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Shaking Up Your Gaming Life in 2017

As this column will likely post late Monday, it will still technically be January which means it’s not too late to throw out one more post with a “new year” theme to it. I’ve been thinking about ways to change up my tabletop gaming this year–trying new types of games, new styles of play, expanding my interaction with the gaming world, and so forth.

With that in mind, here are a few ways you, too, can shake up your gaming for the rest of the year.

Try a new genre

What’s on your shelf? A lot of resource management games? Every version of Pandemic made? Zombie survival games? Rows of Dungeons & Dragons books? Why not switch it up a bit this year.

Try out a game genre that you’ve seen, maybe even been curious about, but have never tried. This could be the year you try a collectable trading card game. Maybe instead of chasing after giants, you and your roleplaying pals decide to head out to the outer rim of the galaxy and hunt down space pirates.

There is a lot out there. Walk into a game store, or even just the board game section of Barnes & Noble, and you’ll find half a dozen or more games with pirate themes. I’ve lost count of the number of card games out there–both collectable and standard. If you’re a dedicated deck builder gamer, maybe this is the time to try something wholly different — like Flux or Quao. If you’ve been mapping out adventures with graph paper for decades, it could be time to try out one of those massive RPG board games with all the miniatures and encounter boards already set up.

Get out of your gaming rut and take a chance on something new.

See what’s on Kickstarter or small press

Oh my god… Kickstarter. Has there been any greater force than that for the renaissance of tabletop games? In my last column, I mentioned Exploding Kittens and Joking Hazard as two wildly successful Kickstarter games. Other recent big hits include Scythe, Zombicide, Dark Souls, Kingdom Death, Conan, Massive Darkness, and Mythic Battles: Pantheon. Each of these games had thousands of backers. If you missed out on backing a project, most become available for order after backer fulfillment, and many find their way to local game stores.

Kickstarter is giving us more than just cool games, but also innovative gaming supplements and accessories. There are all sorts of neat items available to enhance our gaming experience from dice towers and miniatures to campaign settings and game storage.

The small press revolution has also led to a wealth of options for RPG players and gamemasters. I’ve been finding myself at DriveThruRPG.net a lot this past year where I can find all sorts of affordable PDF files useful for game settings, RPG systems, and more.

It seems to be where a lot of the gaming publications that might have once been print publications have gone to now for distribution. There, you’ll find loads of thoughtful articles on gaming and ways to mix up your gaming sessions.

Likewise, there are small press publishers putting out supplemental material for games like Pathfinder and the upcoming Starfinder games. Companies like Green Ronin are pumping out new game settings and supplemental materials for all sorts of RPGs including their own. There are gaming guides that cross multiple systems, and I’ve been seeing a number of books about the history of the hobby. This is not stuff you’d easily find in regular bookstores, but fairly easy to find via Google, Amazon, or advertised on Facebook. Join some gaming groups on Facebook and you’ll see a lot of notices about new projects coming from independent producers.

Play with secrets

This is one for you tabletop RPGers out there. Take some time this year and build some extra dimension to your character by really taking a plunge into roleplaying and add some depth to your character. I’ve been watching some of the other players in my local D&D group do this and it’s kind of fascinating and fun.

We have a “farmer” character who is a secret magic user of some kind and, for nearly a year, has managed to keep his powers a secret from most of the group. He, of course, has help from the DM, but it’s added a fun element to the group dynamic when we have something like this.

Another character has recently sprouted black, feathered wings in a seeming response to demonic exposure. We don’t know why or how. Sure, the guy playing him does, and the DM knows, but for the rest of us it’s a mystery to be solved as we go about all of our other adventures.

It’s been making me look forward to the next character I create and how I might be able to play my character’s secrets a bit more to make the game more interesting. I’m recommending you give it a try as well. As much as I sometimes get a little frustrated with RPG character design that goes over the top (e.g., the half halfling/half Tiefling sorcerer who is also a werewolf who sells werewolf insurance), I also get a little frustrated with players who make no effort to create a character beyond the basics (e.g., “Um… I’m an elf, uh… ranger. Yeah. I have a sword.)

Yawn.

This year, see if you can’t add some depth to your roleplaying characters. If you’re a DM, work with your players to make this a thing. I guarantee you it will make game night even more fun.

Explore your community

When was the last time you visited your local library? Chances are there is a vibrant gaming group meeting there regularly. I was pleasantly surprised by this. Like a lot of people, I don’t visit my local library often enough.

In my case, being a book nerd means I’m more apt to want to own the book than borrow, and I’m decades past my research paper days, and still a couple of decades short of my “putzing around like an old man” days. Still, I found myself at the local library while my wife ran some work-related errands and discovered a vibrant gaming meet up. It started out small, but over the yeas grew so large they take up two conference rooms. There are often as many as five or six games being played per meeting.

Not bad. I’ve heard of similar groups popping up at schools, universities, and even churches.

Then there’s the friendly local gaming store. Mine, which is about two miles from where I live, hosts either full-on RPG games, Magic the Gathering nights, or board game demos every night of the week. Yes, even Sunday. While this makes good business sense for the store owners, it’s also a great opportunity for us gamers to get together.

And you find gaming opportunities in all sorts of places. The bulletin board at my nearby Laundromat had two postings a couple of weeks ago–one advertising a game night at a local bar, and a notice from a tabletop RPGer looking for a group.

Heck, I’ve even found listings on Craigslist. Really, if you’re having trouble finding face-to-face gamers, you aren’t really trying.

Exploring the tabletop gaming world online

I’ve talked a lot in the past about how much I enjoy watching live-stream D&D (and other brand) gaming. What I’ve come to discover, however, is that there is more to it than simple entertainment. There’s a bit of learning going on as well.

I’m seeing numerous other players play in different styles than how I play. As a player, it’s usually nothing too major, but as a DM I’m getting a lot out of seeing how different DMs introduce adventures, scenarios, characters, and so forth. I’m watching some DMs really get into voices and roleplaying when introducing NPCs. I’m seeing how some DMs make use of miniatures and maps, and how others rely solely on the Theatre of the Mind.

It’s all very enlightening.

In addition to this, I’ve been looking at roleplaying options online via services like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds. I’ve a new computer with a good webcam and audio setup. Why not check out gaming online? I’ve a number of friends both local and not who speak very highly of it. Because my schedule is somewhat dominated by a new baby in the house, I can’t always hit a face-to-face gaming session as often as I’d like.

But I do have a more open schedule at home (baby permitting). So this year I’ll be rolling digital dice, and joining others in a split-screen camera view of some fantasy world, righting wrongs and hauling away the loot.

If you see yourself in a similar situation, i.e., unable to get out to game nights as often as you like, let 2017 be the year you try to go online. It seems to be a thing. A good thing.

Welcome to 2017 and the rest of your gaming year. I hope it’s a good one with lots of new and interesting twists.

Cheers!

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