Archive for August, 2017

Still Working On It

The effort is ongoing.  I stopped by one of the local game stores that happens to also have a rainbow flag in their window, but sadly the owners were not there to talk.  Their website speaks about wanting to be more community center than store, so it seems like a promising avenue.  I sent them some email, haven’t heard back yet.

Also sent emails today to a couple of my local librarians to ask for help.  I’m hoping they don’t read it as just “can I use your space.”  I need partners on this effort, people with real ties into the community to double check that the need is real and help me get people to show up.

In the meantime, Jenn shared this with me on Facebook and it spoke to me:

Looking For Group

Over on FB, my old pal Scott posed the question:

Finally – any advice on how to get 1 more (female) player to my pathfinder game? I’m thinking about buying and wearing a D&D T shirt around – seems like it has been working for you!

I think we’ve discussed diversity enough so I’m going to broaden this to just the plain and simple, how do you find players?  I guess you could try just wearing a t-shirt around town, but I kind of suspect that’s the worst way to go about it.  So, in no particular order, here’s how I’ve met players in the past:

  1. Work – Yeah, that’s the biggest one for me these days, recruiting coworkers.  Maybe that’s because I’m in the video game industry, which is full of gamers.  But I also worked for a security software company once which had a fair share of gamers as well.  Culturally I think there’s a strong intersection between tech and gaming, but also as many have pointed out gaming has just become much more culturally acceptable these days than it ever was in the past.  I guess I’d say if you’re comfortable hanging out with your coworkers outside of work, why not ask them if they’d be interested in a little D&D?
  2. Clubs – Do clubs exist outside academia?  I have no idea, but certainly in college this is how I met most of my gaming friends.  Heck, it’s how I met most of my friends period.  If there’s a gaming club you can join, I’d say do it.  If not, maybe you can form one?  That sounds like a whole separate topic.
  3. Gaming Stores – When I first moved up to this area I wanted to start a game and so just went to the local game stores and pulled names off the bulletin boards.  Do stores still do that?  Maybe these days the store has a website instead.  Anyway, my friend Adam and I cold-called maybe a half dozen or so people, of which I think we actually played with three and to this day I’d say one remains someone I consider a good friend.  Coincidentally, that someone was the one woman we called.  But if those old cork boards are a thing of the past, I’d say go to the local game store and just ask the person behind the counter.  He or she can probably point you towards something.
  4. Conventions – Go and play games at conventions.  Better yet, run games at conventions.  I’ve met a lot of great gamers this way.  And best of all, it’s a great way to vet potential players.  Having played a convention game with them, you know what kind of gamer they are and have a pretty good idea if they’d be fun to have at the table regularly.  One clever gamer I played with at a convention had business cards with her email on them, to hand to people she enjoyed playing with to stay in touch.  You don’t have to be that formal about it, but definitely stop to get contact info from someone you had a good time at the table with rather than just getting up and disappearing into the crowd.  
  5. The Internet – I know the least about this approach, but I’ve heard good things about meetup.com.  I bet there are others.  I’ve never personally used this so perhaps others can comment here.

As for general recruitment advice, I’d say start small.  Invite someone over for board games.  Run a one-shot convention style game — they’re not just for conventions!  It’s a great way to kind of get a feel for someone without immediately slamming them with a weekly obligation.  Play a couple one-off games, figure out who you like gaming with, then discuss plans for bringing them in to your regular game or starting up a new one.

I guess that’s all I have.  Who else has some advice for Scott?

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.

Diversity & Dragons

I have this t-shirt that just has this pretty plain D&D logo on the front:

I think I actually got it free at GenCon when they announced 4th edition.  Being the actual words written out so clearly it’s pretty recognizable for what it is.  So a few weeks back I was wearing it while Jenn and I were getting breakfast at Dunkin Donuts.  The cashier was a young meek looking Indian girl, and despite being hidden behind huge glasses and a layer of bangs, I could see a certain excited sparkle in her eyes as we placed our order.  

As she took our order she told us effusively how she really wanted to play D&D but never had the chance, and how much she was looking forward to starting college in the fall where they had a real gaming club she could join so she’d get to play.  Groggy as I was and with this sizable chunk of her life story coming out all in one breath, my reaction was as subdued “Cool” as I grabbed my coffee and made way for the next customer.  It was cool though, and I wish I had been more on the ball or the store less crowded and I would have happily nerded out with her.

Cut forward to this evening as Jenn and I are grocery shopping (in the same shopping center as that very Dunkin Donuts) and I happen to be wearing this shirt again.  This time the cashier who I guess to be a similar age, or possibly slightly older than the Dunkin Donuts girl, told us about how she too wanted to play D&D but could never find a group.  Maybe I think she’s older simply because she had a harder punk edge to her look, with a mostly shaved head and a little ink showing, but she went on to say something like “it’s hard to find a cool group that’s, you know, not just a bunch of CIS white boys.”

I knew where she was coming from.  Certainly all of my own gaming groups have had a majority of white male players.  Also we cannot deny that gaming has a certain reputation for attracting people with a kind of 12-year-old boy personality type, regardless of actual physical age. While I’m sure that like all stereotypes there are countless examples that countermand this reputation, it does not make it any less intimidating for an outsider to try and join in without worrying about being judged for not quite fitting in.

What really pained me about this interaction though was the fact that I do pride myself on being pretty plugged in to the gaming scene.  Normally if anyone said “I’d really like to try D&D”, I’d have tons of suggestions on how to get involved.  But when presented with the extra constraint of “and not have to worry about being judged by my gender / sexuality / physical appearance” I found myself nonplussed.  What could I suggest?

There are two gaming stores in town that I’m sure run local events, but they do have that typical creepy basement feel many game stores have, and are usually full of, well, young white males.  Attend a local convention?  Yeah, there’s some diversity there and I know for a fact a lot of very cool gamers.  Also though I’m sure plenty of intolerant jerks that you’ll have to sift through as well.  Never mind that a giant hotel full of strangers well versed in an activity that you’re just trying to learn a little about can be crazy overwhelming.

I was struck dumb.  With Jenn and a couple other cashiers all chatting the conversation quickly moved away from the topic, and we left with our groceries and me not having said a single word about D&D.  It’s stuck in my craw now, and I’m trying to figure out what exactly could I do to help this?  And in fact, I find myself really kind of interested in finding some real practical way of encouraging some more diversity in this hobby I love.  I mean, clearly there are people in my very neighborhood just dying for a helping hand to introduce them to the game.

I could easily find a location to run some kind of intro game.  There are those two gaming stores I mentioned, but there’s also the local library which maybe presents a more neutral ground that’s less intimidating.  Finding something to run is easy.  How to present it strikes me as the hardest part.  How would you market this kind of thing to coax these proto-gamers out into the open?  What words could you put in a flyer or on the internet that would encourage them to see it as a safe place?  Where would you post the information, I mean besides that one shopping center down the road which is apparently a hot-bed for neophyte gamers?

I’ve seen attempts at this kind of thing completely backfire.  I remember Tim Kask ran a game at a local con that was billed as being for “Ladies Only.”  I know in his heart Tim was after the same kind of things I’m talking about here — he just wanted to introduce the game to a wider audience.  He got a lot of backlash on it though, and from all sides.  Perhaps his mistake was doing this at a convention, where presumably most attendees are already pretty comfortable with the hobby as a concept, and much of his target audience perhaps felt the tone a bit patronizing.

I’d love to hear thoughts.  What do you think people of the internet?  How would you go about setting up an introductory event for new players that have perhaps felt excluded from our hobby?  What if anything can you do to encourage a more diverse attendance?

Looking For Art

Hey everyone, I’m looking for some artwork to use as a hand-out in a D&D game.  My google-fu is failing me, so I thought maybe I’d crowd source it.  If you can help, I’m looking for an image (either photo or drawing) of a door into a crypt.  Bonus points for any/all of the following:

  • Intricate carvings – the more detail the better
  • Leering demon faces / gargoyles / fantastic beasts
  • Mysterious writing (runes, ancient language, but preferably not something actually legible)

I figured it was such a trope it would be easy to find, but my searches so far are failing me.  Who has something good?