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:

Continue reading

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:

Continue reading

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, 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!

Seeking a Quest in Hommlet

And we’re off!  Session 1 of Chasing the Dragon is on the books.  My home group began playing T1 – The Village of Hommlet.  As I’ve said about the module before, this introductory setting is just that: a setting.  It’s a very good setting, but a setting nonetheless.

I’ve been spoiled by more recent adventure books, where the whole story is laid out for the GM step-by-step.  Even more sandboxy ones, like D&D 4e’s The Slaying Stone or FFG’s Star Wars: The Jewel of Yavin, still had a general plotline to which the GM was supposed to draw the players back.

Not so with Hommlet!  Instead, Mr. Gygax has put remarkably painstaking detail into his setting.  Vivid characters–beautiful buildings–interest-provoking details–all of these with no plot hooks.  Now you could imagine that the details are themselves the plot hooks, but the dots are left for the DM to connect.


My players were curious what kind of workout these guys did on a daily basis.

Now that I’m one session in, I’m fine with it.  The players are enjoying the intricacies of the adventure thus far.  They like the characters, the village, and the process.  But here are the two things I wished I’d known as a first-time AD&D DM: Continue reading

Who is the Mad Cleric?

Who is the Mad Cleric?  Good question.

I am a learner.

I am addicted to information.  And that addiction is beneficial when it comes to gaming, for there are more games than could ever be learned.  As soon as I get the grasp of one game, I’ve got another book on my bedside table to consume.  I know I’m not the only learner out there!

I want to learn with you.

I am a connector.  I connect with people.  I connect people with others.  And I connect the dots with people.  As a person energized by relationships, I learn best in community with others.  Thus, when it comes to games, I don’t want to learn them in isolation.  I want you to learn as I learn.

I am a communicator.

As a collector of information, I have learned to process, repackage, and redistribute that information.  And this goes hand-in-hand with my desire for you to learn.  I don’t aim to be the end-all, be-all expert.  No, I want to pass along what I’m learning, so that you can learn too!

I enjoy the game.

It’s not one specific game–it’s the process of gaming itself.  Thus, I am perpetually open to a new possibility.  Always looking for that new game, that new experience, that new process of learning.  As a result, I find it easy to see the good in most games.  Because in the end, I love the game.

I am a mad cleric.

I’m not mad, as in angry.  I’m just kind of strange–mad like a hatter.  How so?  I’m a husband and father of two, who still hangs out at the comic shop.  I’m a pastor (a cleric, if you like), who loves the honesty and openness of the gaming community.  I love to break stereotypes, wherever able.  You might even call me mad.

I hope this strikes a chord with you, O gamer who has stumbled upon my site.  I’d like you to join me on a quest to learn a new game.  Or perhaps a new way of gaming.  After all, that’s what I’m all about: learning the game together.

CtD Podcast, Episode 3: The Gygaxian Tone

Subscribe to the CtD podcast on iTunes!

For our third episode, we commemorate the birthday of the late Gary Gygax, Dungeon Master par excellence!  In an effort to remember him well, we explore a number of quotes that I’ve chosen that accentuate his personality and role in relation to the roleplayers.

A few links to sites referenced in the show:

And without further adieu, the podcast:



CtD Podcast, Episode 2: Which Edition Now?

Subscribe to the CtD podcast on iTunes!

In my sophomore episode, I am joined by Daniel Fisher, podcaster for Innroads Ministries and owner of  I enlisted him to help me sort out the early history of Dungeons and Dragons, as well as why we call AD&D “first edition,” when it wasn’t actually the first D&D.

A few links to sites referenced in the show:


And without further adieu, the podcast:



AD&D: Where to start?

If you decide to learn 1st Edition Advanced D&D, don’t start with the Dungeon Masters Guide.  I repeat!  DO NOT BEGIN WITH THE DMG!  Why not?  Well it’s helpful to know the release dates for the three core rulebooks for 1e AD&D:

Monster Manual (December 1977)
Players Handbook (June 1978)
Dungeon Masters Guide (August 1979)
    [These dates come from this unbelievably helpful site]

That’s right, the DMG didn’t come out until almost two years after the first release!  Well how did players play without a DM’s guide?  Easy.  They were using the rules from either the Original D&D (January 1974) or D&D Basic (June 1977).  So DMs more or less cobbled together a way to play until the DMG came out in 1979.

So why not read the DMG first, oh new learner of AD&D?  Here are my reasons why:

  1. Gygax has assumed you’ve read and used the Monster Manual and the PHB already.  So when he hits the ground, he hits it running 100mph.  If you don’t understand the basics of character creation and stats, you’re really going to struggle to know what you’re reading.
  2. The organization of the DMG is less than stellar.  It’s fun and fascinating to read, but without the grounding knowledge of the other books, retaining that information will be very difficult.
  3. If you’ve read the other two books first, you’ll feel competent enough to jump in and DM, even if you’ve only read a bit of the DMG.

So where should you start?  As someone who has now officially read them completely backwards (DMG -> PHB -> MM), I’m actually going to give the advice I’ve gotten from my grognard friends: go in chronological order.


The Monster Manual is a quick read (if you only read the introduction, conclusion, and skim the monsters).  It will give the necessary explanation of hit dice, monsters, and encounter style.  Plus, you’ll get Gygax’s personality instantly.

The Players Handbook is next.  And what a treat it is!  I’ll be dedicating a whole post to that wonderful work either this week or next.  I literally read the entire thing in one sitting.  Perfectly organized.  Really fun to read.  This is the bulk of what you need to learn.

And finally, the DMG.  I bailed after 140 pages to go back and read the other books.  Now I’m wrapping it up.  Again, it’s classic Gygax, in terms of tone and writing style.  But, good heavens, it’s poorly organized.  Now thirty-seven years later, this organizational problem has been mitigated for us by the good folk over at OSRIC.  Using the 3rd edition Open Gaming License from WotC, they’ve reproduced the rules from AD&D in a more organized, easily processed version.  It sure doesn’t have the flair of Gygax, but it’ll get the rules across more clearly.

Anyway, that’s my recommendation to you.  Don’t…please don’t start with the DMG.  I made the mistake so you don’t have to.  Start with the Monster Manual, then the PHB, and you’ll be on your way, faster than you can roll a d20.

CtD Podcast, Episode 1: Dead at the Door

As a complete noob to 1e AD&D, I thought I’d enlist the help of some experts to educate me (and you as well!).  Thus for my first Chasing the Dragon podcast, I am joined by Jeff Romo, board member of and podcaster for Innroads Ministries, and Joshua Brown, member of and podcaster for The Mad Adventurers Society.  I interviewed them on topics like:

  • Their first AD&D experience
  • What they loved about the game
  • What they would (and did) change in the game
  • What their advice would be to folks (like me) who are learning AD&D

A few notes from the show:

  1. Our theme music was used with permission from the excellent band, Lame Drivers.  For more on their music, click here.
  2. Links that are mentioned in our conversation:

And without further adieu, the podcast:



Chasing the Dragon: The Beginning

There’s just something about the first time you play a roleplaying game–the newness, the mystery, the excitement, the fun!  As soon as my first session was over, I wanted to play again.  And in many ways that initial experience of roleplaying compels us to keep going.  In the drug subculture, they call it “chasing the dragon,” always trying to recapture that initial experience–trying to get back to that first high.

Despite the necessary warnings attached to such an endeavor, I have decided to chase the dragon.  Which dragon, you ask?  The advanced one, of course.

In 1977, the first AD&D rulebook was released.  Gary Gygax had taken the kernel of an idea that was original D&D and developed it into its own independent game.  And thus, modern roleplaying games were born.  Unfortunately, I was not yet born.  When I first saw the light of day in 1983, AD&D books were already in their 7th printing.  It was a bit before my time.

In fact, I didn’t start roleplaying until 2011, using the oft-maligned 4th Edition D&D.  Maligned or not, me and my friends enjoyed it for quite a while.  For three years in fact.  Eventually I grew tired of the system (for a whole host of reasons) and I moved on to other games, most relevantly the FFG Star Wars RPG.  But when 5e starting getting really good reviews, I found myself wanting to go back to the swords and shields…yet I was left with a nagging question:

Why play 5th Edition, when I could play 1st Edition?  Why play new modules and scenarios, when I haven’t even played the oldest, most revered, and most nostalgic?

So I envisioned a project, which I’ve called Chasing the Dragon.  It’s all about going back in time and recapturing the experience of the first D&D players.  I’m learning the rules of 1st Edition AD&D from the ground up.  And then I intend to either DM or play through every module written by Gary Gygax.  And I’m going to chronicle this process here on
Every Tuesday and Thursday, you can expect new content.  It may be short and sweet.  It may be a full-length podcast.  It could be recordings of live-play!  The sky (and my schedule) is the limit.  So, grab your sword and put on your running shoes, because we’ve got a dragon to chase.
Have you ever played 1e AD&D?  What advice would you give me?  If you’ve never played it before, why not?  Answer below in the comments!