There’s never been a better time to be a tabletop gamer. Recent years have brought an explosion of products and popularity for board games, card games and – my personal obsession – roleplaying games (of the pencil-and-paper variety). Whether as a rebuff of our ubiquitous online lives or simply a celebration of face-to-face social entertainment, this renaissance has made new gamers of all stripes and brought lapsed gamers back to the hobby.
At the same time, tabletop gaming presents challenges in a world that makes many demands of our time. Conflicting work schedules, children, varying degrees of interest and other activities and responsibilities can make maintaining a consistent group of roleplaying gamers difficult.
If you’re a dedicated gamer, passionate about your hobby the way I am with Dungeons & Dragons, you may have had several groups fizzle out over the years. In my experience this is invariably due to D&D moving down in the priority list as a function of age for reasons listed above. (Not for me, though – I’m not a parent and I’ll always make time for D&D!)
With any luck, sharing the trials and triumphs of life as a middle-aged D&D player perpetually questing to keep the game a vibrant part of my life will include some tidbits of wisdom you might use to start and keep a campaign alive in yours.
You are the Game Master
The simplest tip is also the most important one when it comes to keeping your RPG love alive – it’s up to you to lead. D&D in particular is at an all-time high of cultural penetration, and there’s as many or more people out there who have never played than even those who have lapsed in the hobby. If you bait a hook with D&D and cast it into a sea of people, I guarantee you’ll get bites.
The important thing here is that you’ll have to run the game, whether it’s D&D, Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars RPG, Rifts, Mutants & Masterminds or any of the bazillion products to choose from. If you want tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPGs) to remain a priority in your routine, lead by example and show potential gamers that you’re ready, willing and able to organize times and places to play. Demonstrate your passion through preparation, and let your players know you’re handling the heavy lifting. You’ve got the rulebooks, dice and an adventure ready to go – all they need to do is show up and play.
TTRPGs are at their core a shared social storytelling experience, and players come from all walks of life. Put the word out that you’re starting a game and invite anyone you know to the table.
Co-workers are a great pool of potential players. When I moved to a new city by myself for a job, I pitched running a game to my boss as a team building exercise and got a group of colleagues together after hours in a conference room for a D&D game. That overcame a bunch of roadblocks to gaming right there. We had a place to play, a convenient time for everyone, and I made a bunch of new friends in the process. Most of the group had never played any TTRPGs before, so I had the honor of introducing them to a great hobby and in return got the joy of witnessing that moment where it dawns on new players to the elegant beauty of these games – the look that spreads across their face when they realize “I can try anything?” When players shift from asking “can I do this?” to “I’m going to do this” you know you’ve got them hooked.
More recently, back in my home city of Cleveland, Ohio, I stumbled a bit attempting to organize a new group. I put out feelers to a couple of friends, tried to coordinate a time and place to play and gauge interest in starting a game. The response was half-hearted.
Changing track, instead I found a place to play and simply told people, “I’m starting a D&D game on this day at this time. Why don’t you show up and play?” Lo and behold, several friends took the bait and four new adventurers were born. That campaign is still going, and the players have grown more engaged with each session. For a lifelong D&D player and DM, watching their immersion and enjoyment emerge is the greatest reward. Because all of the players have differing work schedules and responsibilities, our sessions and who shows up for them are inconsistent. We’ve steered the campaign in a direction that overcomes those challenges, which are topics for future columns.
For now though, if you’re looking to return to tabletop RPGs or having troubles maintaining an existing group, take charge! Inspire players by setting the example that gaming is important to you and you’re willing to put in the work to provide a fun experience for them. Running a game can seem like a daunting task, but the most important thing to keep in mind is that, beyond all the rules and calculations, prep work and planning, the goal is for everyone at the table to have fun.
If you guide your players through a fun time, they’ll come back to the table every time.