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Getting a Game Group

Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years, 2 months ago

Finding a Game Group


Let's be honest. The main problem for any player or GM is not which game system to buy, or which setting to play in, or the Gamist/Narrativist/Simulationist preferences of their group – it's finding a bunch of people to play with, and keeping that group together. This article was originally part of d4-d4, and it supposes that you don't bother with a Game Circle, but want to go the old route of getting a group, and then deciding which game to run, rather than deciding on the game, then recruiting the group to fit it. Every nerd and his dog will advise you to advertise on boards in game stores. That rarely works. Nerds are shy. And they're lazy. They have to make the effort to write your number or email down, and then they have to screw up the courage to contact a strange person to talk to them about their nerdy hobbies.



What does work is two things: the internet, and making new gamers.



The Internet as Recruiting Ground


Anyone who participates in newsgroups, message boards or chat rooms online knows that people lose their inhibitions over just plain text. Scrawny or overweight geeks thousands of miles from each-other are unashamedly proclaiming their love for one another, or threatening to punch each-other's heads in over some minor argument. Whether speaking love or hate, they speak words they'd never speak in person. The internet, like alcohol, lowers their inhibitions, and suddenly they're not shy anymore. They acquire a virtual steel spine.


So, advertise your game on internet message boards. Do a websearch for roleplaying groups in your area. Plenty of people put up webpages about their game, or start message boards for "Gamers in Timbuktu" or wherever you are. If there's nothing for your area, start one. At first there'll be nothing, and you'll get downcast and imagine you'll never play. Stick with it.


One message board in my town has a couple of hundred members. It's found that it stays quiet for a few months. Everyone assumes it's dead and there's no games out there. Then some brave soul pops up and asks if anyone wants to play in his game of Kill Things and Take Their Stuff running on Sundays. This message floats out into the internet and into people's email boxes. Suddenly the guy who stopped running his game when one of his players went away says, "hey, maybe I can get a replacement and start again," as he remembers how much fun he had. So, he posts an advertisement, too. And another, and so on – a little burst of activity for a few weeks, then it goes quiet again.


These boards and chat rooms are like singles bars for nerds. They're places where people congregate because they all want the same thing. Often, the ones online are the ones who aren't getting any. If they were getting some, they'd be busy doing that, not messing about online. They're talking about gaming because they're not actually gaming. But they really want to game. So, join these online groups. You won't get laid, but you might get a game.



The Internet as Gaming Ground


The other advantage of the internet is that modern chat programs let you game with people who aren't in your town. There's play-by-post games – but these go so slowly, with everyone responding by email, that they rarely go anywhere interesting. It's hard to keep everyone interested over the months it takes for anything to happen.


But chat programs are a different matter. Some points about chat roleplaying:


  • It can be difficult to get particular players together regularly. As GM or player, you have to be willing to go with whoever shows up at the time.
  • Players will in general be less attentive. If you can see the player reading a comic, or watching tv as they game, you can stop them; online, they could be reading Dilbert in another window and you wouldn't know. Try to get players whom you know will be attentive.
  • Players will in general be less reliable. This is because people you meet online are rarely your friends; they're more like some person you happened to sit next to at a bar and chatted with for a bit. So they'll rarely feel the same sense of obligation to show up as would someone in person. Also, many people regard online gaming as simply a substitute for face-to-face gaming, they're only there until something better comes along. Try to get players with whom you have a bond beyond the game, who you talk to outside it; they'll be more reliable.
  • Generally, because people will come and go like that, there's less often that satisfying sense of taking a beginning character and making them great.
  • Things take about three times as long in chat as they do in person, because people type more slowly than they speak.
  • On the other hand, there's usually less out-of-game chatter, so it balances out to the same amount of action.
  • Private messages between players, or between the GM and players, are a good way to "pass notes" without anyone else seeing. When you pass notes in person, everyone else gets suspicious. This makes horror and paranoiac games much easier online.
  • The GM can speed things up, and make them more atmospheric, by preparing descriptive text beforehand, and cutting and pasting it from the document to the chat window.
  • It's hard to get everyone listening to the same theme music, though a few MP3s sent out can change this. It can be difficult for the GM to sketch out quick maps or drawings for the players, though some chat programs allow this sort of thing. Check around for the programs available.
  • Because people can change their chat nicknames, and because most of the players won't have ever met each-other in person, people can be more "immersed" in the game session. It's easier to believe in "Kuldor the Mighty with his bloody axe hacks again!" if you can't see the scrawny guy in beer-bottle-bottom glasses at the table.
  • The people you game with online are much less likely to become your friends, rather than just acquaintances (this could be a plus or a minus for you, depending on what you think of them!)
  • You don't have to clean up afterwards. Click the windows closed and turn off the computer, and that's that.
  • Most GMs prefer "rules-light" systems. Descriptive systems like d4-d4 or FATE tend to work okay online, because it's relatively quick to get people into a game, even if they're not familiar with the system. People might ask, "14 Strength. Is that good?" but they don't have to ask if "Strength: Good" is good.
  • Overall, most people would prefer face-to-face gaming. But gaming online is a lot better than not gaming at all, if you really can't find other gamers in your town, or people who keep your hours or want to play the same style of game as you.



Make New Gamers


Okay, here you have to stop being lazy and shy. If you've got an office job, take your game books to work and leave them on your desk. You'll be amazed how many people come up and ask about them. "Hey, is this Kill Things and Take Their Stuff? I used to play that when I was a kid…" Work on their nostalgia, and get them into gaming again. This is not so much "making new gamers" as, "retreads."


Have a look around at your workmates and friends, and consider those with related interests, not just the same interest of roleplaying. Let's say you want to play a roleplaying game set in a sci-fi universe. Sci-fi books and movies are popular. The sort of people who enjoy them, some of them – not all, but some – might enjoy roleplaying in them. Everybody at some point in a movie or book imagines themselves, at least for a moment, as one of its characters. Roleplaying is just doing this for hours, instead of moments.


So, explain to them that roleplaying is just imagining yourself as that character for a while longer, and that the rules are just a framework for that. If they're still a bit vague on what you mean, mention the Choose Your Own Adventure books. You know the ones, where you'd read a paragraph, and at the end it'd say, "if you go through the left door, turn to page 32. If you go to the right door, turn to page 57." It'd go on like that until "you" were killed or reached the end of the adventure. Roleplaying is just like that, but with a short reply instead of multiple choice. In the end, roleplaying is just a vaguely organised way of sitting around having a chat and telling tall stories. People have been doing that in bars, cafes and parties for centuries.


Of course, some people will say, "but roleplaying is just a game. It's for kids." Yes, games are for kids – games like football and soccer and basketball and monopoly and chess and scrabble. Adults play all those, too. Yep, it's a nerdy hobby.


But why be ashamed? I remember one player's wife saying, "all his old friends go out to strip shows on Friday nights, spend a hundred bucks, look at other women and come home drunk. My husband goes out and sits down and has a chat with his friends, spends ten bucks and comes home happy and sober. I'm glad he's a nerd!"


The other thing to bear in mind is that other gamers are like you - they have other interests, somewhat related to their gaming interests. So perhaps in your town there's no tabletop D&D group (for example). But maybe there's a yahoo group list of Vampire LARPers, with 13 members. Contact them - chances are, 3 or 4 of them are into tabletop gaming, too, and of those 3 or 4, at least 1 of them will give your D&D game a go. The same goes for fan clubs of Lord of the Rings, and so on. One particularly rich place to mine for roleplayers is among computer gamers - many people play computer rpgs or wargames, and would love to play with other people; they only use the machine because they've no people.


If you're bold...

Then you can chat to strangers and people at parties about your hobbies. Nerds are everywhere if you look. One day I was in a strange town, and my girlfriend was heading off to do some clothes shopping with her friend. This didn't appeal to me, so I said I'd go looking at other shops for a couple of hours. But I had no business phone book – where were the game stores? I stood there on the street corner wondering how to find it, then I remembered the Bush Pigeon.


In dry desert Australia, it may happen that you're lost in the wilderness and need water. One of the things you can do to find water is to follow someone who knows where it is – a Bush Pigeon. Each area has its own kind – it might be a particular bird, a type of tree or slope of land – but always someone knows where the water is, follow him and you'll find it.


So, I thought, what is the Bush Pigeon for games in this part of the world? Well, who games the most? University students. Where do I find them? At university, and around lunchtime they drift out for fast food. So I went to a road which lay between the university and the main shopping strip. Within five minutes I saw my Bush Pigeon – a guy about twenty years old, wearing ratty jeans, runners, a black t-shirt and with a trenchcoat slung over his arm (it was a pretty hot day), a little backpack on him, unshaven, wearing a ponytail. Not all gamers look like that, of course – but almost all people who look like that are gamers! So I followed him.


He went down a narrow alleyway between two large buildings and walked into a comic shop. Close, but not quite. I asked in the comic shop if they knew of game stores – apparently, the only one in the city had recently closed down. My method was sound, but my luck was bad! I turned to the young bloke. "Excuse me, mate, are you a roleplayer?" Looking surprised, he said "yeah", then went back to reading his X-Men comic. I could have talked to him some more, but I was only visiting the city for a day or two, so I didn't need any gaming.


Now, in general I would not recommend that anyone follow geeks down narrow alleys. I mean, they frighten easily, so would you if you had biceps the size of pencils. But it does show that there are gamers everywhere if you know where to look.



How do you spot a fellow geek? Well, as noted above, gamer geeks often have related interests - scifi stories, wargaming, etc. Not everyone who likes Buffy is a gamer geek, but if in their home they have every episode, a couple of posters up, little action figurines, and a Behind the Scenes book, then there's a damned good chance they're a gamer geek, too.


That's Geeksign - over-enthusiasm. If you're at a party and there's a person there who'll talk to anyone, and speaks enthusiastically, maybe a little bit longer than the other guy is interested in hearing about the topic, they're either drunk or a geek. Overenthusiasm - that's Geeksign. When you see that, ask them about their hobbies, and reveal your own of gaming. If they're not a gamer geek already, they might be willing to become one.


Keep Up the Effort


If you're looking for a group, decide what time you'd like to play, and until you do have that group, use that particular time to look for one. So if you want to game every Sunday afternoon from 1pm to 7pm, spend every Sun 1-7 looking for a game group. Then forget about it the rest of the week. Concentrated effort on a regular basis brings better results. And having a break from it lets you return refreshed and with new ideas and enthusiasm. Just idly surfing the net each day and putting notices here and there whenever it occurs to you, you'll end up doing very little. So, choose your gaming time, and until it's a gaming time, making it a finding time.

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