Author: Matthew J. Neagley

About The Author

First introduced to RPGs through the DnD Red Box Set in 1990, Matt fights an ongoing battle with GMing ADD, leaving his to-do list littered with the broken wrecks of half-formed campaigns, worlds, characters, settings, and home-brewed systems. Luckily, his wife is also a GM, providing him with time on both sides of the screen.

7

Three Explanations for Gygaxian Unnaturalism

Once upon a time Gygaxian Unnaturalism was the default assumption for DnD. In it, the world essentially plays favorites between PCs and monsters (unfortunately, the favorites are not you) and logic is more or less thrown out the window as far as stocking dungeons. Monsters rarely fight among themselves and will instead team up in odd combinations to fight you, doors refuse to open for you but swing easily for them, rooms are randomly arranged and dressed. In short, the dungeon is a bizarre place more the testing ground of a mad wizard than a realistic ecology simulator. In...

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7

The Impact of Re-Roll Keep Highest HPs in 0e

Gnome in Chief keeps his own independent blog over at www.martinralya.com and of course it’s on our slack feed. He often writes about all things OSR and recently wrote an article about the various ways one could roll for hps in 0e. To sum up, there were four methods discussed: Official method 1: roll a d6 and add it to your hps each level Official method 2: re-roll all your hit dice when you leveled up and kept the new roll (if it was lower than your old total, sucked to be you) Method from Empire of the Petal Throne:...

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5

Gming Easy Mode: Ocean Explorers!

My GMing roots lie in the big exploration campaigns of earlier editions, as opposed to the modern dungeon of the week with level appropriate crafted adventures. But these campaigns require a lot of front loaded prep and I’m simply bad at it. I don’t have the stamina to sit down for marathon prep sessions like I once did, and the thought of starting prep at all generally finds me dragging my feet and doing almost anything else. I’ve tried doing broad strokes for the big picture then doing detail work only on the immediately relevant areas, but even that...

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6

The Mini Dungeon as a Random Encounter

One of the problems in an exploration game is content. We’d all like to put together a campaign world with content jam packed into every nook and cranny, but there are some problems with that. First and foremost is our time constraints. Not only would it take forever to create so much content, but a lot of that effort would be wasted as entire swaths of our setting never got explored closely enough to dig out most of the material. Here is one potential solution to this issue: the mini dungeon as a random encounter. The concept is simple....

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5

Garage Sale 2016 Everything Must Go!

It’s time for my yearly garage sale article. Once again, it contains a set of items that your characters might find at a garage sale (or as loot or that might be brought to them by someone else who finds it) each with an adventure hook inside. Presented below are three items each with a mundane, magic and high tech version. A vintage vacuum: This is a solid vintage vacuum in good condition. It’s a bargain and could be used or sold to a collector who knows it’s true value. The vacuum is unexpectedly heavy. Its bag is bulging...

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11

The Fallacy of the Clean Dungeon Sweep

A common behavior (at least at every table I’ve ever been part of) is the clean dungeon sweep: making sure that every nook and cranny of a dungeon has been explored, every enemy fought and every goblin slain. Players often do this because they don’t want to miss any treasure or experience. In an idealized world, this turns out to be an inefficient strategy that actually slows players down. In practice there are external considerations that the GM controls. To see this, we need to simplify things a bit and imagine an entire campaign as a single dungeon that...

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6

Wait… Why Exactly Do We Use Hex Maps?

As usual, rather than actually prep, I find it much more useful and productive to agonize and fret over how exactly I should go about prepping until the desire to prep fades away. But at least this time I think I’ve actually gotten somewhere with it: namely I’ve decided on an alternative to overland mapping with a hex map. There are three main advantages to overland mapping with a hex map, as I see it: Easy to judge distance due to the built in scale Easy to judge density of points of interest, also due to the built in...

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2

Advantages of Limited Allies

I’m kicking around the concept of a little frontier town campaign in my head. In my mind one of the exciting parts of this style of game is exploration, and one of the fun old school exploration features is finding unexpected, and often uneasy allies in dangerous terrain. However, allies can be dangerous to a “taming the wilderness” style game because they provide pockets of safety and extra resources, and too much of either can derail the sense of unknown, danger, and isolation that are essential to the game. In light of this line of thinking, I’ve thought about...

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6

Character Exposition Through Play

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, of course, starting a campaign with every player going round and taking a massive character exposition dump right on your table. I find this exercise more than a little boring and I always felt it was also a good deal odd, both because the expectations laid out rarely jive with gameplay, because you tend to end up with a group of really special snowflakes, and because it ends up with characters knowing a good deal more about each other than they probably should (think about your vague knowledge of your coworkers and compare to how much you would have known about your friend’s character if you hadn’t fallen asleep during his half hour monolog). Of course some of my distaste for this probably harkens back to the era in which I joined the hobby. In the “start with 1 rolled hit die” era you...

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2

3 Sinister Treats in Your Halloween Haul

As I watched horror movies, getting up to hand out candy to munchkins on Halloween this year I was inspired to come up with some tricky treats to torment trick-or-treaters. Of course I had a ground rule for myself: they had to be fodder for a fun adventure. Super Sticky Bubble Gum: This colorful treat comes in the form of large bright spheres of gum wrapped up in crinkled cellophane. When used to blow bubbles, they are satisfyingly large and pop with a loud snap. But they are also incredibly sticky, so blowing bubbles results in gum stuck all...

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9

I Hate Drawing Maps, but Love Construction Games?

Recently I noticed a strange discrepancy in my behavior and after some thought, I have a possible explanation, but I’m sure it’s a fairly complex issue, so that said, feel free to jump into the comments section with your own take. The issue is this: I love construction based video games. I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into Minecraft, Ark, 7 Days to Die, Starbound and a handful of others. In addition, I love physical building toys like Lego construction sets, and had a large collection of them when I was younger. But on the other hand, I hate sitting...

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6

Three Intellegent Animals for Your City Game

City games often focus on the human element or the supernatural for antagonists. Animals are often overlooked, but can be exceptionally clever and can be foes, allies, or adventure hooks as well. Here are three animals for your city campaign. There are a few variants of each to make them easier to fit into your particular game. The Baboon: Animal: Depending on where your game is set, the baboon has either wandered in from the wild or escaped from captivity as a zoo attraction or an eccentric pet. With no pack mates, the baboon is wary and paranoid, moving...

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5

Decrypting the Cypher System Part 5 (Prep and Run)

When we last left off, I had prepped for a fantasy horror campaign with the cypher system rules. This time around, I prepped a session, invited over a group of friends with a variety of levels of experience with RPGs, made characters and ran a game. Session prep took the form of loose half page descriptions of four locations that were likely to be important to the session as well as names and descriptions of characters likely found in those locations, a few miscellaneous notes, and stats for two new opponents. All together, the prep took around two hours,...

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1

Gnome Spotting Harrisburg Sept 2015

Here’s a quick Gnome Spotting update: September 4th-6th I’ll be in Harrisburg PA, at Save Against Fear 2015 running some games of 1000 Blank White Cards. I’ve never been before (I didn’t even know about it!) but luckily, one of their special guests is an old college friend of mine and he tipped me off about it. If you go, feel free to hunt me down and say Hello. I’ll even wear my official Gnome Stew t-shirt to make it easy to tell you’ve got the right middle aged paunchy bearded guy. I may even have a special surprise...

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4

Decrypting the Cypher System Part 4 (Setup)

Since the last part of this series I’ve been doing prep work for running a game. On the one hand, the pitch for the Cypher System is that it’s easy for GMs with minimal work. On the other, the front end prep the book recommends for a game seems pretty heavy, so I was curious how things would shake out. Let’s start with the Campaign Design Worksheet. This sheet is included at the end of the rulebook and it has places for most of the notes you’ll need for your game. It starts off with the basics: Campaign name,...

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