[RPG Blog Carnival] Growing the Hobby

Growing the Hobby

Mad Brew Labs, a favorite website of mine, has been awesome enough to host the July edition of the RPG Blog Carnival. This month’s top

ic is “Growing the Hobby“.  Their topic choice is one that is near and dear to my heart; for the majority of my time in the military, including my two combat deployments, it was my pleasure and honor to bring a great many people into o

ur hobby– many of whom would never have thought that sitting around a table and rolling dice was anything other than a waste of time. I’m going to talk about how I did it, and hopefully relate that to ways that you, dear reader, can use to help grow the hobby, too.

Wear Your Geek Proudly

I am, and pretty much always have been, unabashedly geeky. I played football my freshman year and wrestled through my freshman and sophomore year of high school, but I was also in the Drama program, Choir and hung out in the library as much as I possibly could. I have always been a geek, and except the awkward teenage years in which nobody is really sure what they want to be, I have always borne my geekdom with a kind of pride. My geek-fu is strong, as I like to say. There is nothing wrong with being a geek. We have a lot of things going for us. Just ask E of Geek’s Dream Girl, who spends her time helping us geeks level up their dating game by focusing on the things that make us geeks not only attractive, but downright AWESOME.

Many of us have been picked on or ridiculed for being geeks. It happens; there’s really no getting around it. I’m 30 years old now, and it still happens just the same as it did in High School. The thing I always try to remember is this: I’m comfortable with who I am. I’m a father and a friend and a mechanic and a combat veteran– and I’m a geek. The folks who are picking on me, nearly always, are so obviously NOT comfortable with themselves that they feel like they have to lash out at someone else. They do it because they’re threatened. Thus I tend to pity them instead of get upset by it. and thanks to that realization, I fly my geek flag high and just be who I am.

That freedom lets me talk about gaming, and computer games, and Star Trek/Wars, etc etc FAR more freely than I would otherwise. If I wasn’t so comfortable with my geekery, I would never have had the courage to run not one, not two, but THREE campaigns of D&D when I was deployed the first time. I definitely wouldn’t have been courageous enough to run my games outside, in the common area of our living space where all 230+ of my Company would be able to see, and heckle, and eventually stop to watch and then ask to join in.Being confident in who you are and what you enjoy in life makes others curious about what you’re doing. And frankly, it doesn’t hurt when it comes to attracting members of the opposite (or same, if that’s how you get down) sex.

Choose Your Adventure

When I was running my campaigns in Iraq, I did so outside, around a massive table on the wooden deck outside my room. The players sat around the table and we gamed pretty much the same as any other gaming group does stateside. The difference, however, was that most weekly gaming groups don’t have an audience.

Because there isn’t a whole lot to do for entertainment in Iraq when mission isn’t pressing, when my gamers got together once a week (that’s three nights a week for the GM–me–if you’re keeping track) it was kind of a spectacle. Loud talking, cheering at critical hits, and in-character acting tends to attract attention. Thus it was that before very long at all, we had people pulling up lawn chairs on the outskirts of our gaming are and just…watching. As time went on, they ended up following the plot of the games almost as much as the players did. It wasn’t uncommon for those who watched on a regular basis to ask me about plot points outside of the game itself, almost like they had been watching a favorite TV show! As far as I am concerned, that is one of the high points of my gaming career: people who you NEVER would expect to be interested in D&D asking me about the plot of the Lich-Lord’s army in the motor pool while I’m under a truck replacing a transmission!

When I began running my games in public, I had to change format some; my games became far more like an action/adventure TV series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Firefly than anything else. There was a lot of “Monster of the Week” action, and in that venue, it worked like a charm. The players really got into the game, being able to smash the monsters in-game that we couldn’t do anything about int he real world, and the audience loved watching the good guys conquer the baddies. I learned that knowing my audience (meaning both the players and those who watched) and structuring the game around what they enjoyed in a very large-scale sense built the game into something greater than it had been before.

Resistance Is Futile

There were times when someone would be watching us game and toss in a snarky comment or try and heckle the guys talking in weird voices or cheering each other on when they scored a critical hit. At this point, we had a steady group of audience and a team of dedicated players. I had grouped them together by color in homage to the X-Men–we started with Blue and Gold Team and as the years progressed we traveled through Red, Black, and even a Purple Team at one point. There was one particular audience member who made it his mission to distract and disrupt any time he could. Finally I got fed up and set a trap for him. The next gaming session, when he mouthed off, I told him he had two choices: put up or shut up. He had stated before that he had never played D&D and had no desire to, but always made nasty comments when a PC would make an obviously suboptimal tactical choice or miss an attack roll or fail a saving throw– it was obvious he knew the basics of the game or at least had learned them by watching. So I backed him into a corner when he decided to heckle the next time. I held up a monster stat block. simple and pre-printed, and told him he could either play the monsters and put his tactical money where his mouth was, or leave.

This same person found me on Facebook about two weeks ago and asked if I was still running a D&D game. He’s been out of the Army since 2008 and I haven’t seen him since we got back from my first combat tour, but D&D was the first thing he asked about when he found me. Once I roped him into playing monsters for me, it turned into a rotating slot in my game, sometimes with up to 3 people running different groups of monsters.

At that point I became more of a Stage Manager than a GM, but everybody was having a BLAST, talking smack and doing their best to kill one another in as awesome a way as possible. People who had never even been audience members heard we were letting people play the Bad Guys and asked me if they could play. Even our Chief Warrant Officer rolled some dice with us one night, and I’m pretty damn sure our Executive Officer wanted to but got told he couldn’t by the Company Commander.

The point I’m trying to make is this: if you want to get more people interested in our hobby, go to them where they are and make the game fun for them. Focus on that above all for their first few games and then you might be able to work other stuff in. Set the hook good and hard and deep, and you’ll have gamers for life. The true glory of the RPG hobby is that it can be anything to anybody at any time. There are so many games out there with so many flexible rule-sets that there really is a game out there somewhere for everybody if you’re willing to find it. The success of fantasy MMOs like WoW, GuildWars and DDO  as well as TV and movie franchises like Avatar (both the blue-skinned sci-fi and the Last Airbender cartoon fantasy), LotR, the Narnia series of movies, etc etc show that straight-up fantasy games are far more in the common psyche than they used to be. Tons more people are interested now in our kind of geekery than ever before.

Have some courage; be brave and fly your geek flag high; get some people involved in gaming who you never would have thought could be interested. Talk to your family, friends, coworkers or online communities. Check out Meetup.com for a game near you and break out of your normal gaming group to go meet some other people. In short, go out and DO something to put yourself in the habit of growing our hobby. Pulling more people in and showing them how much fun we’re having is the best way to keep the game alive.


I know, I know. I missed you too.


Since April, I have been…

  • Transitioning out of the Army after 5 1/2 years and 27 months combat duty
  • Previously-amicable divorce turned bitterly contested
  • Job hunting in a recession
  • Packing all my worldly possessions and moving from Texas back home to Kansas
  • Landing the EXACT job I wanted
  • Getting sent last-minute to Wisconsin to train for the new job
  • Preparing for an overseas deployment as a civilian contractor working on the M-ATV line of vehicles

All of these things happened more or less on top of each other, or in rapid-fire sequence. It’s been… busy. Thus it is that here I sit in Wisconsin, training for a month at my dream job, FINALLY getting back to my blogging about my love of gaming. Thanks for being so patient.

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11 Responses to [RPG Blog Carnival] Growing the Hobby

  1. First off, stop calling ourselves geeks. That might help some of us from acting like socially deviant geeks.

    • Nah. I like the term. It’s something that, like I said in my post, I have come to embrace. I really don’t believe that “socially deviant” is an adjective that has to be applied to us geeks, in the same way that I don’t believe that “hygiene challenged” or “can’t get a date” or “chronically overweight” or “lives in mom’s basement with pasty skin from lack of sun” are things that are automatically tied to the Geek name.

      I DO believe that, just like in any subculture, there are those who exemplify the worst in us; internet flame wars over which edition of the game we play being a great example, as is the aforementioned hygiene issue. But just like a stereotype for any group– racial or cultural or religious or hobbyist, etc– the stereotype is usually the most negative face of a group exaggerated out of proportion.

      There usually are those among a particular group who exemplify the prejudice that some hold against an entire group, but if there’s one thing my time in the Army has taught me, it’s that you really, TRULY don’t know an individual until you’ve talked with them and interacted with them. When everybody is wearing the same uniform all day every day, you learn really fast that it’s what is inside the suit that matters, not the outward appearance.

  2. Mad Brew says:

    This is an awesome story. The best part is that I can definitely relate, having served in the Corps for four years myself and been on a few deployments. I have a similar story about gaming on ship. It proved to be one of the best stress-relieving activities I ever did while I was enlisted.

    Thanks for sharing your story and participating in the Carnival. As I fellow veteran, I appreciate it that much more.


  3. Mark says:

    Awesome article, man. I’m in the Navy, and was deployed on an aircraft carrier to the gulf. While there, we spent quite a bit of time gaming on the mess decks while others gathered to watch.

  4. E. Foley says:

    Thanks for the mention! 🙂

  5. Bartoneus says:

    Great post, the last few paragraphs really should be in some kind of “this is why we game” manifesto. Good stuff, and thanks for running in such a public place and bringing more people into a hobby that we all love so dearly!

  6. Jeremy P says:

    Hey I replied to your RPGnet thread but in case you aren’t following it as closely I thought I’d reiterate a personal experience here. I served in the Marines in the early 00s (since I’m in my late 20s now 😉 ) in a pretty hardline Infantry unit. I knew what RPGs were, I even had a couple books but I’d never had the chance to play in high school because the tiny town I was from literally no one had heard of, let alone played, RPGs.

    There were a few gaming groups at 29 Palms, so I managed to find one by word of mouth/luck and started doing some AD&D and Vampire. We’d game in whoever was GMing’s BEQ room…it was fun stuff. Apparently, however, the Staff NCOs of my unit were not enamored with this when they somehow figured out this was going on. A couple of them actually threatened to write us up and NJP us because they claimed there was a Marine Corps ruling that banned roleplaying.

    We never found any such ruling, though a Sergeant (who wasn’t a gamer but was actually on our side so I don’t think he was lying, though he could have been misinformed) said that he had heard a few times there was such a ruling for a few years back in the late 80s or so and that’s what they were probably thinking of. So I have good/bad memories of gaming in the military. On one hand it introduced me to the hobby, on the other we had to keep it very subtle (and certainly NEVER did it in the field or on deployment) lest we face angry Infantry SNCOs.

  7. Mr. Kemp says:

    It’s good to see you back; your posts are always well-thought-out, it’s nice to hear that there will be more.

    I’m sorry about all the crazy crap that went on; going through all of that chaos one event after another must have been rough.

    Thank you for your service; not many people have the right to call themselves heroes, but you and every other serviceman do.

  8. Tom says:

    Now that does sound awesome – if a little scary! Regardless of my own personal geek pride, I’d probably feel the pressure of performing in public like that. I’m glad you got an audience anyway, and I’ll happily bet that a lot of those who watched got into gaming at a later date after you piqued their interest.

    Thanks for the anecdote, and for some ideas.

  9. Pingback: Growing the Hobby Wrap-up | Mad Brew Labs

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