Is it possible to lose at Dungeons & Dragons?

There was only so much that could be done about the slime.  We did what we could to scrape it off our barbarian and thief.  The barbarian himself smashed a lantern over his head to burn it off.  But alas, within mere moments, they were gone.  Dead.  Transformed into slime themselves.

And so, the druid, cleric, and fighter–our lieutenant–made the long walk back to the inn in Saltmarsh.  And that was the end of the story.  Period.  The module was over, the enemy undefeated.  We had failed.

Seriously. ALWAYS LOOK UP.

We’ve probably all heard the anecdote about a parent walking in on a D&D game and asking, “Who’s winning?”  The players all groan with the son or daughter responding, “Nobody wins, Mom!”  The parent then leaves the room confused, but glad their child isn’t out doing worse things with worse friends.

But the other night, when we completed The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, I busted out laughing and said, “We just lost D&D!”  So what exactly happened last Friday?  How did we lose in the game of D&D?

A problem for DMs to deal with

I’m learning that some AD&D modules (The Village of Hommlet and Saltmarsh, in particular) have points at which players can make the wrong decision.  And if they make that wrong decision, the module concludes.  The players have failed to achieve their goal.  In Hommlet, the players all perish.  That’s easy to deal with, because you can simply roll up new characters and pick up where you left off.

It’s not so simple in Saltmarsh.  If the players make the wrong choice, the bad guys leave town.  And it’s hard to beat the bad guys, when they’re gone!  The module is over.  Do not pass go–do not collect $200–do not move on to module U2!  And we made the wrong decision.

When players make poor decisions like this, it puts the Game Master in a difficult spot.  Does she stay true to the module?  Does he let the players fail?  Or maybe retcon the decision and give them a second chance?  Beyond these questions, should modules even be written this way, where a binary choice can be so damning to the characters and the story?

As someone who “lost” The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh–as someone who went away disappointed not to experience the end of the module–yet as someone who was happy with how the story ended, let me share my thoughts on what you as a DM can do to prepare for these moments if and when they come:

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Tips for a first-time AD&D DM

So you’re interested in the way things began?  You find yourself wondering with nostalgia and curiosity, “What was Advanced Dungeons & Dragons like when it was first released?  What did those first players think, feel, and experience?”

These are the thoughts that make you a first-time AD&D Dungeon Master in 2017.  These are the thoughts that brought me to that place.  And so here I am, preparing for my second campaign as DM.

Even though I had GMed many other RPGs–at least fifty games of D&D 4e, maybe more of FFG’s Star Wars RPG, with a smattering of others–I felt like it was best to start by going through some published AD&D modules.  If you’re a first-time AD&D DM, I’d encourage you to do the same: pick a good published module for beginning characters and start from there.

But if you are indeed going to take that route, let me give you a few words of advice that will put you light years ahead of where I was when I first started this journey:

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Star Wars Destiny: The Good, the So-So, and the Bad

Let me begin with an apology to my many new readers, who are devotees of AD&D.  Never fear, I’ll be back on the AD&D train in Thursday’s blog!  That said, I’m not just an AD&Der.  In fact, I’m not just a roleplayer.  As you know, gamers are like craft beer drinkers.  We’re rarely monogamous in our commitment to one specific game.

So I do play a lot of AD&D.  But I also am a huge fan of the Star Wars Living Card Game [LCG].  So much so that I actually traveled cross-country to play in the World Championships last year.  That said, I was disgruntled and nervous to learn last year that Fantasy Flight Games was releasing another Star Wars card game: Star Wars Destiny.  What would this mean for the LCG?  What would happen to my gaming group?  And what about all the time and energy I’ve invested in this game?

First of all, games come and games go.  That’s a fact of life.  But my concern was that (a) Destiny would make more money, (b) Destiny would steal LCG players, and (c) the LCG would be abandoned by players and FFG alike.  So, in response to this, I swore that I would not be playing Destiny.

But then it came out.  And…um…I may have bought a few packs…..

I doubt anybody is really an expert on Destiny yet, but I’ve played a fair share of games.  So I thought I’d pass along what I’ve experienced, especially since a number of my Twitter followers have been asking.  So here’s my take on Star Wars Destiny, as a committed player of the LCG:

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Why and how I’m playing First Edition AD&D

You might be wondering why a guy like me would be playing First Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.  And yet, here I am in 2017 playing AD&D more than any other tabletop RPG.


It’s strange especially now!  In my opinion, tabletop roleplaying is going through a bit of a renaissance.  5th Edition D&D is drawing new players in and old players back.  The success of sites such as DriveThruRPG makes independent games readily available.  And beyond that, the vast variety of games available simply makes it a very fun and fertile time for tabletop roleplaying.  So, yes, it is odd that I would go back and play AD&D 1e.

Since MadCleric.com has recently seen an upward spike in new readers, I thought I’d give you a more clear and comprehensive on the when, why, and how of my current AD&D project entitled, Chasing the Dragon:

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My first time playing AD&D

Last Friday, I played AD&D for the first time.

Well, kind of.  You know I’ve been the DM before.  But this time, I was a player…you know, controlling a player character.  One of the players from Hommlet offered to run us through U1: The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, which is proving to be a mysterious and very fun module after only a first session.


It can be hard for a GM to slip into the player’s seat and allow someone else to take over.  So what did I learn from this experience, which I’ve had a few times before?  How can a GM become a player with ease?

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Mediating conflict at the gaming table

On Tuesday, we explored the four different kinds of conflict that can arise between players at the gaming table.  But that’s the easy part!  Any Tom, Dick, or Tenser can start a fight.  The hard thing is knowing (a) how to fight fairly and (b) how to mediate when fighting doesn’t go so well.

Our gaming groups are ideally groups of friends, sitting around the table (digital or physical).  And because of the nature of friendship, we all have a responsibility.  For the player, it is their responsibility to fight fair and to seek reconciliation.  For the GM, it is their responsibility to facilitate that process when necessary.

Here’s how you can do your part: Continue reading

When fights break out at the game table

You may have thought (like I did) that my last article was the final volume in my series on online gaming.  Clearly, you and I were both wrong, for it appears that this comment of mine stirred some questions:

I’ve found it hard for players and GMs to fight fairly online.  I’m not sure what it is about the medium, but it tends to go poorly. … Reconciliation — fighting well — makes a game group better, but it’s hard work.  And if we want our groups to last, we need to be able to fight well.

In response to this sentiment, a thoughtful reader asked some challenging questions that made me think more deeply about this idea.  It will take at least two articles to respond, so I’ll only deal with his first question today: “In what circumstance would players actually fight at the gaming table?”  I can identify four types of fights that can (and frequently do) emerge at the gaming table.  If you haven’t seen these before, I can almost guarantee you will: Continue reading