It’s that time of year where family members from near and far gather together for the wide and various holidays of the winter season. This is a great chance to game with some folks that you normally don’t get a chance to roll some dice with. Some of your family may not be aware of your gaming, while others will. Their attitudes may range from eagerness to participate to approval to neutral to scorn. You obviously know your family better than I ever will, so please take this advice and apply it where you can. Where things don’t quite align with you and your family, feel free to ignore me.
Most gamers have a decent level of “weird” in their psyche. After all, we enjoy getting together to play make-believe in a structured manner with our friends. Even though it’s weird to do this as adults, I think it’s pretty darn cool. You should think it’s cool, so let your “weird light” shine bright and clear! (Yes, even in front of your family).
…But Not Too Weird
However, don’t get too weird. You don’t want to ook out your family members who may be unaware of this part of your life. To be more specific, I would advise avoiding games that get deep into psychological horror (or horror in general), politics, religious statements/evaluations, or that tend to lead to inter-party conflict. While I love a good game of Paranoia as much as the next person, the inter-party, clone-on-clone violence can completely ruin the next family meal as people may still hold a grudge because Little Billy killed Uncle Frank’s very last clone. Know what I mean?
Fun and Simple!
Try to find a game that’s fun and simple. The simpler the game, the more fun it will be because there will be fewer rules to explain and go through. Avoid the crunchy games like recent iterations of D&D and Pathfinder. GURPS, Hero System, and most other point-build systems are straight out (even though I love those types of systems).
A stripped down Savage Worlds (no edges or hindrances) could work. I’ve done this before at a horror-based literary convention with a LARGE group (14 players, only 2 of whom had played RPGs before) and it worked very well. Fate Accelerated (with maybe 1 or 2 simple aspects per player) can also be run smoothly.
Basically, if you can legibly fit the “character sheet” on an index card (yes, you can use both sides), then you’re in good shape. I would also highly advise pre-generated characters because you’ll basically be playing a con-style game during a holiday gathering. We have plenty of articles on prepping for and running a convention game, so I suggest you search for those and check them out.
I’m not going to delve into the different types of safety tools because Phil did a great job of it here, but I will press you to include them at the table. If you (or another player) upsets the random stranger at a con game, there are typically few long-term negative impacts on your life. However, if you get under Uncle Frank’s skin in a serious manner and he has no way to politely let you know to back off a certain topic, then it could cause friction in your family for the long-term. Then again, maybe your family structure is more stable and able to handle this than what I’m used to, and I could just be a “Nervous Nellie” in this area. Better safe than sorry, I think.
In Game Meta Currency
Lots of games have Bennies or Fate Points or some other mechanic. While I normally state that these tokens should not be edible, I’m going to say that tossing out mini-candies as bennies is a good thing in these scenarios. Just let your family members know that if they eat the candy, then the empty wrapper is not valid as a Bennie… Or maybe it is? Depends on how you want to play the game. I think tossing candy out is a great ice breaker. I’d also be more generous with them than the rules (or other standards) dictate. This will encourage higher levels of participation as people will amp things up in the role playing side of things in order to score some more chocolate from your stash. Just make sure that stash is stocked!
Finally, I hope this is a great holiday season for you. I don’t care who you’re celebrating with, how you’re celebrating it (if at all), or what games you get to play. I just want everyone out there in the Gnome Lands to be safe, sound, and happy around the gaming table.
If you do end up celebrating the season with family at the gaming table, I’d love for you to come back here and let me know how things went.