Friday, April 19, 2013

Forming Your Perfect Gaming Group

No matter who you might think the "perfect" gaming group consists of, and there are as many ideas as there are groups, there is often a pattern to forming one. This entry is more to myself than anyone else. And I want to give a shoutout to my brother, who went through heck, highwater and lots of unwashed gamers getting to his present pretty awesome group. He explained to me that it was not easy and it took time, even in the very populated and creative city of Austin, Texas. I would like here to share with myself, as much as remind myself that I must be willing to go the extra mile in reaching out and doing the hard and at times desperate work of finding that right chemistry of odd eccentricity, stumbling excellence, humor, seriousness and and fluid cooperation that marks an enjoyable gaming group.

The Knights of the Dinner Table: Close to my ideal Group
The first thing to do of course is to get out there. You may have an idea of what you want to play, style genre or system but you may have to be a bit flexible. For me, I've waded through 3.5, 4e, Pathfinder, and am becoming familiar with 5e; even though my preferred system has always been AD&D. For my brother it was 3.5, Pathfinder and now 4e. His current group, which is quite a good one is playing 4e, and though most admit they do not like it it is what they are currently playing. The point here is you may have to wade through some less than enjoyable sessions or campaigns due to a disliked system to form some gaming friendships.

So, how does this apply to my situation? Well, I currently am being pressured to only run Pathfinder. However, I have not been able to game much with the school club due to job pressures. I am now a building administrator and it is hard to find the time right after school to run a club meeting regularly. We do have a self motivated Pathfinder group going, but there are a number of others that are floating, waiting for me to start a game again. So, I have decided that I will be running an AD&D only group after school hours, once a week at the Hobby Shop or Public Library. These gamers who currently don't have a game are much more willing to game whatever I DM, simply to game so I can choose the system of my liking. If they had really wanted to game something else badly enough they could have started by now. They are, in short desperate. This does a couple of things. It gets me gaming with a group that might produce older gamers one day (as they grow up); and it gets it into the public arena out of school that there is an active old school game going.

The Black Hands Gaming Group: Rough and Tumble
My brother put up a flier at his FLGS and was pretty pointed in what he was looking for. Not one to suffer the unwashed and abusive masses easily, he made it clear he was looking for a certain sort of gamer when he was group forming. Of course he had to be a lot more lenient when he began getting inquiries. The first game they played iirc was Pathfinder. Then they moved to 4e. The group's configuration shifted, expanded and shrunk over the first while and, I believe, petered out once. But he continued on. This is the second pint I would bring up: advertising. I am going to be putting together some fliers for my local area and hope to run them by my blogging audience for input. I want to be open, but explicit. I once tried a Castles & Crusades flier, and though I got a few nibbles (some people took my number) no bite (no one called). So I have got to get the word out. Maybe even advertise my blog on my adverts so people can check me out and get to know me. And when all else fails, or it doesn't work--keep trying.
The Gaming Group from Unicorn City the Movie: The dysfunctional DM
(BTW, the hobby shop here is Hastur's Games about 3 hours from my stomping grounds!)
But the fact is, a group of school gamers, even though I'm planing on inviting a few older teens as well as my middle school gamers looking for a gaming home, isn't going to give me what I'm looking for. The fact is the people you may start with may not be there months down the road. I'm going to have to be a bit more extroverted in my attempts to reach out to gamers at the shop, at the local college and around town. Try and draw them into my game. I'm a bit worried about this stage, if I ever get there. Because I'm going to have teens in my regular group, and try and mix them with adults. That may not work. I don't know if I have the time to run two groups. Though if I get this far this is not a bad problem to have.

JoJo: DM of the Hard 8 Gaming Group when Gary's not around
The point with all this is perseverance and patience. Longsuffering helps too I suppose. What I want to really say is that the normal routes many of us try, Meetup.Com, Gamers Seeking Gamers, EnWorld, and numerous other good sites work well for those of us near major urban centers--but here locally. Squat. At least for me anyway. We've got to get out and beat the bushes. We have to be willing to get into games we may be uncomfortable with, game with people that make us a little nervous, and be what gamers are often not, social butterflies. It's a stretch I know, but when all else fails ... Unless you want to Skype game, which is still a very open possibility for me at this point if I can't get a table group together.

Patty: DM of Patty's Perps gaming group for reformed and reforming cons. Patty is an elementary teacher by profession
I once, in ruminating about this problem of mine, started researching how adults make friends. I really don't have all that many "friends". I mean I have people I get along with at work, people I talk to at church, people in my community that I know and will greet passing by, but friends--real friends very few. And none are gamers. But, come to think of it, may be they should be ... Anywho, adults simply have less friends than we did in school. That doesn't mean we had tons in school, but generally speaking it was so much easier for us to make friends then. Adults are preoccupied with the workaday world and all of its incumbent responsibilities. We are also much more inhibited than our younger clones. We are afraid of awkwardness, embarrassment, and the effort it takes to make friends. I confirmed this a little as I have watched my own kids meet, play and make friends with new kids. Without fail at McDonald's my youngest will run to the indoor playground find some young girl her size (age is unimportant, and truthfully size if that's not available), walk right up and say "Hi!" Sometimes she introduces herself, sometimes it's just "You wanna play?" If even that. Before we leave she's dragging her new found companion over to us saying "Mom! Dad! This is my new friend!" To which her friend often reciprocates. We do NOT do that as adults. Maybe we should.

The Table Titans Gaming Group meets the Dungeon Dogs Gaming Group
So, what it comes down to is me. I have to be willing to get out there and make it happen. I started the gaming club back in 2006 or so. I had had kids begging me to game for two years before I actually decided to do it. It was a big step for me on a number of counts. Now it's time to spread my wings once again. If, especially, with my new promotion, I plan to game at all not to mention game with my ideal group, I've got some work to do. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

When D&D Became Just Another Game

I haven't written in forever. The reasons are legion, but the main one is I've been lost in gaming land. I have tried numerous times to start an old school game and make it stick and it just hasn't worked for me. I'll admit that part of it is me. The students I game with in our gaming club are rabid Pathfinder devotees and so anytime I have gotten them to agree to an old school game I always get the sense that they are wishing we were playing something else. I also have been closely watching the 5e development, sincerely hoping that it would be "old school enough" for me and try to get the few local gamers here to jump from either 3.5, 4e, or Pathfinder to try something new.

 Recently I did play a rather decent session of 5e, and felt like it was closer to old school behind the screen, but still gave players option city and power under the hood. However trying to build a group that was willing to play it long term, let alone be excited about it was daunting. Which made me think more than once, if I was going to invest the effort to build on 5e why not put the effort in to build an old school group.

Of course this is nothing new for me. I've written endless blog entries about this very thing; and if there is one thing that defines my blog and my gaming experience over the past seven or eight years it is that I'm an old school gamer without a game. Well, not without a game so much (I'm pretty dedicated in my soul to AD&D); but more like a gamer without a gaming home. Which has led to numerous other entries on not having a decent group of gaming friends with which to game. And by decent, that is no judgment on the persons themselves. My usual gaming in these rather rural parts takes place in the school club which I run. Those kiddos are young, much younger than me. And forming a connection of "gaming friends" with adolescents that young just isn't very possible, let alone ethical. And then there are the other gamers in the area who are wedded to other gaming styles or other games, All Flesh Must be Eaten is very popular right now. There is an older group of teens that are playing a fairly active 3.5 game and one of them wants to run a 4e Encounters game, but they aren't interested in old school gaming much at all.

I've contemplated online gaming, by which I mean via Skype not like WoW. Or even play by post or email, but I've held back. I suppose that would allow me a game, which is better than nothing. But going to movies together, talking about the latest fantasy novel, comparing comic book collections or watching Star Trek reruns together just doesn't quite happen with online gaming friendships.

So, yeah. I'm part of my own problem. I'm looking for the perfect situation. And that just hasn't happened like it did for me all those years ago when I got my first Moldvay Box Set. I can't say I was the best gaming friend to have myself over the years. I took a long hiatus from gaming from about 23 to 35. And I was very out of the loop until I was about 33. Of course by then most of my old gaming buddies had moved on with their lives too. Now, I've been trying to recapture the magic for the last 9 years or so. And really, when I look back I was 28 or 29 when I started noticing I was really missing it again. I wrote alot during those years and daydreamed even more. But what I noticed was that the magic was gone, and I missed it.

I have spent my entire time since I started this blog looking for it, and have not found it. That was until yesterday.

Yesterday I watched the Hobbit.

I know, I know. There are problems with the films in certain technical and accuracy respects. But faithfulness to canon is not what did it for me. To tell the truth I don't know what it was that did it for me. The Hobbit was always my favorite of the tetrology, but I'm not sure it was even that. Fellowship was a really good book too, and I watched all three previous movies, and they were good but not like this. I really don't know what it was/is. I have felt that same bittersweet longing in my chest long ago from about age 12 to 19 or so during my first years gaming. That feeling that I've been shown a magical world, and all I want to do is be there, live there, adventure there. It's a feeling that lodges deep in the breast, somewhere low down in the heart, and rests there with a poignant melancholia of a place I never will be, but oh so badly long to achieve. A magic so real, so tangible it is just right there if I could only just ... I don't know what. Tantalizingly out of reach it draws me with a strong power of enchantment into ... I don't know where.

That was the world I gamed in those many years ago, and our characters were an extension of us into this realm, so close, but yet so far. The Never-Never, The OtherWorld, The Dreamlands, The ... place I want to be.

It's been a long time since I've passed through that gateway. And whatever the faults of Peter Jackson's vision of There and Back Again I want to thank him for opening the window again for me. I haven't felt like this in forever and a day. It was what drew me to gaming. It is the reason I game. And as to what it means for my future ... I just don't know. I just don't want the feeling to go away.

It has helped me see something though. That at some point D&D just became another game for me. Not my D&D, the D&D of my youth, but the new D&D. In a market oversaturated with games, so many that the entire hobby appears water thin at times, I look at the shiny new books with D&D on the cover and it's like it's just another new game. I don't know when this happened for me. I look back now at the old games and something magical stirs, just a little bit. And what with WoTC making them so readily available now as downloads and reprints I can feel more than ever like they are still on the commercial shelf--even if it is only digitally. That does my heart very good and I shout a hearty thank you to them for this. And I also easily acknowledge there are many, many gamers that really like the new stuff. It will indeed become their old stuff. I'm not arguing old or new is better or worse here. This is an entirely personal diatribe. I wish I could get excited about these games like I was about the old ones. I really wish I could sit down with people playing the new games and feel the same way. The way I do now after watching the Hobbit and dreaming about it, playing scenes over and over again in my mind and heart, humming with the dwarves "Far over the misty mountains cold".

But I just don't. It's just me. I'm not blaming anyone else. Or it's just reality, time passing, age accruing on my quickly degenerating body and mind. It just is.

I will say this though. It got me writing on my blog today. And for those of you who occasionally still drop by when a post crops up. Thank you. I wish you were around so we could get together and game.