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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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 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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