More than your choice of games, more than your playing or GMing style, your gaming group has a huge influence on your gaming experience. The right group can make tabletop RPGing magical. The wrong group can make it a chore that you avoid at all costs. Picking the right people for your group or feeling out an existing group to see if you’re compatible before ever sitting down to game can save everybody a lot of frustration and wasted time.
The most common wisdom about gaming groups is that they should be all-inclusive and that you should take them as you find them, suiting yourself to the group or forming one from a random assortment of unvetted strangers and making it work. Personally, I’ve had more luck with treating gaming groups as groups of friends who game, not gamers with whom you may end up making friends. In fact, there are worse approaches than handling joining or adding to a group with the same care you’d take with a romantic relationship. To that end, we have some practical tips for finding the perfect gaming match. But first, a clarification.
Geeks are taught to loathe that word. Especially when they’ve received a tiny taste of what it’s like to be a minority in a social setting. But the first thing you have to do is remember that there is good discrimination and bad discrimination. I’m not planing to lay out a set of rules to lawyer here, but generally, if you have a problem with somebody based on their race, sex, gender expression, orientation or faith, you’re doing it wrong. But then again, you don’t need me to tell you that, do you?
Conversely, habits and traits that negatively impact the gaming experience, like a lack of hygiene or a need to argue or cheat or offend the other players are perfectly legitimate reasons to exclude people. Decide what you can put up with and still have maximum fun, as an aspirant to a group or a member thereof and stick to it. Again, you’re just saving everybody trouble in the long run.
Okay, on to the tips!
Pick People/Groups Who Are Looking For The Same Things
This one is so very vital and yet so often overlooked. If what you want to play is a hard science fiction GURPS campaign about gas-mining Jupiter, then you’re probably not going to have a fun time in a group that exclusively plays D&D. The same with different editions. Ask questions. Have a list. If you are in a group, checking out new players, get together with the other existing members and come up with questions about play styles, games, time and frequency of availability, etc. Do the same as a player or GM looking to form or join a group.
Web Stalking 101
Yea, this is the one where people are going to start giving me a raised eyebrow. But if it’s good enough for potential employers, it’s good enough for you. If your prospective player or group has a web presence, take a look at it. Do a little Googling. I’m not saying pay for a background check, but I am saying that a quick look at somebody’s Twitter, G+ and Facebook activity can tell you a lot about them.
For instance, a quick Google search on me reveals that post a lot about gaming, nerdy and gay stuff on G+, I used to be a a a part of a large RPG forum before being banned and that I co-host a podcast about this kind of stuff. All of that is potentially valuable information for knowing if I’ll fit into your group or if you want to game with me.
Diners and Dragons
The best way to see how people act and react in social situations is to put them in a social situation. A shared meal works very well for that purpose. And it is a time-honored tradition for breaking the ice and learning more about people. ‘Breaking bread’ with somebody is a good way to learn about them on neutral ground for the both of you. Don’t get fancy and pick some upscale place that might exclude a potential player or group, but you probably want to do better than McDonalds.
Talk. Have a beer or a glass of wine. Learn a little about each other. You get to know a person better without the books and dice and laptops in the way.
Pick People You Want To Hang Out With
And here’s another bone of contention with geeks. But, believe it or not, it is pretty well okay to discriminate against people who don’t bathe or manage to offend and annoy half the people in the group or who manage to make a really bad first impression. Sure, you might be missing out on the best person in the world. But probably not.
If you’re sure the other person just isn’t going to fit into your group or you into their group, for whatever reason, then don’t waste your time or theirs. Just walk away. No harm, no foul. This is your leisure time. Why are you thinking of spending it with people you don’t like very much?
The Trial Period
And finally, when you’ve checked out somebody’s tastes and habits, shared a meal with them (or a movie or whatever) and decided you want to hang out with them, set a trial period in which the offer to be a part of the group can be rescinded without rancor. Personally, I tell new players that we’re going to go with a probationary period for the first few sessions. It’s honest and saves misunderstandings later. If they make it through the trial period (or you do), then congratulations, you have a group!
If not, it’s time to try again. Sooner or later, you’ll strike pay dirt.
Just remember that you have as much right to have fun as anybody else. You are not your gaming brother’s keeper. The idea that we have to be universally tolerant of socially backward and/or problematic behavior is a fallacy. A myth. And one that threatens to limit your fun. Discriminate responsibly, pick judiciously and make friends and gaming partners that can last a lifetime.