“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
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.
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.