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
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.
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
“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...Read More
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...Read More
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,...Read More
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...Read More
Ever just flip open your monster book at random? I call it “Creature Roulette”, and it’s just one of many strategies for getting out of writers’ block. In this article, we’ll talk through one method for using creature roulette to plan an adventure. We’ll start with a fantasy scenario, and see how to adjust it so that it can work with science fiction and modern genres as well. GETTING STARTED For this example, I grabbed my 4th Edition Monster Manual for no other reason than it was handy. Opening the book, I hit the page with hook horrors...Read More
When playing pretend as a kid, we always played established media characters. We were Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, Batman and Robin. We were never “generic Rebel soldier” or “Superhero who’s kinda like Superman.” However, in my experience, playing established characters is much rarer in roleplaying games. Perhaps people want to create their own heroes, or perhaps feel that an existing character’s traits will tie their hands during play. In this article, we’ll look at some of the advantages and concerns with playing established characters. The lists won’t be exhaustive, but hopefully will provide you with some food for...Read More
If you’re like me, you have times where you don’t want to prepare for your next session. Real life may be wearing us down, we may get sick, or we may just have the old “fear of a blank page.” (I’m also a water-colorist, trust me, I know ALL about that fear.) In this article we’ll look at some strategies for getting out of that slump. They are presented in no particular order, and use them to taste. They are not meant to be a step-by-step method for game preparation, merely ways to ignite a spark. WRITE ROUGH...Read More
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