One way to keep a party of adventurers on their toes is to present them with unappealing allies. These are non-player characters who, for one reason or another, have an aspect of their personality, demeanor or appearance that the PCs might be inclined to dismiss, keep at arm’s length or even despise. Just as PCs might be caught in the allure of a charismatic or a beguiling villain, they might find themselves rejecting help when it comes from someone they despise or pity. Beyond being a great storytelling technique, it is an interesting social experiment. Even within the confines...Read More
Author: Troy E. Taylor
About The Author
Troy's happiest when up to his elbows in plaster molds and craft paint, creating terrain and detailing minis for his home game. A career journalist and Werecabbages freelancer, he also claims mastery of his kettle grill, from which he serves up pizza to his wife and three children.
Ordinarily, you’d find me in the same camp as those who advocate that a well-run gaming session is one that is highly structured. And that a good GM is someone who is purposeful, putting to good use the time allotted to them. Keep up the energy. Maintain pacing. Provide direct interactions. For certain, there’s been an industry trend that emphasizes structured play, such as for conventions, organized leagues and scheduled streaming sessions, mostly to meet the demands of our time-crunched lives. So, what I’m about to suggest in this column runs counter to that perspective. No, I’m not abandoning...Read More
Raid dungeons. Slay monsters. Take the treasure. What about praying for deliverance? Seeking serenity? Finding oneness with nature? Players whose characters with a religious bent — priests, clerics, druids, avengers and such — need to feel their contribution to the game is more than serving as a healing machine or turning shambling undead. GMs should resolve to provide story beats that provide characters of faith a compelling reason to raid dungeons and accompany their fellows on their quests for wealth and magic. Relic hunting This might be the easiest to arrange — placing an artifact of importance to...Read More
Since Volo’s Guide to Monsters arrived, I’ve been enjoying my exploration of this gaming supplement to the Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition of the rules. For DMs and players, it’s got lots of little treasures, bits of lore that can spruce up a monster encounter, a batch of player races, and of course, monsters. This is not a review, however. That would be deadly dull, and not in keeping with the spirit of the product. Volothamp Geddarm’s a not-so-acute observer, after all, and my thoughts ought to reflect a similar outlook. (Frankly, I trust Volo’s insights on feasthalls more...Read More
A straightforward idea that GMs could employ as they embark on their first campaign is to present a series of adventures set on civilization’s frontier. In a frontier campaign, PCs are part of an effort to explore wilderness territory. They can confront the threat represented by monstrous races who roam unchecked, and the petty kingdoms set up by society’s outcasts. Initially, the PCs go as directed by a noble patron or governing authority, which provides incentives — such as the promise of lands, titles or riches — to adventurers. A frontier outpost or town serves as the PCs’ base of operations....Read More
Regardless of the edition of Dungeons and Dragons, it seems that no class invites revision faster than the ranger. It’s seen variously as under-powered or overpowered; too much of this, too little of that; or in flavor and concept, failing to match up with someone’s idea of what the prototypical ranger is. Should the ranger be more like Aragorn, Calamity Jane, Drizzt, Sheena, William Tell, Van Helsing, Robin Hood or Atalanta? While we’re discussing literary and folklore archetypes, where did all those spells come from? Robin Goodfellow or Puck, I suppose. And speaking plainly, many GMs know from experience...Read More
Like the good host of a banquet party, whose table fare is filled with a variety of tasty treats, a game master should be giving the PCs plenty to sink their teeth into. So in building encounters, pick adversaries with the strengths of the player characters in mind. Such encounters should still be challenging — no one enjoys a pushover. But when players get to use those abilities that are part of their characters’ specialities, you’ll see smiles break out on the faces gathered at your table. Muscle How do you feed the brawny hand-to-hand combatants, or at least,...Read More
They are three magic words, as distinctive as the starter’s horn for sprinters and swimmers at the Olympic Games or the command to “Start your engines” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But for gamers, especially those who play Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder and other games in the d20 sphere, it carries the same significance. “Roll for initiative.” I can still remember the first time I played using the Third Edition rules. It was a hot summer day, gathered around the dining table of Ken, who was serving as host and game master. I was playing Telfair Montague, a bard. (Go...Read More
Ahhh, the great outdoors. It’s a great place to host a roleplaying game. A little camping, a little gaming, what’s not to love? The woods. The ticks. The blistering sunburn. The blood-sucking mosquitoes. The thieving raccoons. The dead humid air on a 90-degree day. Nothing like leaving the cozy confines of the proverbial parent’s basement and venturing into the sunlight. Or, if your players are less adventurous than the in-game characters they are portraying, then how about the backyard patio, the front porch, or a pavilion at the nearest park. (They say D&D’s founder, E. Gary Gygax, liked to...Read More
One way to ensure spotlight time for the players around your table is to write it into the adventure. This encounter favors a cleric, this one a rogue, this one a fighter, et cetera, et cetera. All well and good if the adventure is exploration, say of a dungeon, and as GM, you’ve devised encounters for certain areas. But what happens when the players take the adventure in a different direction and the GM has to resort to improvisation? How do you endeavor to provide spotlight time then? Tracking by quarter hour This little trick I picked up by...Read More
I had the occasion recently to spend the day at a Boy Scout winter encampment. This is where Scouts test out what they’ve learned in a fairly harsh environment. (Not hostile, mind you, just harsh, as in cold). There were activity stations set up across the state park, which the Scouts had to reach by sled. Then when they were there, they took part in whatever activity was designated. So, here the Scouts demonstrated stuff that would be Adventuring 101 to any group of player characters. They had to start a fire with flint and steel, hoist a pack...Read More
January turned into a whirlwind for me shortly after Wizards of the Coast announced its partnership with One Book Shelf to launch the Dungeon Master’s Guild. And as quickly as I could manage, I had uploaded the DM’s Kit: On the Trail of Tyranny to the site. One Book Shelf, which you probably recognize from its flagship digital marketplaces DriveThruRPG and RPGNow, also manages the DMsGuild. DMsGuild is like those other stores, except the content must use the Fifth Edition rules of D&D, and if it includes setting material, be about the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. As it happens,...Read More
You had this adventure all figured out. Pacing was going to be important, you’ve got a cleverly crafted encounter area, and the players were even given a mission objective by their patron. Then one of the players decides their player character is going shopping. Well, if one PC is going shopping, they are all going shopping. And before you know it, the GM’s pacing plan is tossed out the window and you’ve become an NPC merchant haggling with a PC over the cost of some mundane magic item. And if one PC gets to haggle, well, soon all the...Read More
Not so far back, I wrote a fairly scathing critique of the Neverwinter entry in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. I stand by that. But I also think it fair to note that on the whole, D&D’s creators have been engaged in a long process to make the Forgotten Realms accessible again, to make it inviting to new players and to resonate with its established fan base. No single product or event has brought D&D to this point. Rather it has been a concerted effort to remove barriers of entry from the longstanding campaign setting. The Road Back “Sundering”...Read More
New GM. New players. First adventure exploring a dungeon is a success. But now the players are going to ask things like: Where’s the nearest town so my PC can cash in this loot? Where does my character come from? Where’s she live? Where do the PCs get information about the next adventure? Here is where the GM should anticipate that need by having a home base in mind. Now, there are plenty of published adventure sites the GM can use to provide a center of civilization in a world otherwise run amok with goblins, orcs and evil wizards....Read More
What’s Gnome Stew
Written by a team of veteran Gamers and Gamemasters, Gnome Stew is a widely read gaming blog with multiple awards and close to 3,000 articles. We're dedicated to helping gamers have more fun at the gaming table. Over 2 million visitors can't be wrong!
"I check Gnome Stew every day."
— Monte Cook —
"fantastic blog for game masters, dungeon masters, and rpg fans"
— Wil Wheaton —
"If you aren’t reading Gnome Stew, you’re missing out."
— Wolfgang Baur —
Patronize Gnome Stew!
Gnome Stew do awesome things for everyone!
These Might Be The Pages You Are Looking For
Keep The Stew Fires Going
Eat The Stew
Our Books for GMs
Through our partner Engine Publishing, we've published six system-neutral books for GMs, with over 28,000 copies sold. Available in print and PDF.
The Complete Game Master's Guide to Running Extraordinary Sessions
Click To Find Out More Unframed
The Art of Improvisation for Game Masters
Click To Find Out More Odyssey
The Complete Game Master's Guide to Campaign Management
Click To Find Out More Never Unprepared
The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep
Click To Find Out More Masks
1,000 Memorable NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game
Click To Find Out More Eureka
501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters
Click To Find Out More
Through Encoded Designs
Through our partnership in the G.E.M. collective, many of the Gnomes are affiliated with creating products through Encoded Designs. Available in print and PDF.
Gnomes on Podcasts, even a Gnome Only Podcast!
Click To Find Out More Rockerboys and Vending Machines
Do you have what it takes to save Neon City in this 80s, neon, cyberpunk game?
Click To Find Out More Character Cache
Art by Matt Morrow, Characters By Encoded Gnomes
Click To Find Out More Hydro Hacker Operatives
Gnome Phil Vecchione's Dungeon World Hack About Water Rights
Click To Find Out More