Sometimes players zag when you expected them to zig. It happens to all of us. Often it’s easy to just adapt your current adventure to the changing situation. However, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes they go off into a totally different part of the world (or another plane or planet altogether). For those situations, you may want to have a “Backpocket Adventure” ready. (We’ll call it a BPA from here on out). In this article, we’ll look at several design principles for the BPA. SHORT The BPA should probably be a short adventure. It’s designed to allow the heroes to...Read More
Author: John Fredericks
About The Author
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 drivethrurpg.com.
In a previous column, we looked at some reasons why you might want to restart with a new campaign. Maybe players have maxed out their characters, met all their goals, or maybe you just need a fresh start as a gamemaster (GM). However, there may be times when you may want to restart, but probably should keep on with the current game. In this article, we’ll look at some reasons for NOT restarting. We’ll also look at some ways to manage the urge to restart. As with anything, these are meant to provide food for thought, not proscriptions or...Read More
Most campaigns have a finite lifespan. At some point you’ll either wrap it up with a finale, fade into something else, or real life factors will stop it. It’s a sad duty to end a campaign. However, it offers a chance to grow as you start your next one. In this article, we’ll look at some reasons for restarting with a new campaign. Any fresh start (new campaign, new system, new genre) counts as a restart for this article. MAXING OUT As your player characters (PC’s) reach very high levels, sometimes it can be difficult to provide them with...Read More
What player doesn’t like to “level up”? Their characters get improved abilities, and perhaps new ones as well. They can now face stronger adversaries and overcome greater challenges. It’s one of the true joys of the game. Gamemasters (GM’s) level up as well, though not in a formal fashion. With experience, most GM’s will hone their skills and even develop new ones. In this article, we’ll look at six theoretical GM levels. Obviously not every GM progresses in this exact order. However, it may provide a framework for thinking about how we develop as GM’s. It might even suggest...Read More
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...Read More
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...Read More
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...Read More
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...Read More
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...Read More
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...Read More
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...Read More
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...Read More
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...Read More
“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...Read More
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...Read More
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