10 Ways to Get Back into the (Tabletop) Game

By David N. Scott in Daily Lists, Gaming
Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 6:00 am

You remember these right?

Role-playing games are a bit harder to get started on than some hobbies. You have to meet up in person, find a table, and go someplace where you won't get reported as a terrorist for talking about stabbing people for hours. There's also a fairly brutal life curve: when you are young it's hard to find places to play, but you have lots of time; when you get old(er) you have places to play, but little time to spare.

You also usually need to find at least three people to play with, which I have difficult at times. People move away, get jobs with weekend hours, and RPGs tend to be a hobby that people "grow out of." I have friends who have played in the same groups for decades, but I've also had at least three generations of gaming groups fall apart due to life pressures. Nothing dramatic, but more the sort of centrifugal force of family life and responsibilities that go with adulthood. Demographically, way more people enjoy things based on RPGs or products that grew out of RPGs (Magic the Gathering and Munchkin, for instance) than actually play the games anymore; this is despite the fact that it's easier to game now than ever. Forming a gaming group is hard work and there's no easy way to do it. But it can definitely be worth the effort and it can pay back ten times over with fun. So why not try it out?

Here are ten suggestions for ways of getting back into RPGs:

1. Do Your Research

The good: Lets say you've heard of role playing games but haven't opened a book since the '80s (oh my god, did I just sound old? Should I say '90s? Let's go with '90s). You want to run an RPG and you don't know how to get started, or even what's out there on the market right now. The great news is it's no longer the '90s and there are a ton of resources available FOR FREE out on the Internets to get you up to speed. YouTube has TableTop (Wil Wheaton's show on Geek & Sundry), and On the Table (Ok, we could get a little more creative with these names, guys). Or if you are into podcasts, check out RPGpodcasts.com for a listing of podcasts covering everything from old school D&D to something called "Postcards from a Dungeon" (which I'm sure is not nearly as sexy as it sounds). Or just Google whatever game you used to play and see if there is a new edition available. Much like Hollywood, there is nothing an established gaming company loves more than rebooting a franchise (over and over and over again).

There are even interviews with game designers!

The bad: Well, learning is fundamental and everything but this step won't literally get you into a game, just give you some good background. Also, you know, you might stream a lot of videos on your phone and cut into your data plan. Plus if someone else is watching a movie or something like that, you could run low on bandwidth. These are the sort of risks you face. Make me proud.

2. Get Behind the Gamemaster Screen

The good: Assuming you already know some people who want to play and have the time, but there just hasn't been anyone to carry the banner of roleplaying to the central part of you and your friends' lives, then you, (yes, you!) can take up the proud mantle of Gamemaster. Some of the suggestions from step one might help you get started, but if you have a modicum of know-how and the inclination, you can get into tabletop gaming for little or no investment. For instance, Pathfinder, which is either the number one or number two RPG in the U.S. market, has basically all of their rules posted for free under the Open Game License. FATE, a little RPG system that has picked up a lot of steam in recent years, has a 'pay what you think it's worth' set up. And if you don't mind investing some pocket change, you can either check DrivethruRPG for a huge collection of POD and PDF games or the standbys of eBay and Amazon on the cheap.

See? Only $5, easy to learn, and highly entertaining. You're welcome.

The bad: Well, if most people reading this had a convenient RPG-friendly posse on hand I imagine this list would be pretty short. In my experience, you can want to run a game all you like, but if you don't have bodies in the seats you're like a Ryan Reynolds movie. Which is to say, no one is there to play the game. Kind of like Blade Trinity had no plot. Zing!

3. Check Out Meetup.com

The good: This can be a great way to meet people. The easiest method here is to look for some role-playing enthusiasts within an easy drive of your location. If you're like me, you'll get tempted to sign up for stuff miles and miles away, but the commute is rarely worth it, so stick close to home. Find groups with a lot of members and events in a public place, and give it a shot! The first gaming group I joined mostly served as a mouthpiece for other events, but I've met several friends through the LA/OC group Dead Gamer's Society. If you can't find any you like, you can always make your own, too.

Like this one we set up! It was easy!

The bad: Meetup is sort of like the beach. You can stand there on the sand and look out at the waves breaking and have a good time, but you might not want to think about the fact that maybe a mile out the sand drops off and suddenly there's this big abyss full of sharks and weird aquatic things. Why is that like Meetup? Well, if you search for things you like, you can meet like-minded people and have a great time. On the other hand, if you go down the wrong rabbit trail, you'll find all sorts of strangeness. Otherkin and fetishists, sure, but also people obsessed with meditation, astrology, exercise AND tech (has to be both), the Microsoft Store, certain breeds of dogs, certain kinds of exercise, gardening...I once saw a group of women who were devoted to hating Hooters waitresses. It pretty much never ends, and you can go as far down the rabbit hole as you want. Not that that's necessarily a problem for the average reader on this site.

4. Look up Manufacturer Websites

The good: I have found this method to be a bit of a crapshoot over the years, but most manufacturers of roleplaying games will have at least a forum where you can look for other players. Some, like Steve Jackson Games, keep up a searchable database of players and GMs. This can be good because role players, like most geeks, love to divide off into small groups that hate one another. This has not been helped in recent years, where D&D, the Coke of Roleplaying, released a new edition that was considered by some to be the New Coke of Roleplaying and by others to be, uh, the Crystal Pepsi of Roleplaying (People like Crystal Pepsi, right?), and then they decided to go back to something like the old edition, which is either Coke Classic or, well, New Coke again, I guess. The point is that roleplayers hate change and by going straight to the manufacturer you don't accidentally play the wrong game or version of the game.

Some companies even have official minions who'd be happy to help you find a game.

The bad: This is basically the opposite of Meetup. While on Meetup, you are guaranteed to have lots of people in your area, but they may not care about your actual hobby, whereas on a specific game website you have plenty of people interested in your actual hobby, but they may all live in Russia under house arrest for meeting the gaze of Putin, or whatever happens in Russia. Also they are smaller groups and not as oriented towards meeting in nice safe places first so you might end up waking up in a bathtub of ice missing a kidney if you're not careful, although the likelihood is much higher that you'll just end up meeting some of the weirder gamers out there.

5. Find a Gaming Club

The good: Here is a way to absolutely guarantee you can play a game, unless you live on a mountain or are one of those people under house arrest (in which case, привет! Don't you love Putin?). Basically, there are large collectives of gamers, closely allied with the manufacturers of the games they play, who put on events and things throughout the country. They run games at local game stores and conventions, and you can find events on sites like Warhorn, D&D Encounters, etc. These games are organized and governed by central authorities, so you can expect recourse if you have any issues and that the games will generally run on time. They often get access to the good stuff first (Encounters is currently play testing fifth edition D&D) and most of them will let have an ongoing character and participate in a much larger story. They also serve as the one night stand of gaming as you can play as often as you like with very little obligation unless you happen to make friends there.

The bad: Well, one of the good and the bad things of roleplaying is the openness to ideas. For instance, you might want to play a game about time-traveling cyborgs who ride around on dinosaurs and fighting vicious zombie emu. There are some game masters who could make this happen, though I'm not sure how many could pull it off. However, the organized groups tend to only run pre-made scenarios. These may be relevant and well-written since someone got paid to write them up, but on the other hand, it will never be terribly inventive. Also, if you like high-powered games, you should be warned some societies tend to limit high level play. Finally, paperwork. You have to deal with registrations and I.D.s and stuff, which brings a whole "DMV" aspect that just seems out of place, unless your time-traveling cyborg is renewing the registration on his rocket-powered triceratops.

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