Some Social Aspects of RPGs

RPG campaigns are social as well as gaming events. Sometimes the GM’s 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. We’ll call the major participant “Bob”. (While I’m 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 couldn’t 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 that’s 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, that’s what he said, and he is a wild sort of fellow). I told Bob I’d not be inclined to play D&D with a GM who was willing to screw with his friends to this extent, because I’d expect him to screw with the players. GM’s who run games to amuse themselves (rather than entertain the players) don’t interest me.

Bob wants to entice players to “press the red button,” which will result in something bad happening. (You know, the switch labeled “Danger,” 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 it’s 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 wasn’t willing to try to recruit players he didn’t know. In the end, Bob didn’t 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 somebody’s house, frequently the GM’s. I did that for many years when I wasn’t 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. I’ve used notices posted at game shops, and more recently You can talk with gamers in any game meeting.

I don’t see a reason to be reluctant to recruit people you don’t 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. That’s 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!
Lewis Pulsipher


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.


I will elaborate about the DMs who prefer DMing to playing, in another column.

Note I mean prefer this, not that they're forced to - many people are forced to DM rather than play, because no one else will do it.


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.
I think that this is probably the biggest thing. Gaming together means that you are going to spend a LOT of time with someone. Hours and hours and hours, doing nothing but sitting across a table with someone and talking and rolling dice. Personality conflicts are a huge issue. Unlike, say, team sports where you can probably avoid socializing with a team mate that you might not like too much at least avoid that person enough that you can tolerate them when necessary, an RPG means that you are face to face all the time.

Building a group that doesn't have those personality conflicts is a difficult task to say the least.

Ralif Redhammer

One thing I’ve also had to learn of late, is that just because we are friends and we both like D&D, doesn’t mean we should game together. A good friend does not always a good gamer or fit for the table make.

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.


To be perfectly fair, there are few depths I wouldn't sink to in order to get out of a game of Diplomacy. :devil:
Yeah. I was traumatized in a game of Diplomacy back in 8th grade. (And that was back ca. 1981, so this has been with me for a long time.) I will never play that game again. I don't want to be in a game that's like it.

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
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.
I know people who have a hard time turning their inner GM off, meaning they can be difficult to GM for. I'd hate to be a beginner for someone like that.

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
One thing I’ve also had to learn of late, is that just because we are friends and we both like D&D, doesn’t mean we should game together. A good friend does not always a good gamer or fit for the table make.
This is 100% true. I can think of several examples from my own experience.

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