Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Tips on Starting an Old School Group Near You

      Since the fulfillment started of Old School Essentials I have seen quite a few people attempting to start an OSE game near them. Many are finding that it is a bit harder to do, especially since 5e is the dominant D&D on the market. I recently responded to a person looking to start a game in their area, and saying that the local game store was not helpful. I gave him some advice and I wanted to share it on my blog because I think it is relevant to the greater community at large. Before diving into the OSR scene head first, I was extremely into the Indie Games scene and tried to help their popularity spread as well. I was met with the waves of Pathfinder and D&D games, and people that were unwilling to try things that were different. I did manage to get a local, loyal 30 – 40 person group of Indie gamers into a group that met on a weekly basis. These are some of the tips that worked in my personal experience to get an “unknown” game out into the community.

High quality production values

One – Start Your Own Group

  This seems pretty self-explanatory, but plenty of people just try showing up at random game stores with no organization and expect to find games. The truth is that the big companies are HIGHLY organized. Pathfinder Society, D&D Adventure League, and the Savage Worlds Society are examples of companies that have organized their most rabid fan-base to provide them with hours of free labor. The companies in turn provided them content and better yet, a community that players are often looking for in a game. You need to form your own community. 

Looking for a group is hard work

Meetup is one of the best, but it costs money per month. This allows you to schedule regular game times, allows members to chat, and focuses your search for people in your local area. Another good option that is free is Facebook. Creating a Facebook group has most of the same features as Meetup, but it does not offer the specificity of Meetup. It is very likely people in your area will never find your Facebook group on their own. People go onto Meetup because they are looking to do a certain activity. What I ended up doing was starting the group on Meetup, once it was big enough with consistent members, I made the switch to Facebook. We did lose a few members though, because some people refuse to use Facebook. 

Once you have the group, you need to advertise the group. You can go old fashion and make flyers and hang them in libraries, game stores, and recreation centers. You can also advertise online in local forums, Facebook groups, and other forms of social media. Just know you are going to get a lot more lurkers, than actual people who will show up. My Meetup had about 200 members, but I only ever had about 40 active members. People love to sign up for things, but not actually do those things. The other thing to do is advertise by running games. Many communities have local games days and are looking for GMs, run games there. You must be totally prepared to run games for very small amounts of people, like two, and be prepared to run games for parents with their children. Many times the “hardcore” players are playing 5e and Pathfinder, and you will get what you get. Occasionally though you will get a player that really takes to the system/game and you might get them on a more permanent basis.

Two – Do Not Start With a Campaign

I often see people saying, “Hey, looking to start an OSR group for the first time, I am going to run a Barrowmaze campaign.” This will actually drive people away, or make them not want to start in the first place. Even with the most experience people, Barrowmaze would take a minimum of a year to play. People do not want to make that kind of a commitment right out of the gate. I will harken back to Pathfinder Society and D&D Adventurers League. They are successful in part because they run short adventures that have a resolution at the end. Many people starting out want that kind of an experience. Your best solution is to run a series of one-shot games. This serves two real purposes, one, it is less of a commitment from new players that might not know you or the game style. Two, it gives you time to learn to run these types of games. A campaign has a lot of moving parts, a simple adventure usually follows a solid, small structured event.

I love this short adventure.

       I have run Lamentations of the Flame Princess “A Single, Small Cut” more times than I can count. I used it to introduce the concept of OSR gaming, and it can be done in about 4 hours. There are a ton of cheap or free short adventures that can be used for this kind of an adventure. The trick is to run one game, then ask people if they would like to play again. If they show up again, run another one-shot and rinse and repeat. Eventually you will have a group of regulars that does show up and is taken with the game. You will know they are really taken with the game if they buy their own books. Once this is starting to happen you can broach the subject of starting a lengthy campaign, they might even ask for it. The trick is to not pull the trigger too early, you need to have a solid base before you move into something bigger.

Three – Be Patient

This is not a fast process. It took me at least a year to get even a small, functioning group that met on a regular basis. Even with the vast success of D&D in the world today, it is still am extremely niche market. If you are trying to promote OSR gaming, you are supporting a niche within a niche. This means that it will generally take time to have people come around. The more perseverance you have the more likely this is to happen. You must be completely prepared to run a ton of games, and never play in any games. You have to be prepared to have to organize lots of events to have half of them generate no players. You have to be willing to be the sole driving force behind a group, until it become self-sustaining (which will take a long time). 

Take a moment

It is really nice if you can find a partner that is just as passionate about these games as you. When I was running my Indie RPG group, I had a second person that could help out and I trusted to do a good job. I know this might not always be possible, but it is a great resource if you can find it. This will lighten the load a bit, and you will have someone to lean on when things go wrong, and they will.

Four – Be Prepared To Get Rejected

This is the hardest part of the process. More often than not people will not even want to give your game a shot. They want to stick with what they know or they do try it, and it is not for them. It seems hard to accept because we love the games so much, how could someone possibly not like it? You will get bumped for your tables at cons or stores in order to make room for 5e or possibly Magic The Gathering. It is hard to blame the stores, oftentimes 5e does not bring in huge amounts of money, let alone a game they do not even sell. Always try and support the store and encourage your players to do the same. I always try and buy something when I am playing in a store. Dice, miniatures, or at bare minimum buy a soda or two. This goes a long way to making good with the store.

It will happen

The roughest rejection, and it will happen, is the players who you KNOW had a great time, but happily run back to 5e or Pathfinder. They were excited at the table, making great plans, laughing with the group, they even tell you at the end how much fun they had. When push comes to shove though, if Pathfinder Society is giving away a free super weapon for each character taking place in their society night, players will go to that. I will never understand why people would rather play in a bad 5e game over a good OSE game, but it will happen if you do this long enough. This is not to say that ALL 5e games are bad, and ALL OSE are good. I am talking about specific instances where players told me how bored they were with their Adventure’s League games, but still kept going over doing something different.

Moral of the Story

It is possible to get these games up and going, but it will normally take a large amount of work. Luckily now we do have other resources if this is just not happening in your area, we have the internet. I know there is nothing like playing in a face-to-face game with people around a table, but sometimes we do not have a choice. I am lucky that I still get to play D&D with my friends that I started with in 1989, but I know that not everyone has that ability. I hope what I shared here can help you in the future.

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  1. This has been something I've been struggling with for a long time. I've tried Meetup and met with no success, and I don't use Facebook.

    I do like your idea about starting with shorter adventures, though.

  2. It really can make a difference. Since Google + went under many people shifted to MeWe which is a Facebook competitor. There are a lot of old school people on it, that might help.

  3. Where do I find these communities? I tried MeWe very briefly some months ago and it seemed mostly like a garbled mess to my aging sensibilities.

  4. Just search for Role Playing Games under groups and there are plenty. MeWe is a bit of a mess though.

  5. Three years ago I started a Dungeon Crawl Classics group at my FLGS and we're still playing today. Players come and go but the group remains. I recruited players by posting an ad on the FLGS' bulletin board (still up there), ran a Meetup group, and posted in the r/lfg subreddit. Something I think is really, really important is to have a regular, non-complicated schedule. For example, we play every Monday from 6 PM to 10 PM. I also will email members of the group to remind them about an upcoming session just to keep the game in their minds.

  6. That is some great advice. It is awesome that the group is going for so long.

  7. Me and a few friends tried to make some OSR Basic type magic happen a few times. I have to say it was always a really good time but life and schedules ruined it for me. I hope to soon get my 5E game back up and running as well as some Basic mishmash of brutal old school buckets of blood. I actually made a funnel that in one of my Back to the Dungeon Zines for LL/AEC that is (free) PWYW and I might drag that back out.

    Many players out there are entitled crybabies and must have super characters to have fun. They actually are not very fun to play with at all. You will never get them at your table but is that a loss?

    My saddest story was a really nice gaming group I met while working in San Antonio, TX and I had my really great setting, The Little Barony and the massive megadungeon The Black Stairs for LL/AEC. I had the group interested until their "leader" said he thought old school gaming was outdated and sucked and we don't want to play that. His little group all mindlessly agreed with him. What was sad was while sitting in one of their games was how tired and bored they looked while finishing up their Shadowrun game. They were in search of the magic and I had it.

  8. Usually they just need a taste and then they will come back for more.