Ever just flip open your monster book at random? I call it “Creature Roulette”, and it’s just one of many strategies for getting out of writers’ block. In this article, we’ll talk through one method for using creature roulette to plan an adventure. We’ll start with a fantasy scenario, and see how to adjust it so that it can work with science fiction and modern genres as well. GETTING STARTED For this example, I grabbed my 4th Edition Monster Manual for no other reason than it was handy. Opening the book, I hit the page with hook horrors...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.
When playing pretend as a kid, we always played established media characters. We were Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, Batman and Robin. We were never “generic Rebel soldier” or “Superhero who’s kinda like Superman.” However, in my experience, playing established characters is much rarer in roleplaying games. Perhaps people want to create their own heroes, or perhaps feel that an existing character’s traits will tie their hands during play. In this article, we’ll look at some of the advantages and concerns with playing established characters. The lists won’t be exhaustive, but hopefully will provide you with some food for...Read More
If you’re like me, you have times where you don’t want to prepare for your next session. Real life may be wearing us down, we may get sick, or we may just have the old “fear of a blank page.” (I’m also a water-colorist, trust me, I know ALL about that fear.) In this article we’ll look at some strategies for getting out of that slump. They are presented in no particular order, and use them to taste. They are not meant to be a step-by-step method for game preparation, merely ways to ignite a spark. WRITE ROUGH...Read More
I know a local artist who says “I thrive on failure.” He’s accepted the fact that every drawing and painting won’t work out as expected, that failed attempts are just part of the process. Similarly to grow as gamemasters (GM’s), we need to give ourselves permission to fail from time to time. Trying new games, new genres, or even creating our own rule systems all provide the opportunity to fail. However, if we don’t try those kinds of things, we risk stagnation. In this article, we’ll look at three situations where we might fail, but where we might also...Read More
“There’s no board” is a common concern raised by those who’ve never played roleplaying games (RPG). While many gamemasters (GM’s) use terrain, maps, and tiles, there generally isn’t one board like in traditional games. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be: many “Almost RPG’s” like Dungeon and Heroquest use boards quite well. In this article, we’ll look at one process for designing a single board RPG session. The design philosophy will be geared towards newer players. Having a board may make it easier for them to consider playing, which is good for the hobby. Also, a board can provide...Read More
Online gaming makes it easier than ever to join a game. However, real life still gets in the way. Overtime, school assignments, sickness, and family responsibilities all conspire against us sometimes. Maintaining an ongoing, epic campaign can be quite a challenge. Now, it is a rewarding challenge, and one I would never disparage. But it is a challenge. This article will discuss an alternative format: ensemble play. It’s certainly not the only alternative, but it may be something to consider if you are having trouble getting enough players for a traditional campaign. We’ll look at the advantages and concerns...Read More
Forging an online group can be a tricky task. You may have never met the players face to face to know how they will fit in with the group. Also, adult schedules make it difficult for folks to attend every session. As an online gamemaster (GM), you’ll have to make a decision about how many players you’d like in your game, and there are pros and cons to that choice. In this article, we’ll look at the advantages and disadvantages of different sized groups. While some of the points will discuss technical issues, most of them should apply to...Read More
Online games rely heavily on their images. While you can certainly play in a “theater of the mind” style, good images will usually enhance the experience. A well chosen image can give life to an NPC, or provide a concrete way for players to attach to their characters. This article will discuss some of the technical details involved in making tokens for your online (or face-to-face) games, and also look at some in-game considerations. Even if you only run face-to-face, many of the thoughts in this column should apply there as well. TECHNOLOGICAL FIDDLY BITS One free tool for...Read More
Running an online game requires you to juggle a number of things at once. You have to run the game as usual AND you have to manage the technical side of things through your virtual tabletop (VTT). Anything you can prepare beforehand will help lighten that load during play. This article will present one format for organizing your maps and background images: the comic strip format. Like a comic, the scenes of your adventure are laid out left to right in their most likely order. An example is shown that uses a mixture of background images and tactical maps....Read More
Ever felt a little empty the day after a game or convention? Perhaps it is to be expected. You’ve had an intense creative experience with people who love the hobby as much as you do. The next day, however, life goes on. This kind of let-down isn’t unique to our hobby: many athletes experience it even after winning Olympic medals and championship games. In this column, we’ll look at some possible reasons for the post-game blues, and, more importantly, strategies for coping. REASONS An old friend of mine once said most of our days are C+ days. They are...Read More
You know the old saying: “Villains, we love to hate them.” I don’t buy it, not for a minute. We love our villains. When Darth Vader, Loki, or even Plankton are on the screen, we can’t take our eyes off them. It’s not that we admire their evil deeds, but there’s something magnetic about their confidence and scheming. So how do we bring those kinds of central villains into a roleplaying game. In this article we’ll look at the advantages of having one main villain in your campaign, and also some of the concerns if you go that route....Read More
As a gamemaster, you have to be able to handle numerous tasks at once. You have to describe the scene, adjudicate the rules, portray the non-player characters (NPC’s), and try to keep everyone involved. That’s a lot, so you don’t need your session note format to get in the way. In this article, we’ll look at several ways to organize your NPC stats, their advantages, and their disadvantages. No one method is perfect, nor do you have to stick with the same one all the time. Even if you already have a preferred format, it’s always good to see...Read More
Over the years I’ve had the privledge of running sessions where most of the players were new to the hobby. In this column, we’ll take a look at some strategies for planning out that first session. The goal in planning such a session is to showcase some of the essential features of the system, while giving them a successful and enjoyable session. Much of these ideas are not original to me, but hopefully it will be helpful to have them here, all in one place. FOCUS ON THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS When planning your session, make a list of all...Read More
Online games are a lot like old-time radio shows. Clear audio is a must for telling stories. Nice maps and tokens are great, as are all the bells and whistles provided by virtual tabletops (VTT’s). But without clear audio, you can’t have a game. In this article, we’ll look at some options for audio services, hardware choices, recording issues, and dealing with background noise. AUDIO SERVICES There are really two main options: dedicated audio services such as Skype, or the audio that comes with some VTT’s. Both offer audio and chatting options. Often you can chat to individuals privately,...Read More
Sometimes you don’t get a quorum. It’s no one’s fault: people get sick or have other real-world obligations (sigh). Still, it’s tough for both players and game masters (GM’s) alike to show up and realize a session isn’t going to run. One way around this is to prepare a back-up game for times when you only have 2-3 players. These can be a type of “hip pocket game” as described in Scott Martin’s excellent article: Hip Pocket Games. This article will offer a few suggestions for preparing a back-up game, guided by my own experiences. While some of the...Read More
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