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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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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Should you game online or in person?

All good things come to an end.  Campaigns end.  Gaming groups disband.  Even online gaming groups come to a close.  After two and a half years of GMing my online 4e group, our campaign ended.  We disbanded for several reasons.

First, the story had come to a close.  It had many twists and turns.  It had a deeper and more complicated mythology than any campaign should have.  But most importantly, the characters reached a point of resolution and redemption.  And that really was the goal of our story.

Second but more primarily, we disbanded the group because online GMing was beginning to wear on me.  While online GMing has its pros, it also has its cons.  I’m not referring to limitations that can be overcome or the simple temptations that come with the territory.  I’m talking about unavoidable characteristics of online GMing from which I needed a break.  I could handle it for two and a half years, but then I needed a hiatus for these reasons.  I needed to bring my game back home. Continue reading

Time to spend those Christmas gift cards!

Christmas Day has come and gone…but I’m a firm believer in the Twelve Days of Christmas.  Practically, that means our tree will stay up, the Christmas songs will keep playing, and I’ll still be wearing Christmas t-shirts until January 6th.  Even if you don’t observe all Twelve Days of Christmas, I know you’re still thinking about gifts, because you’ve got gift cards to spend!

I want to help you spend those gift cards.  Here’s how.  I’m going to give you the top seven gamer gifts that I received this year.  Maybe it’ll give you some ideas for your own gift card spending:

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How to beat Gary Gygax

This post will likely be the first of a few post-mortem reflections on T1: The Village of Hommlet, as my local gaming group just completed our tenth and final session in this classic Gygax module.

As this is my first AD&D adventure, I’m struck by a number of things:

  1. I love AD&D.  Yes, it’s clunky fairly often.  Yes, we have to flip through the books to find rules fairly consistently.  And, yes, more modern systems tend to make a little more sense.  But you simply can’t say that AD&D is not fun, challenging, and exciting.
  2. AD&D really is advanced.  For less seasoned gamers, who had not already played RPGs, I could see this game being the death knell for their roleplaying.  There’s a bit of a learning curve here.
  3. The nostalgia is real.  You really do get a taste of a different era and a different kind of gaming when you go back and play AD&D.But my fourth observation is where I’d like to dwell in this post:
  4. To overcome this module, you really have to beat Gary Gygax.  You’re not simply solving a puzzle or overcoming a challenge.  You have to figure out Gygax’s gameplan, metagame a bit, and beat him!
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The Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising

And to think, I would’ve known this already if I’d thought back to that modern classic gaming film, The Gamers 2: Dorkness RisingHaven’t seen it?  Read on…

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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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