The first thing you’re going to be concerned about before hosting your little RPG soiree is the condition of your house, apartment, or half a dorm room. For most gamers, nothing short of an emergency call to Merry Maids Cleaning Service will do—and tell them to bring their haz-mat suits. If you can’t afford a cleaning service, then you’ll have to brace yourself for an inspiring hour or two of housework.
Think of it as an adventure. Your goal is to unearth the carpet, discover the true color of your bookshelves, and solve the Puzzle Box of Bedmaking. Along the way you’re likely to run into a variety of slime monsters, dust bunnies, creeping dooms, and long-lost kid’s toys. But never fear—you’ll be facing them with your Scrub Brush of Cleansing, your Spray of Antibacterial Doom, your Dusting Cloth of Obliteration, and your Broom of Sweeping. If you have kids, spouses, or roommates, you have a pretty good chance of shanghaing them into being your adventuring companions, too. Stick a colander over your head, put on some rousing battle music, and go forth to Fight Evil and Greasy Kitchen Stains. Don’t forget to use a lot of heroic one-liners, too (e.g., “Take that, dirtball! Die, scum-bucket! I’m going to wipe you off the face of the earth, slimer!”).
The end result should be carpets, chairs, sofas, beds, and toilets that your guests aren’t afraid to sit down on, and kitchen counters and a refrigerator that they aren’t afraid to set their food down on.
First, remove easily broken family heirlooms from the party space. We’re not saying gamers are clumsy, but several hours’ worth of unbroken caffeine, sugar, and salt intake — and maybe alcohol – combined with the tension of battle, does tend to make most people a tad hyperactive. If you have swords or guns on the wall, you may wish to remove those, too, for similar reasons. Even fireplace pokers should be regarded with some thought, as overexcited gamers have been known to duel with the fireplace tools, to the detriment of each other, the furniture, and the carpet.
Second, Scotchguard your furniture and rug. Oh, that’s right, they aren’t manufacturing that stuff anymore. Well, make sure there are flat, out-of-the-way surfaces upon which your guests can set their food and drinks, away from feet and flailing elbows, and on surfaces that won’t be irrevocably damaged if something damp or hot is set or spilled on them. If you’re sitting around the dinner table, of course, this is less of a concern, although spilled drinks still pose something of a hazard both to the carpet and to the character sheets and books sitting on the table.
Third, remove any kiddie or pet toys on the floor that might unwittingly cause unsuspecting guests to break their neck when they step on them. Also, go outside for ten minutes and then walk back in and take a deep breath. If your party area smells like used diapers or dirty catboxes, remove the offending objects and spray a strong disinfectant/deodorant around the area. Lighting scented candles or spritzing the room with your favorite aromatherapy spray is optional but likely to be appreciated.
Fourth, get rid of any nonparticipating children, pets, spouses, roommates, and so forth. If you can’t just lock them in the back yard or a spare room, fob them off on a sitter or bribe them away with a movie pass, if that’s what it takes. There, doesn’t the place look so much better without them cluttering up the room?
Fifth, turn off any electronic devices you don’t plan to use as part of the game. That includes, yes, televisions, computers, and even (gasp) phones. They are distractions, and you want your RPG party guests to pay attention to each other, right?
Sixth, take a moment to place brand-new, empty trash bags into the trashcans, and make sure you have a wastebasket in the bathroom if you’re going to be gaming with women between adolescence and menopause. C’mon, guys, do I have to spell this out?
As RPG host, you have two decorating choices: Make an Effort or Easy Cleanup. Which you prefer will undoubtedly depend largely on how often you host games, how many people you can rely on to help you clean up afterward, and how much you trust your gaming friends around your good stuff.
For Make an Effort decoration, you will be working to capture your game’s ambiance. If, for example, you are hosting a fantasy RPG, you might pull out your heavy glass beer mugs to serve drinks in, drape the sofa or chairs with velvet blankets, set your good brocade holiday table runner across the table, and set out a few candles in heavy brass candlesticks. For a science-fiction RPG, you might serve drinks in clear plastic or colored aluminum cups, cover the furniture with sheets so everything is grey, black, or white, and remove everything but your most modern-looking chrome objects d’art. You may choose to be as classy or cheezy as you want and/or can afford to be.
The drawback to Make an Effort decoration, of course, is that it takes time and effort, requires ownership of at least some props, and will need to be cleaned up after the game.
For Easy Cleanup decoration, you’re going to try to catch the mood in the easiest way posssible. I’m not a big fan of discardable plates and cups, but if you can recycle the cheap paper or bamboo plates, cups, and flatware afterward, at least you get to avoid another round of Cleaning House.
Food and Drink
A proper game requires that the host provide hors d’ouvres in the four basic food groups: Salt, Caffeine, Sugar, and Grease. Offer some variety here; for example, not everybody will enjoy Cheetos. Provide some Sour Cream and Onion Doritos, too. Red Vines are perennial favorites, as is anything containing chocolate. An older gaming group might tolerate a bowl of grapes or a plate of carrot sticks and dip, but don’t overdo the healthy stuff—unlike the chips and candy, if these items don’t get eaten, they won’t last in the cupboard until the next game.
Drinks should come in combinations of Sugar, Sugarless, Caffeine, and Caffeine-free, unless you are absolutely certain what your guests drink and can cater specifically to their preferences. The party host serves alcoholic beverages at his or her own risk—keep in mind the age of your guests, their likelihood of getting into a crash on their way home if they drink, and how much damage they may wreak on your house after a few beers on top of all that sugar and caffeine. Be sure to offer alcohol-free alternatives!
If you want to extend some effort, choose snacks that reflect the game. For example, gummy treats come in shapes to suit any gaming need; Old West games require BBQ-flavor chips; and cyberpunk games are nothing without Mountain Dew and Pop Rocks.
For those running Call of Cthulhu or other games involving twisted and strange events, I suggest ambling through the fruit and vegetable section of the grocery store for snack ideas. Lychees, cheremoya, baby eggplant, blood oranges … there are all sorts of weird-looking fruits and veggies in those aisles that you could use as a centerpiece for a horror game. Heck, lima beans would be enough to send some people screaming….
For actual dining, a good host should offer an array of menus from restaurants and pizzerias that deliver in the area. Etiquette demands that the host make the call (since the host knows how to give directions to the house or apartment), but that everybody pitch in for their share of food and the tip. Don’t forget the tip. Those poor delivery folx are working hard for their money while you’re sitting around gaming, after all.
Should the host decide to cook for the group, food that captures the flavor of the game is best. Cooking should not be permitted to interfere with the flow of the game, although in extreme cases, such as when one is elbow-deep inside a turkey while stuffing it, cooks may politely request somebody else make a die roll for them.
The host is not obliged to check with guests about any eating restrictions such as allergies, religious prohibitions, and so forth, but it is considered polite and may prevent unexpected trips to the hospital from disturbing the game flow. In general, however, it is the guest’s responsiblity to protect his or her own life or eternal soul by notifying the host of any eating restrictions when the invitation is extended.
Music should suit the game’s genre and mood and be quiet enough to talk over. The GM gets the final say regarding music, even if the game’s being held in a player’s house.
During the Game
The perfect host will make sure that all of the guests are having fun and eating and drinking well. Gamer hosts, however, may be satisfied with simply drawing a map to the refrigerator and the trash can and letting everybody fend for themselves.
After the Game
A hint or two about helping with the dishes or taking out the trash on one’s way to the car is enough to ensure most young gamers vanish without a trace; more mature gamers tend to belly up to the sink and do their fair share of the clean-up. Unfortunately, though, it is often up to the host to shoulder the post-party clean-up. The host may wish to go to sleep and deal with the mess in the morning, hoping that perhaps a miracle will occur and spouses, children, or roommates will magically whisk everything away overnight. Hosts with money may wish to make a follow-up appointment with the Merry Maids they hired for the pre-party cleanup. Others will simply need to follow step one—Cleaning House—all over again.
Originally written August 16, 1998
Image Source: Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales (1913)