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
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.
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
One of the brilliant things the D&D creative team did in Fourth Edition was wreck the city of Neverwinter and turn it into an adventurer’s playground. Yep, they hit Neverwinter with an eruption of Mount Hotenow, slammed it with quakes and ruined the heart of the merchant quarter with a raw, stinking chasm from which spewed all sorts of demonic, spell-plagued creatures. And after the immediate disaster, they populated the city with a despicable array of opportunists and evil factions, all fighting each other over what was left. Lord Neverember’s hold on power was thread thin, with any number of...Read More
High drama. Suspense. Gritty Realism. All great tones to achieve when creating a campaign. Sometimes, though, the group needs a laugh. When delving a dungeon filled with the undead minions of the black-cloaked overlord has become a grind, or the horrors of the apocalyptic landscape hit too close to home — maybe a change of pace is called for. GMs should not be afraid to add some levity. Maybe it’s just a one-shot done with comedy in mind. Maybe it’s a short adventure arc featuring over-the-top and colorful heroes or equally outrageous situations. Maybe the trolls in this world...Read More
Need a monster to slay your party with in 2016? Try one of these five creatures, gleaned from sourcebooks in my gaming library. These monsters are a whole different category of menace. They not only want to devour your crew of 10-foot pole-carrying adventurers, they have the means to be the predator in this ecology. Confronted with these terrors, PCs might think they are ready to fight, but they should always be prepared to flee. So, make sure your table’s PCs have their running shoes on when they encounter them. 5 Tophet Pathfinder Adventure Path No. 21, page 86...Read More
Back in April, on my personal Facebook page, I’d posted a photo of a diorama that I’d done years ago detailing the base town of our gaming group’s campaign, Steffenhold. Based on comments from that post, there’s been a request I do more on Steffenhold for Gnome Stew. Deciding what I should do, though, required some thought. What would GMs appreciate most? What I came up with is a new adventure — a campaign starter — focused on the three-spired structure across the Serene River from the town of Steffenhold. And because it is the holidays, I’ve decided to...Read More
As my home campaign of Tyranny of Dragons rolled into its closing chapter, I knew I was being presented with an opportunity that is pretty rare in rgp adventure storytelling. Namely, it was a chance to see how a massed battle of clashing armies might play out. Usually, the clashing of armies is background to the activities of the player characters. But this time, the two storylines were converging. In the storyline, the combined armies of good dragons and the Lord’s Alliance are taking on the chromatic dragons and the Cult of the Dragon at a bleak dormant volcano known...Read More
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 zip it? When is silence golden? Restrain thyself Remind yourself to take turns: A...Read More
Regular readers familiar with my GMing style are aware that session prep is a strength. Now, such an approach still requires thinking on my feet, such as when the players turn left (when I anticipated that they would turn right), then I would still have an appropriate encounter or response at hand. Improvisation, however, is largely a foreign thing to me. The technique of GMing on the fly with little prep and a willingness to riff off the ideas of others at the table is as elusive as trying to grab a handful of water. Of course, I listen to player input....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