Some Social Aspects of RPGs
  • Some Social Aspects of RPGs


    RPG campaigns are social as well as gaming events. Sometimes the GMís social desires interfere with setting up a campaign. But at the other extreme, people can meet their future spouses via RPGs.

    Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

    This column stems from a conversation I had with a couple college students about a potential D&D campaign. Weíll call the major participant ďBobĒ. (While Iím not an official member of the club, I often attend to have people playtest my board and card games, and at some point I might playtest my very simple boardgame-like RPG.)

    Bob wanted to run a D&D campaign at a regular club meeting. His friend was already running a Dystopia Rising campaign at the Thursday meeting (club met three days a week). Bob wanted to make that campaign end so that he could run his, apparently because he couldnít otherwise find enough players. So I said, why not pick a different day, and some players might play in both campaigns? It turned out that he felt he had to run the campaign on the same day as the Dystopia Rising campaign. Okay I said, why not find a different room thatís open on Thursday? Or recruit players from the video game club at the same college, where people also play Magic: the Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh but meet on Monday and Wednesday? The other student, who was a vice president of the club, was going along with my suggestions. But it turned out Bob (who was the president) wanted to play with people he already knew.

    So Bob was ready to mess with the GM and players to try to kill off the other campaign (or at least, thatís what he said, and he is a wild sort of fellow). I told Bob Iíd not be inclined to play D&D with a GM who was willing to screw with his friends to this extent, because Iíd expect him to screw with the players. GMís who run games to amuse themselves (rather than entertain the players) donít interest me.

    Bob wants to entice players to ďpress the red button,Ē which will result in something bad happening. (You know, the switch labeled ďDanger,Ē that some yahoo will nonetheless try.) But when I described the whole style of button-pushing, lever-pulling D&D to him, he got excited.

    I first saw teens playing this style late in the evening at a Diplomacy convention 35 or so years ago. The GM presents players with a series of switches. When the switch is activated, more often than not something good happens, but sometimes something bad. Because the good outweighs the bad, the characters activate the switch. Some players refuse to pull the lever, but a great many will, just to see what happens, as long as they know itís more likely to reward than harm. Think of the original Deck of Many Things, the same kind of thing in concentrated and exaggerated form. Smart people would find a really low-level character and let that character pick from the deck.

    Back to Bob. The two problems were that he had to play on Thursday and he wasnít willing to try to recruit players he didnít know. In the end, Bob didnít run a campaign at all.

    Most of the RPG campaigns I know of hereabouts are played at a game shop or in a classroom (or public area) on a college campus. Clearly there are many others that are hosted at somebodyís house, frequently the GMís. I did that for many years when I wasnít hosting boardgame playtests. We tried to get several people to GM so that no one was stuck with the job (I view people who prefer GMing to playing with great suspicion!), and the hosting would be passed around as well.

    There are many ways to recruit players. Iíve used notices posted at game shops, and more recently Meetup.com. You can talk with gamers in any game meeting.

    I donít see a reason to be reluctant to recruit people you donít know. Through the years, many of my friends have been RPGers. I met my wife that way while living in London researching my doctoral dissertation. I was contacted (through a game shop notice) by someone from University of London who wanted to learn how to play D&D. But before we could meet at the start of the next term, he was "sent down" (flunked out to a lower level university not in London)! A friend of his then wrote to me, and I went down to U. London to teach four people. In the end, I married one; another married my wife's best friend; the other two married one another, although they were just friends at the time; and we're all still married to one another 40 years later. Thatís the social power of RPGs.

    This article was contributed by Lewis Pulsipher (lewpuls) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!
    Comments 26 Comments
    1. Nagol's Avatar
      Nagol -
      Bob sounds like a Richard. I'd be very leery about joining a campaign of someone who sabotaged someone else's to get the timeslot.

      As for recruiting people you don't know: gamers run the same gamut of personality demographics as the regular population. It often works out reasonably well.
      The upside is you get exposed to gaming styles that are new to you and you meet someone with at least one common interest.
      The downside is there is a decent chance you find someone who is a poor fit for the group. At best, this leads to some unpleasantness as they are removed. At worst, it can destabilise a seemingly stable group and cause the game or group to disintegrate.
    1. Ramaster's Avatar
      Ramaster -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nagol View Post
      Bob sounds like a Richard. I'd be very leery about joining a campaign of someone who sabotaged someone else's to get the timeslot.

      As for recruiting people you don't know: gamers run the same gamut of personality demographics are the regular population. It often works out reasonably well.
      The upside is you get exposed to gaming styles that are new to you and you meet someone with at least one common interest.
      The downside is there is a decent chance you find someone who is a poor fit for the group. At best, this leads to some unpleasantness as they are removed. At worst, it can destabilise a seemingly stable group and cause the game or group to disintegrate.
      That last part is exactly what happened to me (minus the part were they cast Disintegrate). I recently dropped out of a table (it was like an hour drive with tolls and I had to cover all expenses) and posted a notice looking for players in my area on a local RPG facebook group.


      We recruited 3 players. One of them was, as you said, not a good fit for our play style. He completed the first part of the campaign and dropped out in the middle of the second part (claiming family issues).


      I've been gaming with the other 2 players ever since and having a blast.
    1. Umbran's Avatar
      Umbran -
      So, I met the woman I married when she got recruited through a friend of a friend for a D&D game I was starting.

      However, "I don't see a reason..." does not demonstrate that no reason exists. It demonstrates your lack of knowledge of reasons.
    1. Jay Verkuilen's Avatar
      Jay Verkuilen -
      That kind of "I'm going to tank someone else's campaign so I can run mine" is a total, utter jerk move.

      I've met some lifelong friends through RPGs. Some friends of mine got married out of a D&D game and have four kids later. A few others were, to say the least, real pains in the tail. Happily and sadly, RPGs are played by people.
    1. Ralif Redhammer's Avatar
      Ralif Redhammer -
      These days, itís easier than ever to find a gaming group. Yet, for my home game, I keep it friends-only. Itís my home, and Iím not going to invite a rando into it. There are plenty of awesome people playing D&D, but there are also some ghastly ones.

      For my open table at a gaming cafť, it does have the ďopenĒ descriptor after all. If thereís a spot at the table (which these days there often isnít), anyone is welcome.

      As for the feuding GMs story, thatís a bad scene, plain and simple. Wouldnít want to play with either of those. Nor would I want to ever run a game for players that didnít want to be there in the first place.
    1. pogre's Avatar
      pogre -
      Quote Originally Posted by lewpuls View Post
      (I view people who prefer GMing to playing with great suspicion!)
      Curious about this quote. I wonder if you might elaborate? I am curious because I am one of those people.

      The standard at my table has always been players have to be decent human beings. I am always quick to pull the plug on folks who are not meshing with us for whatever reason. Fortunately, I have not had to do that in several years.
    1. neobolts's Avatar
      neobolts -
      Remember kids: D&D is not a charity. Play with people who make you happy.
    1. Gradine's Avatar
      Gradine -
      To be perfectly fair, there are few depths I wouldn't sink to in order to get out of a game of Diplomacy.
    1. Blue's Avatar
      Blue -
      My personal experience with RPG groups, which is far from the only way this plays out, is that every group I've been part of has grown from recommendation of one of the other players.

      Now, I live in New Jersey, which has the dubious honor of being the most densely populated state in the US (1218 people per sq mile / 470 per sq km by the 2015 census). So that may help -- there are a lot of gamers around.

      Every group I've either been brought in by an existing player, or me/another player has recommended someone new. Often but not always someone they have gamed with before. The most tenuous of them was one player had a coworker who read the Dragonlance books and wanted to watch a D&D game. She asked if she could bring her, and one session turned into months until the campaign end, and then she joined the next campaign.

      For the groups I DM, I am specific that the DM only has "special authority" as it applies to the game, but things like the social group we game with are group decisions. So anyone can veto new players, and it's a group call if we want to change the number of players we have. (Mind you, the DM still is one of the group, so I still have a say - just as much as anyone else.)

      Now, a recent friend did put together a group recently out of strangers, and it worked fairly well. Two ended up not returning and have been replaced. The only annoyance is one who shows up about 1/3 of the time, though he's good at letting us know when he won't be there.

      I'm part of the group as an invite from him after it started - he hadn't known I played. So my "invite through friends" is still intact. Even my FLGS play was to specific groups through the owner of the store whom I gamed with since high school.
    1. Koloth's Avatar
      Koloth -
      Sounds like Bob in the OP had a secret agenda item and the new D&D game was going to be a tool to complete the item.

      For the folks I regularly game with, the gaming sessions are a way to 'force' us to get together on a schedule. It is much easier to tell others you are 'busy' during the planned gaming session if you are really gaming. A fair amount of the time is spent getting caught up on things. Most of us prefer the 'old style' face to face socializing over the so called social media stuff. The actual game being played is less important then us being in the same room. We often use sessions where one or more can't make it to try out some new board/card/other game. Or even some old style vintage computer LAN party type stuff.
    1. Von Ether's Avatar
      Von Ether -
      My current group was the third iteration of a regular Wednesday gaming night at my local FLGS. People left and others were invited in and eventually this crew became like a little mini-family. Even if I couldn't show up to GM, they'd still meet to play a boardgame or drink.

      Now they do the GMing and get to sit back and enjoy playing for the first time in decades.
    1. Toriel -
      Quote Originally Posted by pogre View Post
      Curious about this quote. I wonder if you might elaborate? I am curious because I am one of those people.

      The standard at my table has always been players have to be decent human beings. I am always quick to pull the plug on folks who are not meshing with us for whatever reason. Fortunately, I have not had to do that in several years.
      I am curious too. I also prefer to DM than to play. I don't mind playing but I've DM'd so much that I can be a bit annoying as I know all the tricks of the trade.
    1. pming's Avatar
      pming -
      Hiya!

      Bob sounds like he's in that roughly 4% of people who are sociopaths. I've met one or two in my day (that I recognized as sociopathic; hell, one of my best friends was/is a sociopath...at least I'm pretty sure), and Bob there certainly fits the bill.

      As for the social aspect of RPG's...yes. Overall I'd say that RPG's are a very positive force for developing ones "social persona" (re: who you 'are' as a person). In an RPG you are given mental opportunities to try ANYTHING you can imagine. You can play the most altruistic and self-sacrificing LG hero...to the most vile and despicable CE horror. These little "mental experiments" give a person glimpses into their own values and desires. This translates into real-world choices, IMNSHO.

      I had one player who ALWAYS played a CN (or N) Barbarian (1e AD&D). Always. The very rare time he tried CG...lets just say he was CN in short order. That guy? Ended up being a drug addict, joining two of his other friends, and pulling an armed robbery at a local grocery station. D&D didn't "make" him into a criminal/drug-user...that was simply his default personality. I do think that it was D&D that kept him out of all of that though...because he only started doing that when he started playing D&D less and less, eventually dropping out of the group (and the general circle of friends we had).

      Anyhoo...social interaction is a big part of any group activity...obviously. But where I think RPG's shine is in that they encourage co-operative group engagement. With CCG's and board games..there are always winners and losers. "Everyone" playing those games is trying to win/beat the others at the table. But in an RPG...any player that tries to play the game where they 'win' at the expense of everyone else is most definitely going to 'loose' at the actual game.

      ^_^

      Paul L. Ming
    1. S'mon -
      Quote Originally Posted by pming View Post
      Hiya!
      Bob sounds like he's in that roughly 4% of people who are sociopaths.
      My deputy at my D&D Meetup is a lovely guy, but he still thought nothing of nicking my then D&D group when I took a 4 week break - and he's never given them back.

      We were on a break!!!
    1. Shiroiken's Avatar
      Shiroiken -
      Quote Originally Posted by pogre View Post
      Curious about this quote. I wonder if you might elaborate? I am curious because I am one of those people.

      The standard at my table has always been players have to be decent human beings. I am always quick to pull the plug on folks who are not meshing with us for whatever reason. Fortunately, I have not had to do that in several years.
      As am I. I think there are quite a few people like this, and I'm curious why the OP's prejudice. My current group of 7 contains 4 GMs, two of which prefer to be full time, plus one DM had to leave due to work schedule. We've been rotating around the schedule to give people time to prepare, and to help prevent burnout.
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      As far as gaming with strangers goes, I can kinda see the issue. I know when I started playing via virtual tabletop, this meant that all my players were strangers. When I started out, I was pretty nice about it - here's the game, here's the time we start, come on out. After a year, my new "gamer wanted" ad's were brutal. Something along the line of, "Ok, we are playing THIS game, THIS campaign. No, I am not willing to do anything other than what's in the ad. If you cannot make the time commitment, you get one strike and you're out. So on and so forth.

      Funny thing was, the more brutal I was about my game ads, the more players that wanted to join my game. It seems that, back then anyway, people were getting really, really fed up with flakey players and wanted a more serious game and group.

      Fortunately, after quite a lengthy weeding period, I've had a solid group for the past eight or ten years now. It's been great.
    1. billd91's Avatar
      billd91 -
      Quote Originally Posted by S'mon View Post
      My deputy at my D&D Meetup is a lovely guy, but he still thought nothing of nicking my then D&D group when I took a 4 week break - and he's never given them back.

      We were on a break!!!
      At this point, I think I'd consider your previous players culpable as well.
    1. Mark Craddock's Avatar
      Mark Craddock -
      One problem I've seen in real life and online is the notion that if I like D&D and you like D&D we can be friends and game together. This just doesn't always works. We have different expectations and accepted behaviors and perhaps we won't ever be friends and we should never game together. The most freeing realization that I ever came to was that, for me, no gaming is better than bad gaming.
    1. S'mon -
      Quote Originally Posted by billd91 View Post
      At this point, I think I'd consider your previous players culpable as well.
      They have the good grace to look somewhat embarrassed.
    1. Mark Craddock's Avatar
      Mark Craddock -
      Quote Originally Posted by S'mon View Post
      My deputy at my D&D Meetup is a lovely guy, but he still thought nothing of nicking my then D&D group when I took a 4 week break - and he's never given them back.

      We were on a break!!!
      I work as the Games Manager at a Comic and Game store. I'm the guy who runs after hours events. I'm always looking for GMs. I had a guy who took over DMing for a D&D 5E game. He was doing great and the players loved him. However, due to a divorce and a new job he started no-showing with little to no head's up. I took him aside after the third time and explained that I knew he was going through a lot, but the player's were getting upset. We talked and I said look, I'll Co-DM with you. When you are here, I'll just be at the table to help and if you can't make it I can take over for the evening. He was upset and said he would never do that. I asked the group what they wanted to do and since they had been playing together for two years before this guy, they wanted that solution. Unfortunately, he quit.

      I step in and things are going well. About six months later, he comes in and I ask him if he wants to join the game? However, when I go to the bathroom he asks the group to dump me as the DM and start playing at his house. When I come out he's gone and everyone looks uncomfortable.

      They explain what happened. I calmly explain that whatever they prefer will work for me, I'm just here to help my customer and there would be no hard feelings if they wanted him back as their DM.

      That was three years ago and the group is still going strong playing at my store.
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