Our annual Christmas break (12/24 to 1/3, back to normal posting on 1/4) is in full swing, so while we’re off shagging dwarves spending quality time with our favorite liquors families, we’re serving up the best of the nearly 300 articles we wrote in 2009.

Whether you’ve been reading the Stew since we launched in May 2008 or just discovered us yesterday, there is a LOT of GMing material here (I believe the correct term is “a metric shit-ton”). Eighteen months in, I’m still floored by how much the gang has written.

Like last year, we wanted to take the opportunity to shine a spotlight on some of our favorite articles — specifically, three from each gnome, for a total of 27. From today through the end of the year, you can look forward to five articles like this one, two articles from Patrick, and my usual State of the Stew summary.

Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, and a very happy New Year from us gnomes!

Patrick Benson

1. Loose Prep, Detailed Play: This was a last minute article where I tried to capture how I am currently running my games. I love to improvise, but I am also learning how to prepare in a way that gives me the best of both worlds. I was very happy with the how this article turned out, because in many ways the process that I used to write it is exactly the kind of style that the article is about.

2. Railroading — It Encourages Nothing: I hate games where the GM railroads me and the other players. I try to avoid it in my own games and have never regretted letting the reigns go and watching where the players take the game. I feel that this article got that message across as well as providing some simple alternatives to laying the tracks down before your players.

3. You Are Forbidden To Say This: Some GMs think it is proper to “keep things on course” or some other nonsense that justifies telling a player that his or her PC would do something other than what the player described. In this article I tried to prove that this is completely unacceptable. In the comments section I feel like I did a very good job of defending my point, and the comments really took this article to another level.

Kurt “Telas” Schneider

1. Beware the Retcon: Shortly before writing this article, I was playing in a group that ran into what could arguably be called a ‘retcon-worthy situation’. As tempting (and beneficial) as it was to argue for the retcon, the GM in me recognized that it would set a bad precedent for the campaign. The article-whore in me recognized that this would make a good article.

2. Just Rewards: One of the few things that almost every economist will agree on is that incentives are extremely powerful. If you want to influence your players’ behavior while avoiding the dreaded railroad, then modify their incentive plan. Reward the behavior that you want to see more of, and think outside the box when it comes to rewards.

3. Do You Have Any Cake, Instead?: In RPGs, character death is often either a finality (“Roll a new one.”), a speed-bump (“Relax; I’ll memorize Raise Dead tomorrow.”), or a major change in plans (“Back to the Bacta Tank.”). But there are alternatives to death, some of which can be far more interesting.