System-Neutral GMing Advice

Winner of seven ENnie Awards from 2010-2015, Gnome Stew is dedicated to helping GMs and their players have more fun at the gaming table. Since 2008, we've published 2,807 articles packed with GMing tips and advice, had over 2,000,000 visitors, and written six books for GMs. Thank you for your support, and happy gaming!

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Thanksgiving is tomorrow in the US, a time of plentiful food and good cheer for many. Unfortunately, fevers have broken out among my relatives, so we’re staying apart for at least a few days in hopes that we can prevent spreading disease to each other. We’ll have a day of turkey, stuffing, green beans, cranberries, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and all the desserts a little later. Maybe Saturday will be our day of gluttony this year. A Day of Reflection, A Day away from Devices […]


The GM provides descriptions of every landscape and of every room. She gives voice to every monster and NPC. She adjudicates every turn in combat, and she lists every bit of loot and reveals every little clue along the way. It would seem, that from start to finish, the GM is doing a lot of talking. So, given the fact that, by definition, the GM is a conduit for a large amount of the game’s information, when is it important for the GM to just […]


I get anxiety – often. I usually do a pretty good job of pushing those anxious voices out of my head and moving on with life, but November is especially rough because it is the anniversary of family deaths and some other well-rooted pieces of my past that ramp my anxious voices up to 11. The first part of this November I spent more days than I would like sequestered away from the world and listening to my anxiety-driven voices. The problem with anxiety is […]


Recently, I was given a chance to run a game for a group that I previously GMed. This was back before my playing style changed over, from a more traditional prep-medium, linear story, to where I am now with a lite-prep, more improv/collaborative style. At first, I was a bit hesitant to run for this group, since their focus is not improv play, and more on what might be labeled as “traditional play”. My concerns centered on if my improv style would mesh with their […]


Representational artists must consider the value scale when planning a drawing or painting. Without light, dark and mid-tones, a picture can look bland and flat. When actually executing the picture, the artist must decide whether to work light to dark, dark to light, or something in between. A similar process can be used when planning your sessions. In this article, we’ll use the painting process as a metaphor for game prep, and we’ll look at three possible approaches. LIGHT TO DARK Most watercolorists work in […]

I’ve recently been reading some books on how to improve my story writing, and one of the tips they invariably give is to not start your stories with a massive exposition dump. This is bad news for me because my writing is usually nothing but exposition dump, so I probably will never write the next bestseller to take the world by storm. That’s OK though, because it brought into focus one of the traditions of tabletop gaming that I’ve never really cared for. That is, […]


Luck comes in many shades and flavors in roleplaying games. Some games actually build in a mechanic to emulate luck in varying ways. Others have an inherent kind of luck with a bennie, plot point, or some other token type of system. Even games that have no mechanical way to represent luck are still dependent on the fickle fate of the dice. Given today’s connotations as a day of bad luck, I thought it might be worth taking a look at the nature of luck […]