The DMs Guide to Session Planning

DMs, do your players always take the path of most resistance?  Or are they content to sit in the local tavern for four solid hours, roleplaying and digging up so much information that you never could have prepared for it?  Or maybe they simply murder hobo through every NPC you carefully crafted.  Here’s my point:

Campaigns never go according to plan, if you plan.

As DMs who are trying to juggle family, jobs, other responsibilities, and gaming, it can get frustrating.  I mean, is there any point in planning at all?

I believe there is a point to planning within limits.  And it all starts with having the right attitude.  You need to make a plan in order to break it.  You heard me right.  Plan with the expectation and intention of breaking that plan.

The path your campaign takes will never be straightforward and simple.  It will be twisted and complicated with lots of course correction.  So here’s how you can plan for that  without losing your sanity:

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Life, Love, Gaming, and Guilt

Have you ever found yourself feeling guilty at the game table?

I’m not talking about the lawful good paladin who is appalled at his colleagues activities.  I’m not even talking about the player feeling some moral guilt over their character’s questionable chaotic evil decisions.

I’m talking about guilt over what you’re missing back home.

Photo Credit: Kevin Thai

The fact of the matter is, many of you have significant others, spouses, even children back home while you’re gaming.  And if truth be told, between work and other responsibilities you don’t feel like you’ve spent enough time with them.

Yet here you are, away from them, playing a game and feeling kind of guilty.  In the end, it raises a question that I’ve heard put many different ways:

Does growing up mean giving up gaming?

As a husband, father, and (thus far still employed) member of the workforce, I want you to know that growing up does not mean giving up gaming.

When it comes to this question of guilt when gaming, here are three steps to help you improve the situation:

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Your PCs Need a Mr. Miyagi

If you’re looking for a new game, you’ve got a problem on your hands.

And the problem isn’t scarcity–no, quite the opposite!  The number of  tabletop games available in 2016 is a bit mind-numbing.  Not only do you have new games coming out quite frequently, but you’ve also got years of old games just waiting at your FLGS and on eBay.

And for grown-up gamers such as ourselves, our ability to take on new games is limited by our schedule.  It’s tough to keep up with your responsibilities, while trying to learn every new game that comes your way.

So as the guy who’s been encouraging you to try out AD&D, 1st Edition, I feel it’s important for me to answer the question:

Is learning AD&D, 1st Edition worth the trouble?

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I don’t always use grid maps, but when I do…

This is the fourth post in a series on responsible and affordable AD&D shopping.

This one goes out to the GMs in the crowd.

Let’s be honest.  You’ve got a tough job.  I mean, sure, you love it.  You love the adventure, the creativity, and of course the unfettered power.  Wait, did I just say that out loud?  Don’t mind that, players.

Anyway, being a GM is great.  Until it comes to prep time.  You gotta read that module or gather those stats.  You’ve got story hooks, plotlines, and story arcs to parse out.  Even if you’re one of those rare unicorn GMs who does minimal prep (not me), there’s still one piece of preparation that you probably think about a bit: maps.

Of course, this could raise a contentious debate as to whether players need a grid map at all.  Here’s my answer to the question:

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AD&D: Embrace the Imbalance

AD&D is imbalanced.  There, I said it.  The classes are imbalanced.  The races are imbalanced.  Many of the monsters feel imbalanced.  Everything about the game reeks of imbalance.

But is imbalance necessarily a bad thing?  I don’t think so.

Picture by Kevin Thai

My players are just learning the basic combat rules.  We’re only 2 full sessions in, due to crazy schedules, so we’re still working it out.  I’m still working it out.  So as we engaged our first serious combat opportunity, I thought, let’s keep the guard rails on:

4 PCs (a fighter, an assassin, an illusionist-thief, and a cleric)
1 allied PC (Elmo, if you’re familiar with The Village of Hommlet)
3 opposing NPCs (2 bandits and one fenced-in wild horse)

Everything about the encounter reeks of caution:

  • One less NPC than the PCs
  • The wild horse was fenced-in, just in case the 2 bandits were too much

But there was more than meets the eye:

  • The Monster Manual recommends bandits be in group of…wait for it…20-200!
  • Wild horses appear in packs of 5-30

So, yeah, I was pulling my punches.  But why?  I wanted to allow the players to learn the system without their characters getting slaughtered.  Is that so bad to do?  The game feels so imbalanced–weighted against low-level PCs–I don’t want them to get frustrated with the system.  In the end, this is the question I found myself facing:

Can I trust the numbers in the books—or do I need to flub them?

Well, I learned from the experience big-time.  Here’s how:

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Budget-Friendly Nostalgia: Miniatures

This is the third post in a series on responsible and affordable AD&D shopping.

It was one of the scenes with the greatest foreshadowing in “Stranger Things”: when Mike slammed down the terrifying miniature of a demogorgon smack-dab in the middle of the adventuring party.  They were playing AD&D.  And things just got real.

This thing's no joke: 200 hp straight up (MM, 16).

Demogorgon’s no joke: 200 hp straight up.  3 attacks per round, incl. psionics.  Just run. (MM, 16)   

But a few grognards out there may have taken exception at this point.  “Miniatures!” they might exclaim “We didn’t use no filthy miniatures in AD&D!  It’s was theater of the mind!”  So I’ve heard some say.  But as one who has not only recently read the rulebooks in toto, but has also been recently playing AD&D 1e with miniatures, I think it’s the best way to play the game.  And, for that matter, it’s not going to break the bank either.

But let’s start at the beginning: should AD&D even be played with miniatures?  Is it really going to enhance my gaming experience?

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The Mad Cleric Needs Your Help!

This blog is for you.  I write and podcast week-in and week-out to benefit your gaming and, thereby, your life.  So I want to know how I can help you better.  Below I’ve got a brief ten-question survey for you to fill out.  The first to fill it out and chime in on the comments below will get precedence in online AD&D games later in the year!  So please, give me a few minutes of your time, so that I can be even more helpful to your gaming and your life.

Thanks!

Jason, The Mad Cleric

Create your own user feedback survey

Do Not Read This Blog!

Seriously, don’t do it!

Credit: Richard

Well, OK, you can read this particular post.  But I’m getting at a much larger issue, which is: for whic readers is MadCleric.com, this blog, intended?

And my answer begins with a story…

Last Sunday, I got the kind of text I love to receive.  An old friend with whom I never gamed asking the question, “What do I need to get so me and my friends can learn D&D?”  And instantly, I was faced with a conundrum:

Do I direct him to AD&D 1e or to the shiny new 5th edition?

And with a weight of guilt upon my shoulders, I texted back, “You should definitely get the 5th edition Starter Set.”  And I hung my head in defeat.  How could this be?!  I’m the Mad Cleric!  The defender and proponent of AD&D 1e against detractors everywhere!  I’m the guy that’s bringing it back!

And then I had a realization: my journey is not for this particular friend.  He’s a first time tabletop roleplayer.  His friends are in the same category.  And what do they need?  A good, solid, clear, and fun high fantasy roleplaying game.  And, dammit, that’s fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons.  There’s no buts about it.  In the end, he’s chasing a different dragon than I am.

The dragon I’m chasing is a much more elusive dragon.  A dragon from the darkest hidden dungeons of the late seventies and early eighties.  I’m seeking the dragon of nostalgia.  I’m seeking to recreate the uncreatable.  I’m wanting to peer into the past and experience what they experienced.  It’s not that my friend couldn’t handle AD&D 1e.  But it’s not the game (or dragon) that he’s looking for.  Which leads to a question:

Who’s looking for the same dragon that I am?

Here’s who’s looking for the same dragon: the people that should be reading this blog twice a week.  Here they are!

  1. Gamers who haven’t been playing and want to experience something of yesteryear
  2. Gamers who have played the spectrum of modern RPGs, but have never gone back to the beginning
  3. D&D players who’ve never dabbled with first edition
  4. People who are simply interested in AD&D 1e or my journey in it
  5. Of course, experienced AD&D DMs/players who can help direct me on this journey

So if you’re one of these five people, please continue reading this blog.  And pass it on to your friends.  I’d love to see a community of gamers gathering around this idea of going back and experiencing what AD&D 1e offered so gloriously to the gamers of the past.

So please, dear friends, keep passing on your gaming questions, even if they lead to other games and other systems.  And of course, keep on chasing that dragon…whatever your dragon may be.

What’s your gaming dragon right now?  Are you digging into AD&D 1e with me?  Or do you have something else right now that’s got your goat?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

Satanic Panic

The topic has come up in almost every Chasing the Dragon podcast we’ve had: Satanic panic.  That period in the eighties when good, virtuous mothers and churchgoers were warned against the dangers of Dungeons & Dragons.  And the edition that brought on these accusations most powerfully was the exact edition that I’ve been reading, re-reading, playing, and podcasting about: First Edition AD&D.

Some of you may not know this about me, but I am a Protestant pastor in the Southern United States.  I’ve been accused of being too conservative…and also accused of being too liberal, which is probably a good place to be.  But as a Protestant pastor in a denomination that uses the word “evangelical” to describe itself, rest assured I lean right compared to a more liberal, mainstream Protestantism.

Why does that matter?  Well, it seems that if anybody would be sympathetic to the Satanic panic of the ’80s, it would be this guy:

Yep, there he is. That evil gamer type again.

Yep, there he is. That evil gamer type again.

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CtD Podcast, Episode 6: Murder Hobos

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For our sixth episode, I sat down with gamer and industry insider, T.R. Knight to talk about the rules for XP in AD&D.  We hear about his own house rules for XP (which he still uses), as well as his thoughts on what makes up the core of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

A few links to works and sites referenced in the show:

And now, the podcast:

Video:

Audio: