Friday, February 22, 2013

Get Rolling: Starting with RPGs pt. 1 (The Nerd Thing)

They see me rollin'...

Big thank you to everyone who popped by on Wednesday during the Level Up Blogfest. There was a pretty good conversation going in the comments and I wanted to follow up on a sentiment I heard several times: 

"I am interested in  D&D or tabletop roleplaying games, but I have [problem] that keeps me from getting started."

Hearing about all this thwarted interest got me thinking, and today I have decided to begin a blog series called Get Rolling. This series will cover how I got started in tabletop gaming, and will present a number of suggestions for ways to overcome some of the most common challenges a prospective gamer faces when trying to get in the game.

So, that being said...

You got problems? I feel bad for you son. I got d% problems but the game ain't one.

A Bit of Back Story 

As I mentioned in my Level Up post, I have been running a game for a group of my friends for the past four years. Before that, I had played off and on in campaigns that always seemed to fizzle out for one reason or another. I had been out of the game for a while and I was getting the itch to play.

Step 1 to getting started: Decide you want to play! 

I eventually decided to take my lack of a gaming fix into my own hands and get a group going with me as the Dungeon Master. My fiancee, who also played, was immediately on board and she and I broached the subject to a few of our closest friends, none of whom had played before. 

They were all hesitant at first, but a little persuasion convinced them to roll characters and play a few sessions, and they quickly got hooked. This same group has now been playing for the past four years. A couple of folks have had to go on hiatus at various times due to scheduling challenges, but when their time freed up, their fingers started to itch and I got an email saying, "soo… you got room?"

During our four years, we faced many common challenges that people mentioned in the Level Up comments. These can stifle a game before it even gets going. Nevertheless, we overcame these challenges and have built game night into a highlight of our weeks. Now, let's look at the first challenge to getting started and ways to overcome it.

Challenge 1: The Nerd Thing

Just as a couple of you mentioned, my friends were all hesitant to dive to the depths of nerddom they felt were implied by being a D&D player. Even I was a bit closeted about my status. I would only speak of gaming behind closed doors, or in hurried whispers to trusted confidants. This hesitance is completely understandable given the image that likely pops into your head when you hear the phrase "Dungeons and Dragons player".

Unfortunately, the typical media portrayal of roleplayers (especially D&D players) is not a pretty thing. They are generally presented as awkward social pariahs cursed with an inability to separate their real lives from their in-game personae. They are either brace-faced kids, or unwashed layabouts living in their parents' basement. It is little surprise that real people would shy away from such associations. The problem with this portrayal is that it is a stereotype. Though you may very well find some gamers who fit that description, it does not do justice to the wide variety of often very cool people who like to roll dice.

To understand the shortcomings of the gamer stereotype, one needs only Google "celebrities playing D&D" to find several lists of occasionally surprising notable figures who have played, or still play RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons. Among the notable celebrity dice rollers are, Vin Diesel, Stephen Colbert, Kari Byron (of the Mythbusters), Robin Williams, Jon Favreau (Director of Iron Man). Rumor has it even Dame Judy friggin' Dench learned to play from Vin Diesel while filming Riddick. Not all of these lists include citations, but Wikipedia has a fairly well referenced version here.

One thing that helped me convince my friends to look past the social stereotype was simply to say, "Hey, look at me. I play. My girlfriend plays, you know both of us and we don't fit that stereotype. You like hanging out with us. How is hanging out playing D&D different from hanging out playing board games, or poker, for that matter?" That worked to at least open their eyes. 

If you are trying to coax a nerd-phobic friend out of their shell, there are a couple other things you can do to help sooth their nervous sense of street cred.

  1. Keep it casual. Don't force people to break out the costumes and funny voices. You don't have to talk "in character" if you don't want to. Character may very well emerge as they start to get into the game.
  2. Pick a game that suits your interests. D&D is high fantasy, and that can feel pretty nerdy to some. Maybe an X-Men style super hero game like Mutants and Masterminds, or a Matrix-esque cyberpunk game like Shadowrun is more suited to your sense of cool.
  3. Play among friends. Gaming with people you trust helps keep it a safe environment. You know you can talk about the game with these folks and that they wont razz you about it away from the table.
  4. That being said, for pete's sake, talk about things other than D&D when you are not at the table! One of my players was initially hesitant, because he previously knew a guy who wouldn't shut up about his +5 vorpal sword. Roleplaying is a lot of fun, but make sure you also maintain a life outside the game. This will help defend against getting pegged with the stereotype.
Of course, getting past the nerd stereotype is all well and good, but if you can't find a group despite that, you'll have a hard time playing. Next time, I'll talk a bit about challenge 2: The Group Thing.


  1. The biggest hurdle is character generation. The idea that they need to divine what are life-changing choices (and spend hours doing so) are the biggest turn-offs. I highly recommend either using pre-gens, or using a very, very rules-lite system for newer players.
    The MWG Marvel Super-Heroes game is really great for this, I cannot recommend it enough.

  2. Awesome suggestion! I think I may have been a bit of an oddball, because character generation was always one of my favorite parts, even before I really knew what I was doing. I still remember forcing the stats in 2E just so I could make up paladins or rangers, even when I wasn't playing.


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