Friday, March 1, 2013

Get Rolling: Starting with RPGs pt. 2 (The Group Thing)

No gamer is an island, at least not if they want to play. One of the most important, and often challenging parts about getting into tabletop games is building a game group that clicks. The success and longevity of your game may hinge on your choice of group more than anything else. Take it from me, I have been in more groups that have fallen apart after a few sessions than those that have lasted for months, much less years. When things fall apart, it is usually due to something with the players, and/or the logistics rather than with the game itself.

If you are running a game for the first time, I strongly recommend you start small. The rules for D&D are optimized for 4-5 players depending on edition, and I'm sure other systems also have recommended baselines. I suggest you start there. Smaller groups make it easier to get everyone there on game night. They also allow individuals to have more spotlight time during the game, and generally help things run more quickly at the table. My group currently stands at 7 players and the GM, and it's a bit of a beast to get everyone swimming in the right direction.

You will also need to decide who you want to play with. I highly recommend playing with people you hang out with in real life, especially if you can build the group from a single source of friends who all get along together. GM manuals are full of horror stories about inter-group conflict. Hopefully by starting with a group of mutual friends, you can lower the risk of such things occurring. You'll never be able to eliminate it outright, but starting with people who trust and respect each other can make it a LOT easier to arbitrate if tensions flare at the table.

My group, for instance, began with myself, my fiancee and three of our close friends who we met through our local karaoke group. As the game progressed, we eventually added three other players, two of whom were from outside friendships. Fortunately, however, everyone was eager to play and very easy to get along, so there was little friction, even with the new additions.

I should say that, while starting with a mutual group of friends is often a good idea, it's not always a guaranteed route to successful gaming. It's also important that everyone have at least a certain level of compatible expectations about the game. Is everyone cool with cross-talk at the table or do they want to be in-character the whole time? Is it a strictly cooperative game, or can there be pvp betrayal and backstabbing? I once played in a group that witnessed a replacement player last for less than a session before the GM put him down for the good of the group. He was the sort who liked to play "chaotic stupid". An instigator who was more interested in being silly and causing chaos than in forwarding the story. Even though he was good friends with most of the players, it definitely did not fit the vibe. The GM wisely pulled some mental jujitsu and had one of his screwball moments result in irrevocable character death.

Clearly, we had different expectations.

Many experienced GMs recommend establishing a written gaming charter or social contract to lay the ground rules for expected behavior within the game group. These charters can address anything from rules for supplying snacks to how and where dice need to be rolled, to game books that can be used, to whether or not people need to talk in character at all times. A written charter helps ensure consistent expectations among the group members, and can serve as a reference for resolving conflicts. The folks over at Gnome Stew have a great article with lots of links to stuff dealing with game charters.

Our group does not have a written charter, but we do have a few rules that were established to achieve the same end. For instance, we use a sand timer to encourage players to decide on their move quickly during combat. If you don't tell the GM what you would like to do by the time time runs out, your character just defends themselves until their next turn. We also have very clear rules for how we handle absent players. THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT RULES YOU CAN HAVE FOR GAME SUCCESS. We'll definitely get into it when I talk about time management in a later post.

So, all of my suggestions about playing with friends, and building a compatible group are great, provided you have a ready supply of eager friends at hand. What if you don't? Well, don't fret. You still have some options for getting your game on. If you just can't manage to convince your friends in town, you might consider starting a game with out-of-town friends over Skype. There are lots of wonderful online tools that let you run long-distance games. Some of them are even free! Granted, it's not the same experience as getting a bunch of people around a table, but if you really want to play, the option is there.

Outgoing individuals might also try to make new friends by using group finder services like the one on Obsidian Portal. You might even pop in to your local game store and see if there are any groups that play there, which are in need of additional players. Finally, you could always lone wolf it around the conference circuit and see if you can make friends during conference game sessions.

Or, you can do what I did during my youth: Constantly thumb through your game books, creating characters, imagining scenarios, just waiting for the opportunity to play.

ooh... or, you could get involved in awesome stuff like TableTop Day!

1 comment:

  1. is also a good place to find D&D groups :)


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