What Adventure Should You Run?

D&D 5th Edition is finally coming of age.  If you’re a DM just getting into the game (like myself), you have a short time before you hit option overload.  The number of quality modules and campaigns being published by WotC and through the DM’s Guild is quickly getting to a saturation point, if you haven’t been working through them already.

As a DM, though, you really want to present the best gaming experience that your players can have.  So where and how should you start?  With the Starter Kit?  With the sweet new Storm King’s Thunder campaign?  Or perhaps with something new, original, and creative?

storm-kings-thunder-book

Rather than recommending a resource to you, I want to do you one better.  I to help you, Dungeon Masters and Game Masters, to find your own personal game style and to choose accordingly.  Here’s how:

Continue reading

Does growing up mean giving up gaming?

“Fantasy as a cultural phenomenon felt vaguely unsettling to me.  I wondered if pervasive escapism had infantilized an entire generation.”

So began a quest for Ethan Gilsdorf, journalist and geek par excellence.  The quest: to explore every form of fantasy roleplaying games, in order to discern whether they are healthy entertainment for responsible, balanced, functional adults.  He raises the same question that I’ve posed before: does growing up mean giving up gaming?

The result of his search is the fascinating book Fantasy Freaks and Gaming GeeksI devoured the book very quickly and I commend it to you.

fantasy_freaks_01

In the end, Gilsdorf names a number of reasons that tabletop RPGs in particular are healthy activities for adults–they encourage problem-solving, team-building, and creative thinking, for starters.  That said, I have a followup question:

If playing tabletop RPGs is so healthy for adults, why is it so hard to find a group to play in?

I’m blessed to live in an area with an active gaming community.  But I know that for many of you, that’s not the case.  What’s to be done for those who lack that resource nearby?

Continue reading

Get your game on the table!

What’s that over there on your shelf?  You know, the dusty game you bought a while back that never seems to make it onto the table!

Wait, what’s that?  Nobody wants to play it?

I find that hard to believe.  Because, I mean, you want to play it, right?  Of course!  Otherwise you wouldn’t have bought it.

So my question to you is: if you want to play, there have got to be 3-6 other people on the planet who want to play it too.  Fair assumption?

Regardless, here we sit with an empty table and a dusty game.

Listen, I get it.  I mean, I’m the guy learning AD&D 1st Edition when D&D 5e is the hottest thing in town!  Even I was at my FLGS tonight flipping through those shiny, sexy 5e books.  But let’s not get distracted.

You’ve got a game you want to play.  So how are we going to get your game on the table?

Continue reading

The DMs Guide to Session Planning

DMs, do your players always take the path of most resistance?  Or are they content to sit in the local tavern for four solid hours, roleplaying and digging up so much information that you never could have prepared for it?  Or maybe they simply murder hobo through every NPC you carefully crafted.  Here’s my point:

Campaigns never go according to plan, if you plan.

As DMs who are trying to juggle family, jobs, other responsibilities, and gaming, it can get frustrating.  I mean, is there any point in planning at all?

I believe there is a point to planning within limits.  And it all starts with having the right attitude.  You need to make a plan in order to break it.  You heard me right.  Plan with the expectation and intention of breaking that plan.

The path your campaign takes will never be straightforward and simple.  It will be twisted and complicated with lots of course correction.  So here’s how you can plan for that  without losing your sanity:

Continue reading

Your PCs Need a Mr. Miyagi

If you’re looking for a new game, you’ve got a problem on your hands.

And the problem isn’t scarcity–no, quite the opposite!  The number of  tabletop games available in 2016 is a bit mind-numbing.  Not only do you have new games coming out quite frequently, but you’ve also got years of old games just waiting at your FLGS and on eBay.

And for grown-up gamers such as ourselves, our ability to take on new games is limited by our schedule.  It’s tough to keep up with your responsibilities, while trying to learn every new game that comes your way.

So as the guy who’s been encouraging you to try out AD&D, 1st Edition, I feel it’s important for me to answer the question:

Is learning AD&D, 1st Edition worth the trouble?

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.

As We Shape Stories, the Stories Shape Us.

Welcome to Experience Points, my weekly response to one of your questions about anything!  Life, relationships, faith, or gaming…really anything is game!  If you’d like to send in a question, feel free to email me.  Here’s this week’s question:

Why in the world are you, a Pastor, playing tabletop games?

460851530_b4a54b62ab_z

For the record, I know the person who sent in this question and he/she means it in the absolute nicest way!  It is odd to stumble upon a cleric of any tradition in your FLGS, let alone one born and raised in the Bible belt and now serving in a conservative, Protestant institution.  It raises the question: what’s your angle, preacher-man?

Stating the obvious: tabletop gaming is fun!

I was born in 1983, two years before the US release of the Nintendo Entertainment System.  When my dad brought one home when I was four years old, things changed in our home!  I became a console gamer.  Really, quite frankly I was a Nintendo gamer…and still am.  Except for the Gamecube and the Wii U, all the systems are currently hooked up to my gaming TV.  But early on, I developed a gaming sensibility that continued.

My first brush with tabletop gaming was in junior high with the WEG Star Wars RPG.  A friend lent me the book and after school I and my brothers sat down to try it out.  When one brother’s PC decapitated the other’s with a lightsaber in the first five minutes, my mom made us take the book back.  And then tabletop games disappeared from my life.

…until 2011, that is.  I was actually a month away from moving to Louisiana, when the then-NBC sitcom Community had an episode about Dungeons & Dragons.  I was immediately intrigued.  I actually downloaded the basic 4th Edition rules from the WotC site, but moving soon took precedence and it slipped between the cracks.  But only for a few months.

After moving to Louisiana and taking a new position at a small suburban church, I became acquainted with a college student who was doing some volunteering for us.  As we got to know each other, we learned that we had a shared love of many things: the Beatles, comic books, and video games.  But then he mentioned Dungeons & Dragons

I knew all the horror stories from the eighties.  I knew the sermon illustrations.  I knew the Scriptures against witchcraft and the like.  But when he invited me to join his gaming group, I took the Players Handbook home, read it in a week, and joined up.  And guess what?  It was fun.  It was a heckuva lot of fun.  As an extrovert who loves games and epic stories, I realized this could become a really great outlet for creativity, relaxation, and good old-fashioned fun.

The less-than obvious: tabletop gaming is good.

You don’t hear too many people talking about things being objectively “good” these days.  But here’s what I found to be good about tabletop gaming.

First (which I’ve talked about at length elsewhere), there’s something sacred about tabletops.  How many life-changing moments happen at tables?  How many important conversations happen there?  How many relationships are strengthened or challenged there?  How many children are shaped slowly and daily by what happens there?  In the Christian faith, one of our most important practices happens on a tabletop!  Any time I find myself at a table with other people, I know that there is great potential for good.  There is opportunity for relationships—for encouragement—for mutual care—for self-expression—for community.  And these things are all objectively good.

Communities have much more potential for good than the individual does.  That’s not to say individuals can’t accomplish good things.  But unified communities bring about exponential change.  Unified homes, seeking good things, are objectively good.  Unified workplaces, seeking good things, are objectively good.  Unified friends, seeking good things, are objectively good.  And unified gaming groups, seeking good things, are objectively good.

Even if that means something seemingly trivial like “telling good stories.”  Telling good stories enriches lives and homes.  Humanity itself came of age while telling stories around meals.  Before we ever wrote them down, we recited them and participated in them.  As communities shaped the stories, the stories shaped us.  It’s a sacred practice, happening at a sacred place.  And I believe this to be good.

The draw for a Pastor

As a Pastor, I am a storyteller and a story-shaper.  I tell stories that I believe will shape and transform the lives of the hearers.  The stories that I tell occupationally are stories of faith, rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  I believe them to be true.  But that does not mean that other stories cannot also be life-changing and redemptive.

As such, tabletop gaming (more specifically tabletop RPGs) is more than a simple interest to me.  I believe it to be a means of transformation.  Friendships happen there.  Ideas are challenged and shaped in the process.  People are transformed through these stories.  As we shape them, they shape us.  And I believe that to be good.

How have the stories at your tabletop shaped you?  How has it strengthened and catalyzed your friendships and your worldview?  Sound off in the comments!

(Photo credit: Mary)