The holidays are rapidly approaching, as the retail world has surely already let you know. (Christmas music started playing at my daytime place of employment this week. Cthulhu help me.) The pressure is officially on to get the perfect gift for everyone on your list.
But if you’re a broke little gamer geek, that pressure is even worse. You want to show your GM and fellow gamers that you’re thinking about them, but by the time rent and bills are paid and your car is filled with gas, you’re lucky to have enough cash left for some non-Ramen food. Just how are you supposed to come up with money to buy presents?
Trust me, I feel your pain. The bad news is that for the most part, it really does suck to be broke at the holidays. But the good news is…well, it’s two-fold. The first part of the good news is that most geeks have probably found themselves broke as hell a time or two, so unless they’re completely unreasonable, they’re going to understand that you can’t afford to buy them something expensive. The second part is even better: you don’t have to spend much money at all to show your gaming group that you care about them.
Options If You Are Flat-Ass Broke
If you have zero money for presents, don’t despair! You can still show your gaming group some love.
Gaming Coupons. When you were little, you probably at least once made a little book of coupons for your parents that they could redeem to get a free hug, or to get you to take out the garbage or clean your room. Kind of corny, but you had no money and your parents were probably thrilled.
If you play GM as well as Santa this time of year, why not make a coupon book for your players? Most of the coupons should be for minor things, like One Free Reroll or One Successful Skill Check, but you may want to put a couple more significant ones in there, such as One Automatic Critical Hit, One Successful Saving Throw, or One Cure Light Wounds Potion Magically Appears In Your Pouch.
If you’re a player, the coupon game is a little more difficult to play, but with a little creativity you could still come up with some great things. I’m sure my GMs would love to redeem a coupon with me for One Session With Zero Phone Interruptions (because I sometimes forget to turn my ringer off – sorry!).
The Gift of Time. We all have friends who keep putting off doing something because they don’t have time. If you have more time than money, taking on that task can be your gift to them. Whether it’s transferring another player’s handwritten character sheet to an electronic one, organizing/sorting his minis, or putting all their Magic cards in sleeves, the gesture is meaningful and will be remembered for a long time to come.
The Gift of Services. Maybe you can do something your friends can’t. If one of your fellow gamers has been using the same unpainted paladin mini for months, and you have painting supplies at home (and don’t need to buy any new colors), offer to paint it for them. Rip CDs full of gaming music for the friend who can’t figure out how to do it on his own. Get all the wires straightened out so his PS3, Xbox, and sound system all work at the same time. Whatever you can do that will save them a headache will be appreciated.
Options If You’re Not Broke Yet (But You Sure Are Bending)
If an overtime shift or extra sales commission has left you with a little extra money, but not enough to buy everyone what you think counts as a “nice gift”, reconsider what counts as nice! You can do a lot with a little money.
Gaming Supplies. Rulebooks are expensive, but they’re really the only pricey thing needed in a tabletop RPG. Think about all the other things you use in the course of a game session, though, those things you take for granted until you really need them: scratch paper, pencils, erasers that don’t smear… For just a few dollars, you can get everyone a couple pocket notebooks, writing utensils, and a really good eraser. If you have a little more to spend, an inexpensive set of dice (my FLGS has some sets that are only about $4) or a deck of cards (essential for playing Deadlands) makes a nice addition too. Put it all in a 50-cent gift bag from the dollar store, put a bag at everyone’s seat at the table, and you’re done. And you’re awesome.
FOOD! I’ve yet to meet a gamer who doesn’t like to eat, or who will turn down a gift of food. If you have max ranks in Cooking or Baking, a big batch of lasagna, chili, or cookies will make you look like a gift-giving rock star. You can go as far as making everyone their own cookie tray or individual mini pan of lasagna, but you can make life a lot easier on yourself (and your checkbook) by just bringing food for the whole crew one game night, and saying “Merry Christmas, guys!”
Can’t cook? No problem. Instead of the usual everyone chipping in for pizza, foot the bill yourself. Or buy the snacks and drinks for everyone for one game night. Everyone will appreciate it and know you care.
A Group Gift. For the close-knit game group, why not buy one thing that everyone can enjoy? A new board game, the latest Dominion expansion, a bigger battlemat… You can buy just one great gift that everyone can get use out of and make everyone happy, for far less than the cost of buying everyone an individual gift.
What About Regifting?
Regifting is always a touchy subject, and not always a good idea (in fact, often not). But consider this: you have some old game books on your shelf that you haven’t cracked in years. You may not even remember where or how you got them, and they don’t mean much to you, but hey, they’re game books, so you keep them. Your gaming buddies drool over those books every time they come to your house, because they had them once years ago, or have just always wanted them. Instead of watching them spend their hard-earned money on Ebay for copies in far worse condition than yours, why not pull your books off the shelf, wrap them up and give them to your friends? They’ll be ecstatic, you’ll look like a holiday hero, and all it cost you was the wrapping paper. (You may get a gift back in return when your friends use those books to run an awesome new campaign for you to play in!)
Remember What Matters
The most important part of the holidays is letting the people you care about know that they’re special to you. Words and actions convey that far more than any object can. When it’s obvious that there has been thought and love put into a gift, even the smallest present can shine and forever stand out in someone’s memory.
So don’t worry if money is tight. With just a little time and effort, you can give awesome gifts and still go to the grocery store. So stay home on Black Friday and relax – you’re good to go.
(No, seriously. Stay home on Black Friday. I have to work retail, and as much as I love you guys, I don’t want to see you when the store doors open.)
What little gifts have meant the most to you over the years?