Oct 31

Elf or Scroll: Handling the Info Dump


TalesOfAGM Dice Sq SmOne of the main tasks of the GM is to impart information to the Players. Environment, setting and historical details are only known to the Players, and thereby become relevant at the table, if the GM actually passes this information along to the Players.


Yet, there are many methods for the GM to impart this knowledge. The aim of this article is to look at some of the ways the GM can use to relay this information.


The Box Text

The classic method to pass along information is by reading out the box text printed in a scenario. This Gygaxian method is as old as the hobby. The classic modules for D&D feature a paragraph of text to be read out by the GM ahead of each encounter.


If you are playing an OSR game, then you may want to reprieve this method of informing your Players. However, this can be a passive method of delivery, as the Players are just listening as the GM reads aloud. Some GMs like to summarize the box text, and just read out the highlights.


The Elf

A more interactive method is to have the required information presented to the Players by a GMC.


The suitability of this technique will vary with context. There is unlikely to be a suitable guide available to narrate many of the old-school room box texts describing decor details. However, for broader background and history information, it can be appropriate to present the Players with a GMC who has the knowledge they seek. The GM can then sit back and enjoy the dialogue as the Players try to tease out the necessary information.


Using a GMC to present information allows for distortion of the story through a selective memory or just a personal agenda. This is not for the GM to manipulate the Players, rather the agenda of the GMC should be evident to those Players paying close attention. Where a GMC is presenting the Players with only parts of the true story, it is good practice to have a second GMC available with another version of events.


In this way you can be sure to give the Players all the information they need. By presenting two versions of the facts, you give the Players a chance to make some choices, to think about what they have been told and to pick apart the truth. You have given the Players a chance to be clever, and they will thank you for the opportunity.


When using a GMC to present information to the Players, be sure to make the conversation a dialogue. Simply having a GMC orate vast swathes of history at the Heroes is no different from the GM reading a block of text. Aim for creating a dialogue with the Players. Intend to give the Players all the knowledge they seek, but require frequent questions to tease out the full story. Once again, this will help the Players to feel clever as they “persuade” a reluctant GMC to tell them what they need to know.


Nicknames as Hooks

Having resolved to present background knowledge to the Players through a GMC, the next trick is to ensure the Players can find the right GMC. One option is just to allow whoever the Players ask to have the right knowledge, but this may not always feel right. A local shrine to the God of Knowledge can work in urban games, or simply a visit to the local University in a modern setting.


These are good options, but for a truly memorable experience you might be better with a flavourful character with the right knowledge. To help the Players find who they seek, a good nickname can show specialist knowledge.


Ageing warriors can have nicknames given to them as a result of past deeds. Rather than having historic events happen in the long-forgotten past, you can have GMCs who were actually there. Such veterans have the nickname, and scars, to show for their participation in past glories.


As so many fantasy races have extended life spans, then the amount of history with living firsthand witnesses grows accordingly. Not only do the existence of historical nicknames suggest a vivid history to the setting, they act as clues for clever Players who want to learn more about a specific event.


For example, first the Players meet an ageing warrior called Hethin Gate Keeper. Later, they are researching the history of the local fortress and hear the story of a lone warrior who held the gates against a goblin horde 30 years ago. Astute Players will link the two clues together, return to Hethin and question him further about the fate of the Fort Commander’s sword which was lost in the battle.


The Presentation of Ancient History

It is possible to extend this idea even further. If your game features Planar races, or other immortals, then the GM could conjure up an individual who was present at any pivotal event in the history of the setting.


For example, it is far more interactive to have a conversation with a fae warrior who was present at the First Conclave of the Gods. The fae may demand an additional service for the information. This gives the GM further opportunity to add extra quests or personal agendas into the game.


The Scroll

Another method of presenting information is with a Player handout. These can be time-consuming to produce, but the availability of fantasy fonts now means that a handout need not be hand-written. This option is a good choice for lengthy or complex information, especially if it is something the Players will want to refer to many times.


Despite Player assumptions, there is no reason to suppose that a handout is any more unbiased than the information from a GMC. Writers of historical texts can be just as biased as any other eyewitness. There should be clues in the text for astute Players to uncover. Or perhaps a second, conflicting document appears, leading to further investigation by the Heroes.


It is probably more fun for the Players to have two, or more, conflicting documents. This allows them plenty of opportunity to debate the merits of each source, and engage in further research. Do not allow analysis paralysis to grind the game to a halt, but it can be interesting to give the Players choices about which source to believe, and which to ignore.


Using the Players

One variant on the handout is to give one Player a text and ask them to read it to the group. Not only does this give your voice a rest, but it also changes the rhythm of the session by having another Player act a temporary GM as they read. I like to use this technique for “bardic knowledge”-style information, where one Hero is effectively lecturing the others with their knowledge.




Vary the pace of your game by using different methods of presenting information to your Players. You may find one method easier, but be sure to use the others to add variety to the game.


So, how do you manage the dreaded info dump? Share your experiences in the comments section below.


Happy Gaming


Something for the Weekend next week: Mr Micawber and GM Prep

Oct 30

Prep in Progress: Chapter 29, Part 2

TalesOfAGM Cross


 Arcane mutants, Fungus Forest & faster prep


The Prep in Progress entries are short summaries of my prep for my ongoing campaign The Tales of the Hero Wars.


Despite having a day in Norwich, I still found the time for some game prep. I completed the session outline, which is my central tool for running the game. The Song had been written up on Saturday, and has since been uploaded to the Wiki.These days, this is virtually the totality of my game prep.


I need to make a few notes about the Arcane Mutants living below Trimontium, as they seem likely combatants somewhere along the line. Likewise, I need some environmental effects for the Fungus Forest that the Heroes will be running through as part of the chase sequence one of the Players wanted. A few rolls on some charts, and these should be sorted.


So, the minimal workload is rather suiting me. I may even return to some of the design challenges that had been delayed due to my previous workload. Faster prep really does help a tight schedule.


Lessons for Your Prep

Aim for less prep than your schedule allows, to leave you room to address the bigger issues in your campaign.


Happy Gaming


Oct 30

Storm & Shield: The Inner Council Winner


journal squareThank you to everyone who entered, voted and generally promoted the contest. Voting is now closed, and the winner has been notified. I am now able to announce the winner on Tales of a GM.


Prime Leader

The winner of the election for leadership of Storm & Shield Prime is now Tessa Starwind, by Vicki Potter.


Vicki wins a digital copy of the Ennie-winning NPC Essentials book by Johnn Four.


The book is described on Johnn’s Roleplaying tips website as follows: 


NPC Essentials is a huge collection of tips, techniques, and aids that will inject life and detail into your NPCs. This comprehensive book is filled with step-by-step advice on designing, role-playing, and managing NPCs during the entire lifetime of your campaigns. Also included are NPC archetypes, encounters, charts, and an example NPC-centric adventure (d20, fantasy).



Storm&Shield LogoThis round of the Warlock’s Journal also saw a bonus round of voting for the title of the leader of the Inner Council. Thank you to everyone who submitted a name for this part of the contest. The voting showed overwhelming support for the title Shieldmaster.


So, let us put our hands together for Shieldmaster Tessa Starwind.



The Journal moves on

So, many congratulations to Vicki, who has been sent email notification.


I shall be working on the Storm & Shield: The Inner Council pdf, and hope to have it uploaded to the site in the next few days. This will be a lengthy pdf, as there are several Appendices to add into the text.


The next stop for the Warlock’s Journal is with Michael Christensen at Tiny Gork


Thank you all again for your support through the contest.


See the Warlock’s Journal page for a full list of all the contests.


Happy Gaming

Oct 28

Prep in Progress: Chapter 29, Part 1

TalesOfAGM Cross


 Improv Session, spider-haunted tavern & easing the schedule


The Prep in Progress entries are short summaries of my prep for my ongoing campaign The Tales of the Hero Wars.


The game on Saturday was another great improvised experience for me. The Players were engaged with both the setting and the narrative, and we all combined to help tell a fun story. Due to the improvisational nature of our game, I still did not have to invoke much of my earlier prep, which ensures that the tools are available to me for another session.


There were also two examples of the Players brainstorming locations with me.


We created a spider-haunted tavern and a network of tunnels infested with a fungal forest. The session even ended with one of the Players demanding a chase sequence through the fungus forest, so that is where we shall start next time.


Of greater impact on me, was the agreement to abandon the prose write-up of each session. This will save me a lot of time through the week, and should have a significant impact on my gaming workload through the week. I am so pleased to have made this decision, as this lightening of the schedule will help me overall. There will be a blog post about this topic in the near future.


Moving forward, I do not have much to prepare for the next session, which is a very pleasing experience. I shall make some notes expanding upon some of the features that were brainstormed last week. This will then enable me to make the most use of the fungus forest and the Arcane Mutants who inhabit the tunnels below Trimontium. It is an odd feeling for the majority of my prep to be focused around our improvisation from last session, rather preparing brand new material for the next session.


Lessons for Your Prep

Work with your Players to ease your prep burden, and to give them the story that they want. If your weekly schedule is too tight, then look for something to cut. you will work better is you can reduce the pressure on yourself.


Happy Gaming


Oct 27

Voting closes Tomorrow for Storm & Shield: The Inner Council


Voting for the latest Warlock’s Journal Contest will close on Tuesday.


journal squareThe Warlock’s Journal is not always a precise source of information, and can often be contradictory. Thus, close reading of the text has revealed nine candidates for leadership of Storm and Shield Prime.


A select band of planar scholars are invited to assess the candidates and determine which entry is worthy of leading the organisation.




I have prepared a short pdf of The Warlock’s Journal descriptions of the various candidates. There are nine candidates to choose from. Which of these will scholars judge to be worthy?


Inner Council Voting pdf



Voting for the contest is via Survey Monkey. You will be asked to vote for your FIRST choice and for your SECOND choice for the new leader of Storm & Shield Prime. If there is a tie with the First choice, and only if there is a tie, then the Second choice scores for the previously tied entries will be added to their overall score to determine a winner.


Thus, PLEASE vote differently for the two selections, as I will be checking the voting records and disregarding ALL the votes of any entrant found to be voting the same way twice. There has already been an instance of this repeat voting in this contest, and I shall delete that entry before recording the final outcome. So be sure, I am be checking.


Remember, vote DIFFERENTLY for your first and second choices.


Click here to vote


Remember, voting closes October 28th.


Happy Voting.

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