I realized that I had made an awkward mistake in my Advent calendar planning. I was so busy updating the “Ukulele Buyer’s Guide” that I forgot to answer the holiday-gift questions I am most asked these days, “What do I get for the D&D player?.” Well...that is a good question, my friend.
As many of you already know, I am a big fan of roleplaying games (RPG’s) as a tool for recreation and self-discovery. When I started playing in my pre-teens it was the only real “team” I was on that didn’t see me as a burden. So I learned about cooperation and teamwork. Later (once I was firmly ensconced as a theater kid and member of the “Worst Cross-Country Team in Maine”) it still served as an outlet for creativity. My theater skills came in handy at the table. So did math but I prefer to think about the theater skills. In short, it was part of being social and learning about other people. It was also fun.
However, what was most important throughout that whole time (and up to today when I am able to get some sort of game going) was the ability to imagine another world. I have written and preached about this. Frequently the way we grow as a society and as individuals is to try on different ways of being. In the game you can be evil or good or just out for your own gain. You can see what it is like to be the sort of person you would never want to be. Alternately, you can practice being the person you want to become. All of this is done in the context of shared storytelling and myth-making. It is actually a pretty spiritual experience whether you are playing a divine caster or not.
Anyway, that is my way of being supportive of the RPG players in your life. Back in the bad old ‘80’s even calm, rational parents-who-should-know-better would worry a bit that their kids were turning to Satan by rolling those dice and there is still a lingering whiff of societal condemnation. I mean, now it is more likely to be considered vaguely nerdy more than threatening. I think that probably has to do simply with the fact that it is hard to make an adult controlled youth program out of it like you can with soccer or baseball.
The game is good and fine. It does all the things that other youth activities to do. Also, it is not just a youth activity! You can play it as an adult with other adults. Trust me. The most active game I am currently playing is entirely made up of clergy. Everyone needs to get out of their own crap every once in a while and imagine being somewhere else.
Definition of Terms:
Okay, let's get back to the purpose of this magnum opus, namely answering those questions you might have about what to get for the tabletop gamer in your life. The first thing that you need to know is that when we say “Dungeons & Dragons” to non-gamers we are using it as shorthand. The fact is, we may not actually be playing Dungeons and Dragons at all!
For example, if someone asks me where I grew up, I will frequently answer “Maine”. However, I do that because most people haven't been to Maine and certainly haven't been to the part I am from. If they turn out to have a connection there, I will start to narrow it down. I will say “the Lewiston area, but I went to college at the University of Maine in Orono.” If they still seem to know what I am talking about, I tell them I grew up in Lisbon Falls.
What usually happens, though, is that I get a blank stare and the person starts to rattle on about Bar Harbor, Freeport, or the Sunday River ski resort. So here is the first and perhaps most important thing to know about buying things for a tabletop gamer: Dungeons & Dragons is the Bar Harbor and Sunday River ski resort of tabletop games. It is the one everybody knows and if they have visited RPGs just once in their lives, this is the one they have played.
However, the situation is much more complicated than that. while people might make a different count, there are at least seven distinct rulesets for Dungeons & Dragons alone. Also, D&D is just one company (owned by Hasbro through their subsidiary Wizards of the Coast who make the Magic the Gathering card game)! Many people play other games, like Warhammer, Pathfinder, or Starfinder, or even things you can't find at the Barnes & Noble. That clergy game I mentioned uses a set of rules called ”RISUS” that takes up four pages of paper and is free. All of this is to say that it is a complicated market and that if you don't know what you are doing, it is best to stick with some generalities. I am talking about gift certificates here.
So, What I am going to do is suggest a few items that are universally appealing and then a couple of web pages for the purpose of safe gift certificate giving so they can order from the system they actually use. Also, gift certificates at any of these web pages might the way to go if your gamer is particularly finicky.
Here are some things that are of general use for the most part. Everyone needs a good set of dragon dice. They usually come in sets of seven and consist of one 20-sided die, one 12-sided die, two ten-sided dice, one 8-sided die, a six-sided die (“the normal kind”) and a 4-sided die. They probably already have a set if they play and certain systems don't use these dice. However no one minds nice dice in the RPG world so I might suggest something special.
The best basic purveyor of dice is Chessex. I have POUNDS of their dice as dice have a tendency to roll into corners and run away. They are also good for the basic extras like dice mats (to keep your dice from escaping) and dice towers (for fun rolling).
If you want to go in big, there are metal dice. I do NOT recommend stone dice for anyone who is going to actually use them to play. Metal is better and they are Metal if you catch my drift. They look cool and they feel great. I have a metal D20 (runs around $7-$9) and I actually feel a bit strange when rolling something else now. The easiest way to get them is through Easy Roller Dice. For other fancy kinds you can check out some of the more general pages I will list in the next section.
Top of the line for those accessories you can get cheaper (but way less cool) at Chessex is Wyrmwood Gaming. They have all the stuff you need in rare woods and gemstones (see above about the stone dice, I always fear chipping)
Dice bags are also good gifts. There are basic ones that come with the standard set but cool ones are cooler than basic ones. Google searches will reveal an Etsy empire of dice bags. Chainmail bags are a current thing as are bags made to look like cute versions of iconic monsters.
Also, if your gamer is identifying as such in public, then there may be some fun clothing options as well. However it's good to check how they feel about that sort of thing. These can be obtained at the publisher web pages and third party sites. Finally, A little bit of conversation might indicate whether they enjoy watching live stream tabletop games on Twitch or YouTube. Channels such as Geek and Sundry, Critical Role, Penny Arcade, and Web DM (there's seem to be Patreon only) all sell funky products--including t-shirts--that contain the usual in-jokes that form the social capital of we nerdy types.
Also worthy of note: Penny Arcade runs PAX, which is a gaming convention that features both video and tabletop games. They come to Boston--"PAX East"--so tix might be appreciated by some.
Easily the two most dominant games are Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder/Starfinder. I love them both. If you know that one of these is what they play (and that they play the current edition), Then perhaps a gift certificate directly from the publisher would be your best bet. They can then pick the thing that they are looking for.
These pages are also useful for miniatures. I am not qualified to discuss them since the last time I used miniatures seriously they were made of lead. That was a long time ago...
If your gamer is more adventurous however, then I have one recommendation. You should get them a gift certificate to DriveThruRPG. This is the page used by most third party and smaller designers. If you are into things like RISUS or the new “old school” games based on clunkier but endearing RPG rule sets, this is the place to go. It is what I use for fun stuff It contains things like modules and one-shots made by semi-pros and very specific scenarios that a game master might just find themselves in need of an hour or two before a session. Much of their stuff is in PDF form but there are hard copies of many things and you can always wear out your printer if you are old like me.
One note, there is always the risk that the thing at Drive Thru isn't as good as you wished it was. That is the risk. The reward is making it better.
The Gift of Tabletop online:
If you are old like me, then you remember the bad old days when it was hard to get a game going because people thought we would all get lost in the sewers after failing to raise a demon. It is still hard. As I alluded earlier. This is not a hobby that responds well to "leagues". The groups are usually best kept around 4-6 people and it is still not something that lots of people are into in a public way.
In addition, people are super-busy! So even if they think gaming is cool and fun it is hard to get a group together. Fortunately technology has helped with that. Easily the most active groups I am in play online on a web page called Roll20. To set up a membership is free (if you are a player and not the Game Master) but a membership for that GM might be appreciated. There are also virtual books and adventure paths that work only on the platform that cost money.
It may not be ideal to meet virtually but it really beats not playing. I am thinking about cracking open this option for my church group. We have met only once this year and even though we live just a few miles apart, it is hard to get together in person. Sitting down at the computer after work and homework are done may make a lot of sense. For adult groups it is almost a necessity these days. It cuts down travel and chitchat so people can get in and out of the game and then on to whatever else they are up to with no fuss.
Incidentally, I am on Roll20 and would love to get a game going if anyone is interested.....just let me know!