Real life isn’t always easy. We all have hobbies and things we like to do to put the problems of real life behind us and have some fun. Gaming is one of the many activities that we use to help us wind down and relax after a stressful day. For some, having a drink or two is another. Whatever helps you get rid of the day’s worries, right?
If one relaxing activity is good, what about combining two of them? Would having those drinks during a gaming session be even better for your mood and stress levels? Instead of going to a bar with your friends, you can just sit at the game table with them, toss a couple back, and then be the Big Damn Heroes. On paper, at least, it seems like a complete win-win. But is it?
Combining gaming and social drinking is not necessarily a bad thing. In some situations, it may even be a good thing! But like anything else, it can become a problem if you let it.
Have A Sip Of Liquid Courage
When can drinking at the game table be a good thing? When it’s done in moderation and serves to make the game better. How can that happen? By making the players and/or GM happier or more comfortable, or even by setting the mood for the game.
If you’ve had an exceptionally bad day, when everything that possibly could have went wrong did, it can be very hard to let go of all that stress. As badly as you want to relax and game, your mind won’t quit racing, your blood pressure won’t go down, and even you eventually realize that you’re being a cranky-ass to everyone at the table. If having a vodka cranberry is what it takes to get you settled down enough to game, then maybe that’s what you should do.
Then, there’s the situation immortalized in movies, TVs, comics, and novels: someone needs to summon up the courage to talk to a cute girl, or give a big speech, or something else equally nerve-wracking. To give them the gumption, they down a drink. Hey, it worked for Samwise Gamgee.
As fun as gaming can be, it can also be a little bit stressful. Being the GM is hard work, and wondering whether your players will like your new game can be worrisome. Having a beer to settle your nerves may help you run a better game. The same goes for the player who gets a little nervous getting into character or meeting new players.
If you like real-life touches to add to the gaming experience, alcohol can be a nice one. As you have probably already noticed, there’s a lot of drinking in fantasy games. Your characters spend a lot of time at taverns, and in locales where the water safety is questionable, so the ale and mead flow freely. Why not break out some good ale or mead of your own the next time the party is at the tavern? It will add a little more realism and atmosphere to your game, and what player wouldn’t love a prop like being handed a frosty mug of rich ale, or the barkeep (GM) uncorking a bottle of mead in front of them?
When A Good Thing Becomes A Bad Thing
Before I sound like I’m all for a keg at every table, I assure you that I’m not advocating every game group allowing alcohol. A little bit of booze in the bellies of mature adults who know how to enjoy it in moderation is all fine and dandy, but that won’t always be the case.
The main problem with allowing adult beverages at the table is the player (or even GM) who doesn’t know when to stop. Whether they actually have a drinking problem or are just of the belief of “go big or go home”, they won’t stop after a couple beers or rum-and-cokes. They’ll down the whole six-pack or the whole bottle. There’s always the chance that they’re a happy, fun drunk. But odds are they won’t be (like the drunk guy who started swinging a sword at our game club’s Halloween party a couple years back), and even if they are, will they be in any condition to game?
Personally, I’m not a big drinker anymore (as Chef famously said on South Park, there’s a time and place for everything, and it’s called college) and I left the bar scene behind years ago. I’m long past any desire to drink to the point of drunkenness. A nice buzz is good, tipsy is even OK, but I draw the line at drunk. Other people’s drunkenness actually makes me rather uncomfortable, especially when they’re loud, angry, or otherwise obnoxious. So a drunk at the table would absolutely ruin the game for me, and there goes my relaxing activity for the evening. I’m not the only gamer who would feel this way. If one player’s behavior is ruining the experience for another, they are breaking Wheaton’s Law, and they should be told to either learn to drink in moderation at the table, or not at all. If they won’t respect that request, they’re probably a problem player in other ways, too, and you don’t need that at the table.
Not to be a bigger buzz kill than Buzz Killington, but there are some other serious things to think about when considering allowing booze at your table. If there are any minors present, you’ve got to make sure they don’t drink – best case scenario, their parents would be mad at you; worst case, you’ll be in trouble with the law. (I make no claims to knowing the laws in your state or country regarding drinking in the presence of minors – do your own research if you have concerns.) Some recovering alcoholics can handle being around other people drinking, but some can’t even be in the same room with a bottle of beer, so be sensitive to that if you know one of your players has a problem. And as in any social drinking situation, everyone needs a way to get home safely, so decide who will be the designated driver before the six-pack and the church key get passed around.
To Drink, Or Not To Drink?
As I always preach, have an open line of communication at the game table. Discuss whether everyone would be agreeable to allowing a couple drinks during a session. If someone – be they a player or the GM – is not comfortable with it, for whatever reason, respect that. If you are the one who is uncomfortable, speak up! Or at least speak to the GM in private.
I’m sure we can all agree that hardly anyone looks at game night as a time to get drunk. But if you’re the kind of person who likes an occasional beer with your supper, or a glass of wine at the end of a long day, there’s not much harm in having a drink or two as you’re rolling your dice.
Do you allow alcohol at your game table? Why or why not?