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



“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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  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...

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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...

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Ways Out Of Prep Slump

  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...

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Permission To Fail

I know a local artist who says “I thrive on failure.” He’s accepted the fact that every drawing and painting won’t work out as expected, that failed attempts are just part of the process. Similarly to grow as gamemasters (GM’s), we need to give ourselves permission to fail from time to time. Trying new games, new genres, or even creating our own rule systems all provide the opportunity to fail. However, if we don’t try those kinds of things, we risk stagnation. In this article, we’ll look at three situations where we might fail, but where we might also...

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“There’s no board” is a common concern raised by those who’ve never played roleplaying games (RPG). While many gamemasters (GM’s) use terrain, maps, and tiles, there generally isn’t one board like in traditional games. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be: many “Almost RPG’s” like Dungeon and Heroquest use boards quite well. In this article, we’ll look at one process for designing a single board RPG session. The design philosophy will be geared towards newer players. Having a board may make it easier for them to consider playing, which is good for the hobby. Also, a board can provide...

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The Online Edition: Ensemble Play

Online gaming makes it easier than ever to join a game. However, real life still gets in the way. Overtime, school assignments, sickness, and family responsibilities all conspire against us sometimes. Maintaining an ongoing, epic campaign can be quite a challenge. Now, it is a rewarding challenge, and one I would never disparage. But it is a challenge. This article will discuss an alternative format: ensemble play. It’s certainly not the only alternative, but it may be something to consider if you are having trouble getting enough players for a traditional campaign. We’ll look at the advantages and concerns...

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The Online Edition: Group Size

Forging an online group can be a tricky task. You may have never met the players face to face to know how they will fit in with the group. Also, adult schedules make it difficult for folks to attend every session. As an online gamemaster (GM), you’ll have to make a decision about how many players you’d like in your game, and there are pros and cons to that choice. In this article, we’ll look at the advantages and disadvantages of different sized groups. While some of the points will discuss technical issues, most of them should apply to...

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Online games rely heavily on their images. While you can certainly play in a “theater of the mind” style, good images will usually enhance the experience. A well chosen image can give life to an NPC, or provide a concrete way for players to attach to their characters. This article will discuss some of the technical details involved in making tokens for your online (or face-to-face) games, and also look at some in-game considerations. Even if you only run face-to-face, many of the thoughts in this column should apply there as well. TECHNOLOGICAL FIDDLY BITS One free tool for...

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Running an online game requires you to juggle a number of things at once. You have to run the game as usual AND you have to manage the technical side of things through your virtual tabletop (VTT). Anything you can prepare beforehand will help lighten that load during play. This article will present one format for organizing your maps and background images: the comic strip format. Like a comic, the scenes of your adventure are laid out left to right in their most likely order. An example is shown that uses a mixture of background images and tactical maps....

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