Category: Advice/Tools

The title says it all. We finish our tales of woe with some interesting further discussion about just how bad someone can screw up your game and make you wish you’d never agreed to play with them. And, we digress and side track often, because that’s sort of what we do. Enjoy.


Everybody’s got a story when it comes to munchkin gamers. They are the reason most convention-run games have pre-gens. They are also one of the highest causes of stress in a gaming environment a GM or player can face. Suffice it to say, if Steve Jackson writes a game parodying your existence, you’ve reached the level of epic problem in the hobby.

I suppose most of us at one time or another entertained the idea of or indulged in munchkin behavior. Consider it. Sure it’s well beneath you now, but in your past, perhaps when you were young, it was all about what you could accumulate rather than how your character or the campaign developed. Did you ever describe your character by starting with “Well, he’s (she’s) got a +5 Holy Avenger (Longbow, Demonslayer, whatever), Full Plate +5… blah blah blah blah blah” or perhaps mentioning some treasured and rare artifact that’s equally BLAH? If you did that, you suffered a bout with munchkinism. Most of us grew out of this in our early teenage years, but not all of us and it’s to those I’m referring in this article.

In my now decades of running and playing RPG’s, I’ve had the displeasure to be exposed to a whole variety of munchkin gamers. I suppose the question most people have when encountering one is to wonder why. Why are they doing this to my group/game? Do they get off on it? Do they have some inferiority complex that requires them to try and prove they’re better or that they can always win? Didn’t they grow out of it years ago like everyone else? I have yet to find the answer to this. All I can say with any degree of certainty is that if you aren’t one, you’re best hope is for you and/or your group to survive them and if you are one, well, I hope you’re enjoying World of Warcraft. Watch I say that and people will complain I’m picking on Warcraft. I play it too people. It’s called Warcrack for a reason.

How did we handle them in the old days? Well, a bar of soap in a sock did wonders…oh, you’re probably wondering more about in group setting. Mostly given that these were friends of ours we tolerated them to some degree and all stewed as we watched them try and ruin our GM’s (or my) carefully crafted setting. Then it became of game of making that player’s character miserable and ensuring that things happened to it that no amount of maxing hit points and equipment would solve; petty I will admit but immensely satisfying. The other option was, and this usually wrecked whatever campaign we were in, to join them. If they couldn’t be stopped, we would all go into this virtual arms race to see who could outdo the little treasure, sometimes with the assistance of the GM. The satisfaction of this avenue was also short-lived.

If such persons are irredemable in their quest to acquire as much loot as possible or be the most powerful player just to say they are, then often your option is simply to cut bait and move on. Some people, you just can’t reach (cue Struther). Ostracizing a friend or an otherwise good acquaintance isn’t a fun thing, but having them in your game environment just breeds animosity and contempt, so which is preferable?

That said, in another light the existence of perpetual munchkins does provide some of the best gaming stories out there. I shall never forget one almost archtypical example of the species who in his waning years in our group tried to consistently build characters who were “like a Jedi, but tougher”. Don’t get me started on the number of miraculously successful rolls that were made on such characters as well. Not like rolls don’t get fudged during any given game, but when you’re known for fudging every single roll, again that’s the kind of thing that indicates a problem.

If you have similar stories, I always like to hear them, so please sound off in comments. If I think up any, and I try not to on the advice of qualified mental health professionals, I’ll do the same and expand on the post.

Writing about Dark Conspiracy recently got me to thinking back to my marathon campaign. As I’ve previously noted, the Dark Conspiracy campaign I ran lasted several years in real time and much longer in game time. I’ve also run a campaign for Conspiracy X, Eden Games’ contribution to the market and back in olden days I played Call of Cthulhu a bit and read the fiction more.

With these and others fresh in my mind, I thought it worth sharing a few ideas on how, for me at least, I was able to produce effective conspiracy and horror-style campaigns. I have run scores of campaigns from classic fantasy to scifi to Old West to post-modern military and apocalypse and of all those I consider conspiracy campaigns some of the most difficult and time-consuming to develop. With most other campaigns, there may be archvillains or great truths that the heroes eventually have to uncover, but there’s nothing to match combining slow discovery of an overarching conspiracy with true horror capable of unsettling even veteran and jaded gamers.

For campaigns of this style, I’ve always felt the first priority was some development of the overarching conspiracy first. It must be nebulous and non-specific in its original form, because the more you flesh it out, the more you risk players exposing items too early or completely missing your well-placed twists and turns. GM’s need to have fun too. The more open the framework and loose the conspiracy is, the more you can use the players to drive its development. Their actions can help even a moderately creative GM provide life to their enemy. My original conspiracy in Dark Con was practically a flow chart. There were the big bad guys at the top, the Dark Ones, with Dark Lords fighting it out underneath them, each with its own small blurb on power base and motivations, groups below that working directly or indirectly for any one of the above and then individual minions and peons at the base who caused the most obvious and open trouble.

My group actually dealt with each tier in the flow chart at varying points in the campaign, sometimes directly and foiled plans of all but the Dark Ones themselves and most times they were unaware of just how much damage they truly did or didn’t do. This is another element that provides a good conspiracy game experience. Players can be allowed to have small measures of success. In fact, this is usually required otherwise why would they want to play? Good conspiracies, though, survive more often than they are eliminated and although pawns and the occasional more powerful pieces may be sacrificed (to the satisfaction of the players), the big pieces stick around. While this may seem like intentional frustration of the players, my response is that unless you plan on wrapping the game up next session, why would you ever want to destroy your greatest villain? Anonymity is a more dangerous power for any foe than just about any other.

The horror factor was perhaps the most difficult element to design. How do you scare or creep out jaded, veteran gamers? It helps to have a somewhat warped imagination oneself, but ultimately you need to set the mood. Unnerving players leaves them vulnerable to a variety of horror elements that might not be so scary in the light of day. I used creepy music at times (Tubular bells and the Poltergeist theme worked wonders) at a low audio level as a sort of subliminal disruption to the feel of an adventure. Such things wear on a person’s psyche, which is why horror movies use them in the first place. I admit to playing on known weaknesses and dislikes of my players. If it’s not too personal, but still allows for easy avenues into unsettling a given player and if one player gets unnerved, more usually follow. Again, I wasn’t trying to mindf*ck the players, merely to destabilize the situation a little so that my horror story was scarier. It’s a slightly more complex version of the flashlight under the face at the campfire trick.

It’s also important also to keep the players feeling “hunted”. They can never be allowed to be too complacent or relax. A good horror or conspiracy game has no permanent refuge for players. They must always be on the run or those around them suffer. Everytime my players got soft or too settled, those behind the conspiracy would always attack and usually overwhelmingly. Occasional PC’s and most NPC’s in such situations who were exposed typically perished. This kept up the sense of just how much their behavior cost them and it provided a tangible example of how dangerous the forces against them were. There must be consequences for the player’s successes just as much if not moreso than their failures.

Revealed truths are a part of that. The more players learn about the conspiracy or think they learn or for that matter the more they learn about a given creature or denizen of your campaign’s menagerie, they more they feel they have your world figured out. Familiarity breeds contempt and a world in which the enemy is predictable is not a fun one. To solve this in Dark Conspiracy, I allowed that the lower level minions, the ones like bloodkin or Ravagers or the like that players figured out after a few adventures were basically turned into shock troops for higher-level minions or Dark Lords. Those higher-level creatures would then be slowly revealed and so on. The danger level for the lower-ranked minions never decreased, of course. They were just more predictable. Their handlers, however, never were.

I performed a similar work-up with Conspiracy X. The campaign in question was more based on dealing with aliens than more earthbound supernatural baddies. If players started to get an inkling of one race’s abilities, habits or origins, I would confound them with a visit from another, usually without a clear picture that a new villain had shown up. Much time was spent rationalizing the new evidence against what they had collected for the previous race and it usually ended in them starting over or coming to incorrect inclusions. Ultimately, they would unravel several useful tidbits over the course of the campaign, but it always came with a good deal of effort.

Cthulhu had an even simpler mechanism with its sanity stat. The more you learned about the pantheon, the less sane you were and if you started out somewhat frail of mind, that was a short trip. I always felt this made GM’s a bit more lazy. Other games required you actually had to develop reason and justification for character’s inability to cope with discovered evidence and this always led to better character development and richer game play. I’d remind GM’s to never take this more simplistic route, as players will resent you for it.

If all else fails, fall back on the masters of horror and suspense. Hitchcock was famous for saying the simplest way to build suspense was to put a bomb into a room with characters and watch their reactions. To let it go off was to ruin the suspense. I used that simple truism to great effect in my campaigns. Small successes and occasionally big successes are fine, but solving the conspiracy or eliminating the horror effectively ends the game. The skill to master is the one in which a game master can accomplish this balancing act in a long-term campaign. What I’ve offered here is just a small token of advice on an incredibly large and diverse genre. Please feel free, should you have run campaigns in this field, to post your own ideas and suggestions. I love hearing good war stories.

Anyone who’s read the earlier pages of this blog knows I’m an avid collector and that I’ve provided my own small, very small pearls of wisdom regarding the collection trade. I’m always on the lookout for helpful resources to assist me in my passion (some would say obsession) and I’ve lately acquired a new one that I thought worthy of noting to you gentle readers.

The book Heroic Worlds by Lawrence Schick was recommended to me as a guide to any collector whose focus was in any way on the earlier era of RPG’s. Schick through connections in the industry and a storied history himself of game play and research had compiled in the early 90’s the definitive tome and catalog of RPG’s. This work is seminal in its history of the industry, review of the hobby and again its completeness. Indexing and trends are even included. Even more interesting is that this book was published just a few years prior to the TCG blow-up that portended the end of the Golden Age of paper role-playing games, which makes it a time capsule of sorts for the hobby.

There’s almost a sadness that comes with looking through this old book. An index of gaming companies and their contact information reads like a casualty list from a great battle. So many companies are gone now or have merged with the survivors. Of course, so many new companies have sprung up since that time, so it’s not quite so depressing. However, it is a reminder that this industry is far from static and that things change and some are not restored.

The book begins appropriately enough with an outstanding reference set of information, such as the ubiquitous “What is a Role Playing Game” chapter found in almost every RPG main book, the history of RPG’s (this is a must-read) and the priceless though brief “Advice for Collectors”. Schick could have made this simply a catalog, but with this 50 pages or so of reference information, he makes it something so much more useful for gaming geeks such as myself.

I also appreciate the style of catalogs in the book. Schick chose to group games in genre and obviously company. Each product has a small blurb that describes it with the occasional side comment thrown in for good measure. One gets the impression that after so many hundred similar entries, Schick felt the urge to write “and yet another supplement that has traps or spells or a dungeon with insert-your-bad-guy-here for PC’s to fight.” Still he manages to maintain his composure and provide concise and effective information, especially for a collector.

Beginning each chapter is a description of the development of that particular genre of games, which games started when and which prospered. For example, although Mekton was the first significant mecha or giant robot game, Battletech came to define the market with Robotech right on its heels. Westerns sadly by this point had not been given much consideration as Boot Hill is the predominant entry for that category. This is one of the many ways in which the book shows its age, missing the advent of such incredible games as Pinnacle’s Deadlands or even GURPS Old West by several years and the Swashbucklers section if of course too early for the grand production, 7th Sea.

The last but certainly not least gem to be found in this book are priceless essays from some of the giants and founders of the industry. Remembrances of the industry, how they developed certain games and the importance of a diet of fried chicken in developing new mechanics are the bulk of what the reader will find in the words of old greats like Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, Eric Wujcik and Mike Stackpole. It’s nice to see such things from these authors, not all of whom remain with us. I love old tidbits and war stories from the early days of gaming, because they help me remember why I got into this hobby and more importantly the remind me why its important to keep it alive.

It might be easy to imagine at this point that I consider this book a must-get for any collector or gaming history enthusiast. It is well laid out, packed full of useful information and most importantly still readily available. Such information should be as widely disseminated as possible.

This book was recommended to me specifically because the person knew I was a collector. If anyone else who reads this happens to know of other works that are as or nearly as valuable, I’d love to hear about them and I’m sure others would as well.

Difficult Players II!

Previously we looked at a couple of the worst instances of difficult players that can invade your gaming group and ruin your best-planned campaign. I’ll continue on with some other of the more common and well-known problem gamers.

For this round, we’ll start with the girlfriend. This difficult gamer has probably been written and spoken of more than any other. She is the running joke of many a gaming group. The iconic image of a GM introducing his girlfriend to the group and then proceeding to either allow her to dominate the game with gear or just creepily throw innuendo her way whilst his players stare on in horror is one I’ve seen repeated time and again.

Personally, those of my girlfriends who were involved in gaming were always involved beforehand. I never tried to introduce a girl to gaming who didn’t seem genuinely interested. Why live through that train wreck? I’ve also seen successful cases where the women turned out to be really good gamers and played really well in the group, but they are truly the exception to the rule.

And of course those gamers who started dating each other (all opposite sex couples in my personal experience, although I’m sure there have been same sex hookups…it’s a big planet) usually turned out ok since both were already gaming. In these cases, though, the “girlfriend” or “boyfriend” issue popped up when they inevitably split. Then the rest of us had to take sides and usually we lost a player as a result, not always the girl. I always hated those scenarios.

I remember one girl who rather uniquely fit this image. She was not completely the stereotype, but she was a super-prep and as such was not wholly cut-out for gaming. Still, one of my best friends of the time was dating her and he wanted her to be a gamer. Ok, I says. You know the potential problems here right? He says he does.

Not only did she eventually leave him for another (and certainly more unusual individual of a) gamer, causing that problem, but she was a stuck-up witch wholly concerned for those who would give her attention and doing her level best to ensure that geeks worshipped her at every turn (most of course did not…usually after hearing her harpy screeching voice). She was a lingering girlfriend, even worse than the one who shows up once and then bails. She stayed behind to cause as much collateral damage as possible. I think there’s a festival day among geeks commemorating the day she moved out of our immediate area and thus could cause no further local damage.

Sadly there’s a small category of square peg/round hole types as well. I feel pity for them more than anything, and I don’t judge them harshly for who they are. These are not bad gamers or difficult gamers because of any significant social flaw, not in the sense that they want to be. They’re not deliberate. Some people just don’t socialize well with others through no fault of their own. These poor individuals I wish I could help, but I’m just not a tolerant man. It’s one of my many shortcomings.

I will provide this one example. One of my friends advertised at the FNGS for a new player and we got one. I was against this, had I known, but it wasn’t my call to make. My warnings are rarely heeded in such matters, because I’m seen as too much of a cold bugger to always be taken seriously. Maybe I am. This fellow arrived and seemed amiable enough. Our first warning should have been the veggie tray. Honestly? To a gaming session you bring a veggie tray? But a veggie tray amongst guys? No meat or even crackers. Well, there it was.

This poor individuals’ flaw, in addition to having some abilities socially adjusting to our presence (and I would reiterate that I hold NONE of that against him. We are all geeks and we all have our shortcomings. I am no different, but some tics are worse than others). That we could largely stand. What was impossible to tolerate was his saliva. See, he was a spitter…big time. He spat when he talked. Yes, yes I KNOW there was nothing he could do about it, but think of the people sitting in our few seats who were in the spray zone.

My poor friend Craig, who has a bit of a germ issue anyway, had one leg up in the air seemingly in an attempt to shield his abdomen and his character held wall-like protecting his face between the saliva cannon and himself. The individual in question did not catch on. A mix of the rest of us laughing uncontrollably and poor Craig begging Ben (the one who’d put up the ad) to do something about it through a period of very evil glares brought it to a head. We took a break and Ben sent the poor individual packing as only he could. He fired him. At least, the way I heard it sounded like the poor guy was being fired…from a gaming group. “It’s just not going to work out. We’re going to go in a different direction…No..I don’t think it’ll work.” Something to that effect. I felt really bad, and at the same time relieved, especially when he took his damnable veggie tray with him in a huff.

Sorry again to that person should he read this. Please consider a spit guard or shield or something. Please.

I would be remiss without a discussion of the Con gamer. Oh Sweet Holy Moses the Con gamer. This breed is the reason I won’t play in a Con RPG anymore unless I know and have previous played with every player. I’m a bit set in my ways, if you have not by now surmised. This interesting character is guaranteed to ruin any game you dare try to play at a table amidst 5 to 30 other tables of boisterous, loud gamers.

What does he do? What doesn’t he do? Again so far for me it’s always been a he. Usually he is a power gamer, rules lawyer or equally odious personage. He’d be a stealth jerk/jackass, but he hasn’t the time you see. He only has 4 hours in which to ruin that which the GM has labored over and the players have paid to participate in in some cases.

I have seen all kinds. There were the mild ones who ended adventures on their own terms throwing the adventure to the winds and running off to completely destroy all you created 2 hours shy of the time limit for your session. There was what I can only describe as the Robotech MegaDork who felt smug and assured the he could pilot a Beta mecha (REALLY pilot) better than anyone could pilot any other mecha and that his superior military tactics were guaranteed to win the day over anything some evil GM could come up with. Oh. My. God. For those present, the memory of the sentence “I fire all 60 missles” followed by an actual gesture of his hands to show an exaggerated fake button push (there was, you see, no mecha for him to actually demonstrate this on present) will forever be etched in their brain.

Now, how do you deal with these characters? I will attempt in my next post to finally address this issue, although my solutions may be no better than yours. In fact, this may be something you really want to personalize for each individual. More later.

It’s been suggested to me that I do a short series on players that make it difficult for others to enjoy the game. I might do the same for GM’s if there’s enough material (and there probably is). Suffice to say, I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings here, but this sort of thing happens. It’s not like others aren’t talking about it. We’re gamers. We’re not all movie actors, politicians and other highly charismatic people. There are some poorly adjusted souls among our brethren.

The real issue comes in when you have to decide if those of our ilk who are not as socially adjusted interact with us, usually in situations where we can’t so easily walk away. To keep this probably well-discussed topic fresh, my plan is to speak mostly to my experience in this area.

I have played in many groups over the years and run a few others through various games. The conclusion I personally have arrived at, especially at my present age, is that I can only game with friends who are gamers. There are a host of odd personalities amongst my gaming friends, but they all fall within the tolerable norms I’ve come to expect from people. Through trial and error, I have encountered many that fell well beyond the pale of acceptability.

I was going to add that I wasn’t some snob when it came to gaming, but basically I guess I am. The experience is meant to be enjoyed and if you’re around someone who irritates you to the point of nausea, how exactly are you going to fulfill that whole “fun” goal?

It is easiest to discuss the first and most obvious problem gamer for most of us and that’s the “friend of a friend“. This could also be a relative of one of your group. These people were brought in, mostly when I was younger, as someone who “wanted to try gaming out”. Blessedly most of these gamers were one shots. They’d come in, make their character and play ineptly, then leave. Of course I’m not saying this was always the case. Many successful new gamers got their start in just this fashion, but a substantial number were crash n’ burns.

A most notable example for me, and I have to be careful because some of my friends who brought those people read this blog, was very early in my gaming days. One of my players brought a friend who completely wasn’t in to gaming, but he wanted to hang out with his friend. So…he came. Even rolled up a character. Then he promptly proceeded to trash the whole endeavor for the next couple of hours, calling it about anything negative he could think of and ultimately pissing me and the other players off in the process. We ended early, then reconvened later without our now pariah of a friend and finished that module, but it would always color my unease about adding new players.

Then there’s the stealth jerk. Oh wow. I have no problem talking about these morons. They join your group either through association or routing through your FNGS (friendly neighborhood gaming store) like on a bulletin board. They seem a little “odd”, but who isn’t? They are a little extra geeky, but we are playing games right? Then not long into your association with them, the stealth jackass lets loose his volleys. It’s yet to be a her in my experience.

The volleys can have multiple warheads. These could be closet rules lawyers, have serious personal hygiene issues, grating personality disorders or machinations on one of the other players’ significant others or wives. YES, I’ve seen all those. In each case the condition was inoperable and if left unchecked fatal to that individual campaign.

The worst of my experiences were combos of these. One was a wonderful fellow who reveled in his lack of hygiene. He would take off his socks at some point during play and throw them at the wall. They’d stick. He bent rules to the point of bending them over, creating ridiculous characters that made it difficult for anyone else to actually enjoy the adventure. Oh, and he macked on every single damn girl in the group trying to lure them away from their current significant others. He eventually got one, only because of issues in her primary relationship, but I’m still at a loss as to why she picked him. Things must’ve been worse than any of us could have imagined for her to leave her sometimes dick of a husband for this gem. The only bright spot of that issue was…it finally got him to leave the group and move out of state. This was one of my early steps on the path back to believing that there was indeed a God.

And with that small bit of anonymous libel, I’ll cut this post to continue it in Part II, where we will discuss the girlfriend gamers, oddballs and the most dreaded fiends of all…Con gamers. I hope to even discusss a bit more in depth how to survive these “individuals”. Stay tuned!

Ok, you know you want to be a collector. You even have a half-way decent idea of where to collect them. Now what? Where do you possibly expect to find these games?

The difficulty level of this task is entirely dependent on whether or not what you want to acquire is still in print or relatedly had a very large print run. If either is the case, you’re on easy street.

At that point, it’s just a matter of money and an internet connection. Direct order is the simplest way or if you are lucky enough to be one of the few who still has a neighborhood gaming store he or she can buy from, you can just waltz in there and pick up your gaming crack.

If, more realistically, what you want hasn’t been in print for years, possibly longer than you’ve been alive, then you have a problem. By the way, older gamers let that sink in. There are games you played that are older than most of the youngest current crop of gamers. *Shudder*

Still, the neighborhood game store might not be the worst idea in the world. Many of them have strong and often restocked used sections, especially if they buy collections (and most have through my memory). Generally speaking, unless you’re dealing with a real jerk, the games won’t be marked up terribly high. They’ll be sold at used prices and that works to your advantage.

As an aside, an important lesson I’ve learned over the years is, when you’re collecting, always have a list not terribly out of reach to go over exactly what it is you still need. It’ll save you buying duplicates of things you already own. Believe me when I say this. If your collection gets big enough, this will become a genuine concern.

Ok, so you’ve raided the local stores and still there’s no information on a missing supplement or magazine. What next? The obvious place most people will think of is Ebay. There’s reasons why you should think that and reasons why you shouldn’t.

First, Ebay is far too vast for it to be used as a genuinely effective tool to search for games, unless they are extremely common ones. The nature of its search engine is that unless the seller was exceptionally clever at naming and categorizing the item in question, it may not be readily found by those that want it. Second, it is the rare Ebay auction that tells you much about a given product or its condition when you buy it. So, if you don’t know exactly what you need, you may not notice that maps, handouts or counters that were supposed to come with that product are no longer with the one you’re bidding on. Setting aside the simple lack of ability to get steady and assured quality ratings from most sellers, not being for certain if the object is complete or even knowing what you’d need to know that the object wasn’t complete is something that should keep most novices away from Ebay. Go there only if you know what you want and where it typically gets posted.

An expected source would also be on-line game outlets. While their prices tend towards the higher sides, you’ll at least be assured of quality (something Ebay lacks). Titan Games (now owned by Noble Knight), Crazy Egor (recently closing up I think or at least restructuring), Noble Knight and Dragonstrove are all companies I would readily recommend, any single day of the week. Naturally, I get nary a dime for endorsing them, but at one time or another (and through one owner or another) I’ve done business with all of them. These companies live and die by their reputation and these I consider to be the Big Two (formerly Four). A lot of online retailers have come and gone. These guys have stood the test of time. You will be able to find what you’re looking for at least at one of them, and although its price might be a bit higher than you’d like, if they say it’s Near Mint…it’s Near Mint.

Oh, and those things I said about Ebay, the one area they don’t necessarily hold true all the time is when the online retailers put some inventory up there, but that’s not necessarily everything they have nor what you’re looking for. Still, it’s an exception to my general Ebay rule.

There are some other retailers who are “online”, but I personally haven’t dealt with them. The new GenCon Auction boss, Troll & Toad, I haven’t personally dealt with outside of Auction. I can say with a great deal of certainty they were buying up everything in site on the RPG sessions, but I can’t say why other than they saw this as a great “cheap game buyback” opportunity. I really can’t fault them for that considering that’s what everyone thinks of it.

Speaking of the Godfather of all used game sales, the GenCon Auction is THE place to pick up some great collectibles. Conventions in general that exhibit RPG retailers or 3rd party distributors are decent, if erratic sources of used books. The GenCon Auction is itself a little erratic, but due to the sheer volume, you can usually find most anything you’re looking for if you’re diligent enough. You do have to really hit the store at the right times to be certain about that. You’ll always come out with a good price at Auction (almost always), but quality is mixed. At least in these cases you can see before you buy and if you’re buying direct in the Auction and not in the store you can get the barkers’ evaluation of the product perhaps along with some choice info on it.

As another aside, if D&D/AD&D is your collection crack of choice, you have another, critically important resource. Where almost no web sites exist independently for the average expected pricing and product descriptions of used and out of print games other than D&D, D&D has the best and most thorough I’ve yet encountered and it is the Acaeum. This site has scans of module and box set covers, some basic description information, version and printing information as well as condition and general pricing data. Want to know what a copy of the RPGA tournament module of Bigby’s Tomb went for recently? They have it (incidentally $600 NM at the GenCon ’04 Auction). This is the Kelly Blue Book of the TSR gaming world.

The Acaeum even has a solid user forum with some of the best experts in the gaming world on collectibles (mostly focusing on D&D obviously) as well as helpful tips on the proper care and preservation of your books. Any true collector will care about that.

These are just the primary resources for you to tap. There are others and you’ll learn them as you begin your search. Given the “cottage industry” nature of much of RPG’s, it’s not unheard of to track down writers or owners of old gaming companies and buy old stock off them. I’ve seen it happen, but I wouldn’t expect every such person to be as “receptive” to communication for such a purpose.

Remaining sources would be everyone from Steve Jackson Games’ online store (which carries a lot of material these days) to peripheral stores that carry a handful of RPG products here and there. In most cases, these will not have much, but occasionally a gem can be found.

Armed with this information, any new collector could easily get started and get to gathering all the items for his or her new treasure trove without near the effort as those of us who started from scratch often without any indirect or direct input from other collectors.

Should you start, I guarantee it won’t be easy to start, but consider by paying to keep and gather these books, you’re playing your small part in ensuring a system or two survives the ages and that RPG’s will be around for, hopefully, another generation.

SO now you’ve determined you’re a collector or you wanna be. The question now is, what exactly do you collect? The simplest answer is whatever you want.

Your impulses, irrational or not are usually what will drive you to make yoru choices. It also depends on if you want “complete” collections; in other words every single product made for a given system or you want “directed” collections, which satisy a need (I want every book ever published that had information for AD&D Thieves in it). I’ve seen all kinds.

Then there’s the resources themselves. In addition to the gaming systems and the core products put out by companies, there are many vintage magazine series that often have interesting and sometimes canon little articles for your favored game. I just saw a near-complete selection of GDW’s old Challenge magazine sell at Auction this last year (mine’s complete of course…I was collecting it as it was published). In the case of Challenge, it had modules, mini-campaign articles, new equipment, careers and jobs for a the whole suite of GDW RPG’s like Twilight:2000, 2300AD, Traveller, Dark Conspiracy and Space:1889 to name some of the biggies.

Dragon Magazine is another old favorite. Lots of good information could be found in those for most anything to do with D&D and there are some very handy indexes out there to show what articles are in what magazines for the discriminating collector. Polyhedron magazine had scenarios for other TSR games, like Gamma World (Dragon had a couple too) that were oddly out of place, but fascinating all the same. The Gamma World Aquabots were Polyhedron-only material. It was never printed (to the best of my knowledge) anywhere else.

Beyond that, there are other peripheral items. Take the Battletech novels. The entire campaign history of Battletech was practically written and laid out for anyone who wanted to read it and all FASA’s supplements that covered those eras referenced events (without going into too great a detail) that occurred only in the novels.

So you can see, there’s quite the question to ask yourself. Do you limit yourself and if so how? Not many of us have an inexhaustable supply of money, patience or time. We can’t all get to the games we’d like to get to.

For my personal example, I take a varied approach depending on what I think of the individual game system. Some are simply too big to collect in their entirety. D&D is a perfect example of this. There are hundreds of products if not thousands. In the case of that game, I focused on collecting most everything for the Mentzer D&D sets, a pre-Mentzer D&D set for comparison, everything for the Mystara campaign setting which is highlighted in D&D and the accompanying modules of the B, X, CM, M and IM series.

Conversely, I’ve more slowly built up a restored set of 1st Ed AD&D books to bolster my heavily worn originals and attempted to collect many of the 1st ed modules I used to have or wanted. Dragonlance is one of my prize collections, because I love the story (another facet of collecting).

As can be seen by this brief foray into D&D, it can be seen that the product list is too varied and insurmountable for the average collector. However, there are other systems that make life much easier on the would-be collector of RPG’s.

Take Archon Games’ Noir for one; a wonderful game of pulp fiction role-playing partially based it would seem on West End Games’ tried and true Star Wars d6 mechanics. The game was written as one book that would be a stand-alone. Archon Games vowed they would never print supplements for it as they expected the rules to stand on their own. They did bend that vow a little and produced two works, anthologies really, of short fiction set in the pulp era…pretty much designed to get the blood pumping and give a prospective DM without much exposure to pulp some ideas to mine.

So hundreds of books versus 1 or 3 books. These are extremes, but you can find every variant in between. TSR’s own Star Frontiers, for example, had a very limited but popular series of supplements and it is an easily collectible system. Gamma World with its multiple editions is not so easily collectible.

That does bring us to the matter of mulitple edition games…and there are so many aren’t there? What’s a collector to do then? Well if you’re certifiable (like me), you buy them over and over…D&D or GURPS 3rd edition owner? Buy 4th. Buy the same books over, only possibly with flashier art, revised rules (one hopes) and perhaps the slightest bit of new material. Or, you can take the role of a purist and refuse to buy a later edition, save for a book or book that transcends such mundane thoughts (GURPS Traveller – Interstellar Wars comes to mind – Sure it’s 4th Edition, but who cares?).

What it boils down to is that you can collect whatever you want to collect. You don’t have to collect everything from a series and you don’t have to religiously buy over and over the same books with slightly revised rules…unless you want to, and then it’s ok. You’re a collector. I can proudly raise my hand and say I’ve been there myself a time or two…(4th Edition Traveller…Thanks Marc Miller for such a lovely polished collection of turds…thanks very much…).

Maybe you’ll buy out of loyalty and maybe you’ll buy out of love, but if you’re a collector, one way or another, you will buy. Guaranteed if there’s still a gaming store in your area (and there are precious few with storefronts anymore), you’re one of the persons the surly folks working there always like to see, because you’re coming with your cash and you’re leaving with their merchandise and they can practically set their watches by you. Not saying this was me….ok…it was me.

This leads into our next discussion of where the prospective collector cand best indulge his or her habit.

How to Collect RPGs…And Why.

I’ve stated in my previous post regarding GenCon that I like to hang out at the Auction a lot…possibly to an unhealthy degree. Let’s face it, I like, have liked and will like collecting gaming books as long as there are good quality books to collect. What I’d like to discuss with those out there who have begun the process or who are thinking about it is the proper care and feeding of this rather addictive habit. I’d like to start this series with a discussion of the mindset to be an RPG collector.

First, you have to be the sort who likes to have lots of books. Sounds simple doesn’t it? You’d be surprised. Not everyone can tolerate the space requirements and monetary demands necessary to be a bibliophile. It requires that you be a little bit of a pack rat. I certainly fit that category. Allow me to explain.

See, in my fun filled youth, I grew up pretty poor. Not shack in Alabamy poor, but hard to replace toys and support hobbies poor. The family was more concerned with keeping the rent paid and dinner on the table than they were on feeding any of their children’s odd habits. I was encouraged with most things to use them up and wear them out. That mentality is one that is quite conducive to becoming a packrat, because a rational (or irrational depending on how you want to look at it) mind can find a use for just about anything in time.

About the time of the acquisition of my first D&D set at age 12, I had just lost most of my prized Star Wars figures (this was ’83 mind you, Jedi was out and the last of the figures were hitting the shelves) to my very little and very destructive brother. Stormtroopers, Luke Skywalkers, and even Boba Fett himself could not survive my brother’s destructive treatment of action figures.

This left me with no real collections or toys, just my small library of encyclopedias, Harvard Classics and two D&D sets (the Mentzer Basic and the older style Expert). These became my focus and from here my collection grew, slowly at first, but significantly.

Watershed events like this may help let you know if collecting RPG’s is something you would like to or already have to some degree managed to do. Being a real collector of role playing games is a bit of an obsession, but it’s also fun. Otherwise, it’d just be another insanity. 🙂

I think it’s important to really be a lover of books as well. You have to really want them in your living space and you have to want to take care of them to a certain degree. Entropy eventually screws with us all and with everything we own. Books are no exception. They can only stay at least the same quality in our care, but usually (sometimes through no fault of our own (SJG you b*st*rds…GURPS Vampire Companion’s binding glue was practically non-existent) they can and often do deteriorate to some degree. By the way, they had the temerity to sell that crappy copy out of their own stock and for full price. I might have had better luck on ebay…

But I digress. The idea I’m trying to get across is, you have to make a commitment early on to at least trying to preserve the books’ quality for as long as possible. This necessitates some special considerations for care that I’ll discuss in the upcoming posts in this series.

Lastly, how can you be sure that you’re a bibliophile for RPG’s and ready to collect? Well, the easiest way to know is to look at your gaming book collections as they now stand. Do you have or have you in the past had certain books in a series that you didn’t have, but searched any chance you got for? If you were online, you might check ebay or you’d always check the used bin at the local gaming store or perhaps even spend hours picking through the GenCon Auction store over the course of the convention (raises hand…)?

Do you feel a little empty space in your thoughts when that collection isn’t as complete as you’d like it to be, and do you feel a certain fulfillment when you finally get those books and complete that collection?

Answering affirmatively to any or all of those questions almost guarantees you have what it takes to be an RPG collector. Maybe you already do collect books. Maybe you’ve thought about it, but weren’t sure where to begin.

Are there others like you out there? Is there a way to know what to look for, judge quality through and be reasonably assured that you’ll get what you need to satisfy that compulsive desire? 🙂 The answers to all these particular questions are yes there are others out there and there are tools that can help you. We’ll explore those in greater depth down the thread train.

Till then, collect your books, plastic bags, and a nice sipping drink for the next session. We’ll continue our talk on collecting.

So you’re either in a long-term campaign or you’re running one and you have no idea how to keep it going. You don’t want to see your favorite character(s) fade into obscurity in the annals of your gaming history, but how do you stay challenged or keep things challenging for your players? Allow me to present a few of my humble ideas.

The fundamental flaw for me seems to be in setting a goal for the campaign, an end game that is easily achievable by players. When I say easy of course, that’s relative. It may actually be quite challenging, but with perseverance a group of players could succeed in a couple of years of steady play. Now, if that’s what you want, great! If your intention is to run with a definable exit strategy, my advice is unnecessary.

If however you determine at the beginning you’d like to run a very long term campaign or if in a existing campaign you find you don’t want it to end so abruptly, the above strategy is the kiss of death. You have to modify your way of thinking and except that the best long-term story lines don’t really have a simple, definable conclusion.

There are a couple of ways you can deal with this dilemma. The first is, you can weave a grand tapestry of adventures into an overall campaign background. The world grows and evolves, affected by the characters’ actions in the game, but it persists. The ultimately definable goal (players rule the world or whatever) is so far into any setting that you can postpone or halt it altogether for as long as is needed. It is important in these settings for the players to see that their characters’ actions are making a difference. Their part in developing the setting is what will maintain their interest.

Another idea is to develop a series of mini-campaigns, each with identifiable goals, but ultimately not enough to stop the career of the PC’s. I call this the “novel” approach. A campaign setting (city, nation, etc.) is fully explored and adventured through with some ultimate resolution (Defeat Boss A, unite the clans, whatever). At the end of the setting, though, should the players like their characters and want to keep going, events should transpire to have the characters move on to the next setting and the next series of problems they must solve.

Now comes the matter of power levels. How do you keep long-term PC’s from overwhelming a campaign setting by sheer virtue of their power levels and accumulated equipment? Easy enough and any GM worth his or her salt should already know the answer. Strip the gear. In most cases, it’s not practical for PC’s to move everything they’ve accumulated over a campaign. If they wish to continue along to another mini-campaign or be forced to pull up stakes and move to a different part of an existing setting due to the flowing narrative model, they’re going to have to liquidate a large part of their inventory.

This will likely come at a substantial loss, but I always allow players to take their characters’ favorite (and most portable) things with them. Rifles, sometimes vehicles or steeds, melee weapons, certain books or whatnot are all acceptable material and this gives the characters a unique look as well as makes them more “lifelike”. We all accumulate flotsam and jetsam in our lives. Why should PC’s be any different? This even goes to include “hangers on”, NPC’s who for whatever reason are now joined at the hip with the PC’s.

Certain things will also and should also become easier as a fringe benefit of advancement. For example, liquidation of all their accumulated goodies should lead to at least a small nest egg that can be used to more quickly secure a base in the new area, or buy contacts or protection or whatever. As a GM, this can always be worked around, but it is important (and I say this as a former player and GM) that a player feel his character has advanced enough that tangible benefits are present.

So you have some models and some ways to port the characters over to a new dynamic or new setting, dependent on what your and their interests may be. The important thing to remember is to not let this be too much of a chore. What burns out most GM’s is they start treating a campaign setting like a task or work and less like something fun; a unique story they have a strong hand in crafting. Keep it simple, have your fun and follow some of these basic rules and the rest should take care of itself.