, or who would win. But as the DM i forced the player to make his next three attack rolls right there and then. Out of the three the second one was a fumble...This allowed the player to know, that the numbers he just noted where going to be his next three attacks.

I have done this with encounter rolls, attack rolls, saving throws (the next save vs spell WILL fail, weather, stat rolls etc. Its hard to judge what can be changed and what cant using this style of future sight. There have been those who took great effort to "break fate" but they all know, to break fate in my game forces a player to save vs death...its a powerful thing to first seek your fate and then attempt to break it.

CHR vs Crude.

CHR is often a wasted score at many tables. So many players say CHR is not needed, or is a less then useful skill. Not true. As a GM its your job to change this notion. Cus the truth is, your players think this cus you as the GM are not making charisma a worth while cuase.

In my games, it is commonly known that crude (orks, kobolds, gnolls, orgers, goblins, troglidytes, etc) are hostile things limited to the crude-gene. The common crude, of chaotic alignment (normally evil)has a good chance of choosing to attack. When dealing with these creatures in effort to NOT cuase a fight, care should be taken in speaking with them.
The first person in the party to speak up (player rolls for the group)the player must roll his/her own CHR score (with a maximum penilty of -4, depending on situation) when begining the parlay.

A failed roll results in the crude creatures flipping out and reacting in rage, cuasing battle normally.

A success results in the crude creatures listening instead of fighting. This in no way insures the crude to be friendly, or any less hostile, but it does pass the stage of "does the crude attack the second you speak"

"Crude are known world wide to be this unpredictiable...this is why they never ammounted into a real civilization"
Waldo Boots (aka The Wizmaster) in his studies of the Crude-Gene.


As a DM i am always trying to paint a light on each race that gives it my own flavor. I always try to give each race my own finger print, just to help create the allure of my own mythology and lore. Here are some of the common things players know about individual races that players somtimes meet or play. All members of the race recieve or suffer from the effects of their race. Here is how I run the following in reguards to home rules of my personilized races.

Elf: All elves can use the woods to conceal them to anything that cant see invisible creatures (this isnt a home rule, its in the elven handbook, and often not used by most games I see). The elf can (if moving slowly with light armor) move through all forests as if he was invisible at all times up until they attack, or make action to be noticed.
Elves can also ignore need for food and water while in the woods (not that they dont eat, they just can always find food of some kind in the woods. as per the survival skill.)
Elves also have an immunity to all non-magical sickness.

The elves also have a sickness they call "humanizing", it results from interacting with humans (or any other inteligent creature lacking slyvan or fey orgin). The elves can notice small mental finger-prints left by interacting with humans, that cuase the elf to lose purity of elvin thought. It is often said in my game "the second an elf is found speaking to a human, he has certainly changed forever in the slightlest way"

Elves treat Humanizing sickness as serious as we would treat an outbreak of anthrax. This cuases alot of interesting politics betwen elves and their level of xenophobiea.

Elves also only sleep 4 hours a night (again, not a home rule, its published).

Crude: All crude have a sence of smell allowing tracking (free skill), and can see in the dark (no matter what the book says). crude are all related and dated back to a huge accident in global breeding. They get some free abilities for being what they are.

Most crude can take watch while sleeping, using sence of smell and hearing to keep watch. this is great in small parties that are limited to who can and cant take watch.

Crude get a + to CHR when being violent or intimidating (sm crude +1, med crude +2, large crude +4). this can be used for both player or NPC.

The dwarf is an amazing creature (evolved to perform work and be strong). The short but sturdy race gains the following bonuses.
Direction sence (built into the mentality of all dwarves).

A dwarf needs a normal night's rest, but only need sleep every other day (evolved to work long).

All dwarven made weapons and armors made within a dawrven mountain recive a natrual +1 (due to make and metal quality) and any dwarf player with a armor or weapon making skill can construct +1 weapons/armors if given access to dwarven tools and dwarven furnaces.

(people play them in my realm, using the humanoid hand book, quite often...they are a tribal race of warriors who have the upper bodies of a man, and the lower bodies of a cat).

Wem (slang name) much like crude, can use sence of smell and hearing to keep watch while sleeping, allowing a lone member of a pride to be albe to stand watch all night while gaining full sleep.

The Wem also do not need to choose hunting, it is given to them from birth.

Wem players are also allowed to be clerics, but not choose a god. they simply use a shaman type style that gains casting power from respect nature. They one of few races that can achive divine access to power without religeiously serving a god personally.
The dwarves call this type of thing "WooDoo" and Whoodoo is kinda like a bio-hazard warning to dwarves.

Wem also never fight one n other, and when it does happen (it has...playver vs player) all involved in the fight are usually outcast to the north to be a wild one. The entire pride, and all local prides will never communicate with a wild one.

Clever and rumored by magical study to be somhow related to both elves and dwarves. Gnomes enjoy happyness and work, and (unlike dwarves) are often curious in magical things, and science.

Gnomes gain engineering automatically.
Need sleep nightly but for only 4 hours (like elves).
Get 1d4 free "speaking tongues" of anykind.
Gnomes can also read and write gnome, autmatically.

Those cursed with this condition often find life to be troubled with both sides of his racial make-up, looking down upon them with disgust or distrust.

When dealing with elves they receive a -4 to CHR, automatically, unless friendship has become of the two involved.

When dealing with humans they receive a +2 to CHR, automatically...pretty folk.

All half elf are usually found to be magical by humans or mutants by elves. Depending on what type of human finds one, it could mean the diffrence between startled amazement, or butchuring the poor thing to sell him in parts.

Elves hardly ever appear to half elves. They choose to not look on the face of such a twisted thing as elf/human genes mingled. Half elves are almost always players in my game since to insure their rarity I never introduce half-elf NPCs (well one or two HAVE been met in the past 10 years).

Elves are so rare that most races no longer think they are real. And most humans wouldnt notice a half-elf's true genentic history if being closly studied.

All elves can notice a half-elf's racial secret the second one talks or shows his/her eyes or full face. A elf can also assume somthing is not quite "human" about a cloaked half-elf hiding his face simply by noticing the grace of the creatures steps.

Hmmm... That's interesting. Since you showed me yours, here's mine ;-)

Elves: Have white hair and jewel like eyes. They are small, roughly 5 to 5 1/2 feet tall. They have pointed ears and sharp features.

They worship the Spirit World as per American Indians. A race of individuals, whomever is best suited for a task accomplishes it or leads groups to do the same. For example, a war party would be lead by the best tactician. The are no gender differences.

Elven culture is based on the Japanese arts, including language, music, and artwork.

Children are raised by the tribe.

The Elves were decimated by a demon army 5k years ago. Their entire culture is based on preparing for another demon invasion. Thus they are the best guerilla fighters in the world. All eastern style martial arts stem from the elves.

All other sentient races stem from that same demon army. Elves are pretty zonophobic, but it depends on the individual and age of the elf rather than the race as a whole.

Dwarves are almost stereotypical in their Scottish accent, living underground and craftmanship. They view elves rather fondly in their own zenophobic way but they hate other races. Humans can be dealt with because they have so many of the supplies that Dwraves want (honey, flour, salt, etc).

Dwarves know a martial art called Rade based on Jailhouse Rock (a fighting style invented in prison).

Humans Humans made the bulk of the demon's army due to their reproductive rate and intellect. They rule the world now because of those same traits. Their are different cultures of humans and they all speak different languages, have diff religions, etc.

Humans know boxing, wrestling, Savate, and some other western martial arts.

Orcs, goblins, and other Crude were the demon armies cannon fodder. They were too brutish and strong for anything else. They all speak dialects of the demon tongue and worship him still.

The crude pratice a martial art called Smasha.

There are no gnomes in my world. To me they are more useless than halflings.

Halfelves in my world are almost universally the product of rape. Very rarely does an elf (who can and do lives over 5k years) dishonor themselves by sleeping with another race. Thus halfelves almost always grow up in the human lands without the influence of their elven heritage. They have the white

Half elves also physically mature at half the rate of a human child. A twenty year old halfelf would look ten. They mentally mature at the same rate that a human does. When they reach fifty or so, this aging process slows even further. Half elves can live past 200 years barring accident or injury.They have the white hair, eyes, and pointed ears of the elves with the bulk and muscle of the humans.

Duerger, Drow, and other "twisted" races are experimental races. The Demon Lord created them from captives during the Demon War. They worship the Demon (their Creator) and strive to further His cause by waging war on the surface races.

Halflings live on islands like Hawaii and their culture is a mixture of Hawaiin and the Phillipenes.

Halflings know Escrima and Bando martial arts.

Very cool look into your races. Your really into culture and history of earth as I notice. that really gotta show in your DMing. I must admit im no history freek, but I do love the tv channel.

Please, share as much stuff as you can about your realm and DM style. This kinda stuff is solid gold to me.

You can find a sampling of the races that I use in my D&D game in this link to my "other" RPG.

With every realm or kingdom that I make I incorporate certain things that detail out the kingdom, culture, and people and make them realistic. These are the steps that I take, without being in order.

I pick a government. Usually I just do a government search on wikipedia and pick one that sounds cool.

Then I pick a religion. While picking the religion I consider how important, influencial, and powerful it will be in the lives of the common folk.

I pick a real world primary culture and one to three secondary cultures as a base for that realms culture.

I pick a common language for that realm. Usually this is based on the primary culture, but not always. This is where the names of the people living in that kingdom come from.

Then I pick a martial art of some sort. I usually pick two or three. Every culture in the world has some sort of empty hand fighting style and I find that it adds to the authenticity of the culture to incorporate things like that.

For example:

Milan (Milanese):
Government: Clan-based Confederacy (no pun intended, they live in clans much like the Scottish and form a loose confederacy).

Religion: Polytheism loosly based on mixture of Norse and Greek Gods. Very powerful, priests act as judge/jury/executioner on all capital cases. Also write laws and can displace leaders.

Culture: Scottish clans, American Indian technology/clothing, upgraded Viking honor system (see also Renshai). Panamanian clthing for city.

Language: Portugese/spanish mix.

Martial Arts: Capoera is part of religious worship and taught from childhood. Bando, Muay Thai Kickboxing, and Pentjak Silat available later.

Have one city for land called Milan. Each clan spends one year running city. 52 clans total (52 years equal 1 cycle). Currently clan and year of the Dragon.

These are all the notes that I need for this land. As further preparation I would have a map of the city and the land. Milan is a real city as it turns out and I have a hand-drawn 3D 15th century map that I downloaded off of

I'd also print of some pictures of different clothing, average people (for description) and write up an informative essay of the gods and religion.

Then I'm done.

holy crow...I got a 12 hour shift today, and now Gil has gave me sumthing to read for at lest 4 hours of

I shall begin my journy down the road of your realm, now.

Let me TELL YOU, my friend, thats one hell of a site dedicated to Rael...what a diverse and complex must be proud. THIS is what I was talking about when i first got to this site...when I asked "wheres the hard working DMs who wasted too much of their real life creating a fantasy world"

You fit the shoe. i like the cut of your Jib Mr, and wow, its one hell of a world you got going there. it all yours? Are you the mother AND father of this realm? (I read the history, the races, and plan to read the rest), or is this a joint project between other masterminds?

I will tell you, I enjoyed your maps as well...did you make them all? If so, I am jealous, ive been looking into getting an easy program to make my maps of my realm....saddly I have resorted to hand painting huge wall pieces on giant 5x8 peices of wood. They look gorgeous might I add, but such maps take a long time to paint, and they are impossible to fit onto a data base (they DO make great framed peices of art, and I am very talented with paints, inks, pencil, and such). I am honored to have snuck around Rael, under the safty of my dark hooded cloak, peeking and peeping at your work behind your DM screen. Your players must adore you.

Or hate you...

Thanks for the kind words. Yes, I did all the work myself -- art, maps, story, etc. What you see on the site is the tip of the iceberg. I have lots of stuff in various states of completion -- currently what little free time I have is devoted to my Epic Fantasy Ruleset and trying to take that to the next level.
If there is anything that particularily catches your interest, let me know as I am sure to have scads more information on it. As for the maps they are either drawn freehand and scanned, or created with electronic tools such as Campaign Cartographer or Fractal Mapper. I'll play with the jpegs with Photoshop to add ripple effects and textures. If you want some really good examples of maps though go to the Campaign Cartographer website, check out the Tekeumel website, and also Jhendor. Campaign Cartographer is a bit tricky to start with, so you might look at starting with Fractal Mapper (by NBOS Software).

Thanks again for the compliments.

It would have to be "mac" osx platform compatiable...Im not a Windows guy (ew...PCs are gross).

I really liked your divine catagory for individual's who are born with divine alterations at birth. I liked the Mud ones, who die and return to soils as soil...thats cool, and im gunna use that idea in an up in coming game soon (if you dont press charges)

I also liked how elvin blood is rumored to have magical or mystical properties in making people live long...very cool and sorta like the human nations in my realm that have lore saying elvin blood can make you immortal in the face of age...its lore, since no human has ever been recorded meeting an elf in over 400 years...(the funny part is its not true, or at lest it hasnt been done yet, but a mage can prolly use the blood in a magical way, so say scholors.

I really dig your realm and think your pretty damn cool at your DMing.

I wish I had the fortitude to swear off PC's as well, but there are so many app's that rely on MS that it is hard to do so.

In my game there are many kinds of magic drinks: bibes, potions, and herbals being the most common. Bibes are based on blood magic and are easier to manufacture and are often more potent. Indulging in blood magic, however, can have deleterious effects. Potions are the result of magical study and often contail chemical/alchemical ingredients revolving around metals -- iron, arsenic, cobalt, mithril, magnesium, sulphur, et al. While herbals rely on the properties of plants -- hemlock, aloe, thistle, valerian root, etc.

Note that the blood colours of the three strains of creatures (Vir, Faey, and Illorian) represent the oxidization of three different base metals - Iron, Cobalt, and a mixture of the two). This can change the way that magic potions affect different races. This is information that I have given to no one in the twenty years the campaign has run. They know that some things affect the various races differently but haven't correlated this to blood colour - base metal.

Feel free to borrow the source material on my site for personal use. However, I know that you have your own RPG that you are developing and certainly don't want you to use my material for that endeavour. At your own gaming table though -- game on!

After I get Epic Fantasy Roleplaying published I will turn my attention to getting some kind of source material for it to show off how it can distill detail better than D&D or GURPS. I am going to start with my D&D campaign material as a base and change, modify, and expand.

I would never try and steal or barrow anything from anyone for our RPG project, so thats fair n squared.

But yes, for my at-table adventures, I have gotten a few ideas from your site. I admit after im done tweeking them you may never see the orgin behind the thought...but I shall give you credit in the face of my players so they can see your realm as well...

Your a craft f&&cker I will admit... I have always had blood color in my game be the signiture of races as well, but i never connected them to metals (very smart), and i like how your players are ignorant to its true impact on magical effects n potions.

The stuff I barrow will be added to Qwom, since my main realm has been complete for many years now...but in making qwom I have searched this place for a muse...and you have been one...ty

I love that breaking vs fate idea, that's some nice tricks there :)