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Building a play network

June 10, 2019

My current RPG gaming schedule is 3 games a week.  I’m sure if I had the energy, I could probably be running/playing 5 days a week, if I wanted, given how fast people jump up when I put out an offer.   This is… astounding, really.  For 20 years of my gaming career, a great deal of the problems dealt with finding people to play with and keeping it together in the face of logistics, etc.  But once you hit a critical mass, things get a lot easier.

Gamer Adjacency

First, my social networks at this point are primarily people of color who are geeks.

The general geekdom effectively creates a “gamer adjacent” group – some have played an rpg once or twice when they were younger, some bought books but never played, some were always interested but couldn’t figure out an entry point, and some are completely fresh.  Gamer adjacency is a far, far, far larger group than RPGers, so it makes sense to look there first.

The other part, and probably what I would have told younger me, is to have not wasted as much time as I did in white gamer spaces.  If the network is what allows you to play, walking into self-segregated spaces that are full of microaggression (or not so micro ones) are basically poisoned wells in that regard.

So.  Find the geek spaces that you are comfortable in and have lots of good social interactions between baseline treatment and common geek interests.  That starts the social part of things.

Low Commitment Entry

Second, it helps to have low commitment play options to start feeling people out and establishing yourself and the circles of people you want to play with.

I find 3-6 game sessions of 2 hours of duration tend to be the right number for me.  It gives everyone enough time to feel out the group dynamics, feel out the game mechanics, and, of course, get a good idea of their character.  It’s also just enough of a taste of longer play that people can start deciding if they’re into it or not.  (this duration is also how I often run game arcs in larger campaigns, which allows people a little easier time if they need to drop out for various life reasons or just not being into the game anymore).

One shots, I’ve become less a fan of, if only because there’s an overhead of teaching rules and communication and that becomes a lot of work for relatively little play payoff.

Pitches and Setting Expectations

Geeks talk about things they love.  So.  You already can start looking at overlap and figuring out which games might work best from there.  If everyone is into superheroes? Pitch a superhero game.   Epic Fantasy? Lord knows there’s plenty of game systems for nearly any sub-genre or type of story, go with that.

Pitches are best put forward in 3-5 sentences.  “I’m thinking of running (GAME) which is (Geek Media) but with (Different Unique Thing) based around (General story/campaign premise). The game rules really support (epic space battles/intense character drama/long term planning/whatever).  Is anyone interested?  Here’s a link to the quick start rules.”

No point in doing a lot of work until you see if people are interested or not.  Sometimes people won’t be interested, but WILL tell you about what they’re interested for instead, and you can see if there’s a second or third option you’d prefer to run or play.

Also, in doing this, you set expectations since any given geek fandom might have very different takes on the same thing – it’s a good point to see if what makes you excited about (Star Wars / historical religion / post humanism) is what makes them excited  or if it is completely different.

Smoothing Entry

For most games I write a “quicksheet”, a short front and back reference sheet of basic rules and ideas to keep in mind.  I will often include best practices (“If you do X, you get a bonus die, so you should try to do this a lot.”).  If the game’s setting is also important, I might write a separate sheet for that of 1-2 pages.

I often ask what people are thinking about for characters, in order to help guide people on what might fit their idea (“Look here in the book and maybe these options would work for what you need?”) and also to help in case someone is doing something that might not fit this particular story run, especially if it would be disruptive or genre breaking for this game.

But not just your games!

The other thing you’ll start to see as you build your network is other people either are playing, are talking about stuff they’ve played in the past, or will be thinking about running a game of their own.  Encourage and promote that.  If you know someone is about to run a particular game one of your friends probably would enjoy, point them that way.

The more folks who are talking about playing and what fun things happen, the more it self-propagates.  But this has to be based in the real love of what you’re experiencing.  Real games, real fun = real interest being generated.

Migrating Spaces

Geek spaces come and go – some of this has to deal with social factors and glue, sometimes your forum is bought out and shut down by a major company or whatever.

Things happen and the specific venue moves, so now you need to find another venue to keep up the network.   This is not necessarily something that happens overnight – communities fragment and reform maybe 6 months or a year later, even.  So, keep in touch with the tight base of people you know, and be willing to look at the other spaces as they form up.

This is something you should consider as a matter of “when” not “if” and consider things like having a spreadsheet with people’s email addresses or some other means of contact if you find one day things have suddenly come apart.

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So… yeah, that’s basically what I’ve learned from the last 4 years or so.  I’ve got a lot of gaming with a lot of different people, and easy access to a lot more if I wanted.

I think a network of people who want to play is more resilient to disruption and allows more variety in play… and probably is the better way to start if your goal is to build the eventual long-term game group, rather than trying to manifest that from the start.

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