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



  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...

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A Mobile Base of Operations

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...

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Create a One Page System Today

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...

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Characters to Grow Old With: Getting the Most Out of Your Pregens

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,...

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THE ONLINE TABLETOP: Preparing Your First Session

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, 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...

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THE ONLINE TABLETOP: Non-Traditional Maps

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...

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THE ONLINE TABLETOP: Using Traditional Maps

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...

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The Other Side of the Screen: GMs Should Play 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...

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Questions for Reflective GM’s

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...

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When No One Knows Anyone

This Saturday I will be GMing at a local gameday, and I’m going in blind.  I found out about it through the local 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...

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Letters from Home

Today’s guest article is by John Fredericks, and it’s a unique idea we’ve never discussed here before. Thanks, John! Introduction All GMs long for player investment in their characters and in the campaign world. As GMs, we’re often (very) caught up in the planning and running of the game. This makes it difficult for us to gauge whether we are meeting the players’ expectations at the table. In this article, I’ll share an idea that I used recently to garner more player input on their characters and the direction of the adventures. I run a regular fantasy campaign which...

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Gaming With the Very Young

Today’s guest article was written by Gnome Stew reader John Fredericks, and it tackles the topic of gaming with kids as young as four years old. Thanks, John! As parents we all hope to pass on our interests to our children. Whether it is sports, music, art, or gaming, we hope to see that glimmer of interest in their eyes. However, sometimes it takes and sometimes it doesn’t. Not every child (or adult) is wired to like roleplaying games. However, if parents play with their children, at least they will get the chance experience the hobby. And who knows,...

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In a Timely Fashion

Today’s guest article was written by John Fredericks, and addresses a topic every GM bumps up against periodically: time, and not having enough of it to do everything you want to do during a session. Thanks, John! Ever played in a session that just would not end? Maybe the GM just couldn’t bring things to a close, and you had work the next morning. At that point, you really didn’t care about the fourth owlbear. Or maybe it was a convention and you wanted to make your next session (and maybe even eat in between!). Sure it’s great when...

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