GM Advice

Where is the Story Load in your game mechanic?

You roll dice to find out what happens, right? OK, how do you determine the parameters for “what happens?” When you roll dice in a tabletop RPG, you’re generally comparing the roll to one of three things: A target difficulty number that varies according to either the rules or the GM’s decision during play (as in D&D, where the … Continue reading »

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Dungeon World-style Fronts for other Fantasy RPGs

Dungeon World includes a wonderful mechanic called fronts, which describe larger-scale threats that the PCs may face: a cult, a horde of orcs, a powerful wizard, a natural disaster, etc. Fronts have quite a few moving parts, though: Scale (campaign-level or adventure-level) Dangers (people, monsters, traps, unstable artifacts, etc.) An impending doom for each danger … Continue reading »

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When to use a “DM PC”

Let me introduce you to Dale. Dale’s a new Dungeon Master, six sessions into running his first Dungeons & Dragons campaign. He’s a nice guy, who wants his players to have fun. Dale has a problem. He needs to introduce an non-player character (NPC) who will stick with the party for a while. However, he’s … Continue reading »

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Hit Points Don’t Represent Physical Wounds (Necessarily)

What does a loss of Hit Points mean? Some of you already “know” the answer to this, but it bears repeating, and there’s a hidden message. As the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook puts it: Hit Points measure your ability to stand up to punishment, turn deadly strikes into glancing blows, and stay on your … Continue reading »

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How to Run Practically Any RPG Concept with Risus

Ben has a concept he wants to run as a tabletop RPG, but it doesn’t fit any system he knows. It’s a weird mashup of genres. Ben decides to go for it anyway. Because the players won’t have crystal clear ideas for their characters, Ben ideally wants to create characters during play. He’d prefer to start with … Continue reading »

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I Ran Tomb of Horrors, and It Was Awesome. Here’s How.

Recently, I ran the Tomb of Horrors for a handful of friends. They had a blast, and repeatedly said so. For what it’s worth, Tales from the Yawning Portal hadn’t come out yet, so I used a 5th Edition conversion I found online, combined with the original module. In pitching the Tomb to the players, I explained … Continue reading »

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In defense of the Tomb of Horrors

It’s become fashionable to decry the Tomb of Horrors as a paragon of bad design. It’s got things that will kill characters outright. It’s got things that will kill them without a saving throw, even. Surely that’s a sign of bad dungeon design, right? No, it’s not, given the module’s parameters. I’m going to give you two reasons why Tomb … Continue reading »

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As the GM, I Split the Party…And It Went Great

My favorite RPG convention panel, “Improv DMing,” occurred at GenCon several years ago. It was mostly a Q&A session about how the panel’s host improvs games. Someone asked what he does when the players ask to split the party. He explained that he tells the group that half of them will have to pack up … Continue reading »

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“Okay, How Do You Do That?”

Players often get caught up in the game mechanics of what their character is doing and don’t think through the fiction of what they’re doing. A classic example is a rogue who says he “stealths” across a bare field in full sight of an enemy. The GM can check this with a simple question: “Okay, how do … Continue reading »

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