Well, it's a new school year and I'm back in the classroom. And believe it or not the thing on my mind which I look forward to the most, but am also the most confused about is our School RPG Club. If you are a teacher, parent or student and would like to see an RPG club at your school I may have some advice for you. Frankly I change the way we do things every year, so I'm not sure I speak with much authority. But the club is now in it's 6th year and we have an annual enrollment of about 25 students in a school with two grades. That's not too bad. Based on those numbers we are one of the most popular clubs in the entire school. I don't really attribute that to anything we do as a club, the credit really goes to the games, but we have learned a few things.
First off, I don't know if I can improve much over what Katrina Middleburg Creswell wrote about her RPG club on the Role Playing Tips Blog. I heartily recommend much of her advice. But some of the things that have worked for them have not worked for us. So rule number one, which should really go without saying, is Do What Works For Your Situation. The important thing is that the game must go on. So do what you have to do to make the club work for you and your situation.
Okay, my advice isn't as detailed as Katrina's, but it does apply to most situations:
1. Get Authorized Permission
Make sure you are complying with whatever rules and procedures are needed to establish a club at your school. This may or may not include writing up a proposal, filling out forms, securing advisers, getting background checks for those advisers, writing club by laws and procedures, finding a location and supplies, statement of funding etc. etc. If you are a student I would encourage you to find a sympathetic teacher to help you. If not, talk with your Principal, Vice Principal, Counselor or the like to find out what you need to do.
2. Get Members
Hopefully you're already familiar with few people that know about gaming and want to start a club. But if not, don't despair. Honestly blanket advertising is the best way to draw in members. Fliers, posters, emails, word of mouth, and don't just limit yourself to school. Put them at the local library, at hobby shops and anywhere else kids are likely to hang out or frequent. Be sure you comply with school rules if you are hanging posters or handing out fliers at school though. It is always a good idea to keep a stack of fliers at the front office and in the school library where kids check out. You'll want to have a few things on the adverts for sure. Besides a basic blurb covering what the club is about, you'll want a contact name and number. Let them know how they can sign up for the club and when the first meeting is. You'll also want to make sure you have a sign-up form for them to either pick up or give them at the first meeting. Some schools have official forms for this, some don't. Either way you'll want to be clear about club rules on the forms and have student and parent signatures.
3. Game On Your First Meeting
There is nothing that will scare off members faster than a boring first meeting. If you find it impossible to game that day, then at least have plenty of game books, maps, adventures, dice and minis to look at and maybe even roll up characters that day. Sometimes choosing what game to play and who are going to be the GMs can take a little while and it is best to try and handle this stuff before hand. This can be done by having a short check off list or voting list on the member sign up forms (good reason to hand them out before the first meeting). You can also have a GM sign up on the form as well. Somewhere they can indicate if they want to GM, and what games they will GM. This really only works if you have experienced players; because you don't want a new gamer trying to GM for club members. If she struggles that might scare off members as well. Only rely on experienced gamers for your GMs. If you do have mutliple GMs it also helps, but is not essential, to have a GMs only pre-meeting. This way concerns can be discussed, plans can be made and the club can be more generally organized. At the least let GMs know when the first meeting is and to come prepared to help players roll up PCs and get their game started. These GM meetings can be a regular occurrence if there's a need for a support group.
4. Ensure Game Set Up & Continuity
First of all, however you do it, you need a way to divide players into groups and set up GMs. There are a gajazillion ways to do this, but a few things are of paramount consideration. Pick capable GMs. GMs you can rely and their players can rely on. This usually mean players with at least a year's experience playing and preferably GMing experience. You may need to rotate them if they get burnt out, and I wouldn't expect a young GM to run a quality game more than once week. Secondly assign players in a fair fashion. Friends like to stay together, and that's okay. Try, however, to spread newbies around amongst more experienced gamers and always make sure no one feels like they are the last one picked. This can be done by assigning groups before hand at a GM meeting, or by club officers and advisers. Players should also be able to rely on a game running when they come for a club meeting. GMs should rarely if ever cancel. And the game should provide a degree of continuity over time. Don't change systems or adventures every other session. Players that have to miss occasionally need to inform GMs if at all possible and a houserule established for how to handle missing players. Finding GMs up to the task of GMing a regular game like this can be a challenge. Especially among younger players. Club organizers and officers, if you have any, need to be ready to step in if there is a need for a GM replacement. Support your GMs for they are the heart of your club. The Players are the lifeblood.
5. Be Inclusive
Running a school club that has any hope of remaining solvent for more than a year or two requires new members and non-exclusivity. An elitist attitude can kill a game club over time. Be prepared to embrace people into the club that are not like you, prefer different things and even people that annoy you. While it is critical to have basic club rules for proper behavior and gaming etiquette, we may find there are still people that rub us the wrong way. But this is a community club. Ideally it should be open to all who would like to come in and play. A school club does as much for the hobby of gaming as it does for its members. Make the club a home for rude, exclusive, elitist attitudes and you hurt the hobby as much as the club. If you and your small group of friends want to game together exclusively you should try and make that happen at home on your own time. While it is possible to set up club groups keeping friends together, it may not always work out that way. Make the club a way to network with other gamers and expand your gaming horizons. A club should be welcoming in addition to being well run.
6. Have A Problem Solving Method
Problems will erupt. Personal, game related and otherwise. Have a quiet and clear way of handling these. Let everybody be clear on what this method is. Here it helps to have recourse to authority. Usually this is either club officers or the club adviser/s. Everyone in the club should know they have a way to bring concerns to the attention of club administration. And that the problem will be addressed. When a personal problem is reported, first listen to the person concerned. Hear them out and try and understand exactly what their complaint is. Afterwards talk with them, ask questions to clarify, restate the problem so that you make sure you understand it. Also ask them if they have talked to the offending party it. And if possible work out possible solutions with the concerned member. If the complaint involves another member this often requires a brief private meeting with the offending individual. Bring the concern to their attention, and talk with them about it. Troubleshoot possible solutions with the person and come up with a plan of action. Officers and or advisers should also be in communication and check up on problems to make sure they are not chronic. And be sure to include parents were students are concerned. Other sorts of problems are often best resolved by a club vote. The important thing is to face the problem and fix it.
7. Use Retro Clones!
Okay, that's not a hard fast rule. But you will run up against how to go about paying for supplies. And game books aint cheap. That's the primary reason I recommend clones for school based clubs. They are free for download or access online, and they are very newbie friendly. You can of course game with whatever you and your members choose. But acquiring club materials can be a challenge. You can charge dues. We never have, but Katrina evidently does with success. You can have fundraisers, but they can be a real headache. You can take donations if the school allows. If you do so it is almost easier if you accept books and dice instead of money. That can create legal issues. You can even set up sponsors if you so choose. The point is you will want a couple copies of each of the core rulebooks, mostly Players Handbooks. GMs will want their own copies and players are likely going to want their own copies as well. Retro Clones provide a nice and elegant solution to this potentially sticky problem.
Well, that's about it in a nutshell. I've come a long way from trying and failing to set up our HS club back when I was a Freshman. We got shut down due to all the bad press D&D was receiveing at the time. That can sometimes be an issue even today. If you run into that let me know, there are lots of gaming advocacy sites, essays and research to back you up nowadays. In the end, if you game and have the opportunity, start a club. It does wonders for the hobby and is great for the the kids who participate. And it's a heck of a lot of fun too.