Author: Kurt "Telas" Schneider

About The Author

Kurt Schneider played D&D in 1979 at summer camp, and was hooked. He lives with his wife, daughters, and dog in Austin TX, where he writes stuff, and tries to stay get fit. Look for his rants under the nom de web Telas or TelasTX. Quote: “A game is only as balanced – or as good – as the GM."

Fare Thee Well

In which a Gnome departs, and is probably a bit overly-dramatic about the whole thing. Sometimes, you need to see physical evidence of something that has been under the surface the whole time before you recognize it. When Martin asked me to find my three favorite articles for the Christmas break, I was pretty shocked at how few I had actually written this year. After the shock and guilt wore off, I realized that I’m just not as into gaming as I once was. Many factors play into this, from three kids under the age of six,to other interests...

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Reality Check

“I reject your reality, and substitute my own.” – Paul Bradford, The Dungeonmaster (later quoted by Mythbuster Adam Savage) Matt’s recent article on reality got me thinking. We game masters define or at least direct the collective reality of our gaming group; defining the rules of magic or super-science is old hat. So why are we regularly tripped when someone asks why the goblins are multiplying far too soon to have recovered from their last butt-kicking? Because – Science! A shared artificial reality is easier to deal with when it resembles our own. Among many other things, we all...

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Who Are You Trying to Impress?

Two quick stories: My wife watches a fair amount of "redecorating television," and I’ll admit to being sucked into a show or two. One of the recurring plots of this type of show involves designers who do not listen to the clients. Instead, they often decorate to impress other designers, or build the living space that they would prefer, instead of what the clients asked for in the first place.  For a year, my college roommate was a drama jock. He would go on for hours about how innovative and revolutionary certain directors or set designers were, but when...

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GM as Limited Slip Differential

The puzzle really shouldn’t be that difficult. They have all the clues. Heck, you saw them write them down. The players are all veteran problem-solvers. Your spouse figured it out during a commercial break. (Your kid was even faster, but don’t tell your spouse.) But there they are, nearly an hour later, still futzing with it. They have now come up with so many wrong answers that they’ll never solve it. And you know they’ll just hate it when you give them the answer. Crap, the night’s a total loss, and you’ll have to borrow Ed’s miniature for another...

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Honeymoon Savings Bank

If you’re anything like me, your enthusiasm level for a campaign follows a pretty predictable path. The campaign is born around a concept that really grabs you. It blossoms into full-blown excitement for a few months, during which the ideas are popping up like weeds in the springtime, and it seems that this campaign could go on forever. Then, about a month or two after the campaign itself begins, your level of enthusiasm peaks, and starts to taper off. Hopefully, it’s a very gradual taper, with occasional peaks and plateaus as the campaign wends its way through the collective...

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After Action Report–Modern Horror Campaign

At the risk of being ‘that guy,’ I’m going to tell you about my campaign. My gaming group recently wrapped up our 1980s Anomaly Adjustment Agency campaign. This was my first non-fantasy campaign since junior high school, and my first modern campaign ever. It ran for 18 months, went places I never expected in-game, and had a few unexpected out-of-game moments. Here are a few of the lessons I learned while preparing and running this campaign. Inspirations The three biggest inspirations for the campaign were Larry Correia’s awesome Monster Hunter International books, Reality Blurs’ Agents of Oblivion campaign toolbox...

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Salvaging a Campaign

Run a campaign for long enough, and one of these will happen: Your players will ignore every subtle (and not-so-subtle) hint you throw at them, and do That One Thing that will tank the entire campaign. For whatever reason, the party swallows the Blue Pill, lets the Ringwraiths get the Ring, or vaporizes New Tokyo. Those opponents you created to challenge the party are a bit too challenging, and half the party is dead or dying by the end of the first round. Chalk it up to random chance, GM error, player incompetence, or what you will, but its...

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Black Friday, Part V

After consuming enough fried turkey to deliver 1,000 mg of tryptophan, some very excellent beer, some quite disappointing mead, and putting two over-tired kids to bed, there’s nothing more I like to do than to track down all the RPG sales for your viewing pleasure. Believe me, sleep is the furthest thing from my mind right now… Ha-ha! Gotcha. But let’s keep this tradition going, if for no other reason than sheer momentum. It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and – trust me on this – you really, really don’t want to end up at a big box store, running...

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Modern Games, Modern Tools

Running a modern game has been far easier than I expected because of a number of modern tools. Most of these are digital, but convert quite well to my archaic retro “index card” style of GMing. An exhaustive list would be near endless, but here are most of my go-to tools. Resources The modern online lifestyle puts an amazing amount of information at one’s fingertips. And since game prep generally involves the management of information, either through outright research or inspiration, it’s no surprise to find endless resources for a modern campaign. Google Maps Obviously, Google Maps is indispensible for determining how long it takes to get from Excelsior, WV to Oklahoma City, OK (about 18 hours, if you’re curious). But it can also be used to find the basic layout of an industrial park, a suburb, or a busy city center, and much more. Google Street View makes for great visual aids, too. For instance, parts of Detroit make for an excellent post-zombpocalytic city. (Link) You can even make a custom Google Map, and insert descriptions into an existing map. I initially did this for my 1980s monster hunter campaign. It’s a pretty cool effect, but the game really didn’t use it very often. A campaign in which geography really matters would definitely benefit from it. Wikipedia One of the biggest advantages of the modern game is that...

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Going Abroad

Or, A Funny Thing Happened At the Border This is the first Gnome Stew article written and posted entirely from a foreign country, while I’m on vacation. In honor of that occasion, and of the “no problems” attitude of the Caribbean, I’ll try to make it useful but lighthearted. When travelling internationally, and crossing borders in the legally approved manner, a few things may trip up the unexpected adventurer: It is entirely possible for two people to speak the same language, but be largely unintelligible to each other. “Not only did my familiar have to get a license, but...

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The Taxman Goeth

Once again, it’s time for everyone between the ages of five and eighteen to get ready to go back to school. It’s also time to stock up on gaming supplies, thanks to the back to school sales and tax-free weekends across the country. (If you’re not stateside, my apologies at pointing out this annual semi-event. We’ll get back to our regularly scheduled innuendos, GMing advice, and Halfling jokes shortly.) Even if your state is not on the list linked above, take a moment or two and scan the local ads for back to school specials. Many stores will have...

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Big Assed Dice

I like big dice and I cannot lie You other GMs can’t deny That when an attack rolls up at a critical place,  And that 20’s in their face, You get sprung… With my most sincere apologies to Sir Mix-A-Lot, I like big dice when I’m GMing. No, not the monster ones that should sit on a shelf, but the 28mm “Jumbo” size. No, they don’t fit in most dice towers, nor do they transport as easily as their smaller brethren, nor do they come in all the latest styles and colors. But big dice can be read from...

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They Can’t See the Wires

…and even if they can, they’ll just ignore them. Have you ever watched a movie while it’s being made, especially one laden with special effects? It looks nothing like the finished product, even though you’re watching the raw material. Actors and actresses look badass as they go through their choreographed routines, but the scene is betrayed by the wire-fu cables, chroma-key screen, and the fact that their punches and kicks are inches from hitting anything. (The picture links to its originating article.) Have you ever watched a ‘magician’ practice his or her tricks? Once you know how it works,...

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Reality vs. Genre

Have you ever had your knowledge of reality interfere with your acceptance of genre conventions? Gamers are usually pretty nerdy, and tend to know quite a bit about gamer-ish topics, sometimes down to a very granular level. RPGs usually emulate genres better than they emulate reality. A GM’s detailed knowledge of reality can conflict with a game that is based on a genre that may only barely resemble reality. Take the Katana (please!) In reality, the katana was the best sword that could be made on an isolated and very iron-poor island nation. Its manufacture used many labor-intensive techniques...

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Would You Like to Phone a Friend?

Or, The Saga of UFO Joe Situation Skipping as much of the stereotypical “in my campaign” braggadocio as possible, I had an unusual NPC in my 1980s monster hunter campaign. He would regularly call in to Art Bell’s “Coast to Coast AM” radio show under different names, but always had a frighteningly accurate synopsis of what the party had just done, and then veer off into crazy UFO conspiracy theories. The party came to call him ‘UFO Joe’. UFO Joe was actually the subconscious conscience of the BBEG, an army general who had been converted to a brain-in-a-jar connected...

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