Monday, April 25, 2011

Putting Together a Gaming Group-Seven Steps

So you want to cobble together a group of table top role playing gamers. You have an  itch to play but you don't have a clue who to game with or how to go about attracting fellow hobbyists to your table.

What is the best way to go about it?

Maybe you're a lucky member of a group who grew up together and have had an ongoing campaign for many years and you never want for players or a DM. That is awesome!

But if you find yourself a lone pilgrim in the gaming lands, this article is for you.

I will share a few suggestions that have helped me to assemble several solid and relatively long lasting gaming fellowships. These suggestions are not only aimed at how to gather a party, but also how to gather or find a group you will be happy with and avoid some of the drama and headaches that are the occasional pitfalls in the dungeon of the gaming community.

These suggestions are written in a fashion that will mainly speak to people who wish to actually conduct the game...titles for such insane persons include: moderator, referee, Game Master, Dungeon Master (DM), Story Teller and so on.  For those of you who simply wish to join an existing group or create a group in which you can  be a player, all of the below mentioned methods will serve you just as well.

Number One: Be Ready

Have enough gaming materials on hand to supply for everyone who might join. Make it to where a person can show up and simply begin playing or character creation. This means you have all the necessary rulebooks, enough dice, paper and pencils and miniature figurines. Be self sufficient and depend on no one else to supply necessary components to the game experience in case they don't show up, quit, the game, etc. You may also attract newbies and they will most likely have nothing and not know any rules. If you are going to DM, have a good grasp on the rules of the system you plan to use. If you have taken the initiative to begin a "from scratch" group, you have a quasi-leadership role and thus should be self sufficient in this area. Although creating characters can be a very fun process in itself, your having a good selection of pre-made characters on hand will help everyone jump right into playing. There is plenty of time for the players to learn character creation later, especially if they are new. If you go the route of pre-made characters, have them on decent character sheets and illustrations really help first time players. If you do intend to create characters, plan for the first session to be mainly about that and getting acquainted with your new friends and going over setting material.

Number Two: Find a Place

If you will be meeting strangers you met through poster ads or the Internet, I don't suggest meeting them in your home right off for obvious reasons. If you are all unknowns, it might be best to find a public place to play the first few games before you open your home or go to someone else's place. Many gaming and comic book shops offer tables in the back for public games--however, while some love the environment, I have often found these to be crowded and noisy places to try and run a game. There are a few other options. A college campus is an excellent place to play...on weekends the student union lounge or cafeteria is often empty of activity and you can stake out a table. Some campus libraries have enclosed study rooms that are first come first serve and my gamers and I have often used these for a game. Some of the cheaper eateries have rooms they will let people use for a very nominal fee--a local restaurant owner offered to let my group meet in his private dining area on the simple condition that each player order a meal. Libraries often have rooms they will rent out. If a fee is to be paid, make sure all players know this up front if you plan to share the cost. Other places to find a space are community centers, used book stores with additional space, and just about any place you can think of and make arrangements with the owners. Once the gaming group becomes comfortable with each other, you may move to someones house or apartment, but one consideration is that if you get people to your group that are somewhat distant from each other, a public place centrally located that isn't too far for any of you can be a good regular place. This brings me to my next suggestion, though.

Number Three: Try to Stay Local

This is more of some advice on Step Two. When you are planning for your strategy on  advertising for players and where you are going to play, I would recommend that you search for people as close to the place you want to play ..and possible. The easier and more convenient it is for everyone to attend the game, the better. People are less likely to be late, they will not eventually get tired of the hassle of a long journey and quit coming, and you are more likely to feel comfortable with people from your own community if it comes to using someones home as a meeting place. While on this subject, I will offer this sage advice: avoid offering rides! Sounds cruel, but with few exceptions, aside form safety considerations, this hurts a gaming group. Crossed communications result in showing up late, some people don't offer gas money, and if the usual ride giver doesn't attend you must either deal with the inconvenience or be minus yet another player. I don't mean to offend people who may find themselves without means of transportation at the moment and as I said, there can be exceptions but for the most part I would advise everyone getting themselves to and from a game.

Number Four: Create A Web Resource

This step is certainly not essential but it can be very helpful. With the proliferation of free web forums, blogging platforms, and other free sites, some sort of web page can be set up relatively quickly and simply. The site can include meet up information, links to game and setting information, and even a discussion page. And once you do get a group going, you'll find it a good resource for an ongoing campaign. It's a place to chat about the game, post maps, artwork and adventure logs, and make important announcements to players. Remember not to include personal information--adopt a moniker and provide an e-mail so you can be contacted. You can include this link on any posters or Internet advertisements you put out. You can even get some business cards printed up very cheaply through a company like Vista-Print with your name and e-mail, the site link, and a name like "The Gaming Collective" or something similar--you can leave the card at game shops or hand them out to prospective players. With a link included, they can go home and check it out. You can put some interesting graphics on the website to make it visually appealing.

Number Five: Finding Players

This is the fun part. After taking into consideration the first four points, you should be looking for players.

There are lots of ways to do this, but before I get into them I must first advise you to get some things straight in your advertising. It is wise to include an age mention, and if you want an adult group, include the note "18 +" in the listed criteria. Having no minors there absolves you of a lot of responsibility--if any teenagers attend your game they should be accompanied by a parent or adult sibling--you may want no teenagers there at all as sometimes older people don't want to always watch what they have to say and do. Or you may actually want to have a family friendly group where younger kids can play. You need to decide this in advance, and make sure everyone who will be joining the meet up knows these type of things. You will save yourself a lot of trouble and hard feelings from people who feel cramped because the dynamic of the group was totally not what they expected.

If you are meeting publicly, alcohol and smoking aren't usually an issue but you should decide if you want any of these things present at your games. Some players like to drink beer while gaming! Nothing wrong with this, but if you are a recovering alcoholic who games to have an alternative activity, it becomes a problem! These are things you should hash out in your ad or after you e-mail or talk with potential gamers.

Now that you know the age level and general tone of the meet ups you have in mind, you can search for players. Potential ways to attract players include the following:

A. People you know. Why try to attract a group of perfect strangers--introduce your friends or family members to the hobby. School, church, the workplace and such like places are good places to find people to game with. I've introduced several of my friends to gaming. There has been a stigma that followed fantasy games from their early days, but for the most part the huge number of people who have entered the hobby and its popular success has minimized or eliminated this in most circles. The cool thing about going this route is that you get to brainwash your new recruits into your particular style of gaming or system of preference--get 'em while they're young, treat 'em rough, and don't tell 'em nothin'! Of course, the drawback to this pool of players, if you are inclined to consider it a drawback (I don't) is that you will be doing a lot of teaching--rules, how to play, etc. But if you can have the patience for that, there something about interested neophytes that creates a very inspiring energy. I will be writing a  future article about tips for gaming with newbies.

B. Place posters with your contact information in appropriate places. I would put your phone number and/or your e-mail. If you're worried about security and privacy, create an e-mail account specifically for the game and use that. The poster should indicate when you want to meet, the general number of players you want to gather, the game you intend to play, that no one needs to bring anything, a possible website link where they can read information about the game, and a nice graphic to catch their attention. Make sure the flier looks good and not garish. Ask to hang it at: bookstores, game or comic shops, public bulletin boards such as laundry-mats and grocery stores, college campus bulletins, libraries and anywhere else you think it will be seen. I have had some success with this method.

C. Use the Internet. I highly recommend using Meet Up, the social connection network. One gamer in our city set up a role playing community there that has a couple hundred members now and I have connected with upwards of eight to ten gamers through his page. It costs some money to set up a community but chances are one already exists....just enter your zip code.The good thing about Meet Up is people go there looking for a specific community and also you can post detailed information about your game and what you are (and aren't) looking for. The site can be found at . Craigslist is another possibility, though with all the dangerous things happening as a result of Craigslist meet ups, you should be very careful. The strictly platonic section and activities and groups pages are places I have advertised and have met up with a few gamers that way. Another downside to CL is that people who aren't specifically going there to look for table top games may see your ad and you can get some flakes this way. But I did make a good connection through this venue. There are a number of gaming sites, some run by game shops, where people advertise for local games in your area. Sometimes, gaming systems have excellent websites that include discussion forums where local players meet each should check and see if your game publisher does. Even if the publisher is defunct or no longer runs the game, many older systems have fan sites that include such forums.

I will be posting some links for these as soon as I get them.

This is an excellent avenue as again, you can be specific in your information, and you are mostly dealing with people already familiar with your game system and the hobby in general. Observe all sensible safety protocols when meeting players off the Internet. That said, the Internet method proved to be the primary avenue for me in obtaining a core group of players, supplemented by adding some friends and family members.

D. Newspaper ad. This is not a common method but it can work. In the eighties I joined a group as a player after seeing their ad in the classified section of the local newspaper. We played only a few sessions together as they had a different gaming style than I liked but I give the example to show that the newspaper ad can work. An ad of this nature was relatively inexpensive the last time I checked. You could also see if you can get away with writing a letter to the editor about role playing games, maybe addressing common misconceptions about the hobby, and include an Internet  link and contact information like your e-mail. Some editors will let you do things like this, some won't. But if they do, you may attract a player or two that way.

E. Volunteer to run a game somewhere as a public or private event. I have never actually tried this yet but I think it bears mentioning. I know that someone set up a "D&D Night" at a local library in the next town and it got pretty big. It was mainly aimed at teens, and given the stigma that is attached to role playing games here in the Bible Belt, I was surprised that the library allowed it. But here is a chance to use the hobby to do some real good aside form the pleasure of playing. you could volunteer at a children's or veteran's hospital, a library, a youth detention center, or some such place. Such a gaming group would have it's whole unique dynamic I'm sure, but you never know, maybe someone who is depressed and needing a hobby would get something positive out of it. D&D as civic duty--who would have thought!

F. Be proactive in meeting new people in any venue. If you have a gaming tee shirt that indicates you are in the hobby or a hat or button, it may lead to a conversation with a potential new player. I once made a gaming contact with a girl who saw my friends and I going over some game material in cafe at a book seller. She used to play, and when she saw the dice, she came over and said, "You guys are gamers? Cool! What do you play?" So be open to new people--don't be a recluse. Unless you are wanting to play only with fellow recluses...nothing wrong with it, nothing wrong with it all.

Number Six: Deal With Social Gaming Up Front

If you are wanting to run a game based on a specific setting, historical period, or mythology, you should be clear about this up front. Some people like to simply get together around the gaming table and the game is secondary to such a meeting. That's social gaming, as opposed to the purist approach. In my opinion, it's better to have a smaller group of players unified around an established theme than a larger group that social games, unless the latter is what you are interested in.

I cover this subject in much more detail in an article I wrote SocialGaming and the Angry Purist

Note that everything I have said about social gaming also pertains to the question of the regular DM. If you plan on DMing most or all of the games, its good to let people know you are primarily interested in this and not playing so that people who get the itch to DM will not become frustrated waiting a turn at bat. If you plan to give others a chance, let them know this as well.

Number Seven: Be Polite and Don't Burn Bridges

Given the tone of my soap box preaching along the lines of point number six, you may think I am a radical purist who doesn't care about social niceties at all.

Very untrue. I'm just about avoiding future problems and frustrations. But I can't stress this step enough. I've offended a few people accidentally form time to's inevitable, but I have made a strong effort to treat everyone decently.

Deal with everyone you meet as a person and treat them with respect, even if they don't join your gaming group. or if they do join and you later part ways.

Keep their contact information and stay in touch, as you never know when you or they might have a change in gaming styles of systems.

If someone doesn't elect to attend your meet ups, put them in touch with gamers you may know of who might be running a campaign more up their alley.

Help other gaming groups to grow as it helps the hobby, creates good will, and also creates the occasional cross over effect that widens your pool of potential players and DMs.

Closing Advice

On that note,  take what you can get in the way of numbers. So you can only get two other players besides youself. Don't wait until you get a large number--get the group established and when it has some longevity and the campaign develops a character and flavor of its own you'll find that it will draw the additonal player or two in at some point and such players will find something endurable and steady in the play experience. They'll have the sense they are joining something that has been settled and matured and that makes them feel comfortable because there is..for lack of a better word...a routine they can quikcly assimilate to. Newer groups are still searching for this when they begin--so there is an advnatage to being a latecomer.

It is rather difficult to have any fun with only a DM and one player in my opinion, so I would hold out for at least three total, and if you are newer to running a game or handling a group meet up I'd keep the number of players down to six total--four or five is optimum, though.

A final word along this vein, and this is purely my preference. You can chuck it if you like.

I make it a  point to have absolutely no pressure about attending my games. I'm religious about this--as a DM I do not ask for any commitment.

 Gaming is supposed to be fun--not like work or school where you cringe when something conflicts with the schedule or you fel guilty about doing something else. I am well aware many or even most would disagree and claim they have to have something to run their game on but I feel if you run a  good game you will have players and open atmospehere is better than one where people feel obligated to play in your adventure just because you played in their session.

What if they don't enjoy yours? What if they want to have dinner with their family instead of game? What if they can only attend bi weekly instead of weekly?

 I accept such situations. I have always found a core group will meet faithfully and the others will straggle in from time to time as they come--I make room for the stragglers and I run every game with the same enthusiasm whether I have three players or six, whether a key player didn't show up or did. When I'm playing as opposed to DMing, I really get turned off by having my gaming experience turn into a gripe session where the DM blames the adventure folding or not going well on someone not showing up. Shoot man, you're the story teller--this isn't set in stone--don't short the people at your table just because of the people who aren't! Make a story innovation to deal with their character's absence and move on.

Sure, I have been frustrated many times by people who didn't show or who dropped out at crucial moments. But I adopted a philosophy of "Work with the people there right then, not those who are not." I'm going to have a good session regardless of who is or isn't there. If I find it often that only one or two players show out of a larger group, I am obviously doing something wrong and the problem lies with me and not the other players--I've got to work on my game. If you build it, they will come.

This again heads into the territory of a separate article about gaming group chemistry, but I include it here because I advise you to adopt this philosophy when putting together a new group.

This concludes my advice. I'm sure much more could be added by other gamers but this should help you put together a group. Good luck, and good gaming!

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