Dungeon crawls are a staple of roleplaying. For this article, let’s expand the definition of dungeon beyond traditional tombs and caves. Crashed spaceships, inner-city sewers, and post-apocalyptic abandoned malls are all really variations on the dungeon. In a way, any remote location where bad things live can be a kind of dungeon. If you GM, odds are your PC’s will end up in some stinkhole sooner or later. The drawback to dungeons (and remote wilderness areas) is that they may not provide sufficient roleplaying opportunities. In a village, city, sailing ship, or starship there are plenty of people 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.
Recently one of my players was complaining about his other game. That group is a bit poky, often taking over an hour to make a decision. While there is no set length for deliberation, an hour is probably too long. If I can make a McDonald’s run and back, well, you get the idea. While we don’t want to discourage deliberation, sometimes the GM has the responsibility to try to help the group move on. In this column we’ll look at some possible causes of overly long deliberation, and some possible solutions. The list won’t be exhaustive, but may...Read More
I’m afraid of flowers. More specifically, while I’ve been drawing and painting for many years, I avoid painting flowers. Get nervous just thinking about them. Recently I decided to face that fear by attacking one on a brand new 16″ X 20′ canvas. And the world didn’t end. I finished the picture and learned a lot in the process. This got me thinking about what elements or genres I fear and avoid in my gaming life. In this article, I’ll discuss just three of them. I’ll also suggest some thoughts for overcoming my concerns. While you may not have...Read More
If you are a certain age, you may fondly remember the TV show “Land of the Lost.” (No, not the Will Ferrel movie). It was obviously shot on a budget, and like the original “Star Trek,” that is part of its charm. It becomes more like a science fiction radio or stage play, rather than a competition to see who can squeeze the most out of the CGI. So what does Land of the Lost have to do with gaming? In this column, let’s take a look at how you might use limitations to enrich your campaign world....Read More
In high school and college, I wanted to learn how to draw like Walter Simonson. He was one of the most influential comic book artists of the 80’s, and continues to draw to this day. In an interview or on a letters page, he revealed that he did all of his inking using a Hunt 107 ink nib. These are those little metal tips that artists use to ink cartoons and comics; the descendants of the quill pen. However, owning the same pen as Walt Simonson didn’t improve the quality of my drawing and inking overnight. That took a...Read More
Much like a movie or a novel, a roleplaying adventure depends on the flow of information. A game can grind to a halt when players don’t know where to go or what to do next. If players are exploring or clearing out a dungeon, this may not be a big problem. However, most GM’s will want to run an adventure with more of a plot at some point. Even in a dungeon, you may want to lead up to a big fight at the cultists inner sanctum or the evil wizard’s laboratory. Just for clarification, I use the...Read More
In my fantasy campaign, the players recently acquired a flying airship. This gave me the chance to reflect on the advantages and possible concerns with a mobile base of operations. While many of my examples will be based in a fantasy setting, the same principles should apply to any mobile base, be it a starship, sailing ship, or catbus. ADVANTAGES Travel time – If your group likes to get right to the “good part,” a mobile base of operations eliminates much of the issue of travel time. There may be an even bigger benefit if your group can only...Read More
As a GM, we often want to run a different genre or try out a new mechanic. However, learning an entirely new system can be overwhelming. Believe it or not, creating a one-page system can be quicker. Think of it this way: if you can read 50 pages an hour, it will take you 6 hours to read a 300 page rulebook. Using the tips in this article, you can probably create a one-page system in about an hour. Now, we are not trying to write a new system from scratch. Rather, we are taking another system and adapting...Read More
I love pregenerated characters. They’re great for con games, online games, pick-up games, or when you need replacement characters after a TPK. They’re an easy way to get new people gaming quickly. Obviously you won’t use pregens in every game (more later), but they are handy to have around. This article will talk about some ways to get the most out of your pregens, perhaps even for years and years. We’ll first look at some things to consider when creating your pregens, then how to use them to save time. Most of my examples will be from the fantasy genre,...Read More
So you’ve finally decided to take the plunge: you’re going to GM your first online session. Maybe you’re a little nervous, concerned about getting all the details right. This article will give you some guidelines to help you make that first session start smoothly. WHAT YOU’LL NEED A virtual tabletop – The virtual tabletop (VT) allows you and your players to interact. You can load maps, background images, and tokens. I use roll20.net, but there are a number of other free (or free trial) ones out there. A quick search will get you a number of listings. Most are...Read More
While gamers love traditional, dungeon-type maps, they are certainly not the only possible graphics options. Background images, area maps, and player handouts can enhance any gaming experience. Online virtual tabletops (VTT’s) make including these types of images easier than ever. And they won’t eat up a dime of printer ink. If you are not an online GM, you can still present these types of images to your players through a laptop screen or tablet. Here are some thoughts on each type of image and how they enhance play. Background Images Remember Colorforms? A box of Colorforms gave you...Read More
Online, virtual tabletops (VTT’s) now allow more people to game than ever before. Regardless of geography, or work and family commitments, it’s possible for almost everyone to find a game that fits their needs. This article is the first in a series examining different aspects of being an online GM. Even if you don’t play online, hopefully you can find some food for thought here. Let’s first look at traditional, top-down maps. These are the gridded maps we’ve all loved for decades. Online VTT’s allow you to upload large, detailed maps without the expense of printing. A GM can...Read More
Many gamemasters run games for months or even years without ever sitting on the other side of the screen. Often the reasons are logistical. Players are happy as players and with the GM. Players may also be too busy to GM. Also, if you are trying to build a group with new players or using a new system, you may have to GM. After all, you’re the only person who knows the system. You may not have time to run your own campaign and then play in another. With online virtual tabletops, a person could play as much as they...Read More
When I was taking my teacher classes, we were encouraged to be “Reflective Teachers,” even to keep a teaching journal or diary. While few teachers have the time to write a diary, most good teachers do try to evaluate their lessons and make improvements. We may formalize those suggestions in post-observation reports or discussions with administrators, or we may just keep sprucing up our lessons and labs each year on our own. In the same manner, good GM’s are reflective as well. While most of us do not have time to write post-session journals, we should make a little...Read More
This Saturday I will be GMing at a local gameday, and I’m going in blind. I found out about it through the local meetup.com group and tossed my hat into the ring. It’s mostly board games, but I sent an email asking if they’d like an RPG table. The organizer got right back to me, seemed excited, and put my game on the list. But I’m a little nervous; it’s a double-blind situation for all of us. This gave me the chance to reflect on how to get everyone comfortable at the table and ready for play. I’ve used most...Read More
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