Author: Walt Ciechanowski

About The Author

Walt Ciechanowski

Walt’s been a game master ever since he accidentally picked up the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set in 1982. He became a freelance RPG writer in 2005 and is currently the Victoriana Line Developer for Cubicle 7. Walt lives in Springfield, PA with his wife Helena and their three children, Leianna, Stephen, and Zoe.

3

The Crusty Old Gnome: A Taste of the Game

  Greetings from the rocking chair of the Gnome retirement home! I know that it’s been less than a month since I’ve officially retired, but I thought that my birthday (my 44th! Where does the time go?) would be a great time to make good on my promise to occasionally contribute. Last month I had the pleasure of being a guest at the (Re)Generation Who convention for my work on the Doctor Who Roleplaying Game. Part of my duties involved running games in the game room and I’d brought along a couple of adventures that were designed to be run...

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3

All Good Things…

And so it ends. If there is one thing in common with the endings of all of my campaigns, whether it was a Total Party Kill from an unexpectedly hard encounter or things went swimmingly to plan right up until the end, I always feel like there’s something I could have improved upon and made that campaign better. With the changing of the guard at the site I’ve decided that it’s time for me to retire from the Stew as a regular contributor. While I have full faith in John’s captaining of the S.S. Gnomie – I know he’ll...

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6

Hot Button – Red Herrings

As a GM, one of the things I find most puzzling is the negativity some players have towards red herrings (a false clue or something else that distracts the party from the adventure). I find red herrings very useful and appropriate for the types of games I like to run (usually intrigue, investigation, or solving mysteries in general) and a way to enrich the adventure beyond moving from Point A to Point B to Point C in a logical line. While I’d expect the players to be annoyed when they chase down a false lead, I wouldn’t expect them...

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14

When You Aren’t Feeling It

Have you ever looked at the calendar and realized that you’re supposed to run a game in the near future and you just aren’t “feeling it?” Do you cancel the session or press on? I find this happening more and more as I get older and, conversely, I play less and less. Both are related phenomena; being a “mature gamer” with a family, work, and other activities filling my social schedule, not only do I have less time to set aside and game but I’m also thinking about the game less often. While I enjoy being a Game Master...

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13

Driftwood: Saving Games

For my first article of the new year I decided to resurrect one of my old recurring themes; “Driftwood” was about taking a rule from one RPG and applying it to others. This time, though, I’m taking a concept from video games and seeing if I can apply it to tabletop RPGs. This article was inspired by a video that was shared with me on Facebook. In it, the author argued that “bosses” in video games aren’t the same as similar adversaries in tabletop RPGs because video games expect you to fail multiple times before you finally figure out how to defeat a boss...

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5

Campaign, Interrupted

It’s that time of year again. In these parts, whether or not you celebrate Christmas there is a definite chill in the air when it comes to gaming. As an adult married parent with a job and other responsibilities, I’ve already made adjustments to the gaming schedule (short answer: weekly sessions have been gone for years!); December makes it even rougher, as holiday shopping and midwinter vacations disrupt the already precarious schedule. I ran my last session on the first Friday of December. Thanks to scheduling conflicts (and my own aborted attempt to change campaign night) my group probably...

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5

The Force’s Pull

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens this weekend. It is also very likely that many ongoing RPG campaigns will die this weekend. It’s a problem I know well. Reflecting on campaigns past, I recall a lot of them moving forward with all of the creative energy and emotional investment one could hope for in a campaign, only to come to a crashing halt because most of the group saw Batman or Bloodsport one weekend and wanted to change campaigns. I’m quite certain that it’s bound to happen again and, amongst my group, it already has. We alternate weeks and the...

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5

The Embarrassment of Riches

Usually when I have issues or problems with a campaign, it’s because something is threatening to cut it short. Perhaps I’ve run short of material. Perhaps the players managed to leap ahead towards the end. Perhaps there was a TPK. Perhaps the players are losing interest. Perhaps the game sessions kept getting cancelled. Perhaps one or more players left the group. None of that is affecting my current D&D 5e campaign; it’s running great on all counts. My master plan is intact and the players are progressing well. I can easily see this campaign finishing as intended, even if it takes...

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10

Do You Need a Plan?

Recently I watched the season opener of Arrow and while I found it enjoyable one of the things that bugged me was the final scene, which involved the foreshadowing of a future death. That in and of itself didn’t bother me (beyond the usual “great, which of my favorite characters is going to die?”); what did bother me was the official commentary afterward that indicated that even the show writers don’t know who is going to die. Say what? I’ve had similar issues with other TV shows in the past: Enterprise’s Future Guy and what was really happening on the...

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10

Another Glance: Material Components

From the time I entered my first dungeon decades ago, material components were treated the same as encumbrance and weapon modifiers against armor class – we discarded them. For those of you who might be scratching your heads, I’m talking about spellcasting in Dungeons & Dragons (along with its many derivatives), in which magic-wielding characters usually need verbal, somatic, and/or material components to cast their spells. Like encumbrance and equipment lists, material components were viewed in my circles as tedious and we ignored them, which incidentally made our magic-using characters more powerful. Still, the trade-off is largely worth it, and...

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5

Regenerating a Campaign

This past weekend was the first episode of the new series (or season, in the American vernacular) of Doctor Who. Doctor Who is a series that has reinvented itself numerous times, usually when the Doctor regenerates but sometimes even without a change in the lead actor, the series has tried to move in a different direction. Similarly, I recently read an article on Heroes that got me thinking about my own RPG campaigns. I’ve had a lot of campaigns over the years that, for whatever reason, either didn’t go as planned or deteriorated as time went on, which was a shame if I...

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4

Classical Wisdom: The Dreaming City

While reading “The Dreaming City” for this article, it struck me that over my many moons of gaming I’ve seen (and played!) many “Elrics” at the table. First published in 1961, “The Dreaming City” is Michael Moorcock’s first Elric story. Elric is quite different from typical fantasy heroes (in fact, I’d be hard-pressed to call him a “hero”). He’s a frail albino from a race (Melniboneans) that once conquered the world but are now reduced to a single island. He is a master of the dark arts and can summon Cthulhu-esque aspects of his god Arioch; he is also...

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5

Campaign Arcs: Less is More

Have you ever designed a long, intricate campaign only to have it fall apart before it ever came close to seeing fruition? I know, it’s a rhetorical question. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to end a campaign far short of where I’d planned to end it. It can be frustrating to leave plot threads dangling, especially if you’d put a lot of work into it. I was reminded of this frustration with my current campaign, where I’ve specifically outlined my main plot points to be vague and malleable to suit whatever direction my players go...

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5

Classical Wisdom: The Phoenix in the Sword

This is the first of what I hope to be a regular series of articles on the ‘classic’ stories that inspired early roleplaying games. More specifically, I intend to read these stories (many of which I haven’t read, or read so long ago as to have forgotten them) as a modern Game Master and see if there’s anything in them that still resonates today, 41 years after the first commercial roleplaying game hit the shelves. Today I’ve decided to start with the very first story about Conan the Barbarian by Robert E Howard, “the Phoenix in the Sword,” which...

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2

From Con to Con: 2015 Edition

Hey all! 2015 was another fun year for me; in addition to my usual hanging with Gnomes and working for Cubicle 7 I got to meet a lot of new gamers and a couple of celebrities. I even got to do a little unintentional situational cosplay as the Doctor when I inadvertently blundered into a wedding reception (long story)! We also won another silver ENnie for the blog! On the food front, we had an epic Gnome Stew meal again at St. Elmo’s with the legendary Billy the Waiter! I also hit Fogo de Chao again and inducted a...

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