The Gassy Gnoll: Time in a Bottle Summary – Advice from the Trenches

Greetings from the world of the Gassy Gnoll. Last week I asked the question – How do you continue to game as you age and still keep your obligations the next day? I offered a $10 gift certificate for DriveThruRPG/RPGNow.

First, I want to thank the 15 people who commented on the post. By far, this is the best turnout for any post yet on Game Knight Reviews.

Second, I want to thank everyone who contributed to the related thread on Reddit. We had 25 comments there as well.

Third, I had so many great responses that I’m changing the rules and giving William Wilson and Zulan each a $10 gift certificate for DriveThruRPG/RPGNow. One had some concrete tips on making regular games work and the other shared a story of recovery and perseverance. Thanks to both for sharing!

There’s a ton of great suggestions and I’ll try and boil them into a few broad categories…

Family-Friendly Tips

  • Kirby G suggests that the best way to survive the two pulls of family responsibilities and gaming is to combine the two. He says it best: “I just realized that at this stage of my life, with the commitments that I have, a night a week is just not something I want to give up when I could spend it with my family. This is really the best of both worlds. The nice thing is that it starts immediately after dinner and even if we play for 2 or 3 hours it gets packed up by 9 pm. Win/Win.”
  • Zulan suggests that you can use gaming to encourage your kids to read – “I forced my children to learn to read by not allowing her to roleplay with us until they could read the rules and create a character.” And apparently his kids can read well enough to play now!
  • OrphanSmith also suggested gaming with your kids. “I know during the work-week you feel tired afterwards. Have you tried gaming on the weekends or friday nights? I’m assuming the trouble is children? Have you tried gaming with them? That’s what my Dad did. Problem: responsibility of dealing with children, solution: make them character sheets and smash them cause this is the 1980s and they don’t understand AD&D. Truly a wonderful father figure he was.”


  • Zzarchov says caffeine’s not the answer, but time management is. “I try to play evening games, which also tend to involve eating snacks as dinner (have healthy snacks).” But he warns that “Games that involve heavy prep (if you are running) is a bad sign, as are some of the more involved “epic story” games where you have to show up without fail week after week. Episodic or picaresque games work much better.”
  • Randy Newnham suggests that setting expectations and some preparation is the key: “If you work in place where this could be relevant, try to catch up on critical things the day or two before. This way, you can have a day where you can “coast” a bit. And when you get home, try to have a few expectations set. Have to cook dinner for your family? Put together a tray of enchiladas or lasagna the day before that you can just pop in the oven. Make that a movie night. Even plan a nap an use an alarm on your phone to keep it short.” He also offers some advice on selecting the right games to play at his blog.
  • The Travelling Nerd says that hosting the games yourself is the best way to make sure you set aside enough time. “Without having to worry about packing up gaming materials, a drive to wherever the game may happen to be, and leaving in enough time to get home and get a good night’s rest, I find that there is always enough time to get in a good game. Maybe it’s not a valid option for every aging gamer, but usually along with age comes more mature things like a career and mortgage. Might as well put that monthly payment to use.”
  • Mike Monaco also hosts a regular 6:30-10:30p game at his house one night a week. They eat prior to getting together and “aim for every Wednesday night, knowing that 1/4 or so of the time things will force us to cancel (illness, work, vacations, holidays, whatever). Making a regular night game night makes it easy to remember and schedule around.” They also use rules-light games to make it easier to note where they are when they stop and get more done during a session. As he says – “The most important thing IMO is having a regular schedule staked off. My wife will only ask me to cancel if there is something important that be done another night, because she knows I’m available the other nights. Everyone pretty much keeps Wed night open for gaming, because it is regular.”
  • Michael A reiterates the importance of a strict schedule to get more gaming in. “It’s important to start early on game days – try to keep the random chatter about this week’s tv shows down to a minimum, and get the game on so that you get as much of the adventure in as possible before you have to call it a night. I’ve found that if everyone is concentrated on getting a good roleplaying session going, then the night also feels more fulfilling.”
  • Stephanie seems to get in the most gaming of anybody who commented… And it all comes down to planning ahead. “I go into work a half hour early so I can get out at 4:30. Cleared this with my boss and everything. I can be at the game shop by 5, ready to play by 5:30. The game shop closes at 9. I’m home by 10 (half hour of BSing around with gamers, then half hour drive home). Wednesdays are Encounters. Monday night we played a minis game from 6-9.”
  • William Wilson says the key to getting the most out of tight, regularly scheduled sessions is time management – plus he has some great tips. See them in the “General Gaming Tips” section below.
  • Ian somehow manages a weekly game night, a monthly game on a weekend, and a “huge game” every three months. “The secret to keeping all these games running is constant communication. I send out emails to the group at least monthly to keep up the monthly game schedules, and keep in touch with people face to face, via phone and IM, and so on. Basically, at least one person, in this case me, has to have enough presence of mind to keep a schedule and remind others of it, so that if something comes up those others are reminded to say something about the conflict so that troubleshooting can happen.”
  • Lord Mhor has surrendered regular gaming sessions in favor of running convention games. I run three convention runs each year, one session per convention, six players per session. That’s my solution. Here’s why it’s so great: I go there, run a game that I enjoy, and have months between sessions to tune it up perfectly. Also, I use the Savage Worlds system. It’s fast and fun. Here’s the blurb on my game runs: Between writing a column for Roleplayers Chronicle, taunting the universe, hunting executives for fun and profit, managing family life, and developing web content, I had to place quality over quantity.
  • Devious Alpha brought up playing more frequently by playing online… “We schedule 1 night per week of 4 hours. We use the program Fantasy Grounds and all remotely connect in. I find if the family know you have this one night a week to catch up with your buddies then they tend to give it some real reverence. This way we play from the comfort of our homes, have great tools and a Skype conversation running. So long as the DM has the time to put the game together outside of game day then you have no problems. I know a bunch of tools for free map making, and modules to load into FG2 predone and such now. Its really kept the game alive for us.”


  • Simon Forster offers a few tips… ” I find that listening to music, the more upbeat the better, helps lift the spirits and make me feel ‘young’ again, in so much as anything does. Gaming with friends and having fun always gives me a boost,
    and the walk in the cold to work from the evil tube station, plus a warming cup of tea or a shop-bought latte helps perk me up in the morning.”
  • Michael A also suggests that gaming is a great way to unwind. “Everyone has obligations, but for a lot of us game night is a chance to unwind and relax before facing the grind again the next day. It’s important to set aside time each week or every other week to let off some steam by pretending to swing at sword at some orcs, and toss dice with friends.”
  • Zulan takes the cake with recovering from a heart attack at age 51. “I am a slacker at heart, but if I want my gaming sessions I gotta get my shit done. I end up moving like the wind using the gaming as an incentive. My workout Saturday was a 4 mile hike to the top of a local mountain. Then I got home about 3:00 and gamed all night long. It’s amazing what time you can squeeze out of your life if you set goals and use gaming sessions as incentive. I guess the answer is, those times where you sat on the sofa channel surfing while wondering what there is to eat are gone forever if you want to be an adult and game. If you want to game with friends, schedule it. If you have to cancel make sure you do so well before the session and re-schedule, and keep that to a minimum.”

General Gaming Tips (from William Wilson)

  • Play games with fast lethal combat instead of the 3-5 hour long AD&D battles. Keep it boiled down to 15-20 minute “surgical death fests.”
  • Second guess your players so that you’re ready for what they’re going to try, especially when they have allies to give requests to or to order around.
  • Use a policy of mutual escalation so that NPC responses are metagamed to PC activities. This way if the players arn’t willing to spend the time hacking the bad guys’ guns to cause the magazines to eject at the depression of the trigger, the NPCs won’t either.
  • Crack down on OOC tangents.
  • Provide scheduled breaks.
  • Insist on a fixed start time.
  • Time-box adventures so that you only have 3-4 hours of material available for missions.
  • Rarely leave things as a cliffhanger to be started during the next game.
  • When you plan missions and arcs, set the game up like a TV season so that bad guys last for a number of encounters before being fully dealt with and so that players get a sense of fixed continuity.
  • When playing in one game and running in another, have a GMs meeting so that we can decide who is going to get what themes. That way each game feels fresh rather then getting prematurely stale.

Really I was impressed with the amount of gaming that goes on alongside being a functioning individual with a job, a family, and other hobbies besides. I guess I’ll stop whining now!

Thanks again for all the great suggestions and feedback!

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2 comments to The Gassy Gnoll: Time in a Bottle Summary – Advice from the Trenches

  • Sewicked

    We also play every other week. It gives us more prep time and time enough to deal with family & work obligations.

    • Fitz

      I’m sure an every-other-week schedule also makes it easier to keep on track. I’ve been in three different groups over the last 6 years and somehow whether we’ve done every week (seems to get canceled more than we play) or every month (which worked for a while and then faded) our “regular” schedule was more “irregular” than anything else.

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