Update: You can now listen to a recording of the seminar available on Gnome Stew!
At GenCon 2009, Phil "DNAphil" Vecchione, Kurt "Telas" Schneider, and Patrick "VV_GM" Benson of Gnome Stew and Vicki Potter of Tabletop Adventures® presented a seminar titled All Grown Up and Still Gaming (Vicki and DNAphil are also members of the GM-Fu Group). The Dice of Life couldn't make it to GenCon (let alone the seminar), but we were greatly interested in what they had to say. We also knew that many of our readers might feel the same way. Fortunately for us, the group was willing and able to take the time for an interview. Now without further ado...
Tell us a little bit about your own personal gaming histories and how the hobby changed for you as an adult.
Phil "DNAphil" Vecchione: I have been playing tabletop RPG's for 27 years, when I started with the Moldvay Basic version of D&D and went from there. The closest thing I had to a break was during my Undergraduate years when I only played during summers. After college, I met the guys who are part of my current group, and we have been gaming for the past 15 years together. In the past few years, I became interested in the RPG blogging scene, and eventually I was recruited to be one of the founding Gnomes on Gnome Stew
For me, the way I game is now the biggest difference from playing as a single, high schooler to a father and husband with a career. Back when I was a young man, (wow, that hurts to say that) we played 10 to 11 hours on Friday nights, and often had another game some other time during the week. Now I play 4-hour sessions once week. I have also found that over the years, my reason for playing has been drifting from the more dramatic sides of playing (e.g. - character development, story building, etc.) to the more social aspects of gaming (i.e. - getting together with friends).
Kurt "Telas" Schneider: I was introduced to D&D at a summer camp in 1979 or thereabouts, although my mother had bought me the books the Christmas before. I took to gaming like a fish takes to water and ran a game of some kind up until graduating high school in 1985. We played AD&D, Gamma World, Champions, James Bond 007, and a few other games.
I took an extended hiatus from gaming after high school, although I occasionally ended up at a pick-up game in a gaming store. I got back into tabletop gaming in 2003 after playing a number of fun but ultimately unsatisfying computer RPGs. I've been at it ever since.
As a single adult, I found that the biggest change from my teen years was the lack of time. I still gamed twice a week for long sessions, but the 'marathon weekend sessions' were a thing of the past. Marriage and parenthood triggered a similar but much more drastic change in my gaming. I now game once or twice a week and end up canceling out of about 20% of those sessions due to family constraints. My focus is on camaraderie and an evening's escapist enjoyment instead of rules adherence or verisimilitude.
Patrick "VV_GM" Benson: I began gaming in 1989 right before high school with the Basic D&D red boxed set. I was always involved in theater as kid, and when I discovered role playing games, I was instantly hooked on them. Acting was a passion for me, and RPGs allowed me to use those skills much more frequently.
I could go into more detail, but except for a 2-year break due to GM burnout and a bad group, I have been gaming ever since. The biggest impact that the hobby has had upon me is that by working hard at being a GM and acting, I am very comfortable with public speaking and improvisation. These two skills provide me an advantage that I use within my career (I am a Systems Engineer for a software development firm). Knowing how to present yourself and being able to respond quickly and thoughtfully to questions helps when having to justify large budgets for technology that others may not understnad the need for acquiring.
Vicki Potter: I was introduced to D&D in college. I still remember sitting around that first night with a large group of friends and only two Player’s Handbooks, all trying to figure out what we wanted to be, how to buy equipment, and so on. In college, I had time not only to game, but to start developing my own world. I married a guy who also played D&D, and ended up being the DM for our group because I was the one who had the most free time. Over the years, I’ve played three different versions of D&D, Traveller, James Bond: 007, FASA’s Star Trek, Champions, d6 Star Wars, and now our company’s own horror game, Against the Darkness.
At first, gaming as an “adult” wasn’t much different than gaming as a college student; something kept us busy several hours a day, and then the rest of the time was ours to do with as we pleased. The main changes came when we moved away from our gaming group and had to (in one case) find other people to game with, or (another time) put up with playing just a few times a year when we went back for a visit. As time went by, my husband and I eventually acquired a house, and had kids, as did several other people in our gaming group. At that point it took a lot more coordination to get together for a game. As we (and our kids) have gotten older and busier, it has only become more complicated. Now our gaming group is also our social circle; those people are the ones we meet with to celebrate holidays, trade assistance in big projects, look after each others’ kids, help out when someone needs a hand, and other things.
What were your objectives and ultimate goals for the seminar "All Grown Up and Still Gaming?"
DNAphil: For me, I went though a number of changes in my gaming style after I met my wife, and we started to date. Then all that changed after we had our first child. It was actually my wife, who suggested to me that I should share some of the lessons I learned to save other gamers who were starting out on that path of career, marriage, and children.
Telas: To show that there is still room for gaming. I get the impression that many single or childless gamers think that 'growing up' means that they'll have to give up all of their nerdly possessions and activities. That's garbage; you can have a career and a family and still game. You won't have the time available that you used to, but everyone has to deal with that - sports fans, runners, readers, crafters, artists, writers, etc.
VV_GM: Just to have a good time at Gen Con by offering something of value to the gaming community. When I go to conventions I want to be a participant, and not just a customer. This last Gen Con I ran four events as a GM, gave two seminars on my own, and participated in two additonal seminars (one being "All Grown Up and Still Gaming"). I like to give back to the gaming industry when I can, because it has given me a lot of joy.
Vicki: I’d say the main point was to show that it’s possible to have family, work and social responsibilities and still play roleplaying games. We also wanted people to realize that grown-ups do play role-playing games; it’s not only (or even mostly) teenagers.
DNAPhil answered this next question in the pre-GenCon interview, but I'd like to get responses from the rest of you as well. According to the outline of the seminar, the three broader subjects covered were 'Gaming as an Adult,' 'Gaming and the Spouse,' and 'Gaming as a Parent.' Which of these resonates with your personal situation the most and why?
Telas: Since I've been married all of three years, I'd have to pick "Gaming and the Spouse", even though we do have a 15-month-old daughter. My wife is not a gamer. She's tried it and doesn't like it. But we've worked out a number of compromises that allow me to continue gaming, and she's really stepped up to let me continue my hobby that she doesn't really enjoy because she loves me. And it's off-topic, but that's awesome.
VV_GM: All three. My job is demanding. I work a lot of hours (I am a workaholic). I've been married for over nine years, and I have a six-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son. My priorities are kids, wife, job, and then everything else. Gaming is my hobby, but not a priority for me. I will drop gaming in an instant when it conflicts with my priorities.
Vicki: All three of those are part of my life. The vast majority of my gaming has been done as an adult. I have a gaming spouse and we’ve been playing RPGs together since before we were married, and now I’ve been a gaming parent for over 16 years. Gaming is so much a part of our family's life that I can’t imagine ever not doing it.
Going back to the seminar, what are some topics you wish you had covered or elaborated on?
DNAphil: I think we covered most of the high-level topics. I think there were plenty of other topics that could have been discussed, especially about the dynamics of the Gamer couple, including when one of the couple is the GM in a game. Another area that could have been its own talk would be how to introduce your kids to role playing.
Telas: I think we covered most of it, but we did want to fit in more of the "what to do when you have a group with a relationship in it" topic. Especially if that relationship gets rocky.
Speaking for myself, I was coming down with something on Saturday, and meandered more than once in my presentation. I think I got most of it out, but if this were a part in a movie, I'd want a 'second take'.
VV_GM: Nothing. The seminar was very good, in my opinion, and I feel that it met our main objective - show people that you can grow up and still be a gamer. Could we have done things better? Sure. I know that I could have been much better in my presentation and with watching my language. So what? It was still a good seminar and there is always next year to do it even better.
Vicki: Of course there are always more things to say, but I think we included the topics we most wanted to cover.
Some of our readers (as well as the authors of The Dice of Life) are interested in discussions about how to maintain a gaming hobby with a non-gamer spouse and how that compares and contrasts with a marriage with a spouse who enjoys games. What are some things to consider with regards to a spouse or partner who is a non-gamer? What about gamer spouses?
DNAphil: I can take the non-gamer spouse part. The foundation to maintaining a gaming hobby is to be upfront and honest with your spouse about how much gaming is a part of your life. If your spouse thinks that it is some little thing you do when on the occasional weekend, when in truth, you are drawing dungeon floorplans in the middle of meetings, then they are not going to understand the time and money you are spending on the game. That is going to cause conflict.
The next part, really is on the shoulders of the spouse. That is respect. My wife is pretty far from being a geek (though she gets better at it every year), but she did play in a very short campaign I ran when we first dated and went to Origins with me. She did it to understand what gaming was all about and to understand what it meant to me. Because she respected me as her soon-to-be husband, she respected the hobby that I am so invested in. While she does not play in any games, she is still interested in my games, and talks to me about them. I think she put it best, "Respect the gamer, respect the game."
Last, is compromise. Once you have been clear about what role gaming plays in your life, and your spouse respects the game, then you have to work together to figure out how to make it part of your lives. How often are you going to play? When are you going to play? How much can you spend on books/minis/cards? All of those things should be discussed and you should reach a compromise on them as a couple.
Telas: As mentioned earlier, my wife doesn't game, but she bends over backwards so that I can. The best advice I can give is to communicate early, and communicate often. Talk about your expectations, and make sure that everyone is on the same page. It's bad enough that you're not there; it's worse when you're unexpectedly not there. Communication also helps when things don't go well.
Recognize that Real Life Comes First. Gaming is a luxury, not a necessity. This means that you cancel your game when your wife is sick, or when something comes up. Get used to this idea before you get married.
Give back. I like to joke about Spouse Karma™, but the idea is real: Make sure that you're giving at least as much as you're taking. We tend to notice what others take more than what we take, and we notice what we give more than what others give. The only way around this is to give more than you take.
VV_GM: My wife does not game, and the rule is to respect that. I do not try to pull her into the hobby. If she has a question about the hobby I answer it. If she shows interest in an aspect of gaming I indulge her and address it. I will not push my hobby onto her though, and she does not try to pull the hobby away from me. We respect each other, and of course put our marriage first before any of our hobbies. I cannot address what it is like to have a gamer spouse as I have never had one.
Vicki: On our panel, I am the only member who has a gamer spouse. In all the couples in my gaming group, both spouses game at least to some extent, and so until I interacted with Phil, Kurt and Patrick I had never really considered the ramifications of having a spouse who didn’t game!
Having a gamer spouse has its own complications. You can’t leave the kids home with your husband because he wants to be at the game also. Hiring a babysitter gets very expensive for a regular game, so you hope for a location where you can take the kids along, or offer to host at your own place with all the responsibilities that includes. If the game is on a school night, one of you has to drop out early to go put the kids to bed. While a great session of gaming can lead to great team feelings (“We totally destroyed that villain’s secret island! He’s not going to mess with us again!”), a disappointing session can lead to the type of accusatory conversation that I think every couple eventually has that plays some sort of game together. The difference is, instead of “Why did you discard the ace?” you hear, “I can’t believe you just opened the door! You should have known the wizard would have it trapped!”
On the other hand, having a gaming spouse has a lot of benefits. You don’t have to explain (much) why you really, really need to be at the game tonight. It’s easier to justify buying RPG books and supplies because more people are going to use them. You’re more likely to get willing cooperation to clean up the house for the group to come over to game. If you don’t always like the same sorts of game (he likes spaceships, she likes superheroes), then you have the possibility of trading off home responsibilities while still giving each partner the chance to game. Most importantly, for gaming as an adult, when complications in life make it harder to find the time to game, both partners are motivated to make it work.
Most adults know that as we get older, get married, have full-time jobs, buy homes, etc., our financial obligations increase drastically. Many gamers feel frustrated by the reality of having a higher income but less disposable income with which they can purchase RPG materials. What perspective can you offer for those who feel their purse strings tightening, especially in these economic times?
DNAphil: Personally as a hobby, I think we are pretty lucky. An investment of $40 in a core rule book, can give you hours of entertainment; far more than from a movie, DVD, etc. In these economic times, the trick is not to go wild buying games you are not going to play, or every supplement under the sun.
When I was younger, I would buy any RPG book that caught my eye, even if I did not have plans on playing it. Now with less disposable income, I only buy books that I know I am going to play. I have also started buying a lot of books in PDF for games that I am curious about or want to sample before I invest in the hard covers. Finally, go retro, and get some old games off the shelf and play some classics.
Telas: I am actually doing quite well right now, and don't want to sound like Bill Gates offering money-saving tips, but gaming can be cheap, if you can keep your wallet in your pocket.
We geeks can have a bit of a 'collector' gene; be aware of it, and learn to deal with it. We also have a "new = better" attitude that flies in the face of our alleged rationality. The release of D&D 4E didn't make 3.5 any less of a game, and shouldn't make you enjoy it any less. Take a look at your bookshelf and play some of those games instead of constantly looking for the Next Big Thing.
Finally, there are cheap games out there. The Savage Worlds core book is $10, and you can run an entire campaign out of it. Fudge is free, but requires some assembly.
VV_GM: Give yourself a weekly budget for gaming materials and stick to it. If you cannot afford a game, do not buy it, or save that weekly budget until you can afford it. Just like how you should handle your money with other purchases that are non-essential to your health and well-being.
Plus there are plenty of free games out there for you to enjoy. I am a huge fan of the Fudge RPG system. You can download the 1995 rules for free from Grey Ghost Press. Create your own Fudge dice using pipped D6's by following this excellent article by Jonathan Walton and you can start playing an interesting and fun RPG for next to nothing. This is just one example of an RPG that is available for free, and there are many others that are out there for the gaming community to enjoy.
Vicki: Reduce, reuse, recycle!
Reduce: Consider whether you really need every supplement to your chosen game. Perhaps various members of your group can buy different books and share them around. Perhaps even purposely choose a system that doesn’t require as many supplements, or one that has the books available now at reduced prices because it’s no longer the "new thing." If you have the capability of using electronic products, consider buying your material in PDF form, which is usually cheaper, and using it directly from your computer or printing out only the pages you absolutely need. (If you’re going to print out the entire book anyway, buying electronic is probably not a savings.)
Reuse: Check out your gaming material from years past. Might you want to go back to that system for which you bought all the supplements years ago? If you are the GM, can you find adventure possibilities in your previous material and thus avoid needing to purchase new material? Are there things around your house that you can use for adventure props, game maps, or minis terrain instead of buying something fancy?
Recycle: If you won’t be using your old game books, perhaps you can bring yourself to part with them. Trade them with someone you know in person or on-line to get the materials you want now, or sell them to a used-book store or on eBay, and use the money to support your current system.
As a father with a 1-year-old daughter and plans for a second child, I look forward to enjoying RPGs with my kids. My wife is a non-gamer spouse, but she's reasonably supportive of my hobby; however, she's not too keen on the idea of teaching the kids to play RPGs because of concerns regarding obsessiveness over the game or lack of a physically active lifestyle. How real are these concerns? How should newbie parents address these concerns?
DNAphil: I wish my parents had had those concerns, when I got into gaming. Here is where compromise comes into play. Your wife's concerns are valid, as we all know that the gaming community is known for being more sedentary and at times obsessed. So to address that, I would come up with some rules for how long you are going to play at a session, how often you will play with the kids, and what outdoor activity will the kids be doing, in addition to the gaming.
Telas: Both parents, with all of their desires and concerns, will be there as the children grow up and are exposed to gaming. I would presume that the active one will push the kids outdoors occasionally, and that both of them will be there to tell the little Gygaxes that obsessive GMs aren't good GMs.
Seriously, this is a concern of mine. Gaming is escapism, but people should spend most of their life in Reality. Gaming parents should encourage this, and should probably start working on some healthier habits themselves. I'm watching more of what I eat and spending more time in the gym, because I want to be there for my kids. I hope these habits are picked up by them as well.
VV_GM: At 28, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that attacks the nervous system and causes symptoms ranging from annoying to life threatening with no known cause. At 34, I was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition known as a bicuspid aortic valve; basically, it is a birth defect where the valve does not form properly, and I will probably have to have an artificial heart valve surgically implanted within the next 20 years.
With these two strikes against me, I still manage to workout, eat a healthy diet, and stay active. I call bull**** on people who tell me that they just cannot do the same. If I can do it, and I am by no means that perfect specimen of health, then others can do it as well.
Gaming may be a passive activity, but how many sports fans out there sit their butts on the couch to watch a four hour game eating nothing but junk food and drinking sugar laden beverages or empty calorie alcoholic drinks? There is a much more socially prevalent hobby that is just as unhealthy. That does not mean that people should stop being fans.
The point is that you should set the example for your kids by eating healthy, following a daily exercise program, and actively participating in physical activities with your kids as well. Let them see that you put diet and exercise first before gaming and encourage them to do the same. Do not make excuses. Put your health first.
Vicki: Playing RPGs can be obsessive, if you let them become so, just like any other hobby. My favorite example comes from being at GenCon in Indianapolis, on a day when then Indianapolis Colts football team was playing one block from the Convention Center. A group of costumed gamers from GenCon were headed one way and some football fans, their faces painted in team colors, were headed the other. The looks on the faces of both parties said it all: "What weirdos!"
Consider the hobby. Costs can range from very little to hundreds of dollars a year, participation usually means sitting for hours and consuming less-than-healthy food resulting in a less-than-healthy body if you don’t work on it some other way, and your family may even be embarrassed from time to time at the extent of your devotion. Which hobby am I speaking of here – playing RPGs, or being a football fan? Or could it be playing poker, or computer games? (For that matter, the hobby of scrapbooking would fit the above description almost as well, although scrapbookers tend not to snack so much while they are practicing their pastime.) My point is that there are many hobbies that can lend themselves to obsessive participation, and many of these are sedentary. Parents should expose their children to a variety of pastimes and encourage their children to enjoy physical activities, regardless of what they choose as their favorite hobby.
You can also point out some of the benefits of playing RPGs that your spouse might not have considered. For instance, my kids were motivated to write when they had to list their own equipment. I remember both my sons at about age six laboriously writing down things like “long sword” and “20 arrows” because I told them Mom was not going to do it for them. Number recognition and simple addition are a crucial part of most RPGs. (Some, such as Hero System games, include more complicated mathematical calculations as well.) Playing D&D inspired my older son to read mythology. My daughter has spent hours making games from her favorite books or TV series and playing them with her little brother. Playing RPGs has helped my sons (both of whom are or were rather socially inept) learn to take turns, not interrupt when other people are speaking, speak up when they have ideas to contribute, and work together as part of a team. It has allowed them to make mistakes when the only people who were going to be hurt by them were imaginary.
For parents with older children who have not yet been introduced to RPGs, what are some good ways to get them into the hobby?
DNAphil: Role playing is natural extension of a lot of games we play as a kid. My first instinct would be not to get overly involved in the rules, and make it more about telling a story. As the GM, you can either find a game with streamlined rules, or you can streamline them for you child. Start off with just rolling one die to determine outcomes of actions, and narrate the rest.
As they get older, introduce them to the rules of the game, but make it a learning experience. When they learn to read, work together to read the rule book. When they learn to add and subtract, let them keep track of their hit points.
The most important thing is to remember it is your hobby, and not theirs. Invite, answer questions, let them observe a game, but don't make them play one, unless they really want to. The worst thing you can do is be the gamer equivalent of the frustrated little league dad, living out their own sports fantasies on their kid.
Telas: Start simple and start small. "What would you do if ...?" is a great way to start the roleplay. Game with them, making it up as you go along; Patrick gave a great example of this. Kids want to do what they think you're doing, not necessarily what you're doing. Let them roll the dice, and react to it. Let them come up with their own actions.
For older kids, help them find a group you trust, and let them loose. Do not drag your teenager to a gaming group, unless you know how he or she will react; never give a teen a reason to rebel.
VV_GM: Just invite them to play a simple RPG and run a one-shot adventure. If they like it give them the address to a reputable game store in the area that they can go check out. If they cannot travel there on their own take them there and let them check out the store on their own.
Just like with the non-gaming spouse do not push the hobby onto them. Just offer to run an event for them. I find that Halloween is the perfect time of year to get non-gamers exposed to gaming through a one-shot horror game. People are more willing to role play and to use their imagination during that time of year without feeling foolish or self-conscious.
Vicki: It depends on how old the “older” children are. I think kids are old enough to be introduced to RPGs when they can roll the dice instead of putting them in their mouths! At first they just help Mom or Dad: "Roll this dice to see if Mom hits the bad guy!" Later they’ll want to play also. Whether that’s appropriate depends very much on the game and the patience of the gaming group. However, if a child is old enough to imagine, and to take turns, he or she could have a character. We've had success with allowing kids to roll for characters that would otherwise be NPCs, or with kids having a character but when the child gets bored and wanders off the character is then "holding the horses" or "watching the car."
When kids are old enough to sit still and pay attention for longer periods of time, they can become active players. This requires a tolerant gaming group, though, or running a separate game that is primarily for kids and possibly their parents. Games that might be good for kids (depending on the child) could be Og (a caveman game) and A Faery’s Tale, where gamers play sprites, brownies, and other light-hearted fey creatures. However, kids are most likely to want to play what Mom and Dad are playing, and I believe they can play almost any game if a parent (or other friendly adult) is willing to help them with the hard parts, whatever those might be for a particular game.
In a work environment, it is sometimes difficult to discuss or even mention your gaming hobby, particularly when someone asks you questions such as "What do you do for fun?" Some gamers aren't shy when it comes to talking about their hobby, but others are still apprehensive. Usually, it's because of a fear of the stigma associated with role-playing games. How have you dealt with such situations, and what advice would you give to someone else dealing with the same scenario?
DNAphil: I don't shy away from it, but I do downplay it when I mention it. I will simply say that I "play Role Playing Games". If the person asks more, then I will elaborate, but I will never give any more details than that, if not prompted. If someone is curious and asks more questions, then I am happy to discuss it further. I think what you want to avoid, is getting so excited you launch into the "let me tell you about my character" talk, which even turns off seasoned gamers, let alone your new co-workers.
Telas: I can't tell anyone else how to reply, but I try to suss out my audience before answering. Bosses, new acquaintances, and such usually get the "I have game nights at my house" answer. Fellow gamers get the "I kill things on the weekend" answer. There are a number of ways to work gaming into the conversation, and many of them rely on the computer RPG. "I play RPGs." "Oh, like WoW?" "Yeah, but tabletop." If they understand 'tabletop', then you're golden. If not, just let it hang.
If you're an adult, I do not recommend saying that you play D&D, even if you do. The stigma is heavy on that name. And especially don't tell strangers about your character or your campaign. Please.
VV_GM: I do not care what others think and I just tell them "I like to hang out with my friends and play tabletop RPGs." and then answer any questions that they may have. If they insult me, and it does happen unfortunately, I respond with something along the lines of "**** you."
I do not have time for people to judge me, and if they want to believe the mythos about gamers and gaming fine. At work I want to be judged based upon my performance, and I put a lot of enrgy into doing the best that I can for my company. If my being a gamer is somehow held against me at my place of employment I can find another job.
Yet it never has been held against me in anyway at my job. Why? Because I am lucky to have a company staffed by creative and smart business people. People who understand that a quick way to lose a good employee is to make them feel excluded from the group for any reason. That is not just bad business, it is just plain stupid across the board.
Vicki: I deal with this socially rather than in a work environment (since RPGs are my work as well as my hobby), but even so I tend to not be very specific. When asked, I usually start with “I like to play games,” and see where the questioner takes the conversation from there. The reply may be, “Oh, like Monopoly?” In that case I may say something like, “Well, not very much,” and let it drop. If the other person mentions a computer roleplaying game, I may indicate that it’s kind of like that, except as a tabletop game, or played face to face. Recently our most frequent game has been a new Star Trek campaign, and people I’ve talked to seem to get the idea of that a little better – a game where you are people in Star Fleet and have adventures like in the movie. They may be thinking of something with a board; I don’t know. I just don’t go into more detail than will satisfy the person asking the question.
What are some other tips and tools that you use to help balance work, life, and gaming? Any time-saving tips for your favorite RPGs?
- Be honest about how much time you have for gaming. Look at all your commitments, your schedule and figure out how much time in a week, you can spend on gaming.
- Find the game system, prep style, and duration and frequency of sessions, that fits the time you have allocated to gaming.
- Use the "in between time" to get small gaming things done. Meeting starting late, jot a few notes for an up coming session, while you wait.
- Take your spouse's temperature. You may feel you are doing a fine job of balancing, when your spouse sees it the other way. Reach that compromise if you are not on the same page.
- Family..Career...Game...thats the order. Keep it that way.
- Be on the lookout for any kind of time saving tips..read blogs, talk to other GM's etc.
- Keep It Simple - This applies to gaming systems, prep style, and in-game objectives.
- Some kind of note-taking device; I use my smart phone.
- Bring a laptop or a notepad instead of a book or magazine when you're waiting for something.
- A job that gives you occasional downtime. One of the best GMs I know is a test engineer; he has hours free while tests run.
- Use computerized character sheets if you're in a prep-heavy game.
- Keep a consistent game world.
- Keep a consistent gaming system.
- Practice your improvisational skills; you'll find yourself doing less prep.
- Either play games that require little to no prep work or invest in the tools that eliminate the time involved in prep work. D&D Insider is a great investment for any 4th Edition DM, because you can create several encounters in under an hour.
- Learn how to put a "custom paint job" onto a barebones set of stats or encounter. Such as giving a nobody NPC a unique accent to make the scene more memorable, or being able to turn a war party of orcs into a band of rogue elves. Sometimes just describing something differently is all you need to do in order to reuse a set of stats again for mulitple adventures.
- Use online tools to keep your games on track. Calendars for scheduling sessions, forums and blogs for out of game discussions, and other such services can make it easier on the group as a whole.
- Always keep an electronic copy of your latest character sheet somewhere online that you can access from anywhere with an Internet connection. Almost everyone has access to the Internet and printer at home these days, so you can always get a copy of your character sheet if you happen to forget it one session. It also is helpful if your hardcopy is not up to date.
Never forget that this a social activity. Gaming is not fun because of the rules, it is fun because of the interactions that we have with each other through the rules (or despite the rules sometimes). If gaming starts to feel like a chore instead of a hobby reassess the amount of time and energy that you are investing into it. I would rather play one good game a month and enjoy it than to play a weekly game where I feel rushed and obligated to attend.
- Look for time-saving products or tools to make preparing for, running, or playing games easier and less time-consuming. For instance, a GM might use prewritten NPCs or add personality to sets of generic statistics. Many adventuring locations (such as a tavern, shop, or space station) are available electronically (at low cost or free) for immediate download and almost instant use. Several companies offer sets of map tiles for purchase, which can eliminate the need for drawing one’s own combat maps. For GMs who do their work on computers, electronic products can be a real time-saver: important information can be copied and pasted directly into game notes.
- Find small bits of time that you can use for planning – or at least thinking about – RPGs. My kids are older, and I spend lots of time driving them around and waiting for them at activities. I carry a notebook with me at all times, to jot down ideas or write up descriptions of something I might want to use in a game.
DNAphil has been a regular attendee of GenCon since it moved to Indanapolis. Over the past few years, he has spoken at GenCon on the area of Metagaming in RPGs as well as part of the GM-Fu panel discussions. He's also a member of the somewhat unknown but nevertheless infamous GreenShirts (known for their custom-made green bowling shirts).
As a “seasoned gamer,” he is married with two children, and has spent the past few years learning how to adapt his gaming lifestyle to family and a career.
About Kurt "Telas" Schneider
Born in Texas, raised in Louisiana, and having lived in Mississippi and Colorado, Kurt now resides in Austin, TX, and attempts (poorly) to balance his gaming with other activities, such as taking care of a wonderful wife and daughter, fixing computers and networks for money, and getting fit. You might have seen his rantings and ravings on various forums and mailing lists under Telas or TelasTX. Favorite gaming quote: "A game is only as balanced – or as good – as the GM."
About Patrick "VV_GM" Benson
Patrick has been a GM since he was 15 years old. He enjoys rules light systems that focus on being cinematic and offer lots of opportunities for role playing.
Patrick is currently working on his own RPG system based upon the Fudge system. He is a Systems Engineer for a software development firm in Chicago, and is married to his beautiful wife Karen who is his only ally in the epic struggle with their two children for control of their own home (the kids are winning).
About Vicki Potter
Vicki Potter is an experienced game master and a co-founder of Tabletop Adventures®, a small RPG publishing company. She is always on the lookout for real-life people and events to springboard her imagination, and enlivens dull moments by considering her surroundings and thinking, "How can I use this in a game?"
Vicki has been playing and GMing roleplaying games now for 30 years and expects to continue doing so for many more. She and her husband Mark (who has been gaming even longer than that) are doing their part to guarantee another generation of roleplayers by fostering a love of gaming in their three kids.