Archive for the ‘Intro to D&D’ Category

Intro to D&D Test Run

Friday night I ran a test-run of my Intro to D&D game for some friends at at work.  Here’s a quick brain dump of how that went:

What Went Well

  • Plenty of players – I overbooked as I fully expected a couple people to flake.  In fact, for scheduling I used the site whenisgood.net, and the initial results showed no more than half the interested players were available at any given time.  And yet somehow, once scheduled, all but one showed up and we even had a few last-minute extras.  All told I had 9 players at the table.
  • Diverse group – Remember how this idea started?  The point of this first game was simply to test the pacing and mechanics of running a teaching game, so I didn’t particularly try to target a diverse player base.  I posted on our our public company-wide channel asking for players who had “never played, haven’t played for a long time, or could at least pretend they don’t know the difference between a d4 and a d6”.  I got about as diverse a crowd as our company can offer – including 4 women, and at least 3 players who had no background in tabletop RPGs at all.  Not bad for employees of a New England video game company.
  • Opening with light roleplay – The hook for the adventure is that the players are the first to arrive at a tiny village within a day’s walk of the dungeon site which is well known to contain a certain fabulous treasure.  Think tiny town caught up in the gold rush.  I start with the players arriving at the village’s only tavern, where I introduce the tavern keeper as a very gregarious but forgetful fellow.  As he learns of the player’s interest in the dungeon he makes an effort to introduce them to each other, but can’t remember anyone’s name or profession.  There’s some funny play-acting in here for me, and it lets me rope the players into doing likewise as they help the poor sod introduce themselves.  It’s a fairly simple opener, but everyone seemed to enjoy it and it got the game rolling and the players roleplaying with each other.
  • Dice – It’s a small thing, but I bought baggies of pre-packaged dice sets for each player.  Not only did pretty much all my players need dice, several of them needed the info on what the different dice were.  Having this all ready to go without requiring any thought or time sifting through dice at the table was great.
  • Caller – I asked them to nominate a caller and explained what it was.  In fact, I never had to lean on the caller at all, they were pretty good at keeping things moving.  Despite this, I think acknowledging that disagreement or debate at the table was likely to come up may have helped set their expectations, and having someone who felt like it was their job to keep the group moving probably also slightly influence play.

What Went Not-So-Well

  • Too many players – I know, kind of lame to list this both in the well and not so well.  I hate turning people away from the table so I ran with a table of 9 players.  I think it only really worked because some people at the table did have a little more experience than others and could fill in the gaps.  If I assume I really do have to teach the entire group all the basics, I should probably cap it at 6.
  • Making characters – Sigh.  I knew this was going to be touchy.  I scheduled the first hour for this and it actually took about that much time.  Despite all the extra material I created (pre-packaged equipment sets, pages outlining the options for race and class, etc.), it still took forever.  I forgot about a lot of the little things, like explaining ability score vs. modifier, and calculating things like HP, AC, and weapon stats.  I think there is something to having players make characters, but I just don’t think it’s worth it for a one-shot 4 hour game.  I will probably try the next one with pre-gens.
  • Rumors too rare – After our roleplay scene I had the players roll for collecting rumors.  They did very poorly, and only a single one was discovered.  I later realized that I had put some very important guidance and info in those rumors, and not having any of it was hurting the party.  I think maybe I need to just hand them out, or at least make the rolls much easier so more get distributed.
  • Confusing passageways – There’s one spot in the dungeon with some confusing twisted natural passageways.  I had two players stumbling through them and getting very confused and perhaps a bit frustrated.  This would probably be better handled by simply narrating that the passageway is twisted and confusing, while not actually asking the players to make any real decisions.  Effectively the passageway could be straight on the map, and just flavored as confusing through description without actually confusing the players.
  • Splitting the party – When this first came up, I was candid with the group and told them that they could totally do this, but that it would split my attention and would mean half the group of players would be sitting idle at any time while I dealt with the other half.  I actually liked the opportunity to give that info and they chose not to split.  However, towards the end of the game they figured screw it, and actually fragmented into three groups.  It got rather chaotic.  Though this may just be a symptom of the next item…
  • Dungeon still too big – I liked the idea of having a much larger dungeon than they could possibly explore so the players would get the impression of it being a massive world and maybe whet their appetites for wanting to come back.  Unfortunately, just as they were about to close in on their goal the party got spooked and split up going in three wildly different directions, all away from their goal.  The last half hour of play was fragmented and we ended due to time constraint with no real feeling of resolution.

Other Thoughts

  • Level – We played with 1st level characters, and I’m still not sure if that’s the right choice.  The magic-users are very weak at this level, and it’s super disappointing to discover you only have one whopping spell.  On the other hand, I don’t want to overwhelm the players with too much by starting them very high level.  If I go the route of pre-gens, I may bump it to 2nd.  I think that will also help not make the multi-class elves feel over-powered, assuming they end up as a level 2/1 character.
  • Dungeon edits – I’ll probably cut a couple rooms.  I’m also contemplating closing off the lower levels to encourage the players into actually reaching the goal and getting out.  Maybe an impossible-to-open door or a too high to climb vertical decent will give the impression of more without actually allowing them down into the depths?
  • Post-mort – If possible, I’d like to actually leave some time at the end for players to talk about the game and ask follow-up questions.  Of course in this practice run I knew my pacing would be off and we’d be likely to be playing up to the last minute, and devoting a bunch of time to character generation also makes this difficult.  Still, I’d like to make it my goal to end at least 15-30 minutes before the time is up so we can talk about the game.
  • Real time – I should probably make sure the players are aware of the actual game time remaining.  Maybe even a hard rule of “if you don’t leave the dungeon by X real clock time, your character is never heard from again.”  I’m just thinking something to keep the game from spiraling out of control at the end and perhaps give the players an excuse to cut and run even if they haven’t reached the final goal.

Well, there you have it.  I’m actually already scheduled to run this for a real group next weekend, so hopefully a second data point will help.  Also I got a great idea from one of my players for another opportunity to run this game – PAX East.  As a convention with a focus on video games but also some tabletop present, it’s pretty likely to have folks who have heard of D&D and are curious, but have never actually played.  So, hopefully some more data points and refinements soon!

Intro Away!

More progress was made on my intro game this weekend.  Besides generally writing content and prepping the actual adventure (as well as the other introductory material I intend to include — more on that later), I also made some contacts at local venues.  I pinged my librarians again over email, still no word back from them, so I may try to just wander in during the week.  I also stopped by one of the two local game stores in town, Excelsior Comics and Games, and met Tiana, one of the owners.  

The interesting thing about this shop is that they really pitch themselves as more of a community center than a store.  According to their site, and from what Tiana told me, any profits they make from selling Magic cards or board games goes straight back into running stuff at the store.  All their events are free, and events is what they’re all about.  This is pretty evident in the space itself.  There’s a very small room at the entrance with product in it.  Far more space is devoted to tables, chairs, couches, TVs with various gaming consoles attached, etc.

This environment speaks pretty well towards the kind of reasons I want to do this in the first place.  Tiana was very helpful and gracious, and told me a little about what kind of stuff they run and when such an event would be best timed (especially in avoiding the raucous MTG crowd).  She felt that there likely was a demand for intro games amongst her customer base.  That’s one thing that concerns me – I wonder how many total newbs to gaming do randomly walk into a game store or will see postings from the store online.  I still feel like maybe the library is a better place for reaching those folks who don’t really know what’s out there, but I think I’m going to have to do a fair amount of experimentation to figure out what does work best.  So, I’m now working with Tiana to schedule my first intro game.

Recurrence is also a question.  Tiana is clearly set up for games that recur at some interval, and certainly that is generally how one plays D&D.  What I’m proposing to do is a little outside that norm.  That said, showing up at some regular interval to do this at their shop may help me garner some reputation with the regulars/staff such that they’d be inclined to recommend my intro game to friends or strangers who walk in looking for such a thing.  So maybe if I was running this say once a month I might expect it to start to draw more folks over time.  On the other hand, maybe I chew through the demand very quickly, and after a run or two there simply aren’t enough local players who would want an intro game left to run for?  I’m probably getting ahead of myself.  Let’s see how the first one goes and then figure it out from there.

So, the big thing I have to deliver for this as soon as possible is a blurb of text for Tiana to post on her store’s site and on their FB group.  Here’s what I’ve got so far, I’d love some feedback, so please post in comments or send me a message or whatever and tell me what you think:

Introduction to Dungeons & Dragons

Always wanted to play but could never find a group?  Need a friendly face to explain what the deal is with all the funny dice?  Come join us for an introductory game of Dungeons and Dragons – all are welcome regardless of experience level, and an emphasis will be made on introducing the hobby to new gamers.  We’ll be using the rules-light original edition of the game, but I’ll be happy to talk about the differences between all the variations of the game so you can choose what’s best for you to dig into next.  So come join us, roll some dice, ask some questions, and find out what this game is all about.

A Mini-Mega-Dungeon

I spent some more time thinking about what dungeon to run for my intro game.  A lot of folks rightly point out that many of the old modules are simply way too big for a single session game.  I was leaning towards the Keep at Koralgesh because I’ve run it before and quite like it, plus if I ran it with the expectation of only really playing the first level (there are 4 total levels) I think that would fit.  I also kind of liked the idea of hinting at how much more there was to players, as an extra hook for them to leave wanting more.

The problem with that is the first level of Koralgesh is perhaps not the most exciting part, nor does it have much of a consistent theme or feeling to it.  I would definitely have to inject some kind of goal in there for the players to target, and make sure they realized that going up the stairs might not be a great idea.

I considered writing my own adventure, and toyed with the idea of a dungeon escape so I could start players with very little and then equip them as we go.  I still kind of like that idea.  I also liked Dan’s suggestion of using an OPDC winner.  My personal favorite these days is Citadel of the Severed Hand from 2013, which I’ve run for 4th level parties at conventions in the past.  I think it would not be difficult to scale it back for 1st level players.

Then I remembered Dyson’s Delve, an odd mini-mega-dungeon by my favorite map maker, Dyson Logos.  What do I mean by mini-mega-dungeon?  Well, stylistically it’s very much like a mega-dungeon.  It’s very deep (10 levels), has lots of different groups with different threads of adventure going on.  It gets progressively harder the deeper you go.  The mini part is the size of each level – about a dozen rooms each.  In fact, Dyson calculates that this adventure played completely would take a party from level 1 to 5, with about two levels of the dungeon per player experience level.

I actually used some pieces of this in my campaign.  The first level has some nice stuff in it, and I could easily create a goal for the players that’s achievable on the first level.  If they wander to the second, it’s not the end of the world, but I would make sure to inform the group that the dungeon is “very deep, and gets more difficult the deeper you go.”  I like that that introduces the players to the concept of a very large world, and gives them hints at what’s to come.

I think this is the winner for me.  I will modify it a bit to have a nice juicy goal right on the first level, write up a little paragraph of intro text and maybe a rumors table, and send them on their way.  I’ve also managed to coerce a group here at my office into helping me test the thing.  I asked for players that either “never played, haven’t played in a long time, or are otherwise good at pretending to not know the difference between a d6 and a d4.”  I actually got a good pool of players and am now scheduling my first test run.

More info to come… 

Black Box Blues

Well, I dug up my copy of “The New Easy to Master Dungeons & Dragons Game”.  Unfortunately beyond the basic idea of starting the players in prison and thus introducing rules as they go, there’s not much else worth stealing.  

The writing is targeted at a very young reader and is painfully dogmatic.  The design of the dungeon itself is entirely linear.  It seems pretty unlikely that one would create a dungeon for storing prisoners and keep piles of armor in the next adjacent room, then piles of weapons, then an archery range…

If anyone learned how to be a DM from this thing, I feel pretty sorry for their players.  The very first scene the DM is told to present involves introducing a new NPC prisoner to the players’ cell.  The text then outlines all the ways the players might try to escape during this encounter, and how to railroad them away from it.  Did it not occur to anyone to simply have the extra NPC prisoner already in the room when the players start?

I’ve read this box was believed to be TSRs attempt to compete with HeroQuest, which came out one year earlier.  I’d say it does just about as good a job as Spellfire did against Magic: the Gathering.

The Big Black Box

Travis has reminded me that I meant to put something in my last post about the 1991 basic edition of D&D, labeled “The New Easy to Master Dungeons & Dragons Game” seen here:

This edition of the game came in a very large rectangular box, similar to board games of the time.  Unfortunately the board was flimsy poster paper, but it was still pretty neat.  It also included a ton of card-stock tent figures for both players and monsters.  Strangest of all was the format of the book.  The red sort of folder-ish thing doubled as both a DM screen (there’s a third panel that folds out, which is hard to see in this picture) and the rule book.  The left-most section was a large pocket that contained the rulebook printed on heavy cardstock with color-coded tabs for each chapter.

If I recall correctly, I think the adventure was incorporated into the cards.  The adventure was your basic prison break, but the funny twist was that the whole point was to introduce you to rules one at a time.  The characters start with literally nothing, maybe a name.  In the first scene they introduce stats, so everyone rolls stats.  Later comes combat.  As rules are introduced you fill out more and more of the character sheet.  While it struck me as odd that you didn’t know if you were a human or dwarf until several rooms in, and there was a point where suddenly you realized you knew magic, it still seemed pretty clever to me.

I bought this when it came out, I must have been 13 or 14.  At that time I would have bought anything that was labeled Dungeons & Dragons, and the big full color art on the back showing the cool map and character tents was definitely a selling point.  Now at that time I maybe had one or two friends who played, and they already knew the game, so an intro game was kind of pointless, and I never really played it.

I’m pretty sure I have a copy of this hidden away in my closet now, likely purchased on eBay some years ago in a nostalgic attempt to reacquire every mis-treated game I owned as a child.  I’ll have to go dig it up and see if there’s anything worth mining out of it.  If nothing else, I kind of dig the idea of using a prison break to start with very stream-lined characters.  No equipment, no spells, just a stat block and we’re off.  Things like equipping the characters can then become part of the game as the party breaks into the armory.

Anyone own and use this game and actually use it to introduce new players to D&D? 

Games for Newbs

Well, since first pontificating on the issue of diversity in gaming and coming up with this idea to run an intro game for locals, two major things have gotten in the way.  First recent events in this country have made discussing diversity a far more loaded topic than before.  I’m not sure what if any spin this has on my own little idea, but it has made conversations just a bit trickier to navigate.  Second, it appears that today the moon is going to block out the sun and this is a “very big deal”.  At least Jenn tells me this is a very big deal to public librarians who are overloaded with requests for info, and she suggests maybe I wait for that event to be over before I pester my own local librarians about my little event more.

OK, fine, but where does that leave my project?  Basically in stasis right now, unless someone decides to respond to one of my emails.  So I turn my attention to the things I can directly control – the content of the game.  What would make a good game for someone totally new to the hobby?  What is the best intro that’s both going to be easy enough to learn, but also hook new players into coming back again?  

I’ve seen a lot of folks recently lean on module B2: Keep on the Borderlands for this kind of thing.  It seems pretty popular at conventions anyway.  I re-read it myself recently and it has a lot of great elements – a town with lots of interesting NPCs to interact with, a few wilderness encounters on the way to the dungeon, and then finally some fun caves chock full of monsters.  That said, it’s a bit long for a single session.  Trying to edit it correctly feels challenging, and the fact that it’s just a bit overplayed makes me want to shy away from this one.

When I first started playing my current campaign I started with L1: The Secret of Bone Hill.  This is also a great sandbox module – interesting NPCs in the starting location, plus a lot of wilderness to explore that is riddled with fun smaller dungeons.  That said I feel this is a bit too open ended for complete newbs.  It does include one real starter dungeon right in town, but I think that one is a bit too cliche with its intro of giant rats in the basement.  Awesome module for kicking off a new campaign, but again not quite what I’m looking for.

Another personal favorite is The Keep at Koralgesh, originally printed in Dungeon Magazine #2.  The intro location is very much abbreviated (a tavern, one NPC with a hook to the adventure, and a table of rumors), but the dungeon itself is full of good stuff.  There are a few cliches in it (one NPC goblin that is clearly a Gollum rip-off stands out), but generally they’re pretty easy to rip out.  Again this dungeon is probably way too big for a one-shot, so I’d have to find a way to give the players a good goal in the early levels that’s easy to hit to encourage them to get out without seeing the whole thing.  I think I can do that pretty easily, so this one is I think my strongest contender right now.

Finally, there’s the question of character creation.  I often rail against one-shot or convention games that include character creation.  It’s too slow, it’s not the most fun part, etc.  That said, I think to really properly introduce new players they should be exposed to some part at least of character creation.  It’s a big part of the game, and I think providing the players with that personal investment in the character up front will really help hook them.  But how to do it very quickly?

One thought I had was to try and stream-line it down to little more than stat rolling.  I’m thinking of things like Dan’s randomly generated spell-books he provided for magic-users in my recent birthday game, and BJ’s “equipment pack” cards.  If the player rolls stats, picks race and class, and then draws a couple cards for random equipment etc, that might get it done quickly enough that it won’t eat into too much game time.  It seems at least worth an experiment.

Hmm, maybe I should set up a practice run of this game before unleashing it on the public.  Perhaps I could run it here at work, and put out a call for folks who have never played or not played in a very long time.  I wonder if there are enough people in this office that actually fall into that category?

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?