Category: GMing Advice


It’s rare that anyone plays a game exactly as written. In some cases, we don’t understand the rules, or misinterpret what the designer wrote. Sometimes, there are parts of the rules that don’t align with our tastes and so we change or omit them. Finally, there are some people who take the system of a game and bend it to be something altogether different from what the designer intended. In all these cases, we are not playing the game as the designer intended, we are […]

Okay, maybe this one won't keep any enemies out anyway...

The player is absolutely certain he’s facing an insurmountable challenge. More enemies than he and his companions can handle are pounding down the gate, and there’s no way to attack them before they burst in and overwhelm his crew. He hesitates, torn and unsure what to do in this obvious no-win situation. On the other side of the table, the GM is confused. She knows his stats make him more than capable of climbing the wall so he can rain death down on the invaders […]


Are your gaming sessions a little stale? Maybe what your table needs is a pie in the face. No, make that a mud pie. Fair warning: This advice may not work with your group. It may not even work with most groups. But maybe what you need is a bit of things you step in, go squish, and involve unwashed and unbraided hobbit feet. The appeal of gross-out humor might only be toward a slim segment of the gaming community. After all, things that make […]


Have you ever found yourself standing at the crossroads? When the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons arrived I jumped right into gamemastering a new campaign. I decided that rather than play through published materials I’d design my own campaign that revolved around a world-shaking Event and the continuing world-reshaping fallout from that event. I put a lot of thought into it and hammered out a broad outline (I like to fill in details as I go to incorporate the reactions from my players) that would span […]


Running an online game requires a lot of juggling. As a GM, you have to manage all your images and maps, the virtual tabletop (VTT), your voice or video system, session notes and rulebooks. On top of all that, you don’t want the rules getting in the way. In this article, we’ll look at three factors that you’ll have to consider when choosing your ruleset for online play. Let’s first look at finding players. Player Interest and Availability Unless you already have a group lined […]


Today’s guest article is by Gnome Stew reader Craig Dedrick. It’s his second; his first was What’s He Building in There? While there’s a fantasy focus here, if you squint a bit you’ll see how easily Craig’s advice applies to other genres. Thanks, Craig! –Martin Having recently received the 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons as a Christmas present, I have been reading through the Monster Manual. The book is visually stunning, well laid out, and touches on some of the classic monsters of Dungeons […]


When I am not writing here, I am the co-host of the Misdirected Mark podcast. On our last episode, my co-host challenged me to do a segment talking about how encumbrance is an interesting mechanic. I laughed, because I don’t think I have ever used encumbrance in any of my D&D campaigns. Then I thought about it, and took him up on the challenge. As I thought more about encumbrance, I came to realize that there are a number of interesting game play decisions around […]

In the same way that I returned to cheese after having a cheeseburger (seriously, what was I thinking?), the same may be true with rules that we thought were stupid back when we were learning to play. Those rules could be their own kind of cheeseburger.

Rules Inform Play

The rules of the game tell you as much about how the game should be played, possibly more so, than the setting. Good game designers include rules in their games to create a certain experience during play. The combination of all those rules and the ways they interact help to enforce a certain type of play, when followed.

For example: in a game I am developing, The Fate of Elhal, the game is about heroic battles and special combat styles. One of the rules I created is call Momentum dice, which allows a player to build up to and then execute a special move during combat. That special move helps to enforce the feeling of those special combat styles.

Going Off-Label

There is a piece of advice in many RPG’s which states, if you are not enjoying a rule, drop it. It sounds so simple: “just don’t use it”. But that statement is misleading. Here’s how that advice should be given: If you don’t like a rule in the game, drop it, but beware of consequences for doing so. In pharmaceuticals this is called off-label use, which the drug company is very clear means that other things can happen if you don’t use the drug as it was prescribed.

Most rules in an RPG are either linked together or dependent on one another. So when you drop a rule, other rules are affected. Those effects can change the way the game plays at the table, and sometimes create more problems than just keeping the offending rule in the first place.

Quick example: I use to be pretty stingy about magic items in my D&D 3.0 game. I never gave them out, because I like low-fantasy more than the high-fantasy which D&D is designed to provide in play. Keeping magic weapons out of the players hands was fine until they encountered monsters with Damage Resistance, and nearly got killed. It was not until I was in a seminar held by WotC that they explained that they assume that at certain levels, characters have certain magical items and their associated bonuses. So by removing magic items from my game, it made using the published monsters and other materials more difficult.

Dislike Should Lead To Discovery

When we encounter a rule we don’t like, rather than just dismissing the rule I think we should look deeper, and figure out why the rule is in the game, and how it contributes to the experience the game is trying to create.

Sometimes we can figure that out ourselves by just thinking about what the rule does, the decisions which center around the rule, etc. If you cannot find the answers there, you can post the question out on social media, and see if the community can assist. Finally, you can often just find the developer online and ask. Most game designers are easy to approach, and will be happy to explain what their game is supposed to be doing.

The Chiltons Manual

Soapbox time. This is something I want from other games, and something I am vowing to do as I design The Fate of Elhal. I want a supplement to come with my game, a separate PDF (it does not need to be a print book) that explains to me how the mechanics of the game work, their dependencies, and what play experience they are suppose to create. In that same book, I want tips on hacking the game, or things to consider if I want to remove a rule.

I would buy this book for every game I had, so that when I encountered a rule I did not like, I could understand why it was there, what its intended purpose was, and what the consequences are if I want to ignore it.

Conclusion and Questions

Everyone has rules they like and do not like. Sometimes we drop a rule when we don’t like it, and other times we just switch games to find a game that does it more the way we enjoy. Rules are included for a reason, and not always a reason that the designer shares with us overtly. Before you get ready to drop a rule or dump a game, take a closer look at what the rule is doing, and see if it matches up with your own expectations for the game. Once informed, you can then make a better decision about removing it or switching games.

What rules in RPG’s annoy you and what have you done about them? Are there any rules you disliked as an early gamer, that you have embraced lately?

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