How to not ruin your RPG session

You know what ruins an RPG session?  When the rulebooks get opened up.  You know what ruins it the most?  When the GM is the one opening the book.

While my point could be applied to “rules lawyering,” I’m actually hitting at a more present problem at my gaming table: lack of familiarity with core rules.  As you know, I’ve embarked on a quest to play through many of the classic 1st Edition AD&D modules.  We have one session remaining in T1: The Village of Hommlet by Gary Gygax.  That means after a solid ten sessions, we’re still having to look at rules.  Why is that?

Of course, there is the charge that 1st Edition is too complicated, contradictory, and clunky.  Granted, it is complicated.  There are moments of fuzziness to the point of possible contradiction.  But there’s a charm and personality about the system that helps me to overlook all that.  I’m enamored by the tone of the game.

Beyond the quirks of 1st Ed. AD&D, I think that there are some rules that are simply hard to remember when you first begin playing any game.  They’re not on the GM screen–they’re not readily available–nobody remembers!  And, as a result, you can find yourself digging through your books at the gaming table more than is necessary.

So here’s my solution!

Photo by Dean Hochman

Photo by Dean Hochman

Post-it notes!  That’s right.  It’s simple, it’s easy, find those finicky rules quickly if they’re absolutely needed at the table.  The problem is less the books and more the fifteen minutes finding the rules.

So grab a pack of post-its, whatever RPG book you’re learning right now, and let’s mark our pages together.  Ready?  Here are the top pages that you need to mark right now:

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Should you play RPGs online?

A month or so ago, I had a very good question from @yukitsuki7 on Twitter:

What are your experiences with [online gaming]? What are the common obstacles for online groups?

It’s a very good question, one that I intend to address on my infrequent podcast.  That said, a couple years back I addressed this over on The Mad Adventurers Society, a wonderful gaming site that will soon be coming to a close.  In response to her question, I thought I’d go back, revisit, and revise that series of articles on online GMing.  This is my first attempt to do so.

As many of you know, I started gaming in the summer of 2011 with D&D 4e.  Within months, I was running a table for D&D Encounters at my FLGS.  But I found myself wanting more very quickly.  I wanted a consistent, weekly game wherein I could explore new places and new stories.  Stories created by myself and other players!  I wanted something personal and open, not the railroaded ten-week stints that were provided for D&D Encounters.

No pants required.

But who in the world can actually pull such a thing off, especially every week?  I learned very quickly who could: the online gamer.  Online gaming is a potentially tricky task, but one that I found rewarding and successful.  My gaming group played weekly for two and a half years (of course, we took some weeks off here and there).  And in the end, we stopped playing because the story ended.  So in this, the first of five articles, I aim to share why you should consider being an online roleplayer.  So let us begin with the many benefits of online gaming…

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What’s your next new game going to be?

Do you know how many new games I want to be playing right now?  Let me name a few.

Star Wars: Destiny releases this Friday.

I’m reading the 2nd Edition Mouse Guard RPG book right now (it’s awesome).

D&D 5th Edition is calling my name, even though I’m absolutely mesmerized by AD&D 1e.

And let’s not even bring up the board games, like Betrayal at the House on the Hill or Star Wars: Imperial Assault!

Here’s the problem with all these cool games out there: what if I invest time, attention, and energy into a game that I end up disliking?  Is it just going to sit up there on my shelf unplayed?  Am I going to wish I hadn’t bothered in the first place?  In the end, it seems like finding games that fit me should be easier!

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But hear me clearly: it doesn’t have to be this hard to find a new game to enjoy!  Here’s how you can pick a new game that will not only deepen and diversify your fun, but possibly even strengthen your local gaming community:

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How gamers can become readers…which they should!

Reading is an absolute necessity for creators.  And that applies to Game Masters and game players as much as it does to any other creative!

But if you’re like me, a grown-up gamer who is already juggling family, work, and gaming, it can be hard to find the time to read.  And therein lies the problem.  My creative juices flow better when I read.  I feel more engaged and “in touch” with the world when I read.  But when I don’t read?  Well, let’s say it leaves the creative fields of my mind fallow.

Shouldn’t it be easier to develop ourselves intellectually?  Shouldn’t regular reading be a simple discipline to develop?  You will develop a healthy habit of reading if you follow the process that I followed.  I read every day at work (that’s not a discipline…that’s work).  But I also read for myself at home.  And you can too!  Here’s how you can develop the same practice: Continue reading

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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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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