7/21/2015

GM Prep Tip: Tracking Some of the Fiddly Bits

GM Prep Tip: Tracking Some of the Fiddly Bits
I'm quite certain that the last thing any GM wants is to add a heap of extra work on their plate when it comes to running a game. For this reason I'm willing to bet that most GMs gloss over a lot of the fiddly rules in their chosen game system.

As a HackMaster player I keep track of a helluva lot more "stuff" than I'd ever be willing to do as a HackMaster GM, and even then I've had to go out of my way to make it easier for me to do. My custom PC sheet tracks my PC's carried weight, fatigue, and even the last time I used a skill (well, a check box if I'd used it since I last leveled). I don't even think the "Official" HackMaster PC sheets keep track of this information.

Now I'm not advocating my PC sheet, or even my game, but just noting that often the more fiddly bits of a game can be a royal pain in the ass. It is usually just best to either work out some sort of shortcut or determine what matters and what doesn't.

A GM can hand-wave a lot of stuff, and can often push some duties to the players. You might want to use encumbrance, but no way are you going to keep track of that as a GM! Maybe just having the players do that and the occasional spot-audit with XP penalties for non-compliance is sufficient.

Koplow Mini Poker Chips
The thing is there are times that as a GM you need a handy way of tracking some of these fiddly bits. For example, your group might have a foray into a cavern or a dungeon and getting lost in the dark, or the possibility of losing their light, is a key element of the adventure. Not every game has easy access to Light spells. One thing I've found useful is using some sort of token or markers to denote consumables.

I have a set of Koplow Games mini poker chips for just this occasion. I could use Yellow for torches, orange for pints of oil, blue for water.....etc. I like the poker chips because they have little ridges making stacking easier. You could also use Skittles, Alea Tools markers, specially painted mini bases...anything small and colorful would probably work.

The way it works is you just give each player enough tokens to represent their consumables and when their PCs use them up in-game they toss them back to you. It really does help with tracking some fiddly bits and gives a quick visual indicator of how much of a given resource is left. It is rather easy for a GM to just say, "It's the end of the day, toss in a ration chip and a water."

I've seriously considered using the red chips to track hit points and not allow players to talk about how many hit points they have left. As a player I try to refrain from doing this, but it is hard......I think if the players had a stack (or stacks) of red chips to represent health then you could scan around the table and just see who looks a little low, without knowing the certainty because the player stated to the group, "I'm down to 11 hit points!"