3 Hacks for Any Roleplaying Game

Back in the 1990s Quentin Doucet–a buddy of mine and the best damn roleplayer I’ve ever known–introduced three rules to his games.  In twenty-first century jargon, he had discovered “game hacks.”  Because Quentin’s game hacks sped up play and increased flow, they spread quickly throughout our gaming circle.

Now that I’m running games with new players, it fell to me to introduce a new cadre of gamers to Quentin’s game hacks.  And they thought you should have them too.

Barroom Visits

Keeping track of game money is annoying.  Learning the ins and outs of each setting’s system of currency is doubly annoying.  Most players want adventure, not a dissertation on international finance.

Quentin understood this better than any of us.  He introduced a universal unit of currency, the Barroom Visit.

A barroom visit is the amount of money that a typical player character would spend in a typical visit to a barroom.  In other words, a tidy sum.  The Barroom Visit gave us a system of valuation any of us could use in any setting, in any era.

An inside man has the information I need but he’s holding back.  I bribe him with a Barroom Visit and he starts talking.

Diamond Jack Martin just robbed the Laredo Bank?  The bounty has been set at 10 Barroom Visits!

The team had a wildly successful run.  Your character decides to hit the town and spends–one Barroom Visit!

Reading Everyone’s Comic Book

When your character isn’t featured in a scene, it’s tempting to get into side conversations, check your email, read a comic someone else brought for you.  Letting players disengage like this slows down gameplay.  Transitions between characters take longer.  Players lose track of the plot.

Quentin knew player distraction could kill a campaign.  So he told all of us to read each other’s comic book.  Even when your character wasn’t involved, you should enjoy and appreciate other people’s play.  This gentle commandment kept everyone at every corner of the table caught up with the goings-on at every other corner.  This policy also meant we got to experience the story from a wider variety of perspectives than just our own.



Because everyone is reading everyone else’s comic book, each player knows what each character has seen and done.  Part of the story still includes passing information on to other characters which their players already know.

Repeating information between characters is a time killer.  Writers in television and cinema know this problem.  Watch carefully and you’ll notice that information-passing conversations seldom happen on camera.  Instead, screenwriters tend to cut to moments right after the characters have exchanged information.

Quentin had a solution waiting for this problem in RPGs.  His solution is “Blah.”

Any time your character needs to pass information to another character and both players already have this information, simply say “blah.”  This establishes for the purposes of the story that your character has filled the other character in and we can get on with the plot.  


Quick.  Simple.  Effective.  Game hacks.

What do you think of these roleplaying hacks?  Would they help your games as much as they helped mine?  Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.



My grandfather was a teacher. My mother was a teacher. Her sister still is, as are two cousins. You might say that teaching is the family business. As the craft of game design became an increasingly large part of my life, it felt natural to desire teaching it as well as pursuing it.

I’ve thought about writing a book on game design since 2003. For ten years, the project was set aside on the rationale that I was not experienced enough, had not done enough, had published too few games. The best books on design–Chris Crawford on Game Design, Sid Sackson’s Gamut of Games, New Rules For Classic Games–were all authored by wisened experts. Clearly I needed to wait.

A decade later, my friend Crystal Stemberger proves daily how wrong that attitude is. The best time to write about anything is while you are doing it.

And that is the purpose of this site. To discuss game design as it’s happening. To offer insight into its craft. We learn the most from our mistakes so I shall work to be candid about my mistakes–there will be plenty of them. Design is an active conversation between craftsman and audience so you will read the active debates and my particular take on them. If you are a game enthusiast, these posts offer a window into my process. If you are an aspiring designer, these posts are meant to keep you thinking about the active questions so you may find your own answers. If you are an active designer, these posts are an invitation to share your own views–doubly so if they differ from my own.

Welcome to my mind. Enjoy the ride!