Should you try competitive gaming?

“Competitive games are not for me.”

“Competitive gamers tend to be jerks.”

“Competitive games take all the fun out of it.”

Have you ever heard sentiments like these?  Maybe you’ve said them yourself!  The fact is, a lot of people have had bad experiences in competitive gaming.  People have acted like jerks at tournaments.  They’ve complained, harassed, or even cheated.  I know, I’ve heard the horror stories!  And for folks who’ve had that experience, I am very sympathic.  Tabletop games should be different from those negative experiences.

That said, I just returned home from three days in lovely Roseville, MN, where I competed in the World Championship for the Star Wars Living Card Game.  And I will report that (though coming in at a meager #35) I had a great time!  And here’s what I want to report back to you:

Late after the conclusion of Day One of the World Championships

After the conclusion of Day One of the Star Wars LCG World Championships

Competitive gaming, while it can have frustrating moments, can also be very fun.  Have you not played laid-back, roleplaying games that got frustrating?  Competitive play is the same way.  Sometimes thing go awry.  But often, it’s a great experience.

Here are my three take-aways from my World Championship experience that I think will encourage you to give competitive gaming another shot:

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Should game masters threaten player characters?

It appears that I struck a real chord with Tuesday’s article on player character death.  Why did so many GMs and players respond so passionately to my post?  Because players sometimes get mad at GMs when their characters die.

Not all players and not always.  But it does happen and it creates tension at the tabletop, when players are angry over their characters’ deaths.

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Another final shot of our fallen comrade. RIP Elder Cunningham.  FWIW, the beholder there is actually a giant snake.  I wouldn’t do that to Level 2 adventurers!

One particular response (from @theTinyGM on Twitter) took exception to my use of the word “threat” in relation to PC death.  Her concern was that the language of a threat might set up a confrontational relationship between GM and player.  Of course, nothing could be further from my intention.

But it raises the question: can GMs create conflict and challenges for PCs–can they “threaten” the livelihood of adventurers–without creating a confrontational atmosphere?  I’m convinced you can!  If I can pull it off, you can too!

Here are the three steps you can take to create a challenging situation that will end in nothing but fun and mutual respect at your gaming table:

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Should player character death be a possibility?

Many of you have been writing and tweeting, asking how the Chasing the Dragon project is going.  Well, we’re five sessions into The Village of Hommlet and we’ve got two player character deaths on the books.  In fact, here’s a picture from our last session:

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You can see poor Elder Cunningham (our cleric) lying slain amidst his foes.  You can also see the pain on Patrick’s face (Elder’s player) on the top left, as he grieves his character’s untimely demise.

As a GM, I really feel bad when PCs die.  I want players to have a good time…and having your character ignominiously slain with one attack (RIP Elder Cunningham) just doesn’t seem like much fun.  So it leaves me with a question: should PC death be a real potentiality?  Or should GMs avoid it at as much as they can?

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Learning from Gary Gygax: Gaming Variety

This blog is the second in a series inspired by Michael Witwer’s Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS.

You might be surprised to learn that Gary Gygax played games other than Dungeons & Dragons.  While he certainly enjoyed D&D, he was an avid chess player and war-gamer.  And, of course, he always had new games brewing in the back of his mind.

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One of Gary’s creations, Dragonchess (Photo credit: Zac Dortch)

While consistency is certainly key for a gaming group, some level of variety is necessary to keep players interested.  You need to swap out GMs from time-to-time.  Different games on the table keep people interested.  Even a change in locale can spice things up a bit (hosting can get tiresome too!).

So by way of recommendation, here are the top six games that I think should grace your tabletop, if not as a permanent fixture, then as an occasional change of pace:

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How can you keep your players engaged and excited?

What was the last movie that you saw?

I’m ashamed to say it was Ted.  Yes, the Mark Wahlberg movie with Peter Griffin talking for a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking teddy bear.  I was getting over a stomach virus.  I needed a laugh.  So sue me!

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Enough about me, what was the last movie that you saw?

Twenty bucks says you had a pretty good idea how the movie would end well before it ended!  Stop and think about it.  Most movies forecast the end, so that we anticipate the ending in advance.  And until that expected ending comes, we’re on the edge of our seats.

But what does that have to do with gaming?  A LOT.  Game Masters have a lot on their plate.  And one of those responsibilities is keeping their players engaged.  How can we utilize this same technique used in most movies to keep our players on the edge of their seats?

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Learning from Gary Gygax: Consistency

Reading is one of the best things any gamer can do.  Especially GMs.  It’s hard to be creative in output, when you’re not taking in creative input.  Every night when I go to bed, I read.  No more than thirty minutes, sometimes no more than a paragraph.  But I always read.  What do I read?

I’ve been on a real history/biography kick lately, thanks to the Broadway musical, Hamilton (man, you’re really getting a grasp of how geeky I am today).  I finished off 1776 by David McCullough a couple of weeks ago and then in only two weeks’ time (really rare for me), I finished an amazing biography of Gary Gygax by Michael Witwer, called Empire of Imagination.

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Not only was it written in an engrossing narrative style–not only was it written about a current obsession of mine–but it also had a lot of helpful tidbits for gamers like ourselves, who like to sneak away once or twice a week to get a taste of freedom and fun in imaginary lands.

So in this first installment, I’d like to share the first thing I learned from THE Dungeon Master in my stroll through his life story:

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What Adventure Should You Run?

D&D 5th Edition is finally coming of age.  If you’re a DM just getting into the game (like myself), you have a short time before you hit option overload.  The number of quality modules and campaigns being published by WotC and through the DM’s Guild is quickly getting to a saturation point, if you haven’t been working through them already.

As a DM, though, you really want to present the best gaming experience that your players can have.  So where and how should you start?  With the Starter Kit?  With the sweet new Storm King’s Thunder campaign?  Or perhaps with something new, original, and creative?

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Rather than recommending a resource to you, I want to do you one better.  I to help you, Dungeon Masters and Game Masters, to find your own personal game style and to choose accordingly.  Here’s how:

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Does growing up mean giving up gaming?

“Fantasy as a cultural phenomenon felt vaguely unsettling to me.  I wondered if pervasive escapism had infantilized an entire generation.”

So began a quest for Ethan Gilsdorf, journalist and geek par excellence.  The quest: to explore every form of fantasy roleplaying games, in order to discern whether they are healthy entertainment for responsible, balanced, functional adults.  He raises the same question that I’ve posed before: does growing up mean giving up gaming?

The result of his search is the fascinating book Fantasy Freaks and Gaming GeeksI devoured the book very quickly and I commend it to you.

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In the end, Gilsdorf names a number of reasons that tabletop RPGs in particular are healthy activities for adults–they encourage problem-solving, team-building, and creative thinking, for starters.  That said, I have a followup question:

If playing tabletop RPGs is so healthy for adults, why is it so hard to find a group to play in?

I’m blessed to live in an area with an active gaming community.  But I know that for many of you, that’s not the case.  What’s to be done for those who lack that resource nearby?

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When work follows you to the gaming table…

I’m sure you’re familiar with the popular sitcom, The Office, whether in its British or American versions.  They’re both excellent, for the record.

Regardless, it’s a story of people who never seem to leave the office.  Even when they leave the office, the relationships and issues seem to follow them!  And this experience is not foreign to us.

We bring our work home with us literally, emotionally, and intellectually.  We work on it at home.  We stew on it at home.  And we think about it at home.  And we even bring our work to the gaming table.

How long does it take you to engage as a player or GM?  How often do you find your mind wandering to the meeting earlier in the day?  Does your work end up wandering into your headspace during your gaming, introducing unneeded distraction and stress?

If it does, it probably leaves you asking: is it possible to disconnect?  Is it possible to just chill out and enjoy the evening without worrying about spreadsheets, projects, and emails?

I promise you: it is possible to disconnect.  And here’s how you can do it:

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Get your game on the table!

What’s that over there on your shelf?  You know, the dusty game you bought a while back that never seems to make it onto the table!

Wait, what’s that?  Nobody wants to play it?

I find that hard to believe.  Because, I mean, you want to play it, right?  Of course!  Otherwise you wouldn’t have bought it.

So my question to you is: if you want to play, there have got to be 3-6 other people on the planet who want to play it too.  Fair assumption?

Regardless, here we sit with an empty table and a dusty game.

Listen, I get it.  I mean, I’m the guy learning AD&D 1st Edition when D&D 5e is the hottest thing in town!  Even I was at my FLGS tonight flipping through those shiny, sexy 5e books.  But let’s not get distracted.

You’ve got a game you want to play.  So how are we going to get your game on the table?

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