My Motivations

Thanks everyone for replying to yesterday’s post.  I keep forgetting that I have turned on the Facebook integration of this blog and must opt-out when desired.  I had a moment of uncertainty when I realized yesterday’s post was going to Facebook.  I knew the topic might be sensitive enough that discussion on Facebook could degenerate, but I figured at least that would be encapsulated in Facebook.  I could always moderate the blog comments themselves, and for what it’s worth I do think we stayed much better focused here than what happened over on Facebook.

I am though a little disappointed in how much the conversation seemed to become about whether or not what I was proposing should be done at all, rather than answer the question I was asking: how to do it.  There’s little doubt in my mind that I actually have a good idea here, so mostly I was looking for input on the logistics.  It seems though perhaps I took too much for granted, and maybe I should lay out why I’m so confident that holding an intro D&D game aimed at including a diverse audience is a good idea.

Between the ages of around 12-14 years old I was pretty aggressively bullied, so much so that I ended up changing school systems.  My parents were divorced since before I can remember, and when I was about to enter eighth grade my mom remarried and bought a house about half an hour’s drive from where I was currently living.  The opportunity to move in with her and make a whole new start was exactly the escape I needed.

But before that happened, I discovered D&D.  In fact, I remember reading the label on the red basic book that said “for ages 10+” and thinking I might get in trouble for reading it.  I had no real mentor in this hobby.  There were no gaming stores anywhere near me, the best I could ask for was a shelf in the back of the local comic book store.  I certainly never discovered any kind of gaming community there, they just sold the books.  I asked for those D&D books at pretty much every birthday and Christmas, and read everything I could get my hands on.  It sounded like an amazing game.  Despite all that interest, I could never get a game together at this time of my life.  I was a shy kid, and had very few friends, and this is around when the bullying started.

Now I had my escape, I moved in with my mom, I made new friends, and eventually later in high school I started finally playing with a regular group.  I recognize though that there was a lot of random chance involved in getting me that opportunity.  If I hadn’t moved, would I have eventually found a group to play D&D with?  Maybe.  But when I then project onto my own personal experience what it would have been like had I been a girl, or black, or gay, or anything else that could pile on even a little more sense of being an outsider, I’m sure it would have been an insurmountable task.

Gaming has shaped my life.  I am now a professional video game developer, an industry that itself was totally inspired by and built on top of tabletop gaming.  Most of my friends I have through a shared love of this hobby.  I am certain that life would have been radically different for me had I not eventually found some friends to play D&D with.

So when people recommend to tell someone “just buy the books, find some friends, and play” it breaks my heart.  I know how hard an ask that is.  Sure, you can learn the rules from reading a book.  It’s not as easy as just sitting in a game but it does work, that’s how I did it.  But I’m not talking here about just learning the rules.  I’m talking about giving someone an opportunity to experience what playing the game is actually like.  One game could be all it takes to change a mild curiosity or interest into a real passion.  And maybe it introduces some potential players to each other who wouldn’t have found each other otherwise.  I mean, part of me is desperate to go tell the grocery store clerk about the Dunkin Donuts girl.  They work not 100 yards apart!

My plan is to continue do some research.  I’ll talk to the local game store owners, and the YA librarian at our local library, and anyone else plugged into my local community.  It’s possible that these two interactions were just a fluke, but honestly, I’d do this for just those two people if I could.  I suspect though that I will find more.  I’ll post back and tell you all how it goes.

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6 Comments

  1. I am grateful and excited that you’re opening these doors! I agree that roleplaying is amazing, but I also know that some people may be less welcome at every table than others. I love that you’re doing this!

  2. One of the schools I worked in was grades 6-12. I saw the bullying you are taking about first hand. As an administrator we discussed ways to stop the bullies as well as empower those bullied. A gaming club was formed. We played rpgs, board games and even larped. We found that these activities helped both sides. Keep looking. BTW- the schools I worked in were very diverse.

  3. Hi Paul, I just read both posts and I wanted to tell you that I saw one group create a Meet up group and it waa so popular that they had to turn people away. It was a women’s only group. Ypu could create the group, let those two people know and I bet it would grow from there. If I lived closer I woukd volunteer to GM..

  4. “So when people recommend to tell someone “just buy the books, find some friends, and play” it breaks my heart. “

    As one of the people who said exactly that, I get your reaction. But when I was 9 I got the D&D game because I asked for it. A couple of people showed me how to play, but that was one time. Another uncle ran a game a few times, but that was only after I’d been playing for a little while on my own. I literally got the books, had a one-session intro to the game (it helped, even Basic D&D wasn’t easy to understand for a 9 year old), and then started to teach my friends how to play. They liked it and got the game books too and we were off, with all of the ups and downs of elementary school kids playing RPGs would expect to have.

    So while it probably seems cold, and seems like a big ask to say “go buy a game and play with your friends,” it really is something that can work. I still do that now – I ask people I actually like to spend time with to join our games. We set up games based on the players, not find players based on the games. I’m less shy on the internet but generally I don’t like to talk to strangers or try to find new friends. It can be done.

    So as much as I’m breaking your heart, I would have to stand by my advice. Especially if it’s not “find a group” but “find a group without people like ______.”

  5. “A couple of people showed me how to play, but that was one time.”

    And that’s all that I’m trying to offer. It doesn’t sound like we disagree here.

  6. @PeterD:
    I recently ran across a quote on the ‘net that said “Never play D&D with someone who you wouldn’t want to go on a 3 hour car trip with.” Long term play is always better with close friends. Con play and other open to the public type things strike me as being better when the player is already comfortable in the hobby. (Kinda like playing a pickup softball game in the backyard is a better start than trying out for the local league.)

    Actually though, on the subject of learning the game or getting new players in, maybe a better angle on bringing folks of all sorts into the fold isn’t so much based on hosting an event as it is offering to play a mentoring role for a group of beginners. So not so much “I’m running an event and all are welcome.” (although that’s extremely cool) as “If you and your circle of friends want to try this out and need some guidance, I can sit in for a couple sessions and help you navigate these arcane rules until you feel comfortable with ’em .”

    Paul, I know you’ve been part of Big Brothers & Sisters for a long time, and I think it would be kinda like that. Or like a ski-instructor or golf pro with a DMG and a bag of funny dice. Act as co-pilot/rules referee for a beginning GM. Let them learn the ropes and find their vision as a storyteller with only gentle guidance where it’s needed. (Tips like: While it might be funny to kill off the party with falling rocks in room 1, it can be discouraging to your players, so maybe think of something else.)

    Maybe bring along an experienced player or so to be guides for the folks on the other side of the screen. You’ve got a diverse enough bunch of fellow gamers in your rolodex that you can tailor your sidekick(s) to the group’s composition and demonstrate that this really is a game for everybody.

    Maybe co-ordinate with college gaming clubs as a resource if a bunch of students want to form a group. They probably would have more experienced players who could be your assistants. You could also tie it to cons or other such events, but instead of billing it as a traditional game session, bill it as “Bring your whole group, GM included, and I will be your sage.” Maybe choose a good beginner module and hand it to the GM when they gather.

    Just a (bunch of) thougt(s).

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