Author: Don Mappin

About The Author

For nearly 30 years RPGs have been a staple of Don’s life — so that means he’s pretty old. Author of a dozen RPG books, Don has worked with companies such as ICE, Last Unicorn Games, Decipher, and AEG. He now spends his time working in IT management, enjoying his family and two children, or gaming.

NaNewGaMo? asd


It’s Tuesday, which means someone, somewhere, decided to just create their own holiday today! Because that’s like a thing now! But here at the Stew, we’re exceptionally excited by any gaming holidays, especially those that lend assistance and inspiration to prospective GMs. Enter National New Gamemaster Month or—wait for it—NaNewGaMo! The brainchild of the folks over at Monte Cook Games, NaNewGaMo—as the name strongly indicates—focuses on helping new gamemasters find their own voice. The name, while inspired by National Novel Writing Month, isn’t related to that month-long exercise; you don’t have to write a 50,000 word adventure, for example....

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Calling Out: A Review of Syrinscape asd

Calling Out: A Review of Syrinscape!!

Admittedly I’m a bit of an easy sell when it comes to inserting technology into my tabletop games. My viewpoint tends to be one of “take any tool given” and try to find a way to make my games better. So when I heard about Syrinscape my interest was piqued, essentially since I’m a big fan of incorporating many senses into one’s games. Using audio in your games isn’t groundbreaking, but Syrinscape brings a new methodology that might fit right in your wheelhouse. Many Sounds, One Player Syrinscape takes a series of high-quality sound samples and packages them into...

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PSA: Scrivener Sale asd

PSA: Scrivener Sale!!

Here at the stew more than a few of us are fans of Scrivener, not just as a writing tool but also as a gaming prep tool. In particular, I’m a big fan of its innovative corkboard and ability to free form ideas–“Scrivenings”–into any order you’d like on the fly. The ability to customize the sections to hold custom information, such as character or location data, is also a big draw. As is normally the case this time of year, Literature & Latte are having a sale on Scrivener to go hand-in-hand with National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). You can...

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You Light Up My…Gaming Table? asd

You Light Up My…Gaming Table?!!

Engaging all the senses is something easier said than done in the context of your typical gaming session. While we can plan specific NPC mannerisms, locales, or even subtle clues about the environment to make them even more engaging, on more than one occasion I’ve been a victim of being caught up in the moment and leaving those languishing on the adventure table, unused. Plus, as I recently wrote in depth in Engine Publishing’s newly announced book, Unframed, different people absorb information in different ways. Your methodology should, ideally, account for those learning styles. So, with that said, let’s...

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I Love 4×6 Photo Cards & You Should Too! asd

I Love 4×6 Photo Cards & You Should Too!!!

Many years ago my wife and I invested in a nondescript color inkjet printer, one that did border-less photos and had a good feature set. The thinking was to print out photos and do a bit of scrap-booking. Well, time and a shift to a digital lifestyle mostly killed that dream, however the printer still gets a fair amount of use as my role-playing prop-maker! The 4×6 photo size—and 5×7 to a lesser extent—is nearly the perfect size for handouts. It’s roughly the size of an index card but you can print anything you want on it! As a...

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Sharpening The Saw asd

Sharpening The Saw!!

Sometimes it’s a nice happenstance when several of the Gnome articles in a series match up and dovetail into one another easily. Both John and Phil have recently written about iterative steps in becoming better GMs and/or exercising best practices for continual service improvement. (As an ITIL follower myself, I heartily approve of the methodology!) My contribution is about that continual service improvement but doing so even when you’re not running a game; those downtimes that can last weeks, months, or even years between our next time behind the screen. It’s one thing to seek improvement but also another...

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House Rules asd

House Rules!!

They are a necessary part of most games, and as GM’s something that we frequently have to deal with, either to address a shortcoming, plug a hole, or meet an unforeseen need. While a great many GMs are skilled behind the screen, that does not necessarily translate to their being adept at system modifications. So consider these guidelines when adopting your own house rules. The Fiddly Bits I’ve met GMs in my time who—like myself—love to understand and debate the interoperability of game mechanics; dive deep under the hood and see what makes a system work. Conversely, I’ve also...

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System Or Setting? asd

System Or Setting?!!

Our group’s annual “pick the next game” exercise is in full swing. These tend to be a mixture of enjoyable, exhausting, and frustrating but, ultimately, lead to a good choice that satisfies everyone. It’s a process we’ve discussed at the Stew before and every group tends to have a variation that they favor. This time I took note that our decision-making process was driven primarily by two methodologies, each with their own pros and cons. System-Centric This one, admittedly, isn’t the one that I necessarily favor but has a couple of key elements. The first of which is that...

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Paper or Plastic?!!

Your supermarket may still make the option available but for a few years now that oft-repeated question has no longer been uttered at my local market. Instead, the prevalent decision was made for us in that, unless you specifically wanted paper, you’re getting plastic. Move on with the times! (Besides, you should be bringing your own reusable canvas bags, just sayin’…) In our RPGs there are a few anachronistic trappings that have been left back in the annals of time—although a few make their occasional return in boutique products. You have to specifically state that you want your paper. So what trends did we see in 2013 and what might 2014 hold out for us? PDFs Becoming more and more prevalent, PDFs are a boon for a variety of reasons, rarely due to cost, however. They provide ready access to a back catalog for a number of publishers, a way to push out product quickly prior to their printed counterparts, serve as a testbed to spot errors, provide an easy way to update with errata, and a host of more benefits. Factor in “microRPGs” (I may have just made that up), and anyone with a word processor and a semblance of time can be their own publisher. Providing you’re willing to sort the wheat from the chaff undoubtedly there are gems to be found. All is not wonderful, as...

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I Want A New Agent asd

I Want A New Agent!!

It’s accepted convention that the loss of player agency is demotivating and to be avoided whenever possible. It’s just not fun, be it mind control, alien parasites, or plain GM fiat. But what can you do as a GM when the rules themselves deprive a player of agency? Hold Me Now I personally had the misfortune to find myself in this role quite recently as my character was grappled with no chance of escape. And when I say “no chance of escape” I’m being quite literal. While there was an escape mechanic, it was statistically improbable of ever making...

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PSA: Scrivener Update asd

PSA: Scrivener Update!!

It’s November, which means the start of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) where people feverishly try to rush to completion a 50,000 word manuscript within 30 days. If you haven’t taken part in NaNoWriMo before, even though we’re a few days into November already, don’t be daunted as there’s still plenty of time! In a previous article I highlighted the usage of Scrivener — a content-generation tool and writing studio — for campaign and adventure management. As also mentioned in that article, the makers of Scrivener, Literature & Latte, have a November promotion which is really too good to...

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Scrivener For Adventure Management asd

Scrivener For Adventure Management!!

For many years I’ve been a happy owner of Scrivener — originally an OS X-only product but now available for Windows — and have adapted it for use in adventure design. Why? Because the nature in which Scrivener operates — treating your bits of writing as objects you can move around — is excellent for whiteboarding your thoughts. Scrivener gives you total freedom to move what you will and when done, hit “Compile” and generate a finished, flowing document. Read on how you can do the same with Scrivener! What It Is & Isn’t The creators of Scrivener at Literature &...

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The Generational Campaign asd

The Generational Campaign!!

It’s unlikely when starting a new campaign that you begin with the end in mind. If you do, great, but for the majority of us we start at the beginning and let the end define itself over the lifespan of the campaign. Now, not all campaigns have an ending–I am certain that many of our readers will attest to campaigns lasting years, if not decades, or are even still progressing. As the lifespan of the campaign draws on, these stories can begin to span virtual lifetimes. So what concepts help define this generational campaign? The Mechanical Conundrum A handful...

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Gaming With Emotion asd

Gaming With Emotion!!

I’ve always found it humorous when GMing has been described as playing “a thousand faces.” What we tend to ignore is that all those faces—ideally—have an emotion behind them. It’s one thing to verbally state the emotional state of an NPC but quite another to express that emotion directly. Now, fair warning, we’re venturing in the territory of method acting, if you will. For some GMs that may be a deal-breaker, but for most of us I suspect we’re willing to find new ways to express emotional variety. Building a Mystery For each individual GM the emotional variety of...

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Using “And” Versus “But” asd

Using “And” Versus “But”!!

In our roles as GM’s we frequently are placed in positions—either by virtue of the die or system mechanics—or through our own doing, where something happens in a game and we qualify that statement with an “and” or a “but.” But have you put much thought into which fosters a certain type of response and why? For starters, let’s agree that they’re not mutually exclusive; you can use both in your games. The Power of Improvisation I read a powerful excerpt of Daniel Pink’s book on salesmanship, “To Sell Is Human.” In it he describes an exercise pulled straight...

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