MoonHunter Sayeth 20170531


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
RPGnet Member
Validated User
Core Things to know

If you are going to be listening to me ramble on about GM advice, there are five things you will need to know about.

1) Cue Cards
2) Riffing
3) Magic Boards
4) Chronicle Packet (aka world pack/ packet, aka Campaign Packet, aka Setting Book)
5) GM Journal (aka GM Pad, GM Notebook, etc)

Cue Cards -started as a tool for GMing, but have evolved over time. Cue Cards are prepared short bits for a chronicle that can be used in a number of ways. Traditionally they are kept on 3x5 cards, but they can easily be computer files on a database app, or text documents, or text documents printed, cut out, and pasted onto the 3x5 cards. The size in many ways is important. To be effective the cue card need to be short, concise, and easy to use.

Riff or Riffing is a tool to practice your presentation at the table and generate new ideas and approaches on a topic. It is easy to start with an NPC of note. When you're in the car or shopping or in the shower (or any place your mind can safely waunder), think of situations your NPC might be in, and how they'd react. Think about the dialog, the feelings, the actions, and the responses of others in that situation. These riffs will help you better define the NPC and give you "prepared" responses. Write down any important bits you discover on a cue card.

Magic Boards are a piece of game tech that was revolutionary in the late 70s. Now it is something that people go, “oh yah” and kinda know. Magic boards are inexpensive ways to make multi use surfaces. They can be used for small maps, notes, counting damage or initiative, and so on.

Chronicle Packets are packets of information about the game, including information about the world/ setting, any rule changes for the genre or setting or gm style, tips on how to create a character that fits the setting, any group rules that need to be spelled out, and other useful bits. Most chronicle packets run about six to ten pages. If you are really into it, they can be thirty two to sixty pages… or more.

GM Journal GM’s need to keep notes on their games, if nothing else so they don’t screw up continuity. For me, it is where I keep track of the various story arcs/ plot line, experience points, what we did every session, notes for things that need a bit of write up (NPCs, Items, Locations, etc). Ideally I use a special format for my notes, but really what works for you … is what you should use.

Now to prevent this from being a huge post, I am only only able to do one section at a time.

Part 1 of 5

Cue Cards are prepared short bits for a chronicle that can be used in a number of ways. Traditionally they are kept on 3x5 cards, but they can easily be computer files on a database app, or text documents, or text documents printed, cut out, and pasted onto the 3x5 cards. (This means they are 2.75x4.5 with 10 lines of text). The size is important. To be effective the cue card need to be short, concise, and easy to use.

Voice Cards: These cards have bits of description or some witty lines of dialog ready to be used in a game. This allows the GM to have prepared “bits” ready to go. When you need one, pull a card out at random or shuffle to an appropriate card.
*In a super hero game, but not quite witty enough to generate off the cuff jokes? Create some voice cards with quips and lines ahead of time.
*If you want to give a cityscape some character? Create several descriptions defining the alleys, buildings, or cityscape, in a chandler-esk voice.
*If you have a zombie game, there are only so many times you can say, “they shuffle forward”. Spending some time beforehand; and there can be a variety of zombie motions. The cards allow you to pull them out at random if you are stuck.

Character Cards: These cards have bits of personality and physical description ready to be applied to a role or archetype. To make them really useful, add some bits of dialog (showing how they talk), how they act, or one roleplay quirk they have (always running their hand their hair). Randomly pull a character card and you have a ready made NPC. Some GMs will make character cards for various minor NPCs, so they can be pulled when they are needed. Bits from these cards can be added to character sheets to act as “cues” how to act and sound (descriptors).

Action Cards: These are a hybrid of voice and character cards. These are “cool moves” that a character can perform. Each card has the description of the action and any mechanics and rolls required to pull it off. If rules from specific pages are needed, they can be copied on to the card or their page number is noted. This makes pulling off the “cool move” faster and easier in the game. This is useful in a martial arts genre game and other games where the actions are detailed and flashy. These don’t have to be complicated moves, just interesting ones. Action Cards, like voice cards, can give you some variations for your actions descriptions. Note: Action cards aren’t just for combat. They can be used in other actions as well. Racing, hacking, climbing, and social scenes, have all had actions cards successfully used.

Gear Cards: Some people like keeping notes on all their special gear. Think character cards for the items with their various mechanics and stats.

Spell/Power Cards: Like action cards, but for Power/Meta Actions. Since those tend to be more complicated, having even “impromptu” spells worked out is handy

Technique Cards: Action cards, utilizing specific actions with more rules summarized so you don’t have to look anything up.

Visual Cards: Voice cards that are all about description of a given area of a cool turn of phrase to use during the game. So when you have a great turn of phrase about the creepy alleyway, or majestic castle, or so on…. , you should put it on a Visual Card.

Random Trait Deck: These cards have a number of single traits or key features that the GM can base a minor or extra character on (or if hard pressed a major one).

Scene Cards: These are cards to define a given scene that occurs in a game. These allow for easier planning of scenes.
First line - Name/ Plotline: Important scenes can have cool poetic name, while lesser scenes would be a descriptive line. If the scene belongs to a plotline, it should also be listed.
Second Line - Entry: This is the conditions for this scene to be played. It is normally “after X happens” or “when you are in “location”.
Third Line – Purpose: Everything in a game should have a purpose. The goal is always to advance the character’s stories, and the purpose would be how it would do that. Note: Giving players something to do is a valid purpose, though not one a GM should use often.
Block of Text – Description: This is a description of the scene, anything important that might need to be mentioned, any voice card that might need to be referenced, and so on. If specific rules are required for the scene, make sure to mention them or their page number for easy reference,.
Last Line – Exits: This is where this scene can lead a character to, exit to pursuit of villain, exit to talking with city guard, exit to ships scenes on way to Calderon.

Scene cards are mostly a GM thing. However, players should think about the scenes they would like in the game. They can give the GM Scene Cards (or set of scene cards) for a plotline as a request to see them in play.

The purpose of many scenes is called a plot point. A plot point is something that will provide resolution for future events. It is important that plot points happen in their scenes so things will go smoother down the line.
There are some more uses for Cards Posted here


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
RPGnet Member
Validated User
Notes which could not be included due to space limits.

Cue Cards force brevity and allow you to store creativity. This focused form prevents “over detailing things”.

Cards are better than lists because you can shuffle them or put them in specific orders.

Good Players DO use cards. Voice Cards and Action Cards can really improve a player’s play.

The advantage of cue cards is that if you have a great idea on how to play your character while not playing, you write it down and can use it for later.

Filling up cue cards is not a monolithic task. Start small. Do a few every now and again. Eventually you will find yourself with more cards than you can conviently carry.

Where do you get the info to fill a card is the question I am hearing from you now. There are two methods. The first is to borrow a descriptive bit from your campaign's author. The second, and by far the most common, is Riffing. This is the second tool.

An aside: To keep the description consistent for the entire campaign, I base my words and phrases on a favorite author. One author forms the inspiration and the template for the voice of the campaign. Right before the game, I'll read a chapter or large chunk of one author, Mercedes Lackey, Ann Rice, Terry Brooks, Peter David, or some such, so that I have an idea of how the author would describe the scene. It reinforces the "voice" of the campaign in my mind.

After a while you don’t need the cards any more. You can just memorize everything as if it was a card and practice those points over and over again. The point of the cards is the discipline of making them and the focus on the economy of words.

I have two formats of notes.

I tend to make game notes in a narrow format document (two columns, each 3.5" with minimal .25 margins.) There is a horizontal line I put ever 11th line. Each note can not exceed 10 lines at normal font. When I print them, I cut along the lines, it fits nicely on the card.

That format worked, but then I wanted to put various scene cards in my journal or makes notes about card. The Journal format is It is a two column format with a line between. I put a .5” gutter on the page. The first column is 5" (4.5” column with minimum .25 margin from the line and from the edge) Again, There is a horizontal line I put ever 11th line, so each card will be 10 lines. The second column is on the other side of the dividing line. That is for my hand written notes about the card entry or typed entry on the other side.

If I have to print and mount it on the card, I cut along the vertical line, then the horizontal. They all fit nicely on a piece of card.
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