Author: John Fredericks

About The Author

John Fredericks

In the early 1980's, John was given the Moldvay Red Box set as a birthday gift. The Blue Expert set soon followed and the mania has yet to subside. Over the years, he has played and GMed various flavors of D&D, Star Trek, Star Wars and the odd superhero game. Most of his recent GMing has been online using virtual tabletops.

While not a current photo, John assures you that he has never looked better. Sad, but true.

He is the sole proprieter of Sharp Mountain Games on



There are costs to improving in any endeavor. If you want to be a great writer, artist, or 70’s disco champion, you have to pay your dues. Folks may think that good gamemastering (GMing) is just a result of natural talent. In reality, we know that there are costs to running a session right. In this article, we’ll look at some of those costs. The goal is not to be negative, just realistic. Also, we’ll look at some ways to lessen those burdens or to view them in a positive light. The first obvious cost is time. PREP TIME...

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Saving Throws have been around since the beginning of the hobby. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re always easy to understand. Sometimes it can be difficult to know when to call for a particular Saving Throw, especially in some older systems. Does a “Save vs. Spells” work for every spell? Can a “Save vs. Dragon Breath” be used to jump out of the way of an arrow trap? The purpose of this column is not to answer those kinds of questions. Rather, it is to look at Saving Throws in general. We’ll look at three mechanical approaches to Saving...

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There are numerous ways to determine damage in a roleplaying game. It may depend on the weapon (or spell) used, the skill of the combatant, and/or the roll of the dice. In this article, we’ll look at four ways of calculating damage. It’s not meant to be a master’s thesis on the topic. Rather, it’s an overview of some major methods. This topic should prove useful for those gamemasters (GM’s) who wish to homebrew their own game or hack published systems. For others, it will hopefully provide food for thought and fodder for discussion. Here are some options: TRADITIONAL...

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At a recent mini-convention, I was very excited to run Star Trek using my homebrew rules. I made sure I had my session notes, character sheets, dice, and a bunch of other things. Of course, what I forgot was the rules sheet. I had created a very nice table to help resolve most major situations (healing, combat, starship combat), and it was sitting at home on my hard drive. In this article, we’ll look at some ways to cope with times when you forget something. Hopefully, this discussion may have broader implications in how we gamemaster in general. Here...

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It’s not as easy as it looks. If you’ve ever tried to homebrew a game system, you’ve probably come to this conclusion. Systems often have fiddly bits that interact in complicated ways. Often problems rear their ugly head only during play. Some issues can be easily fixed. Maybe two skills can be combined, or one roll can be used instead of two. However, a clear solution doesn’t present itself for every problem. In this article, I’ll detail some lingering question I still have with my group’s own homebrew system. Don’t worry, we won’t go into the minutiae of dice...

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We love our animal heroes. Mr. Toad, Redwall’s Matthias, and even Donald and his nephews populate our literary landscapes. The idea of playing animal characters has been around since the beginning of the hobby, and modern games continue this tradition. So what’s the attraction? Maybe playing animal characters lets us express our love for our pets and the natural world. Perhaps it is the novelty of thinking like a different species. However, probably the most significant reason is that it’s just plain fun. Where else can you pretend to be a squirrel in a socially acceptable way? In this...

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At the end of one session, I asked if next week was too soon to play again. “Are you kidding?” one player said. “I’d play every day if I could.” This made me realize how much players love both the game and their characters. That love of character is a factor I sometimes overlook when planning a session. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the mathematics of encounter design and forget about the heart of the matter. So how do we encourage our players in their devotion to their characters? In this article, we’ll look at several methods...

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Star Trek is tricky. You can’t just reskin any old science fiction scenario and expect it to feel like Star Trek. There are conventions unique to the Final Frontier. For our October gameday, I decided to run an Original Series era Trek adventure. To begin planning, I made a short list of certain elements that appear repeatedly in the episodes. In this article, I’ll share that list with you. Some of the points may have been made in the various rulebooks over the years, but hopefully we can bring something new to the discussion (or at least collect them...

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Gamemasters (GM’s) love to tinker. At some point, probably almost every GM has thought “I could do that better.” If you plan on venturing away from published systems, several choices present themselves. In this article, we’ll look at the options of homebrew, hacking, and using a toolkit. Let’s define some terms (just for this article, anyway). A HOMEBREW is a game built (mostly) from the ground up. Though homebrew games can use dice mechanics and systems from other games, they wouldn’t be mistaken for those games. Let’s say that a homebrew is more than 50% different from a published...

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“Spend more time on your drawing.” This is the absolute best advice I’ve ever gotten as an artist. Without a solid drawing, it doesn’t matter how polished your painting technique is. The final work will still end up looking “off.” Session planning is like that too. If one doesn’t have firm foundational elements, the final session may end up disjointed. In this column, we’ll look at three foundational elements that can help build a memorable session. Obviously this is not meant to be an exhaustive look at session planning, just three things to consider. A CLEAR GOAL “Why ARE...

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I’m a planner. It drives me crazy when I don’t know what is happening next (or for the next few months, for that matter). As a gamemaster (GM), you’ll have to decide how far ahead to plan your sessions. Roleplaying games (RPG’s) present a special challenge to your planning: players and the dice have an effect on what happens next. In this article, we’ll look at three time frames from planning your sessions, their advantages and disadvantages. As always, there is no “One True Way”, and you may use all three time frames under different circumstances. ONE SESSION In...

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“How does it end?” is an eternal, human question. We crave resolution in our fiction and in our games. The ultimate resolution (well, besides character death) is a campaign finale. This is the final mission that concludes PC’s adventuring careers. In this article, we’ll look at the positive and negative aspects of using a campaign finale. It’s something you may want to think about. Do you want to give your players one last hurrah, or can the fun go on forever? A GRAND EXIT Campaign finales have much to recommend them. They bring resolution to the PC’s stories. Characters...

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Marvel comics didn’t invent continuity, but they certainly perfected it. From the early 1960’s through the 1990’s, every Marvel story built on every previous one in Byzantine complexity. Many of us long to craft those kinds of campaigns. However, reality often encroaches on our world-building plans. People get busy, go back to school, get addicted to “Matlock”, etc… In this article, we’ll look at four approaches to continuity, and their advantages and challenges. Hopefully it will provide some alternatives for building your campaign in a busy world. STRONG CONTINUITY This type of campaign follows one set of characters through...

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The advent of the internet was a lifeline for old school gamers. All of a sudden it was easy to find fellow enthusiasts. It could be 1983 forever. Online gaming was a major force in fostering the old school movement. However, just like anything, online gaming has its challenges for people interested in older games. Even if you don’t care for older games or editions, most of the points in this article should be applicable to all online gaming. ADVANTAGES LIFE SUPPORT – Many adult gamers wandered away from rpg’s for a while. They were kinda occupied getting educated,...

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In a previous article, we looked at reasons for having a back-up game. To recap briefly, adult responsibilities often get in the way of having a full table. A back-up game is a one-shot or series of one-shots that can be dropped in when necessary. In the past few months, we’ve used a back-up game three or four times. This seemed like a good point to reflect on what is working about the back-up game, and what challenges it has presented. Hopefully this “field report” will present useful insights if you’re considering a back-up game. First let’s look at...

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