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D&D – Getting into the game

By Shamus
on Sunday Jan 14, 2007
Filed under:
Nerd Culture


Reader Hal says this in the comments of this post:

Hm . . . your epic tale has intrigued me. It sounds like it might be fun to take a swing at a table top RPG. Well, except I don't know enough people who would ever consider it.

Any advice for someone wanting to get into it but doesn't know anyone who plays?

Good question. My brother suggests the comic book store, which is sound advice.

If you have some friends who might play but aren’t sure: I suggest picking up some dice and the Player’s Handbook. Nothing will win over a newcomer faster than letting them hold a set of dice and read about how to roll up a character. They will want to roll one up, “just for fun”. And so it begins.

But this is an unusual problem. I take it most new players join existing games. D&D has a sort of Amway-ish life, with DM’s recruiting new players who eventually become DM’s themselves and who go on to recruit more. Getting started by your lonesome is a trick.

Another thing to keep in mind when looking for a group is that you want people who will match your desired style of play. This is much easier when dealing with friends than when signing up with a bunch of strangers. Some people play chaotic games, or evil games. One person I know had a game where they roamed around and killed villagers and burned down towns when they got bored. Some games have in-game fights between players which sometimes end in death. Other games have characters with an active in-game sex life. I’ve read notes from other DM’s who ran games where every person at the table ran three to five characters of their own, so that each person was a sort of self-contained adventuring party. All of these are valid ways to play the game, but I wouldn’t have any fun in these sorts of games.

Some groups are pure hack-n-slash. They are the tabletop equivalent of Diablo. Some guy in town tells you about a nearby dungeon, and you go in and fight monsters and accumulate loot until you wear the corners off your d20. Other games have deep, dialog-driven roleplaying with complex stories and a huge cast of NPCs with differing personalities and goals.

The fun of a game depends a great deal on the relationship between the players and the DM. When the DM has a story and a game style that works for the players, this game is one of the most satisfying and interesting you will ever play. When they don’t match, you end up with all of the frustrations and silliness that I use to fuel DM of the Rings.

LATER: It just dawned on me that maybe using the comic book store as a place to find other players will seem like nonsense to some people. I think it depends on the place. Our comic book store (New Dimension Comics, Clearview Mall, Butler, Middle ‘o frackin nowhere) is half gaming store. Once in a while I even see players gathered there for a game.

Comments (26)

  1. Ben Finkel says:

    I basically started off my own group with peers of mine. Right now, though, the only active group is a campaign with nine players, of which usually six arrive for the game (which was the plan).


  2. kat says:

    It’s also a *lot* easier if you live in a city. I’ve been in several games over the years (and reiterate what Shamus says about getting in the wrong game. Beware theatre majors! They do not understand the acting and drama ends when the game is over!), but my husband and I have been looking for a game we can get to since sometime last year, and basically, it’s not happening. Not in a town of ten thousand. If we’re willing to drive an hour to the nearest city, maybe, but it’s hard to organize anything or meet people from that distance.

    If you’re urban, you could check out any college campuses you have in the area. They tend to have at least one group of roleplayers around.

    Many conventions have gaming tables set up. See if there’s any cons being run in your area. Sign up for a game. It’ll give you a taste of roleplaying, and you may hook up with some good players/DMs. (The last con I went to the DM lobbied hard to recruit me and hubby, but he lived two hours away… *sigh*)

    Check if there’s any listserves in your area for roleplayers (like RPLink_Triad, the one in my area). There’s frequently recruitment messages posted on those.

    And if you think of any more hints, let me know. :)

    Good luck!

  3. Bogan the Mighty says:

    The comic book/gaming shop is a pretty good idea. I mean we once got invited to a group by the guy who ran one of them just because we talked a little geek with him so you never know they could just find you there too.

  4. Julia says:

    Hey, Kat, if I had the time and didn’t live several (long) states away, I’d love to do a campaign with you. :D

    My husband was involved in a campaign run on-line — the DM and half the players were in one city, the other players were in another city at least 2 hours away, and they made it work. That group might still be meeting regularly, but one of the players died, and a couple of the others didn’t have the heart to continue, and the campaign just fizzled out altogether.

  5. Malkara says:

    One thing you could do is look for on-line games. Order of the Stick’s forums (giantitp.com), has a bunch of forum games or things of the sort.

  6. Tirgaya says:

    Just want to add: never be afraid to start your own group/campaign.

    Chances are some of your friends might be into the same stuff you are, and you could probably convince them to try the game.

    A word to the wise to new DM’s… the onus of keeping the game running smoothly falls on you!

    Familiarity with the rules is one of your best tools, and the easiest to come by. Read the Player’s handbook (PHB). Most of the important information for the game is there. Don’t read the “Spells” section (Chapter 11), but do read the spell lists at the beginning of that section.

    You also need to thoroughly skim the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) and remember where a few key tables are. (My players favorite table is on page 38) You should pay close attention to NPC’s on pages 110-128. That section has a bunch of statistics and ideas for the various villagers, mayors, guards and bandits your players will encounter.) You should have cursory familiarity with the magic items. (on pages 211-288) You can use it as a reference pretty easily afterwards.

    You really only need the three core books, the PHB, DMG and the Monster Manual (MM). Things will run smoother if you start your game using some prepared materials, like a prepackaged adventure.

    If you are brave you can eschew even the core rulebooks, and just use the SRD. You can find a PDF version at Prometheus Gaming and in various forms at The Hyperlink D20 SRD. I personally like and own the books, but despite that I regularly make heavy use of SRD materials. The SRD contains all the same information. While it is great for reference, I think it is harder to learn from.

    Sorry for going off on a tangent, the main thing isn’t playing “by the rules” but rather having fun. Let the fame go wherever you and the players like… it is your game after all.

  7. If you’re not necessarily interested in the D&D game system, the Steve Jackson Games gamefinder (http://www.sjgames.com/gamerfinder/) might get you in touch with some local GURPS players. If you’re in my area, that’ll get you me.

    Otherwise, where you can buy games, you will find gamers. The more games, the more gamers. Since the hobby is innately social, we’re as eager to talk about it as any other geek hobbyists, if not more so.

    As for what you need… I was in a d20 campaign for three years without buying any books. The heart of the system is the System Reference Document, available at http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=d20/article/srd35.

  8. Sartorius says:

    One thing that any prospective RPG player should be aware is that, to be honest, most of the stereotypes about gamers are true. Be prepared for a lot of goths, slightly creepy young-to-middle-aged men who don’t wash, and rules lawyers.

    Other posters: Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.

  9. Hal says:

    Heh, thanks for the advice. I’ll try to find some game stores in the area and see where I can go from there.

    Hopefully I can find a group as close to normal as possible :-)

  10. Skeeve the Impossible says:

    Sartorius, Hey I wash every week, and I wouldn’t call them goth so much as socially maladjusted.

  11. namo says:

    So, comic book stores in our world are the equivalent of taverns in the RPG worlds ? All adventures begin there ? ;)

  12. Malkara says:

    Oddly enough, yes. And you know how the DM described those patrons as unwashed? Another similarity, oft-times. ;-D On another note, I never did find any DnD gamers at the Hobby Shop I went to play Warhammer 40k. I did meet some people who played Exalted, though…

  13. Daktylo says:

    Of all the oddest places you might find campaigns running, I ran into quite a few when I was in the Army. In fact, D&D was one of the primary entertainment activities when I was in AIT (advanced individual training, I believe some services refer to it as a “tech school”).

    When I was stationed in Korea, I joined up two different DMs who had a very distinct way of running thier campaigns. One was a joker, and I liked that style of campaign. There was one guy who absolutely hated it though, because it wasn’t serious enough for him. (I think he was bitter because he cast a blade barrier through a key NPC they were trying to get information from, and the DM joked about it) The other guy was really into the serious game, but got side tracked by the “new and cool” in resource books, so he tried to implement “this thing he just read” in his off-the-cuff campaigns. He tried to convert my player into a vampire because of this obsession, only to discover it requires a long process like a new character roll up, and scratched the creation after wasting about an hour of our time. I didn’t like that too much.

    When I came back to the States, there was a DM we had that was very chaotic evil in his campaign styles. His goal was to kill off all the players (or so it seemed). I think he would’ve done much better running a game of Paranoia (where that is the explicit goal in the rulebook). I did however manage to get my level 2 halfling thief knighted in one of his campaigns. (I saved a Duke from certain annihilation while the party wandered off due to a distraction)

    The only warning I can tell you is watch out for people who roleplay the Kender race. One guy in AIT who was part of another group’s campaign decided to be a Kender, and about five minutes into his annoying tirade I and my buddies had to leave the room.

  14. David V.S. says:

    Namo said:

    So, comic book stores in our world are the equivalent of taverns in the RPG worlds ? All adventures begin there ? ;)

    Heh. It’s good to hear that’s still true. But I say so out of appreciation for my local comic book stores here; I admit that during my childhood the one group I joined at a comic book shop was the worst group I ever played with. School friends made better gamers. And fellow Boy Scouts: we invented ways to play without dice while hiking.

    I half expected Shamus, or the first reply, to say something like “Craig’s List, duh…”

    In Eugene, Oregon, not only does the local university have an RPG club, as do the comic book stores, but the Border’s Bookstore also has an RPG event once weekly. (I’ve never been to any of these, so I cannot recommend among them.)

    Did anyone recommend that if someone is unfortunately forced to start as a GM without ever having been a player, to do whatever system for which you can find the most pre-made adventures? Being a skilled GM is hard work. At the beginning, pre-made adventures are a kindness to everyone; the new GM can focus on being a good story-teller and getting used to how the rules work when you control everything but a few characters, and if the plot is weak or the combats unfair it’s not his/her fault!

    Here’s a link worth it’s weight in gold to a GM: the S. John Ross Big List of RPG Plots.

  15. AlbinoDrow says:

    On Sartorius’s comment: but do realize that there are girl gamers out there, and that goths can be really friendly ^_-

  16. Telas says:

    Where to find a game? In addition to what’s been covered, check out the forums at wizards.com, enworld.org, and check the Yahoo Groups for (your city) and D&D or RPG.

    Be advised, there are a lot of immature and maladjusted gamers out there. It’s funny, but a game primarily involving social interaction really does appeal to the socially inept. *shrug* However, there is a large and growing number of gamers who are “real people” through-and-through.

  17. ScottM says:

    If you’re looking to just try out a D&D, you can look for players and groups here: http://www.warhorn.net/ and http://www.warhorn.net/recurring.php

    See if there’s one near you– when you click the link, it’ll give you the specific store, etc. where you sign up. (Our game days are at a local library.)

  18. Tom Zunder says:

    Goths can be nice people. Fat overweight beardies can have great personal hygiene. Obsessive nerds can be quite widely read in addition to owning every D&D book ever published. Comic book stores are still the taverns of choice.

  19. Tom Zunder says:

    Other game systems can suit better. Look at Exalted, Savage Worlds, GURPS, Star Wars, World of Darkness (Vampire etc), and so on.

  20. Deoxy says:

    Comic book stores as taverns is almost a perfect analogy.

    Also, I DON’T think the stereotypes of gamers are really all that accurate… it’s just that the people who fit the stereotyp have the most time and didcation to the hobby, making them the easiest to find and the most likely “face” of the hobby.

    As to getting started with D&D (if that’s your choice – as others have pointed out, there are several systems), try the “Basic Game”. It has evrything you need to run an adventure (including some nice minis) for 5 people (including the DM). I’ve looked at both versions (the older one has a black dragon in it, the newer one has a blue dragon), and they are both passable, though I think the older one might be a little better overall.

    After that (if you like it), a “player’s kit” comes with a full softcover Player’s Handbook (the only place I know of to GET a softcover, oddly enough) and a(nother) set of dice, but if you don’t need the dice, just go for a standard hardcover PHB.

    Good luck!

  21. saichen says:

    >> Other games have characters with an active in-game sex life.

    Oh yes, the lovely BoEF. My friends all lookat me like i have 5 heads when i pull it out to refrence something, but let em tell you, there are some good feats and a lot of good info in there. you just have to take it seriously.

    Hell, make an NPC Sacred Prostitute. It’ll make ANY spellcaster change dieties quicker than a halfling on an overturned wagon.

  22. PoptartMini says:

    Shamus, I’m a relatively new reader, but I love DMotR. I’ve gotten several of my fellow gamers into it and recently, I’ve just been browsing your archives and came across this one. From your lat paragraph, I do believe that you live in (or around) a place called Cranberry. Is that correct? Because when I lived near there, I went to a gaming shop named NDC to get my pokemon cards(hate me if you must), and later, my D&D books.

  23. Shamus says:

    Pretty close. I’m about 20 minutes away.

  24. Hal says:

    This is a late, late follow-up, but I just thought I’d mention that I’ll be starting a game with some guys in a few weeks here. I’m trying to absorb the DnD books as much as humanly possible.

    And guess who’s gonna be DM? I think I’m a glutton for punishment.

  25. Clint says:

    Another, even later followup:

    I was in much the same situation — I had just moved to a new town and was a bit adrift as to finding games in the area. What really helped me was NearbyGamers (http://www.nearbygamers.com ). It’ll often have a few people in a given geographic area who have registered as gamers, and is a good place to start.

  26. Paladin Of Derp says:

    Wow last D&D game I played was crazy…things seemed to be going well until we got to a tavern, then things just went out the frikken window!

    First the mage casts an inadvisability spell and sneaks off into a room, hoping to get a place to crash for free, but it turns out that two people happen to be getting busy in this very room! Mage rolls to score but fails, couple hears him, he’s still invisible though so he’s ok, he gtfos.

    Then he rolls a spot check for the hottest female in the tavern (hoping to score), and it just so happens that my Paladin is extremely fine (plus hard to get factor I guess). With his super high charisma he rolls a persuade check to try and seduce her.

    Somehow he succeeds (maybe because said Paladin was a lonely widow…IDK if Paladins are allowed to get married but heck, neither did anyone else in the group), Paladin agrees and they split the bill for the room…

    Then suddenly the fighter goes “screw it, I want some action!” and successfully grapples the Paladin and carries her off, my grapple fails so I can’t fight off my on-coming rape. Mage is pissed and goes after fighter.

    Fighter has to choose a room for the raping, all doors he chooses are locked, he tries brake them down but fails, the mage is still after him.

    Roll a check to see if the Paladin is “into it”, it fails critically, Paladin boots fighter in the nuts and he receives damage, but somehow gets +2 base attack due to the fact that he now has GIANT SWOLLEN BALLS!

    Mage reaches Paladin, turns out she’s still charmed even after being seconds away from rape (wtf DM?), Mage and Paladin go into the room they payed for.

    What is this I don’t even! Forplay roll crits for max pleasure which turns High and Mighty Paladin into a lusty trollop (magic hand was used). Mage casts levitation on both of them and they have EPIC intercourse MID-FUCKING-AIR!!!

    While all this is happening the dawf is piss drunk down stairs, hearing the commotion he ruses up stairs to find fighter on the ground clutching his giant swollen nads for dear life.

    I challenge anyone to come up with a D&D game more batshit insane than this one.

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