Monday, September 8, 2008

Oak Ridge D&D Meetup

At the beginning of 2008, my new D&D game group had kind of fallen apart after the first adventure. We had many game sessions and we had a fun time completing the module, Keep on the Borderlands. But the stream of players who responded to the Knoxgamers forum post had quickly dried up.

There has to be people in this area who want to play D&D but haven't found a game group. It stands to reason that there must be people out there who are my age and are interested in playing some good, old-fashioned dungeon crawling. For whatever reason, they stopped gaming because of life commitments. I stopped because I went off to college and lost contact with the gamer friends of my adolescence. Others had no doubt stopped gaming because of marriage, family, or busy jobs. But despite these commitments, there had to be people out there who wanted to return to the hobby that they loved all those years ago.

At the beginning of April 2008, I discovered It's a website that allows people to organize meetings for groups and clubs of all sorts. It's free to sign up. For a fee, you can run a web page that announces meetings, sends emails out to members, and even has a small forum. I decided to give it a shot.

To my surprise, people responded. The first meetings were at a local book store. Since there was clearly an interest, we needed a more permanent location. I decided that the Oak Ridge Civic Center would be a perfect, neutral place for strangers to meet and play games. People use it for playing basketball, volleyball, and pink-pong. Why not D&D?

The room we used was great. It was more than enough space. There were plenty of utility tables and chairs. One entire wall was a plate glass window with a view of the park. A giant dry erase board was a perfect place to keep track of initiative, hit points, and any other game notes.

Everyone was welcome. Young and old. There was no alcohol or drugs, of course, because it was at a community civic center. No smoking at the table but there was a smoking area outside. And there were snack machines right outside the game room door.

A couple of dozen gamers showed up. The trouble was that they didn't show up at the same time. Regular attendance was dismal. It wasn't for lack of enjoyment. I had started two or three campaigns with several groups of people. They all had a great time and they all said they were interested in returning for more. But for whatever reasons, there were always things that would come up in their lives that would take precedence. I had to keep to a rigid schedule because I was reserving a rented room in advance. I couldn't simply postpone game sessions for the next day.

We did, however, have our first experiences with the new fourth edition of D&D. The day it came out, I bought Keep on the Shadowfell. This module comes with an introductory set of rules. It was fun. But if people weren't going to consistently show up for further game sessions, we couldn't continue.

After a couple of weeks with only one loyal gamer showing up, I decided to call it quits. That was at the beginning of July. And now I'm not sure what to do next.

I have a few ideas. And I've found some like-minded people on the internet. I've been inspired to start this blog. And now that I've finished recapping my life's game experiences, I'd like to start talking about what playing D&D is really all about.


vraymond said...

I sympathize with your efforts to try to get a club going. The Meetup write-up is great, and having 32 gamers sounds like a lot - but your experience suggests otherwise. As someone who has done this before himself, it sounds to me like you might not have had enough people to make it work. (Think of a car engine with not quite enough gas to keep going - you can start it, but then it conks out.)

Some suggestions that might help:
- Expand the time from 7-10pm to 4-10pm; that allows for people to arrive a little earlier and if they need to leave at 9pm they can. If this is during the week, that might not work; weekends often work better.
- Make sure there is room for more than one game. That way, if someone wants to run a different game than yours they can do that. Even if the games are side-by-side and things feel cramped at first, people who get into their game will forget there is another game going on. A lot of people in a small space feels much more lively than a few people in a big space.
- Expand the pool of GMs, even if that's only 1 or 2 besides yourself. Make sure there are a couple of different games going each time you meet and make sure people know that.
- Tell people ahead of time who is running what, e.g. "Mark will be running his 4.0 campaign, and Steve will be running an adventure for Mutant Future." That way the choice is (sub-consciously) "which one of these do I want to play in?" as opposed to a single game, where the choice is, "do I want to go or not?" - you can even have brief descriptions for each game listing the time each group gets started and will end.
- Ditch the $4 contribution as an upfront cost for attendees. While that $21/night is eating through your wallet, people don't value something until they have gotten involved and appreciate it. Instead, keep it a free-will donation - put out a large jar and put a dollar or two in to get it started (I used to just dump change from my pocket into the one we used before each night), letting people know that eventually it will need to be self-sustaining. Or recruit 4-5 people who support the club and will kick in $5 each week. Ask everybody else for $1 each night.
-ADVERTISE!-in print, on the web, and word-of-mouth. Go to the local copy shop and make up 8.5x11 (or half-size) posters and put them in comic shops, game shops, libraries, bookstores, coffeehouses, anyplace gamers *might* see them. Get 500 business cards made up with the Meet-up basic info and give them away to anybody and everybody.

Getting a new group to take off takes time, persistence, and elbow grease. Remember, even if you get a lot of people to sign up, not everyone can be there all the time, and since people inexorably move on and do other things, you always need to recruit more people, and it is an on-going effort.

One last suggestion - check to see what options you might have at Roane State Community College - Oak Ridge campus. You might be able to get meeting space for free if there is a student group of gamers. That means setting up or contacting any student organization, but most community colleges are desperate for more student involvement, so it shouldn't be too hard to get something set up. Then instead of money, it's making sure you have enough students to have a club (usually anywhere from 2-8, depending on college requirements). It's a different option - but regardless, colleges are a great place to recruit more gamers!

Hope this helps!

vraymond said...

An additional note: if you have tried some or all of these things, already, my apologies for second-guessing you. That having been said, I should also say that it takes a lot of time and patience to make it all work - I would give it at least six months before calling it quits.