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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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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Breathe life into that boring dungeon crawl!

They call it a dungeon grind. 

Not a dungeon frolic, a dungeon jaunt, or even a dungeon struggle.

It’s a grind.  It’s a slog.  An encounter-by-encounter, gear-grinding endeavor that makes even the most experienced player and GM tremble.

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My second session of D&D as a GM was a dungeon freaking grind.  Why?  Well, I had a really big playmat, lots of new miniatures, and I wanted to use it all!  But I learned very quickly that fight after fight after trap after fight can not only kill character, but also bore players.  Is it possible to have a complex dungeon without boring the spit out of our players?  I think you can.  And I’m learning how to do it from Gary Gygax himself:

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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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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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