Tag Archives: life meets game


I have a few new irons in the fire, so the frequency of posts is going to be more sporadic and the quality a bit less structured for the foreseeable future. I’m still gaming, and I plan to continue sharing my plans and learnings.


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Buzzed Gaming

There are no two ways around it:  I’m simply not as smart after I’ve had a drink as I am before.  It’s more difficult for me to track details, to follow processes, remember small things and to be creative.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good beer and some bourbon as much (and maybe more) than the next guy.  However, the facts are irrefutable at this point.

I noticed it most during a game of Robo Rally (a wonderful board game that you should play) last month.  Normally, I’m pretty good at this game.  My mind tends to compartmentalize information easily, and I can usually think pretty fast.  Early in the game, I rushed out to an early, dominant appearing lead.  Then I drank a beer.  My little robot started rolling in random directions, and my lead dwindled to almost nothing.

Then the buzz wore off, my mind cleared and I won handily.

I am acutely aware of this limitation when running a Dungeons and Dragons game.  Since I only DM about once a month, I don’t really have much experience, and there’s simply too much to track.  I need to stay sharp.  Normally, adding  a drink makes almost every good thing a little better, but that isn’t true when I’m running a D&D game.

I usually ride my motorcycle to my weekly game, and I have a strict, self imposed, zero drinking and biking rule, so I don’t know if that applies as a D&D player.  I do know that a cocktail or two goes just fine with most other board and card games.  Flux and Munchkin are casual enough that a buzz doesn’t hurt game play, as is Ticket to Ride.

What do you think?  When does alcohol add to your gaming experience, and when does it take something away?


Filed under 4e D&D, Culture, Group dynamics, life meets game

What to Choose?

I have two character concepts in the running. Last night I created a first level wizard gnome. My mind was crackling with the possibilities of a Yoda-like, active, arcane wielder. With my links to old school gaming, I want access to the powers from first edition: Mordenkainen’s Sword, Fireball etc… After I finished, however, I was less enthused: since my party already has two strikers, I shied away from Magic Missile and other focused damage powers. Instead, I picked mostly powers that obstruct monsters. At this point, I thought my decision was settled. My interest in the druid had faded and I was pondering paragon.

Then I had a moment of endorphin-clarity during my morning run. While I’m out running, I’m pretty disgusting. I spit when I feel like it, I blow snot at semi-regular intervals. I know these aren’t civilized behaviors, but I feel better when my fluids are flowing. No one enjoys a sniffly nose, especially during exercise. The clarity came when I considered basing a character on that behavior. It would work for any primal or otherwise uncivilized character. Like a switch, I was interested in the druid again. What if he had no concept of social norms, but with a heart of gold (or at least copper)? There’s a lot of juicy role-playing space there.

After I got home, I fired up the character builder and started on the druid. I must admit, from a design perspective, he might be more fun. I like the balance of close-up beast powers and longer range caster abilities.

By Thursday’s post, I should have a final decision. As usual, I’ll also chime in on Twitter with further developments.


Filed under 4e D&D, Character, Fluff, Fluff/Inspiration, Inspiration, life meets game

First Who, Then What

Not long ago I came across the audio version of Jim Collins’ Good to Great.  While the focus of the book is to understand the difference between truly great companies with great leadership and enduring growth from the merely good companies who’ve experienced brief periods of strength, many of its themes apply to any group of people assembled for a long term purpose.  For example, great companies first assemble key leadership teams, then they decide what roles team members should hold and what the strategy of the company should be.  This applies directly to gaming.

Games are often formed from a hodgepodge of available players.  Perhaps someone posts an online ad, perhaps it’s an assembly of friends.  Whatever the case, some attention should be paid to the type of player one invites to the table.  In gaming it isn’t as crucial to assemble great people, after all, we’re all here to have fun.  It is crucial, however, to assemble gamers of compatible temperament and style.  One really bad player can spoil the entire group, just as two diametrically opposed players can.  Ideally, the bad eggs and troublesome relationships should be identified before they’re allowed into the group.  If someone already in the group consistently spoils the fun, it may be time to have that difficult conversation and disinvite them from the game.

The uncomfortable truth is that troubled players tend to hang around for too long because few people are willing to have that difficult conversation.

Once the right players are at the table, and the wrong players are away from the table, a group can decide what it wants to do a the table.  While many dungeon masters do much of their campaign planning before they’ve gathered their players for the first time, there are hazards here.  It’s better to adapt the campaign to the strengths and interests of the players.  Similarly, it’s best to hold character creation until all the players are identified and can participate.  Creating after the sharp minds have been assembled will lead to more interesting origins and sharper character builds.  Most importantly, this should lead to increased fun of the entire group.

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Filed under 4e D&D, Advice, Advice/Tools, continuous improvement, Group dynamics, life meets game, Uncategorized

The Dawn of Gaming

My gaming life started in the early 1980s, when I was in the fifth grade.  We lived in rural Washington State and for awhile, I had to ride the bus to school.  Those rides were little pockets of Hell for the most part, but there were some advantages to being one of the last kids dropped home each night.  There was almost a little fraternity between some of us and the driver.  I didn’t understand it then, but it was one of my first experiences of being in the ‘cool group.’  After all, some of the others were High School Students.

One of my fellow riders was a young man named Al Willet.  He and the bus driver discussed military history, naval tactics and the relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States.  One day, for reasons I never really understood (perhaps he overheard me babbling on about Clash of the Titans or something), Al offered to let me look at some of his 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons books.  I couldn’t really comprehend it, but it was blowing my mind.  The Fiend Folio and Monster Manual II were the most accessible that I can remember.  He probably showed the Player’s Handbook, but I can’t really remember.  The character sheet he showed me was hand written, on college rule notebook paper, and the spot for hit points had been erased and re-erased so many times that a hole was worn through the paper.

D&D eventually lost favor in his group, because one day, Al showed me a different kind of gaming book:  Fantasy Wargaming, compiled and edited by Bruce Galloway.   Again, I was blown away.  I was already struggling to figure out what gaming was about and how the rules fit together.  The difference between D&D and AD&D caused all kinds of confusion with me and my other 5th grade friends.  Fantasy Wargaming impressed me because it seemed to have everything all in one place.  Combat, magic, character generation and role-playing all have homes within.  It seemed, almost, more perfect than D&D.

The world moved on, my family changed houses and my friends started playing AD&D.  I noticed copies of Fantasy Wargaming in book stores and game shops, but in that era of very low disposable income, I left it alone.  Just this week, however, I ran across a copy of the book for $7, and I couldn’t resist.

In my next post, I’ll write more about what I found within that ancient tome’s covers.

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Filed under 4e D&D, Legacy D&D, Third Party Publishers

Some Considerations of Polite Society

No one thinks he’s behaving poorly.  The unfortunate truth is, at one time or another, all of us has behaved poorly.  While there really is no concrete code of laws to govern behavior at the gaming table, there are some rules of polite society we should remember, and only break after thoughtful consideration.  This is particularly true with new groups.  As groups move through the forming and storming phases, and begin norming and performing, some of these rules will be irrelevant, while others will emerge.

1)      Let the host know if you’re going to be late and don’t arrive excessively early.  Often final preparations are being made during the hour or so before a gathering, and it can be a bit awkward for a host to have a guest to entertain while final preparations are being made.  Fifteen minutes on either side is a good rule of thumb.  If you are unexpectedly later than fifteen minutes, it’s polite to offer a brief, ‘Sorry I’m late’ to the rest of the group.

2)      If there’s any doubt, ask before taking food or beverage that doesn’t belong to you.  On the same note, don’t be afraid to ask:  if someone brought food for all to share, it’s a burden for them to take it home at the end of the night.  Naturally, remember to say ‘please’ and ‘thank-you.’

3)      Sharing works both ways.  Bring chips and beer (or pretzels and soda or whatever…) yourself every once in awhile, even if it’s kind of a hassle.  While it’s true that gamers tend to already haul a lot of stuff, and it’s difficult to carry one more thing, this does not absolve one from pitching in.  Maybe that one time you drive is the opportunity to bring your share of the munchies for the next month or so.   Just because someone is generous with their snacks doesn’t mean they enjoy feeding you or that you should expect them to.  At the very least, he will appreciate when someone else pitches in occasionally.

4)      Come prepared.  If your characters have leveled in your absence, do the math ahead of time (especially for those 4th edition even levels).  Bring a pencil and a set of dice.  It’s also helpful if you review your notes or the session write-up from last time.

5)      If you are the host, let everyone know how things work, and be prepared to gently remind them occasionally.  Is your home a shoes off kind of place?  Can folks help themselves to glasses for water, or would you prefer they use plastic cups?

6)      If someone breaks a rule of polite society, don’t be a jerk about it.  Time is at a premium for many gamers, and between work, kids, traffic and bus schedules, it can be harder than it seems to get to a game and be ready to go at the prescribed time.  Be graceful.

What other rules of polite society should gamers remember?  Do you have a questionable situation that you’d like input on?


Filed under Advice, Advice/Tools, continuous improvement, Culture, Group dynamics, life meets game, News, Reviews & Culture

Cruise Ship Adventure Area

This week I’ve been on a cruise with my wife and some of my closest friends.  On a whole, it’s been pleasant, but we’ve also experienced a few surreal moments that inspired some adventure hooks I invite you to steal.

A passenger ship that sails across the ocean or through the planes already has some advantages.  It’s a contained space, so the player characters are forced to interact with those around them; yet, it can also be large enough to encompass several encounter areas, areas of relative risk, safety and mystery.

From the outset, the party must be separated from the crew and other passengers.  Perhaps the PCs were coerced into boarding the ship in the first place while the others are there of their own free will.  Is there a conspiracy among the crew, and are the other passengers active or passive participants?  Maybe something in the food has changed them.  Lucky for our heroes, they arrived late and missed the first service, or the meal wasn’t to their liking – are they vegetarians?  Those who did eat are transformed – mentally or physically – into something… sinister.

Once the ship sets sail, its passengers find that its key resources are concentrated in a few nodes.  As a result, those nodes become focal points of conflict and chaos.  Some passengers panic, others become obsessed with getting what they need.  The player characters must either fight, or find other ways to secure the supplies they need.

Another characteristic of sailing vessels is the constant motion of the ship.  This can be severe enough to cause unwanted movement if a character’s reflex (in D&D 4e terms) fails.  Over time, motion sickness becomes a concern, and a PC’s fortitude is tested.  A bad roll leads to nausea.  Nausea leads to impaired abilities and endurance checks.  Failed endurance checks lead to healing surge losses.

The ship board adventure also lends itself to factional divisions.  The officers may be in control of the ship’s functions, but does the housekeeping and wait staff share their agenda?  Among the passengers there might be a handful of cultures.  When push comes to shove, how will the Shadar-kai from deck two treat the orcs staying on deck seven?

After a few days, the ship will reach a port, but that port will not be the kind of place the PCs will want to stay.  It is, however, an opportunity to resupply (at inflated prices) and recover from motion sickness.  Port towns know that when a ship docks, tourists come, and port town inhabitants are prepared.


Filed under Fluff, Fluff/Inspiration, Inspiration, life meets game