“Thank you, you’ve inspired me to go up into the loft and start reading my gaming stuff again, “ is the sign that my plot to awaken the sleeper cell of RPG gamers is working. Making that tentative step of sifting through the tea-chests in the attic is the start of a journey of bringing the past into your future.
Play is the thing. Reading rules and supplements is never enough. I’ll avoid the onanicistic metaphors, but having a well-thumbed book on the night-stand will never substitute the real thing. To have a proper, active, GROGNARD sleeper cell, you need to play. How do you do it? How do you reconnect to the hobby from a standing start?
It’s easier said than done when you’re a time-poor, middle-aged, put-upon denizen of the early 21st century: the toad ‘work’, the stresses and strains of family life, and lack of a gaming network conspire to frustrate even the most resolute reawakened gamer.
I’ve been there. I’ve studied the finer points of strike-rank with the nagging doubt that I’d ever see them in play. It took a force of will and a determined effort to get where I am today, with a bit too much stuff going on.
To help the GROGSQUAD realise their ambitions, I offer the following tips to kick-start your gaming future:
SMASH A CLIQUE
Conventional wisdom will advise you to use an app, such as ‘Meet Up’, or study forums like the soon to be retired UK Role Players, or RPG Net and seek out an active group in your area.
You’ll know if you are the kind of person who can cope with difficulties of integrating into an established group. If you’ve not played for a while, it’s a little daunting to put yourself in the thick of people who look like they know what they’re doing. I know of some people who have managed to bide their time before staging a coup, but it’s not for everyone.
Most of the tips that follow, assume you’ll be starting from scratch.
If you learn just one thing from these tips, it must be this: establish a fixed date in the calendar.
I looked upon my friends who were soccer fans attending every home match every other week: They could break away from their commitments in a socially accepted hobby; why can’t the RPG gamer?
When I asked them how they did it, they said, “everyone knows that it’s ‘what I do’”
You need to do the same. Establish a fixture; build it up, because it’s what you do.
Having a set fixture such as ‘Every First Sunday of the month’ or ‘fortnightly on a Wednesday’ is much better than trying to coordinate diaries on an ad hoc basis.
Set a rule that the meeting will take place as long as there are two people.
It’s a principle that we’ve applied to the Traveller Adventure and Storm King’s Thunder over the past couple of years. Within the narrative, characters can sit out a session “on the ship” or “back at camp” to allow the game to continue, if the player can’t make it in real-life.
It sharpens commitment to the fixture, who wants to miss out? It also establishes a pattern, to keep your eye on maintaining the fixture.
A MEDIOCRE SESSION IS BETTER THAN NOTHING
We all seem to want different things from the hobby, that’s why we tend to use ‘fun’ as a common-ground. Fun has a wide continuum. It’s possible to be slightly dis-satisfied and have tremendous fun too. Especially when you’ve been reading and rereading in preparation.
Back in the day, we had a mantra that said “playing a bad game was better than not playing at all”.
Now that time is precious, we can’t afford that luxury, so there’s a tendency to place too much weight of expectation on each session. It feels like every session should be “wonderful”. It’s unrealistic and unhelpful to have such high expectations.
As a rule, prepare yourself for a mediocre sense of fun. If it turns out better, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If you’re going to GM for the first time in 30 years, having high expectations of yourself can be incredibly intimidating. It can also induce procrastination.
Aim for everyone to have a fair to middling time and you are guaranteed to succeed, and start playing again.
Finding likeminded players remains a challenge. ‘Likeminded’ is key here.
The best approach is to try and reacquaint yourself with the people that you knew back in the day. They’re probably sharing your desire to reacquaint themselves with the hobby that they left behind.
If Friends Reunited is not possible, then I encourage you to seek out other members of the GROGSQUAD. Over the past couple of years, I’m aware of at least 5 different groups forming as a result of connecting with others who listen to the GROGPOD.
To help you to make these connections, our friend the RPG Kitchen is developing a forum. It’s looking good so far and we are looking to launch before the summer.
Even if you can only find ONE other player, go for it, start small and build from there.
Try to make your first game a physical, around the table, game if possible.
Playing online through Skype, hangouts or mediated through Roll 20 is a great way of stealing time and getting an extra couple of sessions in, but again, it will never replace the real thing.
If you can avoid doing it online, then I urge you to play around the table. There’s a few reasons for this: technology is disappointing, the dynamic is different which takes a while to learn and it’s harder to have a really good laugh at rubbish rolls online.
However, it is good, once you’ve built up confidence, to experiment with online. Seek out a sample game as a player before you start GMing.
When you feel ready, then online can be a great option for those ‘away’ fixtures; “I can’t go to the game, I’m watching it on the telly!”
Online games are a great way of establishing an additional fixture.
If you are in the UK, there’s loads of meet-ups happening within a train ride, so you could go a whole year having a monthly field-trip.
Going to meet-ups are a different dynamic than entering an established club. Everyone is in a different mode. There’s a greater deal of openness and willingness to try something different and welcome all comers.
If you’re feeling a bit rusty on the rules and how to play, then the meet up is a licence to adopt the role of the faux-naif and no-one will be judgmental.
Track the UK meet-up scene on Phil Master’s list or Simon Burley’s.
Once you have been playing at home or at a friend’s house, there’ll come a time when you’ll realise that you want to build up from your small base and open it up to others.
This is the tricky step as it usually means finding a more public space to play.
In my experience so far, finding a public-space for a regular session has been the most difficult transition to make. Game shops are ideal if you can guarantee that there’s enough space and it isn’t too noisy. Pubs are ok, but they introduce ‘drink’** into RPGs which can cause problems.
The best option is to book a cheap space. Tell the participants that they need to pay a sub to cover drinks and snacks so it doesn’t feel like you are charging them to play with you.
Mastery of this ‘step up’ is my resolution for 2018.
If you want to join me and Blythy in playing at a meetup, then here’s a reminder that we are appearing at Spaghetti ConJunction on 10th Feb and at UK Games Expo in June. The Golden Heroes game I’m running at ConVergence has sold out, but there’s lots happening and it’s a friendly experience.
If you want to try out online gaming, then there are more plans for the online GROGCLUB over at Patreon. Watch this space for the forum to connect with other like-minded players.
- ** I like a drink. Compared to Mother Theresa, I’m like Oliver Reed, compared to Oliver Reed, I’m like Mother Theresa. I’m a classic mid-life, metropolitan-elite, imbiber who functions on a regular dose of woolly ale and the odd whiskey. We decided a long time ago that drink and RPGs don’t mix. Your experience may vary.
14 thoughts on “Feeling FOMO because of the FPO. JFDI.”
Great advice, Dirk! I would say that playing online has been the saviour to my recent gaming experience. I was lucky to find a group of like-minded folks to play Basic Fantasy RPG with. I live in a small town in Ontario, Canada, and most of them live in Pennsylvania, USA. It’s been great to play and never have comb my hair!
Regarding booze and gaming… My real life gaming club takes place in a church- yes times have really changed from the 1980s and one of the “boutique” conventions I attend is at a church, so there’s no alcohol during those sessions. If I’m GM’ing, I like to do that sober, occasionally having a drink mid session if things are going well. I’m not convinced having a couple of pints during a session enhances matters.
More generally gaming regularly is about finding people you feel comfortable with.
I think our experience with gaming and booze are affected by having a designated driver. There’s no fun being in a room full of ‘merry folk’ making decisions under the influence, when you are stone-cold …
The challenge of finding like-minded players with whom you can feel comfortable is the ultimate quest.
Nope. Still can’t work out what FOMO stands for.
‘To play is the thing.’ is a great slogan and should be placed on Grog T-Shirts and mugs etc.
Anyway, as this post was apparently partly inspired by my whining on Twitter the other day, I thought I’d best post a response. (The opening quote isn’t mine, of course. My books have pride of place in my bedroom library and are read with great frequency).
In my specific case, I don’t need to reconnect so much. I had a group. A really good one. But they were only interested in playing D&D and they’ve also now moved to about the limit of my accepted commuting distance. After more than two years of firstly Pathfinder and then 5E, I was becoming increasingly jealous of the folk I knew on Twitter that seemed to be test-driving a different new shiny every week.
What I needed and indeed, still do need is to put together a very specific group. Essentially folk of more or less the same attitude. A group of folk interested in short (3-5 session) campaigns covering a broad spectrum of game systems and settings. I don’t think that that is unreasonable and I have a number of ways of finding people. The thing stopping me (other than my own self-doubt and appalling attention span) is the lack of a decent play space.
I have a dining room with a decent six-foot table but I honestly feel that filling it with a bunch of loud strangers every Thursday evening is a bit much to foist on my wife and kids.
Many folk play in their local pub on a quiet night. As long it’s cleared with the landlord and as long as everyone is using the bar, then it’s a good option. It does, however feel a little public to me and I’d definitely feel incredibly self conscious doing my best illiterate cockney orc at the top of my voice.
One alternative I considered is our local church. My father-in-law is the booking manager of the church at the bottom of our street and it has a couple of great function rooms but unfortunately it would require folk to pay £3-5 a week to use and I think that that’s a bit steep. Maybe not for a club but it feels a bit cheeky asking members of a single group to pay it. As you suggest, I could charge it for tea and coffee and use it for paying for the hall but again, it feels a bit much to ask folk to pay on a weekly basis just for a cuppa or two. Also, if folk don’t show up, I’m stuck with the bill and I can’t justify that expense to my saint of a wife.
This said, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility but I do feel my best bet for now is to return to the local club. There’s a sizeable roleplaying club literally five minutes up the road from me and I attended it for a few weeks early last year. As a newcomer I was found an open slot in a game and jumped in. The GM turned out to be a bit wishy-washy, the game involved us trying to save the Earth in the near future but was a campaign in the sense that it was padded out with head-scratchingly mundane laundry-runs, Mass-Effect style. Couple this with the fact that we were using the somewhat lacklustre Alternity rule system and I was not really enjoying myself. After a few weeks there was a ‘changeover’. This is an informal and non-compulsory point every three months or so for folk to switch groups and change game systems. I saw on the list that a Star Wars game was setting up and asked if I could join. I was told that their group was at capacity already and it became obvious that people at the club don’t really seem to chop and change group at all. Realising it was a bit cliquey and that I was going to be stuck with whatever I was given, I gave up going.
However, as I say, I think my best bet is to go back with a different attitude. First of all, my biggest mistake was saying, when I initially joined, that I’d be happy to play anything. As Baz on the Smart Party podcast said once, anyone who says that is lying and, really, he’s quite right. I need to be specific about what sort of games I want to be involved in and maybe the organisers will be a bit more proactive about finding me a relevant slot and not just put me anywhere.
Then I will offer to GM. I believe they are over-subscribed with players and don’t have enough GMs. I’d ideally like to get to know folk first before GMing for them but if jumping right in there is the only way I get to play, say Star Trek Adventures, Fate Accelerated or 2D20 Conan, then that’s what I’ll do. It can’t be any worse than GMing at a con. Also, as you say, the worst the players will have is a mediocre time. I’m not the best GM in the world, but I’m confident that I’m good enough to run at least a mediocre game and probably much better.
We’ll see how it goes.
Captain’s Log, supplemental:
Okay, so I posted on the local club’s Facebook page that I wanted to set up a group playing Star Trek Adventures and if not that then I gave a list of about half a dozen alternatives but not D&D, I explained, as I’d played that almost exclusively over the years and I really wanted to try something new.
Over 90 views and only one person expressed an interest except that they had a baby due so wouldn’t be at the club for quite some time.
The club is, however desparate for D&D games as they get a lot of new folk asking for D&D campaigns with empty seats.
I huffed and I tutted and I huffed some more and in the end offered to run Phandelver. I mean, at the end of the day, ‘To Play is the Thing!’ and if I had to run D&D to get people round a table then that, by cracky, was the solution. I start Thursday night with two players, one of which has played before but is okay to do it again, the other is a newbie that wants to try it out. My thinking now is that if I run D&D for a while and get to know folks, I can try and sell a game of something other than D&D at some point 😀
Also, in the spirit of JFDI and inspired by your good self, I have volunteered to run a game at the inaugural Warwickshire Mini-Con in September. I’ve been roleplaying for over thirty years but I’ve never run a con game. I thought that a small con like WarCon might be a good place to whet my whistle so to speak. So in I go, feet-first! Exciting stuff!
You were an inspiration for the post, but I have had a number of people asking for tips for getting started. There are many people who have a nearby club as an option and it doesn’t work out for a number of reasons.
The key message I was trying to get across is “find a pattern and stick to it” and “accept that it might not be perfect” but I also agree, there’s no point just doing something you don’t enjoy just for the sake of playing.
Infiltration and steady immersion into an existing club is a great way of getting a regular game in. Good luck!
Oh, of course and it was a great article. I hope you didn’t feel I was criticising in any way.
By the way:
FOMO is the modern ‘Fear of missing out’ usually induced by social media
FPO is a fun prevention officer
JFDI is Just F Do IT!
Ah, I see now. Well, I don’t fear that I’m missing out. I know I am 😀
Of course, Blythy’s ‘safe word’ is MO! MO! MO!
Couldn’t agree more with the set a regular date thing.
Although our club is only one game old, (second one shot this Friday), the first Friday in the month as the game night whatever happens, has totally removed all that endless diary back and forth, ending in no game for six months.
If you can’t make it you miss it, so people are really making an effort, one player is moving heaven and earth to get a babysitter sorted, but without a fixed date, we’d have said ‘okay we’ll try it next week instead’ ‘oh i cant make next week’ says another player, etc etc.
It also helps keep it fresh as well, because as two of the initial group can’t make it for this one we’ll be bringing in a ‘casual’. He played a couple of times 30 odd years ago, but is happy to have a dabble now and then, and there’s another one or two who’ve expressed an interest when its been mentioned in the boozer. That way we’ve got a second string if people drop out long term.
Also the table size at the game cafe sets a maximum of 8 including GM, so there can be a cut off without guilt.
Half the group are my old games crew and the other half are for example one of the neighbours who I noticed had a lot of old GW games, another someone met through the run of taking the kids swimming, sitting and chatting, finding out he used to game, a workmate who liked cthulhu stuff etc. They’re out there.
It takes a bit of effort to set it up and do the paperwork, and at least once over Christmas while preparing for the first game, writing and photoshopping i was thinking ‘what the hell am i doing? spending hours of my life on this’.
But the results and the combined fun generated made it all worth while.
Get out there, let’s keep that snowball rolling.
I think that’s an excellent point. Fixing a date (as Dirk suggests) and then sticking to the hard-line ‘Be there or miss out’ uses FOMO as a great motivator. I’d not thought of it like that before.
Second game down, and i’m happy to report a good time was had by all, even our casual player, he’s happy to do more.
What is interesting about it is that as a new experience, (short form one offs), in a new location, (large and lively games cafe), with a fairly new mix of people, i’m re-evaluating and learning as i go along.
Once again i’d prepared a lot more than was used in the game, in the last session a whole encounter area that had to be dropped, to fit in the time (3.5-4 hours).
In this, about half of the dungeon (even allowing for the multiple routes through i allowed) wasn’t used, i was still over optimistic about how much would get done, and could have made it a third smaller.
So for my next one, a version of Alberquerque Starport i’ll cut it down, and then cut it down again by another third.
Also over lengthy or over complex combats are really no help and take up time without adding much to the flow.
The difference between CoC and Basic D&D was marked, looking up stuff on tables feels like a drag now, it felt like wasting time. Whereas the BRP percentage system, you roll, you know if you’ve hit or not, it was a lot faster and lighter. I was dropping HPs off enemies just to speed things up.
It was still fun, but just very time rich.
It is nice to get a new perspective on the hobby, and evaluate elements and encounters by the amount it adds to the enjoyment and narrative drive vs how long it takes to resolve.
For Gamma World next, another charts and tables game, i think i’ll convert to Basic Roleplaying stats to keep it fast. As it’s a one shot i dont have to convert a whole rulebook.
Also with new players it was marked (as has been mentioned in a grogpod) how easily they got the percentage system (CoC), and how cumbersome Basic seemed ‘so now i’m rolling this dice, but i need over my score’ ‘now its the same dice yes, but you need under for this stat one’ etc etc.
Not something i’d noticed before, due to playing exclusively with gamers.
No wonder your newer rpgs go for these lighter systems. I still love Basic but it’s for more leisurely campaigns.
Also there was the problem of the squeaky wheel getting the oil.
In a moderately noisy (but not annoyingly noisy) environment, the game does rely on player volume, and the short form relies on player decisiveness, so old hands with big personalities were in danger of running away with things now and then, so it took extra effort to also be keeping an eye on the players who are a bit quieter and not experienced and bring them in, in a slower campaign everyone generally gets a say.
I don’t want people to leave because they feel left out or overruled all the time.
This is i suppose teaching your grandmother to suck eggs, but these are things that have come into focus for me.
I used a pack of playing cards for the bit where they were looting the individual tombs, rather than have them roll dice for what was in the chambers, fanning them out and letting them choose, numbers x 100 in gp, get a picture card its doubled etc, ace joker meant a magic item. It added a bit of theatre and was less dry, one player saying ‘i got to get in this tomb i want a go on the cards.’
Nothing new i know, but helped to lift it out of the pen and paper dimension for the newer players.
The offer of a real world prize (a bottle of Camden Pale) to the thief who brought out the most loot also helped to break their usual gentlemanly splitting and sharing, producing some very fine greed, corpse stripping, and racing off in different directions. They were being allowed to be selfish.
Well that went on a bit longer than i intended.